Model Train Club  picking up speed

There’s something about the romantic allure of model trains that crosses generations, education and income brackets. A group of about 40-45 model train aficionados, many of them local residents, have joined to form the Boston Metro Hi-Railers Model Railroad Club.

The BMHR recently moved its headquarters from Melrose to 5 Waltham St. in Wilmington, off Route 62 near the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

The expanded space in Wilmington has allowed the club to build the largest O-Gauge layout in Massachu-setts, with more than 2,000 feet of track.

The BMHR has two major events upcoming, a display this Saturday (4-6:30 p.m.) at Wilmington’s Christmas lighting ceremony, and then an open house at the club’s headquarters on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For the nominal fee of $2 per person (or $5 per family; children under 12 get in free), attendees to the open house will be able to not only observe but also interact with working model train sets.

The following weekend, on Dec. 17-18, the National Model Railroad Association will host its annual Model Train Weekend, at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington. Hours on Saturday are from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $7 per family.

According to Robert Hilliard, a Reading resident and BMHR Vice-President, the appeal of model trains is timeless. Hilliard remembers first being fascinated with trains when he was growing up in Somerville.

“Of course, trains were a much more common means of travel back in the day, but nowadays Lionel and MTH (two of the most popular model train manufacturers) have found a way to appeal to young people,” said Hilliard. “You see trains everywhere (in the media), like Polar Express or Thomas the Tank Engine, and that tends to keep the younger people involved.”

This historical aspect of train collecting is prevalent throughout the genre. Hilliard’s son bought him a model replica of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s passenger car that FDR used for travel while President. The same car was used by FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, when Truman was photographed holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the famously inaccurate “Dewey defeats Truman” the day after the 1948 Presidential election.

“I look for historical pieces on EBay,” said Hilliard. “That’s my particular interest.”

Hilliard starting making his own model train layouts at home, but he eventually ran out of space.

“When I had trains in my living room, my wife put up with that for about six months,” laughs Hilliard.

That exodus turned out to be a blessing, however, as it led him to his kindred spirits in the BMHR. The club was formed about a dozen years ago.

BMHR members have collected more than 150 locomotives, 500 and freight and passenger cars. While some of the more expensive model trains don’t make it to the club, the members make sure there are working models always available. Two nights a week - Thursday and Sunday - are set aside for layout, which is always a work in progress.

There is also a “Run Night” every Wednesday, and the club holds its regular meetings on the first Thursday of every month.

“We’re lucky to have six members of the club who are MIT people, and they bring a lot of engineering and electrical expertise,” said Hilliard.

The BMHR specializes in the “O-Gauge” size, which is neither the largest nor the smallest version of model trains, but perhaps the most familiar to those who had train sets in their youth. There are dozens of sizes, with some of the most popular being also Half O-Gauge, S-Scale (“really small; the kind you could run in your dining room,” according to Hilliard) and a G-Scale, which is so large they are sometimes run outdoors.

“Some people don’t like to take their model trains out of the box, and in that way, they look at it like more of an investment, like baseball cards,” said Hilliard. “Some of the really old collectible trains can re-sell for thousands of dollars, and I’ve even seen the boxes for sale for $1,000.”

The BMHR displays, however, are designed to be interactive. The appeal of O-Gauge trains is, they are easier to handle and the track can be manipulated in a variety of ways, while the displays can be built in relatively small space.

“You really only need a room about six feet across,” said Hilliard. “Of course, we’re able to have much larger displays at the club.”

Everything at the club will be on display at the open house on Dec. 10. Club members like the new location because in addition to the extra space, there is also easy access from the highway.

Free parking is available for the open house, and since the building is on the first floor, it is entirely accessible. In Melrose, the club’s headquarters were located in the basement of a retired church.

The BMHR is always looking for new members. The dues are just $25 per month.

“We’re hoping the open house will attract new people who are interested in model trains,” said Hilliard. “It’s a great hobby, and once you start, you get hooked. I haven’t gotten over it from childhood.”


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