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Its Formation and progress to May 1954

By Tim Dunlop

Reprinted from Journal No 97 – May-June 1972

Because so many members have joined our ranks in recent times, the Editor has requested that I prepare a kind of short precis of events leading up to and following the formation of AMRA. It must be born in mind that to write an actual factual history of the birth and development of the Association to this date would already easily consume at least one hundred pages the size of this journal. I feel this should be done, but as to who has the time, necessary skill and knowledge to carry out this monumental effort, I have no idea. Yet, unfortunately, the longer it is left, the more difficult it will become, human memory being what it is. However, be that as it may, in the following paragraphs I have attempted to give a necessarily brief picture of how the AMRA came into being, deriving the information from AMRA Minutes and Correspondence files and to some extent from my own memory, and with the help of others who were intimately connected with those rather hectic days (and nights) that already seem so long ago.

The basic idea which eventually led to the formation of the Association in its existing form was crystallized by various comments in the Fortnightly Notices, issued by Alan Goode in connection with his Hobsons Bay Railway, the first comment being FN1268, in the issue dated 13/11/1950 in which Mr. C. Buchanan asked which was the better scale to advocate for ‘O’ gauge as NSW modellers appeared to favour 7mm scale to a greater degree, whilst Victorians favoured 1/4″ scale. In FN 1295 I advocated that standards be adopted before confusion reigned supreme, using one or the other of the existing American or British Standards, or alternatively, the drawing up of a complete set of our own, which appeared to me to be the wiser course to take, in view of the variety of gauges used by Australian full size railways, and the hotch-potch of model equipment available in Australia. Further comment appeared in FN’s 1314 and 1349, and finally the cat was out of the bag in FN 1389.

What actually happened in the period from the publication of the first FN regarding standards was a spate of private correspondence between interested persons, mainly Bill Lowry, Ernie Dean and myself, in which I proposed formation of the yet unnamed Association, and on my return to Melbourne early in 1951 informal talks on the subject of the formation of an Australian Standards organisation were held with Bill and Ern, the first of these meetings being held on the 13th March, 1951, at Bill’s home. It was there that the decision was made to attempt to form an Australian organisation and to convene another meeting to be held on the 30th March, to which any interested model railway men would be invited. Six turned up at this meeting, namely: Rick Richardson, Bryan McClure, Doug McFadden, Ernie Dean, Bill Lowry and myself. The idea was discussed at length and it was eventually decided that a Standards Association should be a practicable
possibility in Australia and the formation of the yet nameless association would be proceeded with immediately. A further meeting was arranged for the 6th April at which Ernie Mainka and Andy Lyell (subsequently VMRS President for two years) were also present. Andy was sympathetic to our aims and although regretting his inability to take an active part in the new Association; be became a foundation member and is still a quiet supporter of AMRA. It was decided that prior to announcement of the Association a Constitution should be prepared and submitted for consideration to subsequent meetings to be held on 20th April and 4th May, 1951, and in this Rick, who collected the chore, did a terrific job, the Constitution he presented being written to
incorporate as well as possible the often conflicting views and ideals expounded at the foregoing formative, (but still unofficial) meetings. It is interesting to reflect that despite minor early sniping , surprisingly few amendments have been made to the Constitution since its adoption at the first official meeting of the Association on the 18th May, 1951. Having fitted ourselves out with a lovely shiny new Constitution, the next move was to proceed with the election of office-bearers and this was done, a job being found for all present.

