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Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT

An overview of Gifford City, a major urban and industrial area on the Tech Nickel Plate (a pun on "Technical" and the old Nickel Plate Road ). Many buildings were saved from the old layout in Building 20. Gifford City is loosely based on scenes in the greater Boston area. 105th Street Station can be seen at lower left. The Coca-Bubblie building is at lower right. Some building walls are secured using magnets, for easy access to building interiors.
An overview of Gifford City, a major urban and industrial area on the Tech Nickel Plate (a pun on "Technical" and the old Nickel Plate Road ). Many buildings were saved from the old layout in Building 20. Gifford City is loosely based on scenes in the greater Boston area. 105th Street Station can be seen at lower left. The Coca-Bubblie building is at lower right. Some building walls are secured using magnets, for easy access to building interiors.
A view from the Tower, overlooking Gifford City and MIT alum Andy Miller (looking up). Engine terminal is seen at lower left. Tower FY is just out of sight at right. The Masonite pieces are a model for a rolling-lift bridge planned for this site, currently in the design phases. A view from the Tower, overlooking Gifford City and MIT alum Andy Miller (looking up). Engine terminal is seen at lower left. Tower FY is just out of sight at right. The Masonite pieces are a model for a rolling-lift bridge planned for this site, currently in the design phases.

Gifford City passenger station, mostly scratchbuilt by Andy Miller. A stiff wind has blown over many of the local citizens, and cars struggle to stay on the road! The heroic war figure statue is none other than General Lee! Notice the TNP E-unit idling below.

