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T O P I C    R E V I E W
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/01/2017 : 10:42:32 AM
Before I get started, let just say that I am already familiar with the benefits of Sn3. I dabbled in it about 10-15 years ago, bought some equipment, even had four PBL Foreground locomotives. Unfortunately, being in the Arizona construction market (engineering), I took a real hit when the economy tanked. All those beautiful locomotives were quickly seen as nothing more than liquid assets. At the same time, as most of you know, MMI and Blackstone started producing high quality models at a fraction of the price, so I chose to go those routes instead, since funds were limited, and have accumulated a fairly large supply of models in both scales since then. In fact, I would say I have pretty much everything I'll ever need, and probably more to build a very nice, mid-sized layout in either scale. The problem is, I can't see the numbers on the HOn3 equipment very well, and the O scale equipment probably won't allow me to create the overall look that I'm going for. It's great for dioramas, but I feel some layouts can look a bit toy like if the composition is off.

Sn3 to the rescue! After all, it's unofficial slogan is "big enough to see, small enough to operate". Ok, perfect, now let's look at a subject. Nothing against the RGS or the D&RGW, I love them both, just don't have the passion or desire to model them. I prefer a protolanced mining/common carrier line set in either Arizona, Nevada or California. I love the SP narrow gauge, as well as the eastern sierras, just not sure I want to stick to that single prototype. I do have an unpainted PBL SPNG #9, but no other Sn3 equipment. Seems like a freelanced line that connects with the SPNG, (or the standard gauge in Lone Pine), and runs into the mountains might be a nice option.

Now that you have some background, here's my dilemma. PBL aside, I have been looking for Sn3 tools and equipment, but am surprised at the difficulty in finding any. I even went to Coronado here in town, only to find that they didn't have any track or gauges. I know they can, and will order anything I want, that more of S commentary of what their shelves are stocked with, or more importantly, what people are buying. A search of the Internet resulted in some locomotives, but almost half were either sold, or I didn't hear back, suggesting they may no longer be in business. This has really tempered my excitement for changing scales. Now, I was able to reach John at Railmaster, and he's has been extremely helpful in providing information about his locomotive kits, and despite my fear of assembling them, I may give it a try anyway. Even the lack of response to my last post about contacting Railmaster was quite discouraging. I can't help but wonder where all the Sn3 modelers are. I know they're out there, because I still seem some amazing work displayed on the internet.

So, what does everyone else think of the current health and direction of Sn3. I know it's always been a lone wolf builders scale, but I also remember its popularity of the mid 80's and 90's, when people were jumping from HOn3. Is HOn3 and On30 killing Sn3? Is there only enough items being produced for those few dedicated modelers who have been working in this scale for many years? Even EBay is pretty sparse compared to the other scales. I guess what I'm try to say is, should I make the switch, or just make one of the other scales work? I love the size and possibilities of Sn3, but I don't want to be led down a path of frustration either. I have no doubt that I can fund this venture with my existing equipment, but I don't want to regret parting with it if the few resources I've found dry up in the next 5-10 years.

What does everyone else think?
15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
ChrisS Posted - 12/11/2017 : 11:43:05 AM
I recently decided to switch to Sn3/S from HOn3/HO and I agree - the scale doesn't seem to be dying, it's just a very small (and tight-knit) community. You could easily miss much of what is going on in 1:64 if you're not looking in a few specific places. As an example, people often seem to assume that Railmaster's excellent line of craftsman locomotive kits are out of production. In fact, John Agnew is still very active in his business - a large chunk of my future roster arrived from him recently. You just won't see much about products like that outside of the S and Sn3 Yahoo groups and a few other S-scale-specific forums and publications.

