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Fallen From Grace - New England, Berkshire & Western?

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Fallen From Grace - New England, Berkshire & Western?
Posted by MerrilyWeRollAlong on Monday, August 01, 2011 11:31 PM

I remember growing and seeing lots of articles and news about the New England, Berkshire and Western located at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute gracing the issues of MRR, MRC and some fallen magazines like Mainline Modeler.  At least in the 1990's they were the gold standard of realistic modeling (equipments, operations and scenery) and looked upon by the magazines as what model railroading should be.  Now a days you hear nothing about them.  Their website indicates they are still in existence.

Does anybody know why they seemed to have fallen off the radar?

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Posted by rogerhensley on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 8:06 AM

They are still very much alive. Of course it does cost to see it any more. (you'll have to use the URL as a link. I can't get it to work.)

 

http://railroad.union.rpi.edu/

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Posted by hminky on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 8:17 AM
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Posted by MAbruce on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 8:24 AM

Interesting quotes from their website:

"A layout as big and complex as ours requires an enormous amount of labor. We struggle to keep up with maintenance because everything depends on the layout operating at a basic level. And there are still so many scenes, buildings, details, on the layout yet to complete."

"wE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH LABOR TO DIVERT ANY OF IT TO HOSTING VISITORS. Even when visitors are willing to make a contribution, it comes no where close to compensating for the time diverted from essential things. And instead of being able to satisfy demand, visitors just begat visitors."

A pretty clear message that the size of their layout is way too big for the manpower they apparently have on hand.  I suppose this would explain why there aren't many (or any) articles as of late.

 

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Posted by wp8thsub on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 9:53 AM

I used to visit the NEB&W site often to check on layout progress and see if there was anything new to learn, especially with the urban modeling.  Now it's mostly behind a pay wall, but before that was in place layout progress seemed to have slowed, or at least the updates did.  The site changes and hostility to potential visitors are indications to me that the whole project is way too big for its own good.  There may be a cautionary tale in there somewhere.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by Catt on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 10:51 AM

With an attitude like that I can see why they are short on people.As I recall they used to be a rather friendly bunch.

Johnathan(Catt) Edwards  (My railroad's logo) Co-founder of The North American Rail Alliance A purrveyer of Possible Actualities
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Posted by Flashwave on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 4:24 PM

MAbruce

A pretty clear message that the size of their layout is way too big for the manpower they apparently have on hand.  I suppose this would explain why there aren't many (or any) articles as of late.

 

I won't diss them, any perosn or organization has the right to be private, if they don't want the public around, then so be it. But if the layout comes to that, then it's either too big, or too complicated, and it's time to re-evaluate.

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Posted by BRAKIE on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 4:33 PM

Catt

With an attitude like that I can see why they are short on people.As I recall they used to be a rather friendly bunch.

With fame comes the fall? I dunno.

Maybe they need to whoa up and take another long look and think where they been and ask is the way we are heading in the best interest of the club in the years to come?

Larry

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Posted by RapidoBill on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 8:31 PM

The RPI club is still alive and well, but like all large clubs faces a number of challenges. The layout is still intact, operating and still expanding.

The issue with hosting visitors comes more from a manpower shortage (the club is after all a student orginization at a university, with all the seasonal staffing issues that this entails) than from some sort of anti-social behavior. With any club this size it takes a good number of bodies just to keep some trains moving and answer questions, and I have been to open houses (when they still regularly had them) when we had more than 10 trains were moving and visitors were still complaining about "where's the trains?" It has always amazed me how many trains that layout can swallow up and still not have one visible at any given time! 

The club does do regular operating sessions during the school year, and the operators are split between student members, alumni members and the odd guests. Considering the climatic conditions that the layout exists in (dorm basement, no A/C and the odd leaky pipe) it does operate quite well.

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Posted by richg1998 on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 9:04 PM

Do a Google search for:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute model railroad

You will find plenty of info. I just did a search.

The college is technical college and does a lot of research, Different culture for a model railroad from what most of us have experienced and the membership will change as students come and go. My stepson got his PHD there about fifteen years ago. He never knew there was a model railroad there.

Rich

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Posted by cuyama on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 9:13 PM

 

I guess the uninformed and unkind comments are to be expected on this forum, where attacking accomplished hobby institutions masquerades as insight.

