A few questions about S scale trains.

howard1975 Feb 28, 2020

  1. howard1975

    howard1975 New Member

    Hello everyone, I have a few questions about S scale trains. A little background about me first. During my entire life, I have owned trains in N scale, 2-rail HO (Athearn, MDC, Atlas, Kato, Bachmann, Tyco, etc), 3-rail HO (Marklin), and 3-rail O gauge (Lionel, Marx, MTH, K-Line, etc), and also G scale (LGB). I will be 45 years old very soon, and because of my changing eyesight, I don't like working on N scale anymore. It is just getting too small to comfortably model with.

    Yes I can use my reading glasses, and my OptiVISOR magnifying glasses, to help me see better.

    I currently only have a small collection in each scale. Only a few locomotives in each scale, small amount of track, and a handful of freight cars in each scale. I'm planning on selling all of my N scale, probably all my HO scale (both 2 and 3 rail), and possibly all of my O-27 trains. Going forward into the future, I would like to concentrate on one scale, instead of my assorted collection.

    I have never owned or operated any S scale trains, never in my life. But I'm considering selling all my other trains, and concentrating exclusively on S scale. I have been doing a lot of research lately about S scale. Reading many websites, forums, and blogs, and watching videos on YouTube. I have also ordered a few S scale specific magazines from eBay, but still waiting for those to arrive.

    I plan on running both vintage American Flyer (1946-1967) along with the more modern S scale trains from Showcase Line, American Models, SHS (S Helper Service), MTH, Lionel-American Flyer, Des Plaines Hobbies, etc. Right now I own nothing in S scale, which is why I need to ask a few questions, before I start purchasing S scale trains.

    Because I will be running both hi-rail and scale wheels, I know I will need at least code 125 rail, and closed frog switches. But I will probably begin with vintage post war American Flyer track, because of my budget. Vintage S gauge American Flyer track comes in a 19 inch radius curves, had a 90 degree crossing, and 19 inch closed frog switches (turnouts). I know all the post war American Flyer trains will operate fine on their post war track, as long as I keep the truck mounted, talgo couplers. But what if I want to body mount Kadee couplers on some freight equipment? And I believe some S scale come equipped with body mounted couplers anyway (like brass).

    I'm only talking about 50 foot and shorter freight cars, not any passenger cars. Will the typical 40 and 50 foot freight cars, equipped with body mounted Kadee 802 or 808 couplers (or the SHS coupler), operate reliably on those postwar 19 inch radius curves and turnouts? What about the Kadee HO couplers? I know some S gaugers use the Kadee 5 couplers, because they were available before Kadee made the 802 and 808 couplers, specially for S scale.

    Another question. How reliable are the original American Flyer trains, especially the motors, reversing units, and couplers? Do the original AF couplers randomly uncouple on the track (like some O-27 lobster claws), or do they stay coupled reliably? Yes I know AF had three types of couplers. The original link in 1946, later knuckle (in 1952, 1953), and later the Pikemaster couplers and track. And I know they made some changes around 1957 in their numbering system, from 3 numbers to 5 numbers. And changes in where the reverse unit was located (either inside tender or later the locomotive body).

    In general, how well do the original AF trains run and operate? What about the newer equipment from all the other brands, with the can motors?

    I have read that all S gauge trains can operate fine on code 125 and larger rail, and closed frog switches (turnouts). What about the various brands of crossings, how well do the hi-rail and scale wheels work on them? Can modern scale wheels run reliably in vintage post war American Flyer crossings, without frequent derailments?

    By the way, I have seen American Flyer trains (and many of the other S scale brands) many times, because I have seen them in hobby shops, for the past 25 years. I just never bought any yet. I know the differences between the various scales and gauges, 2 rail and 3 rail trains, AC vs DC, analog vs DCC. I also own a lot of hobby magazines and books, and have been active on model train internet forums for many years.

    I'm not exactly sure what kinds of trains I will purchase yet, but probably both vintage flyer and newer S scale trains. I have two MRC Tech 2 2500 DC power packs, which are fine for any DC trains. I also own a post war Lionel RW (110 watts) transformer, which I know will be fine with any post war AC flyer trains. I will be keeping both of my MRC DC powerpacks, and my Lionel RW transformer.

    I don't need any of the DCC, DCS, TMCC, or Lecacy locomotives. I prefer straight analog trains. If I bought any command equipped locomotives (used), I would probably remove all the electronics, rewire it, and run it on straight DC - since they all have can motors. And keep any vintage flyer AC as analog AC. I have a Lionel RW, perfectly fine for those vintage AC motors.

    Last edited: Feb 29, 2020
  2. Andy S

    Andy S TrainBoard Member


    Well, I see the post was made on Feb 28, it’s now March 19… and if you heard a lot of “crickets,” get used to that sound with S Scale :) There aren’t a lot of us out here compared to HO and the other scales. There’s also limited product readily available, but if you like a nice challenge, it’s a great scale to build and run.

    Rule number one, it’s YOUR railroad, do what you like! That being said and understood, I see where you want to run both American Flyer and other modern S scale trains on the same layout. Be careful running hi rail wheels and scale wheels on the same track. The track isn’t the issue as much as the turnouts, due to wheel width as well as flange size. You may want to stay with hi rail wheel sets even if you decide to go with scale couplers and scale “everything else.” This is the reason manufacturers sell both hi rail and scale turnouts.

    I started with rebuilding my old American Flyer set and gradually began exploring newer options. I chose to go with DCC and move to scale couplers and scale detail on the engines. My drive toward DCC was a result of an engineering career and enjoying the DCC++ build and some history with Raspberry Pi and Arduino. There ARE upgrade motor sets available for the post war American flyer stuff that won’t compromise the old motors if you choose to restore them for collectability etc. My current plan is to convert everything but the American Flyer stuff to scale wheel sets.

    Layout space requirements seem to be one of the biggest hurdles for S scale, again, compared to HO. Product availability is another issue. I’m working through some second generation diesel challenges, kit bashing some American Model GP35’s and scratch building a GP40. If you haven’t yet found the site, NASG.org, the National Association of S Gaugers, is a wealth of information. If you want to lay your own track, you can by a track gauge for N, HO, O and even G scale from NMRA, but NOT an S scale gage, you get that from NASG.

    Another great resource (no pun intended) is S Scale Resource Magazine www.sscaleresource.com , a free on line Magazine complete with back issues.

    The S scale forum, forum.sscale.org, is another great resource, but be cautious here, the site rules are SCALE only, no hi rail or American Flyer discussions are allowed, unless its for converting American Flyer to scale. Their site, their rules.

    I enjoy S scale, but it’s not without its frustrations. If you want to just go out and buy you’re layout, AF Legacy through Lionel or MTH are the big players, but again, limited selections and most of it is high price and DCC. Post war American Flyer is widely available but hardly detailed scale by todays standards. American Models makes some good reliable engines, but you may want to do some kit bashing for scale details etc. With the advent of 3D printing, scratch building has become a workable option.

    My apologies if this is information you already have, but at least you now have a reply for your S scale query and not just the sound of those “crickets.” ;)

  3. howard1975

    howard1975 New Member

    Hello Andy,

    Thank you for your reply, I appreciate it. Yeah I was expecting more replies by now, but it is fine. I don't mind.
  4. acptulsa

    acptulsa TrainBoard Member

    S scale is a thing I think many would like to be able to do, but it consumes a lot of money and space. We may not have much input to give, but I can't be the only one who enjoys reading about it. Thanks for posting!

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