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THE GREAT FALLS MODEL RAILROAD CLUB HISTORY

For over twenty years, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club has had an active role in the Twin Cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine. After many temporary homes over the years, the club purchased the former Jake and Andy’s Donut Shop at 144 Mill Street, Auburn, in 2007. Extensive renovations have allowed space for permanent operating layouts in various scales, and club members are currently developing layouts in HO, n-scale, and G-gauge. The club has an outstanding, well-organized railroad library with over 10,000 picture slides, 600 books, and more than 6,000 magazines, many of which are complete sets dating from the 1950’s or earlier to the present. Another outstanding feature of our new location is the classroom space for the eight-week Model Railroading course that we offer twice a year through the Auburn Adult Education program. Many students build their own portable model railroad sections to add to the club’s modular display at railroad shows and other events throughout central Maine. In addition to continuing our annual train show at the Auburn Middle School on the first Saturday in November each year, the Great Falls Model Railroad Club in 2009 held its first annual ExTRAINaganza at 144 Mill Street during the last two weekends in November.

CLUB BEGINNINGS

The Great Falls Model Railroad Club was organized in 1987 with 19 charter members from Lewiston/Auburn and the surrounding towns. Paul and Gail Rea, owners of the Freight Station, a hobby shop which was then located at the Taylor Brook Mall in Auburn, were helpful in many ways during the club’s formative years.

Several of the Freight Station’s regular customers had expressed interest in doing more with their hobby. As part of the Seacoast Division of the NMRA, Wally Chase and Al Thurston had been running model railroading shows at various locations in Auburn for sixteen years. Bob Willard, Bob Long, Paul Gardner, and other modelers had also set up displays at local functions. After contacting some of these people through Paul and Gail Rea, Paul Lodge put up posters in the fall of 1986 inviting model railroaders to an evening meeting at Edward Little High School in Auburn (where he was teaching) to see if there was any interest in starting a club.

At the group’s third meeting in the spring of 1987, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club was officially formed, using the name that Gail Rea had suggested. The first officers were President Paul Lodge, Secretary Terry King, and Treasurer Paul Gardner.

In the fall of 1988 The Great Falls Model Railroad Club introduced its first model railroading course at Edward Little High School as part of the Auburn Adult Education program.

Since the beginning, club meetings have been held on the third Thursday of each month. The original schedule is still followed, with the business meeting at 7:30 p.m. to accommodate those who work late. The first 30 minutes have traditionally been used for videos, which in recent years have been the club’s original Train Time productions. The time remaining after the business meeting is usually devoted to “how-to” clinics.

The first monthly meetings were held at Edward Little High School, with more informal sessions at members’ homes during the summer. Rodney Daniels, an Auburn fireman and active member, arranged for the club to meet during 1991 at the Central Fire Station on Minot Avenue in Auburn. Later, another club member, Auburn police detective Tim Bubier, invited us to have several meetings at the police station near Court Street in Auburn.

For nine months, the club met at the Lewiston Promenade Mall in an “open store front” which had previously housed Bookland. Because the store was a secure place and we were its only tenants, we were able to leave our modular layouts set up. Our occasional operating sessions sometimes attracted people who were shopping at the mall. Whenever we participated in a show, we brought the modules with us, then returned them to the store for our next operating session. When that location was no longer available, our club meetings were again held at Edward Little High School and each member kept his modules at home until the next railroad show.

From 1995 to November 1999 we held all our monthly meetings and some of our Model Railroading classes at Merrill Hill School on Western Avenue in Auburn. Next we moved to Canal Street Alley in Lewiston, where we were able to construct an extensive club layout, hold regular operating sessions, invite small groups for tours, and hold all of our monthly meetings. Informal summer meetings continued to be held at members’ homes. In 2007, the club purchased the former Jake & Andy’s Donut Shop at 144 Mill Street in New Auburn and began over two years of extensive renovations. In addition to a large meeting room, we now have an extensive library, classroom space for our Adult Education Model Railroading Class, and the beginnings of permanent operating layouts in various scales.

