Chelten Hills Model Railroad Club

While real trains go back to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, toy trains emerged later. Wooden and metal toys resembling trains were first made in Europe in the 1860s.

By 1901, Lionel made its first electric train for use in store display windows. Over the years, a number of famous manufacturers, including Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, Marx, Marklin, and LGB have made toy trains. Some of the most historic ones are on display in the National Toy Train Museum. The museum is located at 300 Paradise Lane, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, These are commonly referred to as tinplate trains.

Toy trains come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges and scale. One of the most common and affordable sizes is that of the HO gauge. In that size model train the scale to a full size is shown in the diagram below as 1/87 and the distance between the rails on which the model would run is 16.5mm (0.6496063 inches) and the size of a model representing a 50-foot box car would be 6 7/8 inches in length.

The Mantua name has been associated with the model railroad hobby market since the early 1930s.  Mantua was a pioneer in the field of HO-scale model trains.  Early offerings included component pieces such as the Midjet Motor sold in the ’30s to steam locomotive, freight car, and passenger car kits that included a full line of offerings by the 1950s.

The growth in ready-to-run HO-scale train sets was the reason behind the creation of the TYCO nameplate in 1957.  The name derives from TYler Manufacturing CO…or TYCO.  Mantua continued to exist throughout the ’50s and into the 1960s manufacturing kits, while the TYCO line sold already built and ready to operate model trains largely in set form. 

The Mantua and TYCO companies were a family owned business from its inception.  John Tyler was the person who helped guide the early Mantua into the model train business in the ’30s.  John Tyler’s son, Norman Tyler, was named president of TYCO Industries, Inc. the combined Mantua and TYCO companies, in 1967.

In the 1970s the company was sold to Consolidated Foods. Production focuses upon the TYCO line and the company was moved from its Woodbury Heights, New Jersey home of Mantua to Hong Kong.  Norman Tyler served as an executive for TYCO, under the Consolidated Foods ownership in the early/mid ’70s.  The Mantua factory in New Jersey was no longer needed by the late ’70s and Mr. Tyler was told to find a buyer.  Tyler ended up buying the factory and brought the Mantua name back to life in 1977.

The Chelten Hills Model Railroad Club is a HO scale and Digitrax DCC layout with over 28 scale miles and 1750 feet of track.

In addition to the outstanding model layout of the club’s showcase is the historic building in which it is housed. Founded on February 7, 1946 the club is one of the oldest, if not the oldest in this area of Pennsylvania. The layout bears the name, the Penn Falls Railroad and is modeled to represent the transition years between steam and diesel.

This is the era that brought about the arrival of the Diesel-Electric locomotives. This was by all accounts the most important innovation in railroading in the twentieth century. The replacement of steam engines with diesel-electric locomotives took place in the twenty years between 1939 and 1959. This transition from steam to diesel electric locomotive power touched every part of the industry. It is this transition period that the members of the Chelten Hill Model Railroad Club have accented with their layout.

It should be noted that had the diesel-electric locomotive not been developed and trains would have been forced to rely on steam engines, most railroads probably could not have survived the post-World War II loss of business to other forms of transportation.

Likewise, the model railroad club also ensured their existence by moving from their original location to that of their current home. At the time of its founding as the Germantown HO Engineers, the original founding group of ten members met on the second floor of a Germantown Avenue paint store.

Their first layout was completed in June, 1946. A month later, the club moved to a bigger facility in the basement of the PRR signal tower in Chestnut Hill. They moved their original layout to this facility where it was housed until 1952, when they started a new layout.  

The new trackwork was completed in 1955, but scenery and revisions continued until they moved the club to their present location in Elkins Park in 1962. By this time the club had 22 members and they needed more space. They also decided to change the name to the Chelten Hills Model Railroad Club and they named their layout the Penn Falls Railroad. The original layout was so good that it still exists today with a few minor changes and improvements. The old electrical operating system has been replaced with a new Digitrax DCC system, which has greatly enhanced operations.

The Philadelphia, Easton and Water-Gap Railroad Company was incorporated in Pennsylvania on April 6, 1852, and renamed the North Pennsylvania Railroad Company on October 3, 1853.

The company’s object was to link Philadelphia with northeastern Pennsylvania and central and western New York, but it was only able to construct a line as far as Bethlehem (1853-1857) with a branch to Doylestown (1856), relying on connections with the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Bethlehem. As it occupied a minor traffic corridor, the North Penn was a relatively weak road until 1874, when it built a branch from Jenkintown to the Delaware River at Yardley which became a link in a second route between New York and Philadelphia. The so-called “New Line” opened on May 1, 1876, in time for traffic to the Centennial.

The New Line made the North Penn a more attractive property. The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company negotiated a long term lease on May 14, 1879, and the road was thereafter operated as part of the Reading system. This situation lasted until the Reading entered bankruptcy in 1971.

One of the 14 stations of the original railroad that operated from Tioga Street in Philadelphia to Gwynedd, was the Old York Road station which was later renamed the Ogontz station.

The station was closed as an active station in 1911 when the Elkins Park Train Station was built a few blocks south on the line. The building currently serves as the Chelten Hills Model Railroad Club.

The address of the Club is 8000 Old York Road (Adjacent to Elkins Park Square)
Elkins Park, PA 19027. For information call (215) 635–9747. E-mail: cheltenhills@gmail,com

A video of the layout can be seen at:

The layout boasts some major highlights. The first thing you will encounter as you walk in the door, is an amazing, hand-built lift bridge, which connects both sides of the layout. Imagine the aisle as a river with cities, towns, and industries on both sides. The bridge not only connects the railroad, it is a means of crowd control during open houses. It has worked flawlessly for over fifty years with only minor adjustments. On the right hand side of the river is the Berkenstock freight yard, engine servicing facility and the waterfront pier. Look closely and you will find many detailed and fascinating scenes.

On the left hand side of the river there is a small town with an industrial area, bridges, a dam, and some beautiful, detailed scenery. Continuing on you will reach the “city” area with a large railroad terminal (modeled after the St. Louis Terminal), a trolley system, and a very large and detailed passenger yard.

The layout has 1,750 feet (28 scale miles) of track, 150 plus turnouts, and many amazing details.

The club always welcomes guests and new members. They meet every Thursday evening at 7:30pm (except holidays). Their open invitation is for visitors to stop in, say hello, and talk “trains” with the members and get a closer tour of the layout. Who knows, you may decide that want to join this historic group of model railroaders.

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