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I'll state up front that I don't have a business plan, and since I am still working for a living I don't have the time or resources to build an exhibit, nevertheless I cannot help myself dreaming of one day buying a decent building on a nice tract of land and creating a fantastic O-gauge exhibit that would be open to the public, and ideally, would be accessible for handicapped children (and adults - which is actually a requirement per the ADA I believe). The real estate and building alone, permitting, insurance, etc., would likely require a good amount of funds...so this is more of a dream job than anything real, but one can dream. And, I was curious if there's anyone else who has ever contemplated such an endeavor...and by the way, this is not an idea for a club that would be open to the public x number of days per year, nor would it be like the former Roadside America or Choo-Choo Barn, both fine exhibits in their own right.

The details of the layout exhibit would likely involve professional layout builders, which don't come cheap these days, yet one of my criterion would be to build an exceptional interactive layout, such that there would be two methods of viewing. The first would be general audience, whom would walk through a winding and generously wide aisle, with the layout portrayed via professional spot lights, and the display itself ostensibly would range between 3 and 6 feet deep, with lower foreground rising to a higher background. Operating trains would be but one of the attractions, moving vehicles and figures would be key to making it interesting. The sinuous shape would create scenes such that no more than 10-15 feet of layout would be seen at any one time, causing people to walk around like in a fun house. There'd be exceptions to this, with some scenes opening up to grand vistas, such as large urban scenes, mountain scenes, North Pole, etc. Overall size would be 8,000 to 10,000 sq. ft. at least, larger would be better.

The 2nd type of viewing would be interactive, whereby remote controls would be handed to operators, along with a headset such that they'd follow orders from a central dispatcher, whom would watch and manage via CCT. 

Unless I found a pot of gold and became a philanthropist it would be necessary to charge admission, something that will turn-away some folks. The maintenance alone would be daunting. Frankly though, even if the exhibit was museum quality, I don't see such a venture becoming profitable, and more than likely would need to have a supplemental store or eatery to bring make it financially viable, and that involves yet more complexity and business acumen. 

Now that I've spelled out the dream exhibit I realize what a delusion of grandeur such a project would be. Nonetheless, it would be an awesome project to undertake, and if it was located in a good location in Pennsylvania (where people of all ages seem to still enjoy both real and model trains), I could see it becoming very popular, especially around the winter holidays. 

If anyone has ever thought along these lines, feel free to share your experiences or thoughts, or send me an e-mail, which is in my profile. 

Paul

 

Last edited by Paul Kallus
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First off, I will admit that I am a 'collector'.  I have a couple thousand cameras, probably 200-300 signs the largest being a 17' tall neon sign and way way to many trains.  Every time someone says to me how exciting and wonderful it would be if I just created a 'museum' so people could see all my 'stuff' my eyes roll back in my head.  If I threw a building at the opportunity of creating a museum, which I could do, that does not begin to address the costs.  The smallest costs are the property taxes, insurance and maintenance.  The real and over whelming costs are operating expenses and salary for the people you have to pay to open the place when the 'volunteers' decide they have other things to do six months into the project and it is now work and the thrill has worn off.  That actually happened here.  Free building, utilities and everything.  Folded in just over a year because the volunteers (all train guys) got bored.  If you can make it happen, great.  Fall back plan...win the lottery.

Take a look at Northlandz near Flemington NJ... The original owner created quite an indescribable HO train layout of sorts. Took you through many levels and was a sight to behold when it was first built. Over the years it languished, not much done to update the trains or the facility, with the exception of an outdoor ride-on train. New owners have recently taken over and are bringing some semblance of realism and operation and breathing new life into the operation. Still much like a tourist trap.

A nicer, more coherently designed train layout venue is EnterTRAINment Junction, near CInncinatti, OH. It has a hobby shop and other amenities tied into it. I haven't personally visited, It's on my list when I get back to Dayton OH. Highly recommended by friends from the area.

If anyone remembers the Great American Train Show of 20-25 years ago. They had a very simple 3 or 4 track oval in O gauge. It was modular and had fairly long straight sides. Kids could operate a transformer that controlled one track. There was very little scenery on the modules.  There was no public access to touch the trains because it had a plexiglass barrier around it. There was nothing complicated about it and there was always a line of kids awaiting their turn at the levers.   

