Photo inside the Young Building during the 2011 Railroad Hobby Show. An overview of the 2011 Railroad Hobby Show inside the Young Building.

Railroad Hobby Show History

The Railroad Hobby Show is one of the largest model railroad shows held in the United States.  The show is presented by the Amherst Railway Society and is held annually at the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds in West Springfield, MA, typically at the end of January or early February. Around 20,000 people attend the show which features model railroads in a variety of scales, displays by railroad museums and scenic railroads, as well as model railroad and railroad memorabilia vendors and manufacturers.  Below you can find information about the show's history as well as the groups and organizations which participate in the event.

For almost 50 years, the Railroad Hobby Show has been the highlight of the annual model railroad season in New England.  Today, it can rightly be considered one of the largest model railroad shows in the country attracting 20,000+ attendees and 450+ vendors and exhibitors.

Note: This wiki is an unofficial history of the show which has been curated by Jim Spavins and is unaffilated with the Amherst Railway Society or the Amherst Belt Lines. The show's official website is located at railroadhobbyshow.com.

Origins and Early Years

According to the meeting minutes of the Amherst Railway Society, on February 20th, 1968, approximately 68 members gathered to display and share their models with fellow members.  The tradition continued the following year and dubbed "Modeler's Night" with members sharing models, photos, and displays.  This event was held at the UMass-Amherst campus and continued through the late 1970s.  Each year, the event grew and attracted more and more members, displays, and activities.  Eventually, "Modeler's Night" turned into "Modeler's Day" as the event expanded.  In 1979, the event was officially declared the "Big Railroad Hobby Show" with the show now including a modular layout from the Amherst Belt Lines along with other model railroad displays and activities.  After just a few years, in 1982, the show moved to it's current home at the Eastern States Exposition and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The Railroad Hobby Show - Year by Year

The first official "Big Railroad Hobby Show" was held in 1979.  Below are notes and information about each year of the event.

Year Name Dates Venue Admission Attendance
2018Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 27-28, 2018Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $15, Children: Free
2017Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 28-29, 2017Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $14, Children: Free19,541+
2016Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 30-31, 2016Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $14, Children: Free19,000+
2015Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 24-25, 2015Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $14, Children: Free14,217+
2014Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 25-26, 2014Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free21,000+
2013Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 26-27, 2013Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free20,557+
2012Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 28-29, 2012Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free22,322+
2011Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 29-30, 2011Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free20,459+
2010Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 30-31, 2010Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free21,458+
2009Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 24-25, 2009Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free19,173+
2008Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 26-27, 2008Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $10, Children: Free20,673+
2007Big Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 27-28, 2007Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $8, Children: Free20,799+
2006Big Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 28-29, 2006Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $8, Children: Free25,000+
2005Big Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 29-30, 2005Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $8, Children: $116,953+
2004Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 7-8, 2004Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $8, Children: $119,650+
2003Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 1-2, 2003Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $7, Children: $1
2002Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 2-3, 2002Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $7, Children: $121,621+
2001Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 3-4, 2001Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $6, Children: $1
2000Big Millenium Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 5-6, 2000Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $6, Children: $1
1999Big Railroad Hobby ShowJanuary 30-31, 1999Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $6, Children: $1
1998Big Railroad Hobby ShowJan. 31-Feb. 1, 1998Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $5, Children: $1
1997Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 1-2, 1997Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $5, Children: $1
1996Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 3-4, 1996Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $5, Children: $1
1995Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 4-5, 1995Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $5, Children: $1
1994Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 5-6, 1994Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $4, Children: $117,000+
1993Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 6-7, 1993Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $4, Children: $116,456+
1992Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 8-9, 1992Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $4, Children: $1
1991Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 9-10, 1991Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $4, Children: $110,000+
1990Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 11, 1990Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $4, Children: $1
1989Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 12, 1989Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $3, Children: $1
1988Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 21, 1988Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $3, Children: $1
1987Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 22, 1987Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $3, Children: $1
1986Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 23, 1986Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $2, Children: $1
1985Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 24, 1985Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $2, Children: $1
1984Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 26, 1984Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $2, Children: $1
1983Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 13, 1983Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $2, Children: $1
1982Train Collector's ShowcaseFebruary 21, 1982Eastern States ExpositionAdults: $2, Children: $1
1981Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 15, 1981Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1980Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 17, 1980Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1979Big Railroad Hobby ShowFebruary 18, 1979Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1978Model Railroad DayFebruary 1978Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1977Model Railroad DayFebruary 1977Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1976Model Railroad DayFebruary 1976Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1975Model Railroad DayFebruary 18, 1975Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1974Model Railroad NightFebruary 19, 1974Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1973Model Railroad NightFebruary 20, 1973Student Union, Umass-AmherstFree
1972Model Railroad NightFebruary 15, 1972Umass-AmherstFree
1971Model Railroad NightFebruary 16, 1971Umass-AmherstFree
1970Annual Model Railroad NightFebruary 17, 1970Umass-AmherstFree
1969Modeler NightFebruary 18, 1969Umass-AmherstFree
1968Meeting NightFebruary 20, 1968Free68

Show Name

The formal name of the show has evolved over time.  In the early years, the show was named the "Big Railroad Hobby Show."  Other than briefly in 1982 when the show was called the "Train Collector's Showcase," the show used this name until 2007.  At that point, the show was renamed, "Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show."  Less formally, many vendors and exhibitors simply use the shorthand "Springfield" to describe this annual event.

