History of the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society

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Layout Guide Table of Contents

(This section is mainly about the people and events that shaped the Society. It is of course intertwined with the history of the layout, but that is covered under a separate section.)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of the oldest engineering schools in the country, founded by Stephen Van Rensselaer in Troy, NY, in 1824. At that time, the only engineering was being done by the military, mostly involved in the science of artillery, or by the Army Corps of Engineers. RPI was the first in this country to teach engineering to civilians, the so-called "civil engineering".

In 1938, RPI was given a large scale steam loco.

The Rensselaer Central was formed in 1939 to build tracks in the area of what is now the RPI Playhouse and to operate this loco.

Unfortunately, with the declaration of war, RPI was taken over by the Navy to teach a rush (6 months) course, and student clubs such as this fell by the wayside. The tracks were ripped up to make way for the 15th Street Lounge and the engine stored in the bowels of Sage Labs. Periodically, attempts were made to reactivate the club, but nothing ever seemed to come of this. Around 1960, it appears the engine was sold. (Details of this disposition are unknown. More detailed information from actual members of the Rensselear Central.)

A model railroad club was begun in 1947, and built its first layout in the basement of the Pittsburgh Building. The club at that time was nicknamed "Boomers" from the itinerant (i.e., wandering) railroad workers who followed the construction boom towns as rails pushed westward. From an old yearbook, notice the caption.

The NEB&W name dates back to the start of the club in 1947.

In 1962, we were asked to move to the basement of the University Building (formerly St. Joseph's Seminary, now the site of the current Folsom Library). In 1968, another move resulted in a third layout being built in B Building of the People's Avenue Complex (the former St. Vincent's Guardian Angel Home for Wayward Girls, of which only H and J Buildings still stand).

Finally, when demolition threatened once again, the Society moved to the basement of Davison Hall in 1972. When we moved this last time, we essentially started over; a few buildings and bridges of the last layout are the only items reused on this layout.

It took a decade to finish the main line, with the Gold Spike driven (by legendary Jim Shaughnessy) in 1982, at the curve at East Clarendon.

In 1984, the first "Green-Dot" session was held, with accurate equipment in terms of both detailing and era for a steam-to-diesel period. In 1989, the Troy station was dedicated in a special ceremony with the Mayor of Troy and other dignitaries here.

For most of its existence, the Society was only open to the public during infrequently-held open houses. In 1988-'89, the historical and educational value of the layout resulted in a decision reached between the membership and the Executive Board of the Union to open the layout to the public on a regular basis. After more than a decade and a half of trying, we are returning to our roots as an RPI student club. We are no longer open to the general public, at least in person, although we try to share the layout with you via this website.

The Rensselaer Railroad Shop was established to help cover the operating and on-going construction costs of the layout. The Shop carried products of interest to HO scale steam-era modelers. Starting with the information gained from working on the layout, (and going far beyond in terms of era and region), in 1995, we began publishing a series of modeling guides on freight cars, scenery, structures, and details, about the real prototypes and the variety of ways to model them. Since then, we have converted all our publications to on-line, with a modest monthly fee to cover costs of maintaining and expanding this site.

On November 17, 2007, the club celebrated its 60th anniversary.