In September 1993, Larry Cannon announced that the Internal Revenue Service had granted the club 501c3 Education Foundation status. This designation allows members and non-members to make tax-deductible contributions to the club. In addition to financial gifts, the club has received many donations of books and magazines for the club library as well as vintage railroad equipment, both model and real, for our museum. Our new club facility has given us appropriate places to store, display, and share these library and museum donations. It will also provide permanent archive storage and library access for videos and DVDs of more than 220 Train Time programs produced by the club. These videos of trains throughout Maine and the Northeast will provide a history of contemporary railroad events for future generations.

Over the years many non-club modelers or their surviving family members have asked for help in recycling model railroad equipment, supplies, and memorabilia they no longer want or need. Larry Cannon has used his expertise to appraise and evaluate model railroad portions of estates for several families. Club members have gone to individual homes and helped “tear down” layouts. In some cases the club has recommended ways in which people could sell the equipment themselves. At other times we have purchased estate layouts and railroad supplies for our permanent layout, the raffle layout, the DARE layout, and as inventory for future use. The club recycles duplicate equipment, supplies and excess inventory by renting tables at railroad shows and selling the items.

MODEL RAILROAD SHOWS

Prior to the formation of The Great Falls Model Railroad Club, Al Thurston and Wally Chase sponsored railroad shows in the Auburn/Lewiston area for sixteen years under the banner of the Seacoast Division of the National Model Railroad Association. They organized shows which were held in Auburn at either the Stevens Mills Grange Hall or the Hasty Memorial Armory in Pettingill Park. The Great Falls Model Railroad Club displayed our modules for the first time at one of these shows held at the Hasty Memorial Armory.

In 1989 The Great Falls Model Railroad Club sponsored our first show at the Hasty Memorial Armory in Auburn. By 1993 our model railroading show had become an annual event at the Auburn Middle School on the first Saturday in November. Since November 1993, members of the Auburn Music Boosters Club have sold refreshments at these shows, with the proceeds from their sales helping to support music programs throughout the Auburn school system. Our modular layout and model railroad layouts of nearly every scale are set up in the Auburn Middle School cafeteria. There is a play area for children and Train Time videos are constantly shown on a nearby television set. Other model railroading clubs have usually participated in our show, and vendors from locations throughout New England set up their displays in the gymnasium.

In February, 1991, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club participated in a very successful show in Yarmouth sponsored by the Portland Terminal Model Railroad Club and attended by at least 1,600 people. Through the years we took part in several other shows sponsored by the PTC, some of which were held at the old Stevens Avenue Armory in Portland.

In 1991, members of The Great Falls Model Railroad Club took modules to the Camden Dollhouse and Railroad Show for a two-day event. Dick Clark and his wife Sharon continued to represent the club at that show for many additional years. Dick’s winter scene with lights, animation, automatic running of trains and Thomas the Tank Engine at “ground level” for little children has always been a popular feature. As the modular group gained more exposure and popularity, we were invited to the Litchfield Model Railroad and Dollhouse Show for the first time in 1992. For over fifteen years the club has also participated in the annual Whitefield Lions Club Model Railroad and Dollhouse Show held in January at the Augusta Armory.

One of the grandest experiences for the club members happened during Father’s Day weekend in June 1993. At the Portland Yacht Club, (Home of The Maine Narrow Gauge Museum) three model railroad clubs combined their modules in one of the biggest modular shows in the country. (It was written up in the October 1993 issue of Model Railroader, page 142.) The Eastern Maine Railroad Club from Bangor, the Portland Terminal Model Railroad Club, and The Great Falls Model Railroad Club joined over 130 modules. Each club’s modules were arranged together in blocks. Members from all three clubs started putting the modules together on Thursday and Friday before the Saturday/Sunday operating session. Some members from the Bangor area stayed in motel rooms for the entire four days. Members of the three clubs used over a dozen headsets to communicate with each other. Spotters on our club’s trailer roof kept about six trains going at once without mishap. The combined show was the successful conclusion to a vision by The Great Falls Model Railroad Club president Frank Barron, who had promoted the concept from the time he became president in 1991.

