Railroad Model Craftsman Extra Board

Texas Northern Model Railroad Club

A pair of bright red-and-silver Santa Fe SD75Ms heads up a double-stack train to the Palestine Intermodal yard on the Texas Northern Model Railroad Club layout.

Texas Northern Model Railroad Club

August 2023by Dan Munson/photos by the author

One of our biggest challenges, we face as model railroaders is space. We would all love to have the space to model the Northern Pacific main line over the mountain passes of Montana, the Baltimore & Ohio’s Sand Patch grade in Maryland and Pennsylvania, maybe just the BNSF Railway and Union Pacific crossing over Cajon Pass in southern California. Sometimes we would just like the space to run our 14-car California Zephyr, or our long double-stack train complete with distributed power. Unfortunately, our basements are only so big, and so we compromise.

But there are places where we can run our long trains on a grand scale through detailed scenery, and also enjoy the camaraderie of others while working together to build the layout of our dreams. Model Railroad clubs not only serve a great purpose within our hobby, but can also serve a purpose in the greater community. This is the story of such a club.

The Texas Northern Model Railroad Club (TNMRC) got their start in 1970. Just like most clubs, their locations have changed over the years. One of the challenges of most all clubs is being able to secure a large, permanent location for their model railroad. TNMRC has been in no less than six different locations, including malls, warehouses, and even in the back of a hobby shop. In 1999, the club moved into their current location in a Dallas business park, filling a 4,000 sq. ft. climate-controlled warehouse space.

Texas Northern Model Railroad Club

ABOVE: MKT 2-8-0 621 hauls a 40-car mixed freight past the sprawling U.S. Steel Mill complex at Gary. The steel mill is one of a number of industries found on the club layout.

The other challenges that clubs face is membership growth. Members come and go for a variety of reasons, including family, financial, interest, and lifestyle changes. One of the ways TNMRC was able to increase members was by merging with North Dallas Modular Railroad Club back in 1997. While the merger brought in new thoughts, ideas, and concepts, it did not bring the expected growth in membership. By 2016, membership had dwindled to just 23. That same year the club made the move to the Collin Creek Shopping Mall. Coupled with new management and an agressive marketing program, membership steadily grew. Thanks to a consistent investment in the layout and club room infrastructure, TNMRC currently has over 90 members, making it one of the largest clubs in the state of Texas.

The club is currently home to the largest permanent model railroad exhibit in the Dallas area. The HO scale layout is more than 1,700 sq. ft., with a small N scale layout recently added to the mix. The HO scale layout can accommodate both DC and DCC operation.

Texas Northern Model Railroad Club

ABOVE: Every big layout needs a locomotive shop and the Northern Texas Model Railroad Club is no exception. MKT Baldwin S12 34 is about to enter the Heavy Shop Facility at Palestine for prime mover repairs.

One of the concepts that came out of the merger of the two clubs was the use of modular style benchwork when building the current layout. This gave them a standard for the benchwork and the electrical infrastructure on the layout. While the current layout is more permanent than modular, the standards will make it easier to move, if that time comes.

The core of the layout is standard modular plywood tabletop design; additions are made from L-girder benchwork with plywood tops and Atlas cork roadbed is used throughout. Track on the layout is Code 100, mostly Atlas flex. Switches are a combination of Shinohara/Lambert and Peco. All switches are powered using either Tortoise or Switchmaster. Controls are mounted on panels on the front of the layout. Their next big project is building a working wayside signal system.

Texas Northern Model Railroad Club

ABOVE: BNSF GE ES44C4 4254 pulls a short grain train around the curve at Cook Farm. On a club layout, it’s possible to see trains from many different eras, but this farm scene seems to work with most.

The club uses a combination of foam with plaster/Hydrocal for scenery base. Their Intermodal yard was made using lightweight spackling material. The club used many types of trees but currently use the large Scenic Express SuperTree bulk tree kits. Static grass is evident over most of the layout. Club members try to customize or scratchbuild structures to avoid cookie-cutter designs. The club is constantly upgrading both scenic and technology aspects of the layout. Artistic expression is a critical part of the club’s success.

The club has regular operating sessions on the HO scale layout on Tuesday evenings. Currently, they use Easy DCC and Java/Model Railroad Interface (J/MRI) software. The operations group also uses J/MRI to generate train movements creating printed switchlists instead of a car card system. Almost all members utilize smart phones or tablets for throttles. A typical session can host anywhere from 15 to 30 operators…

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This article was posted on: July 15, 2023