• Concern for the Future of Railroad Historical Groups

  • General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.
General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.

Moderators: rob216, Miketherailfan

  by farmerjohn
Im a young one that wants to do the work and I take my work serious.
BUT nobody seems to be getting any projects going.
A few if the ones that are working on the serious projects are grouchy and hermets when it comes to their work.
Or keep a select few only to assist them.
It then becomes more of a few select members project rather than the groups. This offers no chance to prove yourself or to even learn.
The best place I think around here is The Orange Empire Railway Museum out in Perris,CA. Me and a buddy took a drive out their and the action that was going on well into the evening was awsome.
Guys were willing to talk, show you what they were doing etc.
Real projects going on and getting finishd.
I got to honestly say when I do join which is soon that id be very proud of saying im a member and wouldnt even think of leaving the group.
What their needs to be from the experience of being a youth growing up in the hobby is taking the youth serious, starting them off with something small they can handle and taking the time to teach them.
Guide them through the hobby rather than drive them away.
Many of us young guys work and got a family to support.
Their for like said before me, time comes into play and dosnt allow us to be in two places at once. I experienced this with my last group.
You were treated like an employee rather than a group member.
When you take out the fun, it really just becomes a labor with no reward and thats not what you want.

  by james1787
I'm on the younger side as well, I'll be 33 in a week or so from this post. I'll second (or third? or fourth?) the notion that people my age have simply too many priorities going on. I am a volunteer firefighter, I am involved in the amateur radio club in my area, I have a wife (no kids yet!), plus work takes up alot of extra time.. however I would love to be able to volunteer.

For me, the closest RR museum that I know of is the Whippany RR museum. They have a nice page and contact info for volunteers.


This is happening in many clubs though. In the Amateur Radio club, the majority of the members are 50+ and there are some in their 40's and I think I'm the only one in my 30's followed by one kid who is in high school. Most people I know my age - their time is consumed by family, work, television, movies, socializing, video games, travel, etc. The usual talk at the breakfast table at work is "Did you see lost?" "Jack Bauer did what?" "Can you believe XYZ was booted off American Idol?" Thank goodness I don't watch that much TV!

Generally though, most people's excuse is time. The number one phrase is "If I had more time I would"

  by umtrr-author
James, my line is "Did you see Heroes last night?" :-D

Yes, I think you've hit on some interesting points. There is a general decline in the membership of not only social organizations, but social activities. Without getting so large as to be completely off topic, there is a book called "Bowling Alone" which describes this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, I've not made the time to read it yet!

Otto's point of Being Part of the Solution is well taken as well; however, there needs to be some reception to that from the "old guard". That varies considerably. That doesn't mean "hey, you're new, you can sweep the floor" either. There is, more frequently than I would like, a subset of people whose key interest is being in charge rather than getting anything in particular actually accomplished. A club to which I belonged to once had a 30 minute debate about who was going to bring the coffee pot to the next event; I ended up going home from that meeting more frustrated than when I got there, which is hardly the point.

I have often counseled people who are frustrated with the lack of interest in moving forward this way, "Hey, in a volunteer organization you get what you pay for." Whether I like it or not, I find this to be true more often than it isn't. I would relish being proven wrong on that point.

  by gp80mac
Time is about the only thing we can never have enough of. I've been called young (23) and I seem to be in the minority that I've yet to get a family, kids, house, etc. When I was still in college, I volunteered for an organization a few month. But then my schedule changed and gas prices went through the roof, making volunteering more difficult.

I intended to become more active after graduating, but I promptly got a job with the RR. There went my free time. I sometimes second guess my career choice and wonder if I should get a regular job to have predictable free time. I do miss preservation - it was something I really enjoyed. But there's that battle between money and happiness.

On a separate note, after I had to give up volunteering, was there ever a single phone call or note asking how I w as or if I could help out on something? Nope. Not a word from this organization. Not that I'd expect anything, but sometimes you need to give someone that little push to keep them active. Once you stop doing something, it can be hard to start up again.

  by stevo
i've heard of 30+ year old railfans being called young. i'm 15, so what does that make me? a baby? no. i am not a baby. i volunteer at a museum too, and when i get my driver's license i will get there more often. once i start college, i will probably find a museum near there i can volunteer at. when i grow up and get a job with a railroad, i might be able to volunteer still.

  by gp80mac
stevo wrote:i've heard of 30+ year old railfans being called young. i'm 15, so what does that make me? a baby? no. i am not a baby. i volunteer at a museum too, and when i get my driver's license i will get there more often. once i start college, i will probably find a museum near there i can volunteer at. when i grow up and get a job with a railroad, i might be able to volunteer still.
I said the exact same thing when I was younger. Unfortunately life has a knack of getting in the way, esp. if you do decide to get a job with the RR.

  by mxdata
Things don't get any easier as you approach retirement either, the wants and needs of the rest of the family (particularly grandchildren if you have them) absorb a lot of your time and the economic realities of what it costs to travel or commute to a museum to help out also become a factor.

Going over to the topic of railroad historical society meetings, I have always thought that one thing that would be a great benefit to the hobby would be if the groups started their speaker's program or presentation right at the announced starting time for the meeting (perhaps allowing only brief announcements of upcoming events at future meetings) rather than dragging everybody through a long and boring business meeting. Put the business meeting either as a separate event entirely or have it after the program (of course nobody in their right mind would stay for it). Starting meetings out with an hour or more of group officers sitting around blathering about total trivia is a waste of everybody's time. It gives visitors a bad impression and it is insulting to guest speakers. No wonder the historical societies have so much difficulty getting people from the railroad industry to participate in their events.

  by gp80mac
The groups around here also have weekday night meetings. Not so good if you live a distance away and have work or class in the morning.

