Model Railroading Today and Tomorrow

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In 2010 the National Model Railroad Association celebrated the 75th anniversary if it’s founding. The organization returned to Milwaukee for its annual convention, the city in which the group was born. The founders became pillars of the model railroad community. Two of the most important are Al Kalmbach, father of Model Railroader, the largest magazine in the hobby and Bill Walthers, first president of his name sake company which is one of largest distributors in the hobby today.

In the early days, the major objective was standards. In addition, the annual NMRA convention was a social function that brought modelers from across the country. In the 1930’s very few model railroad clubs existed. Limited funds and very little commercial equipment made the hobby one for the scratch builder. Standards allowed model railroaders to share equipment and gave the manufacturers a jump start. New models built to standards would appeal to all modelers and would be compatible with competitors equipment.

After the first few years, regions were formed. The annual convention continued to be held on Labor Day weekend, but now an alternative region meeting could be closer to your home. The regions gave birth to divisions, the local neighborhood NMRA group. Divisions meet monthly or quarterly.

In the first 50 years, the NMRA established standards and recommended practices (RP) for most parts of the hobby. Some gaps still remain and works continues in the background.

In the last 25 years, the NMRA continued to provide social and educational aspects at the region and division level. The national organization completed a building in Chattanooga, TN adding a railroad library. Fifteen years ago, a museum was planned. A collection of models and old layouts has been gathering in the basement of the building. A plan to move the museum to the California State Railroad Museum has been proposed. The Howell Day Museum was recently been incorporated in California and signed an agreement to built a display in the upper level of the CSRM. Fund raising began in the summer of 2011.

Friday, July 16, 2010, the NMRA launched a new logo as part of a complete rebranding of the organization. As a former member of the board, I agree that it was time to rebrand. The big question will be if the Board of Directors and Officers can follow through on remaking the NMRA into a relevant hobby organization.

2012 UPDATE: Nearly 18 months later and little has changed at the NMRA. A new president Charlie Getz came into office in July. He has written extensively about the Howell Day Museum. This is a cooperative effort with the California State Railroad Museum. It will occupy the second level next to the tinplate display.

2014 Update: The NMRA Board has turned over and a new group is making some small changes. The headquarters building was sold and the money put back into the life fund ( funds the costs to service the life members of the organization.) While the primary focus of the organization is scale model railroading, discussions about non-scale continue. The annual convention has improved each year starting in 2011. The exhibit in the California State Railroad Museum is planned for completion by year end.