The History of S:
S gauge began 70 plus years ago in the united states. A gentleman by the name of Ed Pachasa of Cleveland Model & Supply Co. Inc. introduced what would be the beginning of today's S Gauge. Cleveland Model ran an ad in February 1937 issue of Model Railroading that they were going to introduce something startling different in C-D model railroading. In The April issue began a two page ad with a complete line of 3/16" scale equipment that they called C-D scale. The ads ran throughout 1937. The Standards for C-D scale were quickly adopted by the National Model Railroad Association at the 1937 convention. During the 1943 NMRA convention, the name was changed from C-D to S. Most original 3/16" kits were wood, stamped metal and card stock.
In 1946 American flyer was introduced with a full line of ready to run sets and then up sprang a host of companies that would allow the American Flyer set to be upgraded and converted for a real scale appearance. Many companies offered track, switches, even flex track from brass.
The turning point of the gain in the popularity happened in 1950's. Many manufacturers invested money into tooling for plastic models due to the ability to cast and ad detail for a lower price. Companies like Globe, Varney, Athearn, Mantua, English, Hobbytown, and other HO scale companies set their sights on what they felt was the future. Most of the craftsmen working in S gauge at the time chose not to agree. By the late 1950's American flyer was in a decline providing the tin plate quality of ten years prior while converts progressively changed to HO due to the availability and scale appearance of their models right out of the box.
In 1960 a few determined men modeling in S gauge banded together to form the National Association of S Gauge. The NASG is still going strong. This organization has been the backbone for S-Gauge since it's creation. The creation of NASG was not soon enough to save American Flyer and it went out of business in the mid 1960's. As with any business, it's future is based on the choices it makes each day. There were some attempts by American Flyer to regain popularity such as the "Game Train" but they were not enough for the Gilberts.
Brass engines and cars remained available throughout the years and it wasn't until the 1980s that Companies like American Models became a provider of detailed trains and components. S has now other companies supporting the 3/16th cause providing cars, locomotives, buildings, dcc controls and electronics, tracks, turnouts, detailing for older stock, magnetic couplers, and people all in highly detailed condition and affordable.
What is happening today:
There are S gauge sets available through Lionel, many highly detailed locomotives of both steam and diesel as well as rolling stock in plastic and brass from a multitude of companies for S and Sn3 narrow gauge. Flex track as well as modular snap track with preformed road bed is available for the consumer. It would appear the S is becoming more popular each year. It may never surpass HO or O, but it has the merit to be a great contender.
Some would ask why one would choose a gauge that is not readily available in any hobby store. For some it is a reflection of their child hood when they or a neighbor had an American Flyer train and he or she would like to regress to a peaceful time of imagination and creativity. Remembering and finally owning the fascinating operating accessories that appeared to be a half a century ahead of their time from the Gilbert Hall of Science could be part of it. For others that prefer scale there is the ease of modifications due to size, decorating the layout with the mass of 1/64th scale items available now for much less than their HO or N scale counterparts may also contribute to the decision of S. Some just like not to be the same as others which is good for this scale as well as adding diversification to the hobby and demanding more from the suppliers for use in all scales.
Most hobby stores carry HO, N, sometimes O (Lionel), and G (Garden railroad). S can be found in a few hobby shops but you may need to ask location for it. It is not a highly sought scale for the many modelers that want to buy buildings and train components to set up a layout quickly. S is also slightly higher in retail cost than HO or N gauge.
Understanding what is the actual value of a hobby can be related to a formula.
------------------------ = Value of Hobby
Cost of the hobby
Lets talk about cost of S gauge available equipment and material.
1/64 scale locomotives and rolling stock are easier to put on the tracks compared to HO or N gauge for kids of all ages. Re-railer is not required by most people.
S-Gauge has 2 rail realism like HO. Tracks and switches available range from tin plate to scale in appearance with plastic or wooden ties.
American Flyer classic original equipment does not depreciate unless major modifications have taken place. It appears to double in value every 5 years. Collecting Flyer stock based off of the last 5 year trend yields annual 20% on your dollar. Not bad when savings accounts yield 2-4%. Currently Atlantic 4-4-2's are going for about 30-45 dollars on eBay, Pacifics 4-6-2s and Baldwin switchers are higher at the 60-90 dollar range depending on road number and condition, Hudsons 4-6-4s, Docksiders 0-6-0, and PA Diesels run in the 85-140 dollar range, 0-8-0 and 0-6-0 steam switchers run in the 180-250 dollar range. and Mountains 4-8-4s are 250-450 dollars again depending on road number and issue volume. There are exceptions to these quotations as with any bidding, how many people are bidding and of course how many were issued generating the high collectible status.