Gifford City passenger station, mostly scratchbuilt by Andy Miller. A stiff wind has blown over many of the local citizens, and cars struggle to stay on the road! The heroic war figure statue is none other than General Lee! Notice the TNP E-unit idling below.
A platform level view of the Gifford City station. The TNP's crack streamliner The Aaron Burr waits patiently on one of the terminal tracks. Platforms will see the addition of canopies in the near future. John Purbrick is adding functional dwarf signals to the station tracks. A platform level view of the Gifford City station. The TNP's crack streamliner The Aaron Burr waits patiently on one of the terminal tracks. Platforms will see the addition of canopies in the near future. John Purbrick is adding functional dwarf signals to the station tracks.
This was the first example of a MIRTA train I saw on the layout. It was never quite explained to me, except that the transit and commuter items are the work of a single member who enjoys painting models for this fictional authority. MIRTA's paint scheme looks loosely based on the MBTA, Boston's transit and commuter carrier. This was the first example of a MIRTA train I saw on the layout. It was never quite explained to me, except that the transit and commuter items are the work of a single member who enjoys painting models for this fictional authority. MIRTA's paint scheme looks loosely based on the MBTA, Boston's transit and commuter carrier.
With Gifford City Station to our back, we look up the mainline to see the large Railway Express Agency building on the left. TMRC has done some very nice things with multi-story buildings, having structures go above and below street level. Notice the graceful handlaid turnouts! With Gifford City Station to our back, we look up the mainline to see the large Railway Express Agency building on the left. TMRC has done some very nice things with multi-story buildings, having structures go above and below street level. Notice the graceful handlaid turnouts!
This view looks back towards the REA warehouse. Andy Miller scratchbuilt this interesting truss bridge- perhaps you noticed that one side is longer than the other? Notice the modeled expansion joint towards the left of the bridge. Yes. That's a zipper. Pretty clever, huh? This view looks back towards the REA warehouse. Andy Miller scratchbuilt this interesting truss bridge- perhaps you noticed that one side is longer than the other? Notice the modeled expansion joint towards the left of the bridge. Yes. That's a zipper. Pretty clever, huh?
If you were driving your HO scale big rig over one of Andy Miller's bridges, this is what you would see (notice the zipper expansion joint) The lines were created by painting the road surface yellow, then masking off the lines with 1/64" chart tape. The road was then painted black, and the tape removed, exposing the yellow stripes beneath. If you were driving your HO scale big rig over one of Andy Miller's bridges, this is what you would see (notice the zipper expansion joint) The lines were created by painting the road surface yellow, then masking off the lines with 1/64" chart tape. The road was then painted black, and the tape removed, exposing the yellow stripes beneath.
A nifty MIRTA trolley car crosses an equally nifty Miller-built bridge. The prototype for this bridge was torn down shortly after Andy took his research photos! You'll notice trolley tracks all over the city- most of them are dummy tracks, but I was told at least one line will be powered with overhead wire. A nifty MIRTA trolley car crosses an equally nifty Miller-built bridge. The prototype for this bridge was torn down shortly after Andy took his research photos! You'll notice trolley tracks all over the city- most of them are dummy tracks, but I was told at least one line will be powered with overhead wire.
The author stands next to a famous piece of R&IT/RITMRC propaganda. There were a few other pieces of RITMRC paraphernalia present, we promised to supply more in the future! The author stands next to a famous piece of R&IT/RITMRC propaganda. There were a few other pieces of RITMRC paraphernalia present, we promised to supply more in the future!
James demonstrates the home-brew software that is used to run the layout. The software allows you to select a train, set its route, and allow it to be run automatically. In essence, they have created a system of Automatic Block Control, along with Automatic Train Stop. If a train enters a block that it is already occupied (equivelent to passing a red signal), then that train is stopped. When the block ahead is clear, the train is allowed to proceed. This software also allows you to scroll to any area of the layout, and to throw switches by simply clicking on them! This laptop is assigned to this staging yard, but can control any portion of the railroad. James demonstrates the home-brew software that is used to run the layout. The software allows you to select a train, set its route, and allow it to be run automatically. In essence, they have created a system of Automatic Block Control, along with Automatic Train Stop. If a train enters a block that it is already occupied (equivalent to passing a red signal), then that train is stopped. When the block ahead is clear, the train is allowed to proceed. This software also allows you to scroll to any area of the layout, and to throw switches by simply clicking on them! This laptop is assigned to this staging yard, but can control any portion of the railroad.
Another laptop control at Gifford City, hidden by the REA building. Notice the rapid transit subway station below? More on that in a moment. The REA building can be updated to be an Amtrak Express warehouse- the sign is applied to a piece of tin can, and a magnet inside the building holds it in place. Depending on the era, the sign can be reversed to represent the current tenant. Another laptop control at Gifford City, hidden by the REA building. Notice the rapid transit subway station below? More on that in a moment. The REA building can be updated to be an Amtrak Express warehouse- the sign is applied to a piece of tin can, and a magnet inside the building holds it in place. Depending on the era, the sign can be reversed to represent the current tenant.
A trolley subway station, located below the REA building area. Looks like it is based on MBTA's Green Line subway. A very simple, but effective set-up: the walls are made from tile-textured styrene, and the beams are pieces of Plastruct channel. A trolley subway station, located below the REA building area. Looks like it is based on MBTA's Green Line subway. A very simple, but effective set-up: the walls are made from tile-textured styrene, and the beams are pieces of Plastruct channel.
Tower FY, made from an Ertl plastic kit. Yes, the signal bridge is equipped with working signals. The plywood area to the left is to be a river crossing, complete with working lift bridges. Notice the industrial siding that is buried in the pavement. Paved areas on the layout are created by using a special mix of plaster and carbon black. This way, if the road surface gets chipped, no one will notice, since the plaster itself is colored. Tower FY, made from an Ertl plastic kit. Yes, the signal bridge is equipped with working signals. The plywood area to the left is to be a river crossing, complete with working lift bridges. Notice the industrial siding that is buried in the pavement. Paved areas on the layout are created by using a special mix of plaster and carbon black. This way, if the road surface gets chipped, no one will notice, since the plaster itself is colored.
Over in the Gifford City engine terminal, we see a MIRTA RDC and a Conrail switcher resting between runs. Over in the Gifford City engine terminal, we see a MIRTA RDC and a Conrail switcher resting between runs.
Andy Miller demonstrates the elegant turntable control. "First, you turn the time circuits 'on.'" Actually, all you do is punch up the number of the track you want to line up with, and the motor does the rest! Andy Miller demonstrates the elegant turntable control. "First, you turn the time circuits 'on.'" Actually, all you do is punch up the number of the track you want to line up with, and the motor does the rest!
The old master panel and clock from the previous layout. Lights would indicate block occupation. I don't think the track plan refers to the current layout, but the clock is still used and maintains correct time. This clock can also run "fast-time" for regular operating sessions. I assume the numbers correspond to switch locations. Notice the mirror that allows operators an unrestricted view of Gifford City trackage. Also notice the directional track lighting. The old master panel and clock from the previous layout. Lights would indicate block occupation. I don't think the track plan refers to the current layout, but the clock is still used and maintains correct time. This clock can also run "fast-time" for regular operating sessions. I assume the numbers correspond to switch locations. Notice the mirror that allows operators an unrestricted view of Gifford City trackage. Also notice the directional track lighting.
A busy industrial area near Gifford City and 105th Street station. The Bassex House was created by kitbashing two Bachmann Ambassador Hotels together. A busy industrial area near Gifford City and 105th Street station. The Bassex House was created by kitbashing two Bachmann Ambassador Hotels together.
105th Street station, and a bridge that was NOT scratchbuilt by Andy Miller, but by a recent MIT graduate. The tracks in the foreground are the mainline, while the freight runner is off to the right. Notice the different bridges, and ballasting techniques. 105th Street station, and a bridge that was NOT scratchbuilt by Andy Miller, but by a recent MIT graduate. The tracks in the foreground are the mainline, while the freight runner is off to the right. Notice the different bridges, and ballasting techniques.
Reverse engineering from extraterrestrial technology? James examines the dimensions of an NCE ProCab to see if they can adapt if for their own system. Reverse engineering from extraterrestrial technology? James examines the dimensions of an NCE ProCab to see if they can adapt if for their own system.
No magic under here, it looks just like the RITMRC layout. Tortoise machines drive the turnouts. The only difference is that the Tortoise machines are hooked into "switch cards" that provide the electronic interface with System 3. No magic under here, it looks just like the RITMRC layout. Tortoise machines drive the turnouts. The only difference is that the Tortoise machines are hooked into "switch cards" that provide the electronic interface with System 3.
Peeking into the tower. The tower is not used much anymore, since the railroad is designed for walkaround control. Today, the tower is used more by visitors. However, I assume that trains can be controlled from this station. Notice the presence of the slave clock built into the desktop. Peeking into the tower. The tower is not used much anymore, since the railroad is designed for walkaround control. Today, the tower is used more by visitors. However, I assume that trains can be controlled from this station. Notice the presence of the slave clock built into the desktop.
The author standing at the entrance to TMRC. The folks at MIT were very gracious to us, and expressed a true enthusiasm for the hobby and for their work. We hope they come to visit Rochester some time! The author standing at the entrance to TMRC. The folks at MIT were very gracious to us, and expressed a true enthusiasm for the hobby and for their work. We hope they come to visit Rochester some time!

