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History of
Arizona Big Train Operators


Compiled by many members of the club

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 (ABTO) became an organized club.  By-laws were written and a Board of Directors was elected with Jack Slinkard officiating as the first president. 

In the beginning, the 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. As the club matured, and membership grew, the Modules became a Special Interest Group (SIG) and the group of volunteers have even displyed the layout of state at The Big Train Show in California as well as locally at such places as The Botanical Gardens, University of Phoenix Stadium, Mesa Main Library, and countless other locations throughout the Valley of the Sun. 

In 2003 Rich Hull thought the 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 (TGRS) the idea was proposed at that time. It was a large undertaking and required the resources of both clubs. ABTO and TGRS hosted the 2008 National Garden Railway Convention at the San Marcos Hotel from 30 April thru 4 May 2008. This included tours of garden railroads in both the Tucson and Phoenix areas as well as "How to Clinics" at the resort. The efforts of both clubs did not go unnoticed. The 2008 Convention has received praise as being one of the best conventions held and was a huge success.

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 under Jerry McKenzie. The change in use of the area where the layout was located resulted in discontinuing the entire railroad at Phoenix Children’s in 2012.

The ABTO gained its 501( c ) (3) status before the 2008 National Convention which allows all donations to be tax deductible.  Some of those funds are used to maintain the Cardon RR as well as other train-related facilites. The Clubs 501(c) (3) charter is to promote the education of railroading (through model railroading) to the public. To this end, the Modules SIG event at the Mesa Main Library in the Summer helps promote the hobby and educate youth and adults about trains and how they operate. Additionally, the Club sponsors two Open House events where club members open their personal layouts to the public. These events take place during a weekend with a spring afternoon showing and again in December for Christmas with evening showings. ABTO members host the public by opening up their train layouts for festive viewing. It is free, but donations are always welcome. There were 17 layouts opened for the 2018 Christmas Open House event in December.  

In 2009 ABTO was asked to help maintain and operate a railroad at Cardon 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 Medical Center.

In 2015, the Modules SIG added 3 smaller layouts which were used at events with limited space or to compliment larger venues. One layout features Thomas the Tank type trains which allows children to operate thru 2 push buttons. The other layout is a kidney bean shape which allows the viewer to look at the layout from other perspectives. Both of these layouts can be adjusted to accomodate smaller or larger spaces. The third layout is unique; it was created by Daryll Smith, and features a free standing 2' x 6' switching layout which visitors operate. The idea is to give the operator (visitor) a list of cars that need to be formed into a train. The operator is challenged to arrange the cars in a specific order behind the engine using a single locomotive, five possible frieght cars, and switches. Kids and adults enjoy the challenge. Both the Thomas the Tank layout and the switching layout have been featured at our weeklong event at The Mesa Main Library along with the large layout.

There are other Special Interest Groups within the club. These include Live Stream, Painting and Airbrushing, Euro Trains, Gandy Dancer, MTH 1/32 Scale, Cardpn Children's Medical Center and New Member.

The Club holds monthly meetings hosted by a club member at their home to view their layout, have a general membership meeting. and indulge in a potluck-like setting of food. Members also enjoy an Annual Auction in the sping and a Christmas Dinner in early December.

Guests are always welcome at monthly meetings, just come with a friend or call one of the board members. Anyone can join, so come and enjoy G-scale trains with ABTO.




ABTO is a 501(C)(3) Organization. All donations are tax deductible
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