Elkhart Model Railroad Club History
The Elkhart Model Railroad Club was chartered on April 11, 1950. The original purpose of the club was to be a social organization that would promote the hobby of model railroading and embracing the concept that model railroading is fun. Over seventy years later that same founding principle remains our foundation.
Originally a loose-knit round-robin group, the early members of the club worked on small portable layouts of what was dubbed The Rocky River Line. These portable layouts would be displayed in public venues throughout the area, generating interest in the club. As the club membership grew, so did the desire for a home for a permanent layout.
This picture shows three original members of the Elkhart Model Railroad Club at a local school in 1950 showing a Rocky River Line Module. The fellow in the middle is founding member Bob Mangum who was active in the club for over 25 years. here's a picture of Bob at a meeting in the 1970s. Bob is a pretty good builder. He built the trestle. shown lower left, in the early 70s and it's still in use today. It shows up in several pictures and videos on our website.
A Rocky River Line portable layout and display at a local school in the early 50s
These early visionaries generated enough capital (some through taking out a second mortgage on their own home) to purchase a parcel of land on the south side of Elkhart. This parcel of land was divided into 3 lots. 2 of the lots were sold the revenue was used to repay investors and finance the construction of a new clubhouse on the remaining lot. The building was opened in 1951 and a layout was started in 1952. In 1958 an addition to the building tripled the club’s size, bringing it to its current configuration.
Everybody belonged to the NMRA in 1951
EMRRC building as it stands in 2017. The building is just over 1700 sq. ft. with large HO scale and N scale layouts. The building includes a lounge/meeting area with a kitchen, layout rooms, a computer area with an extension of the HO layout affectionately known as Flushing because trackage runs through the restroom. The building has LED lighting and is heated and air-conditioned throughout.
As the 1950s ended. two major events happened that would affect the club even into the present day. The HO division of the E&W was expanded in 1958 as the building was remodeled to accommodate the expanding railroad.
Many members paid extra monthly to help pay for the expansion project. Those same members helped in the construction and expansion of the facility over the years.
Much of the configuration seen in old club photographs still exists today, as does some of the hand-laid nickel silver track. In the early days of the club, the 'pike' was controlled using a block system. This system relied on a lot of blood, sweat, and tears along with DTDP switches and a nightmare of wiring to control trains.
The system was originally designed in the early 1950s and added to and modified up till 2002 when the entire electrical system was torn out and a new DCC was wired into the layout. Today both the N-Scale and HO-Scale layouts are DCC controlled using the DigiTrax system with JMRI which allows many members to control their trains with their cell phones, tablets, or another digital device.
The other event that happened at the end of the 50s was the torch was passed to a man who would become an icon of The Elkhart Model Railroad Club for decades to come. In February of 1959, Charlie Hammes became a member of the club, and for the next four decades Charlie, often single-handedly, kept the club solvent and open. Charlie was a member of the club till his death in 2006. Charlie was a Crew Supervisor for NIPSCO for 35 years before he retired in 1983. He was a Veteran of the United States Army, serving his country proudly during WW II. Charlie was an experienced electrician and because of this experience, he was able to build, wire, and maintain most of the electronics that it took to run a large HO scale layout.
In September 1964 the club hosted the North Central and Midwest Region National Model Railroad Association Convention. Hobby pioneer William Walthers was among the 200+ visitors to the club layout during the convention.
In the early 1970s, the club’s membership rocketed to an all-time high of 35 members.
In October of 1978, the club once again hosted The Regional NMRA Convention, which was attended by over 300 people.
The early 1980s saw a drastic decline in membership. There was a prolonged period when the roster consisted of just two members Charlie Hammes and Jim Stafford. These two men weathered the storm and were rewarded for their faithfulness with an increase in membership and enthusiasm at the Elkhart Model Railroad Club. By the beginning of the 1990s membership began to grow again and new members brought new life to the club. More track was added and replaced. A double-track mainline was added to a major portion of the layout and new industries and spurs were added. Over 1000' of mainline and another 750' of spurs, yards, and connecting railroads run through the building. Even the restroom is affectionally known as the "Flushing Branch" because of the track running through it. Buildings and structures were replaced or upgraded and added to. Many of the buildings have lighting inside and out. As the turn of a new century occurred more and more technical changes were made. The entire block wiring system was torn out and a new DigiTrax DCC system was installed.
The system has 4 DCS200 8 amp Command Station/Boostermain units and 1 DCS100 5 amp combination DCC Command Station & Booster. The switches are a combination of Tortise switch machines and switch stands. Member Richard Zimmerman undertook the massive task of wiring and rewiring for DCC and Charlie Hammes was still at it and was a major contributor to the new wiring installed for the system.
As the club through the new century, improvements to the building and club happened periodically. A portion of these members embraced the evolving nature of the hobby and dedicated a portion of the clubhouse for a permanent N-scale layout.
Member Ron Breniser introduced the club's first website on Trainweb in 2001.
Another hallmark for the club was when Fred W. Rapp Jr. brought the idea and implementation of a yearly Train Show & Swap Meet to the club. After initial planning in 2004 and the beginning of 2005, the first Elkhart Model Railroad Club Show was held on March 19, 2005, at the Borkholder Dutch Village in Nappanee, Indiana. . Over 450 people attended the event. It was such a success for the club it became an annual event.