As far as historical groups go, some seem to have trouble defining themselves. It can be hard to tell if the are a historical society, a railfan group, or a modeling group. I'm not saying there isn't a place in a society for each, but they should have something to do with the main mission statement of the group.

It will be an interesting 10-20 years for sure coming up..

  by jnugent56
I've had nothing but great experiences at the R&GVRRM. (www.rgvrrm.org) I am also young (23) and in college. The folks at the museum have been extremely welcoming and helpful. Need something to work on? No problem! There is always something to do, and it isn't always taking out the trash or sweeping the floors.

I think the key is to slowly demonstrate your skills and abilities to your fellow museum volunteers. Over time, they will become to know and trust you. With this comes more responsibility, and therefore, cooler jobs. :-) I can remember my first day at the museum like it was yesterday. I spent the day digging a drainage ditch. These days I'm working on restoring the cab interior of a historic diesel locomotive. I'm not saying I will never dig a ditch again... I'm just saying that good projects will come with time.

With graduation approaching this spring, I find myself looking for jobs in the Rochester area. Why? For many reasons, one being the museum. I hope to stick around for a while so I can continue to participate with this excellent organization.


  by mxdata
Joe, it is nice to see an positive and enthusiastic report like that once in a while. Does the staff at the museum have any kind of a regular training program in place for the volunteers? I am just wondering because the public schools have cut back so severely on vocational training and it would seem like an opportunity for some of the railroad museums to step in and provide this kind of training in woodworking, metalworking, pipefitting, etc., hopefully attracting people in the process who will stay and continue on as volunteers.


  by jnugent56
MX - There aren't any training programs that I know of... I've always learned by working along side the other museum volunteers. That isn't a bad idea, though!

  by mxdata
Joe, thanks for your posting. With "education" always being one of the stated goals of non-profit historical organizations, and with practical vocational eduction in public schools now falling out almost everywhere for lack of funding, it would seem to me like an ideal situation for museums with large collections in need of restoration work to provide some training in restoration skills as a way to attract volunteers. Perhaps it might even be a way to qualify for some grant money. Maybe someone with a bit more familiarity with the rules can comment and enlighten us.

Many museums are presently short of volunteers, and younger people like yourself are a vital part of the future if these organizations are going to continue to exist. I don't think this shortage of volunteers is totally caused by a lack of interest, I think in many cases there is an ongoing problem with not getting the word out effectively to the right groups of people.
  by bob
Now my experience with these so-called Historical Societies , to say the least, has been very bad. One, (one that shall go nameless to protect the guilty) has virtually taken over the historical railroad that they claim to support--yet expects the owners, (i.e., the tax payers of the two states that own it) to provide them with everything under the sun. And yet give very little in return. This group has driven off about 65% of the ridership, refuses to accept new members if the are outsider the "family group", and to be paid for their work, what nonsense. They took over in 2000 with 70,000 riders and this year will struggle to have 30,000. In 2004, they were down to just 16,000! 2005 saw them lose $807,000!!!!

  by rswinnerton
Want to see an example of an EXCELLENT historical society? Check out the Conrail Historical Society, Inc. (www.thecrhs.org) Not to be confused with the Conrail Technical Society (quasi-defunct). We publish what is considered to be a top-notch quarterly publication, offer our members discouts on Conrail merchandise, and are growning steadily. I'm a director with the group, and I can tell you first hand that anyone who shows up on a work night will get put to work, and then taken out for pizza and beverages. Anyone e-mails one of us about going railfanning is included in the event. And most importantly, any member with an idea/reccomendation/problem/issue is welcome to bring it forward and discuss it.
I think that a lot of people don't join historical societys / NRHS groups / etc. because their ideas may not align with yours (my sandbox .vs your sandbox) or their afraid of getting rejected by the group because you don't know the number of the last GP30 retired in 1992 was.
Advice: Find a group that's local to you that you like. Get out and help. It's also good excercise!
Russ Swinnerton
Conrail Historical Society

  by GSC
I've been involved in so many nonprofits over the years that I lose count. I also do publicity and PR for a bunch of them now, so I'm still involved with a few too many. Veteran, railroad, local museum, hysterical society, etc.

The history of volunteerism is one of ebb and flow. It seems one year (or years) you will have an influx of younger guys, many who stay on. Then the active membership drops for a time, for a hundred different reasons.

Simply, you need something to keep them interested. Good programs at the meetings, ongoing projects instead of gab sessions in the shop all day, several ongoing projects in the works, older members who respect and welcome the new guys, personality and clique problems kept in the background.

I know, in a perfect world. But if you want your organization to survive, maybe you just might have to make some changes.

Funny how every organization has the same people. Different faces and names, but the same people. You know, Mr. Grumpy who won't lift a finger to help but has plenty to say, Mr. We-Always-Did-It-This-Way-And-We-Can't-Change-Now, Mr. Instigator who does all that he can to keep opposing sides fighting, Mr. CrackerJack who wants to get things done but the Olde Guard won't let him, etc.

I've done a pile of guest speaker gigs over the years and never once got paid. I was fed a few times, but no $$. Gotta try that...