What is a Gauge 3 Model?

Background History

Gauge 3 is one of the standards established by about 1900 and was a scale of ½in / 1ft with a gauge of 2½in. It was one of the most popular commercial sizes until perhaps the early 1920s, after which models generally became more affordable, available to those who were not aristocracy but owned smaller houses and thus the smaller scales became more common. The familiar 'O' gauge traders all made gauge 3 models as well: Mills Bros; Leeds Model Co, Bassett Lowke and a firm called Carson who made quite advanced steam models, the most common of which is an LNWR Experiment 4-6-0, though they did several other LNWR engines, an NER Atlantic and others. I have read that Bassett Lowke criticised them openly in the press (libel laws not good in those days!) and when Carson caught a cold with a complete 7¼in railway for which his fixed price proved to be inadequate, he called in the receiver. When the receiver arrived, who should be waiting on the steps but W.J.Bassett Lowke himself, and he bought most of the tooling, reintroducing many of the models almost unchanged, under their own name!

In about the late 1930s (I think) the Gauge 3 Model scale changed to 17/32in/1ft, so that boilers could be larger and give more power for passenger carrying (well, driver-towing anyway!) and the change has stuck to today. Most people use either this or 13.5mm / 1ft which, if you work it out, are all but the same anyway.

Current Situation

I am also a 7mm scale modeller and joined the Gauge '0' Guild in 1969. There are several parallels between '0' gauge 30-35 years ago and Gauge 3 modelling now with very few commercial products available and little publicity given to it, but some individuals making amazingly detailed models which inspire us all. In my opinion that is changing and gauge 3 is just starting to become more generally known, and perhaps more popular, just as '0' Gauge did in the 1970s when a few small manufacturers started marketing a small range - notably Triang, Three 'H' and then Slaters.

Where can I get help?

There is a Gauge 3 Society with a small but growing membership. The high-profile Gauge 3 Society members are of the old school with really impressive large garden railways which I could never achieve, and almost exclusively live steam. There is a growing interest in electric, but mostly battery with optional radio control. The Society markets its own track components including bullhead rail which, though similar to the slide-on chairs available in '0' gauge 30 years ago, is more-nearly to scale and looks very nice when assembled. Track with plastic sleepers has recently been launched too. They publish standards and a very nice Newsletter. They hold frequent summer meetings at the aforementioned garden railways which are wonderful events to inspire us all. For details of the Gauge 3 Society please go to our Links page.

There is also a 2½in Gauge Association, who are interested primarily in live steam models which will pull their driver around a raised track - in other words its the engineering which attracts them, whereas the G3S are interested in scale model railways. They manufacture and market a small range of castings to help the scratch builder.

The recent commercial G scale uses the same scale for narrow gauge. One firm 'Garden Railway Specialists' have created a market for people wanting a standard gauge feeder system to their narrow gauge garden layout. GRS are near Princes Risborough (Bucks) station and well worth a visit before you jump into Gauge 3. GRS are expanding their small range at a frantic pace and include engines, carriages and wagons. Their kits appear to be fairly simple to assemble and are good value but are almost all suitable for the BR period (though they have just introduced an LBSC Terrier). Their wagons are not sprung and (at the time of writing) have whitemetal buffers etc - like 'O' gauge 30 years ago! GRS make track bases in plastic, with heavy-section flat-bottom rail. For details go to our links page.

Brandbright also market a very small range of items for the Gauge 3 modeller including wagon kits. For details go to our links page.

Final Word

Anyone thinking of changing to Gauge 3 from one of the smaller scales should be aware of the costs. Being twice the size of 'O' gauge, a wagon body, for example, uses eight times the volume of material, so it costs quite a bit more than an 'O' gauge one. Slaters have just introduced a range of wheels (reminiscent of 'O' gauge 30 years ago!) and these are currently ONLY available through GRS, but they are exceptionally good value and good quality. For the pre-grouping modeller there is virtually nothing else available at all - no kits, no parts, nothing. So if you did decide to plump for Gauge 3 do not expect the large choice of parts that you have in Gauge 0 or even Gauge 1. But then, maybe that is part of the attraction of Gauge 3.

© 2004- Williams Models Updated: 10th March 2004