The Formative Years
Below is a partial floor plan showing the location of the Shannondell Model Railroad Club facility (Train Room) on the lower level of Ashcroft Clubhouse.
The Formative Years
Below is a partial floor plan showing the location of the Shannondell Model Railroad Club facility (Train Room) on the lower level of Ashcroft Clubhouse.
The SMRC Facility was divided into three rooms, the main Train Room at 25’ x 30’ (7.6 x 9.1 meters), a second room of 10’ x 16’ (3 x 4.9 meters) for office space and a staging yard and a third room of 6’ x 16’ (1.83 x 4.9 meters) for a workshop. This is the basic floor plan:
After completion of these spaces, construction of the train platform began in early August 2005. The design of the train platform was formally laid out by Bob Port with suggestions from Dick Joyce and many other club members. The group of carpenters was led by Carmen Molinaro, assisted by Bob Port, Stan Leitsch, Pat Hughes, and John Bubser. The platform was completed in September 2005.
Most of the cork roadbed and track were laid by Bruce Smiley, Bob Port, and Tom Thiermann. The first sections of the track were ceremonially nailed together by Jim Sorom (CEO of Shannondell at Valley Forge), using a real railroad spike painted gold, on September 28, 2005. Additional sections of track were laid at a later date by this group with the help of Joe Fulton and John Bubser.
Marty Umanoff designed the scenery for the platform and was assisted by Skip Fredericks, Pat Hughes and Colin Tant in laying out mountains and rivers. He instructed several other club members in making trees and other scenery components. This group has included Isabelle Guernsey, Pat Barthmaier, Sara Rao, Bob Sprau, Doris Karpinski, and Skip and Phyllis Fredericks.
Assembly of the model kits of houses and buildings was done by John Fledderjohn, Jim Mullin, Tom Thiermann, and Skip Fredericks.
The electrical work, consisting of power to the track and the lighting of the buildings, street lamps, and amusements, has been handled by Bob Port, Paul Tartar and Bob Epping.
Many donations of rolling stock [see Rolling Stock for details] have been made to the SMRC and the items have been inventoried by Pat Hughes. Working to repair or modify these items are Jim Mullin, Harry Cyphers, Colin Tant, and John Bubser. Donations of structures have been inventoried by Stan Leitsch. All of these donations have been gratefully accepted by the Club.
A special mention should be made of all of the work and dedication put into starting the SMRC by Dick Joyce, our first club president, who passed away in March of 2006. He played an active part in every phase of the start-up of this project.
Some photographs of the SMR during the formative period are presented in the following slide show (about 4 minutes).
More Recent Years
The first five or so years of the Club’s history were marked with the enthusiasm of its founding members and the willingness of Shannondell Management to support it with space and early funding. During the following years the Club expanded and honed its efforts to improve the layout and its footprint at Shannondell – a never ending process.
Following Dick Joyce, John Bubser served as President from 2006 through 2008. Betty Smiley was President from 2009 through 2011 when Bob Cadmus took over. Bob Watson took the reins in 2014 and was followed by Rich Keckley in 2017 and Bruce Wintersteen in 2019. As was the custom, each of these served as Vice President before being elected as President. Paul Tartar was the Treasurer from 2009 to his passing late December 2022. Prior to Paul, Bruce Smiley served as Treasurer, with a lot of help from Betty. The office of Secretary has been held by a number of people beginning with Rob Roberts, followed by Jim Sykes, Ed England, Anne Froehlich, and Bob Watson.
The Club was organized with two levels of supporters; Members and Friends. Friends can participate in all Club activities, but cannot run trains or vote at Club meetings. Through most of our history, Club membership has remained steady between 59 and 63 Members and Friends. In 2019, Shannondell CEO Jim Sorom encouraged residents to support the Model Railroad Club. This resulted in a significant increase, particularly in the number of Friends. Currently the Club has ~100 Members and Friends (see Membership, above).
It is important that the most active Club Members be mentioned along with their principal contributions to the Club. The following are in addition to those mentioned above who were key in initial establishment of the Club and layout.
Betty Smiley was always a major force as she took over the organization and management to see that good records were kept and that the work remained focused.
Paul Tartar came with the expertise in electronics which stood him in good stead for installing and working with the DCC control system.
Bob Cadmus worked well with Paul Tartar in electrical matters and converting all lighting to LEDs.
Rich Keckley brought a wealth of hands-on talent to the Club as well as the ability to work beneath the platform on wiring and structural concerns.
Gerry Williams, a long time modeler, had a personal layout from which he brought his talents in detailed buildings and scenery with meticulous attention to detail.
Bob Watson came from a career in the railroad industry and brought his collection of cars and locomotives to the layout.
