History of the All Gauge Model Railway Club
Part 1: 1973 – 1999
The beginnings of the All Gauge Model Railway Club (AGMRC) include a large part of the history of model railroading in the Brisbane area.
Some of the founding and future members of AGMRC were model railway enthusiasts, members of other hobby groups and model railway clubs, long before the nucleus of All Gauge was formed in 1973.
Model railways have been around since the late 1800s, mostly in the large scales and gauges. There is evidence that model railway groups and clubs, although not widespread, existed before the 1920s.
The earliest known Brisbane club, The Queensland Society of Model Engineers existed in the early 1930s and still exists today. It was mainly live steam in the larger scales. Their displays often provided for “Ride on” passengers at shows and fetes.
In the 1930s a distinction was made by enthusiasts between toy and model railways. This led to the forming of clubs and National Associations. The American NRMA, founded in 1935 is one early example. However model railways and other recreational activities did not become really popular in the Brisbane area until the 1940s, after World War II.
Model and toy trains modelled in O and S scales were popular up until the mid 1940s but needed fairly large areas to operate. OO at 1/76 was much smaller than O at 1/42 and S at 1/64. In fact OO was marketed as a table top railway!! Being smaller, more economical and using generally lower, safer voltages had more appeal and made railway clubs more viable.
HO scale (1/87) had been around before OO but did not gain a foothold in Australia ‘till the mid 1950s.
By 1950 at least two other model railway clubs had been formed in the Brisbane area, one of which was The Brisbane Model Railway Club. This club exhibited model layouts at the old Industries Fair and Brisbane Exhibitions until the late 1950s, their layouts forming part of Queensland Rail’s stand.
In 1954 the Brisbane Model Railway Club had become the Queensland branch of the A.M.R.A. (Two years ahead of the N.S.W. branch).
This increasing popularity of railway modelling influenced the forming of other clubs in the late 1950s, culminating in the holding of the 1st Brisbane Model Railway Exhibition in 1961. The event proved popular enough to make it an annual event. The 2nd Model Railway Exhibition (12th-19th November1962) was even more successful, with more than a dozen layouts displayed by as many clubs and groups.
Of future interest to our All Gauge Club was the Moreton Model Train Club, exhibiting for the first time. This club was only formed earlier in that year (1962), but still managed to display 3 layouts. Moreton had no club premises, but used to meet at the President’s (Mr Bob Gough) home at Morningside. Also residing at Morningside was another Moreton Club member (Mr Athol Smith) who had constructed a large “O” Gauge layout under his house. The Moreton Club members were invited to make use of these facilities.
Later that year (1963), a young Joe Parnis (a future president of AGMRC) joined the Moreton Model Train Club as a junior. Joe would cycle to club meetings and activities until he left the club in 1966.
The Moreton Club continued to support the Brisbane Model Railway Exhibitions at the City Hall and, later in the 1960s, the BMRE became part of the Annual Brisbane Hobbies Exhibition. This event continued to be held annually until the mid 1970s.
Meanwhile the Moreton Club had gained more new members. Two of these members, Noel Lavel and Frank Isaac joined in 1971 and would become Founding Members of the AGMRC.
The group of new Moreton Club members became active in building a new HO/OO layout in the outdoor garage of Athol Smith’s house. Athol still had his own “O” gauge layout under his house.
Unfortunately the Moreton Club had some problems with increased membership, etc and at some stage the HO/OO group broke away to form the West Moreton Club and plan their own activities.
The new group was still not without some problems, not the least of which was being located on private property, together with the failing health of Athol Smith himself. As a result a group of 7 or 8 members decided to form their own informal group late in 1973, while many of the group stayed with the West Moreton Club and continued to enjoy weekly activities.
The breakaway group remained informal. Noel Lavel acted as spokesman, ably supported by Frank Isaac and Manny McMahon. The aim of the group was to form a new club with its own club premises. The incentive to form a new club with suitable premises helped keep the group together for the next couple of years.
The founding of AGMRC
In late 1976 an old shop at Whitworth Street, Cannon Hill became available on a 10 year lease at a reasonable monthly rent. Just prior to this Athol Smith had passed away and had willed the West Moreton HO/OO layout to the new club.
The first meeting in the new clubhouse was held in December 1976. Noel Lavel was elected President out of the 7 founding members. Frank Isaac was treasurer and Maureen Lavel (Noel’s wife) became secretary.
The name All Gauge Model Railway Club was adopted and a club constitution was drawn up and approved. Club fees of $30.00 per annum were agreed upon.
January 1977 was a busy month for the fledgling club. The clubhouse was cleaned and made presentable. The late Athol Smith’s HO/OO layout was installed and the first running night was held late in January.
The initial idea was the clubhouse would be open 6 nights a week for anybody (including non-members) to run trains for a small fee. This idea soon became unworkable due to the shortage of members.
The years 1976-1981 were busy ones for the club and its fund raising activities. These included Buy & Sell nights, raffles and occasional exhibiting at school fetes etc. for a small fee. Buys and Sells in Queensland were the creation of the AGMRC. Noel Lavel laid down the basic principals and paperwork for Buy and Sells and, although some of the principals are now considered out of date, members of various clubs still support our current sales.
