Recent work on my list of Alaska short line railroads has gotten me interested in toy trains again (or, excuse me, “model” trains). I discovered that there is a whole subset of HO-scale model railroading for narrow gauge, in HOn3 (scale 3′ or 36″) and HOn30 (scale 30″, aka HOe). While 36″ was more common and has more “prototypes” (the real railroads on which models are based), scale track for it is somewhat less available. HOn30 happens to match N-scale track, which makes it more attractive to modelers on a budget.
Alaska had a few 30″ rail lines (as well as 24″, 36″, 42″, and others). As I’ve discussed on my railroad page, most of the locomotives used on these lines were small 0-4-0 saddle tankers re-purposed from lower-48 industry and construction. A few companies happen to make HOn30 industrial locomotives and cars for modeling, and I couldn’t resist buying some more toys!
My first experiment in HOn30 includes some 2nd-hand track, a BCH Minitrains 0-4-0 steam locomotive, and a string of cars including coal, ore, log cars, and a caboose. There is a very good review of the locomotive set here. The company also makes a Plymouth gas locomotive and a variety of rolling stock.
Right now these are just a static display. I have some HO scale stuff packed away from my childhood, and have been hoarding more as I find it at garage sales, but don’t have time to set any of it up and run it. In the mythical “some day” when all my projects are done, I’d like to model a small Alaska mine railroad (current estimates hover around age 60). Until then, these are really fun conversation pieces!
Above is an example of how small these are, the narrow gauge locomotive is shown next to a standard-gauge 0-4-0 switcher that I picked up at a garage sale. A real-world photo of standard and small narrow gauge locomotives can be seen here.
For anyone interested in modeling Alaska short lines, there are a wide variety of locomotives available new and used (eBay has quite a few). European models are quite popular and most manufacturers seem to be in Europe, using the “HOe” designation for 30″ scale gauge. Side-tank locomotives are more common in the model world, but were very rare in Alaska (so far I know of only one, an 0-6-0 Baldwin at the Apollo mine). Small flatcars were the most common rolling stock in real life (but less common in model form). Ore cars, log cars, and other specialty cars were also used.
I would love to get my hands on an H.K. Porter with the shorter saddle tank, as it was the most typical of small Alaskan lines. However, they seem to be rare in HOn30 form, and seem to be mostly home brewed / scratch built / kit-bashed by people with more time and patience than I. The little engine I bought is labeled as a Porter and has Porter’s logo on the front, but some reviewers believe it is more closely based on a Baldwin prototype. Both builders offered nearly identical models of this size and design in the early 1900s.