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The History of S Trains


Some versions of S scale trains have been around for almost as long as there have been scaled model trains. In 1896, the first S scale model train was made from card stock.

The History Of S Scale Model Trains

Although the scale originated in England, it is probably more popular in the United States today than in Europe.

The Difference in Scale and Gauge

Scale and gauge often become intertwined and confused, so you will see S printed as both scale and gauge, even though scale is the relationship of size between a model and the prototype it represents and gauge refers to the distance between the two rails of the train track.

The reason the distinction is made is that models don’t necessarily have track separation that matches the scale. Most scales of model trains have more than one gauge of track on which the trains run, and it often varies between manufacturers.

Another way to look at scale is how a foot is represented by the model. S scale is often referred to as “3/16” because 1/64 of a foot is 3/16 of an inch.

CD Models and S Scale Train Success

In America, CD Models was the first company to have good success with S scale model trains. The trains were sold under the name American Flyer. In 1943, the National Model Railroading Association gave the label of S gauge to the trains of the 1/64 scale.

Toy manufacturer A.C. Gilbert bought CD Models and kept the name while making many improvements to the design. It was through the Gilbert Company that S gauge became a very popular sized model in the United States. The first trains produced in the 1930s used three-rail track, but after the Second World War, Gilbert introduced a two-rail American Flyer because it looked more realistic.

It was in the fifties when the S scale American Flyer had its most popularity. Of course, that was a time when model trains in general were at their peak. Even though the Flyer was popular, Lionel sold twice as many model trains at the time.

Welcome to Hard Times

Toward the end of the 1960s, all model train makers were hurting because of a shift in the interests of young people. Kids didn’t want trains anymore, preferring rocket ships and other more modern toys.

Both American Flyer and Lionel were going through hard times. Lionel was able to buy out American Flyer when it went into receivership, but it wasn’t long before both became part of a holding company.

Under a restructuring, Lionel Trains went back into production, and Lionel brought out the S gauge trains in 1979 under the American Flyer name.

American Models Diversifies

American Models began in 1981 to make parts and rolling stock for American Flyer trains. The owner could not find good parts or material for the older trains he tried to keep running, so he decided to build for himself. It became a good business and now American Models builds entire setups.

S Helper Service began in 1989 for the purpose of producing the S gauge trains and accessories.

River Raisin Models – Brass S Gauge Models

The manufacturer who produces the most brass models in the S gauge is River Raisin Models. Although model trains aren’t the selling product they once were, people have many more choices of model trains and better products in general than they had in the 1950s. The support products for landscape and track are much improved, too.

It seems that even though the S gauge is not the top choice in size, there will continue to be a market for a long time to come.


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