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Mixing and Matching
Large Scale Cars/
Sample Car
Measurements
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Mixing and Matching Large Scale Cars/
Sample Car Measurements

Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains

If you're new to Large Scale or Garden Railroading, you may have noticed that some pieces of rolling stock (even pieces labeled for the same railroad) don't look right next to other pieces. It's not your imagination. Large Scale manufacturers are using the same 45mm track (1.775") to model "real-world" prototypes that ran on 36", one-meter, 42", and 56.6" track. But for a model of a standard gauge car that ran on 56.5" track to look right on 45mm track, it has to be modeled in a different scale than a model of narrow gauge car that ran on 36" track. As a result of these differences (and some compromises and shortcuts that have occurred) you can now buy mass-produced Large Scale equipment in the following scales: 1:20.3, 1:22.5, 1:24, 1:29, 1:30, and 1:32. And all of that equipment runs on 45mm track. Worse yet, many of those pieces are labeled "Compatible with all G scale equipment."

Considering that a 6-foot tall man in 1:32 would be less than 2/3 the size of a 6-footer in 1:20.3, it's no wonder that sometimes pieces from different scales doesn't quite look right next to each other.

When I started garden railroading, each manufacturer only made a few products I could use. So I had to "mix and match" equipment from different manufacturers to equip my railroad the way I wanted. Later on, several major manufacturers attempted to make a full range of equipment, so mixing and matching wouldn't be as necessary as it once was. (AristoCraft, now defunct, came the closest to a full range of Standard Gauge equipment.) But you may still be tempted to use something from a line you've never used. And it would be helpful to have some idea of how it would "fit in" with your current collection.

For your convenience in determining whether equipment of various manufacturers is compatible in overall dimensions, we have compiled measurements of a few freight cars and wooden cabooses, sorted by whether the models represent Standard Gauge or Narrow Gauge prototype. (In a few cases, it's anybody's guess.)

When you are reviewing this information, please keep in mind that measurements don't tell the whole story because:

  • The freight cars are of different prototypes, from 23-foot narrow gauge "oldies" to the "oversize" cars introduced in the second half of the 20th century.
  • Details on models with similar overall dimensions may betray a significantly different prototype. For example, the narrow-gauge cars from LGB have only five rungs on the "ladder" end of the car, and the brake-wheels stick way up in the air. In contrast, the standard-gauge cars from AristoCraft have seven rungs on the ladder, and brake wheels that sit below roof-height. You might not notice such differences on a moving train or from several feet away, but they may bug you on a train that is parked in front of you.
  • Some models may contain out-of-scale details. For example, MDC/Roundhouse cars (nominally 1:32 or 1:24) include trucks and wheels that are almost identical in size to the 1:22.5 models.
  • Models from companies like Lionel may measure out to one scale lengthwise and another scale heightwise.
  • AristoCraft's first generation boxcars, reefers, and stock cars sit a little high over the trucks, a problem some people addressed by replacing the bolsters. The 2nd-generation of AristoCraft box, reefer, and stock cars were reported to sit a little lower, matching USA's Standard Gauge cars.
  • Caboose lengths vary radically with the prototype, so they are not important except in cases like "New Bright," where the length is indicative of a very undersized model.
  • I didn't include steel cabooses, because the only steel cabooses I had access to at the time were all advertised the same scale (Aristo and USA 1:29) and look fine next to each other. Similarly I didn't include hoppers, flat cars, gondolas, or tanks because their prototypes varied so widely that most discrepancies in size aren't as noticeable as discrepancies in size of box, reefer, and stock cars.
  • New models are being introduced constantly. (I hope to keep this page updated with the help of folks who rush right out and buy the new ones.)

8-Wheel Freight Cars (Box and Refrigerator cars)

Narrow Gauge Prototype

Manufacturer/ Model

Advertised Scale

Body Length

Body Height (Floor to Roofwalk)

Overall Height (Flange to Roofwalk)

Width

LGB Narrow Gauge box car

1:22.5

15 1/8"

4 5/8"

5 7/8"

4 1/8"

Bachmann 30 boxcar

1:22.5

15 1/8"

4 3/8"

5 5/8"

4"

USA 1st-generation 23 boxcar

1:22.5

15 1/8"

4 5/8"

5 7/8"

4"

Standard Gauge Prototype

Manufacturer/ Model

Advertised Scale

Body Length

Body Height (Floor to Roofwalk)

Overall Height (Flange to Roofwalk)

Width

AristoCraft 40 boxcar

1:29

17"

4 "

6" (Note: 2nd-generation AristoCraft box cars sit slightly lower, about 6 1/4" overall)

4"

PIKO 40 refrigerator car

1:32

14"

4 1/8"

5 3/8"

3 7/8"

MDC 40 refrigerator car

1:32

14"

4 1/8"

5"

3 7/8"

USA 2nd-generation 40 PSI car

1:29

17"

4 5/8"

6"

4 1/8"

Lionel 40 boxcar

?

14"

4"

6 3/8"

4 1/8"

 

Wooden Cabooses

Narrow Gauge Prototype

Manufacturer/ Model

Advertised Scale

Body Length (Nominal)*

Body Height (Floor to Roofwalk)

Overall Height (Flange to Cupola Roof)

Width

Door Height

LGB 4-wheel

1:22.5

10 7/8"

4 5/8"

7"

4 1/8"

3 1/8"

Bachmann 4-wheel

1:22.5

9 5/8"

4"

6 "

4 "

3 1/8"

Bachmann 8-wheel

1:22.5?

15"

4 "

7"

4"

3 "

Standard Gauge Prototype

Manufacturer/ Model

Advertised Scale

Body Length (Nominal)*

Body Height (Floor to Roofwalk)

Overall Height (Flange to Cupola Roof)

Width

Door Height

AristoCraft 4-wheel

1:29

10 1/8"

3 "

6 3/8"

4"

2 "

Undetermined Prototype

Manufacturer/ Model

Advertised Scale

Body Length (Nominal)*

Body Height (Floor to Roofwalk)

Overall Height (Flange to Cupola Roof)

Width

Door Height

MDC 8-wheel

?

11 "

3 7/8"

6 "

3 "

2 "

Lionel 4-wheel

?

11"

4"

7 3/16 "

4 "

3 1/8"

New Bright 8-wheel

?

9 "

3 3/8"

5 "

3 3/8"

2 3/8"

* The body length of the caboose is relatively unimportant, because they are models of different length cabooses. However, you will notice that the eight-wheeled New Bright is shorter than the 4-wheeled Bachmann.

When evaluating cabooses, remember that door heights on wooden cabooses did vary somewhat, but were seldom under 6'. The following list shows the equivalent of 6' in the major garden railroading scales:

In this scale: 6 feet would be:
1:20.3 3.55"
1:22.5 3.2"
1:24 3"
1:29 2.5"
1:32 2.25"

Conclusion

You actually can't draw any conclusions until you've also seen (and preferably, handled) equipment from each manufacturer. But this should give you a reference in case someone offers you a "deal" and you're not sure it will look right with your existing setup. For more information on the various scales used an garden railroading and how things got so complicated, refer to the Family Garden Train's article "Which Scale Should I Model."

 

Note: Family Garden Trains(tm), Garden Train Store(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), BIG Indoor Trains(tm), and BIG Train Store(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications(tm) (www.btcomm.com). 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, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
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