The first Office-bearers were Cliff Richardson as President, myself as Secretary, Brian McClure as Assistant- Secretary, Ernie Dean as Treasurer, Doug McFadden as Assistant-Treasurer, Ernie Mainka as Editor, Bill Lowry as a committeeman whilst Ernie Dean doubled-up as Publisher. This first election, was not without its humorous aspect, for rather obviously everyone took it in turn to propose the next in turn for a position and it also had its serious side as eight members joined that first evening which meant £6 odd in the kitty, plus donations which were received as well from those present. This was the sum total of official income we received for the next few months so members of the Committee had their hands in their respective pockets for one thing and another nearly all the time. In addition to the Constitution, we decided that an emblem would be necessary and Rick submitted a design to the meeting held on 23rd May 1951 and another on the 1st June and the second one, the now familiar wheel on a rail, was the one chosen. Main items of expense at this stage were the printing of letterhead paper (note paper) the cost of which was fully covered by donations, printing of covers for the Journal and Standard and Data Sheets, and the cost of duplicating 100 copies of the Constitution which cost us the princely sum of £15! ($30).

At a meeting on 1st June, it was decided that the AMRA would apply to the Australian Association of Model Societies to become a member of that body, and in the following August, AMRA became a member. The President appointed a Standards Committee of four on the 15th June 1951, with myself as Chairman and work was commenced immediately on the preparation of standards. In addition to this, draft letters were prepared for reply to prospective members and to Model Railway Clubs and manufacturers seeking their support for the new Association. One of the first steps taken by the Standards Committee was the preparation of a letter to the National Model Railroad Association of America, requesting their permission to use such of their Standards as were applicable in Australia, and this was dispatched late in July. A reply was received some weeks later in which more information regarding AMRA was requested and this was duly forwarded. The basic reason behind contacting the NMRA was for the eventual establishment of Universal Standards for working parts, for there was no necessity for us to use NMRA Standards as we could have gone ahead immediately and prepared our own from scratch. In those early days we concentrated only on Standards for 1-1/4″ and 16.5mm gauges, and I might point out here that it has been the policy of the Association since its inception to avoid like the plague any attempt to draw the AMRA into the old perennial argument on scale, a subject about which each individual must decide for himself./p>

At first, all meetings were held at Bill Lowry’s home which was reasonably central for most committeemen, but this, we found, gave credence to the impression held in some quarters (though without foundation) that the AMRA was Lowry’s Association. In actual fact, Bill himself was responsible for most of the restrictions placed on professional members of the Association to ensure that it would always be controlled by amateur model railroaders. However from 5th October l951, the meetings were held for a time in the rear of Ern Mainka’s shop in Fitzroy. Past President Alan Houston joined the committee at this meeting. Eventually, the habit developed of holding meetings in the homes of the respective committee members, a practice that continues to the time of writing. It was decided also at this same meeting that AMRA would apply to become a member of the Standards Association of Australia, and this actually took place in November of that year. Membership of both the Australian Association of Model Societies and the Standards Association of Australia has subsequently proved to be of great value to AMRA. (Any comments on these aspects from members would be appreciated N. R. R) During the months prior to Christmas 1951 all known Australian manufacturers and leading modellers had been contacted by the Standards Committee and requested to forward a list of their respective Standards which they had been using in the production of the products, for the following items: – Wheels and axles, buffers and knuckle couplers, axleguards and/or bogie sides, with track-gauge and flangeways, as well.

All those approached forwarded the requested information and the Standards Committee then proceeded to compile a sheet showing all dimensions for the main working parts as listed above, in an attempt to arrive at a mutually agreeable set of dimensions for adoption as Australian Standards. Just prior to this, we had received a copy from the British Railway Modelling Standards Bureau of a booklet setting out all their Standards and these, as well as NMRA Standards were included in the sheet referred to previously. This sheet was eventually completed and copies forwarded to all interested parties for their comment, criticism and approval. It was encouraging to note that all concerned advised us that they approved of the proposed Standards and would adhere to them when production runs and die replacement permitted.