I also agree that S really is the perfect size. I'm just getting started but I'm very glad to have switched!
N2626 Posted - 12/11/2017 : 07:08:36 AM
It's my opinion that Sn3 is doing fine and the rumors of it's death are highly exaggerated! If you go to YouTube you will see many Sn3 layouts. I don't think that mentioning On30 in this thread devoted to Sn3 is fair to Sn3, which should stand alone. Although P-B-L does supply built and ready to roll Sn3 rolling stock, for the most part I think Sn3 is for those people who like and want to build their rolling stock and layout. I have build a P-B-L steel underframe stock car to use to compare to my HO Stuff, to help me decide if I wanted to get out of HO and go Sn3. I found that size wise Sn3 was very close to HO, this caused me to back off on thoughts of going Sn3! However, knowing what I know now as a 30 plus year HO model railroader, where I to start over again, I would definitely go Sn3!
ed k Posted - 06/28/2017 : 7:56:42 PM
Those of us who are not that skilled in layout design, to see what Rob can fit in any space in On30 is to me truly amazing. Easy on the peepers also.
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/22/2017 : 11:19:14 PM
Thanks for your response Brian. I'm leaning towards On3, but Sn3 is very appealing. I bit the bullet and purchased a PBL SPNG #8 foreground. It's my least favorite among the three, but at least I'm in the game. Hopefully another will turn up the Denver at the convention.

As much as I like the SPNG, I think I like the idea of freelancing even more, and that's why On3/30 is so appealing. I've even kicked around the idea increasing the vagueness of the location, assuming I can come come up with a credible name. I just need to develop a concept for a 20-30 common carrier that features mining and runs fro the desert into the mountains. LOL
vamodeler Posted - 05/22/2017 : 9:48:50 PM

I'll go against the grain. No Sn3 isn't dead. What does "dead" mean? To me it means no one is modeling Sn3. We'll they sure are. Look at the NG&SLG, last two issues covered and Sn3 layout. There's a magazine for just Sn3, there are two active Sn3 Yahoo groups. Wisemann carries several Sn3 items for the SP, so does PBL, etc.
Heck, there's even a "convention" just for Sn3 modelers http://2017sn3symposium.com/. Look at the adds in the NG&SLG for two new Sn3 car kits. Yes, there still coming out with new stuff! Dead, heck no, less people working in the scale/guage - yes.

Yes, it IS a smaller community. If you look at most Sn3 modelers, they are doing great work, fine detail and are willing to spend the time building what they need. You can find it on the web and in the NG&SLG.

Is it harder to find stuff? Yes, it is a smaller community. However, you'll likely find a closer nit community. If its anything like the On2 community, you've got to be a part of it to even know who's making what stuff - a lot of time its not advertised in magazines and common model RR outlets. You gotta "know" - yes, that can be (is) frustrating.

So, I would say if you like the SP and Sn3, there's some good equipment out there (Railmaster and PBL) and some good kits. Check out Trevor Marshall's blogg for a small SP layout. Based on one town on the SP. Yes the PBL SP loco's are hard to find, so I would suggest a Railmaster Kit. I bet you could even find a pro out there who would build it for you.

Sn3 -It depends on what you like and what you are willing to do. If you want R-t-R stuff, its likely not the beast choice. If you want to have your local buddies over and share equipment, well that might be very difficult. However, if you like building kits and scratch building, don't need a huge inventory of equipment, like the size; then I would say it is a good choice.

Will PBL and Railmaster be gone in 5 years? I can't say. Will there still be Sn3 modelers out there? I think so, you just gotta find them - check out the yahoo groups, ask questions and start building.

Is it the right choice for you? Only you can answer that. I would suggest a list of pro's and cons and decide what you want to do.

Just my two cents............

Whatever you decide, I bet it will be fun.

If I listened to all the negative thoughts on On2, I wouldn't have built my On2 Module. Man, I'm having a BLAST! Hard to find equipment -yes, small community -yes, have to scratch build -yes, few kits -yes. Did I have to wait and search for a loco - yes, Is it fun - YES!


centercab Posted - 05/18/2017 : 7:20:36 PM
I have tossed this around for a number of years myself. I built a number of PBL and OMI Sn3 kits and I really like the size and detail. But, the selection is very limited, as has been discussed. I had an HOn3 layout with some Westside Brass SP steamers, but ultimately decided it was too small. I currently have an On30 15" x 7' layout under construction. It has ME code 83 track and turnouts laid along with an NCE DCC system. A Bachmann 0-4-2 and a couple of wooden car kits for rolling stock. It has literally just sat in the room for about a year. I have no interest or desire to do anything more with it. I'll probably just sell it off and return to standard gauge HO shortline modeling. I just love the size and product availability.

