The club operates two layouts at the former church located at the corner of Raccoon Road and Four Mile Run in Austintown. The work on the layouts is a year-round endeavor by club members who only open the doors to the public once a year.
The HO layout features a large steel mill complex, downtown Youngstown, an amusement park and large switch yards. The layout is so large that TV monitors had to be installed for operators to track their trains as they progress on the main line.
“We’ve installed cameras around the layout so the engineer doesn’t have to squeeze through the crowd to keep an eye on the train,” said YMRA member Dave McNeil.
Sections of the layout are still under construction and each year those attending will see something new. This year the amusement park, for instance, will showcase a variety of moving rides.
“After the open house, we will be adding a trolley line and a working roller coaster to the scene,” McNeil said.
On the upper floor of the church is an O scale layout featuring more than 100 scale miles of track. Train operators are housed in a switch tower built above the layout where engineers can keep an eye on their train's movement. On the south end of the layout, there is a turntable and engine facility to house dozens of steam and diesel locomotives.
“The large O scale giants offer a special fascination,” said YMRA member and open house coordinator Dean DeMain. “For some, they bring back memories of the trains many of us had under our own Christmas trees years ago.”
DeMain serves as the HO layout vice president. He is actually a second generation YMRA member. His father Jack DeMain was among the early members of the club when it was formed in the late 1950s.
The club began in 1957 after an ad in a model railroad magazine called for anyone interested in starting a model railroad club in the Youngstown area. On Sunday, April 1, 1957, eight men met at the home of George Sankey on Tippecanoe Road in Youngstown. Out of that first meeting was born the YMRA.
During the first year, the members built a 5-foot-by-10-foot portable layout that was displayed at the Canfield Fair and at Idora Park. In December of that first year, the newly formed club was given space at the New York Central passenger station on Wilson Avenue. At that location, the first full-size layout was built and the YMRA held its first open house on Dec. 2, 1961.
As the economy declined in the 1960s, the YMRA was forced out of the old station and relocated in an old gymnasium at the Eagles building, Fifth Avenue at Rayen in Youngstown. They began working on a larger layout until economic hard times forced the closing of that location. That had the group again looking for home.
It was August of 1977, and one of the members -- the late Butch Phillips -- helped acquire the present location in the former Four Mile Run Christian Church. The club officially moved in during April 1978. At the time it was just an HO scale club, but in February of 1980, the club added an O scale segment.
“Presently we have 40 members and are open for new members,” said DeMain.
For the open house, the club requests a $3 donation from those older than 12. The funds help with the club’s finances.
“We have to cover the utilities and maintenance,” McNeil said. “We have three sources of income: the open house, club dues and the two train shows we host at McNenamys in Niles each year.”
Youngstown Model Railroad Club member Dave McNeil demonstrates the switch yard on the large HO scale layout in the club’s basement. The layout will be showcased to the public during the club's upcoming open house.