In view of the then approaching Model Exhibition in September 1952, a considerable amount of time was spent discussing, planning and eventually building a suitable stand for the AMRA Exhibit and during the ensuing months, the preparation of this stand was the main consumer of our time as it was felt that here was our first opportunity to display the AMRA before the general public. As soon as the AAMS had decided on the date of the Exhibition a subcommittee was formed to decide details of the AMRA display and at the first meeting, held on 13th October 1951, a list of the main features was prepared, together with general dimensions of the stand. Past President Mayer Levy joined the Committee on the 14th December 1951, just in time to help with the work on the stand.

Considerable financial assistance had been given the Association by Australian Modelcraft of Albury, Bill Lowry of BPR and Ern Mainka of the now defunct Main Hobby Depot and whilst the Constitution lays down the law with a firm hand regarding professionals, without doubt the assistance that has been and still is given the AMRA by our professional members has helped to develop to the point it has reached today. As a gesture of appreciation the AMRA offered a series of small display stands, forming part of the main display, to all professional members for their use at the Exhibition and there is little doubt that the combination of the two professional displays showing just about all the parts obtainable in this country and the completed models built from them by amateurs demonstrated to the general public (All 94,000 of them) just what the hobby is like and what is involved in model railroading. By Christmas 1951, the membership had grown to just over fifty, nearly all of these members joining through the efforts of Bill Lowry and although naturally enough the great majority of these members were Victorians, the number of Interstate members was encouraging. Despite the number of members, the Association was not too financial around this time and we ran in the red for some months until the end of year when subscriptions came in.

By the end of June 1952, the proposed Standards had been prepared by the Standards Committee and tabled before the Management Committee for approval. After some discussion they were slightly revised and in this latter form were approved for publication to the general membership as Provisional Standards. It is with no little pride that I point out that the AMRA was the first organisation in the world to produce Standards for Stud Contact and these are in fact the Standards used by Alan Goode on his huge and justly famous ‘O’ gauge Hobsons Bay Railway and the Association will always be grateful to Alan for his ready assistance in providing and checking the dimensions which are now Australian Stud Contact Standards. Due to the amount of time consumed in arranging all the various details connected with the Exhibition Stand, the Standards were not proceeded with as quickly as we would have liked, but the Committee of Management gave their final approval on all sheets on 22nd August 1952, and copies were roneo’d for distribution to members as Provisional Standards, and after approval, they were to be printed and issued in permanent form This has been deferred for the time being, pending the results of negotiations with the British, American and Continental Standards Associations for adoption of Universal Standards, for the advantages of such a step can readily be appreciated by all thinking railway modellers and enthusiasts who purchase ready to roll equipment.

Due to pressure of business, Ern Mainka tendered his resignation from the Committee of Management of 28th March 1952, and Bill Lowry did the same on lst June. This was a loss of no small order for the Committee of Management was now reduced to seven members, but things were managed somehow with the stand taking up most of the available time. On 6th June Harry Clark tendered his resignation from the Committee of Management owing to his military duties and created pandemonium in the Committee by advising, per mail, that the stand was progressing satisfactorily. We were, of course, in the throes of building another stand, but eventually decided that as construction had progressed so far, and our stand was in Melbourne, we had better continue with it. By the end of June, the stand was well on the way to completion, the work being carried out at weekends in Alan Houston’s home in the lounge room. What a man. What a wife!!!! The mess we made had to be seen to be believed. Past President Geoff Lormer attended a Committee meeting on 27th June 1952, and we convinced him he would be doing a good job if he would come along to future meetings, which he did and has proved a tower of strength since joining the Committee.

