General Info

General Info

As you enter the hobby of garden railroading, here are some basics to help you in the sometimes confusing world of large scale equipment. Let's begin with the reality that many garden railroaders are into "plausible scale", not into exact, or fine-scale. Most of the North American garden railroads run on Gauge #1 track, which is 45mm wide (about 1-3/4"). There are numerous scales of trains that operate on Gauge #1 track, and your approach to your railroad will determine your scale(s).


Written scale

Track width in scale

of electric trains
in this Scale





Bachmann Spectrum;

Fine scale 3’™ narrow gauge on Gauge #1 track. Lots of steam engines and rolling stock available, very limited availability of cars & trucks to enhance layout. Piko & Pola buildings in 1:22.5 look quite well with this scale. Very popular with fine-scale modelers of 3' narrow gauge, especially in the West. Most narrow gauge railroads are modeled in pre-WWII era.




Bachmann Big Hauler
& Large Scale;

Commonly referred to G-Scale. Popularized by LGB and made affordable to the masses by Bachmann, a wide variety of train sets, locomotives, rolling stock, and buildings are available. However, finding 1:22.5 scale vehicles (cars & trucks) is extremely difficult. Piko & Pola make a wide variety of buildings in this scale.




Aristo-Craft Classic;
Hartland Locomotive
Works (HLW)

Perhaps the least popular of all scales for locomotives or rolling stock. An exceptionally wide variety of vehicles available, as most plastic car/truck models and many die-casts are either 1/24th or 1/25th scale. It remains a very convenient scale for scratch-builders, especially in buildings, bridge, and other railroad structures.




USA Trains

1/29 has become the most popular of all scales in recent years due to the price and availability of a tremendous variety of good quality trains from Aristo-Craft & USA Trains at reasonable prices. 1/24, 1/25 & 1/27 vehicles and buildings are plausible with this scale, as are 1/32 vehicles if they are not mixed with 1/24 or 1/25. Aristo-Craft has some good quality buildings available in 1/24 scale.





Fine-scale for standard gauge trains (4'8-1/2") on Gauge# 1 track. Not a lot of buildings in this scale as yet. Die-cast and model manufacturers are increasing availability of 1/32 vehicles. Lots of 1/32 aircraft model kits and a few 1/32 military vehicle model kits are available. A wide variety of military models are available in 1/35, and look quite well with 1/32 trains as accessories or car loads.
*NOTE: Marklin trains are not compatable with other brands of train.

Another consideration is that manufacturers may not necessarily be all “right on” with their scale. You may find that a 1:22.5 trolley, for example, is actually closer to 1/24 scale. LGB maintains that they are a toy train manufacturer, not a scale train builder. Some of their newer items measure out very close to 1/29 scale instead of their usual 1/22.5.
You may find die-cast vehicles that may be a good bit off-scale. Some advertised 1/18th die-casts have actually "run small" and measured very close to 1/20th and even 1/22.5 scale.

As previously stated, many garden railroaders are more into “plausible scale” rather than fine scale. Therefore, it is not uncommon to mix more than one scale on a layout. For example, 1/29 & 1/32 trains look reasonably well together, sometimes even in the same consist (train). 1/24 and 1/22.5 are reasonably good together as well. Some folks model buildings & vehicles in 1/24 and run 1/29, 1/24 and/or 1:22.5 trains, all of which look quite good with 1/24 structures and vehicles. When garden railroaders get together to run trains, the scale rule often becomes “If it fits on the track, we’ll run it!” There is always the 10-foot rule: Stand back 10 feet... If it looks good, use it!

Track is available in either US style (14 ties per foot of track) or European narrow gauge style (11 ties per foot). Track material for outdoor use is either solid brass or stainless steel. Aluminum and nickel steel have also been used, but not with the success or popularity of brass. Stainless steel is a relatively new rail material to outdoor railroading, and is rapidly growing in popularity. Which to use is more a matter of appearance and economics than anything else. Both brass and stainless are quite satisfactory for outdoor use as long as the plastic ties are UV resistant (most manufacturer's are). Many garden railroaders are still using track that is well over 10 years old without difficulty.

Solid Brass

Stainless Steel


Less expensive

About 20% more than solid brass


Rails eventually darken to give realistic appearance except for clean, shiny brass top of rails

Top of and sides of rails look more prototypical.


Brass is the better conductor, but may be more susceptible to problems at track joints.

A good conductor that seems less susceptible to track joint conductivity problems. Conductivity said to actually improve with age.


Variety of manufacturers

Limited number of manufacturers


Nickel Silver


Least expensive

Generally higher price than solid brass and Stainless Steel


For the most part the rails become a dull aluminum color, however, you can purchase a weathered version, this is very realistic. 

Top of and sides of rails look more prototypical.


Some people have trouble with connectivity with aluminum, however, others with larger locomotives with power pick ups in each wheel say it does just fine.

Combines the low maintenance of stainless steel with something close to the conductivity of brass


More and more manufacturers each year

Limited number of manufacturers

* Conductivity may or may not be as much of an issue of rail material as some think it is. Some garden railroaders have replaced their brass track with stainless steel and eliminated continuity problems entirely. Some of that improvement may be due to the newness of the track and connectors, rather than the rail material itself. However, when the two rail materials are mixed in the same run of track, the stainless does seem to run better. Occasional problems crop up, but usually, continuity throughout the layout is a relatively minor problem. Having quality rail joiners and maintaining clean track and wheels solves most issues. Understand that the greatest problem with track cleanliness is neither the rail material nor the elements: Plastic wheels on rolling stock cause more problems than anything else. In hot weather, the hot rails melt a small amount of the plastic from the wheels. The smoke fluid and lubricants that get on the track seem to interact with the residue on the rails left by the plastic wheels, making a very difficult residue to clean. For this reason, most garden railroaders run rolling stock with only metal wheels. (They sound better, too!) Replacing plastic wheels with metal ones is easy to do and not very expensive.

Some garden railroaders are going to battery power and radio control instead of track power. Batteries eliminate any potential problems with conductivity, but have their own limitations as well. Even with battery power, good quality rail joiners and clean track are still essential to prevent derailments. The price of the Aluminum track is what makes the sale here, and you don’t have to clean track!

There is a growing segment of garden railroaders who are using live-steam locomotives in addition to or instead of electric power. Again as with battery power, no need to have the track as clean as it can be.

The most important thing in garden railroading is to really enjoy the hobby. Whether that means fine-scale or plausible scale, there is a wide variety of quality locomotives, rolling stock, structures and accessories available to enhance your enjoyment of the hobby. Members of the club are quite willing to share their preferences, advice and experiences to help you establish and maintain your garden dream.