Lionel O Gauge and Lionel 027 ...... and Lionel 031

Hardcoaler Aug 29, 2020

  1. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    I've been looking at my old tubular Lionel brand track stored in my parent's attic and it doesn't match the Lionel O-Gauge or Lionel 027 curvature specifications seen everywhere on the Internet.

    After a lot of research, I finally figured out that my curves are Lionel 031, a lesser known variant that produces a radius of ~ 30" on the outer rail and ~31" to the outer edge of the crossties. (I don't make this stuff up folks -- over the many years, Lionel has concocted some interesting "radius" calculations that have stumped modelers of several generations).

    I wanted to mention this in case others discover as I did, that O-Gauge and 027 tubular track were not the sole Lionel curved track options. I don't know when 031 tubular track was offered (postwar? prewar? both?)

    I have two Lionel locomotives that are documented to not work on 027 track because of the tight curvature. Looks like I'll have to test 'em on 031 and see what happens, as I can't find any documentation for these on that radius. If they fail, I have some Super-O which will work for certain.
     
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  2. country joe

    country joe TrainBoard Member

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    O gauge 3 rail track is actually pretty easy to understand. Here are the basics.

    O gauge was originally called zero gauge. Earlier track was designated by numbers, 1 gauge being the narrowest and 3 gauge the widest. It didn't take long for zero gauge to be called oh gauge. It's arguable who developed O gauge but Lionel became the sole manufacturer after their competitors failed, or as in the case of American Flyer, changed to S gauge after WW2. O gauge always had 31 inch diameter curves but since that was the only option it was called O gauge.

    O 27 began to be used in the 1930s to offer a less expensive alternative to O gauge. O72 was also introduced around the same time. This photo shows the specs.

    1.jpg

    It's pretty easy so far. 3 rail track came in 2 varieties, O gauge and O27 gauge. O gauge had 2 curve and switch options, O and O72. O and O27 have always been measured as diameters to the outside of the ties. Typical of the O gauge world, O72 is 74" if measured the same way as O and O27. This lasted through the end of the Post War era (1969) with the addition of Super O in 1957. Super O replaced O gauge, but O gauge hobbyists used either O27, O (which included O72) or Super O.

    When General Mills' MPC division began making Lionel they only offered O27 track. Those who ran 3 rail O used Gargraves flexible track for other curve options and more realistic looking track. It's still pretty easy to under stand because track choices were limited. The confusion enters when various curve options were offered. This began in the late '70s or the '80s. O gauge track was revived and offered in it's original 31" and 72" diameters, but 42" and 54" diameters were added. O27 also added 42", 54" and 72" diameter options to its original 27" diameter. With all these choices it wasn't enough to just designate track as O gauge or O27, and track began to be called by it's curve diameter.

    O gauge track was always called O gauge but those using it began to call the tightest curves O31. To make matters worse, many use the term O31 instead of O gauge to identify O gauge profile tubular track, but once you understand it it's really pretty easy. O gauge curves have always been O31 diameter. The track is the same but the designation is new. New O gauge hobbyists learn these things pretty quickly but they can be very confusing to the beginner and to 2 rail scale guys who do things very differently.
     
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  3. country joe

    country joe TrainBoard Member

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    Hardcoaler, your 2 O gauge engines, if they will run on O31, will probably run on O27 but won't be able to run through the switches. The problem with running longer O gauge locomotives and cars on O27 is that they will hit the housing on O27 switches. There are newer O gauge engines and cars that require larger curves that is usually specified on the box. As an example, it might say O54 minimum. Post war engines and reproductions of post war engines that were designed to run on O gauge (O31) track and switches almost always can negotiate O27 curves but not the switches.
     
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  4. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    I believe that O-27 actually originated in Europe. Marx was also right in that same time frame as Lionel, for their initial use of O-27.
     
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  5. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    Thank you Country Joe -- that's a very informative post and it assures me that my 031 Curves are O Gauge. :) I also found some O Gauge straight tracks, both 10 Inch and 14-3/8.

    Lastly, I found four 022 Switches, all marked "Lionel Remote Control No. 022 “O” Gauge Switch", so the track height should match my other track. (One pair has bayonet lamps and the other pair threaded lamps.) Do you know if the radius of the diverging route on the 022s matches my 031 Curves?
     
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  6. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    Hmmm, now I understand the problem. I really appreciate your help explaining this all. (y) If I want to set up a simple 031 circle without switches around the Christmas tree, I would probably be okay then.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
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  7. country joe

    country joe TrainBoard Member

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    The 022 switches are the same as your O31 curves. The straight leg is 10" and matches a 10" straight section and the curved leg is the same as an O31 curve. The switch was designed to replace any standard straight or curved track section.

    The 10" straight track is the standard straight section. The longer straight sections are less common. I believe they were made to match O72 switches but I'm not 100% sure about that.
     
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  8. country joe

    country joe TrainBoard Member

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    Yes, I don't know of anything made in the post war period that won't run on O31 track and switches. Some of the newer scale size locomotives and rolling stock require larger curves. You should be fine running on O31.
     
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  9. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    I was reading my Collector's Guide and History To Lionel Trains - Vol. I Prewar O Gauge by McComas & Tuohy (c. 1975) today and happened to see some history on 027. It had its origins with Ives and when Ives went bankrupt in 1928, Lionel moved to acquire Ives and carried on with the track in their low-cost "Lionel Jr." sets. Only after Lionel dropped the Lionel Jr. line in 1937 did the track assume its identity as 027.

    Pretty neat. :)
     
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