Back in 1997, the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society attempted to establish The Center for Steam-Era Studies. The idea stemmed from their attempt to model the 1950’s through their New England Berkshire & Western layout. The club soon discovered that the world had changed drastically since then. They could no longer visit the places for inspiration because almost every structure that once stood in the 50’s was gone and replaced. The automobile now dominates a society once dependent on the railroad.
The Rensselaer Model Railroad Society resorted to researching the prototypes through books for their model railroad. Although plenty of technical books exist on the 1950’s, there is little information regarding the fine details that modelers care about. For example, it’s hard to find pictures of the little shacks or shanties and even harder to find the color they were painted back then. Black and white pictures can’t reveal the information modelers are looking for.
NEB&W Center for Steam-Era Studies
In part eight of the 10-part New England Berkshire & Western series, Allen Keller and John Nehrich discuss The Center for Steam-Era Studies. The project was an attempt to collect and distribute data regarding the steam-era in regards to railroading. The steam-era was at the end of the industrial revolution as it transitioned to the information age. It was a time when automobiles were making their presence but trains still impacted daily life.
The Rensselaer Model Railroad Society began writing a series of books and guides on the different aspects of steam-era railroading, specifically for modelers. They collected information and made it accessible to readers. The information in the guides was never final because they were constantly updating them based off reader feedback.
The Center for Steam-Era Studies aimed to provide more than just books and guides. Their goal was to develop courses about the steam-era topic as well as provide scholarships to attract students to the modeling hobby. Unfortunately, the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society did not have the funds to allow the center to flourish.
The New England Berkshire & Western layout serves as a preservation of the 1950’s era. The club believes their layout has value to direct research and can be used to educate people. The club is committed to raising money to maintain the layout. The NEB&W still operates to this day.