In 1990, the Northeastern Region (NER) of the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) held its spring convention in Belfast on May 18 through 20. Even though the space was limited, we had an excellent modular layout displayed. Club members again participated in an NER convention in North Conway, New Hampshire, in October of 1993. A year later, Terry King was instrumental in having our club participate in the Northeastern Region convention in Rockland. We provided the modular layout and many of the clinics presented that weekend.

Modules from other clubs have occasionally been included in our displays. At the Topsham show in 1996, three of the modules from the York County Model Railroad Club (from the Biddeford area) were joined with ours. Members of the Downeast Model Railroad Club from the Brunswick area have also combined some of their modules with ours. Since 2004 The Great Falls Model Railroad Club has sponsored the annual model railroading show in April at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, with refreshment sales benefitting local non-profit organizations in Topsham and/or at Mt. Ararat High School.

In November 2009 the Great Falls Model Railroad Club held its first annual ExTRAINaganza, a family-oriented holiday event with different gauges of trains running under decorated Christmas trees and special activities for children. Visitors enjoyed watching several operating modular layouts and stand-alone units, including HO, n-scale, On30, and G-gauge layouts. About 500 adults and 300 children visited the club building at 144 Mill Street for the ExTRAINaganza, with some staying for hours to enjoy the trains and activities.

Our club takes seriously our IRS 501c3 designation as an educational foundation. These model railroad shows have allowed us to meet people, answer questions, promote the hobby, and educate and entertain the public (especially children). We provide opportunities for members to develop leadership skills not only as they participate in these shows, but also as they present clinics at club meetings and public gatherings, give presentations to various clubs and other organizations, and serve as elected club officers on a rotating basis.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH

The purposes of The Great Falls Model Railroad Club include education and public service. Many club members have volunteered their time and talents to further the club’s goals. The following are examples of the club’s community outreach and “good neighbor” involvement throughout the region.

Club members have helped several Boy Scout troops earn their Railroading Merit Badge. Paul Lodge worked with scout leader and fellow club member Bud Santos on projects with their local scouts in Minot’s Troop 139. Tom Coulombe, Lewiston’s Troop 160 scout leader, went to Buxton to help about fifteen scouts. Larry Cannon, Tom Coulombe, and Paul Lodge gave a railroading demonstration and lecture for Troop 137 in Auburn. In October 2000, Tom Coulombe invited an Auburn troop to tour our layout while they were exploring a variety of hobbies. When railroading was the theme for the Boy Scouts of America in 2001, we provided railroad displays for the Cub Scout Jamboree in Auburn and for Troop 110 at the Wales Central School.

At our Canal Street Alley location in Lewiston, several groups were our guests for tours and hands-on experience. These included Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and members of two special needs groups, Central Maine Adaptive Sports of Poland and Creative Trails from Minot Avenue in Auburn. As soon as our new layouts are ready for the public to enjoy, we plan to continue this service.

Members of The Great Falls Model Railroad Club have given many presentations for the Androscoggin County DARE program at various schools, including those in Lewiston, Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, Greene, Leeds, and Wales. The club has also participated in “Polar Express” Day at Minot Consolidated School and the non-profit associations’ displays at the Auburn Mall’s spring and fall Community Fairs. Each year the club creates a new portable model railroad layout for these programs. Another aspect of these presentations is railroad safety, using Operation Lifesaver materials and explanations by a club member who is also a certified Operation Lifesaver presenter. Several club members have completed the special training and are now certified volunteer Operation Lifesaver presenters. For more information about Operation Lifesaver, check their website at http://www.maineol.org/

Our presentation for the Rabboni Masonic Lodge of Lewiston-Auburn featured accurate scale modeling of several historic buildings in West Minot village, including the old railroad station. Like many of our programs for adults as well as children, it also included discussions on railroad safety.

Each September Dick Clark opens to the public the garden railroad layout at his home in Greene as a regular feature of Greene Village Day. Adults and children alike are fascinated by the details and many come again at Halloween to enjoy the special effects at his annual garden railroad open house. Club members Beth and Jeff Chaffee have regularly set up layouts at the West Paris Old Home Days. They also helped with a railroad display and presentation at a railroad theme Vacation Bible School on Paris Hill. Club members also participated in the railroad theme Sunday School opening program at Court Street Baptist Church in Auburn.

