The O gauge group of the Villages Railroad Historical Society owes its beginning to Joshua Lionel Cowen. In 1900, he made a train window display for a store to attract attention. It had a battery powered car which looked like a street car. This early 2-rail system was the start for most of the electric toy trains as we know them today. The description “O” gauge is derived from the distance between the tops of the rails, which is 1-1/4". Beyond that, the diameter of a complete circle of track can vary between 27" and 72". Most toy trains running on this track are 1/48 scale. These larger diameter track sizes are needed to run today’s longer engines and passenger cars. Another popular gauge is “HO” which has 5/8" between rails and means ½ of “O”.

The O gauge group has kept these dimensions in mind when making its layouts. Its beginning was about 8 years ago when the first display was simply 2 loops of track laid loosely on 4 long conference tables. Only 6 of the 40 club members were O gauge at that time. The popularity of the hobby caught on, and people soon realized that this was the gauge that many of them had experienced as children. The popular post-war era of trains began in 1946 with the advent of Lionel trains that many had received for Christmas.

Our club grew, and our first large layout was under way. It has now grown to 23’ x 37'. 15 members have made individual modules which fit together to make the complete display. It has 3 loops of track with the minimum diameter of 72". This allows for the largest rolling stock made to run on the layout. Each year, most members update their displays by adding additional accessories or electronics.


With the growth of the membership to the current 35, an additional layout was created so that more members could participate. Also, a smaller, easier to set up layout was designed for use where space was limited, allowing another 10 members to make modules. Thus evolved the 6’ x 28' “Traveling Layout”. The smaller layout only allows for 2 loops of track with the smallest diameter being 45". This “child”-friendly layout has proven to be very popular because it is loaded with buttons children can push to run action-packed accessories. They can also control the trains by using a walk around transmitter. But, the highlight of the layout is a custom-built, 3’ tall, double roller coaster!

Along with the child-friendly Traveling Layout, the O gauge group displays a life-sized silhouette of a locomotive. The cab window has an opening visitors can poke their heads through for a great photo opportunity for all ages. Visitors can also ring an original road crossing bell that sounds great and will stop you in your tracks!

To see trains in action with smoke, horns, bells, a live TV camera, beautiful detailing and the latest in electronic technology, you must experience the O Gauge layout! All aboard


Jim Kurtz prepares the Island of Sodor display for the Camp Villages train show. Most of the buildings were scratch-built by Jim.

Links: The Villages: Zitnik Trains: