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History of the Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club, Inc.

Forming the Club

On March 2, 1978 14 men met in an office of a local bank to form a model railroad club. Their purpose was "to promote interest, knowledge, and fun with model trains."

During the organizational meetings a constitution was drawn up, the Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club was chosen as the name for the new club, and Mr. Karl Bowers was elected as the first President. Karl passed away in 1996 and was the only charter member of the Club who was still actively involved with the Club.

Having no permanent meeting room of their own, the Club watched movies, viewed slides, discussed and built models, rail-fanned, and started to have fund-raisers. The Club set up model railroad displays in the Bank's lobby over the Christmas Holidays and the members began to build a 10 by 22 foot modular layout that could be used as a traveling display. But the Club's main objective was to find a space where they could build a permanent layout.

The Club's First Location

In July of 1983 the club found a space on the third floor above the local hobby shop. The room had poor lighting, no heat, and no plumbing what so ever, but it was large enough and the rent was right. The Club soon had the room painted, new lights and electric heat was installed, and construction began on a 20 by 60 foot layout we had named The Pennsylvania and Anthracite Southern Railroad.

By October 1985 the layout's bench work was complete, most of the track was laid, trains were running, and the landscaping was underway, when, as with so many other clubs, the lease was not renewed and the Club was looking for a new home.

The Club's Present Location

On the main business street of Shamokin, across the street from where the both the Reading Railroad's and the Pennsylvania Railroad's passenger stations once stood, filling half a city block, stands the American Legion Memorial Building.

This building once housed a large department store on the first floor, the American Legion meeting room, Legion museum, social hall (bar), kitchen, and a private meeting room on the second floor, and a large banquet hall that had been used for countless weddings, proms, and reunions on the top floor.

By the time that the Model Railroad Club was searching frantically for a new home, the department store had long since closed and the American Legion could no longer support this large structure. Its ownership passed into the hands of the City of Shamokin to become the new Shamokin Community Center.

The basement of the building became the Senior Citizen Action Center, the old department store became the new Public Library, the American Legion retained their meeting room and Museum, and a museum of Anthracite Mining occupied another room on the second floor, and the top floor banquet hall with its hardwood dance floor became the Shamokin Youth Basketball court.

However, the large Social Room (bar), kitchen, private meeting room, and two rest rooms on the second floor had remained empty for several years. Through good fortune, Mr. Bowers' personal contacts, and the generosity of the Shamokin City Council, the Model Railroad club was able to move into this seemingly vast cavern of empty space for the sum of " a donation to help pay the utility bills, when you can afford it!"

The club wasted no time in getting the meeting room cleaned and setting up the old original modular layout in time to hold a Open House after the annual Christmas parade welcoming Santa to town.
Then came the sad job of tearing apart two years of work and moving the remains of the Club's layout to the new building.

Designing The Layout

Now came the challenge of designing a model railroad to fill this large space. The original bar remained in the room, so the height of the new layout was predetermined.
It was decided early on that the Club wished to try to preserve, in miniature, the fast disappearing railroad heritage of our area. By May of 1986 a track plan of the Shamokin Valley Lines had been designed by Bob Balent, approved by the membership, and construction was underway.

The original design called for a model of a portion the Pennsylvania Railroad Yard that was located in Northumberland, Pa. and every industry and siding that had existed between Sunbury and Mount Carmel during the 1950's on the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad that paralleled it, along with the Pennsylvania Railroad's interchange with the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Mount Carmel.

The Club planned to operate the railroad just as the prototype did. It was also suggested so that we scratch-build a "couple" of area landmark buildings along the way to give a sense of location to the layout.

Layout construction, bench work and track laying began under the supervision of Bob Balent, while advice on modeling skills was under the supervision of now Club President Tony Wasilewski, the most experienced and highly skilled model railroader of the Club's membership.

Advice on operation came from Mike Herman, a "real life" engineer for the North Shore Line out of Lewisburg. In less than one year, the majority of the bench work was complete, the Susquehanna River was flowing, and trains were running on the Pennsy and Reading Main lines!

The railroad would operate "point-to point" between yards at each end of the layout, with the provision for continuous running during Open Houses.

Early Operations

During the second Christmas Season Open House to be held in the Legion Building, hundreds of people came to see more track and trains than had ever been seen in this part of Pennsylvania! By the third Christmas Season, Tony had scratch-built several models of area landmarks.

People came by the hundreds to see this model of the area that they knew and of buildings that they recognized. As our guests got excited about the model buildings, and kept asking if we were going to make a model of this building, or of that building, their donations to the Club increased along with their excitement. Tony, along with Rich Schetroma started scratch-building more and more buildings.