In addition to these activities, All Gauge became heavily involved with the running of the new Model Railway Exhibitions held at the old Police Boys Club in 1976 and 1977.
In 1978 the Qld A.M.R.A. started running the 3 day Brisbane Model Train Show, held each year at the Brisbane Showgrounds on the May Labour Day weekend. All Gauge was invited to take part and has seldom missed exhibiting at this annual event.
By 1981 All Gauge had around 25 members including 7 juniors. Elections were held annually but Noel Lavel and Frank Isaac were consistently re-elected. Club secretaries and treasurers changed a few times since the Club’s inception in 1976.
The Hon. Clem Jones OA and the AGMRC
Early in 1981 an extraordinary meeting was convened at the Cannon Hill clubhouse with the Hon. Clem Jones OA (former Lord Mayor of Brisbane) and the Hon. Bill Hewitt (Member for Greenslopes) as guests of the All Gauge committee.
This meeting, complete with a Courier Mail photographer (an original newspaper photo records the meeting) was to encourage the All Gauge club to exhibit at the fledging Crackajack Carnival to be held at the Carina Sports Complex. The AGMRC committee readily agreed. Crackajack was a big success; the Clubs 3 layouts (HO/OO, N Scale and HO 3) being very popular.
AGMRC’s New Premises
Early in 1982 the Hon. Clem Jones again met with the All Gauge Model Railway Club to not only have them exhibit at that year’s Crackajack but to also get the club to agree to exhibit at all future Crackajack Carnivals. The club immediately agreed but pointed out that they could not guarantee to support future Carnivals after 1986 as the Cannon Hill clubhouse lease was due to expire late in that year.
Clem Jones told the meeting not to worry, that there was a good chance to obtain premises for a future clubhouse within the Carina Sports Complex. The club readily agreed to the terms of a future move on the condition that the club become part of the complex and to always exhibit at Crackajack from 1982.
1982 was also the year Brisbane hosted the Commonwealth Games. But in spite of the extra activity throughout Brisbane, this had little effect on club activities and it continued to grow.
In 1983 a minor setback for All Gauge was when 5 senior and 2 junior members left en-mass to form the Model Eurobahn, a Marklin 3 Rail Club. Although short handed for awhile, All Gauge was still able to carry on. Layouts were exhibited at fetes and shows whenever possible (and never missing a Crackajack Carnival) throughout the years 1981-1988 whilst still based at Cannon Hill.
To ensure a stronger negotiating position on behalf of the AGMRC, Clem Jones agreed to become the first Club Patron when nominated at the March 1985 AGM. He continued to serve as patron until his death in 2007.
That election of Clem Jones OA as the club’s first Patron was a timely move! Besides being a former Lord Mayor and having a distinguished career as a businessman and politician, he was a supporter and participant of many charities, sporting bodies and Associations. Most significant for the All Gauge Club was that he was founding Chairman of Trustees of the Camp Hill and Carina Welfare Association. Thus the club’s future within the complex was assured.
A special building fund had been set up late in 1983. Raffles, BBQs etc. were conducted to contribute to the new fund. Monies were raised throughout 1984-85. However these ventures did not raise enough money, so during 1985 club membership fees were raised to $100 per annum to offset expenses.
The New Clubhouse
The Club’s future was assured in 1986 when Clem Jones arranged for the purchase of land within the Carina Sports Complex for a nominal amount. 1986 was also when John Cantrell (a future life member) joined as did Alan Mathews. They proved to be excellent and much needed additions to the existing team; laying cement, painting walls, raising roofs, laying floors and hanging windows in what became a two storey clubhouse over the next few years.
The Whitworth Street clubhouse lease expired in 1986 however the committee was able to arrange a 2 year extension. Even so, and despite its decrepit state, the old clubhouse was not demolished by its owners until 2012!
By July 1987 Club Patron, Clem Jones had arranged for All Gauge to negotiate the purchase of a school demountable building from the Wynnum area for the AGMRC site in the Carina Sports Complex. Club members Vince Ford (canteen manager) and Dave Cossart (former secretary) were elected to arrange for the purchase and moving of the school building. It cost very little ($75) but the moving costs and placing it atop the ground floor were $5,160!
The removal was approved by the Brisbane City Council in September, but could not take place until the December school holidays of 1987.
The building permit had been approved to include the building of the ground floor, a walled in area. Builder (and club member) Alan Mathews had obtained the dimensions to enable the foundations and walls of the ground floor to be in place before the delivery of the school building. The permit was approved with Clem Jones’ support.
1988 World Expo was staged in Brisbane. This really put the city in the world limelight. Members were not involved officially so work pushed on with clubhouse construction. Meantime the setting out and pouring of the future clubhouse foundations went ahead. Most of the work was done by members. Builder Alan Mathews supervised. Clem Jones, a surveyor by profession, also assisted when available.