The club has given presentations to the Androscoggin Retired Teachers Association, the Portland Historical Society, and the Augusta Children’s Discovery Museum. When the Maine State Museum in Augusta celebrated the 150th anniversary of “The Lion,” a steam locomotive from the British Isles, they invited The Great Falls Model Railroad Club to participate, and we have been invited to return several times for other programs.

The club’s displays and presentations have been used in fund-raisers for various organizations, including Leavitt High School’s Odyssey of the Mind, Portland’s Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Father’s Day Fair, and the Sanford and Whitefield Lions Clubs. The club was part of the promotion for the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad Fan Appreciation Day, and took an active role in their program.

We have participated in the National Hospital Week show at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. For several years the club was an active participant in the railroading exhibit at the annual Maine Transportation Conference at the Augusta Civic Center, which included “Take Your Children to Work Day.” In 2004 the club took part in Kidfest at the Augusta Civic Center and a special railroad theme day at the Lewiston YWCA. One of our activities in 2006 was the Bridgton Community Center’s annual Children’s Hands-On Arts Festival. The club has donated toys to the Adopt-a-Family program of the Abused Women’s Advocacy Program in Lewiston-Auburn.

Members from our club have also gone to other clubs to help them organize. Dick Clark and Paul Lodge went to Brunswick to help the Down East Model Railroad Club build modular corners so they could start a modular layout to use at shows.

In 1997, Ron Deschenes, a custodian at Webster School in Auburn, wanted to begin a model railroad club for students. He donated equipment and supplies. Al Thurston and Paul Lodge went to the school more than once to help the group get started.

When Judy Grove of Winthrop had trouble with the wiring on the N-scale layout she was building, club member John Robertson volunteered to help correct the wiring problems.

We have visited and provided programs at various nursing homes and group homes, including Clover Manor in Auburn, Montello Heights Assisted Living Center and Montello Manor in Lewiston, the Kennebec Long-Term Care Facility, Murphy Homes in Mechanic Falls, and the Maine Veterans Homes in both South Paris and Augusta.

The club’s most emotional experience was working with leukemia victim Shawn Bouchard in 1994 and 1995. After Paul and Gail Rea of The Freight Station donated N-scale layout supplies, the club gave Shawn an additional $100 gift certificate. Dick Clark went to Shawn’s house and wired the layout. Later, nearly ten more club members created the scenery. Shawn really enjoyed the layout and the club members’ support before his death on November 20, 1997.

For most of the years Lewiston and Auburn have held the Great Falls Balloon Festival, the Great Falls Model Railroad Club has participated. For the first few years, we were assigned to the area near the Central Maine Power Co. offices on Main Street. Later, the club was able to set up an extensive layout at the old Grand Trunk Railroad Station on Lincoln Street, near the balloon launch site at Railroad Park. During the Balloon Festival, the club sometimes held open house hours at our own layout location in Lewiston, and we are now able to continue this tradition at our new location at 144 Mill Street in Auburn.

There’s something special about the combination of trains and Christmas. Frequently during the more than twenty years of our history, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club has participated in pre-Christmas celebrations at the Round Top Center for the Arts in Damariscotta, the Maine State Museum in Augusta, the annual tree-lighting ceremony when Santa comes to Lewiston and Auburn, and Lewiston’s Festival of Trees sponsored by Advocates for Children. Beginning in 2005 we also participated in Winter Fest at Kirk Hall of Central Maine Community College in Auburn.

The club has been part of the “Trees and Trains” Christmas season program in early December at McLaughlin’s Garden in South Paris since their preservation foundation introduced that fund-raising activity. Beth and Jeff Chaffee have provided their beautiful Christmas village layout and the club brings its raffle layout. The main attraction, however, has been the Maine Garden Railroad Society’s display, featuring the scale-model replicas of historic railroad stations throughout Oxford County created several years ago by the Gifted and Talented Program students in the Oxford Hills school system. Beginning in December 2010, the Great Falls Model Railroad Club will help to sponsor this event.

