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.
|2017||Railroad Hobby Show||January 28-29, 2017||Eastern States Exposition|
|2016||Railroad Hobby Show||January 30-31, 2016||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $14, Children: Free||19,000+|
|2015||Railroad Hobby Show||January 24-25, 2015||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $14, Children: Free||14,217+|
|2014||Railroad Hobby Show||January 25-26, 2014||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||21,000+|
|2013||Railroad Hobby Show||January 26-27, 2013||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||20,557+|
|2012||Railroad Hobby Show||January 28-29, 2012||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||22,322+|
|2011||Railroad Hobby Show||January 29-30, 2011||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||20,459+|
|2010||Railroad Hobby Show||January 30-31, 2010||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||21,458+|
|2009||Railroad Hobby Show||January 24-25, 2009||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||19,173+|
|2008||Railroad Hobby Show||January 26-27, 2008||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $10, Children: Free||20,673+|
|2007||Big Railroad Hobby Show||January 27-28, 2007||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $8, Children: Free||20,799+|
|2006||Big Railroad Hobby Show||January 28-29, 2006||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $8, Children: Free||25,000+|
|2005||Big Railroad Hobby Show||January 29-30, 2005||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $8, Children: $1||16,953+|
|2004||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 7-8, 2004||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $8, Children: $1||19,650+|
|2003||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 1-2, 2003||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $7, Children: $1|
|2002||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 2-3, 2002||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $7, Children: $1||21,621+|
|2001||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 3-4, 2001||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $6, Children: $1|
|2000||Big Millenium Railroad Hobby Show||February 5-6, 2000||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $6, Children: $1|
|1999||Big Railroad Hobby Show||January 30-31, 1999||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $6, Children: $1|
|1998||Big Railroad Hobby Show||Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1998||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $5, Children: $1|
|1997||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 1-2, 1997||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $5, Children: $1|
|1996||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 3-4, 1996||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $5, Children: $1|
|1995||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 4-5, 1995||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $5, Children: $1|
|1994||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 5-6, 1994||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $4, Children: $1||17,000+|
|1993||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 6-7, 1993||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $4, Children: $1||16,456+|
|1992||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 8-9, 1992||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $4, Children: $1|
|1991||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 9-10, 1991||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $4, Children: $1||10,000+|
|1990||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 11, 1990||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $4, Children: $1|
|1989||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 12, 1989||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $3, Children: $1|
|1988||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 21, 1988||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $3, Children: $1|
|1987||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 22, 1987||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $3, Children: $1|
|1986||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 23, 1986||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $2, Children: $1|
|1985||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 24, 1985||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $2, Children: $1|
|1984||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 26, 1984||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $2, Children: $1|
|1983||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 13, 1983||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $2, Children: $1|
|1982||Train Collector's Showcase||February 21, 1982||Eastern States Exposition||Adults: $2, Children: $1|
|1981||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 15, 1981||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1980||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 17, 1980||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1979||Big Railroad Hobby Show||February 18, 1979||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1978||Model Railroad Day||February 1978||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1977||Model Railroad Day||February 1977||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1976||Model Railroad Day||February 1976||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1975||Model Railroad Day||February 18, 1975||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1974||Model Railroad Night||February 19, 1974||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1973||Model Railroad Night||February 20, 1973||Student Union, Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1972||Model Railroad Night||February 15, 1972||Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1971||Model Railroad Night||February 16, 1971||Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1970||Annual Model Railroad Night||February 17, 1970||Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1969||Modeler Night||February 18, 1969||Umass-Amherst||Free|
|1968||Meeting Night||February 20, 1968||Free||68|
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."
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.
- 2002 Show Car - Roundhouse 50' Box Car - Learn More >
- 2003 Show Car - Accurail Covered Hopper - Learn More >
- 2006 Show Car - Accurail Hopper Car - Learn More >
- 2008 Show Car - Athearn Modern Caboose - Learn More >
- 2009 Show Car - Athearn Gondola - Learn More >
- 2011 Show Car - Exactrail 50' Box Car - Learn More >
- 2012 Show Car - Exactrail Gondola - Learn More >
- 2013 Show Car - Exactrail Covered Hopper - Learn More >
- 2014 Show Car - Atlas Box Car - Learn More >
- 2015 Show Car - Atlas Tank Car - Learn More >
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.
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.