Building Shamokin in HO Scale

By the time that we were ready to start to build the area that was to be the City of Shamokin, it was decided to compromise the original design by abandoning a couple of sidings in town, increasing the depth of the benchwork, and make room for a more accurate model of the City! Hundreds of buildings later, the model of down town Shamokin brings back many memories to our older guests and awes our younger ones with the fact that yes, there used to be 3 movie theaters, and 3 grocery stores in town!

Our Christmas Open House ran from 6:30 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. the 3 Friday and Saturday nights before Christmas and the evening after Christmas. We  hosted an average of over 4,000 guests each year during our 7 nights of Open House for 5 Christmas Seasons.

As construction continued, the railroad continued to grow and evolve. It was decided that the small yards at the end of the railroad just were not large enough. Since we had the large modular/meeting room just on the other side of the wall, we made two tunnels through the wall and built a large staging area were trains could not only be stored, but where we could interchange the cars between the railroads.

The Free-Lanced Area

Other than the inter-change with the Pennsy at Mount Carmel, the Lehigh Valley Railroad did not run very far before it left the area that we were modeling. It was decided that the large empty area near the entrance to the staging yards would be used for the only "free-lanced modeling" on the layout. The focus would be on the Lumber industry that would provide the timber needed by the coal mines on the rest of the layout.

Unlike the lumber industry elsewhere where only mature or select species of trees were harvested, the mines demanded vast quantities of all sizes and grades of timber to be used for rail ties, shoring, building, and even for "spragging" the wheels of the mines' coal cars to keep them from rolling. Whole mountain sides were "clear cut" to supply this demand. Nothing was wasted. Any branches that were too small to be sold were used as fuel for the boilers that operated the saw mills.

This free-lanced area also gave us the opportunity to explore the beauty of model railroading with extensive bridges, rock cuts, and scenery that we couldn't build while modeling the rest of the prototypical layout. We are  pleased with how this decision turned out, unfortunately, this area is not easily viewed by any guests. The Lehigh Valley's main line was also extended by adding a second level to the staging yard in the next room.

The Control Systems

Converting from DC to the CTC-16 Command Control System

As the control wiring progressed on the layout, it soon became apparent that to control three railroads on this vast empire was becoming a nightmare. The Reading Railroad alone had 6 main line blocks and additional independent control of all the passing sidings and yards. It became obvious that we had to find a simpler way!

We decided to try Keith Gutierrez's CTC-16 Command Control System that had been featured in Model Railroader. We installed the system on our Pennsylvania Railroad and had instant control of whatever engine we wanted to run from anywhere on the layout without the miles of spaghetti wiring, just carefree operation!

We did have a few minor control glitches due to the length of the command cable and the length of track, but a phone call to Keith provided all of the answers to our problems. We have kept in contact with Keith over the years and have found him to always be helpful and we have enjoyed all of the advances he has made with his system and with his other CVP Products.

We soon expanded the CTC-16 system to our Lehigh Valley Railroad as well. We chose to keep the Reading Railroad on the conventional 12 volt block system so anyone could bring an un-modified engine to the Club and operate it on the layout.

We have added a Sound Traxx sound system with remote control for both steam and diesel for use during Open House. Three large base speakers under the layout provide a realistic "rumble" in the room and having the engine sounds coming from the trains themselves provide a bit of a surprise for our guests.

We have improved the Sound Traxx system by using a Leap Frog remote control range extender from Terk Technologies. We can now use the remote in any part of the room without trying to aim at the receiver.


The CTC-16 system operated flawlessly for eight years but the Club's engine roster had grown more than the system could handle at one time. In the fall of 1994 we installed Keith's new Rail Command System. It only took a couple of work nights to install and most of that was to install the new throttle cable and throttle jacks around the layout. This system worked as soon as we turned it on.

Changing to Digitrax DCC

This system also operated flawlessly for eight years, but in December of 2002, Club members started to express an interest in replacing the Rail Command with a DCC system that met NMRA standards. The advantages of NMRA standard DCC systems included onboard sound, factory installed and DCC ready engines, and lower cost interchangeable decoders and throttles.

A committee was formed to investigate the availability, support, functions, and cost of several manufactures systems and make a recommendation to the Club.
In April 2003, the committee narrowed their recommendation to two manufacturers. The Club had the opportunity to try both systems on the Club’s layout. Both systems had their perceived advantages and disadvantages and both systems had their ‘champions’ among Club members.