If you build your dream layout, you will have so many "rules" that it won't be fun for the kids.

Psst! @Paul Kallus please check out my post on this thread from eight days ago.   Also, My first post on that same thread

I don't think it requires an area the size of a basketball court, nor a slavish devotion to realism (although I have participated in realistic operations on a couple of really spectacular HO layouts.)  The technology required to support this idea wouldn't be cheap (cameras, sensor tracks, iPads, CAB-2s, operating accessories, etc.)  But because the biggest cost is real estate, as long as we keep the size modest, the hardware and trains aren't a deal-breaker.

I believe Roadside America could have been saved by a comprehensive redesign along these lines.  I'm also familiar with other public exhibits that applied this concept with varying degress of success.

Great minds think alike and would love to discuss further, hit me up!!

Last edited by Ted S

Another venue to consider, although not a train layout per se is Gullivers Gate in NYC (https://gulliversgate.com). It’s interactive by where the guest receives a physical ‘key’ that ‘unlocks’ or activated an interactive feature. Cool thing was you can get your picture taken in a full size 3D scanner and have a miniature version of yourself made and placed in one of the features - a replica of my son currently near the Eiffle Tower in the France feature. 

I love the idea and have dreamed along similar lines before.

I am amazed that Roadside America lasted so long.   I think they were open for decades.  Choo Choo barn is still open fortunately.  I think if you have a layout like that with an accompanying hobby store you have a chance at a business.

I actually believe that Dave Minarik hit the magical balance with this with a hobby store and a fantastic layout in the back.  He has several articles in OGR as well as videos if I recall correctly.  I think if anyone can catch lightning in a bottle on this idea it is Dave.

The busiest place at the Scranton PA semiannual train show at the old Lackawanna station is the very interactive American Flyer layout.  There is  a multitude of original Flyer operating accessories and several trains running. There is next to no scenery; just lots of action. It is noisy and lively and the kids are having a ball.  The operator is friendly and encourages the children to try every element.  It is pure entertainment and I always stop to watch the action.  Food for thought!    

As to being interactive, Would you have activating devices for the public to start and watch accessories, have cameras displaying action in obstructed areas?

Paradise and Pacific RR Club is a bit unique. We are housed in a 10,000 SF train building nestled in the McCormick/Stillman Train Park in Scottsdale, AZ that opened in 2011.  We have 1/3 of the building, an N Scale club has a 1/3, an HO Scale a 1/3 and a Z Scale a nook which is open to the public, (Sans Covid-19), 362 days a year.

The clubs have use of the building by maintaining a layout with running trains and accessories. All of the clubs have IR or sensor activated trains, accessories and sounds. A typical year sees over 100,000 people enter the Model Railroad Building, many repeat visitors but also a large number of tourists.

The McCormick/Stillman Railroad Park web page (www.therailroadpark.com) highlights the park and it amenities, (www.pandprrclub.org) highlights the O gauge Paradise and Pacific RR Club.

There is no cost to the public, The city of Scottsdale and Scottsdale Railroad & Mechanical Society have partnered to preserve a train park with 2 running trains, 1 run by the park (tickets required) and one by a Live Steamers club (donation requested), an historical carousel (ticket required), a Museum of Historical RR items housed in a former Presidential Car (The Roald Amundson) and concession stands amid the buildings, playgrounds and picnic areas. The park is nearly self sustaining with help from the SRMS.

To build, maintain and operate an enterprise as you describe as your "Dream" situation, would require a spot well traveled, be entertaining and well spoken of, not too expensive an entry fee so families would stop and enter. Our club has over 100 members and it is a weekly labor of love to keep it all running, much like your vision would.

I wish you luck if you are able to make it reality, and for the hobby's sake, more exposure is always good.

Some of you may have visited the G scale "Stewart Junction" exhibit at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, especially when it was new and fully staffed.  That's one of many inspirations for my idea.  My definition of "interactive" means that visitors run at least one train, probably with walk-around command control.  My vision is a "hands-on" guided experience, probably requiring a 1:1 ratio of visitors to staff.  Visitors could also be conductors (who watch signals and plan pick-ups and set-outs), brakemen (couple and uncouple cars, load cargo), and with enough experience, even dispatchers!  With fewer people, the same person would take on multiple roles.

