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  • NMRA

    I'm considering joining the NMRA and wonder if it's worthwhile. Does it really merit the $66 annual membership fee? That seems high vis-a-vis some other organizations to which I belong, all of which produce colorful monthly magazines.

    What's the culture of the NMRA? Do the same folks hold office and run things year after year or is there a healthy turnover and sharing of key jobs and responsibilities? Is it open to "fresh blood? From what little I've heard and seen, it appears to be largely a group of men of retirement age.

    I ask these questions (realizing some are rather broad or maybe even unknowable without direct, first-hand experience) because of past negative experiences with other (non-railroading) membership organizations, whose modus operandi seemed to be defined by insularity, cliquishness and mistrust.

    I'd appreciate any feedback - pros, cons and in between.

  • #2
    I was a member back in 1969 thru the 70's, and wish at times I had stayed a member.

    One of the many things they do for it's members that others can't get is, The Kalmbach Memorial Library just may be the largest railroad reference and research center in the world, containing over 100,000 prototype photos, 6,000 books, and more than 50,000 modeling, prototype and historical society magazines. Every day it answers dozens of members' questions about everything from model to prototype railroading.

    NMRA members can get answers to questions; printouts of the periodical database; videotapes and tape/slide clinics, and discounts on research services, photo reproductions, surplus books and magazines

    A detailed information site is here;

    Louis L&R Western Railroad
    Pacific Northwest Logging in the East Coast


    • #3

      The NMRA offers a 6 month trial membership for $10 called RailPass. That will give you the opportunity to explore the NMRA by getting its magazine, attend local meets and events, etc. You can find the form, here:

      I enjoy being a member of the forum. Besides the library Louis mentioned, I also participate in the Achievement Program. It is a program designed to learn different parts of the hobby, from electronics, structures, volunteering, track laying, etc. I've learned so much from this, and I am not even half way to getting my Master Model Railroader designation.

      Another part I enjoy are the local events and regional conventions. I've been to a few national conventions, too. But, the local division events are where you really get to meet with local people more often. You get to know them and share experiences. And, learn from clinics and layout tours. A lot of fun for me.

      And, the last part I enjoy is volunteering. You really get more out of your membership when you give your time. I spent 5 years as our division newsletter editor. A great deal of fun, since you meet a lot of good people. And, it is a lot of work. But, very rewarding. Currently, I am going to volunteer time working the regional convention our division is hosting in 2018.

      So, if you are unsure if you want to join, try the RailPass program. But, also try to attend a local event to learn more. Even if you don't join with RailPass, you can still got to local meets...up to three times. That should be more than enough to determine if the NMRA is for you.



      • #4
        Hi, Desert Drover!

        I'm well aware of its rich resources, which in themselves may well be worth more than $66 a year to some. I've also seen the magazine, which is professionally produced and generally well-written.

        Of greater interest to me are the organization's culture: its openness to new leadership, new members, fresh ideas, extending beyond its aged membership base, sharing the inner workings of its operations, for example, its annual budget, growth plans and the like. Can you enlighten me in any of these areas?

        Whey did you drop out?


        • #5
          Many thanks for the encouragement and opportunities, Chuck. Can you provide any insight into the organizational culture such as I cited to Desert Drover?


          • #6

            Originally posted by GNMT76

            Hi, Desert Drover!

            I'm well aware of its rich resources, which in themselves may well be worth more than $66 a year to some. I've also seen the magazine, which is professionally produced and generally well-written.

            Of greater interest to me are the organization's culture: its openness to new leadership, new members, fresh ideas, extending beyond its aged membership base, sharing the inner workings of its operations, for example, its annual budget, growth plans and the like. Can you enlighten me in any of these areas?

            Whey did you drop out?

            I left the membership because I was in the Air Force at the time, and didn't use the organization to it's full potential. So in essence I was only paying for the magazine, and getting nothing else from it.

            As far as the information you seek of the Organization, I had no real caring for their annual budget, growth plans, friendliness or the like. Sorry!

            However, Chuck (wvrr)sounds as though he has used the NMRA to it's full potential, and knowledge of the groups friendliness and attributes.

            Louis L&R Western Railroad
            Pacific Northwest Logging in the East Coast


            • #7
              Be aware that the National level of the NMRA operates the annual national convention, helps with contest judging, publishes the magazine and maintains the library and the Howell Day Museum. Almost all of the social, educational and other services come from your local NMRA Division. Some of these are large and active. Some are middle sized, some are quite small with little activity. The culture and the nature of the office holders vary from Division to Division.