Virginia Trosino, a big-time gardener before moving to Shannondell, became the Club’s manager of foliage and weeds.
Bruce Wintersteen revived his interest in the hobby and brought expertise in computers and digital technology.
HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE
The Holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is “Show Time” for the layout when all work is stopped and train operation becomes the order of the day. This is the time when residents and their guests are invited to view the handiwork of the Club (see Upcoming Events).
For these times the layout is cleaned and made as trouble free as possible for operation. Special railroad displays are placed in the Ashcroft and Bradford lobbies and posters with the Open House schedule are distributed throughout the Shannondell campus. The lobby outside the Train Room is decked out with Club literature and a special small exhibit of various gauge trains is operated. For several years Janet Watson operated her Z Gage layout in the lobby. Members who host and operate the trains for the Open House wear Club T-shirts bearing the Club logo.
Under normal circumstances two-hour operating sessions are conducted on the Saturdays and Sundays before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, or as near those days as possible. In addition, a special, six hour “Santa Day” is conducted on a mid-December Saturday when Shannondell conducts a number of special events for children.
The first Holiday Open Houses were conducted in 2005 and have continued every year, except 2020 when we were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years these Open House events have averaged about 900 visitors per year.
As the Club matured and the work became less intensive and more routine, attendance at the monthly meetings was found to be lagging. It was suggested that more should be done to attract the general population of Shannondell residents. For a year or two a monthly Open House was conducted on a Saturday afternoon to try to maintain interest after the holiday Open Houses of the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. This was mildly successful but it was felt by some that more could be done.
After considerable discussion, debate, and a trial run or two, railway-related videos began to be shown immediately before the regular business meetings of the Club on alternate months. This became a successful practice, but in that many of the viewers left at the end of the show and before the meeting, it was deemed a mixed blessing as the business meeting attendance remained low.
However, it became clear that the video showings were popular; in several cases there was standing room only and presentations had to be repeated. As a result, the video presentations were then scheduled for a time and date apart from the Club business meetings. The subject matter of the videos was also a bit of a problem. Prototype railroad and modeling topics were not well received by the general audiences, but travelogues based on railways became popular and it was possible to find a number of such video programs – principally the Great Railway Journeys series hosted by Michael Portillo. Such videos continue to be presented (see Upcoming Events).
The By-Laws of the Club as originally written, with legal counsel advice, became rather restrictive in that all expenditures over $50 required approval of the Membership. This was cumbersome and resulted in confusion and abuse so that the By-Laws were amended to increase that threshold to $100. More recently the Club has moved to an annual budget which predicts expenditures for the year ahead requiring approval only once unless unexpected requirements come into play.
Early on, officers of the Club (President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and the three Members at Large of the Executive Committee) were elected annually but restricted to one year terms. Another By-law change became necessary when it was found to be impossible to recruit more than a few Members to hold office. The change continued annual elections, but allowed an unrestricted number of terms to be held.
When new Members joined the Club and brought with them their personal locomotives and cars and wished to retain ownership, the By-Laws were amended to allow its operation on the layout by other members with appropriate care but required all maintenance and repair and its cost to remain the responsibility of the owner.
From its founding in 2005, SMRC funding has not been a problem as dues, donations, and E-Bay sales kept Treasurer, Paul Tartar (now Mike Studner) from reporting negative figures. The Club has never experienced financial hardship. Dues of Members and Friends have been the foundation of its annual budget.
However, donations from visitors and other Shannondell residents throughout the years but especially during the Holiday Open House events have also been valuable. Additional income has been attracted by selling advertising space on the billboards set in the scenery on the layout.
Shannondell management provided the space and occasional significant, one-time contributions for major acquisitions such as the Broadway Limited train and the platform skirts. The Club often receives unneeded model railroad equipment from new residents and other sources. It is accepted with the proviso that if it can be put to use on or for the layout it will be kept, but if not, it will be sold for the benefit of the Club.
E-BAY and TRAIN SHOW SALES
Betty Smiley was particularly adept at working the E-Bay site over the years from 2007 to 2016 and netted more than $5,800 for the benefit of the Club. Her sales efforts in other venues brought another $2,000 to the Club’s treasury. After the close of the Fort Washington Expo Center, the relatively small annual show at the Gilbertsville, PA fire hall became a convenient venue for train shows. The Club sold excess material there with good results for three years until that venue was closed in 2015.
When the Expo Center at Oaks, PA became active for the Great American Train Show and the Greenberg Train Show in the early 2000s the Club began to schedule at least one event per year there for both sales of unneeded material and the purchase of necessary supplies. This even more convenient site has been used annually for sales so as to provide for better use of the unneeded material, as well as purchases.