American Models and S Helper Service have S-gauge highly detailed locomotives and rolling stock are available and operate on either the original AC or DC similar to HO. Wheels are available in deeper flanges to operate on tin plate (original American flyer) track or code 100 using the scale .080 flanges. Buyers Choice. Some locos come with both wheel sets in event you change your rails height in the future. Cost of prototypical scale is more and generally not intended for youth to play without supervision due to finer delicate detail.
An HO scale automobile can cost 3-5 dollars each. A Johnny Lightning 1/64 scale car may cost 2-3 dollars and has a high level of accuracy in casting as well as chrome.. Double the cars per dollar compared to HO and you can get one side of the road for free.
Farm equipment in 1/64 can be found at most retail stores in the blister packs near the Hot Wheels (which also are close to 1/64). Fords, John Deeres, Massey Furgesons, Allis Chalmers to name a few. Some older equipment is modeled with the mass of new equipment at reasonable prices.
Trees come in many sizes. HO work as well as O for layouts, get them on sale or make your own.
Buildings can cost more due to volume of S sales, but some S-Gaugers use Lionel O gauge toward the front and HO toward the rear of a layout which forces a perspective on a "Round the Wall" or wide walk around setup. Some decorate using just 1/48 and 1/43 like the old days for both buildings as well as people.
American Flyer rail cars used can cost 5-25 dollars for standard used freight depending on issue quantity. Action cars that dump or drop off material cost 4 times more. A good cleaning is usually all that is needed. A little scuffing usually does not bother the typical train buff who wants to run the stock due to conditions of most cars on the real rails. They can cost more if excellent condition, have original boxes, or if it is a collectible due to sheer lack of volume of issue. E-bay and most older train or hobby sores are a great source of AF rolling stock. American Flyer or Flyonel (American Flyer re-released by Lionel) is not as scale as American Models or S Helper Service but much more durable. Hand rails are molded on but detail is still fairly high. Flyer has won the test of time. Stuff made in the fifties, dropped on the floor by kids in the 50's and 60's is still circulating rails today on many layouts. There are parts available to fix most issues for cars or stock online. The higher detailed scale cars from current retailers cost 25 to 50 dollars similar to the less detailed Lionel pricing.
S-gauge is easier to work with than the smaller gauges due to size of equipment and buildings. Interiors of locomotives, buildings, and passenger cars can reflect a high level of detail with fingers that may not be as agile as before, or fingers that have not yet learned precision.
DCC can be added like most trains to older stock and Train Master Command Control comes equipped in Lionel remakes, as well as DCC in American Models and S-Helper service locomotives. TMCC is very easy to use and can include remote couplers on engines. Brand new Rolling stock comes in all sizes and colors. Prices vary. Cost on new stock is near Lionel pricing due to the limited volumes.
Space required is also comfortable and affordable. S takes slightly more space than HO but less than Lionel. If done with ingenuity, a double loop with a few switches and businesses supporting three trains in operation the same time using blocks can fit on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. A reasonable pike can be built with a corner of the basement or a spare bedroom.
S-Gauge has many accessories old and new designed to create an interface with the engineer or conductor and the businesses along the way. See our Accessories page to view a few of the classics in action. Cows, baggage, people, logs, lumber, coal, scrap metal, etc all get loaded, delivered, and unloaded just like the real thing by remote action. The Hi-rail enthusiast or classic S-Gauger usually has quite a collection. Some of the scale modelers blend the accessories into the scale landscape with much success. Kids of all ages love the interactive stuff compared to a train that just drops and picks up cars. Use your imagination like 50 years ago when kids had to. Adults that enjoy operations may find the interaction at the destinations a pleasant change beyond the typical drop off and pick up.
Check out Badgerland or Chicago Area S-Gaugers at your next train meet and ask for some brochures for the club. Videos are typically running in the information booth regarding the aspects of S gauge. We have a stand featuring the same car in all of the available modeled gauges for comparison. We can define what we do, and how we can help get you started in modeling in S. Being a member can basically earn you all of your dues back by the sheer enjoyment of the other members, get togethers, and picnics. We go to quite a few train shows in southern wisconsin so please ask questions. We go to the shows just to answer your questions as well as entertain the spectators.
Authored by Doug Stoll
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