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Let's Talk Trains

train club group photo

Trains have a special history and place at the heart of Purdue. The Boilermaker Special has been Purdue’s official mascot since the 1930s to represent the school’s engineering heritage. Every year, freshmen jump southward across the tracks at Rush Crossing to symbolize the start of their journey here at Purdue. In the late-1800s and mid-1900s, the university paved the way in transportation research with their locomotive lab. The Purdue Railroad Club serves not only to honor this history but to make their own mark on Purdue’s history, building model trains and passing down the history and reverence for trains on campus.

The history of the Purdue Railroad Club (PRRC) tracks back to 1935, making the club Purdue’s fourth-oldest. Alex Woods, president of the PRRC and senior at Purdue, emphasizes the importance of honoring the history of trains here on campus.

“Our mascot is the Boilermaker Special and railroads are massive in Purdue’s history,” Woods says. “We are intertwined with the history of the university itself. Trains are a part of our history that doesn’t get the recognition it does.”black train running on tracks

The PRRC dedicates its time and energy to both model trains and full-sized operational trains. The club operates an HO-scale layout in the basement of the Union, visits museums, goes to model train conventions and takes trips to the Lafayette train tracks to watch the trains fly by.

Woods asserts “We also take care of a number of railroad artifacts, like our real, full-sized and fully functional Pennsylvania railway signal.”

“I’ve always loved going down to the train station in Lafayette and watching trains fly through the station,” Woods reflects on her favorite club activity. “It’s one thing to watch our tiny 1/87 scale trains run around our layout and it’s something watching the Boilermaker Special go around – but it’s something entirely different watching a full-size freight train fly through the station going 50 miles an hour. It’s all the more fun when I’ve got friends from the club by my side.”

Maintaining connections and relationships not only with those currently involved in the club, but also with alumni is one of the PRRC’s greatest values. The club has hosted an event where alumni who were in the club during their days on campus can revisit, meet the students carrying on the torch for the organization and see how the model train set has developed over time.53379715341_00e7dd33fe_c.jpg

“Just last fall we hosted an alumni reunion and some of the oldest guys there were at Purdue back in the 60s,” Woods says. “Many alums bring their kids or grandkids to show off the layout that the club designed.”

Going more into the design itself, Woods explains, “Our layout is loosely based on the stretch of track between Indianapolis and Chicago, and we have a whole Lafayette section we’ve been planning. There’s a whole corner of the room dedicated to Chicago. Even though the layout is pretty modern, members are more than welcome to run any kind of train they want to on the layout. Members can bring their own trains to the tracks; you’ll see old-timey steam trains pass by modern-day freight trains. You might find American trains next to German or Chinese trains. We love seeing that kind of variety.”

collection of train throughout the club There are additional events that members of the general public can attend. The PRRC hosts open houses in the fall and spring. This fall, an open house was hosted during Homecoming. The set is also available for viewing during club hours, which are Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m. and Fridays from 7-10 p.m.

Any students interested in joining the club are encouraged to drop by a club meeting in Room B050A in the Union.

“The club does attract many engineering majors, but we’ve also had college of science majors, business majors, agriculture majors, and so much more,” Woods says. “You don’t need to be any specific major to join, but if you’re willing to talk trains, you’re welcome here.”

To get connected, join the club Discord and check out the club’s Facebook page.


Written by: Hannah Williamson, Writing and Communications Intern, Student Life Marketing