Gauge is the distance between the rails. Standard gauge on the real railroads is 56-1/2 inches, derived from the wheel spacing on an ancient Roman chariot. Gauges wider than this standard are referred to as broad gauge, and narrow gauge is rails spaced closer than standard. Common sizes for narrow gauge are 2 feet, 3 feet, and meter.
Scale is defined as the proportion or ratio of the real train (often referred to as prototype) to the model.
One and one half inch to the foot is 1/8 scale. The prototype is 8 times bigger than the model. 56-1/2 inches divided by 8 equals 7.0625 inches. Standard gauge in this scale should be 7-1/16 inches! However, when people began building in this scale they chose a gauge of 7-1/4 inches. Most of the world and the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada use this gauge. Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding in the late 1930's some modelers began using a gauge of 7-1/2 inches for 1/8 scale. This gauge is now commonplace in most of the United States. Some 7-1/2" gaugers now use a scale of 1.6 inches to the foot to compensate for this error.
Two and one half inch to the foot scale (1:4.8) is often used to model three foot narrow gauge trains to run on 7-1/4" or 7-1/2" gauge tracks.
The largest trains run on rails 7-1/4 inches apart. The scale is 1-1/2 inches to the foot for standard gauge or 2-1/2 inches to the foot if you are modeling three foot narrow gauge. It may take two people to pick up a freight car, and some of the engines are truly enormous! Despite these drawbacks this size continues to be the most popular for the live steam enthusiast. The track at Marengo is a mile in length and features a yard, passing sidings, bridges, and operating signals.
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