Too bad that the only narrow gauge size that I really like is Sn3. But, I don't want to down that path again.
Mark L. Posted - 05/12/2017 : 10:56:40 PM

I totally understand your concept of going forward with display type layouts, as this is basically what I am building now. My layout area is limited to 2'x12'. I already have installed the base, mounted at 51" off the floor, to the top of the 2" blue foam base. This is wall mounted on heavy duty vertical shelf brackets. This gives me a light weight and strong layout to work off of and also I have installed my modeling work area under the layout to conserve floor space.

As I am proto-freelance modeling the D&RGW n.g. in On30, my modeling will be a tiny slice of the real thing, but will enable me to have years of building and detailing fun.

Hoping you keep us posted on your progress- in whatever scales you choose. Just have fun!

Mark Lewis
Stony Point, NC
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/12/2017 : 12:03:11 AM

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. I think I've decided to limit myself to display type layouts, seen more commonly at European train shows, rather than pick one perfect scale. That means I'll pick two or three concepts I like, and thin my collection to fit those needs. I was ready to write Sn3 off, but it seems a SPNG #8 may need a new home. I won't start a Sn3 Owens Valley layout until I can find a few more pieces, but PBL produced the finest equipment for what might be my favorite railroad, so pretty hard to pass up. I've all but given up on finding the On3 versions from Sunset.

I have been tinkering with an On30 Bachmann 4-6-0, trying to make it like like a close sister to #18, but I would prefer to stick with prototypical models for the SPNG. The On30, and a few others may be saved for a freelanced mining line, similar to the ones that ran near Clifton and Morenci. Other concepts I'm kicking around are standard gauge copper mining railroad set in Arizona in the 1950's, fruit packing layout in Southern California in the 1940's, the D&RGW in Chama or Durango and maybe a small freelanced logging line in the sierras.

This may sound like a long and impossible list, but you need to consider the nature of the types of layouts I'm considering. These are means to be small projects that should only take one to three years to complete. These types of layouts can still feature a small amount of switching, and some nice modeling. Anyway, this approach should allow me to enjoy a little of everything, which might be best for my situation.
Mark L. Posted - 05/11/2017 : 10:23:18 PM
Your original post really hit me, as I am in a similar situation with deciding on my primary scale for building and a layout.

When Bachmann On30 products came on the market, I went hard into obtaining everything they produced for what I thought I was going to model, southeastern US narrow gauge. Then, a few years ago, my interests swung toward the D&RGW n.g., circa 1939ish and I felt a switch to HOn3 was in order. I started purchasing needed Blackstone locomotives and rolling stock, structures, trackage, etc., for my HOn3 D&RGW layout. Then my wife and I downsized and bought a much smaller home, retired in 2016 and my layout space shrunk. Still wanting to model the D&RGW n.g., I was limited to a much smaller layout footprint and as has been previously stated, I looked into Sn3-the ideal model railroad scale. Very enticing, but the big drawback- for me- is the cost of locomotives...out of my price range. PBL is basically the only game in town for new locomotives, although you can find some PFM, Overland, etc. used locomotives, but they are old technology. PBL has Sn3 freight cars at far pricing, structures from a variety of sources are a little more than HO scale and details/figures, also available from various sources are also a little more $$ than HO. IMO, Sn3 will remain behind O and HO narrow gauge in popularity, until a manufacturer brings to market Bachmann priced/quality Sn3 locomotives...which is not likely to happen.

That all being said- I have decided to model/build in On30. Yes, it is physically larger than Sn3 or HOn3, but getting older and my eyes are not what they used to be, I feel very comfortable with the size of On30. I have been able to obtain 2 BLI C-16's that run great, a Bachmann 2-8-0 that I will be converting to a D&RGW C-21(...per the article in the 2017 On30 Annual!)....and all 3 for less than 1 used PBL loco. I have a few San Juan Car Co. On30 freight cars(amazing detail), I am converting Bachmann passenger cars to D&RGW stand-in's and any other D&RGW freight or passenger equipment I need I can build from On3 kits and replace the trucks with On30. Yes- O scale structures are more expensive than HO or S, but I don't need many and that gives me the opportunity to super detail what I build. On30 trackage, etc., is readily available and priced very reasonably.

I am not an operator, rather a builder, so I don't need/want a large layout.

I am happy with my choice of On30 and the miniscule difference of 6 scale inches in track gauge does not bother me, at all.

