SEPGRS: A brief history to 2003

By Steve Wolfhope - a founding member

The beginnings of SEPGRS go back to July 1989 and a railroad related sojourn to Germany, Austria and Switzerland which the founding members-John Derr, Dick Gibbons (both now unfortunately deceased) and Steve Wolfhope were on. The trip included a full day with LGB including a factory tour. Several times, the three of us discussed the possibility and practicality of forming a large scale garden railroading club in the southeast area of Pennsylvania. There were already clubs in the northeastern part of the state (PAGRS) and the Washington, DC area (WVMGRS). Why not a club in between which could also serve South Jersey and Delaware? The three of us decided to discuss it further when we returned home.

1989

December 3, 1989-An organizational meeting was held at the home of John Derr. Signup/ interest sheets had been posted at several local hobby shops The turnout was small, but enthusiastic. It was decided to give the club a go with more advertising in hobby shops, word of mouth and a meeting early in 1990.

1990

January-The first club newsletter was sent out by Steve Wolfhope to those attending the December meeting, plus others who had noted their interest, and those we knew were into the large scale trains. By default, I became the newsletter editor, a job I held until January 1994.

February 11-The first club meeting was held at the home of Dick Gibbons in Douglasville, PA. Besides running trains, other club organizational items such as dues, structure, frequency of meetings and such were discussed. The SEPGRS club name was decided on at this meeting. Since this was the first official club meeting, 1990 is considered the starting year of SEPGRS.

April-The second club meeting was held at Richard Bartner's home in Richboro, PA-about 20 were in attendance.

June-The third meeting was held at Steve Wolfhope's home in King of Prussia, PA. At this meeting dues of $6 per year were set.

August 11 & 12-SEPGRS participated in it's first train show -a Greenberg Show at the old Philadelphia Civic Center. The club had a 28'×36' double track setup that was contained within the 50'×100' setup of the Tidewater BTO group from VA. SEPGRS signed up at least 12 new members from the show. Additional meetings were held in August (Hefter), September (McAllister), October (Spears) and November (Waterloo Gardens -Exton). We also did another Greenberg Show at the Philadelphia Civic Center in December.

October-The SEPGRS name was registered with the State of Pennsylvania.

It was a very busy first year for our fledgling club. There were about 50 members on the roster at the end of 1990.

1991

1991 brought more of the same club activities. There were home meetings almost every month from March through October. The first membership roster was published in May-there were 82 members/ families at this time. May-It was decided that the club should have a board of directors to plan and coordinate activities. Eight members were selected/elected to the first board. The first board consisted of: John Derr, Steve Gable, Nick Michalski, Bob Preston, Charles Sibre, Bill Tyson, Larry Walinsky and Steve Wolfhope. July-Dues were increased to $12.

August-The club was asked to support/run the Greenberg Large Scale modular layout at the Civic Center show.

September-The club initiated a program to obtain club track for various setups by asking each member to donate track and/or money. Each member was asked to donate two curved or straight pieces or $15. This program was very successful-much of that track is still in use today for the floor layout.

December-Another Greenberg show at the Civic Center in Philly was supported.

1992

More home layouts and train shows were on the schedule. A home layout was open every month from January through November.

March-The club displayed at our first Greenberg Show at the Valley Forge Convention Center. We were stuck in an area that had several support pillars to work around. The show organizers said they thought we could best utilize that area since ours was a floor layout. It kind of messed up the floor plan we were using at that time.

July-25 SEPGRS members/spouses attended the National Garden Railroad Convention in the Washington, DC area. The club had 107 members on the rolls at this time.

September-The Happy Train logo made it's debut in the club newsletter banner. It was designed by myself from some graphics that came with an early version of Corel Draw. Several attempts were made over the following years to come up with what many hoped would be a more "appropriate" logo, but nothing ever happened. It has survived the ages.

November-Several members supported a train setup for the Paoli Hospital Festival of Trees at the Valley Forge Military Academy. The trains were a real hit with the children. The club was incorporated during the second half of the year. Former member/lawyer Jeff Freeman took care of all the paperwork.

1993

More home layouts and Greenberg Shows were scheduled. In November the Paoli Hospital Festival of Trees was again supported. There were 115 members on the roster by September.

1994

More home layout visits were scheduled almost every month plus Greenberg shows in Pennsauken, NJ and Fort Washington, PA were supported. John Derr took over the newsletter in February.

August-About 20 SEPGRS members and spouses attended the National Garden Railroad Convention in Denver, CO. What a week of fun!

October 7, 8 & 9-SEPGRS held it's first Fall Large Scale Get-Together (mini-convention) at the Park Ridge Hotel in King of Prussia. A mini-convention is a scaled down version of the national garden railroad conventions. There were clinics, home layouts, dealers, model contest, and an outdoor layout including steam plus a banquet.

The WVMGRS group had been holding mini-conventions for several years and had been encouraging SEPGRS to take the plunge. We did and had a fantastic time. About 200 attended the weekend including participants from as far away as California and many from PA, New England, NY and Ohio, plus a large group from the WVMGRS club.

1995

There were home layouts and train shows scheduled throughout the year. Our first trailer was purchased mid-year to make the transport and storage of our growing floor layout supplies easier. No more breaking down the setup and finding members willing to store various boxes.

1996 & 1997

More home layouts and train shows were scheduled for both years. There appear to be no significant extra events that were supported either year. Pete Eggink took over the newsletter in January 1997.

1998

Along with regular meetings and Greenberg Train Shows we had the following special activities: June-The Morris Arboretum garden railroad was built by Paul Busse. Several SEPGRS members helped out over the two week period of the initial build. The grand opening was on July 5th. August 20-The first Railroad Enthusiast's Evening was held at the Morris Arboretum. Many SEPGRS members supported this activity by helping run the trains or by presenting clinics and Show & Tells. October 9, 10 & 11-SEPGRS held it's second (and last) Fall Large Scale Get-Together at the Holiday Inn in Bensalem, PA. It consisted of the usual home layout tours, clinics, dealers, model contest, on-site layout and a dinner on Saturday evening. Again we had attendees from as far as California plus those from the eastern states. Although the attendance wasn't as large as the 1994 Show, attendees had a good time.

1999 - 2002

The club had the usual schedule of home layouts and Greenberg and other train shows. The interest seemed to be waning with fewer members attending the club meetings. Jean Finer took over the newsletter in March 2001. But there was one major startup: Club Modules-The club modular layout came to be during 2001 after many years of discussion and at least one previous try. After several practice sessions during the summer and fall, the first setup for a club show was in December 2001 at Greenberg's in Fort Washington.

2003

This was an eventful year for SEPGRS. We had the usual schedule of home layout meetings and train shows, but there was a general feeling on the club board of directors that interest was waning among many members. Many of the original members were no longer active-from things such as death, illness, loss of interest in trains, moving, etc. As result of two boards meetings (in July and August) discussing the general ennui of many members it was felt that something drastic needed to be done. It was decided by the board, almost unanimously, that the club would close down at the end of 2003. This was done to hit the general membership with a solid 2×4. It worked-hopefully. This ended my direct involvement in SEPGRS.

The following have been held:

October 2003-There was a Fall Foliage outing to Jim Thorpe, PA to ride the train and view the fall coloring of the trees.

September 29 through October 2, 2005-SEPGRS held a bus trip to West Virginia and the western part of MD to ride the Durbin & Greenbrier RR (WVA), the Cass Scenic RR (WVA) and the Western Maryland Scenic RR (MD). About 30 members made the trip. It was fantastic with spectacular scenery, great train rides and fabulous fall weather.

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