Push-button accessories like crossing gates, gatemen, etc., are fine.  But I would focus on accessories -- industries -- that interact with the train directly: coal loader, sawmill, culvert loader, cattle pen, magnetic crane, ice station, maybe a working lift bridge or drawbridge, and probably others that I'm forgetting.  These would be situated close to the edge of the platform so that a "helping hand" can correct erratic operation.

The layout itself would accommodate a minimum of two trains moving simultaneously, and preferably a yard with its own switching lead.  At least some of the mainline would be shared trackage with CTC-like bi-directional operation.  So train crews would have to interact with each other and the dispatcher at some point to complete the scenario.  A working signal system would add a lot of realism, although a master dispatcher could also tell train train crews to slow, stop, and go by radio headset if the size and complexity of the layout warrants it.  The "halt" button or a kill switch would hopefully prevent the most serious mishaps.

I would like to add at least one passenger train to the mix and a few stations strategically situated along the mainline.  The local freights would try to complete their switch lists while the passenger train makes its rounds stopping at each of the stations.  If possible the local freights would run slowly, and try to stay out of the way to avoid delaying the passenger train.  There could be a longer, faster "through freight" with fewer set-outs and perhaps an engine change.  And a Yard Job to sort cars, add and remove cars from the through freight, etc.

It wouldn't have to be a pre-determined timetable operation with fast clock.  The consist, cargo, and destination could be determined randomly with drawn cards.  This would create self-sustaining variety and fun while keeping the whole thing realistic enough to teach children and the general public about what trains do (or at least what they did during the heyday of railroading!)  It would be an exercise in cooperative problem-solving, kind of like these "escape room" adventures that are cropping up everywhere.  To add a competitive aspect, there could be a "leader board" in the room with the names of the train crews who moved the most cars in a half-hour session, etc.

I've spent the last two years working on compact layout designs to facilitate this vision.  My train room is only 11 x 18, so it's not easy to design something that offers interaction, variety, and still fits the space.  Two trains and 2 to 4 people would be a typical crew for what I can build at home.  (I could double the train capacity by building two level decks connected by a helix in the adjacent garage.  But an upper deck wouldn't be kid-friendly, and jamming 6-8 people into my already narrow aisles probably wouldn't improve the experience!)  All of my designs are done to near minimum size (i.e., sharpest possible curves with short or no straight track between them.)  So they could easily be "scaled up" to four or even ten times the area just by adding straight track and switching to wide, scenic curves.

Like Paul I would love to see this vision writ grand.  I haven't posted any of my track plans because I hope to publish them in a book fully describing my vision, and life journey in the Hobby that led me to this place.  Posts on the Forum in the past two weeks, and one track plan that will appear in a future issue of OGR struck a chord, and prompted me to spill some of these beans. 

Whether I make my vision a reality with help from other Forum members, or someone else does it without me, a blockbuster interactive exhibit like this is sorely needed to showcase what can be done with modern 3-rail O.  Since Lionel first announced their Layout Control System (LCS), I hoped they would build a showroom demonstration layout; a spiritual successor to their great 1940s effort that would make every visitor say "I want to build something like this!"  Making it transportable, and bringing it to York or TCA Headquarters would be amazing!!  Let's see whether a bunch of old collectors still remember how to have fun and "play with trains!"

Last edited by Ted S

Guys, it is true, great minds do think alike! I am glad to read that others who have or have had similar ideas. 

I've seen many great layouts and exhibits in various scales over the years, and the one that struck me as novel was the Big Mo trailer by Harry Turner. That was more a toy train "show", and a linear tour up and down both sides of the trailer, very enjoyable to walk along and watch trains come into and pass out of scenery. I recall that the viewer could not see the whole thing at once - that is key IMO. I think sinuous design (think alternating grand concave and convex shapes), wider aisles and slightly deeper scenery are also criteria. My brainstorm is somewhat based on these and Bob Bartizek's PA and Western RR.

Pennsylvania has a long tradition of Christmas Gardens, RR clubs, and home layouts, as well as two active steam locomotive facilities. I think the interest in RR related activities are alive, but turning a train exhibit into a business that--at the very least, could pay for itself, and/or pay back the financing that would be needed to accomplish it--is very challenging. 

In Germany, they have the Miniatur Wunderland.

 

 

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