Fulfilling a Dream

By Greg Warth

How many of us have had the dream of building a model railroad? Some of us have actually accomplished it by building layouts within our own homes or clubs. I’ve always loved trains since I was six years old and got that first American Flyer around the Christmas tree. And as I was growing up, I would occasionally get to see a real layout built by one of my friend’s fathers. I loved seeing that and I always knew I wanted to build one for myself. I finally started the process in 1990 and after the 5th generation of layouts built and torn down, at age 76, I now have a small semblance of my original dream, in N scale, in a small room partitioned off the attic. It’s not perfect but I enjoy it.

The fun of doing that has never resolved, and even now, I am building new and smaller layouts, just because it’s…well, fun. And I want to share that enjoyment with others. And now, over the past 3 years, several of my model railroad companions and I have invested a huge amount of time and energy into a new dream - to create great layouts inside a large museum for others to see and enjoy and operate – something special and spectacular - something people will be excited to see and continue to visit over and over again. We are driven to accomplish this, just for the love of the hobby if for no other reason, and to see the fun and excitement in others’ eyes, young and old alike, when they experience it.

Other groups of model railroaders have done this. Consider the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, the Colorado Model Railroad Museum, the Texas City Museum, the Lehigh Valley and Keystone Club Railroad, just to name a few. Look even closer at Chesapeake Bay & Western RR in York County. These all started with a dream, a vision, a purpose, which eventually led to something great.

Imagine our own place in Tidewater, Virginia where we can build and develop our own “something great,” just as others have done in their areas – a place where you can create new ideas, use new technology, develop new works of 3-dimensional art for others to see and appreciate – a place where future generations of model railroaders will be born – a place where future engineers can learn about STEM/STEAM concepts. Visualize a modern, well-designed 15,000 square foot space inside the current MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) building in Virginia Beach, where ten different historical layouts demonstrate the eastern Virginia railroad development from the 1800s forward. Imagine school children visiting every Wednesday, families streaming in and out on all the other days. Students will be constantly building and rebuilding layouts to work toward getting scholarships. Imagine teaching interested students about how to build a model or create a miniature landscape.

We have already accumulated an enormous amount of railroad history to use for the Museum, along with a huge collection of historical digital railroad images. We intend to use this information to publish a book about the very interesting early railroad transportation history in Hampton Roads, which was instrumental in the industrial development of Virginia and the rest of the country. We have a storage unit that is amassing a huge amount of physical donations already provided by the public to use in the Museum. We have people calling frequently ready to volunteer in the Museum. Many call just to find out more about it and to ask whether it is open yet. There is definitely a lot of public interest.

We knew this wouldn’t be easy when we started this project, but when you’re driven by a dream, you just keep at it ‘till you get it. Quitting is not an option. We have the desire, the knowhow, the plans, the nonprofit organization, the website (MRMHR.org), and we even have found several possible locations including the MOCA, which will be vacant in a couple of years.

So, what’s the problem? 

None of us in our planning group has the personal financial resources that it would take to accomplish this alone. We are all donating what we can on a monthly basis to help grow the Museum’s bank account, but it’s slow going. We need a benefactor, but the two philanthropists that we’ve talked to want to see a facility, a building where this would be accomplished, a place where the dream can be visualized. Plus, they want to see that we have some “skin in the game,” so to speak.

One suggestion is to request some support from all the model railroaders in the area who would like to see this Museum develop. If all of us could provide a pledge of a certain amount per month of what we can afford, this would go a long way to help decide what kind of facility we could acquire, and it would demonstrate our commitment to the project. We would like to get something at least around 4000 square feet just to get started.

This would just be a pledge, not an actual payment yet. That would come later when we get a place. We just need to know how many would be willing to do this. We will also ask the public to contribute pledges as well. At the same time, we are continuing our quest for grants from major model railroad sellers and manufacturers. When we have enough pledges to support paying the lease for a small space initially, we can start moving forward. And once a philanthropist sees the commitment we and the public have demonstrated toward this project, we will be more likely to get a benefactor to support us.

Please note that this dream has nothing to do with membership in the NMRA, or any other model railroad club. It is a totally separate, standalone entity that requires support from you as an individual model railroader. A few have already stepped up to the plate and for that we are greatly appreciative.

We will get there eventually. As mentioned, quitting is not an option. We are dedicated to this project and will see it to its completion. Our dream is to one day see the doors of an interactive, informative museum open to those who love trains, models, and railroad history. We hope that is your dream as well.

If you wish to make a pledge, please let us know by sending an email to treasurer@mrmhr.org. Or go to the website and provide a monthly pledge or even a monthly donation if you wish to start now. Please feel free to browse our website to learn more… MRMHR.org

Make a pledge now! Something! Anything! You don’t actually have to pay anything until we have a place.

Let’s get something started.


 "This is a brand-new Brill interurban car just built and photographed in Philadelphia, Pa in 1907, the year the original Princess Anne Hotel burned down on the oceanfront at Virginia Beach. This is the builder's photo of number 56 of the original pre 1982 Norfolk Southern subsidiary line "Norfolk, Cape Henry & Virginia Beach." These arch toped clerestory windowed passenger cars were among the most beautiful pieces of early railroad equipment ever made!" 
  This is but one example of the ten thousand plus images gathered together by the museum's historian of railroad equipment not only in Hampton Roads and the Mid-Atlantic, but across the U. S. and beyond.


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