Prairie Locomotive Works

office (574) 276-8155
fax (574) 586-2468


What is narrow gauge? 

The standard railroad in the US and most of the world is based on the original British distance between the rails of 4 foot, eight and a half inches.  This became known as Standard Gauge.  Smaller railroads, which were easier to build and could traverse terrain without costly improvements became known as narrow gauge. 

Since they were more flexible, and cheaper, narrow gauge railroads were associated with industrial efforts, less developed countries, and mountainous occupations like mining and lumber.  Romantic names like, Durango, Chama, and Silverton were served by the narrow gauge and became associated with the old west.  However, the famous East Broad Top railroad of Pennsylvania boasts a unique collection of narrow gauge equipment, and the thumb of Michigan was once served by 250 miles of narrow gauge track.

Above:  a Porter 2-6-2 works the Portland Cement line in Brazil

What is On 30?

Modelers have always been attracted to narrow gauge  because of the character of the equipment, the majesty of the scenery, and the small size of the rolling stock poll of most lines.  Many narrow gauge lines formed in the 1870’s, used original or older second hand equipment till abandonment. 


Above:  The Bachmann Mogul that popularized On30

This area of modeling was always the domain of hand built or extremely pricy models until the Mid 90’s, when Bachmann Ltd, brought out a line of O scale trains running on HO track to complement holiday themed ceramic buildings which are a popular seasonal Christmas decoration in the US.  This hit a nerve in the Model Railroad community for affordable narrow gauge equipment and sets flew off the shelves to be repainted or incorporated in to serious layouts.  

Most of the equipment being made for On 30 is actually based on 36 inch gauge equipment, the most prevalent narrow gauge in the US, though the gauge actually works out to 31.25 inches, or slightly an eight of an inch out of scale.

A Brief History of PLW, LLC


Above:  My Home Layout

I was given a foam N scale  Layout that slid under my bed for Christmas when I was three.  The reason my parents tell me now, was that I was being too hard on my father’s trains in the basement.  This layout grew into an HO scale pike on a specially designed base that would roll under a twin bed, that base was passed down through my Boy Scout troop and is still in use almost 30 years later. 

After two years of college I found I missed having model trains, and built a portable layout themed with my love of Great Lakes shipping and the Allegany Mountains I drove through on my way to school.  This Layout is approaching twenty years old, but still travels to shows and is very popular with the crowds.

In between this two layouts I fell in love with the idea of narrow gauge by riding the Durango and Silverton on a family vacation.   Around that time Malcom Furlow also had an Hon3 Project Railroad in Model Railroader Magazine, called the San Juan Central.  I cut wood, and built my kits, but never got to erect a version of this layout; however, I had gotten the narrow gauge fever. 

Part of the “Cure” came when Bachmann released its affordable line of On30 products, which coincided with the rise of Digital Command Control, or DCC.  DCC allowed trains to operate independently by carrying “Decoders” on board and reading signals sent through the track by a computer.  Now realistic signal track operation was possible and affordable.  Broadway Ltd, LLC, followed with the release of their On30 version of the C-16 consolidation, as “standard” a locomotive as you could ask for.

Soon a basement empire was underway in On30.  A project that will span a decade, it is currently about 40% structurally complete.  It is based on an Iron Ore hauling road near Skanee, Mi, that went bankrupt in after building a port and 48 miles of track, but never running a single train. 

Finding no bottom dumping ore cars was the original stimulus for staring PLW, LLC.  However, with my passion for the hobby it was probably unavoidable.