              I have been a member for 16 years; my Division is one of the large, active ones. Their activities are usually within 1:15 drive from my house. Several of my neighboring divisions are also active, but the smallest is a bit inward turned (they have a web site, but don't post the addresses of their meeting locations, presumably because all 24 of them know where 'Bob's house' is).

              So if you think the National's offerings are worth it, go ahead. If what you want from the organization is more the local activities, use the National's web site to look up your local Division and see what they do and how far the activities are from you (some Divisions are hundreds of miles across). Then go to an event, meet the people, see how it is run, and then decide.


              • #8
                If you want to make friends in the hobby then join the NMRA and go to the local meetings.

                If you want to be a lone wolf, then don't join.

                Or, best yet, join for 1 year and if you don't like it don't renew.

                I have been a member for almost all of the past 50 years.

                But now that I no longer travel and have seen hundreds of layouts, I can't justify the expense.


                • #9

                  I think you will find that the culture can vary between each of the local divisions.

                  Our division tries to get different people on the board for our division. I was on the board until a couple years ago. I dropped off due to family and work issues. Recently, a position opened up on the board and I put my name in for it. But, two other people who have never been on the board have thrown their names into the hat. In a way, I am hoping one of the other two join the board to bring new ideas. If that happens, I will continue to volunteer my time. No harm, no foul.

                  Getting new people on the board is probably a challenge in any organization. It tends to be the same people who volunteer and run organizations. But, we still encourage people to join the board.

                  You might find that some divisions tend to be cliquish. But, that is a result of meets being a place where friends meet. All it takes is to introduce yourself. And, I've been trying to meet people I do not know at each meet. So far, I've found people to be very receptive. The division to our south draws over 100 people at each meet. Many of its members participate in different operations groups and you tend to see the various groups socialize at the meets. But, there is also interaction between the groups.

                  But, as I said, each division may differ in culture. As James pointed out, the best way to see how your division operates is to go to a meet. The other thing to do is check out your division's newsletter. Many divisions publish them on-line and are available for free.



                  • #10

                    I have been a member of the NMRA for about 25 years. I have participated in the master model railroaders program, been our division editor and am compleingd my term as Superintendant. Obviously I have invested time and effort in the organization. I am very fortunate that it is a very active division with ten monthly meetings a tear, rotating around the Pittsburgh and northern WV area.

                    My experience:

                    - our division always needs officers and committe chairs. If cliques existed they are long gone.

                    - if you look around at our monthly meeting you see lots of gray hair. That's the demographic of the hobby in general. We are always trying to get younger members to step forward but the truth is that they are busy raising families etc. Often all they need is encouragement. The hobby tends to make us all kids so I don't see a problem with hanging around with older members.

                    - I enjoy meeting people at conventions. You get to see people you only read in the press and attend clinics that are given by experienced modelers. I also enjoy clinics by speakers who have never given talks before. I enjoy those conversations that take place in the hospitality areas or lounges between clinics.

                    I live in a division with a largish city, Pittsburgh, so we have a healthy membership and average 40 people at monthly meetings. Some of what I experience might not apply to more rural divisions where members are all spread out. You might want to look at the websites for your division and region to gauge activity at those levels.

                    Of course it comes down to what you value in an organization.


                    Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin


                    • #11
                      I want to echo and reinforce what's been said. There's tremendous variation between NMRA divisions, in terms of how often they meet, how friendly the people are, etc. I've visited Mike Hohn's division a couple of times, and found them to be a very friendly group. Frankly, I can't say that my home division is as welcoming.

                      Modeling 1890s (because the voices in my head told me to)


                      • #12

                        As has been said, a new member's view of the NMRA will depend heavily on the nature of their local Division. I'm in the same Division as Chuck (wvrr) - in fact, it was Chuck who got me involved back in 2006. Within a year I was on the Division's Board of Directors. That speaks to your question of a "Good old Boys" network in our Division. I am now finishing my first year as Division President, and earned my MMR last spring. As Chuck said, in the Garden State Division, we are always looking for 'new blood'.

                        I can also speak a bit about the National level. Three years ago I was appointed as the Education Department Manager. At the time, I had only ever met one member of the National Leadership in person and knew two others through this Forum. I was certainly not a member of any clique - just a member with a background in education who was willing to volunteer my services to the organization. I now report to the NMRA's officers and Board of Directors twice a year. Some are old faces and some are new, and all are genuinely interested in growing both the organization and the hobby. They, too, are always looking for new people to fill positions. Some of those positions remain unfilled because of lack of volunteers.

