After Spring Break, my friends and I were discussing the new door that popped up on the side of Davison Hall. I told them that the new door allowed the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society to access the New England, Berkshire, & Western model railroad; a historically accurate model of the New England railways as they were in the 1950s. We heard that the club was running their trains on April 25 and that it was open to the public, so we decided to go take a look.
The new entrance felt more welcoming than the last time I had been to the display during Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond 2014. My friends and I wandered through the various towns and countrysides modeled by the club, observing the extreme level of detail and members of the club enthralled in their work. When we reached the very back where we met John Nehrich, an RPI graduate and member of the club since 1968, he immediately offered to give us a tour, since it was very clear we had no idea what was going on. Once per semester, the club members get together to run their trains and simulate what it would have been like to organize the rails. Passenger and cargo trains travel from station to station on a time table, filling out information at each stop to keep things running.
What I really love about this model is their effort to bring historical accuracy to a truly remarkable time in Troy’s history. Nehrich feels that the model railroad hobby has become inbred over the years. Clubs look at what other groups are doing and try to model that, instead of looking outside their basements and garages to the real thing. NEB&W prides itself in being the largest collection of historically accurate railroad models in the world.
Before adding or changing something, research is done using old photos, insurance maps, and sometimes a bit of guesswork. Nehrich says that doing all of the research and construction, rather than purchasing pre-built models, makes the rich history of the era more intimate. John gave me an unexpected but absolutely fascinating history of Troy. I think we as students see Troy as “just the town that RPI happens to be in,” when Troy was once a hugely successful town. I never knew that at one point Troy was the fourth richest city per capita in the United States, or that as many as 135 passenger trains in 1915 passed through the station that used to be across the street from Blitman Commons.
I really think that every student should find an opportunity to see this amazing model and learn about Troy’s prosperous past. Nehrich works in the Mueller Center and is available for Whistle Stop Tours on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I highly recommend his brief tour.