Z scale model train

Malcolm has been in touch with his Z scale model train.

And his layout really does highlight how different life is for folk with different model scales.

Now that may sound dramatic, but here’s a pic from yesterday’s post, Bill’s stunning O / On30 layout:

O scale On30 trestle bridge

Bill hired a truck to get his layout to his model railroad show.

(And if you watch his vid, you can see the whole operation.)

But Malcolm?

He models in Z scale, and only has to pick up his display up:


I’ve attached 8 photos of the Z scale (1:220) layout that I take to train shows.

The layout is about 46″ x 26” (~ 117cm x 66cm) and can be carried by one person, although it’s easier with two.

I like the Santa Fe so I model the mid-1990s and I prioritize SantaFe, Burlington Northern and BNSF, which gives me maximum flexibility.

The track and turnouts are some old Marklin materiel I had lying around.

The scenery is obviously nothing special, but the kids love watching the trains go through the tunnel. The plexiglas enclosure prevents little fingers from clutching at little trains.

What you see in these pictures is mainly, though, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National locomotives and rolling stock.

The CP and CN rolling stock includes a covered hopper, 53′ well car, gondola, flatcar, bulkhead flats and boxcars.

Why the emphasis on CP and CN in these photos when I model the ATSF and BN merger period and have mostly American rolling stock and locomotives?

That’s because some time ago somebody told you that they considered Z scale but couldn’t find any Canadian models. I think that this demonstrates that they may not have looked very hard.

In N. America it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference because shipping mixes up the rail cars, so you can see BNSF, Norfolk Southern, UP, CSX, etc. up in Canada and CN and CP down south on the Gulf Coast.

We also have “run-through” where locomotives are handed off to other carriers, just switching crews, to save time in forwarding a train.

I’ve seen pictures of Ferromex (Mexican rail line) locomotives up in the Canadian snow and BNSF locos on the East Coast. How the RRs handle all this is a mystery to me but it is done every day and apparently the locomotives find their way back eventually.

By the way, the containers in the well car are made for me by the Chinese (incredibly precise pad printing) and I make the Walmart (and other) 53′ trailers. I have a small (joke) business making and selling Z scale accesories.

Best regards,


z scale display

z scale double loop

z scale model train

z scale model train freight

z scale model train

z scale freight

z scale oval loop

z scale tunnel mountain

A big thanks to Malcolm.

For me, Mal’s layout and Bill’s layout demonstrate admirably how it’s worth thinking long and hard over what scale to choose.

Over the years the blog has been littered with posts from folk starting in O scale, running out of space and then trying again with HO scale.

The same goes for HO scale, it’s still just as easy to run out of room – Mike’s HO scale post springs to mind.

HO or N scale

But in the same light, there are just as many folk who have tried N scale, found it was way too fiddly and also tried again with HO scale.

Personally, if I even tried Z scale, my eyes would go squiffy within days.

That said, HO scale isn’t the answer to ‘what scale to start with’, but I think it’s a very safe bet.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on scale – please do leave a comment below if you’d like to chip in.

In fact, as I write this, I’m reminded of a post from a bit ago that went mad in the comments – you all had lots to say:

How to start a model train layout.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you decide to build a layout to take to a show, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

model train answers

21 Responses to Z scale model train

  1. David Howarth says:

    The problem with these smaller scales is choice or variety , think the nearest for having a good variety is N scale , Z scale T scale are all very small and limited in choice , and you need good eyesight , some of us even have problems with 00 gauge , but if its lack of space they can be very useful

  2. Daniel Robinson says:

    I shop around find Canadian content very regular N gauge, which I have been working on, like Dave says at an older age, it does get a little intimidating, looking forward to working getting back to my HO new plan and DCC.
    As for seeing all the American road names, with mergers and sold off branch lines always a fascinating history subject, in our rail lines in Canada. Dan

  3. Ellis James English says:

    This proves not all modelers have a 25×40 extra room, nor the funding for the larger sets. It does say “hey” no matter the budget, the room size there is a gauge that can be utilized and enjoyed by everyone.