                        So for me, the $66 is a nominal fee for what my membership adds to my enjoyment of the hobby. It is less than what I used to spend in a month on the coffee and bagel I would buy every day as I drove to work.


                        • #13

                          Lots of good info has been presented to you. I have been a life member since the late 1980s out here in the Pacific Northwest. I've been to several national conventions, and have participated in local division and regional activities for most of those years.

                          When I first joined, and for maybe the next dozen or so years, yes, I did feel like it was a "good old boys club", but things changed and now it is a very forward thinking, well managed group, in my opinion.

                          My main "take" from the NMRA is the friendships I've made with fellow modelers from all over the country and even several from overseas.

                          To me, I look at it as a fraternal organization, one I'd rather be a member of than, say, the local BPOE or similar (nothing against those organizations).

                          Like Chuck (wvrr) said, you can try the Rail Pass category and see if you like it. Also, you can pay for a full year's membership without a subscription to the NMRA Magazine at quite a bit of savings.

                          Al Carter


                          • #14

                            First off: The comments below are mine and mine alone, not the NMRA's.

                            There's a lot of good information in this thread, and what it comes down to is "you" and "local." The NMRA is a member service, locally-based organization. The definition of "local" can vary greatly, as there are Divisions that cover very small parts of urban areas, and Divisions, like mine, that are a three-hour ride from one end to the other.

                            What you get out of this is going to be highly dependent on what you put into it. For most of us who have been members for awhile, the "getting out of it" part involves friendships (for me it's friends in five countries on three continents), better skills due to active participation in the Achievement Program, and a chance to learn and share my hobby with others.

                            The National leadership, of which I am now a part, is composed of active volunteers who are giving up large chunks of their hobby time to ensure that the NMRA can function properly at the National (which is more "international" in scope), Region and Division levels. The "good ol' boy" perception is tough to crack, but with just under five years on the BOD, I'm term-limited out of the seat in 2017. Yes, there are new faces when we have elections, and yes, some folks will stand for other seats. Attracting qualified, willing volunteers to what is a "corporate governance" arena is tough, and we work hard at getting viable candidates to help run the organization.

                            Your statement that the NMRA is "largely a group of men of retirement age" rings true to an extent, but... and "but" is a big word. There is no question that most of us are male and are of retirement age. That said, some of the most talented members of the organization are women. A good chunk of the membership is more youthful than one might think, and yet... we're aging. Why?

                            Think about what's required to enjoy this hobby: Time, Space, Tools, Interest and Money. Even for a modular layout or portion of one, an individual needs all of those components, each of which can be hard to come by when one is trying to raise a family, establish a career and so on. The folks who have those components are the ones who are at or nearing retirement age. Those "geezers" (including me) also come with an additional blessing: grandchildren, who, thanks to Thomas, Chuggington and the like, are train crazy.

                            So that brings us to the "What is the NMRA National doing to get kids off their computers and into model railroading?" question. The answer is that we do have programs for Boy Scouts, we welcome and encourage youth to join the organization, and so on, but the real, plain, unvarnished truth, is that it's the local members in the local Divisions who can do the most to change the demographics of the organization. There are about a dozen of us at the "National" level; there are many thousands of members worldwide. It's the Members who have the best chance, not the dozen volunteers guiding the process.

                            Please have a look at the membership cost. That $66 comes down to $5.50 per month. That's one large pizza every two months, one missed "coffee-and" for Bruce a month, and so on. It's an opening to a world of friends sharing knowledge to help you get more from your hobby. And the more you get involved, the more you'll find that it's a pretty good value.

                            You'd be in the Pacific Northwest Region, Fifth Division, which includes Montana:

                            As has been mentioned, there's a Rail Pass available for under ten bucks that will give you a six-month trial. I'd recommend that you give it a shot, but during that six months, make a real effort to get involved and get something out of it. Enjoy!


                            in Michigan


                            • #15

                              Thank you for sharing your experiences, comments and suggestions. Every one of them was helpful and encouraging. Consider me sold!

                              Pete, I love your comparison of the membership fee vs. the price of pizza and coffee: "That $66 comes down to $5.50 per month. That's one large pizza every two months, one missed "coffee-and" for Bruce a month, and so on." $5.50 a month indeed - lots cheaper than in my hometown! Sounds like a bargain.