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S-scale's History

On this page we capture a historical timeline of how 1:64, 3/16"-to-the-foot, S-scale modeling came about, and how it evolved. When new details come to the attention of the webmaster, this page will be updated.

Even though some key manufacturers are listed on this page, we maintain a much more manufacturer-focused history in the "Product Gallery" section of this web site, for those of you who are "history buffs".

1893

  • W.E. Gallant of Chicago, a jeweler, built a live-steam model of a 4-4-0. It was built out of steel, brass, nickel, gold, and wood. See the December 1893 issue of the Locomotive Engineering journal (page 1041 in the PDF).

1896

  • 14-year old Edward Bowness scratchbuilds a British Midland Railway 4-2-2 made of card. 3/16" scale was chosen based on rivets available to him that matched the size of the engine's buffers (see April 1998 issue of S/Sn3 Modeling Guide). The March 1950 issue of The Model Railway News magazine re-published Edward Bowness' article in whole, describing how he built the model. We have captured those three pages in an image file format: page 43, page 44, page 45.

1907

  • "American Flyer" started by a Chicago hardware store to make wind-up clockwork trains.

1918

  • American Flyer Mfg. Co. started making electric trains in O gauge.

1919

  • Charles Wynne, professional engineer, scratchbuilds two British Midland Railway 4-4-0 tank engines made out of card, wood, and cast metal. He chose 3/16" because it was half the size of "Gauge One" (3/8", 1:32 scale). It became known as "H1" (or half-one) scale.

1935

  • British modeling magazine Model Railway News publishes letters about people enquiring about the practicality of modeling in 3/16" scale.
  • The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) was formed.

1936

  • Donald M. Tiffany of Bayside, New York, develops the first U.S.-based S-scale commercial product, that of a cast-metal hopper.

1937

  • Arthur Peake, in Manchester, England, starts Halfone Model Company, with the intent of developing scale standards and to start producing commercial products.
  • Cleveland Model and Supply, Co., a Cleveland, Ohio company which (still) manufactures wooden airplane kits, starts "C-D" gauge ("Cleveland-Designed"), which is based on being 75% the size of American O-gauge. The company was owned by Ed Packard (who had changed his name from Ed Pachasa; video about the company).
  • The NMRA accepts "C-D" gauge at the national convention.
  • In December, A.C. Gilbert, American Erector Set toy maker, purchases the American Flyer Manufacturing Company from William Ogden Coleman, Jr., and starts producing S-scale items, under the name of "Tru-Model", riding on wheelsets widened to fit the O-gauge track used by Lionel.

1938

  • Cleveland Model and Supply produces wood and diecast locomotives, and wood and paper freight cars.

1939

  • Several scratchbuilt models appear in the British modeling press, but WWII put an end to the efforts.

1943

  • "C-D gauge" was changed to "S" as the official name of 1:64 modeling at the NMRA convention that year. Legend has it that since the letter "s" appears so many times in "three-sixteenths" and "sixty-fourths", that "S" was selected over "Half-1". The track gauge and wheel dimensions were simply scaled up from the already-established HO-scale standards, which led to the track gauge of 0.875" (or 7/8").

1945

  • Bub, in Germany, started making clockwork S-gauge trains that ran on 22.5mm gauge track. The linked-to web site has some photos of their items. The products were not a commercial success as German modelers were quickly adopting HO-scale as their favorite.

1946

  • A.C. Gilbert stops making O- and HO-scale products, and starts producing S-scale items under the American Flyer brand name. The gauge was narrowed to true S-scale, purposely differentiating it from their competitor Lionel, and to be able to advertise that they used more realistic-looking two-rail track.

1950

  • Wimbledon Model Railway Club displays the first S-scale layout in Britain, built by Bernard Wright.
  • British company Palitoy starts making plastic train sets in 1:64 scale (powered by batteries). Click here for a photo of an original set. The photo comes courtesy of Fred van der Lubbe of The Netherlands, and posted here with his permission. The plastic used to make the bodies warped over time, so they don't really run anymore. Fred describes this set in his free-to-download eBook, LNER Pacifics and NYC Hudsons.

1950s

  • Cleveland Model and Supply stops producing C-D gauge products.
  • JEP, Jouets de Paris (i.e. "Toys from Paris"), was a French toymaker who started producing some S-scale items after one of the employees visited the U.S. and saw American Flyer.

1952

  • "S-gauge" was adopted in Britain based on the NMRA published standards of "S".
  • A.C. Gilbert produces the first plastic-bodied locomotives.

1954

  • A.C. Gilbert changes to the 5-digit product numbering system, because it is now "computerized".

1955

  • The French company JEP announces clockwork and electric trains for S-scale, noting their advantages in their catalog (see clockwork page and electric page). Note that "S" was not a known scale in Europe, so it is referred to as 25mm in their catalogs.