From this date on the Committee of Management was fully occupied in arranging the various details for the fast approaching Exhibition. The jobs that had to be done were many and varied models to be obtained from members, displays from our professional members, valuations for insurance purposes (this one was a real headache), but everything was managed on time, more or less, a great deal of help being obtained from the newer members of the Committee, Dave Gross and Ray Perrey, who attended their first committee meeting on 8th August 1952, along with Ray Pearson. Despite our Exhibitionitis some amount of work was carried out on the Provisional Standards, printing costs and method of distribution being our main worries, but as the Exhibition was now so close there was not the time available to do overmuch about the issue of the Standards Sheets. Dave Gross, Ray Perrey and Nev Levin were appointed to the Committee in an official capacity at the meeting held on 22nd August, 1952. Dave becoming the Asst. Secretary at the following meeting as Doug McFadden was unable to carry on, having enlisted in the RAAF. At this same meeting Dave Gross suggested that it would be advantageous to have the Wheel-on Rail Emblem of the Association registered as a Standardization Trade Mark and this was subsequently done, full details being given at the time in Dave’s statement on Page 12 of the November 1952 Journal. (Some clarification on this point is urgently needed. N.R.R.) The committee meeting held on 17th October, 1952, was most memorable for quite a few people; Russ Sidall, the Victorian NMRA representative attended the meeting along with Jack Chaplin and Fred Youie, both of whom accepted positions on the committee. Rick Richardson tendered his resignation as President, after 18 months very solid work and Mayer Levy took over for the remainder of the term. It was decided to call a General Meeting of members, the date being fixed for the 28th November, 1952. Arising from this meeting, the proposal was put forward by Ray Pearson that a Victorian Branch be formed and this was tentatively fixed for the 27th February, 1953, and did take place on that date. Prior to this, the Committee of Management, anticipating that a Branch was likely to be formed, drew up a special set of rules governing the running of this and all subsequent Branches and Sub-branches that may be formed in the future. These Branches are nominally under the control of an Organizing Chairman who is elected by the branch members themselves from their own ranks. I believe Rick Richardson is to this day rather hazy as to how he got himself embroiled in the Victorian State Branch although he suspects Mayer Levy and Ray Pearson as arch conspirators.

Jack May attended his first Committee meeting on 21st November 1952, and was appointed to the Committee on 5th December, 1952. Bryan McClure and Doug McFadden had tendered their resignations from the Committee of Management and this left the Committee rather low in numbers, so various members were contacted regarding their willingness to serve on it and those interested were appointed on the 16th January 1953, as follows: Geoff Lormer as Vice-President, Dave Gross as Asst. Secretary, Howard Groome as Asst. Treasurer and as Committeemen the following members were appointed – Herb Tisher, Jack Chaplin, Jack McLean, Dave Bennett and Fred Youie. I am unable to find any record of the exact date that Jack May took over as Editor, but I think it was the same night that he was made a member of the Committee of Management. This brings us up to early 1954.

AMRA membership continued to grow at a fluctuating rate, the 1952 All-Models Exhibition in Melbourne having been of considerable help in publicizing the Association. About this time we decided there were sufficient interstate members to warrant the appointment of Representatives to care for each State’s interests in AMRA. In NSW, Keith Wilcox agreed to accept the post for that State, whilst in Queensland, Dr. Stephen Suggitt volunteered his aid in this respect as well as accepting the position of Queensland State Representative on the Standards Committee. Unfortunately no member in Tasmania was found at that time to accept the position in that State, but as membership in the Apple Isle grows we will eventually find someone keen on this type of work as their Representative.

Up to this date, (mid 1952), the Association had been forced through lack of access to a duplicator to have the Journal produced by a commercial duplicating firm, and, although the work was beautifully done the costs were extremely high, eating up about 93% of our total income from subscriptions.

While it is ever the aim of the Committee of Management to return to members more than the value of their subs. in the form of services, obviously some reserve of finance is always needed, so investigations were made to see if some cheaper way of producing the magazine could be found. In this regard Ernie Mainka most generously offered free use of his business’s Fordigraph duplicating machine and the President, Mayer Levy and Editor, Jack May, first tried their skill on the November 1952 issue with immediate benefit to the Association in the greatly reduced cost of producing the Journal, individual copies dropping in cost from 3/- each to a few pence.