Show Venue - Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds

For most of the show's existence, the home of this annual event has been the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds.  During the fall, this venue is home to The Big E - New England's annual fair.  The show currently occupies four buildings on the complex - Better Living Center, Young Building, Stroh Building, and the Mallery Complex.  For a few years, the show was held in the New England Center.  For more about the fairgrounds, visit the separate Big E Spur Research Page.

Exhibitors and Vendors

The heart and soul of the show is the large variety of exhibitors and vendors which make the trek to the show each winter.  The show features operating model railroads in various scales, dealers, manufacturers, railroad museums, and scenic railroads. Each year the lineup changes a bit but some exhibitors and vendors have been a constant through the years.  As of 2015, over 500 exhibitors and vendors take part in the show.  A few of the long term and notable displays were chronicled on the blog during "Exhibitor Thursdays."

Show Car

Starting in the early 2000s, the Amherst Railway Society has been producing a custom decorated show car.  In the early years, these were only available as a gift to show exhibitors as a thank you for volunteering to setup a layout at the show.  Starting in 2010, the society began producing enough cars to sell to the general public.  These cars are available through their store at amherstrail-store.org.

Best in Show Awards

Starting the late 2000s, the show began giving out a "Best in Show Award."  This award is given to model railroad exhibits which in the determination of the show's chairman and show director, is that year's Best in Show.  Each year, several awards are handed out to various exhibitors.

Year Club Module or Layout Scale Venue
2010 Central New York Modelers Streets of Bethlehem Module HO Scale Stroh Building
2011 Narragansett Bay Railway & Navigation Portable Layout O Scale Mallary Building
2011 Dry Hill Terminal Corner Module HO Scale Mallary Building
2012 Quaboag Valley Railroaders Portable Layout HO Scale Better Living Center
2012 Valley HOtrak Module HO Scale Better Living Center
2012 Berkshire & Mohawk Module HO Scale Better Living Center
2013 S Scale Workshop Portable Layout S Scale Mallary Building
2013 Dry Hill Terminal Module HO Scale Mallary Building
2013 New England Free-Mo Modular Layout HO Scale Mallary Building
2014 Amherst Belt Lines Smokey Mountain Module HO Scale Better Living Center
2014 Great Falls Model Railroad Club G Scale Layout G Scale Stroh Building
2015 Ntrak Carnival Module N Scale Better Living Center
2015 Central New York Modelers Modular Layout HO Scale Stroh Building
2015 Chester & Beckett Layout F Scale Better Living Center
2016 Torrington Area Model Railroaders Modular Layout HO Scale Mallary Complex
2016 Chester & Beckett Layout F Scale Better Living Center

*This list is incomplete. If anyone has more information about past Best in Show awards, please send me an email on the Contact page.

Trainmania! Promotional Videos

For a number of the years in the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, the show produced an hour long Trainmainia! promotional video which aired on local cable access television in the Springfield, MA region.  These promotional videos featured interviews with exhibitors and vendors as well as a behind the scene look at various aspects of the show. 

Notes: At present, I have been able to track down three of these movies but I know more exist.  If anyone has copies of these please send me an email.

Railroad Preservation Grants

One of the primary goals of the show every year is to raise money for railroad preservation projects.  Starting in 1991, the show had grown large enough where the group could donate money to railroad preservation efforts.  As of 2015, the Amherst Railway Society has donated over $750,000 to railroad museums, tourist railroads, and historical societies over the last 25 years.  If you are a member of one these types of organizations, visit the Amherst Railway Society home page for grant application.

Clinics

Throughout the years, clinics have become a bigger part of the Railroad Hobby Show experience.  In the early years, model railroad construction techniques were presented in the Better Living Center at the "Bleachers."  As the show has expanded, the clinics have expanded as well.

Contribute to the Tribute to Springfield Show Archive

While I have been attending the show since the late 1980s, I don't have details for every show and every exhibitor through the years.  Since thousands of people have been attending this show on an annual basis for over 30 years, my hope is that some folks out there can help in my quest to complete this historical archive for the Railroad Hobby Show.  Please visit the Contact page to learn how you can help.