People Get Ready, There’s A Train Show Coming

Club member Bud Phillips inspects one of the layouts at the OCSMR's headquarters in Lakewood. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  LAKEWOOD – Little did anyone know that when the five founding members of a local hobby club first formed their group in 1987 that it would still be running strong 35 years later. But that’s exactly what happened, and the Ocean County Society of Model Railroaders (OCSMR) recently had their open house Christmas Train Show on Dec. 10 and 11 to demonstrate to the general public just how engaging their hobby can be.

  Housed in the basement of the Lakewood Historical Museum, the club’s rail layouts dominate two large rooms with scenic backdrops and detailed accoutrements that in all likelihood, due to constant upgrades and new ideas, will never be truly finished.

The layouts for model trains, including the backgrounds, can get quite extensive. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  “We basically have our four operating lines on the layout,” says Ted Bertiger, the club’s president. “The guys model the layouts to look for realism like the real trains, and you make the layouts that way.”

  The group had its first home in the back room of a former Amoco gas station along Route 88, but in 1992 was able to find a more permanent home in the basement of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Lakewood. There the club stayed for 24 years before completely vacating the site in 2016.

  After more than two decades at that location the group migrated to their current location, which is the former Kuser Hall, part of the historic Newman School in Lakewood. In addition to the massive layout rooms, the basement serves as a storage area as well as offices and train repair workshops.

  The OCSMR is a 501(c)(3) organization and accepts cash donations as well as model trains and accessories that are donated by the general public. While some of the pieces donated by the public may be utilized by the members, often times they are cleaned up and repaired for sale at train shows to help raise funds for the club.

Guest John Lebrio admires the work and detail of the layouts during the Christmas train show. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  While many members of the general public may remember having train sets that ran under the Christmas tree around the holidays, they are often surprised to find that the hobby is still very much alive in the age of computer games and advanced electronics.

  But model trains have seen an increase in electronic sophistication, as well. The old lever-controlled transformers have given way to electronic radio-controlled trains that can even be set up with governors that regulate speeds. In addition, many of the accessories are no longer simply motion-activated by passing trains.

  While many new manufacturers have gotten into the resurgence of model railroading, several of the largest players in the market may be familiar to those who enjoyed their model train sets in the past. Manufacturers such as Athern and Lionel are household names, but others such as Atlas, Walthers, and Bachmann are among the top brands that draw the attention of the modeling community.

  Besides numerous websites dedicated to the hobby, aficionados will often pick up such popular periodicals such as Classic Trains, Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman to get ideas, tips, and research ways to improve their layouts.

Young modelers and enthusiasts may enjoy two large rooms where they can see model trains in action. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  One reason that the hobby has seen something of a Renaissance was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With reduced time spent in their usual social pursuits, train modelers found more time for themselves, which many used to re-ignite their passion.

  By its very nature, train modeling is a somewhat solitary hobby, with extensive layouts involving carpentry, track work, scenery, and incredible attention to detail. While many club members maintain layouts in their own homes, their combined efforts shine in their club headquarters in Lakewood.

  Modelers go to great length to get accuracy in their re-creations, and the OCSMR members are no exception. Many do research, find old photographs, and go to painstaking lengths to build realism and historical precision into their displays. Like craftsmen and artisans, modelers strive for perfection.

  As may be expected, a local flavor dominates the displays at the OCSMR, with re-creations of Matawan, Aberdeen, South Amboy, Belmar, and Long Branch under construction.

The layouts get quite extensive as well as expensive. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  “We haven’t had an open house in three years,” explains Bertiger about the COVID-19 restriction period. Normally, however, the club likes to do at least two open house events a year, with the next one earmarked for April, 2023.

  “We have kids come down and they’re having a blast,” says Bertiger. “It’s basically a hands-on approach.”

  The OCSMR currently has some 30 members, who come from all walks of life, including former corporate executives, commercial airline pilots and even one who is employed as a train engineer. Club members range in age from 11 to 83, and the club is always willing to accept new modelers into their family. While they may meet several nights a week, not all members come on all nights. Wherever members hail from, all agree that the OCSMR is worth the modest club dues of $220 per year.

  The club also gets requests to put on demonstrations at local events around the Monmouth and Ocean County area, as well. One such recent event was held in downtown Farmingdale in November. If it is feasible and fits their schedule, the OCSMR will look to make it possible, transporting equipment and displays to entertain the crowds with public participation strongly encouraged.

With painted backgrounds and three-dimensional buildings, the club’s displays represent hours and hours of artistic dedication. (Photo by Mark Bator)

  “I ran into this couple just by chance, meeting them at a hobby shop,” Bertiger explains, “and they said, ‘Does your club do events?’ They were [having] an outdoor vendor market in the middle of town, and we got hundreds of people who [came] to this. It was phenomenal.”

  The club is open to visitors on Tuesday and Friday nights from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Arrangements to visit the club may be done by calling them at 732-363-7799 or by visiting their website ( for further information.