O Scale - Geographical Area - United States

United States

US O Gauge
Typical US O-Scale locomotive
Scale per foot: 1/4 inch to 1ft
Scale ratio: 1:48
Standard(s): NMRA
Gauge: 32 mm
Prototype Gauge: Standard gauge

In the United States, O gauge is defined as 1:48 (0.25 inches to the foot, "quarter inch scale" 1/4 inch equals one foot). This is also a common dollhouse scale, giving more options for buildings, figures, and accessories. Many O gauge layouts are also accessorized with 1:43.5 scale model cars.

While 1:48 is a very convenient scale for modeling using the Imperial system (a quarter-inch equals one scale foot), the discrepancy between O gauge in the United States and O gauge in Europe is attributed to Lionel misreading the original Märklin specifications.

Although Lionel is the most enduring brand of O gauge trains, a variety of manufacturers made trains in this scale. Prior to World War I, the majority of toy trains sold in the United States were German imports made by Märklin, Bing, Fandor, and other companies. World War I brought a halt to these German imports, and protective tariffs after the war made it difficult for them to compete.

In between the two world wars, shorter-lived companies such as Dorfan, Hafner, Ives, and Joy Line competed with Lionel, Louis Marx and Company, American Flyer and Hornby. Many of these pre-war trains operated by clockwork or battery power and were made of lithographed tin. The sizes of the cars varied widely, as the standard for O gauge was largely ignored. Dorfan went out of business in 1934, while Ives was bought by Lionel, and Hafner and Joy Line were bought by Marx. Hornby withdrew from the U.S. market in 1930 after selling its U.S. factory to the A. C. Gilbert Company.

As early as 1938, the survivors Lionel, Marx, and American Flyer faced competition from Sakai, a Tokyo-based Japanese toy company who sold trains priced at the low end of the market. The product designs most closely resembled Lionel, but with Märklin-like couplers and detail parts that appeared to be copied from Ives. "Seki", another Japanese company, was an entirely different and independent company.

Between 1946 and 1976, the primary U.S. manufacturers of O gauge trains were Lionel and Marx, with American Flyer switching to the more-realistic S scale and the rest of the companies out of business.

Toy maker Unique Art produced a line of inexpensive O gauge trains from 1949 to 1951, but found itself unable to compete with Marx. Marx continued to make clockwork and battery-powered trains and lithographed cars into the 1970s, along with more realistic offerings that were sometimes difficult to distinguish from Lionel.

Sakai re-entered the U.S. market after World War II, selling trains that were often nearly identical to Marx designs and sometimes undercutting Marx's prices, from 1946 to 1969.

A company called American Model Toys brought out a line of realistic, detailed cars beginning in 1948. In 1953 it released a budget line. It ran into financial difficulty, reorganized under the name Auburn Model Trains, and ended up selling its line to Nashville, Tennessee-based Kusan, a plastics company who continued its production until 1961. The tooling was then sold to a small company run by Andrew (Andy) Kriswalus in Endicott, New York, who operated as Kris Model Trains, or KMT. Andy Kriswalus only produced the box, stock, and refrigerator cars from the Kusan dies, and on some of these cars he mounted die-cast trucks from the Kusan tooling. After Kriswalus' death, the tooling was sold to K-Line and Williams Electric Trains, who continued to use it to produce parts of their budget lines.

From O gauge's beginnings up until the mid-1970s, the various manufacturers' trackside accessories would interoperate with one another, but the train cars themselves used couplers of differing designs, often making it difficult or impossible to use different manufacturers' cars together. The post-War consolidation did little to improve matters: Marx used three different standards, depending on the product line, and Lionel used two, so frequently the companies' own entry-level products were incompatible with their high-end products, let alone with the competition. Hobbyists who wanted differing standards to interoperate had to resort to replacing couplers.

After Marx went out of business in 1978, K-Line bought much of Marx's tooling and entered the marketplace. K-Line's early offerings changed little from the old Marx designs, other than a new brand name and a Lionel-compatible coupler, making K-Line's offerings completely interoperable with Lionel.

As O gauge regained popularity in the 1990s it also started to regain manufacturers, and as of late 2003, no fewer than six companies market O gauge locomotives and/or cars, all theoretically interoperable with one another.

Lionel equipment retains a large collector following. Equipment from shorter-lived manufacturers prior to World War II is also highly sought after, while American Flyer and Marx are less so. Post-War Marx is gaining in popularity after years of being derided by serious collectors. There is little collector interest in Sakai today, possibly because of difficulty identifying the equipment and because the brand is much less widely known than its U.S. counterparts.

In the recent years there has been a movement called 3-Rail Scale. It is three-rail trains on high-rail track, but with scale couplers and other more prototypical details, like fixed pilots and scale wheels. Most 3-Rail scale modelers use Kadee brand scale couplers.

The biggest makers of American O scale trains today are Lionel, LLC, MTH Electric Trains, Atlas O, and Weaver Models.

Read more about this topic:  O Scale, Geographical Area

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