The high visibility of the club in the past was pretty much due to the efforts of John Nehrich, who had a unique position and situation within the university and the club. (And he's also extremely  knowledgeable) As John's role changed and he published less, the club's public profile has changed.

Such high visibility for a private club in the past is what was unusual, not really the current situation.

Byron

 

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Posted by wp8thsub on Tuesday, August 02, 2011 11:42 PM

cuyama

 I guess the uninformed and unkind comments are to be expected on this forum, where attacking accomplished hobby institutions masquerades as insight.

I've followed, and been a fan of, the NEB&W and John Nehrich's modeling for many years.  Much was made of the NEB&W supposedly having a role in sharing the history of the region with the public, being a component of the "Riverspark" attractions and so on.  If it was always just another ordinary club I'd bet fewer people would be taking notice of the less visible role in the hobby, since the expectations for the typical club aren't the same.  I seem to recall a few hints dropped previously that certain aspects of the project, such as the Troy cityscape and steel works, were perhaps too ambitious, and that some scaling back was being contemplated.  I don't think it's just idle, uninformed speculation that the project may have proven too grand in scope.

A further problem is the presentation of the club's visitor policy on its site.  A simple "We regret that we are unable to accomodate visitors" would suffice.  Instead, they post a page-long diatribe about how much they dislike visitors, except for maybe this one guy.  That kind of tone does them no favors in terms of PR, and seems to have inspired most of the "unkind" comments you speak of.  A reworking of that one web page could do a lot to help their image.  A single point of entry through the paywall couldn't hurt either, by more efficiently segregating public content from the members-only sections, but that would require a more thorough redesign.

Rob Spangler

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, August 03, 2011 11:43 AM

I'd like to add my perspective and a bit more to the history.

I was a member while I attended school there from 1974-1978 and president for one year (if you hang around long enough, they make you be president!).  

The layout was just coming becoming operational and had a few sections of scenery going in.  In fact, in 1978, the RR made the cover of Model Railroader, RMC and the NMRA mag, if I remember correctly.

What made the RR great was the continuity and high standards set by the alumni who didn't go away after they graduated.  In the 70s and early 80s, the leader of this group was Tony Steele, whose day job was at the D&H, but spent most of the rest of his time, including a good chunk where he should have been sleeping, at the model RR club.  The layout development was heavily D&H influenced. By the early 90s, John Nehrich had pretty much replaced Tony as the NEB&W alumni "guru" and the standards for construction and operation were raised to their current level and the layout became much more Rutland oriented.

While I was there, we had regular monthly operating sessions using a mixture of member and club equipment.  There was thoughts of eventually doing both "modern" and "steam/diesel" era operating sessions, and the club was acquiring equipment to support both.  The club would also have open houses once a semester, typically on the alumni and freshmen orientation weekends.   The club would also occasionally host the local NMRA chapter meetings.

During the Nehrich era, the club abandoned the notion of a modern operating session and tied the layout  to a specific date, acquiring enough equipment to support full operating sessions.  For a while in the 90s, the club even became affiliated with a historic group and held regular open hours with paid operators.

Now, the club has operating sessions a couple of times a year.  There is still quite a following of alumni and a couple a years ago, we all had a reunion and ran the layout.

There are always model railroaders and railfans lurking at engineering schools such as RPI.  We typically had about a dozen "hard core" student members at a time and another couple dozen more casual student members.  One good thing about the presence of so many alumni and the high standards was the chance to learn a great deal of modelling craft.  But, the down side is that it can be very intimidating.  The bar was set so high, I suspect many incoming students with a level of interest were scared off.

One other thing to note.  A good chunk of the "hard core" student members went on to careers in railroading, myself included.

It is a shame that the club doesn't have any regular open houses.  The layout, which is now about 40 years old, still looks great and operates pretty well, even some of that yard track where I learned to hand lay code 70 rail all those years ago!

 

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Posted by R. T. POTEET on Wednesday, August 03, 2011 12:25 PM

It used to be very specifically cited that membership in the club was restricted to current students, former students (who had joined the club while in a current student status), and graduates. I saw nothing on their current website indicating that that is still true.

Nehrich's articles were always interesting -- the Trains.com Magazine Index credits him with 224 publications over the years -- and the name, New England, Berkshire, and Western always attracted my attention. I too had observed a decline in Nehrich's offerings in the hobby press; the index indicates that he has had nothing published in about five years. I always like (published) track plans which I can follow in the hopes of being able to identify photo locations; I must confess that I never really figured out the NEB&W. The layout was very photogenic,but  the trackplan was always, to me, just a little on the busy side.

