Arizona Big Train Operators
The original group got together back in the mid 1990’s. At that time, it was just a group of people interested in “G” scale trains. In 1996, the Arizona Big Train Operators became an organized club. By-laws were written and a Board of Directors was elected with Jack Slinkard officiating as the first president. Following him as presidents were Jim Brown, Tony Vacek, Al Wendler, Ennis Thompson, Ed Dunshie, and now our current president, Bob Rauperstrauch.
In the beginning, ABTO had a module layout to promote the hobby which consisted of privately owned sections made of wood and styrofoam and contained one track. The modules were under constant repair and were eventually discarded. A new 30’ x 60’ steel module loop was built in 2002 by Dan Hoag that was superior to the first layout because it contained two mainlines and four large passing tracks. Eventually, four more sidings were added to the center to store trains which would alternate on the outer loops. Soon, dioramas were built by volunteers and added along the insides of the layout for the added “G” scale railroad garden look, and the modules continue to grow and add entertainment to many events to promote the hobby. . It has always been exciting to see trains running at the Big Train Show in California, or in Phoenix at the Botanical Gardens. Now they are displayed with the help of many club volunteers four times a year at different rail rail events throughout the vally.
In 2004, ABTO contacted Phoenix Children’s Hospital to suggest building a layout for the children. It was constructed and maintained by many ABTO volunteers underJerry McKenzie. The change in use of the area where the layout was located resulted in discontinuing the entire railroad at phz Children’s in 2012.
In 2009 ABTO was asked to help maintain and operate a railroad at Cadon Children’s Medical Center. With the assistance of the ABTO and Friends of Cardon RR, a very large “G” scale layout is once again enjoyed indoors by many people, visiting, working , and staying in the hospital.
Because of the popularity of the train hobby, The National Garden Railway Convention was started in 1984 in Denver, Colorado. Many cities have hosted this popular annual train event where train enthusiasts can gather to share their experiences, see the latest products, and see train layouts in the area.
In 2003, Rich Hull thought ABTO was a large enough organization, with plenty of train experience in the membership to be able to sponsor a National Garden Railroad Convention in Arizona. Joining forces with The Tucson Garden Railroad Society, the idea was proposed at that time. It was a large undertaking and required all the resources of both clubs. It was held at the SanMarcos Hotel in downtown Chandler and was a huge success.
Since ABTO gained its 501( c ) (3) status before the convention, all donations are tax deductible. Some of those funds are used to maintain the Cardon RR. The one week events at the Mesa library in the summer help promote the hobby and educate youth and adults about trains and how they operate. Twice a year, in the spring afternoon showings and again at Christmas in the evening showings, ABTO members host the public by opening up their train layouts for festive viewing. It is free, but donations are always welcome.
Guests are always welcome at monthly meeting, just come with a friend or call one of the board members. Anyone can join, so come and enjoy g-scale trains with ABTO.