Spring 2024

The Belleville Model Railroad Club: It’s like Lego for adults

Ardith Racey

The Belleville Model Railroad Club: It’s like Lego for adults

Anyone who’s been to the Quinte Mall at Christmas over the past 50 years is familiar with the model railroad display.

Kids and big kids love and have loved the snow-covered exhibit with its tiny trains and realistic landscapes. For decades, viewers have imagined horns and bells, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track, the ‘choo choo’ of the whistle as they ponder the intricacy and art of the train exhibit. It’s mesmerising!

Rick Potter, president of the Belleville Model Railroad Club (BMRC), says “it’s all in the details – it’s the really small things that make the scenes come alive – miniature cows, travellers with suitcases, wooden fences, barns with pigeons on the roof.” 

The BMRC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023, and they have plans for the future. In fact, Quinte’s 27th Annual Model Railroad Show, a two day event held at Centennial Secondary School in 2023, attracted over a thousand visitors, as well as vendors from London to Montreal, and clubs from Whitby, Coburg, and Brockville. The group spent much of this year working on a new larger travelling layout. 

The roughly 25 members share a ‘love of trains and modelling,’ meeting on Tuesday nights at the Bayview Mall. A non-profit organisation with about 20 – 25 sponsors who have their names placed on buildings and train cars, which provide advertising when the group displays their work at other venues. 

The layout designs are a group effort. There’s a process of creating the scenery and laying the track which can involve lots of glue. Potter says there’s a lot of creativity involved and that over the years the parts and technology have changed considerably. “Where we used to be able to only have one train on a track, we can now put ten engines on a track and control them individually, as well as adding realistic sound and visual effects. Good kits are now laser cut which comes with a price and a new knowledge level, and we are also working on becoming more computerised,” says Potter. 

The space at the Bayview Mall includes a kids’ layout, a Brio layout, and a permanent display which fills a large room and showcases cities and farmland from Toronto to Montreal. The trains run in a continuous loop through Port Hope, Belleville, Kingston and Brockville, and local sponsors have their names on various buildings. School groups, and kids’ groups such as Cubs and Beavers visit frequently and either control or watch the trains loop the tracks. 

The BMRC started in 1972 with meetings at various homes and kept going from there, says Potter. At one time they were located at the Air Force Base in Trenton, and later moved to the VIA Train station; in 2010 when the new train station was built, they were forced to relocate. Potter has been with the group for 30 years – he says that the exhibit at the Quinte Mall belongs to the mall, but the group looks after it. He also welcomes anyone to visit the permanent display.

Whether you’re a kid or an adult, there’s something enthralling about the model railroad exhibits that has resonated with us for half a century. Choo, choo. 


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