1957

  • Claud Wade of St. Louis advertises in Model Railroader for S-scale modelers to join a circuit letter, which he started later that year (by mid-1959 there were 30 circuits going!). The way a circuit letter worked is that a person would send his information, notes, comments, ideas, photos, etc. to the next person in the list (or "circuit"). The next person added his own info, etc., and mailed the whole stack to the next one in the list. This kept going. When the stack arrived back at your house, you would remove your old information and add new things. Each circuit covered a different topic or aspect of S-scale modeling.

1960

  • At the NMRA convention, the informal "National Association of S Gaugers" (NASG) was formed with no real formal structure, and NMRA membership was strongly encouraged. The year 1960 is the NASG's officially recognized year of formation.
  • David Bulkin starts the S Gauge Herald newsletter/magazine.
  • British company Palitoy stops making 1:64 scale plastic trains.
  • The French company JEP quits making S-scale products (the company went out of business in 1964).

1961

  • A.C. Gilbert dies at the age of 76.
  • The Northeastern S Gaugers Association (NESGA) grew out of a meeting at Frank Titman's home in Allentown, PA.
  • Wally Collins becomes publisher of the S Gauge Herald.

1960s

  • The Kadee HO-scale coupler was starting to be used by S-scale modelers.

1962

  • The first S-scale convention was held in May hosted by the Bristol S Gauge Railroaders club in the back room of a linoleum store in Woburn, Massachusetts, attended by about 40 modelers.
  • Frank Titman becomes the editor of the S Gauge Herald.
  • Don Heimberger starts the S Gaugian magazine. He is 14 years old!
  • Bernie Thomas becomes the second General Director of the NASG.

1963

  • Claud Wade produced the first full kit of parts to build a steam locomotive. These castings were the birth of modern S-scale (as the future demise of the A.C. Gilbert company was clear).

1964

  • Frank Titman's design idea of the clasped couplers was voted as the logo for the NASG. Ed Schumacher actually created the drawing from Frank's idea (as seen in our logo in the upper left of this web site).

1965

  • The NASG's "Bernie Thomas Memorial Award" was created by the Deep South S Gaugers Association, after Bernie's passing earlier this year. Russ Mobley becomes the third NASG General Director.
  • Claud Wade started "S Scale Locomotive and Supply" company, to separate the parts development work from the NASG work.
  • The A.C. Gilbert company declares bankruptcy.

1966

  • The NASG begins as a formal organization (July 1) with a General Director (Russ Mobley) and a 7-member Board of Trustees (Frank Titman, Wallace "Wally" Collins, Richard "Dick" Karnes, David Engle, Gene Fletcher, Ed Schumacher, and John Sudimak).

1967

  • A.C. Gilbert's arch-rival Lionel purchases the "American Flyer" brand name and tooling for $157,000 in June of this year.

1969

  • Lionel declares bankruptcy.
  • General Mills (of cereal fame) buys Lionel (and thus American Flyer), and eventually produces S-scale items under the name "Fundimensions".

1970

  • The NESGA is merged into the NASG. The NESGA's name was last used in the 1973 Convention.
  • Russ Mobley resigned as the NASG's General Directory and Ed Schumacher took over.

1971

  • The NASG starts work on the new S-scale wheel and track standards, which are different from what the NMRA has for S.

1976

  • The "NASG, Inc." was created in New York, established as a non-profit corporation. Jack McGarry authored most of the constitution, while Wally Collins did the legal work. The NASG, Inc. approved the new scale standards. These standards were different from the ones the NMRA established in 1943, because by simply up-scaling the HO-scale gauge back then, that translated into a prototype gauge of 4'8" for S, while in North America, the prototype gauge is 4'8-1/2". So, S-scale's gauge went from 0.875" to 0.883". Anything produced before this date needs to be checked and adjusted for the proper gauge. As a side-note, in the United Kingdom, the standards development took a different path. The 0.883" gauge was introduced by Rev. Ian Pusey in the 1963/64 season. Rev. Pusey was a leading UK S-scale modeler for many years. His efforts on the 0.883" gauge were part of the late post-war effort in the UK to improve the accuracy of models in the different scales. The website of the UK's S Scale Model Railway Society cites a current track gauge of 0.884" (we do not have an explanation for the .001" difference between their current standard and the standard established by Rev. Pusey).

1978

  • The S Gauge Herald publishes its last issue (primarily due to increased costs of printing, but also editor Frank Titman didn't think there was much hope for S-scale; they were unaware of the plans by American Models, see further below).
  • Then-NASG president, Dick Cataldi, starts the NASG Newsletter, since NASG reports were included in the S Gauge Herald before.
  • Swede Norlin releases code 70 Sn3 flex track.

1979

  • Ernie Horr takes over the NASG Newsletter, and renames it The Dispatch.
  • Tomalco releases code 100 standard-gauge flex track.

1980

  • Inspired by Sam Powell's article about his layout in the November 1975 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, Ron Bashista starts American Models to eventually produce quality scale and hi-rail engines, cars, and much more, filling the void left by the disappearance of A.C. Gilbert company (General Mills' Fundimensions never really produced much).

