Fred Humphrey and Greg Warth’s dream is on track to becoming a reality
There was a time when unwrapping a train set on Christmas morning wasn’t just opening a gift but embarking on an adventure. Amidst the whirl of holiday excitement, children became conductors in their living rooms, orchestrating grand journeys along winding tracks through miniature towns. These gleaming locomotives and meticulously crafted carriages were golden tickets to imaginative worlds where generations came together to create cherished memories.
Today, that treasured tradition lives on at the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads.
Fred Humphrey and other passionate model-train enthusiasts were long-standing members of the original Tidewater Modular Railroad Club (TMRC) in Virginia Beach, and their impressive 4,000-square-foot HO model-train layout was a beloved fixture in their Fairfield Shopping Center storefront for a decade, drawing thousands of visitors.
But in 2019, the winds of fortune shifted for the club. Fairfield Shopping Center changed hands, and the new owners demanded the model-train club vacate the premises. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding a new location proved to be a daunting task. After an unsuccessful year-long search, the members decided to take a bold step. Envisioning a new, more elaborate organization dedicated to model railroads, they officially established the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads-while simultaneously searching for a facility to serve as its home.
“Our vision is to create a unique, unified
multi-scale model railroad venue
for public display and interaction…
We aim to be the largest
museum of this kind in the country.”
– Fred Humphrey
“Our vision is to create a space accessible to people of all ages and inclusive of all major model train scales,” Fred Humphrey says. “After a year and a half of dedicated planning, our efforts have culminated in the achievement of our non-profit 501(c)3 and 509(a) status with the IRS, granting the museum tax-exempt status and the ability to accept tax-deductible donations.”
Once the organization’s new home is secured, their entire collection, featuring model-railroad layouts in a wide variety of scales, will be displayed to captivate and inspire families and hobbyists throughout Hampton Roads. “But finding a home is, at the moment, our most crucial need,” Fred insists, “and we’re hoping to inspire support from our Hampton Roads community.”
Hampton Roads is home to at least 28 museums, most focused on art, the military, and Virginia’s history since the dawn of the Colonial Period. Still, none are dedicated solely to model railroading or the region’s railroad history. The Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads aims to fill that gap.
“This museum is a totally unique undertaking,” Fred explains. “We hope to offer at least seven differently scaled model-train layouts, along with educational clinics, historical railroad information, videos, a library, artifacts, a gift store, meeting rooms, and hands-on public interaction with the trains.”
As Fred and Greg know, model railroading is a fun, family-friendly hobby in which everyone can participate and contribute regardless of age. But model trains are more than just a hobby: they’re a gateway to friendships and connections. By joining groups like the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads, enthusiasts can share stories, impart skills, and even construct extensive, permanent model railroads-not to mention contests, visiting exhibitions with like-minded individuals, and embarking on train-spotting trips. But here’s a secret: while model railroading is undeniably fun, it’s also educational.
“Our vision is to create a unique, unified multi-scale model railroad venue for public display and interaction where we focus on the history of how railroads have shaped the country and demonstrate the art and science of model railroading,” Museum Board Secretary Greg Warth explains. “We aim to be the largest museum of this kind in the country.”
Not content with merely preserving history and memories, the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads has its vision fixed on the future. Fred and Greg are particularly excited about reaching out to local school districts and using model trains to educate the rising generation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
“Building a model railroad is a multidisciplinary task encompassing civil and mechanical engineering, carpentry, physics, electronics, architecture, landscaping, history, business, and commerce, “Greg explains. “Our museum is committed to leveraging these educational aspects of the hobby, making them accessible to the wider student community, which is why we’re working with local city governments and school districts to bring students to the museum for educational credit in a variety of ways.”
“When planning a model railroad,
you’re engaging in engineering,
dabbling in design, and mastering mathâ¦
It’s a playful, practical way
to ignite imaginations
and inspire tomorrow’s innovators.”
– Greg Warth
“The demand for tech skills is skyrocketing, and our museum is a hands-on journey into real-world applications of classroom lessons,” Greg insists. “When planning a model railroad, you’re engaging in engineering, dabbling in design, and mastering math without realizing it. It’s a playful, practical way to ignite imaginations and inspire tomorrow’s innovators.”
Besides making calculations and having a knowledge of circuits, art is also a vital part of building model railroads. Crafting landscapes and intricate architecture requires a blend of logic and creativity. And so STEM becomes STEAM-science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. At the Model Railroad Museum, young visitors would see science, technology, and art converge on sets of miniature tracks. It’s education but with a whistle-blowing twist.
“As the museum’s president, I am excited to share our vision,” Fred adds. “We’re in the beginning stages, but we are poised to become a cherished part of our local community, celebrating the intricate artistry and engineering behind model railroading. Our mission is clear: to preserve Virginia’s rich railroading history, inspire new generations of model train enthusiasts, and use our unique STEAM Program to educate students of all ages.”
In pursuing this, Fred Humphrey, Greg Warth, and their dedicated team at the Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads are laying down more than just tracks-they are building bridges between the past and the future. By preserving the nostalgic joy of model trains, they are also nurturing the next wave of scientists, artists, and engineers through hands-on, locomotive STEAM education. As they search for a permanent home in which their vision can thrive, they are extending a heartfelt invitation to the Hampton Roads community to come aboard this extraordinary expedition, where the past is cherished, the present is celebrated, and the future is as open-ended as the tracks themselves.
The Model Railroad Museum of Hampton Roads