  4. Bill in Virginia says:

    Malcom what a wonderful layout you have. I’m sure it’s an attention getter at the shows you take it to and I’ll be very honest I’m envious of your layouts portability LOL.

    As for scale I think many of us start in the scale of the train set we were given at a young age by relatives when we expressed a love of trains. From there personal interests and life tend to dictate a “Best Fit” scale that keeps us engaged as we get older then later on in life ma y will change scales again because of older eyes or maybe having more or less space to model in. Luckily we are in a hobby where one size does not fit all and we have the choice to change scales if we so choose. Or have multiple scales operating in my case.

    Someday I may try Z Scale and see how it goes. A joule of years ago I bought a case of N Scale flex track off EBay and discovered after I opened the box it was not N scale but a case of Z Scale flex track. I kept it :))

  5. Rob McCrain says:

    I like the idea of the smaller scales. Not everyone has a whole room to devote to a layout. In cases like that, they work great. I must wear magnifying glasses to work with 1:76, OO, or 1:87, HO. I of course use them with N scale. You can see them in my videos with their yellow frames. They are prescription glasses with a focal point 10-12 inches from my face. My optometrist calls them hobby glasses, he is into model trains too. They make the hobby possible for me. Rob McCrain

  6. Ken Roth says:

    Please looking for help I have a12′ x 18 ‘ layout space . just can’t find a track plan.
    with 2 tear ad passe3nger sidings with coal , lumber needs

  7. Kevin McArdle says:

    Sorry, HO scale and HON3 for me. Maybe ON30 but because of size those are my choices.

  8. Steve Alaburda says:

    My main choice on scale is O guage.Big toys for big boys,hard to handle little trains with big hands.Details are easy to do the bigger the scale.

  9. Robert Gevert says:

    I’m an N scaler as my bedroom is a small 8×8 foot room. I sleep on a cot and my layout is right next to me. The layout is 3×6 feet. Thats NYC living for ya!!!!!

  10. Marklin ed (upstate NY) says:

    The there is Z scale or people with young eyes,I guess. I would like for myself the larger scale but I have to move to a new house by myself. Marklin larger scale would be my preference.i I’m an HO modeler.
    Thanks again for the site AL.

  11. Kelvin says:

    I have been OO/HO all my life but have just started building a small N Gauge layout for a Friend. My god it is fiddly, you have to be so precise! Hats off to you N gauge guys: how do you do it? Have just shortened my finger by about 1mm while cutting a platform with a scalpel, OUCH!

  12. George Zaky says:

    Great stuff!
    The topic of scale tickled my fancy and I hope everyone reading this does so with a sense of humor.
    First test
    Take a knuckle coupler from each scale and see if you can replace that spring successfully. Start from the largest scale and work down. When you reach the one you cant do, go back one scale and That’s the one. LOL
    Second test
    Take a scale person and fit it in the engine cab of the scale you’re considering. If you can see the person from 5 feet away you’re good.
    Third test
    Make a spread sheet of all your intended costs. Show everything. Be honest. Compare scales like HO vs O. HO vs N etc. Show that to your wife- she may be the final word.

    I am a die hard S scale-American Flyer addict and it causes me great stress to find that the lack of inventory and high costs make this scale a thing of the past. On30 is close and the latest plan, which will soon be started, will have S & ON30.

  13. Marvin G Bross says:

    I love Z scale because of the model to scenery ratio, you can make very large rocky cliffs, hills, mountains with little space, I’m 72 and have modeled Z last 25 years and do have a small N scale layout. I prefer a simple wide open nature scenery over a city because to many unnatural objects that should be moving but at a stand still. Malcolm’s Z layout is the 1st I’ve seen on this site, Would love to see more Z layouts.