In March 1953, Dave Gross commenced to compile a Register of Model Railroad titles and the first list of some 30 odd names was issued, with titles from most of the States. In this regard is your railroad listed for inclusion in the next issue? A copy of the Provisional Standards was forwarded to all the Model Clubs and Societies we could locate and the replies received were unanimously in favour of the dimensions shown, excepting for some minor suggested alterations. These replies were very carefully studied, the suggested amendments being, in most cases, adopted. Further work on the Standards is in progress with ultimate aim of obtaining Universal World Standards, which is now the only reason why the sheets themselves have not been sent to members in their permanent printed form. (Now you know why! N. R. R.)

In April 1953 a letter was received from Herr Franz Moeller of West Berlin, informing the AMRA of the formation of a large group of European modellers who were proposing to adopt a set of standards compiled by him, to be known as NEM Standards and inviting the cooperation of our Association in working towards Universal Standards. This cooperation of course, was gladly extended by the AMRA, and correspondence has continued steadily on the subject of Standards between NEM and AMRA since then. As an oblique result of this exchange of information we eventually decided to confer Honorary Memberships on our contemporary organisations overseas and in October, 1953, BRMSB,NEM and NMRA were advised to this effect.

Early in August 1953, through the good offices of David Gross the Association purchased its own duplicator assisted by personal donations from the Committee, with the result that we became divorced at last from nearly all the problems of actual production of the Journal and other literature. In October 1953, Dr. Stephen Suggitt in Brisbane commenced work on the preparation of 3’6″ standards, in some aspects almost a virgin field and therefore a terrific job. He started the ball rolling by writing to South Africa and after receiving their figures tackled New Zealand and others of fruitful prospect. His work is well on the way, but you can’t sit down and pull standard Dimensions out of a hat particularly in Australia with so many diverse factors to consider. In the same month Steve was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Standards Committee and is carrying out the duties involved with obvious thought and care. At the Management Committee meeting of 8th December 1953, President Geoff Lormer rose and announced that he would personally prepare a proof of a Membership Card. Rick originally wrote that reference to the Membership Card into the Constitution in, (as he says himself) a moment of extreme weakness – probably at 2 a.m. on some cold, tired winter morning. It seemed an innocuous and innocent little para. and the first Committee voted it into law. At the same meeting as the momentous announcement re membership cards, Bill Rattray joined the committee and hasn’t missed a meeting since.

During 1953 membership grew by 26 and Queensland became the first State, apart from the home State of Victoria, to form a State Branch, the inaugural meeting being held on the 16th May, 1954. To-day the Association is in a healthy position numerically and financially, for membership is 130 odd and growing monthly. Looking to the future, we have good prospects indeed. Standards for model railway equipment have every chance of being prepared for universal use, yes, the world over, through co-operation with the British Railway Modelling Standards Bureau, the National Model Railroad Association and the VDMEC, which is an association of Continental Clubs, also known as NEM, an abbreviation of Normes for European Modellers. Inspection Committees are in process of formation to make reports on all items of equipment necessary for successful interchange, for although it doesn’t really matter if a ladder is to be 17/64 or 7mm scale, as no one can tell the difference and it has nothing to do with the actual operation of a vehicle. It DOES matter very much when we come to inspect wheels, bogies, couplers and buffers, (and such kits as come ready to make up) if we find they just won’t work together, one with the other.

To-day the AMRA through its efforts for the good of Australian modellers in particular and Universal modellers in general is gaining in strength, and will continue to do so as its membership grows, its publicity penetrates and its contribution to the hobby is understood and fully appreciated.


In an Editorial Note when this was first published, Rex Little made the following comment, which is still valid today:

This is the written history of the Association up to 1954 – some 18 years ago! I had asked Tim to continue it but time, so far, has not been available. Perhaps we still have other members who can expand this history further or perhaps the Federal Committee could make the minute books available to some willing volunteer. Could I also suggest that the various State Branches should also find a volunteer to go through their records in the near future to prepare some sort of history of their branch I believe that now we are in our twenty first year as an Association, some form of history should be made of both the Association and the Branches.

