Revitalizing a Club

Jerry Criswell, a graduate of the San Leandro club's Novice Program, is seen here operating trains on the the club layout. Tom Blinn photos

Susan Criswell, through her involvement with her son Jerry, was recently elected as historian.

Looking for a way to attract new members to your club? After experiencing a significant drop in membership, the San Leandro Historical Railway Society was too.

While searching for new membership ideas, several of the society's members noticed that the weekly community open houses were attracting a significant number of parents with 8- to 13-year-old children. The kids seemed to be nuts about the trains and their parents seemed willing to share the interest. The SLHRS therefore decided to target that group by creating a Novice Program to integrate younger participants into the museum's aging membership.

The year-long program runs every Saturday morning. Twice a month novices and their parents attend 30-minute classes conducted by club members. The classes teach model railroading skills, railroad history, and the rules of the society. On the opposite weeks, novices participate in regular club activities with museum members.

Member Tom Blinn reports that "at first the SLHRS members were very nervous about bringing in young kids, thinking they would be the ruin of the group. However, during the first year, that fear was mitigated by the relationships that developed." Upon completion of the program, the children and their parents are awarded certificates and given the opportunity to become SLHRS members.

Tom is quick to point out that the program succeeded because it gets both the kids and their parents involved in the organization. As an added benefit, Tom says that "kids attract kids, which means more parents." And all that translates into a much brighter future for the society.

The San Leandro Historical Railway Society, located in the restored Central Pacific San Leandro depot in San Leandro, Calif., operates a museum and HO scale layout. The depot is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit the group's Web site at

For helpful beginner tips, get Model Railroader's Basic Training email series.



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