  14. Heather & Jason says:

    If you’re a new comer to the trains don’t be scared off with people saying shows for you don’t have to do shows you can just be part of this group at home with your family & do your thing it’s that easy. Yes a lot of these displays are unrealistic for the hrs of work each member has put into their display is because they had a designed on their mind & went for it & yes it does sound scary but you can do this if my son & I can do a10ft x 4ft track lay out & move house & then turn it into a big U shape lay out with return back to the start & do it our way by remembering places we have passed over the years & just adding bits of those areas in for the display is ours only & we love what we have & we have had people come look at it & say they love it that’s great for we love it too. We are still working on it doing bits here & there it will take us some time as I am in a wheel chair & my son works so we don’t have a lot of time but that has not stopped us from having a heap of fun with the trains which are HO scale & Al may still have some photo’s we have sent in over time so he can add to this for you to see so give it a go & have fun all the members here do weather it’s at home or if they go to a show it’s all enjoyable fun for us & the children & it will for you too. We would love to do some of the special things some of the members have done to their display to make it look so great but we don’t know how to, however we have learnt through the help of members with their tips ect to do a lot of stuff & thanks to Al & the members we are enjoying what we have and doing each day, so have a go you will love it.

  15. Ray Martin says:

    I also started with an American Flyer set for Christmas when I was 1. I migrated to HO in college because Flyer cars were becoming much more collectable and I wasn’t sure about putting Kadee HO scale couplers on possibly valuable cars, plus costs were less (College wasn’t as expensive in 1970 as now but still). My current layout will be HO when tracklayers start laying track again. I still have the Flyer and I also have G scale for under the Christmas tree (or more like around the living room for a couple of years!). Ray

  16. Tom says:

    I model in Z-scale (focus on Japanese Railways) and yes, it is small, but if you are patient, you can achieve a lot. Everybody with some modeling experience will agree that having reliable track is the key to smooth operation. If you haven’t been following Z-scale the past 10 years, what is available now will be a pleasant surprise!! Even if you don’t choose to model in Z, I recommend checking out the magazines and watch videos–I even watch Riding scales, Garden Scale and others for new ideas and challenges!

    Ztrack Magazine (available as Print or Electronic)
    Trainini Magazine (English Version since 2018)
    Tiny Trains, Big Layout: Check out Mr. Dave’s Z Scale Model Railroad (on YouTube)

    MANUFACTURES (to name a few—but there are many more):
    Rokuhan (www.rokuhan.com/products/)
    Rokuhan Shorty
    Sankei (cardstock models)
    Advance (cardstock models)
    GCLaser (laser cut wooden kits)
    Kibri kits
    Micro-Structures (etched metal kits)
    Märklin Z-Spur
    AZL-American Z Lines
    MTL-Micro Train Lines
    Father Nature
    Full Throttle
    MCZ Containers

  17. william janmes palmer says:

    your money yourdecision

  18. Malcolm says:

    Thank you for the comments. I enjoy every post, no matter what the scale. Tom has a great post with lots of Z scale manufacturers. Track is not really a big problem, Atlas makes good flex track and switches and Rokuhan makes excellent roadbed track and switches. Note that most Z scale track is code 55 which doesn’t look bad but is definitely out of scale. There is no such thing as finescale in Z, the finescale wheels would derail too easily. I am 82 and have worn glasses for at least 72 years. There are wearable magnifying headsets that can be used for very close work. Occasionally I use one when applying small decals (are there any other in Z scale?).

  19. Daniel Robinson says:

    I think it’s a choice depending on your room and expectations, also what your comfy with. I prefer HO, and currently working on a 8×11, at my age and time, also what I started with and comfort level. I dabble with N and a simple oval works there, as they sometimes the KISS method works best. cheers

  20. Roger W Himes says:

    I absolutely love your work and your exquisite modeling techniques.
    But, you misspelled “Lightning” ! Your story telling of what you have done or are going to gives a great visual for what is rolling around in your creative mind!!!!!

  21. wayne russell irwin says:

    how do you get anyone to repair loco’s if needed? n scale would be bad enough. i have h.o. scale approx. 300 sq ft, but yours is nice too.

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