(Further to the above article, taken as indicated from an old issue of Journal, Tim has now supplied the following supplementary information, as an addendum to his earlier article. EDITOR)


Early Days

By Tim Dunlop

In Volume 21 Journal No 97, I wrote on the Australian Model Railway Association, its Formation and Progress. Further information can be found in volume 4 Journal No’s, 2 and 3, where with the able assistance of Rick Richardson, the articles detailed the early years of AMRA. The information is available in the bound volumes of Journal in the Victorian Branch Library, to which I donated my collection of both Journal and the Buyer’s Guide.

In fact, I feel that the first ideas about AMRA took place much earlier than is suggested in the aforementioned articles. In common with a lot of others of my age group, I had some service in the Army, prior to and early in World War II, but was discharged medically unfit in February 1942, without getting out of Australia!! At that time, I was in ‘O’ gauge, having started with Hornby clockwork and then becoming the proud possessor of two Lionel Hudsons, one the full scale model and the other the semi- scale model, plus various items of passenger and freight stock. Before to the war, I had attended meetings of the VMRS. After discharge, I resumed my attendances at these meetings of VMRS. It was there that I met J H (Robbie) Robinson. I lived in Preston, Robbie lived in Croxton and he knew of a number of modellers in the Northcote-Preston area, namely Ernie Dean, Laurie Fletcher, Les Baxter, Frank Flynn, Gordon Brown, and Ray Gregory. It was not long before we formed a small model railway club, known as the Victorian Pacific RR, which had regular meetings, usually every week, at each others homes, where the emphasis was on helping the host member with his layout, rolling stock or equipment. Robbie, a staunch advocate of standards, seemed to know just about every railway modeller in Melbourne and we paid many visits to various layouts. In between times, Robbie took us all in hand and instructed us in the finer points of modelling, ‘O’ gauge, (1/48 to 1 scale) rolling stock, tracklaying, point making and wood work. So, we learned to draw plans, cut
wood and tinplate (from old fruit tins), how to solder, etc., always with Robbie’s war cry BE ACCURATE.

He frequently referred to the National Model Railroad Association and the work they were doing with model railway standards in the USA. He bemoaned the fact that currency restrictions meant he could not obtain membership. At this time I was corresponding with Courtland Christiani, American Vice-Consul in Perth, who I was able to assist with films for his camera and blocks of chocolate, which he found rather hard to come by in Perth. When Courtland heard about our wish to become NMRA members, he signed me up with NMRA to represent the group and eventually a stack of their literature arrived in Melbourne. The club (VPR) was invited to exhibit a model railway layout at an All-Models Exhibition to be held at the Melbourne Town Hall, in aid of the Missions to Seamen. We commenced work. Austral Bronze produced enough of their 702 brass section (for kitchen cupboard slides) to complete the layout. ALL the track was spiked to individual sleepers, and of course laid to NMRA Standards. I think the layout was in three sections, a small station with a passing track and a couple of sidings in front, with the usual bunch of storage sidings at the back. It become obvious that variations in operational standards, i.e. wheel tread, flanges, back to back distance and couplers of VPR members, rolling stock and motive power would have to be adjusted to permit reasonably smooth operation. Fortunately, Les Baxter was a tool-maker by trade. He instigated a number of ideas which produced the desired results. Much discussion took place over the succeeding years, about the desirability of Australian Standards for model railways in this country, but, as NMRA seemed to fill the bill, nothing much was done, even though we built a much larger layout for a succeeding exhibition, again in aid of the Missions to Seamen.

I moved to Warrnambool in July 1947, nevertheless as the result of correspondence with a number of model railway friends, the concept of AMRA developed, and now, forty years later, you have AMRA!! (I remember that second Town Hall layout; it was a beauty! I drooled over it for hours. It was the main impetus to rekindle my interest in model railways -Editor)

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