In August, on a close vote, the Club chose a Digitrax system and work began on installing the Club’s fourth control system’s cables, throttle jacks, and replacing the decoders in the Club’s fleet of engines.

By October the system was installed, decoder replacement complete, several new DCC ready engines purchased, and two months available for testing and for Club members to familiarize themselves with the operation of the system before the annual Christmas season open house.



The Need for the Control Tower

During the first couple Open Houses, the trains were operated by "engineers" standing around the layout. After the CTC system was installed, one engineer could easily operate six trains by himself during an Open House.

But as the scenery started to develop and the mountains started to rise, the entire layout could no longer be seen from one spot on the floor, so the "engineer" had to sit on the top of a six foot step ladder to keep track of everything. As the mountains grew even higher, the "engineer" was moved to the top of an eight foot ladder! It was getting pretty darn hard to find "engineers"!

We needed a control tower in the center of the layout where everything could been seen. But the aisles were just not wide enough to build an elevated structure that could hold a "dispatcher" for each of the three railroads. Rich Schetroma's design solved the problem by building one to resemble an old time switch tower with the control room cantilevered over the layout on two sides. Each of the "dispatchers" has a control panel from which he can remotely operate all of the main line switches on their railroad.

The yard switches are controlled from local control panels by each 'yard master." Now we fight as to whose turn it is to be the "engineers" during Open Houses!

Modular Layout & O Scale

The Club's original modular layout is still in operation. Our smallest guests can sit on stools and watch the trains run while their parents tour the main layout in the next room.
It never fails that by the time Dad gets back to the kids they want their own trains set up at home. Dad always had the easy out by saying that they did not have enough room at home, so the Club set up a detailed 4 by 8 foot "N" Scale platform to show what can be done in a small space.

Since Tony's career change to being the Supervisor at Weaver's Quality Craft factory, we have also started to collect "O" Scale cars and engines.  A lot of the Club's material and parts have been purchased at train meets or has been received as donations.

Most of the quality engines and rolling stock, along with scratch building material has been purchased at English's Model Railroad Supply (also known as: Bowser Manufacturing, Cal Scale, Cary, and Shelley & Arbour) in Montoursville. This is about a 60 mile trip, but they have proven to be a strong supporter of the hobby and we wish to thank them for their continued support.

Bench Work & Scenery

The bench work construction is the standard open grid with the track supported on risers. The track's sub-base is 1/2 inch plywood and the road bed is homasote. We cut the homasote in strips from 4 by 8 foot sheets and then re-sawed the strips with the saw blade at a 45 degree angle. When turned around, the 45 degree edges formed the profile and the strips were then installed just like purchased cork road bed. When cut like this, the homasote conformed to the radius of the track, and there was very little wasted material.

Scenery base is a traditional hard shell made with 3 parts of USG Struct-light gypsum wall plaster and 1 part lime applied thinly over old window screen. The lime helps the plaster stick to the plywood better and makes it harder. We have used a lot of ground foam rubber that we dye and grind in and old meat grinder. All of our trees are natural "weeds" that we harvest, trim, and dye or spray paint.

Our nicest detailed trees are the roots of young oak trees covered in fiber floss and sprinkled with fine ground foam. (To think that I used to get upset by all of the acorns sprouting in my back yard, now I'm transplanting them!)

Ceiling Problems

The greatest disaster to befall our Club occurred in November of 1990 when we became victims of what we called the "Chicken Little Syndrome." All of the vibrations caused by the basketball court above us caused several sections of the plaster ceiling to fall.

One section flattened the Western end of Shamokin, and another piece hit our Club's President on the head! Investigation revealed that several other sections of the plaster was not very sound and that we would need to do something before more damage was done, or one of our guests got hurt; but we had a very limited budget.

Our investigation revealed that the plaster and wire lath was attached to concrete beams on 4 foot centers. We eventually installed a commercial grade suspended ceiling grid securely fastened on 4 foot centers to the concrete beams 5 inches below the old plaster ceiling. For ceiling tiles, we painted and cut 4 by 8 sheets of 3/8 inch drywall into 2 by 4 foot tiles. The drywall is strong enough to catch any future plaster falls and the suspended ceiling has provided a path to run wires to the control tower.

This project required many hours of the innovative use of ladders and planks to work above the layout and mountains. Although there were 28 members listed on the Club's rolls at the time, most of them were social members who wished to support what the Club is doing.

From the start of construction, there have only been, on the average, six people actively involved with the project. This has made for slow progress, but has provided for a continuity of style and quality and everyone has been able to learn all aspects of the hobby and has had fun doing it. And this is after all the purpose of a hobby.