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The History of BANTRAK

BANTRAK at B and O

BANTRAK History - Past and Present


by Gene Villaret, Founder and First President  

In late 1981 I asked Jim FitzGerald of NTRAK for a list of local Newsletter subscribers, to help find nearby N scale modelers to play trains with. Thus, Ken Mayer and I met. In 1982 Ken suggested forming an N scale club. Lacking vision, I waffled. But the idea germinated. Finally, I called a few of the names on Jim’s list and was encouraged. I told Ken and he offered his home as the first meeting site. This was late in 1982. On January 7, 1983 I began calling all the names on the list. Ken had suggested that we meet on the last Saturday of each month. I agreed.  I proposed a round-robin scheme wherein each member would host the group in turn. Ken agreed.  About eleven of the people I called expressed a willingness to attend our proposed meeting. I worked up a list of activities for the meeting.

The first meeting of the first N scale club in the Baltimore area occurred on Saturday, January 29, 1983, at Ken’s home.  Seven attended.  We sat around in Ken's basement train room, admired his layout and talked N scale.  It was wonderful to hear someone else chattering about our little trains.  I took immediately to Ed Goldie, and to the Cruse brothers, noting that most of us present were older people (50's and up).  Jay, the youngest there, proved remarkably knowledgeable and inventive.  He was planning to make his home layout fully portable and had ingenious ideas on how to do this.  The Cruse brothers revealed that they had a large, fully completed layout with animation throughout, and offered to host the group for the next meeting.  In spite of the friendly atmosphere, most of us were a bit dubious about jumping into even minimal commitments, and the majority felt that meeting every six weeks was often enough.

After the others had left Ken and I sat around and, well, gloated.  The future of our modeling suddenly was looking much brighter.  I'm not sure why Ken opted not to take the club reins: perhaps he (wisely?) preferred running trains to running clubs, or somehow felt that since I had organized the meeting it was my prerogative (or duty?) to undertake the leadership role.  I didn't mind either way.  All in all, I went home from that first meeting with a great feeling of anticipation.  We had an N scale club!  The possibilities were breath taking.  A week or so later George Cruse called to firm up the meeting he and his brother were to host.  A bit to my (happy?) surprise he suggested Saturday, the 26th of February, barely a month after the first get-together.  I heartily agreed.

By now I had culled from Jim FitzGerald's long list the names of those who lived within reasonable driving distance of northwest Baltimore, a fair number of people.  Over several evenings I called the better part of forty people, several of whom had promised (and failed) to attend the first meeting.  The second meeting was at the home of the Cruse brothers, who live near Bel Air.  They have a large demo layout in a huge basement and were very hospitable.

The meeting was satisfying.  We gained four new people, and lost two others, one for good.  A most promising attendee was Jerry Mulford, bright, knowledgeable and friendly.  I hoped he might become a firm member.  Most of this meeting was spent ogling the wonderful N scale empire before our eyes.  It was huge and complex, and very absorbing indeed.  Jim Britt ran a brass loco that brought oohs and aahs.  There were snacks and handouts and wonderful N scale trains in action.  A very satisfying meeting!  For the next meeting I decided to use the mails.  Hence the first newsletter, dated March 20, 1983.

Clubs are volunteer groups.  The genesis of BANTRAK was a willing assemblage of N scale enthusiasts, who would gather to talk and run trains.  It was hoped that we would stimulate one another to build and to improve our individual layouts, and we (well, Ken and I) used to boast that there were no officers, no dues, and no commitments.  The purpose of the group was simply to have fun with trains.  The only things we had to volunteer for were to host a meeting and to bring something to "show and tell."  It was an era of heady days.

As time passed, perhaps inevitably a feeling of repetitiveness crept in, like a vague but potential threat that might undermine a good thing.  A stimulating element was needed, something to provide a group purpose sufficient to drive us toward some goal of group achievement.  The NorthEast N Scale club had found their common purpose in a club layout.  They pooled resources, rented space, and constructed a railroad in it, bigger and more complex than any one of them could achieve individually.

Ken and I were aware of this development early on.  For some time, I was unaware of its implications, happily reveling in our still essentially non-commitment status.  The only concern was the larger picture of the future of N scale itself, which, in the early eighties was still by no means secure.  I was much enamored with trains in the 1:160 scale and saw in them a hobby I could carry into my future regardless of size of habitat which, as one ages, tends to become smaller.

My discovery of the Greenberg shows with their N scale layout seemed a promising means of promoting the scale, and I undertook to draw the club into public shows.  Later I came to see the value of this in terms of a common purpose for our members.  Later still, doubts came to gnaw at me as our freewheeling status eroded, to be replaced with increasing commitments and dues and responsibilities and deadlines and internal conflict.  I remembered the brief period when we were just dabbling in public shows with a small layout and two or three appearances a year, balanced on a knife's edge between the carefree days and the hints of the all-out NTRAK burdens to come.  I hoped to recapture the "best of two worlds" life, but it was not to be.  We became dazzled with the idea of ever-larger layouts and many acquired an addiction to our new status as "experts" strutting about before a wide-eyed public at the shows.

