Where Can I Find O Scale Stuff?

by Mar 8, 2018The P48 Experience

Looking around most hobby shops or stores that carry model trains it’s easy to think that three-rail (or 3-rail as I learned while at O Scale Trains Magazine) is the only thing available for quarter-inch scale. Ask about two-rail or P48 and you are likely to get a deer-in-the-headlights stare or a Gee I don’t know if they even make that stuff anymore response in return.

They do indeed make that stuff and you simply have to know where to look. For quarter-inch modelers this will be old news but it’s important to remember that our scale is largely invisible to the general hobby. This will be important to people looking into the scale for the first time and wondering if it’s right for their needs.

Community Is Key
As you read in my last post, quarter-inch scale is a niche with in the larger hobby. It’s enjoyed a surge in popularity lately but is not widely available in most hobby shops. However, like many niches, there is a robust market that flies below the radar of the general hobby.

Quarter-inch scale is a tight knit community that, in some ways prefers to keep to itself. Part of this is generational in nature and I won’t go into that. In recent years however, a growing number of younger modelers have come from other scales and they’re bringing a more broad-based outlook with them that, in my view, the scale sorely needs.

It’s this community of modelers that is key to discovering all the scale has to offer. I was fortunate to have two individuals who helped me navigate my way to the products and information I needed to get started on a solid foundation. That’s what this post is about.

O scale, O gauge, P48, OW5, 3-rail. What’s The Difference?

There are a lot of confusing terms associated with this scale.

O gauge is often used to describe the 3-rail branch that includes everything from tinplate to something called 3-rail scale or 3-RS.

O scale refers to 2-rail modeling mostly five-foot gauge but is also used as a catch-all term for anything built to quarter-inch equals one foot scale, whether it’s standard or narrow gauge track.

P48, Proto48 with or without the colon (Proto:48) refers to models that use the correct track gauge and wheel standards where the scale ratio is applied consistently to every aspect of the model.

It’s a confusing mess and rather than mix the terms of O scale and/or P48, on this blog and in all my writing, I simply prefer the more accurate descriptor of quarter-inch scale. I also make the distinction between legacy scale and P48 when needed. I used O scale in the post title as a concession to Google because that’s the term most people will use in search queries.

Quarter-inch scale (I’m only referring to two-rail scale modeling from this point on) has two dedicated magazines that are very helpful.

The O Scale Resource Magazine is a digital only and free to download publication that is a valuable source of modeling inspiration and product info. It covers the spectrum of two-rail modeling with mostly five-foot legacy gauge and some P48 when they can get the material.

O Scale Trains Magazine is a two-rail focused bi-monthly print magazine that is now part of the White River Productions family of publications. It has struggled in recent years after the passing of founder Joe Giannovario but it is now in good hands and will be back in publication soon. Again, it mostly covers legacy gauge modeling and it will be interesting to see how White River covers the scale. I was the editor of this magazine for three years and Joe and I started OST Publications as a separate company in 2010. I’m happy White River will carry on his work as the magazine would have been sorely missed by the O scale community.

Both magazines carry advertising from the major companies and suppliers that gives you a sense of what quarter-inch scale has been in the past and now is. Many of the vendors in this scale are very small operations, often just one to two people. (I’m a one-man shop myself, so I know the drill.) Unlike the mass market of HO or N, product runs are often limited in number and can come and go with little warning. I always wondered why people in this scale were such packrats and now I know. If you see something that is useful, get it if you can, while you can. That’s the reality of the scale we enjoy.

With few hobby shops that carry quarter-inch scale products, you’ll have to get used to waiting on the post office or UPS for deliveries or save up and wait until you can make it to one of the quarter-inch scale specific meets. It’s a different experience than seeing something in Model Railroader and just trotting down to the hobby shop to check it out. It is the tradeoff we make to practice the craft on the terms we find most enjoyable.

Shows And Meets
There are several shows dedicated to quarter-inch scale that you need to know about. The March Meet is held in mid-to-late March in the Chicago area. Hosted at an area hotel, where many attendees book rooms for the weekend, this three-day show is a mecca for all things quarter-inch. Here you will see more products than you ever imagined, meet a lot of the vendors that keep the scale alive and get a good sense of what’s out there. If you can only attend this show once, it’s worth the experience.

The Indianapolis O Scale and S Scale Midwest Show is held every September and is now hosted by The O Scale Resource Magazine crew. They are working hard to improve this meet and it now includes S scale modeling and products. This is a two-day show also held in a hotel conference facility and many out of town attendees also book a room if they aren’t within driving distance.

Another major show is the O Scale National Convention that is hosted at various cities around the country. Like the NMRA National this is a multi-day event with activities for modelers and family alike. All of these shows are good places to see and purchase products, attend clinics, meet people and learn about the scale.

For West coast modelers there is O Scale West, which has now been combined with S scale also. Even though I’ve never been to O Scale West, I’m told it’s similar to the others in size and scope.

Railroad Prototype Modelers’ Meets (RPM)
While not specifically geared to quarter-inch scale or P48, these meets are my focus now. They provide a great place to meet other modelers, see lots of inspiring work and learn from the best in the craft. Susan and I attend the Collinsville, IL meet as a book vendor and enjoy our time there.

P48 models always generate a lot of interest at these shows and it’s a good place to introduce folks to the scale. In my view, this is where the future of P48 is going to originate.

RPM meets sometimes include a wide array of models like this 1/24 scale vehicle by Steve Hurt from a couple of years ago at the Collinsville, IL meet. P48 models like Jim Zwernemann’s Cotton Belt caboose often generate a lot of interest at these shows and it’s an opportunity to see the merits of the scale first hand.

The Downside (you knew it was coming)
A drawback to these shows is the expense involved in going to one. On top of any money you spend for merchandise, there are travel expenses for food, lodging and gas or airfare if you’re not close to one of the show locations. These added expenses really pile up fast and if you’re on a tight budget, they can be a deal breaker. I haven’t been to the March meet in years because of the overnight travel costs, and the same with O Scale West and the National. Too far and too expensive for me. When I did go to Chicago it was to work the magazine’s booth as an employee and the company generously picked up the tab for Susan and I to attend. The Indianapolis Show is much closer to me as a simple day trip.

Another reason I don’t attend many shows now is that I don’t need that much commercial product anymore. My modeling is pretty focused now and I’ve scaled back considerably. If I need more than basic supplies from the hobby shop, I simply order them and wait for delivery or the Indy show. I do suggest that if you can attend one of the meets that you do so. It’s good to see things first hand and meet new people. Like modelers everywhere, we are happy to help newcomers enjoy the scale.

As an alternative to the shows, the magazines will give you a good overview to the products in the scale. In closing the thing to understand about P48 and quarter-inch scale is that it’s a different world where you need to manage your expectations, know what you want and be willing to be more hands on with the craft than with HO or N where everything seems to show up by magic.

Once again, I don’t receive any form of compensation from any of these places. I’m simply passing the info along to you. I hope this helps.