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History of the Queens County Model Railroad Association

The Empire Valley Railroad

We do not know their names, but we understand that sometime in the early 1930’s, during the infancy of the model railroad hobby in the United States, a group of men from Western Queens met to further their hobby. They met in a local haberdashery that used to exist on Steinway Street in Long Island City to operate their “O” scale model trains. When the Second World War came, they disbanded and promised to resume meetings after the war. In 1945, the Empire Model Railroad Association was created. Meetings and operation of their new “HO” scale trains happened at the Lowery Hobby Shop from 1946 to 1947. When the Lowery Hobby Shop closed, they found an unneeded coal cellar, in a recently constructed apartment building. The coal cellar was cleaned out and a layout was born. The year was 1947, and with a bit of elbow grease and several coats of surplus Brooklyn Navy Yard paint, the Empire Model Railroad Association was born.

In 1952 the Association was incorporated with the State of New York. The annual Thanksgiving show was very popular with the neighborhood, and many looked forward to its arrival. Things went well for many years, until 1985, when the old layout was dismantled without a clear plan for rebuilding. Many members left and the organization was in tatters. In 1987, the Association regrouped and was reborn, along with a new name. The “Empire” became the Queens County Model Railroad Association.

The Associations HO model railroad is known as the “Empire Valley”. The Empire Valley or “EV” is a trunk/bridge line railroad. The EV connects with many other northeast railroads, it also carries goods manufactured and consumed in the east.

The southern terminus of the Empire Valley is at Hagerstown Maryland. It runs northeast into Allentown, Pennsylvania and then east through New Jersey, to New York Harbor. Traveling north from the Harbor, along the scenic Hudson Valley, you arrive at Kingston, New York.

The railroad then travels in two directions, to Mechanicsville, New York the northern terminus and to Buffalo, New York the western terminus. Trackage rights take the EV west to St. Louis and Chicago, north to Montreal, Canada, East to New England, and south to Atlanta, Georgia.

The railroad is modeled from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Binghamton, New York. Allentown and Binghamton are in unseen “staging” yards. In these yards complete trains can be stored until needed. In addition, staging yards are also located in Paterson, New Jersey and Albany, New York for additional operating flexibility. Kingston, New York sits in the middle of the layout. At Kingston, the Corporate Headquarters for the EV, you will find the major locomotive and railcar repair facilities as well as two rail yards. Schneider Yard is a major destination point and is visible on the layout. A secondary yard is located in Newburgh, New York for storage of interchange and coal train traffic.

The EV host many industries. The major freight shippers are the metallurgical coal mine at Highland, the power plant at Newburgh, the steel mill at Paterson, the cement plant at Ravena, and the automobile plant in Kingston. Other important industries are the petrochemical refinery at Highland, the Intermodal facilities at New Paltz and Schneider Yard, the Hendricks Industrial Park, as well as numerous other carload traffic industries along the railroad.

Small interurban and city traction lines also feed passengers and freight to the Empire Valley at key points. The Valley Connecting Railroad is a small subsidiary of the Empire Valley, and acts as a belt line, serving the Port of New York.

You can find many different kinds of trains plying the rails on the Empire Valley. Steam, Electric and Diesel locomotives can be found regularly pulling the roads passenger and freight trains. The EV is electrified from Hagerstown to Paterson, a direct result of the competition from the Pennsylvania Railroad and Virginian Railroad in the late 1920’s. Freights might include the simple local switch job, a unit automobile or coal train, a block of reefer or stock cars, or a large lumbering general freight. Passenger train operations include both long-haul and local commuter trains. Commuter trains run from Schneider Yard to Paterson (electric) and Kingston (conventional). Long haul passenger trains run the entire system and use facilities at Kingston and Schneider Yard on route to their final destinations. Passenger trains you might see include the local commuter run, milk and package trains, streamlined and heavyweight varnish, even an Amtrak intercity train.

We hope you enjoy your visit to the Empire Valley. Please stop by our layout from time to time to see how we progress. If you have additional questions, please feel free to ask any of our helpful members.