Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 7/8 - The forgotten gauge

Before standard gauge there were a multitude of different track sizes available. There was 2 inch track, 2 7/8 gauge track and so on. Voltamp, Knapp, Carlisle and Finch, Howard, Marklin, Hornby, Bing, Fandor and on and on used all different sizes of track.

Interestingly, markets and timing can make or break the scale of a toy train.

I had a friend up in my trainroom yesterday and he was looking at my O gauge stuff and he said "that's what I always thought was the big stuff". Since I have standard gauge and 2 7/8, there's much more that's bigger in my trainroom.

I'm not sure how much has changed since the turn of the century. All of those wonderful brands mentioned above are gone. We seem to have gravitated to two places: size and prototypical representation. Z, N, HO and O seem to be the mainstream. S gauge and standard gauge being the aging and ugly cousins of the above. 2 7/8 is the old man that lives up in the attic that walks around in a velvet bathrobe and rambles on about knowing Bing Crosby.

So why 2 7/8 gauge? Well for one thing, I love the heft of the trains. For some reason in my visceral mind, heft equates to quality. The more metal I have the better I like it. I bought my son a Z gauge set and it felt like I was setting up a flea circus. I've watched the T&M videos more than a hundred times and I do remember the whole story about how JLC got his first big break with the Electric Express in the window. I also remember the reason (it was reported) that 2 7/8 failed was because homes were getting smaller and there was no way to do switching. Actually, there is and there are some 2 7/8 gauge switches as well as some supposed prototypes from Lionel floating around. Laying 2 7/8 gauge track is a bit of a hassle but no worse than well balasted standard gauge or O gauge track.

To the point of this discussion; I urge everyone to look out for 2 7/8 both vintage and repro. After 1 or 2 recent purchases, here is what I can tell you.

1) It doesn't cost that much.
2) It is really fun to watch.
3) It's a bit easier to fiddle with because the parts are very large.
4) When it looks older it still looks really cool.

The accessories for 2 7/8 are really rare. I've only seen the bridge in person and things like bumpers. I know there are a few accessories out there but I haven't had direct access to them. One more thing; the Converse Trolley is the grand daddy of all the trolleys out there. Yes, I know there were trolleys before it but it still maintains a place in all train collectors psyche as the one trolley that epitomizes prewar trolleys. I've been working on the motor for one for a while and I can't seem to get some of the parts in correctly.

So some questions:

1) Who has seen 2 7/8 gauge accessories?
2) I know there are a few collectors out there. What's your favorite 2 7/8 piece?
3) Any pics?

I know 2 7/8 will never gain a large following in the hearts of large volumes of collectors. There's no steam and it only captures a small part of the United States prototypical running stock. But it does lend itself to one thing: it can be elevated using the cast iron pillars. It was designed to be elevated because the prototypes had elevation as well. Standard gauge (because of the way it is weighted) can have some pieces elevated. 400E's and 392's probably won't be so hot on well elevated layouts. Too much power too fast will give you airborne toy trains. Every peice of 2 7/8 can be elevated beautifully.

I've rambled enough. Any thoughts? Oh yes, the above pic is from the upcoming Maurer Auction.



Anonymous said...


I agree. I just picked up a reproduction (Jim Cohen) jail car, derrick car and bridge to go with the MTH wooden gondola. I would love to get a working 2 7/8 inch layout. There is just something about these antiques (and reproductions) that is even more appealing than Standard gauge, and that's saying a lot.


Standard Gauge Blogger said...

Actually, Jim Cohen's 2 7/8 gauge gear smokes just about everything on the market. I know the same molds got passed from Bob McCoy Sr. to Jim to Joe Mania.

Jim's are just incredible. I like them better than the originals. Plus he's a great, great man. Makes it easy to like the trains.