Starting up a model railroad club


Hello everyone of the forum.

After some time of internet searching I was only able to find one other site that had something of this topic, so anyway, here goes.

Starting up a model railroad club. I'm looking to do it. Also looking for the does and the don'ts of doing so.

A few close friends of mine have a general idea of what and how we want the club to run both through the railroad itself and some rules and regulations.

Next would be to look for buildings. Any thoughts on how to become incorporated with the state or museum status? Good idea, bad idea?

Any other thoughts would be helpful.

And if you're in the New Jersey area and want to model some anthracite railroading goodness let me know.


Good Luck!

It seems like there are some large clubs and home layouts in New Jersey.  The trend has been toward large home layouts where the host owns the property and entertains guest workers/operators.  For a specific theme like anthracite, the home layout might be the better route.

Otherwise, the critical point is a permanent location.  Many great clubs have lost their lease and dissolved.  Others, like the San Diego clubs have relocated and are entrenched as a public museum.  The La Mesa club is the larger of the San Diego clubs and has the Tehachapi layout under construction; so it is possible to build a specific theme layout as a public property.


I belong to a club that is in an old depot. We are a 501c3. I do know that it cost a lot of money to have the club in the depot. Our club has been around for many years. Since the 1950s. We have an annual train show to help pay the bills. Your main concern would be the finances and in todays economy that might not be easy. I think I would start a round robin group until it got going.

Rob Teed

Maybe you don't need a

Maybe you don't need a "formal" club.  Many folks don't want to belong to a club with rules, dues or what have you, just too formal and regulated for them.  What we have done in our area is to create a "round robin" club.  In this club that isn't a club, we have no rules, no dues, no static regular meeting area.

Instead we are a group of HO, N and S scalers who visit one of our homes roughly once a month.  We each take turns hosting, members are encourage to bring food, and some offer almost ops like sessions, others offer a more loosey goosey, here's a throttle run a train type sessions.

Some layouts are small and have only just begun, some layouts are quite complete and very well done.  Interestingly in our group, N scale is the most popular (unusual I know).  We try to help others when they have problems, offer our expertise if we have a particular area we are good at, like electronics, weathering, helping with DCC, etc.  Sometimes we go and see how far a person has progressed, then go down and watch a video he might have, other times its really just a social, other times an ops session.

We have just started this and its been running for two years now but it has become popular with new and very established model railroaders.

We run roughly ten times a year with two months off in the summer.  And it should be noted, some members don't have a layout and have never had us over; we never apply pressure on them to get a layout, but accept them as some one who wants to participate but they may never have a layout.

try contacting people to help you not reinvent the wheel

Always start with your LHS if you have one.  If they are well-staffed, they know who's in the market to play, and who's not.  In many places, alas there isn't a suitable shop handy.

United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey.  While the org isn't in the RR club business, I'm guessing some of its members are.  Per their website, they have an 'Anthracite Railroads Historical Society.  Plus chapters for several of the Fallen Flags who were coal haulers before Conrail.

For clubs to share policies, timetables, whatever you are looking for, try to get to know someone over the phone or pay a visit.  While some clubs are open about sharing, others (initially) play close to the vest.  Try to contact a Board member, a Council member, or someone senior in years.  Hotshot modelers are not always reliable club members.  Usually it's the middle group that has the longevity, not the brilliants, not the flubbers.  Many exceptions to that generality, too.  If a club sounds grouchy (at least three people) then they were probably 'burned' recently.  Just move on.

I once saw a holiday show at Union County Model Railroad Club or Model Railroad Club of Union City.  Not sure they still have shows but they have a website.

Wikipedia has a  sub-site.

Of course the comment about the trend away from bricks and mortar clubs stands.

