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It was founded in 1947.
The Tech Model Railroad Club-- or "Tuh-merk", as we call it--
started, for the first 50 years of its life, in Building 20,
which was a place they called "the magical incubator".
It was basically built for the war,
as a temporary war building.
So it was wooden.
It was the kind of thing that no one really cared about.
Which was great, because it meant
that all of these students could move in and do things
to that building that they couldn't really
do to any other Institute buildings.
If you cut a hole in the floor-- who cared, right?
So the Institute was very willing to let
students do unauthorized things in Building 20, basically.
So the Tech Model Railroad Club got its start
in that culture of-- well, we can do anything.
Many years ago, when there were more members to the club,
we used to have work sessions, essentially
every night of the week.
And we'd have very formal business meetings on Saturdays.
Now we very rarely have formal meetings.
Mostly we have work sessions.
And everybody has their own little projects,
their favorite things to do.
And they generally do those things.
I really like the way you have to think about scale.
Especially when it comes to modeling natural objects.
It's really amazing that you can get a piece of a branch
to look like a full tree.
And it's all a question of context and scale.
It's a question of how you position it.
A lot of the things here that are vines, and bushes,
and grass, and brush, are really pieces of much larger types
And it's amazing how well that works.
And you have to adjust your thinking a little bit.
And think about, how can this shape
work at a very small scale?
Like most model railroads, we supply power to the train
through the rails.
So the rails are metal, and they're electrically
But that is where we break apart from traditional model trains.
So traditionally, you'd get your little Lionel set
under the Christmas tree.
You'd put together all of this pre-made rail,
and you'd put together a big oval or something.
You'd put your train on it, you'd turn the throttle,
and it would just go.
And that works great when you have 10 feet of track
and you have one train.
We don't have 10 feet of track.
We have miles and miles of track.
And we have successfully run 10 or 15 trains at a time.
We have what we call System 3.
This is the third generation of control system for TMRC.
It's totally built from the ground up by MIT students.
It operates very similar to real railroads,
and especially similar to subways.
And basically, the idea is, there
are sections of track called blocks.
And every time you hit the end of a block,
we just cut the rails, and there's
a little gap in the rails.
And basically, each block is a unit of train.
So there can be a train on the block,
or there can't be a train on the block.
And basically, what we do is, we have a bunch
of complicated electronics that can provide power
to this block.
And say I know this train is moving
along the rails in that direction.
Then we put power on the next block.
And then, we actually have sensors
that we built that can say, is there a train on this block?
And if there is, we can follow this train around the layout.
So we know exactly where trains are.
We can give them names.
We can track them as they're moving around.
Before I came to graduate school,
I was living in a little town in California,
which was a beach town.
And there were train tracks that came along the pier.
People would be at the beach, surfing, doing
all kinds of things.
And the train would come by, and everybody would stop and look.
And it's amazing.
It's like, you're at the beach.
You're doing all these amazing things.
But the train still fascinates people, you know?
It's this piece of engineering.
It's part of a system.
It's like a system made visible.
There are little jokes.
Like, Pessim Steel here-- the title
says, the Allen Pessim Company.
Well, there was a fellow named Larry Allen who was always very
pessimistic about everything.
So that's where the Allen Pessim Steel comes from.
Modeling things has been around since forever.
Since the beginning of, I think, human thinking,
people have been making models of things.
So it's part of a long, long tradition of that.
But it's also part of MIT's history in a very special way.
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