The club has also had displays at the public libraries in Auburn, Lewiston, Gray-New Gloucester and Harrison. As part of a special one-day-a-week railroad theme program for children at the temporary library in a Sabattus shopping mall, members of the club brought and supervised model railroad layouts for several weeks. In conjunction with the Lewiston Public Library in early 2008, the club co-sponsored a lecture and slide presentation by George Melvin, who was publicizing his new book about the Maine Central Railroad.

Life-Like Products, Inc., asked if club members would like to review samples of their products. We received a Proto 2000 EMD BL2 Bangor and Aroostook engine to review, (which is still with the club’s modular layout equipment). Bud Santos reviewed an N-scale GP38-2 in July 1988, and in October 1990 Bruce Buck built and wrote a review about an N-scale building from Life-Like. We also sent to Life-Like Products a review of their 50-foot auto box car in June 1995.

To help promote the hobby, several club members gave Saturday clinics at The Freight Station. We also helped to organize and present multiple day-long clinics for the general public at the Danville Grange and with Matt Sharpe of the former Train and Trooper hobby shop in the Gray-New Gloucester area. These educational clinics covered several aspects of model railroading, giving the participants many subjects from which to choose during their “day of learning.”

Members have worked on many of these projects to further the hobby and to contribute to the club’s educational goals as set out in our Internal Revenue Service designation for 501c3 Educational Foundation status. Larry Cannon even made a copy of our constitution and by-laws for the Auburn Music Association to use as a model, helping them obtain the same 501c3 tax-exempt status that we have.

MODEL RAILROADING COURSE THROUGH AUBURN ADULT EDUCATION

As early as the fall of 1988, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club began its educational focus by offering an eight-week adult education course in model railroading at Edward Little High School in Auburn. People have come from all over Maine to take these classes. Our largest group in 1992 had eighteen participants from Belfast, Searsport, Windham, Portland, Auburn, and Lewiston. There have been many interesting combinations, including husbands/wives, fathers/sons, fathers/daughters, mothers/sons, mothers/daughters, grandfathers/grandsons, and uncles/nephews. Ages have ranged from retirees in their eighties to boys and girls as young as six who came with one or both parents. Many of our current club members first joined the club as a result of the Model Railroading class.

In order to grasp a basic understanding of model railroading, class members are encouraged to build a two- by four-foot module, following the modular standards used by the club. This gives participants the opportunity to lay track and ballast, make scenery, solder, and learn all the skills necessary to create and finish the module. They can then use these skills to make a larger personal layout at home. Another benefit to the club has been the inclusion of these modules in the shows we attend. The timing of the class has evolved so that the fall class ends just before our Auburn Middle School show on the first Saturday in November and the second semester class finishes just before our April show in the Brunswick area-usually at Mount Ararat High School in Topsham. Having these new modules entered in each of our shows adds variety to our club’s modular layout exhibits every year. A high percentage of the modules used at our recent shows were built in the Auburn Adult Education Model Railroading class.

Club members have been very supportive of the adult education course. Nearly everyone has taken the class or helped teach it. With the convenience of the additional classroom space at the club house, we often have enough club members present for one-on-one help as students construct their modules.

The handouts given to every class were created and designed by club members. The “Module Specifications Sheet” was originally developed with the help of Paul Rea and Paul Gardner. Paul Gardner also contributed heavily to the electrical specifications. Larry Cannon developed a “Suggested Tools” list and a sheet explaining types of “Adhesives” and their qualities and dangers.

The Adult Education concept has been shared with other communities. In January 1994 Terry King and John Robertson presented the model railroading course to eleven participants in Winthrop. During the course in February 1995, Terry King and the Winthrop class built a two-part portable layout which the club has continued to maintain for Maine Operation Lifesaver-an organization dedicated to informing the public about railroad safety. For more information, check their website at http://www.maineol.org/

Dick Clark and Paul Lodge went to Brunswick to help the Down East Model Railroad Club start a model railroading class. When the Fiddlehead Center for the Arts at the Pineland Farms in New Gloucester sponsored a Junior Education Program based on railroading, they invited club member Tom Coulombe to help teach the classes.