OTHER CLUB INTERACTION
On two occasions the Club was visited by residents of other retirement communities in the general area who wanted to begin to build a layout in their communities and sought the advice of the Shannondell Club.
They were told of the issues and difficulties experienced in the early days and given suggestions as to how to begin to plan their layouts. The most important advice given was to get the support and long-term commitment of the management of the community early on. They were also advised to tell their management of the potential marketing value of their layout in recruiting new residents to the community, as is the case with “Lunch and Learn” events for those with interest in moving to Shannondell. It is not known if these communities continued in their interest in building model railroad layouts.
OFF CAMPUS ACTIVITY
The Club has sponsored off-campus activities on several occasions. The Club’s Members visited the American Treasure Museum in Oaks and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. The Club has twice visited the extensive model railroad of a friend nearby as well as those of other clubs and that of Bob Rule as mentioned below (Expert Assistance). Of course, many of the Club’s Members and Friends partake in the numerous other rail-related features in the area, such as excursions on the Colebrookdale and the Blue Mountain and Reading Railroads (see Upcoming Events and External Links).
From 2005 until it closed in early 2017, Lin’s Junction hobby shop in Lansdale, PA was the source of choice for models, material, and other supplies. It was one of the best and closest model railroad shops to Shannondell, and its owners and staff were most helpful in providing material and advice in the beginning years of the Club. Prices were nicely reduced for all organized Clubs that dealt there and our members often took problems to Lin and Paul and the others who always took the time to help. After its closure, online purchases became the norm for equipment and supplies. See also External Links.
When it was realized that the Club lacked some of the talent and expertise needed to make the layout function more consistently, Lin’s was solicited for on-site help, particularly with track issues. Bob Rule, who worked at Lin’s, agreed to come to Shannondell at the rate of $15 per hour once per week for two hours to teach interested Members the finer points of track construction and maintenance. One of the primary concerns from the start of the Club was its early decision to build the layout to a minimum curve radius of only 24 inches. In actual practice, it was found that in many cases the radius of curvature had been installed to even less. This was the cause of many derailments and other operating troubles. Bob helped the Club realign such curves and bring the layout into a much better state of repair and operation. He became a good friend and mentor to the Club. For about two years he came on Monday mornings and worked with members to correct track problems of alignment, cross level, warp, and other conditions. He often stayed just to talk and offer suggestions from his experience with his personal layout. The Club once visited his home to see his combined HO and HOn2 layouts.
The history of the rolling stock (see Rolling Stock) put to use on the layout is cloudy for the early years. Members brought their personal locomotives and cars and they were assimilated into the roster. In addition, a few locomotives and cars were purchased by the Club as funds were available. Most locomotives became misfits when the control system was changed from DC to DCC. There were attempts to convert them for DCC, but most became unusable and were later sold or used for parts. Nevertheless, several of them were successfully converted and a few others were bought with DCC installed. The active Club-owned locomotives on the layout in 2014 were as follows:
- DM&IR (2-10-2) 506 by Bachmann
- PRR L2s (2-8-2) 9630 by Bachmann
- Two PRR GG1 (4-6-6-4) probably by Pemco converted to DCC
- PRR Doodlebug 4644 by Bachann
- LVRR 638 & 639 Alco 628c by unknown manufacturer, converted to DCC
- Dewitt Clinton by Bachmann, DC for Amusement Park
Bob Watson’s arrival at Shannondell brought his considerable personal collection of cars and locomotives onto the layout, although he retained ownership. The steam locomotives in his roster include one each of the following Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives: I1, J1, K4, M1, and T1. He also brought a PRR GG1 electric, an ALCO RS 15 diesel, a Norfolk and Western Class A, a USDOT TurboTrain, and an Amtrak Acela 8-car trainset which he had converted to DCC. Later he bought and installed a PRR H10, an L1, and a 4-car Metroliner train set. He gave the Club a PRR Baldwin S-12 switcher and a Western Maryland 2-8-0 which the Club converted to DCC. His large collection of foreign prototype DC trains was displayed on the racks in the Office until he sold them.
In recent years several other new residents have moved to Shannondell with their own collections of locomotives and rolling stock. These have been incorporated into the layout or sold to gain additional funds for the continued development and maintenance of the layout. Funds given in memory of John Bubser were used to purchase a pair of Athearn Genesis GP-9 locomotives. A pair of Bowser Lehigh Valley ALCO C628c locomotives were recently purchased to replace the well worn LVR 638 & 639.
For a current roster of locomotives, see SMR Rolling Stock.
CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT AND REFINEMENT OF THE LAYOUT
It is well known to model railroaders that the layout is never finished – there is always more that can and should be done to “make it better”. Use the buttons below to learn more about developments and refinements in the layout during the last five years.