By Otto M. Vondrak/Photos by the author

TMRC Logo

Quick- what is MIT's mascot? You'll never guess it's the beaver. In many ways, the beaver is like an MIT student- a hard working engineer that does most of its best work at night, and is often made fun of by the other animals because of its appearance.

While visiting Boston on December 21 to document the PCC trolleys run by MBTA, my friend Josh Weis and I paid a visit to the Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT. I had been in e-mail contact with many of their members over the years, and I met several of them that night. MIT alum Andy Miller was our host for most of the evening; I also had the chance to meet Joseph Onorato, and John Purbrick (also alumni). I also met two recent grads, who asked only to be identified as"Ed" and "James," no doubt to protect the innocent. Little did they know that I was sent to spy on them and report on the progress of their HO scale Tech Nickel Plate.

We had heard that there was a collegiate group of model rails in Cambridge, but no direct contact had been made in years. My commanders in Rochester were afraid that the techies in Cambridge were developing some sort of Inter-Collegiate Ballistic Boxcar or something. I was sent out to do some reconnaissance and report back to RIT; to evaluate the possible threat, and outright steal some of their best ideas and techniques.

The TMRC can trace its roots back to 1946. As expected, the club's main focus has always been the development of home-built control solutions, using the skills they were learning at school. The club has managed to build two very complex automatic block control systems (called System 1 and System 2, respectively) based on telephone relay hooked up to an early Digital PDP-11 computer. Only last year did they cut in the successor System 3, which employs today's microchips and software technology.

This is not to say that their modeling suffers at the expense of electronic functionality. All track is handlaid, except for temporary or hidden connections where flex is used. Most structures on the layout are kitbashed or scratchbuilt. Carefully built models of common bridges and crossings seem to be present everywhere. As the original TNP was borne out of a time where puns were a popular form of humor, there are many interesting names on the layout. Want to go shopping at the Caveat Emptor Department Store? Maybe you just need to stop quickly at Fiefeinger's Discount? All that running around must have made you thirsty, here, let's stop for a cool Coca-Bubblie. Clever puns and a special slang lingo have been a long-standing tradition at TMRC, which is considered by many to the birthplace of "hacking" (not the destructive intrusion of computers, but a quick, inelegant solution to a problem).

I arranged for a meeting over the phone, introducing myself as a fellow collegiate model railroader. Everyone I met down at the club was very gracious, and spent many hours with us explaining what they were working on, sharing techniques, and discussing model railroading in general. They were also curious about our progress in Rochester, and had admitted that they had not seen our web site in quiet some time. I walked them through some of our site, and showed them some of our key accomplishments. They were equally impressed with the guiding principles of the R&IT concept, as well as our general layout design for operation.

Presented here are some images I captured while visiting. The TNP is based loosely on the Boston area and Eastern railroading in general. No specific prototype is followed. While only some scenery is complete, they have a functional mainline, and are coming closer to completing the rest or the layout every day. In the works are plans for a helix to allow running to a second level, and an additional yard.

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