Looking at the Amherst Railway Society today is like opening a book in the middle - so much has come before, and so much is yet to play out.
In simplest terms, the Amherst Railway Society is a community of people who share a fascination with railroads, and has been for over 50 years. If we go all the way back to the mid-1950s, we find a small group of University of Massachusetts chemistry students and faculty members who realized that they shared a common interest in railroads. So they started meeting regularly to share railroad knowledge, photographs, and stories.
And those regular meetings continue to this day.
The small group grew, incorporated as a non-profit corporation, and started thinking about other ways to share their rail interests.
Railroad Hobby Show
In the early 1960s, the group started a railroad themed "bring & buy" swap meet on the university campus. The swap meet was an instant success. Over the next few years, the group moved to increasingly larger floor space, added railroad and model railroad vendors to the meet, and built a small modular model railroad for display.
Then, fate intervened. In 1982, the university space the group normally used for the swap meet was not available because of building renovations. So the still fledgling group decided to take a risk (a $2500 risk) and move the swap meet to the New England Building at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA.
The show ended up being a huge success - more than covering the costs. And, that was the start of the Railroad Hobby Show as we know it.
Today, the annual Railroad Hobby Show occupies four buildings at the Eastern States Exposition, draws 25,000 people, and is one of the most respected railroad shows in the country. Twice, the Railroad Hobby Show has received the Walther’s Showmanship Award in recognition of our efforts to promote interest in railroads and model railroads in the United States.
Amherst Belt Lines
And that small modular model railroad? - that grew, too.
Today, the Amherst Belt Lines modular railroad club is one of the most sought-after groups for model railroad shows in New England. Members learn the intricacies of modular model railroading, and display their handiwork at six or seven shows each year, including a large layout at the Railroad Hobby Show.
Through the Belt Lines, Amherst Railway Society members build and strengthen friendships, support other railroad groups, and promote model railroading to the general public.
As the Railroad Hobby Show grew, and the revenue with it, the now not-so-small group of rail enthusiasts realized that they could be supporting the efforts of other railroad-focused organizations.
So, in 1991, the Amherst Railway Society put on a philanthropic hat as well and started the annual grants program. In the years since, the Railway Society has donated over $750,000 to railroad preservation and restoration projects all over the United States.
Railroads were key to the growth and development of this country, and continue to play a vital economic role in our society. It is our intent to support organizations working to safeguard our national railroad heritage.
The Amherst Railway Society has built an extensive library of railroad-related books, magazines, and videos. The quality and quantity of library will continue to grow.
Education is a key component of our vision. We are in the process of developing educational programs for adults and youth with an interest in railroads, especially model railroads.
We believe the enjoyment of railroads should not be limited. We are in the process of developing programs that will allow less fortunate adults and children to participate in this fascinating hobby.
Railroads appeal to the senses - the clang of a bell, the hiss of steam, the gentle sway of a train ride - and we want as many people as possible to experience these wonderful sights and sounds. To that end, the Amherst Railway Society is developing tours to prominent railroad displays throughout the world.
We are a group of railroad enthusiasts. If you like railroads the way we like railroads, the Amherst Railway Society gives you a place to expand your knowledge, make new friends, and simply do what you like doing best.