The title of this article seems slightly absurd, I realize. An On30 loco at 1:48 could run over 1:220 Z scale loco and not even realize it had hit something, so where’s the similarity? In the early-ish days of Z scale, most people were just so taken by the size of the trains they were drawn to them without any serious debate about prototypical accuracy, they were just fun!
People built Z scale layouts in coffee tables, in guitar cases and in repurposed bubble gum machines. Marklin, the developers of Z scale, packaged their smallest locos with a loop of track in clear mini-suitcases and even called them Fun Sets. They were on to something.
Today’s Z scale is, in every measurable way, superior to the original Z scale product line. So why do I miss those early days of simple fun with the trains? Online forum members would snap photos of their newly acquired Marklin Z locos and proudly upload them over their 56k modems to share with others. Those who were willing to part with a bit of coin (well before Bitcoin) could take their entire layout to work with them in a briefcase layout. Sure, it’s a little kitschy but it was also a lot of fun, it still is.
Turning our attention to On30, in many ways it’s similar to Z scale in that it’s also been looked at as something of a niche area of model railroading and like Z, it’s growing fast. In the late 1990s, Bachmann came out with an On30 locomotive for the Christmas season; things have taken off from there with new models, new manufacturers and increased popularity. There are now some seriously high quality On30 offerings available, many come DCC equipped. As important as the equipment is the energy and fun that people seem to bring to their On30 layouts, this is what I find genuinely exciting.
It’s an interesting point, but the enthusiasts of both these small and large trains have a real affinity for building micro-layouts. I wonder why this is?
Some of my favorite layouts at this point don’t focus on prototypical accuracy in terms of track plans, though that’s great too. In fact, today some of my favorite layouts are freelanced simple loops, ovals or dogbone layout variations with a siding or two for visual interest. Creating earthy scenery, showing a real sense of atmosphere or interpreting small slices of history seems to be what On30 embraces today. And fun of course, lots of that.