A large club can require a commensurate commitment ;and it can be "taken away from you" by people who want to be leaders, but not do the work.  That's one the aspects of "burned" I've heard about.  Another aspect is money management.  Know your financial people and if you get to the point of fund-raising or dues, create an entity, write by-laws.  A small local bank, the internet, and bookstores can help with this.  Don't expect the cool talker to be cool with your $2,000 or the club's $20,000.  I know of two cases where the treasurer himself (gender neutral) was the thief.  If you can get tax-exempt status (501.3.c corporation) it helps with long term fundraising.

If you just want eight guys to help you build and operate, ignore the prior paragraph.  Round robins work up to about six guys (depends who you talk to).  That way you get specialties and overlap.  Too big and some people only receive, not give.  In a round robin, you go to each person's house in turn.  This is a great way to work on layouts at different stages of completion.  AND, you only have to track-plan for yourself.  As you have read, some clubs have spent more than a year just drawing stuff.  Whatever turns you on.

And nowadays, having skill-sets in electronics, logic design, wiring experience, etc. is more important than ever.  Soon even the waterfalls, barking dogs and farting pigs will be DCC operated.  If you're the man, fine.  If not, a round-robin will serve you well.



Two club ideas

There is a group of folks in NC that have a traveling layout. They take it fo shows, but have no formal meeting place. No officers and few rules other than what makes up their module. That might be something to look into. With this type of group I would assume(I know a bad thing to do.) they have little or no dues. I saw their layout at a recent show, and it was very large and quite nice. They have a group on yahoo. Sipping and Switching Society of North Carolina.

I am a member of a club here (Waynesborough Model Rail Road club. We are a small club, and are always looking new members. You may want to look around and see if there is something local to you already started. Good luck in whatever you decide to do.


Thanks for the input thus far

Thanks for the input thus far guys. But for all of the comments on round robins, at this point it is something a few buddies and I are not in the standings for something like that. Small apartments aren't the best for model railroads unfortunately.

And a short background on myself since I'm not new to the MRH website, but new as a poster.

I'm only 23. I worked in a model railroad shop since I was 15 and currently I work for a railroad as an engineer. So I know quite a few of the ins and the outs of the hobby and the railroad industry itself. I model the Jersey Central Railroad and operate trains on some of the lines they used to run on as well. I do custom painting, kitbashing, scratchbuilding, and putting DCC into whatever needs it. My pride and joy are my OMI double enders with DCC and sound. I have designed and built over a dozen layouts in N, HO, S and O scale. That's all that comes to mind at this moment.

Currently I have 4 other people who want to join in on this club. Each one of them experienced in modelling, electronics, wiring, carpentry, track laying and a few other things.

I'll try and keep everyone updated if the thoughts and ideas keep coming.

Attempting to model the CNJ, one day at a time.

One of your round robin group

One of your round robin group has a layout in his bedroom in a not very large condo.  He has done well for layout size with a double deck and helix, given the small space.  Check out his layout design at his web site:


DRX One of the major items


One of the major items in getting a club house is the money.  What is going to be your rent/mortgage + electricity + heating + insurance + taxes.  The last club house I was a member of, cost us $8,000 per year to cover the cost rent + insurance.  Yes this was high, but after being kicked out  three times in four years from "cheap" rent locations, when the owners found someone else that would pay more for the space.  We when with a location that would give us a "long" term lease, but it cost us more money for rent.

 Then there is cost of building the layout itself.


Doug W


Look for a museum in your area and ask if they have a spare room for a layout. Then you wont have to worry about rent anyway.

Rob Teed

G scale club in Idaho

We have a very loose organization. our only "officer" is our person who is designated contact person, for things like getting us in the club section of Garden Railways.

We have an association with the Botanical Garden to run 2 days at their Octoberfest, and 31 days in December for their Winter Garden Aglow. They put up 325,000 lights in the garden. We set up 250 feet of track and run 6:00 to 9:00PM. We run Thomas, Percy, and the Polar Express (repainted Bachmann coaches and a Mikado repainted). Kids and adults seem to love it as this is our 3rd year.

Normal run are outdoors at members homes, with 2 members having indoor layouts for the winter months.

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