Getting Started in O Scale: Pandemic Edition

To our Blog Contributors, Followers, and OS2R Community,

I haven’t met most of you yet, but my name is Nick, and part of my job is running O Scale Central. I want to remind all of you that I am a new(er) OS2R modeler. I’ve had two great conversations this week, one with an established O Scale modeler, and one with a new OS2R modeler. Those conversations inspired me to get personal this week and to share my story of how I got into O scale. Then I will write about how I think you can help new modelers get into the Scale from scratch, or help yourself dive deeper into this Scale. I want to hear your thoughts as well, so please comment after reading!

When I decided to get serious about model railroading, the scale I chose was largely driven by my pet guinea pig, Alfred. Ok, hear me out. When I was in college, I had my 3-Rail toy train at my apartment. Alfred would ride the train, and everyone watching would naturally lose their minds at how adorable he is (see video evidence here). I started looking for 3-Rail equipment, and discovered hoppers with opening doors; perfect for his hay pellet food, and it could simulate coal. I found all these really cool accessories and sound systems, but I always was annoyed with the third rail. Then I discovered O 2-Rail at the Timonium, MD All Scale Show through the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers booth. There, I was told about OS2R specific train shows such as Strasburg.

At the April 2019 Strasburg show, I purchased my first engine, a brass Westside Q4.b, numbered 4625. I picked up some appropriate freight cars and track as well, all for under $700. I needed a power pack, which I picked up at a hobby shop. They didn’t know what OS2R was, so they sold me a G gauge power pack that didn’t have a circuit breaker. As I ran the locomotive, something was happening where it wasn’t running properly. I thought something was wrong with the pickups, so I took off the leading tender truck. I had no idea what I was looking at, so I put the truck back on. Without realizing the trucks were insulated on one side, I got unlucky and put the truck on the wrong way (remember, coming from 3-Rail I didn’t have to worry about insulation). The train stopped which I assumed meant, “give it more juice.” I turned up the power, smelt smoke, saw the springs on the truck and the bolster screw glowing bright red. The tender was hot to the touch. The solder melted towards the front of the tender. The foam the coal load was on caught fire, followed by the real coal on top. That was my introduction to O Scale; quite literally a baptism by fire.

With the right online information, support and mentoring, the mistakes that led to my engine catching fire could have been avoided. With O Scale Info, there will be resources discussing how to set up and run your first OS2R locomotive, as well as basic repair and modifications, such as 3-Rail to 2-Rail conversion of rolling stock.

O Scale Info will include, notably, the OS2R Product Guide. It will also include a guide to the secondary market. When you first get into O Scale, the secondary market is often the first or most important place you can buy locomotives and rolling stock. This is why we have been asking for help from our readers by sending us information on your local OS2R hobby shops, manufacturers and service providers; we want to compile the information so that people entering the hobby can have an easier time locating what they are looking for. It becomes more important to build this online resource as we continue to see in-person gatherings rescheduled as the pandemic persists. Even for post pandemic train shows, the OS2R community needs to know what is on, and how to use, the secondary market.

There are a few ways I would suggest entering OS2R. First, join the O Scale Forum (here). This is a platform to ask questions and talk to people in the hobby about the hobby. Under “Gauge the Issue,” there are links to groups, which are wonderful “buy and sell” and general information resources. You can find good quality items at very affordable prices, as well as answers to your questions there. By extension, if you are an experienced modeler, by all means please share your knowledge with the newer crowd! We are hungry for information, and we’re only going to get it from the those who share it with us.

Second, I would suggest taking time to ask around and learn about “legacy” manufacturers. By this, I mean those that have gone out of business or were bought by other companies. O Scale trains have been made for over a century. There’s a joke out there that 90% of all OS2R products that will ever be made have already been made. With all scales going to the “limited run/made to order” model, I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes true for all scales. Learning about the legacy manufacturers will help you navigate the secondary market in the short and long term. For example, knowing about All-Nation will help you identify models for sale on eBay when the seller may not know what they have.

