Are We Part of the Problem?


{reprinted from the October 2005 Blue Ridge Dispatcher}

 A few years back I commented that one of the most common subjects I hear discussed at model railroad events and prototype rail fan functions is the future of the hobby and attracting more new members to keep organizations such as the NRHS vibrant and progressive. Last fall a Roanoke Chapter member voiced a parallel concern for his Chapter since many senior members of being called home by the Creator and with age and health issues preventing others from doing what they once could. National Director E. Norris Deyerle of our sister Blue Ridge Chapter, NRHS, expressed his personal concern on this issue within the pages of the Blue Ridge Dispatcher, June, 2005, edition. I personally do not have an answer to this issue, but I will offer some commentary.

As a child growing up in the sixties, a philosophy I often heard form the lips of high school and college folks whom society labeled as “activist” was always as follows: You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I always opted to be a part of the solution, even to this day.          

When I meet other rail fans trackside or modeling hobbyists at shows and similar events almost always ask the person if they hold membership with a modeling or prototype club or organization. Over half say they do not. If their answer is no, I will usually ask why they are not. Here are some of the most common reasons why people are not members or do not care to join. Keep in mind, too, these are the same reasons others elect not to renew their memberships, or simply pay their dues and remain in the background.      

Unawareness. It is amazing the number of train enthusiasts out there that are unaware of local or relatively close organizations, so they claim. With information and communication being like it is in today’s society, this reason doesn’t really hold much tonnage.           

Internal conflicts and interpersonal drama within some organizations ranked high in keeping folks away. Hobby clubs should be fun and enjoyable, like the hobby itself.           

Inhospitable members. This, too, ranked high. Many people spoke of attending meetings, open houses, and other functions and not feeling welcomed. Members were basically not friendly and very unwelcoming. I can testify to his from several past experiences.   A few years ago while attending the Altoona Railfest I visited the facilities of an Altoona model railroad club that was having an open house as a part of Railfest. I was their for an hour viewing the layout. NOT ONE member spoke to me or welcomed me to the open house or asked if I have any questions or comments. They were polite in squeezing by to perform a task on the layout, but that was it! I observed other visitors being treated likewise.   In another situation at another open house I deposited cash into a contribution jar right in front of two of the club’s members, and did not get as much as a “Thank You” from either one of them. Incidents such as these are not the way to attract new members or create positive P.R. for the community.           

Conflict of interest. A number of would-be members claimed this as their reason for not joining or dropping out. We railroad hobbyists definitely have our likes and dislikes. Some are really into restoring old rolling stock. Some would rather concentrate on the here and now. This is but one of many examples.           

Benefits of membership. More and more people are determining that they don’t need to hold membership with an organization to enjoy the hobby. To a degree, I can see and understand this point of view. Everyone has a reason for joining an organization. Sometimes these reasons are achieved, and sometimes they are not. When I joined the NRHS back in 1979, it was for the reason of enjoying the railroading hobby on a regular basis with people of parallel interest. This has yet to happen.           

The above reasons people expressed to me came from a diverse number of individuals over the past twenty years. Those of us who hold memberships and are REALLY concerned about the future of the NRHS and other organizations may want to ask ourselves and fellow members are we guilty of some of the above reasons. Are we the solution for helping the organization flourish, or stagnate to a sluggish existence and eventual demise?