If you have been around the Model Train world for very long, you’ve heard the words gauge and scale over and over. When you first hear them, they may be intimidating, especially when veteran hobbyists use them so often and easily. I assure you though that once you have been around the hobby for a while, you too will be throwing those terms out as easily as you cite your own name.
Scale and gauge are important because they provide a standard that the various manufacturers of trains and tracks can use to ensure that a locomotive from one company will fit on the track of another company as long as the scale matches the gauge. There are quite a few different scales available which can be intimidating when you are starting out, but it can also be a boon for you. Each person has a limited amount of space available and for some, that may be the size of a warehouse, but for others it may be a small corner in their basement or garage. The different scales available can accommodate everyone. After a short time, you too will understand which letters relate to what scale and which track they run on. I promise!!
Of the four most popular scales, N-scale is the smallest at 1:160. That means that if you took an N scale model and was able to inflate it like a balloon to 160 times its size, you would end up with a full size train. N-scale is just a bit bigger than half the size of HO-scale which is 1:87. N-scale is popular among enthusiasts who do not have a lot of space, or those who do, but love to work with a large amount of scenery. There are smaller scales than the N-scale, but you will find that those, for the most part, also have less detail. Smaller size cars, track and scenery also allow a layout that is easy to add on to and to maintain. Also, as the train and track get smaller, the more your scenery will contribute to the overall beauty of the layout.
Only coming into prominence in the 1960’s, the N-scale is much newer than the O-scale or HO-scale which have been around for over 100 years. As with most of the scales, the letter N has meaning. N stands for nine millimeters between the rails which is less than ½ an inch (actually closer to about a third of an inch). As a reminder, gauge is the word used for track size. Another word you may hear in relation to the track is “code” which refers to the height of the rails.
If you don’t have a lot of space, or are more artistic (for scenery) than technical (for locomotives) you should consider N-scale. No matter what scale you choose, the fun doesn’t change.
Article courtesy of “The Enthusists Guide to Model Trains”