For information about the terms ‘scale’ and ‘gauge,’ please see the Scale and Gauge page.
Although, in the formative years of the hobby, many adult enthusiasts had model railway layouts built on proper baseboards, children’s toy trains were generally laid on the floor and, as such, could be a household nuisance. The idea of lifting the toy train off the floor and on to a table probably wasn’t new but, in the 1920s, some German manufacturers made it a reality. To do this they halved the popular Gauge ‘0’ to create a model small enough to fit on a table top. The oval of track on the floor could now be an oval of track on a table! The Bing, Trix and Marklin ranges were well established by 1938, when the British Hornby company introduced its famous Hornby-Dublo system.
With the rapid decline in popularity of Gauge ‘0’ after the Second World War, the typical train set in Great Britain was laid out on a table, perhaps later graduating to a purpose-built baseboard. These still required a fairly big table, say about five feet by three feet, six inches. The typical British baseboard was often a little bit bigger, about six feet by four feet and many plans have been published over the years for a layout of this size.
During the 1950s, the smaller ‘TT’ Gauge was introduced by Continental manufacturers. ‘TT’ stood for ‘table top’! This was roughly three-quarters the size of ‘00’ Gauge and Tri-ang, a British manufacturer, soon introduced its own range. The smaller size meant a more ambitious railway could be built on the same-sized table, or, importantly, a layout could be built on a smaller table of around four feet by three feet. The ability to manufacture miniature electric motors soon meant an even smaller size became possible. The German manufacturer, Arnold, and its British counterpart, Lone Star, introduced ranges known as ‘N’ and ‘000’. These were half the size of ‘00’ Gauge and a three feet by two feet table became sufficient for a layout. My parents moved into a new house in 1964 and bought a table of this size, complete with jazzy ‘Formica’ surface, for their kitchen.
I have this table still and it often is used to support the Table-Top Railway, my 21st Century interpretation of the 100 years’ old concept of a ‘train set’ style model railway on a table.