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Model train enthusiast and stamp collectors unite

Train stamp
The Rensselaer Model Railroad Society has for years prided itself on historical accuracy in its nationally known model railroad exhibit.   So much so that in November the student club gained the attention of another set of hobby enthusiasts who also place special emphasis on history — stamp collectors.   On Nov. 20, the U.S. Postal Service used the model railroad for a special cancellation package. The cancellation, which honors the five recently issued stamps of the great American streamliners of the 1930s, was held at the student club’s headquarters in the basement of Davison Hall.   “The federal government, in essence, has put its stamp of approval on our model railroad,” says John Nehrich ’72, project coordinator for the model railroad. “The special cancellation honors the efforts of model railroad builders everywhere who work diligently to recreate the great age of the railroad.”

Troy Postmaster George Koba canceled the stamps on special envelopes that featured a model of the famous 20th Century Limited. The New York Central streamlined 4-6-4 locomotive appears in the 1950 HO scale scene of Troy as it is set up in the model railroad exhibit. The cancellation carries the “Berkshire Lines” signet of the model railroad’s fictitious New England Berkshire & Western Railroad lines.   The student club’s 500-foot model railroad is set up along a meticulously carved landscape. The layout includes settings with miniaturized people, their cars and homes, and industrial buildings that once represented the driving forces of communities across the country.   

Looking at the three-room, 130 feet-by-24 feet HO scale layout, it’s easy to imagine the railroad’s significance in the early part of the century.   

“We feel a connection with Rensselaer’s model railroad that accurately portrays a time when the railroad was a primary means of delivering mail,” Koba says.   

During the event, student club members operated the model train and showed how mail was carried and distributed by train.

 “We’re really lucky to be here in Troy, which had such an industrial history and interesting stuff to model,” Nehrich says. “Troy was a hotbed of technology, and Rensselaer played a major role in educating the leaders in rail transportation.”  

 Stephen Van Rensselaer, who founded Rensselaer in 1824, was the first president of the Mohawk & Hudson, the first railroad in New York state that ran between Albany and Schenectady. Many of Rensselaer’s early graduates went on to become successful in the railroad industry.

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