HISTORY OF THE
METRO MODEL RAILROAD CLUB, LTD.
"MODEL ENGINEERING FOR TYPICAL RAILROAD OPERATION "
I. The Beginnings
METRO has its origins in the
enthusiasm of a couple of people, Clarence Porath
and Don Dobberfuhl, for model railroading.
Certain that other people shared their interest,
they decided to see if some type of a club couldn't be formed. They
talked to the manager of a local hobby in Grafton. He liked the idea
and arranged to put up a box to see what interest for a club existed.
After a while, the use of a storefront at the mall was arranged, some
notices were mailed out, and on
The Club minutes state that "8 members [were] in attendance", although the minutes have the signatures of 15 people on the reverse. After getting to know each other a bit and exchanging ideas, the decision was made to start the club. More notices were mailed out for the first formal meeting on August 4th. At that time 15 people appeared, 13 of whom submitted membership applications.
Much of the early meetings centered around the club's meeting place. The members quickly learned that they could not build any kind of a permanent layout at the mall since there was only one exit from the room in the basement of the mall. Other options were explored, but none panned out. The club continued to seek members, and even had a table at the Train Fest in 1981. About 10 people regularly came to meetings and work nights. But the lack of a home was frustrating. Finally, in February of 1982, a decision was made to build a portable layout.
II. The Portable Layout.
Initially, the idea of a portable layout was to have something to exhibit at a model train show scheduled for County Fair Mall in April of 1982. At the February meeting, the decision was made to build the layout and devote all future work nights to getting it ready in time. By the March meeting, the benchwork was finished and track almost completely laid, but the April show was canceled. The members pressed on anyway.
Initially the layout consisted of only 4 sections, totaling 7 feet by 11 feet. In the present layout, those sections were the two end sections (the mill and the river), the town, and the hill. The cancellation of the April show probably didn't hurt as the July minutes show members asking for authorization to purchase structures. The club also built the dual power pack to operate the portable layout, and a trailer to take it around.
METRO's portable layout joined a number of others
that regularly showed at malls and train exhibitions around
Improvements were constantly being made to the portable layout. The banner with the club's name and location was created in October of 1988; a significant refurbishing with some track and building changes was undertaken in the summer of 1990. New skirting replaced the original burlap. Animated crossing gates, lights in the watertower and the schoolbus, and the rotating Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket were added during this period.
The portable has averaged
more than 4 shows per year, and remains one of the club's best means of
promoting itself and the hobby of model railroading. In
2001, the portable layout was entered into the contest at the National
Train Show, which is a part of the annual NMRA Convention, held that
III. Changing Locations.
Once it became clear that the club couldn't build at the Mall, a permanent home became a prime focus of the club's activities. The minutes show many locations considered and rejected, and some accepted that fell through for other reasons. Finally, the club managed to get a lease on the basement of the building at 126 West Wisconsin Street in Port Washington. The decision to move was made in December of 1982, but it unclear when the first meeting was held in the new location.
Originally owned by the Smith family of the Smith Bros. Restaurant fame, the building was made available to the club on a month-to-month basis. The owners didn't want a long term lease since the upstairs was unrented and they wanted the basement to be available for a prospective tenant. When Discovery World Travel moved in upstairs in October of 1984, the club was allowed to sublease the basement from them.
The travel agency had a five year lease on the building, and the club was given to understand the agency had given them the same on the basement for a rent of $100 per month. On that basis, the club started finally to build the permanent layout it had so long discussed.
The concept for this layout was to model the Chicago and North Western Railroad from Milwaukee to Green Bay. Sketches of a proposed track plan were circulated and approved. Benchwork and track laying began in late 1984.
The club finally got around to formal elections in January of 1983, and Clarence Porath became the new president. In February of 1984, he was succeeded by William Stadler. The club was jolted by the deaths of founding members Clarence Porath in September of 1985 and Don Dobberfuhl in December.
But the biggest jolt came in July of 1987 when Discovery World announced it was raising the rent to $150 per month starting in August. The club had had difficulty in making expenses prior to this time and the rental increase was intolerable. A protest was lodged with the landlord, but nothing could be accomplished. The club reluctantly began to look for a new home.