1971

  • The NASG Board of Trustees approves the new S-scale wheel and track standard, and forwards them to the NMRA for acceptance.

1982

  • The NMRA approves and makes available the Sn3 track standards gauge.

1985

  • Richard Kughn buys Lionel (and thus American Flyer) from General Mills.
  • The ESSENCE (S Scale Special Interest Group of the NMRA) newsletter was formed to attract S/Sn3 scale modelers from within the NMRA's membership.

1986

  • The NMRA recognizes the NASG's S-MOD standard as the official S-scale modular standard. From now on both the NMRA and the NASG have the same standards for S-scale.
  • Tony Perles passed away (after whom the NASG's Perles Publication Award is named).
  • Rollie Mercier re-starts the S Gauge Herald with the July issue (bi-monthly).

1987

  • Rollie Mercier renames the S Gauge Herald to just The Herald starting with the February issue.

1988

  • Rollie Mercier stops publishing the The Herald with the October issue.

1989

  • The 3/16 'S'cale Railroading magazine was started by Ed Loizeaux as publisher, Bob Werre as photographer, Billy Wade, Jr. as circulation and advertising manager, and Dick Karnes was the editor.

1992

  • The 3/16 'S'cale Railroading magazine ceased publication with the last issue of the year.

1993

  • The S/Sn3 Buyers Guide magazine was started by Billy Wade, Jr. to fill the gap left by the 3/16 'S'cale Railroading magazine. The title was eventually changed to S/Sn3 Modeling Guide.

1994

  • Rollie Mercier re-starts the S Gauge Herald magazine (the original name) with the October issue, but that turned out to be the only issue he did.

1995

  • Wellspring Associates (majority owner), along with Neil Young, purchase Lionel Trains, Inc. (and thus American Flyer), and created the new "Lionel, LLC". Richard Kughn remains on board as a minority owner.

1999

  • The S/Sn3 Modeling Guide ceases publication.

2001

  • Richard Bendever bought the rights to publish the S/Sn3 Modeling Guide, and renamed it 1:64 Modeling Guide. A few years after Richard ceased publishing the 1:64 Modeling Guide, Robert Nalbone bought the rights and ran it for a number of years, even switching to electronic-only versions.

2004

  • Lionel, LLC declares bankruptcy due to its losing the suit MTH won against it (Lionel's Korean factory, allegedly, was using MTH's designs to manufacture products for Lionel).

2008

  • Sanda Kan, which is a major manufacturer in China for model train products, and at this time was owned by J.P. Morgan, was taken over by its dominant Chinese rival Kader Industrial. Sanda Kan was experiencing severe production and mounting debt problems. (As an aside, Kader owns the Bachmann, Palitoy, Liliput, Graham Farish, and Williams brands of model trains, as well).

2010

  • Kader Industrial, parent company of Sanda Kan, announces that it will no longer accept orders from 60 of its 80 clients. All model railroad scales were affected by this, but in the S-scale world, S-Helper Service, American Models, American S Gauge, and S Scale America (by then owned by Des Plaines Hobbies) were hit hard.
  • S-Helper Service announces the sale of its tooling to MTH Electric Trains.

2012

  • 1:64 Modeling Guide ceased publication.

2014

  • MTH Electric Trains introduces its first release of S-scale products, using S-Helper Service's original tooling.
  • The digital-only magazine The S Scale Resource is created, published bi-monthly.

2017

  • MTH Electric Trains finally completes the production of all the items listed in their 2013 catalog (the F3 locomotives and turnouts were the last items from that catalog).

2018

  • After 34 years, Heimburger House stops publishing the Sn3 Modeler magazine.

2019

  • After 57 years, Heimburger House stops publishing the S Gaugian magazine. Don Heimburger officially retires, thereby also closing the "Scenery Unlimited" retail store and manufacturing.
  • Ron Sebastian, of Des Plaines Hobbies, passes away in October. Son-in-law, Matt Gaudynski, assures us that the store, and its manufacturing arm ("S Scale America"), will continue.

2020

  • Mike Wolf, chairman of MTH Electric Trains, announces his retirement, and also the subsequent closure of the company, scheduled for May 2021. Most of the items appearing in the 2019 MTH S-scale catalog are planned on being produced by then.

References

References used to compile this page's content:

  • "Welcome to S Gauge Herald Subscribers" article in the January 1979 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.
  • Claud Wade covered how the idea of the NASG was started, in the Spring 1983 issue of the NASG Dispatch.
  • "Collecting Antique Electric Toy Trains" article in March 1987 issue of Model Railroader.
  • "50 Golden Years with S Scale" article in the May 1987 issue of Model Railroader.
  • "In the Beginning was Rivet Scale" article in the April 1998 issue of S/Sn3 Modeling Guide.
  • Bob Jackson's NASG History articles.
  • December 2010 NASG Dispatch.
  • the S Scale Model Railway Society web site (has photos of some of the items mentioned above).
  • the Bristol S Gauge Railroaders club web site.
  • Kader topic on the Wikipedia web site.
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