I Purchased Some HO Scale Freight Cars. Please Stop Freaking Out.

These days, I’m known amongst most of my fellow hobbyists as an N scale guy, although there are a few who still remember my S scale past. I’m not one of those people who switch scales every couple of years. I have never, ever dabbled in HO scale, even though it’s the most popular scale. So when I picked up some used HO scale boxcars at the spring shows, my friends naturally started freaking out.

“You’re not getting out of N, are you?” they asked, perhaps anxious that I’d no longer be able to help them with their Micro-Trains coupler problems.

No, I’m not getting out of N. I’m getting into a new modelling project, and HO scale happens to be the easiest way to do it.

A couple of years ago, I did the Library Project, a small modular layout that could be controlled through a display window. I’ve been wanting to follow this up with a switching layout that could be displayed in the same way, and operated hands-off. N scale is just too tiny for that, so for the first time in my life, I started looking at HO. I made a few interesting discoveries:

  • Used HO scale is plentiful and cheap. The going rate for a good used Micro-Trains N scale boxcar is about $10. For this project, I found eight HO scale boxcars for $3-5 apiece. One of them even had Kadee couplers already installed. For the ones that didn’t, I purchased new-in-the-envelope Kadees for a buck per car.
  • Compared to N scale, couplers are easy. Most of the cars I picked up have coupler pockets molded into the chassis. Pop off the lid, discard the manufacturer’s horn-hook coupler, and a Kadee #5 drops right in. At worst, you drill and tap for a 2-56 screw to hold it together. There’s no need for the kind of dark magic we use for N scale couplers.
  • The variety is astonishing. N scale is just now getting the kind of freight-car variety that HO scalers have enjoyed for years. You want a Milwaukee rib-side car? A 50-foot Pennsy wagon-top? A wood-sheathed milk reefer? No problem.
  • There’s more history. Search all you want, but you won’t find N scale items older than the mid-1960s, and they’ll have a plastic construction not unlike what’s being made today. HO scale has a much longer history; dig deep enough and you’ll find items made of die-cast zinc, printed-and-scribed cardboard, or milled wood.

So, I have the cars I need for this project, and most of the track. I still need a locomotive, but I have some leads on that. The electronics will be similar to the Library Project’s, with some additional refinements to handle turnouts and back-and-forth operation. With any luck, I should have something to show by fall.

In the meantime, I’m working on N scale projects too, so don’t worry.