Every year late in January or early in February, the Amherst Railway Society holds its Railroad Hobby Show at the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds (The home of The Big E) in West Springfield Massachusetts. More than 22,500 railfans and public attended the Show each of the past five years.
The event features real life railroads and scale model railroads, historical societies, travel agencies, art shows, flea market dealers, importers, manufacturers and photographers. Modelers' exhibits will display outstanding handiwork on layouts ranging from the tiny Z scale which fits on a coffee table to a monster 80 foot N-Trak system. The Amherst Belt Lines, an HO scale model railroad empire, has become a show highlight. As of the 2011 show layout, it has grown to over 11 scale miles of mainline (650+ feet of mainline track) on 96 modules and has the capacity of multiple train operation. Live steam will also be shown. The Dry Hill Club will once again break records with 250+ car trains!
Commercial vendors and hobbyists will sell model railroad equipment, photos, slides, video tapes, books and other railroad memorabilia. New and antique railroad items will be on display and for sale. Major national manufacturers and publishers will attend this Show which was rated number one of the top three in the nation in a recent Model Railroad Industry Association manufacturer's survey. Watch for new product releases by many of our fantastic manufacturers!
Proceeds from the show are used to promote interest in railroads. Donations have been made to various rail museums, historical societies, restoration projects and scholarship funds. Over $775,000 has been awarded since 1991. Organizations that have received donations include: the Fall River and Old Colony Museum, the 470 Club's Boston and Maine diesel locomotive restoration project, the Boston and Maine Railroad Historical Society, the Chester Foundation Station Project and the Wiscasset Waterville and Farmington Building and Car Fund, just to name a few recipients. Trolley museums in the following towns have also received donations: Shelburne Falls MA, Warehouse Point CT, Branford CT and Kennebunk ME. We have also made contributions to the Boston and Maine 3713 restoration fund and the Flying Yankee restoration. If you wish to learn more about our grant program, please visit the Amherst Railway Society web site.
In the mid 1960's, the few members of the newly formed Amherst Railway Society thought that there should be some type of "get together" for folks (other than the members) to experience the hobby of Model Railroading.
Feb. 20, 1968 - This notation was logged into the minutes - “unusually large collection of locomotives and cars displayed; 68 members."
Feb. 18, 1969 - This evening was called “Modeler Night.” This evening included displays, models and photos. Extra tables and flood lights were provided. The meeting was in Goessman Hall on the UMASS Amherst campus.
Feb. 17, 1970 - This evening was called “Annual Model RR Night” and included displays, models, auction, tape/slide clinic. The event met in Skinner Auditorium on the UMASS Amherst campus. The meeting began at 7:45 p.m. and lasted for 90 minutes.
Feb. 16, 1971 - The evening was called “Model RR Night” and included an auction, displays and more. The evening began at 8:00 p.m. and was held at Engineering East on the campus of UMASS Amherst.
Feb. 15, 1972 - Again, the evening was called “Model RR Night” and included everything from the previous year. This year, however, the meeting was moved to the second floor of Memorial Hall.
Feb. 20. 1973 - For a third consecutive year, the evening was called “Model RR Night” and the meeting was held in the Commonwealth Room of the Student Union.
Feb. 19, 1974 - This would be the final year for “Model RR Night,” which changed its venue slightly with displays and films. New to this year was a tag sale and not an auction. It was once again held in the Commonwealth Room of the Student Union on the UMASS Amherst campus.
Feb.18, 1975 - The first “Model RR Day” consisted of displays, films, a tag sale and more. It began at 2:00 p.m. and lasted to 5pm, again in the Commonwealth Room of the Student Union. This Annual show would continue with the same venue in the same location until 1978.
Feb. 18, 1979 - The first “Big RR Hobby Show” was held with the first preliminary coupon in January which included a meeting notice that highlighted layouts, displays, clinics, films, live steam, flea market, and more; 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., Ballroom and Commonwealth Room, Student Union. The Amherst Railway Society's HO Scale Modular Layout made its first appearance.