One thing, as they say, led to another, the years passed and the shape of the club came to approximate today’s BANTRAK.  I must say I sometimes looked back, still do, with wistful nostalgia to those long-ago non-commitment days.  A group of railroad modelers can do far worse than to encourage one another to build home layouts, to circulate from one home to another and to exchange pertinent information.  There is no question, however, that the enormous strides in terms of the club's refinement, expansion, innovation and especially its impact on the public could not have occurred in a less driven environment.  In the long run the future of N scale is being better served than it would have been had the metamorphosis not occurred.

BANTRAK – A Short History

by Jack Walsh and Edited by Bob Mohr

In late 1982 Gene Villaret obtained a list of NTRAK members from Jim Fitzgerald with the idea of forming a round-robin group of people interested in N scale modeling.  Together with Ken Mayer, they began calling people on that list, inviting them to a meeting at Ken’s house that was held on Saturday, January 29, 1983.  Seven people attended that very first meeting.  Continuing to call people on that list, a second meeting was held the end of February with nine people attending.  Time was spent at each meeting discussion model train interests, viewing the host’s layout and discussion of what each person was modeling.  Following the second meeting, Gene produced the first group newsletter on 20 March, 1983 describing the first two meetings.  One refinement of the second meeting was that everyone was asked to bring along some train related item that might be of interest to the group.  This ‘Show & Tell’ has continued to be part of every meeting since that time.  Also included with the newsletter was a list of 25 people who expressed interest in continuing these monthly meeting.  Of those 25, four are still members today:  Bob Mohr, Jerry Mulford, Phil Peters and Jack Walsh.

By the September 1983 Newsletter, the group had decided on a name for itself – Greater Baltimore N-Scale Round Robin Group.  At the October 1984 meeting the name was changed for the first time to Greater Baltimore N-Scale Associates (GBNSA).  Over the course of the next few years the activities and interests of the group evolved toward modular railroading and by the end of 1991 it became apparent that the group really had become an NTRAK organization and with much discussion over several months the decision was made to change the name of the group to Baltimore Area NTRAK – BANTRAK.

At the February, 1984 meeting Gene announced that Bruce Greenberg of Greenberg Train Shows had four NTRAK corners and was interested in having an NTRAK layout at his shows in Timonium, MD.  The group soon learned that the modules were in need of ‘some’ work to get them in functioning order.  So, over the course of the summer and fall, various members spent time at the Greenberg building, an old firehouse in Sykesville, MD, improving the quality of the track work while other members set out to build their own straight modules.  A test run was made just before Thanksgiving with everything going very well.  All was set for the group’s first venture into the public display of an NTRAK layout.  Needless to say, everything went very well and everyone who participated enjoyed themselves.  A long train of 56 cars amazed the attendees who were used to HO train lengths of 10 to 15 cars.  One attendee even came back to the layout to show their new N-Scale train set  The group continued to display a 14’ x 20’ NTRAK layout at the Greenberg shows three times a year for many years. This arrangement continued until the Greenberg company changed owners several times and the layout space was given over to vendors.

In September, 1986, the GBNSA moved into another area when requested to setup a layout for the Mideastern Region of the NMRA convention, at the Pikesville Hilton Hotel.  The layout was a 14’ x 26’ in a separate room.  A new dimension was added to this layout with the sound of real trains produced via tape recorders at each end of the layout.  All the attendees were very impressed with the scenery and the ability of the ‘small’ trains to stay on the track!  After that experience, the group decided that they could handle a convention and committed to attend the Pennsylvania Limited Convention in Philadelphia August 1987.  This was the first road trip for the group and was well attended with nine of the members going. Skip Hayes and his son Robert hauled a large portion of the modular layout in a borrowed box truck.  This event turned out to be so much fun for the group that more conventions were in their future:  NMRA Convention at Valley Forge 1993, the third N-scale collector Convention in Baltimore in 1995, the ninth Collector Convention in Lancaster in 2001, the fifteenth Collector Convention in Hartford, Connecticut and Joint N-Scale Collector and NTRAK Convention at Chantilly in 2004.  The most recent convention activity was joint sponsorship of the National N-scale Enthusiasts Convention held in Hershey, Pa. in July 2011.

In February 1988 Ken Mayer approached Howard Zane of the Great Scale Train Show about the group putting up a 14’ x 26’ NTRAK layout for their April show in Timonium.  Howard thought that it would be a great idea and thus began a relationship that continues today with layouts being displayed at the February, April and October shows.  Thus the group was now committed to doing six shows a year, three for Greenberg and three for the Scale Show with one or two specials per year, such as a convention.  For the group now sets up in a 50’ x 50’ space arranging the layout in various shapes in addition to the normal circle, such as a U shape and two loops connected by a spine.  At the last show a connection was made between their layout and a NTRAK layout put up by the Northern Virginia NTRAK.

