Unused space in railroad stations, church and store basements, attics, and other "less than desirable" places had, for many years, been filled with model railroad club empires. Some clubs had members with a special interest in model interurbans and streetcars. Occasionally these "trolleymen" invited all those with similar interests to join them in a "trolley meet."
After World War II new space demands brought increased rent, and many clubs lost their low-cost layout space. The railroads began to merge, reducing terminal requirements and obsoleting station facilities, at a time when real estate values soared. Beautiful buildings that were no longer needed were demolished. The Philadelphia Model Railroad Club was typical of this plight. For many years the club occupied the second floor of the B&O's Philadelphia station. The B&O merged with the N&W. The station was closed when passenger service halted. Later the building was razed. The club rebuilt in a church basement, but renovations at the club's expense made that space more valuable to the church; the space was lost again.
Model railroad groups along the East Coast were no longer able to host trolley meets, and the number of such invitations dwindled to none.
Al Lamborn and I discussed our concerns with others who missed the trolley meets. Where could they be held? What layout could support over one hundred trolleymen, operate more than a few models at one time, and provide space for vendors of related goods? We visited home and club layouts near and far, finding only one club with operational layouts in more than one scale. It had insufficient room for a crowd and vendors, and was accessible only by a stairway. Much as we enjoyed visiting Rich Wagner, he could not accommodate many vendors, his layout was O scale only, and meeting space was limited to the beautiful shade under the trees around his home.
Several years passed. Trolley meets were apparently a thing of the past! Had we come to an insurmountable barrier? Where to go? What to do?
We visited the Magee Transportation Museum in Bloomsburg, Pa. and dreamed about a trolley meet at this location. We returned to talk with Harry Magee and curator Ed Blossom, and we discussed the possibilities of a trolley meet at the museum. Harry seemed fascinated with the idea and suggested holding the meet on the opening day of the museum, the first weekend in May, when crowds were usually light. Harry offered to clear his large carriage and buggy display from the first floor of the huge old barn for the trolley meet. Even so, the trolley displays would have to be dismantled Saturday evening and not be set up again. The Magee Hotel in town would offer reservation plans and cater the banquet either at the museum or at the hotel.
But what about model trolley operation? Only a few of us were qualified to operate prototype cars!
I recalled an article I once read about a model railroad club in Japan. Club members met in homes too small for model railroads, so each member brought a board to which model track was spiked. These boards were placed end-to-end to provide the longest possible run for that meeting. WE COULD DO THAT! If those attending a trolley meet brought a layout section that complemented the sections brought by others, they could be assembled to form an operating layout to fit the size and shape of the available space ... but every section must be interchangeable! Therefore standards must be established to provide that interchangability.
There were eleven months until the museum opened on May 2, 1970. That was a very short time to create a module design, dimension it for at least O and HO scales, get the plans published, and still leave time for some venturous modelers to construct modules. As the plans were taking shape on the drawing board, Vane Jones stopped the Traction and Models presses to insert the article "Bring Your Own Layout" in the September 1969 issue. Eight months were left to build modules before opening day at Magee Museum. That day would be the first day of a new era of model trolley meets that could be held anywhere that suitable space could be found... if the modules worked.
We began to hear about some modules that were being constructed in Wilmington and Baltimore and West Chester and Philadelphia. Some builders were friends, others had never met. One module boasted a 90-degree turn, one was a through-barn; there were seven in total. But there were no end loops. Al and I built two loops, just in case, and they were needed.
WOULD THEY WORK?? The museum gates opened that venerable morning, and automobiles bearing seven O scale modular trolley layout sections passed through to the carbarn where the they were to be assembled. These seven modules would prove or disprove the workability of "Bring Your Own Layout." They had 0.154" rail, 0.125" rail, 0.100" rail, and even Gargraves tinplate (tubular) track. One builder did not understand how the railheads would match without "joining," and the rails had to be spiked to gauge and cut off. All seemed to be ready for the test.
At a signal, all of the modules were laid out on the concrete floor, where they were bolted together and electrically connected. The overhead wire connectors were added. Voltage was applied, and cars started to move! A few alignments were fixed, and continuous operation around the 37-foot dogbone double-track layout was enjoyed the rest of the day. The entire assembly was completed within one hour!
YES!! THEY WOULD WORK!! The standards used 21 years ago are the basic modular standards in today's East Penn standards. We knew on May 2, 1970 that a better way to control cars was needed. After the East Penn club emerged and had many hours of operation, it published improved electrical circuitry in its standards. Those responsible deserve a great hand for such an excellent package.