IV. The Old Theater.
The search for a new home quickly focused on the upper level of a building on Grand Avenue in Port Washington only a block from the club's prior home. The Professional Building at 116 W. Grand Avenue was a former movie house built in 1926. Sometime in the 50's the use was changed to professional offices. A spancrete ceiling was put in to lower the ceiling height, leaving about 8' of unused space above the offices.
The space was large (about 110' by 41'), but totally undeveloped. There was no heat, no electricity, no water, not even a single light. Nonetheless, the rent was only $25 per month (including electricity) and the chances that the club would be evicted for another tenant seemed very small, so the decision to move was made.
The unfortunate part of moving was that no significant part of the work done on the permanent layout to date was salvageable. As much of the materials as could be saved were moved to the new location.
The move was made and completed by December 1st of 1987. An electrician was hired to run in a circuit box for the club. All the lighting from there was done by club members.
At the same time, the club began discussing the outline for a new permanent layout. The previous project of a particular road over a particular topography was felt to be too confining, and the club quickly agreed to develop a more generic layout. Initially a layout in the shape of an M was proposed; however, when it was laid out on the floor, it was found that the aisles would be too narrow, as little as 3 feet. Hence an E shape was chosen.
A sample of the benchwork was shown to the club, and sometime in February of 1988, work actually began. Benchwork went quickly, followed by lighting which was aided by ballast provided by the West Bend Club. In return for this help, METRO built a turntable for West Bend, which reciprocated in turn by donating 180 plugs for the layout. A substantial part of the backdrop was put in, and then painted on 26 July 1988.
It wasn't until September of 1990 that a full loop around the layout was complete and wired sufficiently to sustain operations. To do that, the section of the layout designed to be a large city was bypassed. The club felt that it was time to hold an open house for the public, and the pressure was on to get trains running. In fact an open house was held on October 14, 1990; more than 300 people visited the layout. Open houses became an annual event each November. In some cases, food for the Food Pantry was the price of admission. 1992 was designated as a steam show. The 1993 show was especially memorable for the display of name passenger trains the Club set up.
V. OTHER ACTIVITIES.
The building of layouts has not been the club's only activity. Seminars and clinics, track walks, shows, and trips to railroading points of interest have been included in the club's activities.
Seminars began early in the club's history. The very first was held on December 1, 1982. "Getting Started in Model Railroading" was the topic and the public was invited to an open storefront in the upstairs portion of County Faire Mall. 22 people attended and the club was sufficiently satisfied with the result that a second was quickly scheduled for January 12th. The topic of this second seminar was benchwork, roadbed and track planning. No report of this second seminar is found in the minutes, nor of two other scheduled seminars on electrical wiring and scenery, set for March and April of the same year.
The subject of track walks sponsored by the club came up at the March 1986 meeting, and sometime in March or April of that year, a walk was held from Ulao to Port. It was an enjoyable and educational experience and a second walk was quickly scheduled for May 31 to walk the Soo Line between Saukville and Fredonia.
Trips to outside points of interest were also a club function. Two notable trips were to Union, Illinois in August of 1986, and one to tour the EMD plant and visit Chicago's railroading hot spots in September of 1989. Members attended the C&NW Historical Society conventions, and began to win prizes for modeling and railroad photography.
Internal clinics also became a club function. Some of the clinics sponsored by the club included:
Car building (Bill Stadler)
The club also set out to develop its resources for research. Over the years, a number of magazines had been donated to the club. In March and April of 1989, an opportunity to purchase library discards was acted upon, with the additional receipt of a number of bound volumes of the early issues of trains. A librarian was appointed, organization of the library began, and indices were collected for the years 1960 to 1988. A video library was also established in February of 1989.
The social aspects of the club were not neglected either. In 1988, the club held its first Christmas party, an annual event since. A picnic was held in 1989 and again in 1991 to today.
VI. The Dream Crushed
The club members really believed that the layout in the Professional Building had a chance of becoming a world class layout. Lockers for the members equipment were built, the library expanded and cataloged, new chairs and tables were purchased, and the club member area was made more pleasant. A Lionel layout was also built. METRO seemed to have a home.
However, in March of 1994, the building was sold, and the new owner decided that the upstairs area could be developed. The Club was given until April 30th to vacate.
With heavy hearts, the layout and all the clubs' facilities were dismantled. Initially, three sections of the layout were saved, but within months, it was decided that they were of no use and also demolished. None of the scenery other than buildings and accessories could be saved.
