What was Gauge 2?
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History is littered with a panoply of model railway scales and gauges. In the beginning, the sheer difficulty of producing working models dictated the size, and therefore gauge, that they were built to. Very few models built before (aproximately) 1900 were intended to run on layouts, or even tracks, and so the track gauge was often completely arbitary. The likelihood of any particular model being operated with another was remote, and so common standards were uneccessary. Of course, this same situation prevailed in the early days of the real railway, and it was a certain George Stephenson who had the imagination, initiative and technical skill to drive through a standard, or 'Stephenson', gauge.

So was there ever a Stephenson of model railways? Well yes there was, and his name was Henry Greenly. Sometime around 1900, Greenly saw the opportunity to rationalise the prevailing scales and gauges in use, and (with others in the emerging model railway industry) he settled on the gauges that we still know and love today - 0 and 1 gauge for model railways, and 2 1/2" and 3 1/2" gauges for model engineers. 2 1/2" Gauge, still alive and well today (as are all of these gauges) is also known as Gauge 3. These gauges were chosen because they were already in use, amongst European as well as British suppliers.

The astute (or just awake) reader will notice a number missing - Gauge 2. It turns out that in the years after 1900, Gauge 2 was important because it was the smallest scale or gauge in which successful live steam locomotives could be made. At 2" between the inside edges of the rails, it was only slightly bigger than Gauge 1 (which was 1 3/4") but because of the cube law of volume, Gauge 2 models were about 50% bulkier than Gauge 1 equivalents. In the days of primitive 'pot' boilers and frankly poor design and manufacturing quality this made all the difference. So Gauge 2 attracted a strong following, especially amongst those who wanted to run a model railway out of doors. (There were indoor Gauge 2 layouts - see 'Greystones' here - and tinplate track with excruciating 2' 6" curves was readily available).

As the first decade of the twentieth century wore on, two factors came into play which led to a noticeable decline in the Gauge 2 following relative to Gauge 1. The first was the steadily improving quality of manufacture, allowing successful Gauge 1 live steamers to compete with their more expensive Gauge 2 counterparts. The second was a little surprising to us with our modern model railway mindset. You see, back in 1900, the model railway hobby was not one of re-creating a vanished past - it was about representing in miniature the latest and most exciting transport technology. It happened that the 'real' railways expanded in traffic in the years before the Great War, so did the size of the locomotives. As a result, a Gauge 1 model in 1914 was virtually the same size as a Gauge 2 model had been in 1900, completely overriding Gauge 2's historical advantage for live steam models.

Despite all this, Gauge 2 remained strongly popular in the years before 1914 and manufacturers mirrored virtually every Gauge 1 model with a Gauge 2 equivalent. This meant that those few suppliers who actually worked to scale (Carson and Butcher) were producing very large models by 1914, while Bassett Lowke and his German suppliers cut corners at every turn to keep the size of Gauge 2 (and Gauge 1) models under control. That's why every tinplate carriage from this period is an inch or more shorter than scale - and so are the locomotives, all of which have a quaint (to our eyes) foreshortened appearance.

The war meant of course that the principal source of model railway manufacturing - Bing, Carette and Marklin in Germany - was instantly cut off. This presented a huge problem to Bassett Lowke, who had to contemplate for the first time manufacturing his own products. By 1917, it was clear that post war situation was unlikely to see a quick return to cheap German production, and so something had to be done to rationalise the duplicity of scales and gauges that would need to be produced. In this it was obvious that only one of Gauge 1 and Gauge 2 could survive, and Gauge 1 came out the clear winner on cost grounds. This is why, in 1917, Greenly invited opinions in his magazine 'Models, Railways and Locomotives' and received in response the death warrant for Gauge 2.

This was the first, and probably only, time in history that a model railway scale or Gauge has been actively killed off. After 1917, articles describing Gauge 2 models, layouts and projects dissapeared from the pages of Greenly's magazine. Gauge 2 did not just fade away as is often supposed - it was murder on the tinplate express!


In the event, Gauge 2 lasted at most for only 17 years - from 1900 to 1917. Yet within that time, many fine models were created and even today a representative sample still survive. Almost nothing was produced in Gauge 2 after the War - Bassett Lowke saw to that - but dedicated afficiandos of the Gauge (those who had invested money in it!) hung on into modern times in ever dwindling numbers. It was my great good fortune to meet the last of them - Ned Williams, who had in turn been inspired by his childhood friend and benefactor Francis Ashley - and realise that those beautiful models that lingered in auctioneer's catalogues could live again.

Today, the Gauge 2 models are a sort of 'Beeching' of model railways, a sort of time warp where virtually everything that exists belongs to a long ago bygone age. There are no modern Gauge 2 models and in the 21st century no layouts to run them on. I'm reminded of a scene in the film 'The Martian' where Matt Damon observes that "Everything you do on Mars is a 'first' - the first person to climb that hill, witness that vista, etc.". So it is with Gauge 2 in modern times - first Gauge 2 steam locomotive to run in the 21st century, etc. I hope that at the end of this endeavour to re-awaken this sleeping giant of a lost model railway gauge, we will see the first public demonstration of Gauge 2 live steam and the construction of the first Gauge 2 model railway in modern times. They don't call me a dreamer for nothing!

regarding "Awaking Sleeping Giants" etc., the first part of the above forecast will come to pass at the 'G1MRA 75th', an exhibition to celebrate 75 years of the Gauge 1 association, which has become the adoptive home of Gauge 2 as well. A full size G2 layout will feature much of the stock described here, including the first live steam running of G2 locomotives in public for a very long time. Please come to Bicester, UK, on 1-2 October 2022!
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