Proto48 · Ruminations · Trackwork

Retreat from P48

I started the Dominion & New England layout in P48 as a personal challenge to raise my level of craftsmanship and the prototype fidelity of my models. As I write this, I’m looking at four locomotives, none of which are running on the layout. The steamers are just beyond my ability to convert to P48. Enlisting help with the basic P48 conversion runs about double what I paid for the locomotives. The diesels I can handle but I’ve allowed myself to be sidetracked into building better drives. I’ll continue with that effort. Upgraded motors, DCC and sound are well within my ability. Turning new driver tires, narrowing frames, etc…, maybe not.

I’m also staring at a dozen freight cars that could be running on the layout but are waiting for P48 wheelsets or complete trucks. And they’re not cheap either.

I started the conversion to the Protocraft Symington-Gould AAR Type “E” operating couplers. They are beautiful! But my layout is a shortline with lots of switching and I’m finding they are just too finicky for me. As it happens, Kadee is selling a more prototypical “E” coupler now — no, they’re not as nice looking as the Protocraft but they’re not bad. And they operate much better. The spring is hidden so there is no obvious give away.

There is simply not enough done on the layout to prevent me from starting over in Ow5 (1.25″ O gauge). I can relay track a lot faster than all of these other chores and it’s a whole lot less expensive. I’ll continue to lay the track to a high standard even if it is a slightly wider gauge.

Please don’t let me discourage you from trying P48. Others have successfully built large P48 layouts. In my case, my machining skills and my pocketbook just aren’t deep enough. I’m not getting enough done to really enjoy my efforts.

9 thoughts on “Retreat from P48

  1. I’m not going to say “sorry to hear that”, because you’re still going to be engaged in the hobby. What I will say is “congratulations on finding a way to enjoy your hobby more”. Besides, a 6% increase in the distance between the rails shouldnt be too noticeable; it equates to the length of my pinky in the real world (I have big hands).


  2. Nothing wrong with your decision. You can still detail cars to the nth degree if you wish. Taking the P:48 pressure off your shoulder may revitalize your modeling.

    Other modelers have used P:48 profile wheels gauged for 1.25″. NWSL sold wheelsets in this configuration. Tires on your steam locos can be turned to the more prototypical contour.

    You might look at the San Juan Evolution and Sharon couplers. As you are modeling an early modern era the marginally smaller coupler should not be a detriment.


  3. Hi Wayne:

    Wow – that’s a tough decision to make. Many people in the hobby wouldn’t – they would get hung up on the fact that they’d invested $#### in the project already, etc. So kudos to you for deciding that it wasn’t working for you, and being flexible enough to do something about it.

    I’ve had similar experiences. I designed my current layout to use Sergent Engineering’s lovely looking S scale couplers. They sure look nicer than the Kadee S scale coupler, which is definitely oversize. But I found that during operating sessions, the Sergent couplers were just letting me down. They were too fussy. After a session, as my friends and I retired to the local pub, we ended up spending an evening talking about couplers. I decided that was not what I wanted the takeaway from my layout to be. So I went back to Kadees – and when we’re enjoying our post-operating pints, nobody says, “What a great time – too bad the couplers are oversized”.

    Here’s another example – one I I know you’ll appreciate: when Bachmann released its On30 Forney, there was some discussion amongst the On2 community about what this would mean for modeling the Maine two-footers in 1:48. Some people focused in on the few inches in difference in gauge. But others – myself included – argued that if everything else was modeled with respect to the prototype, the gauge wouldn’t make a difference. We suggested things like “Use slightly wider ties so the rails look like they’re in the correct spot, proportionately”, “Model prototype equipment instead of using Bachmann’s three-foot inspired rolling stock”, and so on. Lou Sassi’s On30 layout has recently started making the rounds in Kalmbach publications and proves that this is a viable way to model a Maine two-footer in 1:48. It’s convincing – and the gauge doesn’t matter.

    Your layout will be equally convincing, even if it’s running on rails spread 5′ apart. And if you actually have things running, and they run well, and the couplers behave, etc., then when you and your friends get together, the “Proto:48 vs O gauge” issue isn’t even going to come up.


    – Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)


  4. I’m glad Trevor posted about this so I could discover your work. I’m looking forward to “losing” some time reading through the work you’ve done!

    With respect to the topic at hand, bravo on making the no doubt tough decision to make a change like that. Its not easy, but being self aware is important. I know I’ve gone through that kind of doubt phases of what I want and how to get there on the relatively simple layout I’m building, and I hope if I come to a crossroads where I’m faced with a decision to make regarding some aspect of it’s construction/operation to ensure continued enjoyment and keeping going in the hobby, I can make as well a reasoned one as it sounds like you have from your post.



    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve recently had to come up with the decision to either tear everything apart and lay a new track plan I would be happier with _or_ keep all the hard work already invested and not like what I had built anymore. As far as First World Problems go, by far one of the best to have.

      And yes, I opted to start from scratch. As you pointed out, I want to play with my toys, not feel limited by them.


  5. A difficult decision, but ultimately I think the right one for you: the fact that you have tried P:48 and also spent some time agonising over this issue lends weight to that, and your reasoning is faultless.
    Better this than no layout!

    I wonder at the pressures of the modern world. The best time to start down the “proto” route is probably during one’s fifties, having spent the previous decades learning the craft of scratchbuilding track, equipment and structures, and discovering what one’s personal tastes are in the hobby. The first thing to address at this point is motive power: other rolling stock can have its wheels and trucks upgraded/replaced fairly easily. Either the necessary tools (including a lathe) can get acquired and their use learned, or the conversion be farmed out, according to skills, confidence, desires and circumstances. With motive power sorted, the rest is fairly straightforward – unless one wants a large stud of steam locos and to have a large “basement empire”.
    Once past our fifties (and I am currently slap bang in the middle of them!) we start to see faring eyesight and a greater reluctance to learn new skills, as well as reduced income (retirement!)
    But just when we should be enjoying the fruits of 30+ years of labour, we increasingly find ourselves under pressure with greater calls on our disposable income and our “free time”. There is pressure to acquire, to work harder. What happened to the promise of computers reducing our workload and giving us more leisure time, more chances to develop personally?

    I say all that as your desires for the layout were modest: four locos is not many (although 3 more than anyone can control properly at any given time!) and yet the time and cost involved are proving to be big obstacles. I wish I lived nearer to you than I do (just the small matter of a large ocean between us!) as I would have been quite happy to see what was involved in converting your steam locos, and to have had a go myself just for the enjoyment of it.

    We all have to work within the limitations of our resources, which includes time and money!
    (Money just means you pay for somebody else’s time…)

    I look forward to more posts with inspiring modelling: your freight shed is simply sublime.

    Happy New Year!



  6. I tried the Proto 48 route after a visit to a fantastic layout in Reno many years ago. I realized that my limits were just too many to go past a few wheelsets. Troels Kirk used HO track for his remarkable On30 layout and its not noticable. Your work is first rate and I say we are limited enough that you do what suits you “bestest”
    Rock ON and thank you for sharing your work
    James T


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