Railroad enthusiasts preserve history with technology

RIT Tiger Tracks show headed to Gordon Field House

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David Wivell, RIT University News

Joseph Cermak, a second-year mechanical engineering major from Middlefield, Ohio, operates a train at the RIT Model Railroad Club.

More than 3,000 model train enthusiasts are expected to visit dozens of vendors and see several train layout displays during Rochester’s largest toy train event, RIT Tiger Tracks Train Show and Sale, set for Dec. 12 and 13 in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Gordon Field House.

The show, in its 10th year, is the primary fundraiser for the RIT Model Railroad Club, one of only seven college railroad clubs in the country. Proceeds will enable them to repair and add to their layouts.

“There are a lot of people interested in model trains,” said Matthew Glazer, a fifth-year electrical engineering student from Long Beach, N.Y., and president of RIT’s Model Railroad Club. “Either they remember their grandfathers with a train set, or seeing one around the Christmas tree, it brings back a lot of good memories for a lot of people.”

Otto Vondrak, who graduated from RIT in 1999 with a degree in graphic design, co-founded the RIT Model Railroad Club in 1996. He’s still spending his free time in the same space (Room A-420) on the ground floor of the Student Alumni Union the club had when they first formed.

“I figured if RPI had a model train club, we could too, and do it better,” Vondrak said with a smile.

The club began working on a new layout four years ago. RIT President Bill Destler drove in a miniature golden spike to join the tracks last year, but the project remains a work in progress, with constant additions to the scenery, buildings and tunnels. They also are working on digital electronic systems that run the display.

“We’ve created our own little world,” Glazer said. “It’s a good way to learn the area and keep the history preserved.”

That world, called the Rochester & Irondequoit Terminal (R&IT Genesee Route) is roughly the area between Buffalo and Syracuse, with scenes from the Genesee Brewery, Nick Tahou’s, Morse Lumber and businesses in Albion, Lockport and Niagara Falls.

“We really want to make it detailed to help preserve the history of the area,” Glazer said. The winding display fills much of their space, so there’s not much room to even sit.

Many of the trains on display now represent those built in the 1970s and ’80s, controlled through digital electronic systems. One device they use resembles a television remote and controls various things on their layouts, such as the speed of the trains, their course and their horns.

The club’s display will be open during the RIT Tiger Track show, but any RIT student is welcomed to join at any time. It’s a good way to learn more about trains, building scale models, electronics, scenery effects, computer software, and more.

About 20 students – of varying majors – and alumni are members of the club. They hold weekly meetings at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays to work on the display. They also take road trips to other train shows, sometimes driving a bit out of the way to see actual trains or old train stations.

Some members even volunteer as actual brakemen at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum, just a few miles south of the RIT campus in the hamlet of Industry.

But one of the best benefits is sharing their work with others, such as hosting the RIT Tiger Tracks show.

“I love seeing the little kids come,” said the club’s vice president, Nick Coriale, a fourth-year computer software engineering major from Penn Yan, N.Y. “Their little faces light up.”

The RIT Tiger Tracks Train Show & Sale is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 12 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Gordon Field House.

Admission is free for RIT students, alumni, faculty and staff with I.D. Admission for others is $5, $3 for senior and free for children under 12.

For more information, visit the RIT Tiger Tracks website.