Third, I would suggest reaching out to your local O Scale club. I mentioned earlier I learned about the Strasburg Show at the Timonium Show from the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers, who are my local OS2R club. They were the biggest help in getting me started because they showed my all the local activity in OS2R. I got on email lists, round-robin groups and met modelers I otherwise would not have. The community in the Scale is half the selling point, and starting there has really helped me appreciate the history of the Scale as well as my own trains.

These are just my thoughts on entering the hobby now, along with my experience. Hopefully you got a laugh out of my story. By the way, the locomotive is fine and up on the Blog. She’s been dead-railed (on board battery power). All of my engines will have dead-rail control systems in them to avoid another melt down.

This week, I ask all of you to talk about how you entered the Scale, and how you would bring someone into the hobby now. Please comment on the Blog, comment our Facebook Page (here), or comment on the O Scale Forum (here). As always, please write-in with any questions or comments on O Scale Central. If you want your layout featured on our Bi-Weekly Yardmaster Update, please send in pictures and a description to

Nick Bulgarino

5 thoughts on “Getting Started in O Scale: Pandemic Edition

  1. My prior post I should of mentioned that I wanted O scale Civil War Modeling but the locomotives are no longer available. So On30 which runs on HO track gauge.


  2. I started in HOn30 which was very nice but very small since it is HO on N scale track. Then Bachmann came out with On30 equipment. Now I am in On30 with a 5X10′ layout which I am changing to Modular to meet up with my modular group. I love the sounds from the O scale equipment and I probably have about 35 locomotives and bunch of cars. I am planning my next home layout which will kind of follow the ideas from MR on their Olympia Logging RR. Mine will be the Olympia Logging Mining Navigation Co. I have several logging locos includeing 3 shays, 3 Heislers, 2Climax and 2 Shay/diesel. Sounds are good in all my equipment and almost as good as my large train. 2″ scale Walking Beam works on 120lbs steam. For my home layout I am planning 6 modules for it.


  3. I switched to O Scale back in the mid 90s. It was when Atlas O was new so I jumped in selling a bunch of HO stuff. I bought some track, switches, some cars and the Atlas SW loco. I was hooked and remain so as I wait for Sunset’s new GP7.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well Nick, I tried to join in on O Scale Central and the process ended for me (step 3?) when it asked for my website and was convincing me to get one. I’ve been a member of O Scale Kings since it began. I’m well up in years (82) and not much in tune with electronics or the latest modeling developments. While I try to support the hobby, I know I’m out of date with my techniques and the kinds of models I’ve built.

    There are quite a few things I’ve written on the O Scale Kings website Dan Dawdy has set up. They date back to when it was Jim Allen’s web site. I try to get things added. For example, I developed catalog lists with photos were possible, of all Walthers and All Nation O scale kits offered from about 1950 to the close of their businesses. Did that a few months ago, but Dan has not yet posted them.

    Some fellow model rail friends recently got me to try Facebook with many words of encouragement. But most often I do not see where I could be of much help or interest.

    Ed Bommer OSK 225, MMR 634


  5. I am a relatively new convert to 2 rail O scale from years in 3 rail O Gauge. I switched because I joined a club that I could get to pretty easily from my home. The club had a large 2 rail layout and I thought this was a great solution to the tiny space I could make my layout in my New York City apartment. In your post Nick I can see many of the issues I had when I first became a convert. In my mind I thought it would be easy to convert some of my better 3 rail items to 2 rail but while cars are relatively easy to convert engines are not so much. I feel like this is a real stumbling block to get 3 rail converts.

    I follow British model train magazines and layout designs because of the small spaces that are so similar to what I deal with in my apartment. I have noticed that in the past few years there has been a real renaissance in 2 rail o scale in England. There are 4 or 5 companies that are turning out new O scale models, both engines and cars at the rate of several a year at what seem pretty reasonable prices.

    Two years ago I bought a Dapol A1 Terrier 0-6-0T engine while on a business trip and while stuck at home this year I have been building a small switching layout in the apartment. I have found that I can research online, subscribe to British model railroad magazines digitally, join historical societies and find car plans all online. I have been building cars to pull and switch around by drawing up plans and using a Cricut vinyl cutting machine to scribe and cut cars out of styrene.

    All in all I am having a blast actually modeling and have been learning a lot through the research


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