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Posted by Benjamin Maggi on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 2:41 PM

The club has recently hosted the local NMRA chapter for at least two meetings, and both times I brought my wife along (she is a NMRA member too) to see what I thought would be an incredible layout. Both times we were disappointed. Whereas they may have had the labor to support construction and maintenance "back then," now it is very hit or miss.

Some parts of the layout look great, and some look shabby with dirt, cracked backdrops, trackwork problems, and ongoing construction. I don't know if it was like that in the 1970s-1980s or not, but I remember coming away feeling embarressed for them and sorry that I dragged my wife to see it. I had expected so much based on the magazine articles, and was sorely disappointed.

Because they are in a college dorm, there are restrictions as to letting the public into the building that houses the layout. That makes it tough to reach out to the modeling community who might be inclinded to join the club if they could see what it was about. I tried several times to find out more about it but was told I couldn't visit except for the two NMRA visits.

I wish them well, but I don't see how they could possibly turn around the effects of time with the policies they have in place.

 

 

is looks like a layout in disrepair in some areas.

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Posted by JeremyB on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 6:27 PM

Sorry to go off topic but this thread just had me thinking of another railroad, I don't know why it just hit me know,lol

I remember seeing it on a model railroading magazine of a free lanced ho railroad and its diesels as I recall where a yellow and green. Does that strike a memory with any of you fellas. 

Sorry again for taking away from the original question, just popped into my head when reading this

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Posted by Mark R. on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 6:34 PM

The NEB&W's Facebook page is VERY active. They are constantly posting new pictures of the layout revisions, structure builds, etc.

I know there are a lot of folks here that want nothing to do with that Facebook thing, but that's where the activity is these days.

Not to veer off topic, but I belong to a lot of railroad groups on Facebook - both real and model and have seen pictures and updates that I have just not seen anywhere else. It's become a great resourse of material.

 

Mark. 

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Posted by Mark R. on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 6:35 PM

 

[/quote]

JeremyB

Sorry to go off topic but this thread just had me thinking of another railroad, I don't know why it just hit me know,lol

I remember seeing it on a model railroading magazine of a free lanced ho railroad and its diesels as I recall where a yellow and green. Does that strike a memory with any of you fellas. 

Sorry again for taking away from the original question, just popped into my head when reading this

 

As a matter of fact, you couldn't be more ON topic .... that would be the NEB&W.

Mark.

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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 7:08 PM

 I have to agree with Byron here - I spent 4 years getting a degree and never even knew there WAS a model railroad club at my school!

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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:35 PM

 I think I've made two visits to the Illini RR Club's layout. It's no NEB&W, but a nice little pike that's currently being rebuilt. I don't want to list how many years I've been at it, but I'll have at least one more degree than the number of layout visits in the next month or so, knock on wood.

On the other hand, very few students find themselves with a fairly complete home layout  to spend free time recharging the mental batteries, so I count my blessings.

On that note, how does anyone expect things to be maintained or renewed without some eggs getting broken? Doesn't bother me a bit to see a layout with something in the process of being built, renewed or overhauled. If they offer two layout visits a year, be grateful they can accomodate at least a select segment of the public. No one has an obligation to share their layout, even though I'm the type that tends to do so reflexively.

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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:44 PM

The NEB&W, in the person of John Nehrich, has made many contributions to the hobby, but I suppose it is unfortunate that the bulk of those contributions were published by some of the excellent, but nonetheless second-tier, and now utterly gone, magazines such as Mainline Modeler and Rail Model Journal.  Without thinking of Nehrich specifically, I know that some guys who shifted from MR and/or RMC to Mainline Modeler and Rail Model Journal got rather sniffy about the  perceived flaws in MR or RMC and the superiority of the more rigorous prototype modeling publications.  Noses were thumbed rather publicly.

Hopefully no bridges were burned (no pun intended) with the surviving magazines, but nonetheless I have not seen Nehrich's name associated with an article for some time.  

What I had heard, and all of this is rumor fueled by who knows what motives, is that actual student involvement in the layout kept decreasing and it more or less became a project for RPI alums.  And of course, students are right there; alums are as a rule, not.  Keeping up a huge layout is a daily chore.

