|History of the GSMRM and EBMES
|Updated: October 11, 2021
While the Golden State Model Railroad Museum is only 31 years old (2016), the group of people that build and operate the layouts inside it, namely the East Bay Model Engineers Society, is one of the oldest and largest clubs of its kind in the world. What follows is the story of our long and colorful history, assembled by passed club members Paul J. Soito and Ken Shattock.
The Early Years (1930-1940)
The East Bay Model Engineers Society was founded in 1933 and ranks as one of the oldest modelling clubs in the nation.
The following history leading to the formation of EBMES was posted by Ken Shattock, past member, on the Trainorders Forum, "Model Railroading", in December 2008. His commentary and photographs from his extensive archive are reproduced here with his kind permission.
In 1930 there was a group of modelers who were interested in a variety of models: electric trains, steam-powered trains, boats, race cars and model airplanes. The group was known as the "Golden Gate Model Engineers Guild" . They were headquartered in San Francisco and published a monthly bulletin for the members, known as "The Guildsman". Besides having their own private meetings, the "Guild" would also put on public displays of their models to let the general public see what their organization was all about and to possibly attract new members.
The following five photos show some of these early public displays in the windows of San Francisco department stores. You can see that Stationary engines and other types of "power models" were also included. One of the department stores in San Francisco that participated with these displays was the "Emporium" on Market Street.
By 1937, "Eastbay" was strictly a model railroad club. Around 1938--1939, the Club took up residence in the "Key System" headquarters building at 22nd & Grove Streets in downtown Oakland, near the present day Greyhound Bus Depot.
Golden Gate International Exposition(1939-1940)
The following reminiscences and pictures from the Sante Fe Railroad's brochure from the Exposition were also provided by Ken Shattock.
In 1939 and 1940, the "Golden Gate International Exposition" was held on man-made Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, just North of "Yerba Buena Island" and the Bay Bridge. It looked and felt like a World's Fair but it was mainly a special celebration being held because of the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge and the SF-Oak Bay Bridge.. The real World's Fair was being held at the same time in New York City.
Several railroads had displays and model layouts in the large fair building known as "VACATIONLAND" . The SP had a very large display entitled: ""The Southern Pacific Roundhouse"" . It utilized O-scale trains and a couple of my grandfather's SP live steam models.
The SANTA FE really went all out with a grand diorama. An oval platform, 60 feet in length, 10 feet in height and 6 feet in width, was raised in the center of a 3300 sq.ft. table to supply perspective for an O-scale model railroad (1/4 inch/ft or 1: 48) - described below - through a panorama painted on its side in natural colors. So cleverly was the landscape blended into the panorama that together they presented an illusion of the great distances of the Southwest. A one-half actual size replica of a diesel-electric locomotive of the type used to draw the Super Chief, El Capitan and other stainless steel streamlined trains of the Santa Fe, sat atop the panorama platform. The model was 35 feet long, 7 1/2 feet high and 5 feet wide, symbolizing the progressive character of the Santa Fe Railway.
A combination of "professionals" and EBMES members created an O-scale layout on the 3300 sq.ft table. Operation of the railway was via a CTC system consisting of some 360 relays. All switches were remotely operated from a remote control panel. Mainline switches were # 7 while the Yard switches were # 5. There was 675 feet of mainline track, the curves of which spiraled with correct super elevation to give the utmost in realism.
The equipment used in the Santa Fe exhibit took over a year to build from plans and specifications furnished by the Santa Fe. The equipment was designed to operate 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, without repair or overhaul. There were 10 locomotives, 5 of which were operating at any one time. Two were Diesel and the rest were steam types. Pacifics, Consolidations and 3 big Texas-types. All locomotives were powered by 12 volt,DC motors, geared in such a way that speeds seemed in actual proportion with the prototypes.
Passenger cars were 20 inches in length and 2-7/16 inches in width. Freight cars were 10 inches in length. Freight trains were limited to 15 cars, not including cabooses. Passenger trains were limited to 7 cars.
The large gold letters "Sante Fe" on the north wall of the current Pt. Richmond building came from the Fair. Those gold letters also greeted visitors just inside the entrance of the Halleck St. site described below.
Let's go back in time for just a moment to the year 1939 and see what greeted visitors to the grand SANTA FE diorama.
Halleck Street (1940-1985)
Recently (September 2009), we found a cache of old 4x5 negatives in a dusty old file cabinet in our (Pt.Richmond) library. The negatives are a collection of "formal" members' photos. These have been scanned and are collected in a new Photo Gallery of Emeryville members. Dates are not known and there are a number of unidentified photos. If any visitor is able to identify an Unknown, please send us an e-mail (to firstname.lastname@example.org if preceding link does not work for you). Tx !
After a brief move in 1939 to the Key System offices, the club moved in April 1940 to its longterm home in a Santa Fe warehouse at 4075 Halleck Street, Oakland, near the edge of Emeryville. For forty years the club built HO, O and eventually N scale layouts. Many residents and visitors to the East Bay fondly remember the layouts on Halleck Street.
Point Richmond (1985-present)
In 1985 we relocated to a much larger space, our current building, located in Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline in Point Richmond. The original space was very large, but needed substantial renovations. The building had been occupied by various tennants over the years, most recently a paint manufacturer, and we needed to clean, redesign and renovate the interior as well as put on a new roof.
At this time, the Golden State Model Railroad Museum was incorporated. Our goals were, and continue to be, to provide education to adults and children interested in model railroading, prototype railroad history and operations. We are a California non-profit corporation and qualify as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3), which means that we can accept tax-deductible donations. The actual layouts are constructed, operated and maintained by the East Bay Model Engineers Society (EBMES).
Sadly model railroads do not transport well, and little of the Halleck St. layouts could be saved, except for rolling stock and some structures. Old-timers may recognize a few of these on the new layouts, particularly on the O scale layout.
One advantage of starting fresh is that you can "do it right". Rather than haphazardly filling the building with trains, many plans were formulated and examined. These considered not only the layouts, but the public spaces as well, to ensure that visitors would have the best possible experience when visiting our club. Visitors were not shoe-horned in as an afterthought, rather the building has an elevated central walkway, wheelchair access and controlled lighting.
Finally, in 1989, construction began on the three layouts you see today. We opened our doors to the public in 1991 and we continue to build and modify the layouts. As our many regular visitors know, there is always something new to see.
The club has gone through many changes over the years, both in location and in membership. Our move was traumatic but now we have the dual advantage of being one of the oldest model railroad clubs in the world, in a brand new facility, benefitting from almost 60 years of model railroad experience.
We look forward to seeing you.