Over 50 Years of 3mm Modelling

Triang Railways introduced their TT range in February 1957. Unlike the equivalent American and European TT railways, which are to a scale of 2.54 mm to 1 foot (1/120), Triang used a scale of 3mm to 1 foot (1/101.6 to 1) as a compromise to permit available mechanisms to fit inside British outline steam locomotives. However, a track gauge of 12mm was retained. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, before the arrival of commercial N gauge, there was much interest in TT, especially when a Britannia Pacific as good as anything commercially available and a very detailed Brush A1A-A1A diesel (later Class 31) were introduced.

A viable system smaller than OO was thus available and considerable trade support was forthcoming. Well known firms such as GEM, Ks and Bec Models introduced ranges of whitemetal kits. Peco produced trackwork and a range of TT "Wonderful Wagons", the nylon moulded chassis of which is still sought after today. Kitmaster plastic kits set a remarkable standard for quality and accuracy.

In the early days TT in England was hampered by the technology available. Small motors were not common. Most whitemetal kits, like their OO counterparts, were designed to fit Triang mechanisms and this led to dimensional inaccuracies and distortions. Others had predrilled whitemetal chassis which were never as successful or free-running as hoped. Nevertheless, there were many notable exhibition layouts created together with some excellent scratchbuilt and modified locomotives and rolling stock.

The advent of British N gauge, vigorously promoted in the mid-1960s, coincided with the decision by Triang-Hornby to discontinue its TT range to concentrate on the OO market. This led a small group of enthusiasts of 3mm scale modelling to meet at the Model Railway Club's headquarters in London on 13 February 1965. At that meeting of thirty people the 3mm Society was founded.

The Society's Charter stated that it would cater for all aspects of 3mm scale modelling, whether the member was a collector of Triang TT or had the desire to model in fine scale to Model Engineering Exhibition standards. These ideals pertain today, 32 years later. The dedication of those early members was supported by two of the leading kit manufacturers, George Mellor of GEM and Frank Vescoe of Bec Models, who continued to produce and expand their ranges despite the disappearance of the Triang ready-to-run system from the shops.

Very early in the life of the Society, standards for wheels and track were produced to enable members to work in the then accepted 12mm gauge, in the 3mm equivalent of EM gauge at 13.5mm gauge, or to the scale 14.2mm gauge. Over the years, as improved wheelsets have become available, the published standards have been refined to enable finescale wheels to be successfully developed and to serve as specifications to be used in the production of wheels and track. An appropriate range of jigs and gauges to enable consistent and repeatable accuracy of assembly to be maintained has been developed.

The demise of a readily available commercial system led to an increasingly prevalent view that the scale was dead. It soon became apparent that the Society would have to produce for itself those items and components for which the general modelling trade was unwilling to take the commercial risk. The very first Society product was printed brickpaper sold at half a crown (12.5 new pence) for a dozen sheets. This was quickly followed by whitemetal wagon kits. By 1972 a very superior range of diecast locomotive driving and bogie wheels had been produced. Printed acetate coach sides and the first etched kits for the scale appeared shortly afterwards. It is remarkable that the groundwork for these products was by members themselves, using their own skills to provide the means of expanding the scope and range of the scale without recourse to the commercial lead.

1973 saw the turning point in the Society's fortunes with the introduction of its first locomotive kit. By popular request this was the GWR Dean Goods 0-6-0, cast from masters made by one member and mounted on brass frames produced by another. In the next 15 years, GEM cast more of these than any of their own kits. The kit has been reworked to match the present availability of small motors and etched chassis components. It is still available to create a neat and impressive model, nearly 25 years after its introduction.

Reinvestment of the proceeds from this kit led to a rapid expansion of the product range during the 1970s. Manufacturers began to be attracted again by the scale and by the Society's ability to commission and pay for its products. The Society was confident enough to assume the risk that commerce would not. At this time the Society's products were supplemented by those of 3mm Scale Model Railways (3SMR), under successive proprietors, and with whom the Society has maintained cordial and coordinated relationships, and who alone provided the commercial support to the scale in its difficult years.

The 1980s saw the introduction of the first plastic wagon kit from Slaters, of components for wagon compensation, designed by one of the members, the commissioning of a flexible track base from Ratio Models, a wide range of coach sides from Comet Models, the Kean-Maygib range of locomotive and rolling stock wheels and the first of what is now an extensive range of plastic wagon kits from Parkside Dundas.

Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Society, a fine scale etched kit of the LMS 3F tank engine was introduced, inviting comparison with the original Triang TT version of some 33 years earlier. Subsequently, the range of etched kits has expanded, through the goodwill of the several manufacturers producing these kits in other scales. The Society has also commissioned the design of new locomotive kits which are also being offered in other scales.

Modellers are increasingly working to finescale standards. The Society's own finescale wheels range, usable with any of the track gauges, scale bullhead rail and plastic chairs commissioned from Cambrian Models give capabilities on a par with finescale standards in larger scales.

The Society's product range now contains over 750 items and the stores hold over 2.5 million individual components. The range is still expanding, with another six locomotive kits in preparation. The five year wagon programme has still two years to run but a further programme is already under consideration. The "Worsley Works" range, run independently by one of the members, subsumes the Comet Models coaches previously held by the Society, and boasts over 200 types of coach.

Many members are investing their own money in projects to supplement the Society's range of locomotives, wagons, coaches and components, commissioning etched and cast kits from leading manufacturers, who are increasingly willing to work in the scale and for the Society and its members. Other manufacturers, notably Sharman Wheels and Branchlines, along with 3SMR and Worsley Works, are initiating products in and for the scale.

Society products, as well as an extensive second-hand trading and spares service are available exclusively to members, whose numbers have risen from the 30 who attended that first meeting to almost 1000 today. Of these, about 60 live outside the UK, some as far away as New Zealand and Australia. Members keep in touch through a quarterly magazine and newsletter, and through a network of area groups throughout the UK and overseas. Regional meetings throughout the year provide regular meeting places and opportunities to exchange ideas, information and advice as well as the outlets for the sales teams in addition to their mail order services.

3mm scale remains a modeller's scale. Apart from the ageing Triang TT stock, nearly everything has to be made for oneself, from kits or from scratch. The scale has undoubted benefits in terms of space and cost, with the ability to incorporate as much detail as the builder wishes. Excellence is achievable. 3mm scale has kept pace with developments and has made its own innovations, which will ensure that it remains equal to the opportunities offered by other scales. Above all, the enthusiasm, enterprise and friendliness of its devotees mean that it is a scale that can be enjoyed, whether as a Triang TT collector or as a model maker.

Copyright The Three Millimetre Society 1997. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained herein is subject to change without notice.