You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
O Gauge Outside - using O Gauge and O Scale Trains and Accessories on Garden Railroads. Click for bigger photo. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
Large Scale Starter Sets: Begin with a train you'll be proud to run Best Choices for Beginning Garden Railroaders: a short list of things you're most likely to need when starting out
Large Scale Track order FormSturdy buildings for your garden railroad.
Large Scale Christmas Trains: Trains with a holiday theme for garden or professional display railroads.Free Large Scale Signs and Graphics: Bring your railroad to life with street signs, business signs, and railroad signs
Garden Railroading Books, Magazines, and Videos: Where to go to learn even more
Collectible Trains and Villages: On30 Trains and accessories designed by Thomas Kinkade and others

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Click to see new and reissued Lionel trains

Introduction to O Gauge Outside - Using O Gauge Trains and O Scale Accessories on Garden Railroads

People have been taking their Lionel trains outside on sunny days since the early days of toy trains. Of course the trains, the track, and even the buildings were rust-prone, so they took everything back in when the dew started to fall. But a few brave souls built track and buildings that wouldn't rust out and created permanent O-gauge garden railways throughout the 1900s. (They still took their trains in when they were done, as "O-Gauge Outsiders" do today.) But O Gauge Outside never caught on as a widespread hobby.

When LGB trains reinvigorated the Garden Railroading hobby, folks with a basement full of O-gauge trains wondered if they could build a garden railroad using trains they already owned. In fact, ever since we started Family Garden TrainsTM, we've been asked that same question in one form or another. And fortunately, the answers to the same old questions keep getting better, as new products and technologies become available.

Though I've been collecting information for an article like this for years, I didn't feel I could make it credible without showing some great photos of a successful O-Gauge Outside railroad. In March, 2007, I got my wish. A Tucson family, the Blessings, sent me a link to a "photo album" of their railroad, and John was helpful with my questions. So the O Gauge Outside articles are a summary of what we've learned so far, with much input and applicable photos from John Blessing and his family. Also, although I refer to Lionel frequently, 99% of these articles' content also applies to using other brands such as MTH, Williams, or K-Line. In fact, there's no compelling reason you couldn't use American Flyer S gauge trains the same way, although the track options aren't as good. If you want to try running American Flyer S gauge trains outside, contact us, and we'll send you the information we have.

Note: These "O Gauge Outside" articles are written to help serious O-gauge hobbyists adapt their equipment and their experience to outdoor railroading. If you have a couple of Lionel trains in the attic that you seldom run, you will probably be better off keeping them inside and getting a Large Scale starter set to use outside. Otherwise you'll have to learn two hobbies at the same time (O gauge railroading and garden railroading) instead of just one. And your old trains might have some collectors' value, so keeping them indoors might be a good choice for that reason, too. Now for the good news part of the article:

O Gauge Outsiders Have New Track Options

The one non-negotiable in building a garden railway is weather-resistant track. Some "O-Gauge Outsiders" have been building their own track from scratch or modifying "store-bought" track for years. For example, some track had rail material (like nickel silver or stainless steel) that was useful outdoors mounted in ties that were not. So they would paint, stain, or soak the ties to make them UV, rot, or insect-resistant. Today, Gargraves and Atlas, both longtime hobby suppliers, make track that can be used outside - Part 2 contains more information on this subject. And, largely because the rails require less material, some O gauge track that is suitable for outdoors is actually cheaper than most comparable 45mm track (the kind used for Large Scale garden trains.)

O Scale Buildings and Accessories Can Be Adapted for Use Outside

Although most buildings designed to go on garden railroads are made to withstand serious abuse, they seldom encounter any abuse worse than direct sunlight, rain, and bird droppings. As long as you take steps to protect your buildings from UV, weigh them down, and avoid putting them under walnut trees, you'll probably be OK.Click for bigger picture. Planning an O Gauge Outside Railroad contains more information on this subject, too.

O Gauge Trains Can Be Used Outside if They're Properly Stored When Not in Use

Unlike Large Scale trains, which are made for garden railroads, O gauge trains are not rust-resistant or UV resistant, and some are particularly vulnerable to sand in their gears. The most successful O-Gauge-Outsiders are folks who've figured a way to get their trains in and out quickly, so they can run on pretty days and run for cover in inclement weather without too much hassle either way. To the right you can see a "pet door" that the Blessings use to run their train in and out of their "train room" quickly. Click for bigger picture.

O Gauge Trains ARE Big Enough to Use Outside

Most O gauge trains are about half the length and a quarter the bulk of similar "large scale" trains, but they are still large enough to see outside; and for some folks it helps that they are small enough to fit a lot of railroading into a small space. (Of course, the Blessings' photos also show that you can fit a lot of railroading into a large space, too.)

Note about O Gauge versus O Scale - By the way, I say O gauge when referring to the trains because not all trains that run on O gauge track (1.25" between the rails) are the same scale. O scale refers to a particular proportion (1:48) between a model and the "real thing." For example, an O scale building should be 1/48th the size of the real building. But most trains that run on O gauge track are actually a little smaller than O scale, especially in length. Fortunately, they are still plenty big enough to be effective outdoors if you plan properly. Trains in 1:48 and even 1:45 are available, and they look even better outside. But that's not what most O-gaugers are interested in running outside. For the sake of simplifying the terminology in this article, I will say "O scale accessories" and "O gauge trains." Please contact me for more information if this "explanation" has muddied the waters.

Click for bigger photo.Construction Techniques for Large Scale Garden Railroading Can Be Modified for O Gauge Garden Railroading

One big difference is that O gauge track is not quite as sturdy as LGB or AristoCraft Large Scale track, so we recommend using a method that provides a sturdy base that supports the whole length of the track. This rules out some "floating" methods that garden railroaders often use, in which track is simply laid on packed gravel and more fine gravel is poured between the ties to represent "ballast." But track laid on poured concrete "roadbed," on pressure-treated lumber, or on HDPE roadbed is just fine. And all of those methods are lower-maintenance in general than "floating track" so there's no huge problem.

Ready to Forge Ahead?

We've established that O Gauge Outside is a growing hobby and that many resources are available. If you're ready to think about what it takes to plan an O Gauge Outside railroad, go to one of the following articles:

  • Using Lionel's TrainMasterTM Command Control Outside
  • Using O Gauge Gargraves Track (Outside)
  • Fred Young's Ground-Level Arizona Railroad - A ground-level railroad that has lots of operational options and some unique ways of adapting to the Arizona summer sun.

  • Home Pages
    Reading Index Pages
    Buyer's Guide Pages
    Return to Family Garden Trains Home page Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and  running well Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting  up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading Big Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
    On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display  villages and railroads

    Note: Family Garden TrainsTM, Garden Train StoreTM, Big Christmas TrainsTM, BIG Indoor TrainsTM, and BIG Train StoreTM are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
    Family Garden Trains is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

    For more information, please contact us

    Click to see exclusive, licensed Major League  Baseball(r) train and village collections!

    Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel  trains.
    Click to see new and vintage-style  Lionel trains

    Click to see collectible  Christmas villages and trains.