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The Club Layout

The year was 1968, Cape Cod was a hotbed of model railroading and a combination of locals, washashores and summeristas got together to put a layout together that would keep everyone having fun in the summer and busy in the winter. The real railroads were entering a final, terminal phase of their lives that would culminate in the ill-fated Penn Central and it's subsequent demise in the early seventies. Anything that could be sold or unloaded was fair game and the will and the enthusiasm for a new home for a club in West Barnstable was ready to be tapped.The Viaduct

West Barnstable in retrospect, and probably at the time as well, seemed a good match for the club. The West Barnstable Station sat on land owned by the Lombard Trust making rents more viable that other areas of the town. Acquiring a train carriage was the next step and of course having a spot near existing tracks made the move more affordable. In the late sixties, a group of members scouting the area were able to recommend several pieces that the railroad might be willing to sell or give away. A boxcar, originalThe Viaductly designed as a travel van for horses was discovered in a state of neglect. Dating from 1910, the car was only just able to be moved via rail; similarly, the railroad was pleased to seal the transaction and be done with the car for the fee of $1.

The Cape Cod Central Railroad (1968-2013)

Following a sympathetic restoration, the Club was ready to build a world class model railroad by the Autumn of 1968. The railroad would be called the Cape Cod Central, and construction began on the bench work to incorporate the myriad of track work that the new layout would support.

The ViaductModel Railroads of the 1970 were often fixated on trackage, especially long runs and the ability to have a multitude of engines on the layout. In search of "prototypical" (the real thing) operation, club members wanted to be doing a lot of switching and moving on the new railroad. Real Locomotives however, ran on diesel fuel whereas model locomotives ran on a direct current of electricity. The only way to allow two engines to run simultaneously was to separate the power into unique "blocks." This required a huge amount of unique electrical work that was best maintained by a few individuals, mostly the original architects of the layout.

The members determined to build a large passenger yard that would represent the Back Bay area of Boston where the New Haven Railroad was located and The Viaducton a different section they constructed a replica of Hyannis Yard with a number of specially scratch built structures that made direct reference to the prototype. When the layout construction was complete at the end of 1968, the project was turned over to the wiring hotshots who would make sure the sparks would fly. At the time, the layout was not simply unique, but state of the art as well. Wired into carefully selected blocks with manual turnouts and good access, the new layout was ready to be scenic'd.

The end result was a well built, carefully scenic'd model railroad with numerous opportunities for photos of trains running through tunnels, canyons and weathered scratch built structures. Even the most ardent club supporter had to agree that there was little resemblance to the real railroad that ran on Cape Cod. While the Hyannis Yard retained a degree of accuracy, the topography was inaccurate or inconsistent despite the high level of skill expended in the original application.

The ViaductFor the members, it was a layout to be proud of; as well as one that would immediately assert a new for a high level of maintenance. Along with the ambition for empires of model railroad trackage, was often forgotten the similar mantra of prototypical railroads: "it's not the track, it's the maintenance..." Model Railroad trackage takes ongoing cleaning to ensure dirt does not affect the electrical connections and it was soon discovered that dust respects no boundaries. Areas of difficult, if not impossible access, needed to be cleaned or a train might enter a tunnel never to emerge. Running such a large layout on direct current voltage was always challenging, and troubleshooting was often a complicated task. The layout for the most part was in place for the enjoyment of the members; guests were invited several times a year for an open house but little thought was given to how people could move around the layout or get up steep steps. Hosting the general public wasn't a regular event and as such wasn't planned for.

