“Troy is really where the iron and steel industry started in America,” says a volunteer model railroad curator to a group of incoming freshmen. The freshmen are part of the RPI Traditions tour group, a Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond event that exposes the students to RPI and Troy’s rich history. “For years, Troy was the fourth richest city in New York and the 16th richest in the country,” the volunteer continues. When asked what his favorite part of the model is Bud replied that he has no one favorite part, but rather enjoys how much it reminds him of his days at RPI back in the early 1960s.
The history of the model is almost as interesting as the history it represents. Construction of the railroad began in 1972 and has continued for more than 40 years. The model railroad began with a reconstruction of old Troy, but over the years it grew to include Saratoga, Bennington, Lake George, Green Island, and even expands as far north as Port Henry. Although the railroad now fills the entirety of the basement, work on it is constant as parts get worn out and historical inaccuracies are corrected.
“RPI students are always welcome to help build and maintain the railroad,” says William Gill, a curator of the railroad. “It attracts all kinds of students. Some who like to build. Some who like to help the train run. We even had one student who just liked to clean,” he continues. Gill himself worked on the railroad back in the late 1990s when it was already 20 years underway and came back after being employed by RPI.
Although Troy declined after the steel and textile industries left, the model railroad remains as a testament to its former greatness. RPI students, now and for generations to come, will be able to look at this lively and comprehensive reconstruction and connect to not only their school’s fascinating history, but also Troy’s.