On a much lesser level, but rather similarly, the good layout at the Milwaukee School of Engineering has had its ups and downs because from year to year they never really can be sure of solid student participation.  Some very well known names in the hobby are alums of that layout, but the actual responsibility of keeping it operating and maintained is up to current MSOE students.  For many years they put on a good train show on campus that helped pay the freight, called Train Time, but a few years ago their site for the show was taken over by an area of the school and thus their best funding source has dried up.  

I suspect it is never easy to have a university or college setting as your club locale because presumably the school expects actual students to be the main point of contact.

Dave Nelson

 

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Posted by Graham Line on Thursday, April 16, 2015 4:10 PM

I'm enjoying the revived NEB&W presence on Facebook.

Visitors are a double-edged sword. It's nice to show our work to the public, and to reach out to like-minded people.

On the other hand, most of the people in our club have real lives, too, and limited time for hobbies. Random visitors do cut into work nights, and can really get in the way during an op session if they are not willing to jump into the fun. "We just want to watch" types clog up the aisle and raise noise levels.

Our bunch find ways to open up the place to other railroad modelers once or twice a year, but walk-in singles or groups are politely discouraged unless they are there at a members' invitation. There was also an issue of small power tools trying to walk out the door in one instance.

Can't remember having time for trains during university, but maybe I should have made the time. Two jobs, an accelerated schedule, and full class loads worked against it.

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Posted by Maurice on Friday, April 17, 2015 1:38 AM

The web site that is behind the pay wall is excellent. John was working on a incredible database of information on life in the US especially on how it related to railroads. My favorite part was the listing of model car kits and their authenticity. I made some modest contributions of photos and when it went to a pay site I paid for a while, but stopped when I had to back off from the hobby for a while. I must add that the pay requirement was not the clubs idea but the School's. They own the server. 

 

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Posted by Neil B. on Friday, April 17, 2015 2:31 PM

Hi guys,

Relax!

MR will publish a fresh story with new photos about the NEB&W this fall.

Neil Besougloff

MR editor

Neil Besougloff

editor, Model Railroader magazine

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Posted by tin can on Saturday, April 18, 2015 9:35 PM

How many colleges or universities have model railroad clubs with operating layouts?  I know Purdue has a railroad club (my son goes there), but I have not been able to make it there when they are open to the public; our visits are few and far between.  Texas is a long ways away; and we are generally there on select football weekends (he plays football; he is also an engineering student, he doesn't have time for trains, even if he was inclined).

Texas A&M has a big engineering department, but no model railroad club.  There have been several students who filter through the local club.

Remember the tin can; the MKT's central Texas branch...
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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, April 24, 2015 12:24 PM

Neil B.

Hi guys,

Relax!

MR will publish a fresh story with new photos about the NEB&W this fall.

Neil Besougloff

MR editor

 

Excellent! I made some life-long friends there when I was a student.  Some of them are still active in the club.

The NEB&W was not a perfect organization when I was there, nor has it ever been perfect any time since.  But, there are no perfect organizations.   If any one of us were "king of the NEB&W", we might do some things different.  That's human nature.

But, there is not doubt it remains a rather spectacular undertaking, well executed.

 

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Posted by Milepost 266.2 on Friday, April 24, 2015 3:07 PM

tin can

How many colleges or universities have model railroad clubs with operating layouts?  I know Purdue has a railroad club (my son goes there), but I have not been able to make it there when they are open to the public; our visits are few and far between.  Texas is a long ways away; and we are generally there on select football weekends (he plays football; he is also an engineering student, he doesn't have time for trains, even if he was inclined).

Texas A&M has a big engineering department, but no model railroad club.  There have been several students who filter through the local club.

 

 

Penn State has a relatively small but active model railroad club on the University Park campus.

West Virginia University does not, but hosts the modular display from the local club every year.

That's two more, only several hundred left to find out about :)

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Posted by b60bp on Saturday, April 25, 2015 7:37 PM

Neil B.

Hi guys,

Relax!

MR will publish a fresh story with new photos about the NEB&W this fall.

Neil Besougloff

MR editor

 

Well, that is something to look forward to! The NEB&W has always been in my top five favorite layouts and it seems far too long since it's last magazine exposure. Of course if you did a dozen pages a month I'd still feel that way.

Now if you could just get over to Michigan and pay a visit to Bille Neile's Panhandle Division and maybe the Atlantic Great Eastern.....

Benny P.

 

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