My suggestion to you is to reconsider On30, as the locomotive, rolling stock, structures, details and track work are all out there at reasonable pricing and the On30 community is huge and willing to help.

Mark Lewis
Stony Point, NC
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/03/2017 : 09:47:28 AM

I totally agree with your comments. So, what do you feel is the healthiest narrow gauge scale? Bachmann was in town in February, and I took away two things from my conversation with their rep. 1) There isn't much appetite for On30 now that Lee is gone. 2) They have warehouses full of unsold On30 products, so don't expect anything new, at least as far as locomotives are concerned.

Blackstone seems to have slowed as well, but I've heard that may be more of a factory issue, but I really don't know. I suspect the release of the new HOn3 K-28's and K-36's will energize that scale, I just hope they will produce more 2-8-0's, and/or other prototypes, especially the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge.
hminky Posted - 05/03/2017 : 08:43:38 AM
Sn3 is at this point a small cabal of PBL users.

Had a website about converting HO engines and other things to Sn3.

Was told that no one is interested.

S "scale" is actually dead, only kept alive by American Flyer enthusiasts.

Mostly the same old men I knew back in 1985.

On30 is commercially winding down, look at the available Bachmann inventories.

quartergauger48 Posted - 05/02/2017 : 11:40:28 PM
Travis, I would hold on to what you have'..at least save it for a rainy day'...and see what and if anything develops down the road for SN30...
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/02/2017 : 10:36:52 PM
Yeah Ted, adding to my problem is the fact that I already have a 2-6-0, (6) 4-6-0's, (4) 2-8-0 's and a shay in On30. I also have a ton of Blackstone stuff, but not sure I want to go smaller. I'd hate to sell all that for a dying scale. Sn3 may not really be dying, but I haven't seen much evidence lately suggesting otherwise.
quartergauger48 Posted - 05/02/2017 : 9:33:53 PM
Interesting topic'

Sounds like PROFIT', may be an issue. Major manufactures don't see it worth while up against, as mentioned ON30,as it has taken off so well. And also as mentioned, one never sees SN3 even mentioned in most publications offering products'...There sure are plenty of vehicles in 1/64 scale (Die Cast) though, and reasonably priced I think'... But I don't see to many other items. I had considered S scale at one point, but wasn't aware of SN30 at that time.
azflyer2001 Posted - 05/02/2017 : 2:13:19 PM
I do agree about the cost of Sn3, at least in general terms. I do however, find myself in a position to buy the 2 or 3 locomotives that I need, so I'm willing to dive in. My issue now is availability and sustainability.

Railmaster seems like the perfect locomotive option for me, at least in terms of locomotive types, because I want to freelance a western shortline. I really like a couple of the locos on Dave Clune's On3 Cascade County Narrow Gauge layout, which I believe are just C-16's and C-19's converted to oil burners. I've found the extra parts, so all is good there. Now, I've never built a locomotive kit, and I'm not super excited about the possibility of not completing that project, three or four times over. Especially when I already have three On3 MMI C-19's ($430 ea.), ready for the same conversion.

For me it's more of an emotional decision, let me explain. The scale is the perfect size, I believe I can substitute a stock car roof onto a D&RGW economy door boxcar, to give it a more unique look and I prefer scratch building my structures. My problem is this, why can't I go into a well stocked store like Coronado, and get some Sn3 flex track, or at least track gauges. Now, let me be perfectly clear, that isn't a dig on the brothers, they are amazing and will order anything I want. My take is there is no demand for it, so no need to stock it, which is a little disheartening as a potential new modeler.

Then there is the age of the manufacturers, John at Railmaster is 77, how long will those great products be available?

Maybe my problem is that I look at the hobby like an investment. Not to make money obviously, but in terms or growth, or at a minimum, sustainability. None of us wants to but everything we'll ever want, or need in the first year, but it's comforting to feel that the same, or at least similar products will be available in five or ten years. Even the lack of responses early on to my post, had me questioning my thoughts about the scale. Afterall, support from other modelers is a valuable asset to the hobby, specifically as it relates to a specific scale.

HOn3 and On3 may not be the right size for me, but I don't share the same concerns as with Sn3. Even the selection of Sn3 products on EBay tends to be rather scarce. Am I looking at this all wrong?

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