A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

December 29, 2009

The O Scale Figure Dilemma

One of the problems I am encountering in this project relates to the "O" scale civil war era figures. While there is a pretty good selection of 40mm civil war era figures available, such as from the Sash and Saber, and the Honorable Lead and Boiler Suit (HLBS) company, they are intended for wargaming. Thus they are built robustly to take abuse from handling during games. Hence the overscale swords, and other weapons. They also tend to have "war-like" poses, charging, shooting etc. I expect that I will be converting many of them for use on the more sedate operation of running the railroad. For example, I'll probably have to grind off the swords, weapons and adjust the poses. I'll also have to remove the cast on bases and introduce pins so they can be installed on the layout.

I find that I am ordering artillery men, and officers more for use on the layout. Most of the infantry figures have weapons and battle rattle (canteens, packs, mussette bags, cartridges boxes etc.) inappropriate for figures that would be hanging around the RR. However, I do plan to use some of them for at least one scene where a long line of troops are marching off to their camp.

There are a few manufactures that make civilians appropriate for this era and I have a bunch on order, mostly from the UK. Woodland scenics makes a line of O figures that are good, especially their railroad crew. But, they will need to be converted to 1860's attire. The Sash and Saber figures have separate heads, so swaping heads with the Woodland Scenics figures will be easy. (They are shown at the lower right of the photo). Since I am modeling winter, adding frock coats will not be hard. The Woodland Scenics figures need to be repainted, as their existing paint jobs are too cartoonish.

Another problem I encountered is that what constitutes an O scale figure varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Compare the figures in the prototype photo of the locomotive Haupt to the model figures. For reference, the locomotive has 60 inch drivers.

The 28mm wargame figures are in general too small, but will work in background scenes, especially the Old Glory figures. Most 28mm figures are notorious for being over-scale to allow the sculptor more room to model detail. However, the over-scale size helps in my application. They are also more affordable, especially the mounted troops.

The Tamiya 1:48th scale figure tends to be a good 25 percent smaller than the Woodland Scenics guys. The Woodland Scenics are about the same size as the Sash and Sabre. I purchased some 1:43 figures from the UK and these are slightly smaller than the Woodland Scenics, which should go the other way if one believe the nominal scale. Dave Emery painted the 1/43rd Stadden figure.

As can be expected, the Tamiya figures are probably closest to scale. This Tamiya figure is a German soldier from their WWII line. They do not currently offer a ACW era figure. Being styrene, it should be easy to modify.

The trick is to mix and match the figures while remaining aware of the size differences. I enjoy figure modeling, so this will just add more play/build value to the layout.


  1. You did a realy nice job on the comparison picture. To me, the 28mm figuers look more in scale then the 1/48 to 40mm size. I don't think you want all your figuers the same size. People vary too much for that. I think all these fiqures could be used to make a truely representive crowd.

    Bob Harris

  2. Thanks for the picture!! In armor, we have had this same discussion. In CW,WW1, or WW2 times, 6 foot was not the norm, so shorter would be quite acceptable.
    Do you know of the Atelier Noix old time Train crew figures in Oscale?? VERY well done, and easily in your timeframe with almost no mods.

  3. Dave,

    I am not familiar with Atelier Noix. Google didn't turn up much. Do have any more info on them?

  4. Pegasus Hobbies also have set of figures of California Gold Miners set No.7007,1\48 scale that may be of use , some have shovels and picks, others could be used with some modification.They are for 1849 Era So they should fit in on ACW layout. I paid 10.00 for this set at at train show , for 14 unpainted figures and two mules I thought it a good deal, Gary

  5. Gary,
    Thanks for reminding me about the Pegasus figures. I had forgotten about them. What type of plastic are they made from?

  6. Atelier Noix is also Swash Design. Try Googling that. A couple sets are OOP, but I'm hoping they come back into production. Emails haven't been replied to...not sure why.

  7. It seems the Swash Designs 1/48 Vintage Figure Set III Train Crew A (5 figures) is out of production. Will have to check ebay every now and then.

  8. D.C. CebulaJanuary 08, 2010

    Bernie, I have been pursuing a similar conversion process in HO scale. My plastic surgery has focused mostly on Preiser plastic figures. I have modified about 100 of the Preiser marching soldiers at this point to reflect a more typical view of what would have been seen with soldiers marching in an other than review situation. I have also been modifying civilians to soldiers in camp life. Keep up your inspirational work. Its a blast. Your friend, DC

  9. Hello, The Pegasus figures do not say what type of plastic they are other than the color tan. Gary

  10. I have two sets of the Pegasus figures on the way. I'll post a review once they arrive.

  11. DC can you send some photos of your converted HO figures? They would be fun to compare to the O scale figures. Prieser figures usually have very good sculpting.

  12. Bernie,

    For perspective, you could place the chosen size in the foreground and smaller figures in the background forcing viewers perspective to shrink and create distance in scenes.

    Styrene figures can easily be refromed to shapes you desire. Thin silks can be dyed for canvas and other fabrics. I have quite a bit of silk screen fabric from my screen printing days(let me know if you want some?) Will make great passenger car roofing too.....

    Mark Andersen

  13. Yes, I would like to try some of that silk. I need to make a lot of tents and the silk might work for that. Thanks.

  14. AnonymousJune 24, 2010

    Perry Minatures make a 28mm Civil War set. Do you know of these and are they one of those "notorious for being over-scale to allow the sculptor more room to model detail" sets? In your opinion - would they work? I have some old 40mm Elastolin CW figures but they are all Union troops. I am trying to find some more Union and a good set of Confederate that would go with what I have and not look TOO out of place. Any advice or suggestions would be welcomed!

  15. I haven't tried the Perry figures yet. I may order some at some point. They look nicely proportioned.