A local dentist without a tenant gave the club the use of his basement, a former pizzeria. While searching for a new home, the club spent considerable time upgrading the portable layout, using the remote controllers recently purchased, and adding considerable animation and scenic details. The construction crew scene, the town park, the railfan scene, the sandtower and yard buildings, animation of the scrap crane and grain truck, the campfire scene, and the line shed were just some of the details added at this time. All the animated and lighting effects were changed over from batteries to outside power. Shown at TrainFest '94, it earned the notice of many. As a result, it was requested for a WISE Division meet in Port Washington, and for a private show at Sturtevant, Wisconsin. The addition of localized lighting was all that was needed to make the layout really stand out, and it won First Prize at TrainFest '95.
The basement at the dental office disappeared and the Club found a new temporary home below another pizza parlor on Grand Avenue. That also was rented, but not before a new home panned out at last.
VII. STARTING NEW AT HARBOR CLUB
The Club explored many possibilities for a permanent home. The basement of the Depot at Pioneer Village was at one time offered and then withdrawn. President Don Laubenstein knew of a club in Quincy, Illinois that used the basement of a nursing home. The developers of a new local home were contacted and prospects looked good. Suddenly, they wanted large amounts of cash from the club and the project was quickly dropped. But new owners took over the home, and they had a different attitude.
The Harbor Club/Harbor Village was a senior citizens' condo development with a managed care facility attached. It was house in the former St. Alphonsus Hospital. Gus Anntonneau took over the operation of the facility, and canceled plans for a shopping area in the basement of the building. Having no use for this floor at this time, he offered METRO a chance to use some of the space. The deal was quickly arranged, and the Club got a ten year lease - no more being kicked out by better paying tenants.
The Club built the wall enclosing its space and totally refurbished the area, installing lighting and electrical service. Plans for a partially double-stacked layout with a floor area of 16.5' by 52' were approved. The club is now engaged in building that layout.
The new layout saw the golden spike driven in its mainline in October of 1997. DCC control was installed at the outset, and radio control added in 2002. This new layout is freelanced, but is based on the concept that it represents what a trans-Wisconsin railroad might have looked like if some of the dreams of the early pioneers actually came true. The original concept paper is below. As of mid-2003, most of the trackwork has been done, and a substantial amount of the scenery has been started. The club is also in the process of developing various operating schemes, each of which depends on the era being operated.
The history of METRO is extensive, but many chapters have yet to be written. We hope to add to this in the future.
VIII. The Original Concept Paper for the Harbor Club Layout.
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HISTORY OF THE
PORT WASHINGTON & DUBUQUE RAILROAD
[This scenario is
premised on some of the
assumptions of the early pioneers of
one of the most significant markets that early Midwestern railroads
capture was the
pattern of the early traffic on the line went from west to east,
empty the other way. To alleviate
the wasteful mileage, the railroad extended its tracks to
Logging was a big interest in early
time the railroad connected to
Among the industries served by the railroad are:
steamer, power equipment manufacturers
Saukville*: Yard, icing platform, engine facility
distributors, dry ice plant
Mineral Point*: mining operations
Platteville*: university, mattress manufacturer
Koshkonong: power plant
Reedsburg*: logging firms
*passenger station (Saukville at east end of yard near Port)
some point in its life, the railroad could have been merged with the
landforms along this route are quite varied. They
start with the bluffs and lake frontage at
the east through glaciated Kettle Moraine
topography to rolling agricultural lands.
didn't this scenario play out in real life? First,
Wisconsin was once the leading grain-producing state in the US,
development of the vast grain-growing areas of the Great Plains
declining yields from thin topsoil made wheat unprofitable for
farmers and they turned to animal husbandry, first sheepraising
and then dairying, products less amenable to rail transport. The hope of
mining quickly saturated the market, and became a less valuable, less
metal (the early belief that
railroads themselves caused the end of the shipment of goods (other
bulk goods) by lake steamer and paddleboat. Travelling all
the way by railroad once the lines began to connect made the overland
shorter and faster than the lake route, and there was no breaking of
(which was done twice in our scenario).
Ferry boats across the lake simply weren't as fast or as
going around the lake through
bridges began to proliferate across the