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. The "Resources" section of the web site has much more details of the history of a lot of the companies, both still operating ones as well as those that are now out of business.


  • 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).


  • 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.


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


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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). They introduced their plans that guided one to build an S-scale Union Pacific steam train.
  • 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. A.C. and William met at a Toy Manufacturers Association of American meeting of which A.C. was the president at the time.


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


  • Several scratchbuilt models appear in the British modeling press, but WWII put an end to the efforts.
  • Louis Marx & Co came out with a line of lithographed 3/16" scale cars that ran on O-scale track (like the pre-war A.C. Gilbert products).


  • "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").


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Start-up Mechanicraft, Inc. introduced a wind-up S-scale streamliner.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • A.C. Gilbert, Jr. takes over as president of the A.C. Gilbert company. The company changes to the 5-digit product numbering system, because it is now "computerized".


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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 with the September issue.
  • 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).


  • A.C. Gilbert, Sr. dies at the age of 76. A.C. Gilbert, Jr. takes over as chairman of the board.
  • 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.


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


  • 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 Heimburger starts the S Gaugian magazine. He is 14 years old!
  • Bernie Thomas becomes the second General Director of the NASG.
  • Jack Wrather bought 52% share of the A.C. Gilbert company and he brought in his own leadership, as the company was starting to lose money.


  • 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).
  • Jack Wrather puts A.C. Gilbert, Jr. back as president of the A.C. Gilbert company, and fires most of his own staff.


  • 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).
  • A.C. Gilbert, Jr. dies and so Jack Wrather takes over as the chairman of the board of the A.C. Gilbert company.


  • 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 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).


  • The A.C. Gilbert company declares bankruptcy in February after reporting a loss of almost $13 million for 1966.
  • A.C. Gilbert's arch-rival Lionel purchases the "American Flyer" brand name and tooling for $157,000 in June of this year. K-Line buys portions of the product line.


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


  • 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.


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


  • 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 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.


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


  • The NASG Board of Trustees approves the new S-scale wheel and track standard, and forwards them to the NMRA for acceptance. The main rationale for revising the existing S-scale standard (adopted by the NMRA in 1943) was that the NMRA standards would not common frog with Sn3. The NMRA had simply up-scaled the HO-scale standard, which caused the S-scale rail spacing to be 4'8". This was also resolved during this change to be the correct 4'8-1/2" spacing. So, the rail spacing went from 0.875" to 0.883". Anything produced before this date needs to be checked and adjusted for the proper gauge. Wayne Pier, chairman of the "Standards & Engineering" committee of the NASG, created a survey that was distributed with the August 1980 NASG's The Dispatch asking members what they thought was most important with regard to the standards. #1 was adjusting the rail spacing to match the scaled-down version of the prototype, i.e. 4'8-1/2", and number two was to make it compatible with Sn3. Wayne Pier (an engineer) established the new standards, Don Thompson brought the standards up in front of the BOT at the time, and they voted to approve them as the new NASG standard. (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 web site 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).)
  • 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).


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


  • Don Heimburger starts the Sn3 Modeler magazine via his company, Heimburger House.


  • Jettie Padgett, owner of SouthWind Models, got commissioned by the NASG to produce the first batch of the new (1981) NASG track standards gauges, during the 1985 NASG Convention. The first announcement of the gauges being available for sale in the NASG's "Clearinghouse" (now "Company Store") was in the Spring 1986 Dispatch. Unfortunately, the first batch of gauges had the four quadrants of the gauge mislabeled; everything was off by 180 degrees. Jettie made a second batch that had the labeling in the correct position (pre-production samples were approved in January 1988, as stated in the March 1988 issue of the NASG's Dispatch).
  • 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.


  • 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).


  • Rollie Mercier renames the S Gauge Herald to just The Herald starting with the February issue, in an attempt to make the magazine appear to be less S-specific (but it was).


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


  • 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.
  • S-Helper Service starts in September.


  • The October issue of the Dispatch (pg. 9) states the NMRA officially accepted the NASG's S-MOD modular track standard, and, because these are based on the new NASG track gauge standards, they also accepted the new NASG track standards.


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • The S/Sn3 Modeling Guide ceases publication.


  • 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.


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


  • Lionel successfully sues K-Line, as apparently K-Line was using Lionel technology and selling it as their own. The judge awarded the entire K-Line product line to Lionel. This video covers K-Line's history.


  • In February Lionel announces that it had purchased K-Line.


  • 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). The company is the main factory for American Models and S-Helper Service.


  • The NASG's Company Store was running out of NASG/NMRA standards gauges, so then-NASG President Sam McCoy commissioned Dan Navarre to have his builder, Boo-Rim Precision out of Korea, do another run of 2,000 gauges. These are the ones that are currently being sold by the NASG.


  • 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 due to their inability to find a new factory after Kader Industrial refuses to continue to do the work. This effectively closes S-Helper Service.


  • 1:64 Modeling Guide ceased publication.


  • 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.


  • 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).


  • After 36 years, Heimburger House stops publishing the Sn3 Modeler magazine.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • ScaleTrains announces in the January that it has bought the S-scale tooling from MTH Electric Trains (these are the former S-Helper Service tooling).
  • MTH Electric Trains is effectively split into three different companies, each taking on some aspect of the previous company, none of it involves S, though, except for the DCS electronics, which was installed in the S-scale engines that MTH produced.
  • Ron Bashista, owner of American Models, passes away unexpectedly in December. Ron's wife announces that American Models will continue to be operated by its employees.


  • ScaleTrains shows pre-production photos of the former SHS/MTH steel box car and two-bay hopper. They also announce that they are working on the former SHS/MTH extended-vision caboose and the track system.
  • Don Heimburger, a truly relentless promoter of S-scale, passes away in June.


  • In January, ScaleTrains officially updates their web site to show S-scale. They also announced that their S-scale product line will be under the "S-Helper Service" brand name, to honor the former company that created these products. ScaleTrains' first officially announced product is the two-bay, peaked-end, fishbelly hopper, available in 6 road names and undecorated. These are based on S-Helper Service tooling.
  • In March, ScaleTrains officially announces their second car for S-scale, which is the USRA 40' rebuilt steel box car. These are based on S-Helper Service tooling.
  • In August, ScaleTrains officially announces their third car for S-scale, which is the ICC wide-vision caboose. These are based on S-Helper Service tooling.


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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