Tucked behind a strip mall in North Haledon, you might miss the Garden State Model Railway Club when you first visit it. However, that unassuming exterior is hiding an entire miniature world inside. Hundreds of different models– buildings, trees, cars, people, and more– lie in wait behind the door, but none of them can compare to the model trains that the club runs, and the dedicated hobbyists who make it all happen.
Ron Bassani, the current president of the Garden State Model Railway Club, has been in this world since his childhood. “So many of our members, especially our senior members, had Lionel Trains in our family or our household as children, and that included myself,” he said. “My older brother and uncle had Lionel Trains, and so my first introduction into model railroading was playing with them. Later on in life, I used to buy models for myself, and I would run my trains in my basement. Joe Rizzo told me to come down and run my trains at the Garden State Model Railway Club, which he was a member of. After a few weeks, they said ‘Hey, if you’re going to keep coming down here, you might as well become a member!’” Bassani soon climbed the ranks to become vice president, and later president, of the club.
The Garden State Model Railway Club has come a long way since its founding in a Paterson garage in the early 1950s. It’s now one of the leading model railway clubs in the state. “There’s a tremendous rich history of railroading in Northern New Jersey, which is one of the reasons I think we’re so successful,” Bassani said. The club currently boasts over fifty members, some as young as fifth grade and others in their eighties, with many of the members under the age of thirty. “The key to survival for any club is bringing in youth,” Bassani said. “We have been very successful at bringing in the next generation.”
Visitors young and old find themselves delighted by the events the club runs throughout the year. Their annual Model Railway Show, currently in its 65th year, draws many “repeat customers,” according to Bassani, who come back year after year. With play areas for children and a space for attendees to actually run the model trains, the club’s activities and detailed miniature layout can bring out the wonder in anyone. Bassani noted how certain parts of the layout, which depicts the location and operations of the railroads of North Jersey during the transitional era of the 1950s, stand out to visitors. “One of the iconic things we have in our current layout is a scratch-built miniature of the Jersey City Terminal that exists today… It used to be a major railroad hub. Everybody comes through the door and says ‘Hey, I know that!’ Most people are very impressed with the level of detail, they’re just in awe.”
With over a dozen different specialties that go into crafting a model railroad and decades of history and knowledge to soak up, there’s more to learn about the Garden State Model Railway Club than can be put into words, but Ron Bassani said it best. “It’s really one of those things that you almost have to see with your own eyes to gain a true appreciation of, but there’s also a social aspect to it. We meet with great people who have common interests, and spend good, quality time together.”
The club’s open houses will continue to run into spring, taking place on March 16th, 17th, 23rd, 24th, and April 6th and 7th. On March 3rd, they’ll also run a new open house for anyone who has a model train with digital command control that they want to run on the club’s layout. Whether you’re a seasoned train enthusiast or a curious novice, you won’t want to miss the chance to come pay a visit!
"We meet with great people who have common interests, and spend good, quality time together.”
Visitors young and old find themselves delighted by the events the club runs.