The foundations for the ground floor proved to be a much bigger job than expected. Life member John Cantrell tells of one very hard, long day when finishing the job extended into the early hours of the next morning. This despite the use of a “helicopter” .. a mechanical trowel .. and willing workers! The biggest drawback was no floodlights were available. The floor was finished with the use of club members’ cars’ headlights!
The school classroom was transported and placed on top of the ground floor walls in January 1988. At this stage the building was little more than four walls and a roof. Much more work still had to be done.
The finishing of the clubhouse to a stable and secure building included the enclosing of a veranda which was part of the original demountable school building and is now part of the top floor of the clubhouse. Some exterior and interior walls had to be sheeted and painted and stairs to the upper floor built.
Most of the work would have had to be postponed owing to a shortage of funds. A timely grant arranged by patron Clem Jones from the Camp Hill and Carina Welfare Association saved the day.
AGMRC 1991 – 2000
Early 1991 was a milestone for the club in more ways than one. Ten years (albeit very busy years) had elapsed since Clem Jones and the AGMRC began negotiations to exhibit at all annual Crackajack Carnivals. Those first negotiations had paved the way for AGMRC to become part of the Carina Sports Complex. And this was the year (in September) that All Gauge, on legal advice, was incorporated as an Association.
Secondly, All Gauge awarded the Clubs’ first Life Membership to the builder Alan Mathews, in recognition of his outstanding work for the club. Alan had supervised all the site preparation and erection of the clubhouse etc.
Thirdly, Noel ended a 15 year term as Club President. Since 1976 Noel had been the main driving force in founding AGMRC. He had also proved a good leader and negotiator when bargaining for the club’s future in becoming part of the Carina Complex. John Love was elected the new president. A skilled building worker, John proved to be a good choice in finishing the clubhouse, taking over just before the untimely death of Alan Mathews.
Almost un-noticed at the time (1991) two new members, Graham Sheehan and John James joined the AGMRC. Not only were they to become future Life Members but where willing workers in every working bee including sheeting the walls and ceiling, assisted by other members and supervised by John Love. John James, an accountant by profession, was elected club treasurer for a period of years. The secretary at the time was Dick Smith who, like Frank Isaac was very good at scenery. Unfortunately Dick died in South Africa whilst on holiday a short time later.
Plans for two layouts were approved and work started in 1991 and both layouts were up and running by 1993. Further scenery and finishing touches were carried out over the next couple of years. Of particular interest was the use of a helex to gain height between the two levels on the “N” Scale layout.
In 1992 All Gauge had approved Appreciation Awards. Each and every year the recipients’ names were to be engraved on the Club plaque. Sadly 1993 was the year Alan Mathews, our first Life Member passed away. The club was well represented at Alan’s funeral. Two Life Membership awards were granted in 1994 to Frank Isaac and Noel Lavel for outstanding service to the club.
1994 to 1998 were busy years and the club was well established with more new members joining and sharing the workload. One of these was Robert (Bob) McCabe who, joining in early 1998 and working under the tutorship of Frank Isaac, proved to be an honest and willing worker with a strong sense of punctuality. Bob, like those other staunch supporters of the time, was to later be granted Life Membership.
In fact the future looked good for the club. The clubhouse was at last in good shape. There were two permanent layouts (HO/OO and N scale). There were also two exhibition layouts. A couple of members had dabbled in “G” gauge and “No. 1” Gauge in the hope of some support. Sadly these scales/gauges did not take on.
A severe setback occurred in 1998 when a fire in the upper level destroyed the HO/OO layout and severely damaged the other layouts. Unlucky as this was, it was even luckier that the fire didn’t spread further. Although the cause of the fire was uncertain the Fire Insurance did adequately cover the loss.
The club was still able to function and exhibit when possible. Despite the setback the permanent layouts repairs went ahead and all had reached a good usable standard by the Millennium year 2000. To achieve this deadline the club had subcontracted the building of the main part of the layout woodwork. However, even during the rebuilding club members were almost always able to come to the clubhouse and run their trains on the layouts.
In 1999 John Love was replaced by Joe Parnis (the young cyclist who had first joined in 1962) as Club President. John Love had been President for 8 years. It was at that year’s AGM that the rule of 3 year terms for club officials was implemented.
Looking back over these years, so much had been achieved. Good leadership and much hard work had created the AGMRC and put it in a sound, strong position; ready and able to continue into the 21st century. To be continued ……
The author of this history is Peter Lamb. Peter is a long-term AGMRC member, first joining in 1978. Much of this history is from his first-hand memories and experiences from before, during and returning to the club.
A Christmas clockwork trainset at age five and being the son of a career railwayman fuels his love of railways in any size or form.
Like many a train modeller, this love had to be put on hold owing to work and family commitments at various times, but a display in a toy shop window in the mid 1960s led to the purchase of a Marklin locomotive and began the collection of many model rail items up until the present.
Peter first joined the AGMRC at the old Cannon Hill clubhouse. A two year term as both secretary and editor of the then club newsletter ended in 1982. Other commitments and interests delayed rejoining until 2006.
Currently the club historian and editor of the renewed club newsletter, he is making good progress on a Marklin-based European layout.