OE Railroad Prototype Modelers

Two of our Oliver Evans chapter members attended the modelers convention at Malvern, March 24 to 27, 2022. Here are their thoughts on their attendance at the meeting and their involvement with railroad modeling.

The Railroad Prototype Modelers (“RPM”) Valley Forge is a biennial gathering of model railroaders concerned with accurately depicting railroad equipment, structures, and scenes in scale models. For many years it has been held in the spring of even numbered years at the Desmond in Malvern, alternating with another biennial gathering in odd numbered years in the Pittsburgh area. The name “prototype modelers” uses a term born in the model railroad press early in the days of commercial model railroading: “prototype,” referring in this case to the real thing, actual railroads and their components. Therefore, modeling to the prototype means as accurately as possible portraying actual existing or historic railroads. The gathering at Malvern, and other similar gatherings around the country, have displays of models in multiple scales, “clinics,” or presentations by skilled modelers about their techniques of researching and/or constructing highly accurate models of specific prototypes, and vendor tables selling items appealing to this subset of the wide-ranging model railroad hobby.

The 2022 gathering was dedicated to past RPM Valley Forge leader and OESIA member the late DIck Foley of Philadelphia. The web site of the gathering includes a tribute to Dick as well as a list of the clinics and many photographs of this year’s and previous years’ model displays. You may visit the website at http://www.rpmvalleyforge.com/
Larry DeYoung, OESIA and RPM Valley Forge Clinician

Railroads are an industry too.
As members of the Society for Industrial Archaeology all of us share an interest in a variety of industries. Recent perusal of the Society’s journal covers a broad spectrum of interests, from bridges to grist mills and lots of interesting items in between including gold mining. What I have noticed is that very seldom do railroads seem to be featured. I am not sure why, but I would like to say a few words on their behalf. 

Interest in railroads comes from two sources. One is the strictly academic perspective that is probably studied under the broader heading of transportation industry. The other source is from modeling trains. When most people think of model trains it is often the nostalgic image of trains running in a circle under the Christmas tree. While this may have been true in the 1940’s and 50’s, the hobby has changed significantly since that time. Probably the most significant change in the hobby has been its demographics. While 50 years ago it was considered a hobby for kids, now most of the participants are middle aged or older, in fact younger people are definitely in the minority. With that change in demographics there has also been a change in the goals of the hobby.

Most of the change took place in the late 1990’s with what I would call the “prototype modeling” movement. Prior to that, model railroading tended to be more fanciful, with imaginary railroads that bore only a slight resemblance to the real thing. Probably with the change in demographics and the feeling that older people should not just being playing with toys, model railroaders became a lot more serious about what they were modeling. By the 1990’s a number of small companies began manufacturing railroad freight cars that were highly detailed and accurately matched a very specific prototype. The availability of these models spawned what is know as “Railroad Prototype Modelers” meetings (RPM for short). In the beginning there were only two but enthusiasm for these meetings quickly spread so that probably there are a few dozen of these meetings spread across the country each year. 

While modeling is the end game, the information or history behind the model is of equal importance. Typically at an RPM at least half the talks are about specific freight cars. When and why was a certain car built, how long did the railroad keep them in service, and what ultimately led to their demise. Often there is no mention of a model, although certainly if you wanted to create a model all the information was there. Not surprisingly after a few years the meetings started to encompass more than just freight cars. Detailed studies of how specific railroads operated and why they did certain things became part of the meeting. This also generated any number of special interest groups, NY harbor railroad-marine operations, or steel mill railroads that adds an interesting mix to the talks. While most of the participants in these meetings are modelers, most of the emphasis is on history.

Clearly there is a significant part of the community that would like to preserve this disappearing railroad history. Realistically there are only so many railroad cars that can be saved, restored and found a home for. On the other hand modeling provides an alternative way to preserve this history just in a much smaller scale.
Ron Hoess, OESIA and RPM Valley Forge Clinician

This layout tour at the RPM feature’s Ron’s modeling. 

Ron presented his model at the OE Chapter meeting on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. The video is available on the OE YouTube channel if you wish to view it. Homage to Workshop of the World.