THE TRAIN TIME TEAM

Many model railroaders are excellent photographers who enjoy taking still pictures and video of real trains. The half-hour Train Time shows produced by The Great Falls Model Railroad Club give club members an opportunity to share their videos with other railfans. Train Time is now distributed free of charge to over 20 local access cable stations in the state of Maine. Because distribution includes Time-Warner Cable, Train Time is currently seen in over 200 cities and towns throughout southern and central Maine.

Here’s how it all began.

In September of 2000, Adolph Holmes offered a course in videophotography and editing at Central Maine Community College in Auburn where he was teaching. Adolph was not only an excellent teacher, but also station manager of Lewiston-Auburn’s local public access station, Great Falls TV, which still broadcasts from CMCC. Club member Bud Santos, his wife Bonnie, and their son Ben had taken the videography course during the spring semester and recommended it to Paul Lodge. As a result of this course, Paul began refining his videography techniques and editing his own railroad video to share at The Great Falls Model Railroad Club meetings. Within a year, he was editing and producing half-hour Train Time programs to be shown on Great Falls TV as a regular part of their weekly schedule. Soon after that, club member Ken Jackson introduced him to Steve Galvin, station manager of Norway-Paris Community Television, where Ken works. Steve added Train Time to the NPC-TV schedule. Steve, Ken, and Adolph continued teaching Paul on an informal basis and encouraged him to offer the program to other local public access television stations, often introducing him and/or sample videotapes to other station managers.

On The Great Falls Model Railroad Club layout at Canal Street Alley in Lewiston, Larry Cannon had arranged a scale-model white van near one section of the tracks with a photographer standing on top, poised over his tripod. Most club members recognized the van and knew Paul was the photographer.

As interest in Train Time grew, other club members began sharing their “raw footage” with Paul to edit for programs. Sometimes a group of club members have formed railfan teams to photograph the same train at various locations, “leapfrogging” one another to cover as many sites as possible on the same day. One or more club members may “scout” a train’s route before the day of a Train Time Team shoot so that each person with a video camera and tripod can be stationed at one of the best photography locations and will know which site he can next reach before the train does. “Pacing the train” has been another valuable technique, with one person driving the car or truck on the road parallel to the railroad tracks while another person shoots video footage of the moving train.

One club member who is also a certified volunteer Operation Lifesaver presenter has had the opportunity to shoot video during locomotive cab rides. His videophotography can give the engineer’s perspective for Train Time viewers as well as providing real-time video to passengers who are guests of Operation Lifesaver, including journalists and law enforcement officers. In 2003, the Amtrak police used some of our Train Time videos for training their engineers.

One of the goals of The Great Falls Model Railroad Club is to provide members with opportunities for expanding their horizons by encouraging them to visit various locations to experience and record past and present railroad history. Individuals and groups have visited and photographed such locations as New Hampshire’s White Mountains; White River Junction and Bellows Falls, Vermont; New York’s Hudson River Valley and the Finger Lakes Railroad which goes through Watkins Glen, Seneca Falls, and Auburn, New York; Pennsylvania’s Horseshoe Curve in Altoona and Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County, within Amish country; sites in Maryland and Delaware; and Dorval in Montreal, Canada. In August of 2009, four members of the Train Time Team visited and photographed Cajon Pass and the surrounding communities in southern California. Many of these trips have been featured on Train Time videos.

By observing actual railroads in operation, members learn how railroads function. They share that knowledge of railroad operating principles with other club members and in their presentations at the various locations mentioned earlier. They also apply that knowledge to operating sessions at the club and at their own home layouts.

Using Train Time footage and editorial techniques, as well as special aerial shots by one of our own videographers, The Great Falls Model Railroad Club created the promotional video for the city of Auburn to use in 2003 at the Business to Business show, “Port of Auburn – Connecting to the World.”

In many ways, Train Time adds to our educational contributions as a 501c3 tax-exempt organization. The Great Falls Model Railroad Club has now produced over 220 programs which are stored on videotape and DVD. Archive copies and library access copies will be stored at the club’s location at 144 Mill Street in New Auburn as soon as the facility is ready to house them.

 

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