The Club run along nicely for the better part of twenty years, passing the torch along to a new generation and making improvements to the layout as time marched on. Members would generally assume a degree of responsibility for a section of the layout and eiThe Viaductther work on it, improve the scenery or make additions all the while running trains. A third generation of members began to get heavily involved in the middle nineties as they began to retire and began to notice some disturbing trends. Traditional outdoor hobbies were being eclipsed by video games which continued to develop as astonishing technological paces. This brave new world was especially confusing to the regular genre of model railroaders who were mostly middle and upper middle class, older white guys and often were behind the ball in terms of adoption and understanding of technology. Boys always followed the same trajectory: trains were fascinating and clubs relied on a cadre of young members for open house support, generally until about 16 when they discovered girls. Somewhere around age 60, these boys, now nearing the age of retirement, recalled the great times of the hobby during their youth and with time on their hands, were once again ready to build a new empire of model railroading. The hobby had struggled to stay relevant as younger generations grew up having never ridden on a steam passenger locomotive. Challenged by fast paced, interactive video games, model railroaders openly wondered if the future of the hobby was solely in the realm of collectors and museums.

Instead two important developments at the turn of the 21st Century contributed to changing the way the club looked at itself. First, the entire electronics landscape changed. A new type of control for model railroaders called Digital Command Control emerged that allowed locomotives to be individually controlled by microprocessor. Second the rise of Ebay developed a steady second-hand market that gave manufacturers a new business model. Train manufacturers began to take pre-orders and produce limited supplies of new material raising prices and demand for new inventory as well as on the secondary market. For the Cape Cod Central, the club began to eye the need to convert the layout from DC to DCC in the early 2000's. It would be no easy task, as access was now needed to parts of the layout that had been closed off long ago. The project commenced in earnest in 2005 and was completed by 2009 allowing members to run locomotives prototypically all over the layout.

However the maintenance efforts required to keep the Cape Cod Central running were quickly sapping the resources and energy of the third generation of club members. Despite the conversion, serious electrical issues remained within the layout and keeping the track clean had become an impossibly long task. Much of the trackage was old and unused and in the middle of things, a dispute had raised that would nearly tear the club apart.

At the far end of the Cape Cod Central was the famous "mountain" of the layout. The reason for it's creation by the original members was shrouded in mystery but two things were agreed upon by everybody: 1. model trains running around or through the mountain tended to disappear with alarming regularity and 2. no mountain of any height has existed on Cape Cod since at least glacial times.

The need for the mountain to be either scrapped or at the very least re-configured to work was evident to almost everyone. Regrettably the final work was done with an absence of communication and the result was the mountain was unceremoniously removed with no plan for a replacement. Many members were outraged, more about the issue of communication and procedure and many members left the club in frustration.

As much as the removal of the mountain was an important learning point for club governance and how to keep everyone involved in important decision making, it exposed the reality that the club had outgrown it's permanent layout. Although the layout retains the beauty and detail of the construction of forty years prior, the functionality is irreparably damaged and the maintenance needs far above what a small club membership is able to offer. In addition, the mission of the club has changed in the past few years as we look to bring an educational approach to model and prototypical railroading via status as a not-for-profit entity. The current layout is in no way compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act that governs requirements for regular visits from the general public.

In April 2013, the club made the difficult decision to remove the Cape Cod Central and replace it with a smaller, point-to-point railroad that closely models the Old Colony Line from Buzzards Bay to Hyannis. The club has established three groups to lead the transition to a new permanent layout:

The Old Colony Division (2013-)

Like any hobby, it is essential to stay fresh in order to become a idea exchange that attracts new members. Our new layout is planned to be able to introduce visitors to the great hobby of model railroading as well as to educate people about the long history of railroads on Cape Cod.

We are fortunate to have the Cape Cod Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society located at the West Barnstable Train Station as well as the Cape Cod Scenic Railroad stopping trains every Saturday in the summer at the complex.

We aim to be a part of this important group of organizations committed to improving the way of life in the village of West Barnstable. In 2013 we will be renovating our baggage car home as we build a layout worthy of welcoming visitors to West Barnstable on Saturdays throughout the summer.

We welcome your help, ideas and support. We are looking for railroad enthusiasts as well as friends with experience in carpentry, structure repair, electronics and administration. Surprisingly, our club really has a very small time commitments, but we're pleased to have the chance to offer much to our community.