Another new venture was begun in December 1988 with the group putting up a layout at the Long Green Fire House during the last two weeks of December as a fund raising opportunity.  Up to this point the group was buying materials from the dues collected;  rather than raise the dues, the group decided to open a layout to the public and request donations.  Over the years these funds have paid for materials to build two different yards, various throttles (both DC and DCC), power supplies and various other equipment.  When the firehouse decided to convert the space to a ballroom, the group found a mall in Westminster, MD that provided an empty store for a layout.  This arrangement lasted several years.

In 1990 at the request of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum the group provided a small layout in the Baltimore Convention Center to advertize an event that was to be held at the Museum. With great success with this event, the Museum asked the group to setup a layout in the center of their Roundhouse surrounded by nineteenth century railroad equipment.  This event started a long lasting relationship between the two.  For a short period of time the group met in the Museum’s conference room until it became too small for the number attending.  For many years now the group has setup a layout of over 200 linear feet of modules in the roundhouse during the Christmas Holidays.  The Museum has stated that this layout is one of their biggest draws during their Festival of Trains.

By 1995 BANTRAK had developed experience putting up a layout at almost any venue and sponsoring join weekends with other clubs, now was the time to try the next step – host a convention.  Working with Wick Brandon BANTRAK hosted the 1995 N-Scale Collector’s Convention in downtown Baltimore in September.  This included putting up a layout demonstrating that the Kadee/Micro-Trains cars actually do run on track.  Such a great time was had by all that BANTRAK co-hosted the convention twice more;  Lancaster in 2001 and Hershey in 2011.

To celebrate various anniversaries, the group has issued special run cars for the following anniversaries:

[ED - JJH]

In addition to the above listed special runs BANTRAK commissioned Micro-trains Line Company to produce a set of forty foot boxcars with sliding doors that were decorated in green and white.  Roofwalks were packaged loose to be added later if desired. In addition to the Micro-trains cars BANTRAK also had various other cars produced in limited quantities by other manufacturers including a northeastern style caboose, and four different cylindrical covered hopper cars.

To celebrate the 15th Anniversary a commemorative booklet by the Palewicz brothers was produced that featured a picture of each member and their module.  BANTRAK is looking forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary and continuing their presentation of N-Scale to the public and railroad modelers in the future.


1983 - 1986 Gene Villaret
1986 - 1990 Ken Mayer
1990 - 1992 Jack Walsh
1992 - 1996 Skip Hayes
1996 - 1998 Wayne Morrow
1998 - 2001 Skip Hayes
2001 - 2003 Al Palewicz
2003 - 2005 John Darlington
2005 - 2007 Ralph Grutzmacker
2007 - 2009 Mark Bandy
2009 - 2011 Alan Del Gaudio
2011 Martin Myers
2012 - 2013 Eric Payne
2014 - 2015 Paul Diley
2016 - 2017 Tim Nixon
2018 - 2019 Martin Myers
2020 - LeRoy Brandimore
[ED - JJH]

BANTRAK - A More Recent Prospective

by John Darlington

BANTRAK has been in existence since 1983.  We have been bringing the concept of modular model railroading to the Baltimore area and in other states and venues ever since

The Baltimore Area NTRAK Club was founded in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1983.  The Club was originally named The Greater Baltimore N Scale Associates or GBNSA.  The Club began as a "round robin" group of N scale enthusiasts who met once a month in a Club member's home.  The meetings were primarily structured to facilitate the discussion of various aspects of n-scale modeling in a relaxed atmosphere.  A segment of each meeting was set aside for "show and tell" which allowed members to display completed and on-going modeling projects.  We have continued the "round robin" format and "show and tell" segment as a means of creating a less planned environment typical of many other clubs.

Although we have continued the original organizational format to a great degree, our interests and activities have greatly expanded along with the growth of n-scale model railroading.  The GBNSA began serious involvement in train shows and conventions in the mid to late 80s starting off small with exhibits at local events, and slowly expanding in scope to interstate and regional shows and conventions.  Since that modest beginning, the GBNSA and now BANTRAK has developed an excellent regional and national reputation due to our expansive involvement in shows and conventions in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio.  A significant number of our members have received citations and awards for their modeling skills by regional and national model railroad associations.

BANTRAK is a member of the national NTRAK Organization and we follow its international specifications in the construction of our modular layout.  This allows us to operate smoothly in shows that have participants from all over the world. A key feature of modular model railroading is the flexibility it gives us to structure a layout into any size and shape depending upon space allotments.  Our layout displays range from a modest 12'x20' pike to a large 60'x60' empire. While on the subject of flexibility, our BANTRAK layout is constructed using both DC and DCC configurations allowing our members to utilize either or both operations.

The BANTRAK Club is made up of over 40 members representing all age categories and skills from novice to experienced.  This has created a rich modeling environment in which various skill levels are enhanced by hands on demonstrations.  We publish a Club Newsletter on a monthly basis with articles drawn from the expertise of our members and others.  A number of our articles have been reprinted in both regional and national publications.

BANTRAK is a growing Club and we are always looking for new members who feel they can contribute to our continued success as a nationally known organization.  If you are interested in applying for membership, please contact one of the individuals shown elsewhere on this web site for further information.