Feb. 17, 1980 - In 1980, the “Big RR Hobby Show” had its first N-Trak modular layout along with displays and more. At this point in time, the show was still a 4 hour, one day show.
Feb. 15, 1981 - This would be the final year of the “Big RR Hobby Show” in the Ballroom and Commonwealth Room in the Student Union on the UMASS Amherst Campus. Up to and including this show, the admission was free and the Amherst Railway Society only asked for a small donation at the door.
Feb. 21, 1982 - The “Big RR Hobby Show” outgrows the space at the UMASS Student Union. The Show moves to the New England Center Building, on the Eastern States Exposition Grounds. This first show lasts for a whopping 5 hours (noon - 5:00pm) and because of the increased expenses of the new location, an admission is charged for the first time: $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children. This first show is called the "Train Collectors’ Showcase."
February 26, 1983 - For the next three years, the "Big RR Hobby Show" continues to be held in the New England Center. 1985 would be the last year that the Show was held in the New England Center.
In 1986, the Show moved to the much larger Better Living Center, but still remained a one day event.
In 1991, the Show expanded to two days.
In 1995, the Show increased in size to exhibit in the Better Living Center and Young Building.
In 2000, the Show increased again to now include the Stroh Building. The venue has not changed until 2008.
In 2007, the Show is formally renamed, "Amherst Railway Society's Railroad Hobby Show."
In 2008, the Show expanded to include the front portion of the Mallary Complex known as Mallary North.
In 2010, the Show expanded to include the "north half" of the huge Mallary Complex directly connected to Mallary North, bringing the total square footage of floor space to over 300,000 square feet or just over 7 acres of exhibit area!
In 2011, the Show took a few more square feet in the Mallary Complex (15,000), bringing the total square footage to just over a third of a million square feet!
In 2012, the Show reconfigured some of the buildings to accommodate the new stage and clinic area! The buildings are also fitted with video feeds so that clinic announcements, exhibitor locations and more can be made throughout the day.
In 2014, the Show presents its first full size railroad car sitting on a length of track (2-ft gauge), a milk car, courtesy of the Wiscassett, Waterville and Farmington Railroad Museum. The Show grows to over 350,000 square feet or just over 8 acres. It now takes more than a day to see all the exhibitors at what is now considered the largest show of its kind in North America!
In 2016, a record breaking 50+ operating model railroads were on display.
In 2017, The Show has its first live Steam Locomotive rolling up and down 100 feet of track. Thanks to the folks at Boothbay and Edaville. You should have been there for the opening horn and whistle....it was a sight!!!!
In 2018, we celebrate our 50th Anniversary Show! We have increased the size to accommodate the number of folks that wanted to participate. Operating layouts are now a record breaking 60+ and we are over the 375,000 square foot mark - 9 acres of trains!
In 2019, we eek out just a few more square feet to accommodate growing layouts and exhibitors, bring the total very close to the half million square foot mark, making this truly a 2-day Show in order to see it all!
In 2020, we have a record-breaking year with attendance as well as grant monies raised for other deserving non-profit, railroad related organizations, as well as a scholarship to Rail Camp, USA!
In 2021, the pandemic had hit the country hard, including West Springfield, MA. The in-person Show was cancelled but was replaced with a marathon VIRTUAL Show that lasted 8 hours on Saturday and 7 hours on Sunday (January 30th and 31st, 2021). We were able to show over 100,000 viewers that this hobby and its related endevours are alive and well!
In 2022, the Amherst Railway Society experienced some of the worst weather ever seen on the weekend of the Train Show. West Springfield experienced high winds and 5-8 inches of snow, true blizzard conditions. Just east of the area, snow was recorded as high as 24-30 inches through eastern Massachusetts and New England, leaving little time to attend the Show after the weekend of "digging out."