New LED lighting was installed throughout the building. A new kitchen and restroom were installed. The old outside storage shed was replaced with a new larger shed. City water was brought into the building. A new septic system was installed. The front lounge was converted into an N-scale layout and in the first half of 2018, it was decided a new N-Scale layout was needed. Major structural changes were made opening up the entire front area to the rest of the layout.
The Elkhart Model Railroad Club has a new website online at www.emrrc.com and is addressing social marketing needs more and more through Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Google. Clinics and field trips are now a once-a-month occurrence for all members to further their knowledge in model railroading.
Maintenance and updates of our large HO-Scale layout are ongoing. We are open on Tuesday nights for maintenance-only sessions. The local neighborhood was changing as it was annexed into the city of Elkhart, which means a new sewer system will be coming in the future.
Membership has been increasing and at the end of 2017, the club has over 25 members.
As with all new advances, new challenges would also occur. The new sewer hookup will be a major expense for the club. Technology marches along at a tremendous rate in model railroading. Major decisions have to be made every year as to which technology needs to be changed and updated usually with major budget concerns. "The Nappanee Train Show had to be canceled for 2018 as the building we rented for the show was sold and the club was unable to rent a new building in time for the show. The show will continue in 2019 at a new location in the Nappanee area.
In 2019 EMRRC had some major events that need to be added to the club's legacy. Stan Shatto one of our lifetime members passed at the end of 2018. Stan left his mark on the club with his scenery work and overall craftsmanship and knowledge of the club and model railroading. One of Stan's final projects was the Chateau Paper complex which encompassed a large area on the layout and is about 90% complete. Stan will be sorely missed by the club. Stan's family had a remembrance for Stan at the club in July. Here is a link to that remembrance and a link to his club obituary.
Also in 2019 EMRRC was able to continue our annual Nappanee Train Show after renting a new venue to hold the show. The show was held at a new facility, Claywood Event Center in Nappanee, Indiana. The show was a great success with a huge crowd, lots of vendors, and a great facility to have the show in.
The club's computer system was showing its age as it was over 10 years old. It was replaced with a new system built by member Matt Glassman. The computer runs the JMRI software interfaced with our Digitrax system. It also is more than capable of handling any of the day-to-day printing and office functions needed by the club.
We had an N-Scale layout that was outdated and need to be rebuilt or replaced. It was decided to rebuild the N-Scale layout and that process started at the end of 2019 with the removal of the old layout. Chuck Hart an avid N-Scaler heads up the project and quick progress was made with new benchwork.
The year 2020 started as a normal year for the club, then in March, the COVID Pandemic began with a nationwide lockdown for facilities. Our 2020 Train Show was canceled and the board decided to close the club to outside visitors. All formal meetings were canceled. The maintenance of the HO layout was cut, and the new N-Scale layout was put on hold. A few members still met on Friday nights but it was a sparse showing for several months with the state of Indiana's Virus Protocol Rules in effect. As the virus numbers moved up and down more members slowly started coming back.
We lost two members during this time. Charlie Yoakum a long-time member passed in 2020 and our Vice President Jerry Piatt decided to retire from the club. Both members were valuable and did a lot of the scenery work on the HO Scale layout.
At the end of 2020, the club was still trying to make a difficult situation work as the pandemic continued. We started holding business meetings using Zoom and slowly members were coming back. As of January 31st, 2020 we still are not having visitors or guests to the club.
In 2021 we were still under lockdown due to the pandemic. A few members continued to come to the club with masks, hand sanitizer, and practicing social distancing. Finally in May restrictions were lifted by the State of Indiana and Elkhart County. The club finally opened the week of May 23rd. The following Friday members, visitors, and guests started to come back. All business meetings were either held outside or by ZOOM. By July we started to promote the club being open and things started to return to normal. Work on the new N-Scale layout started and much-needed maintenance and a lot of TLC was applied to the building and the HO-Scale layout. Several changes were instigated by the club due to the effects of the pandemic.
The annual train show usually held in the Spring was moved to the Fall as the state and county were still under lockdown for gatherings of over 250 people. The new date for the 16th Annual Train Show was October 16, 2021. The date was decided on after looking at other train shows scheduled and Notre Dame Home games. Will it work out or will the date be moved back to the Spring? Yes, we will. It was decided to do a quick turn around and our 17th annual train show will be in March of 2022. Fortunately Claywood Event Center worked with us to implement any changes we wanted.
Other changes include; the reinvigoration of clinics. The Elkhart Model Railroad club has held monthly clinics covering model railroad topics. Even before the pandemic interest had fallen off and during the pandemic, there were no clinics. The club has a YouTube channel and we noticed the top-rated video on the channel is a clinic by Stan Shatto on building water tanks and this drove the idea behind getting the clinics back on track. We have a clinic scheduled for every month in 2021 and many more scheduled in 2022.
Membership is in another growth spurt and we have reached 30 members.
To honor some of the members who have passed on a Memorial Page was opened on the website so that present-day members will have a closer connection to members who preceded them.
EMRRC has faced its ups and downs, has shifted with the ever-changing technology, and evolved into its present version. Over the years some of the faces and names have been lost to the ages, but not forgotten. EMRRC with its long heritage of model railroading continues to carry the torch of promoting the hobby and embracing the concept that model railroading is fun.