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In 1996 as part of the Desert Division’s 25th Anniversary charter member and later Division Historian, Tom Stange, wrote a brief history of the Desert Division.  The article appeared in the August 1996 issue of the DISPATCH. It is reprinted here.


History of the Desert Division
Compiled by Tom Stange TCA #68-2347


In the late 1960’s a group of railroad enthusiasts met every Thursday evening at Van’s Hobbies on 35th Avenue and Dunlap in Phoenix. Their primary thrust was aimed toward HO. A very small group of tinplaters were members and saw a need for an organization devoted entirely to that aspect of the hobby.

In November 1970, Jim Harrison organized a group of tinplate enthusiasts from the Phoenix and Tucson areas. At their first meeting at The Francisco Grande in Casa Grande, they adopted the name “Grand Canyon Train Collectors” with the thought of becoming a chapter of the Western Division of TCA.

Early in 1971, Jim Harrison contacted the late Eric Buckley, the TCA National Secretary, and found that TCA was looking to place Divisions across the USA. Arizona and Colorado were being considered as a potential Division. This was dismissed because of the enormous distance between Tucson, Phoenix, and Denver. Thus New Mexico was added. Jerry Morris then asked TCA to include west Texas as part of the new Division because El Paso was much closer to Phoenix and Albuquerque than it was to Dallas and Houston. The lone Star Division agreed to the boundary change. ((Twenty-five years later the boundaries are still the same.) In June of 1097, the Desert Division was born at the TCA National Convention in Anaheim California. Other proposed names for the Division were Cactus, Great Southwest, Southwest, and Southwestern. The initial officers were Jim Harrison, President; Tom Stange, Vice-President; Ken Rosenburger, Secretary; Bob Johnston, Treasurer; and Robert McBratney, Director.

Growth at first was stagnant, and even decreased because of competition with other train clubs, both local and national. In 1974 membership was so low that only a Secretary was elected at first. Meetings were held every three months. The TCA National insisted that a President be elected or the Division would be placed on suspension.  Tom Stange was elected President. Later, in 1975, By-Laws were adopted and monthly meets were set up at Western Savings on 44th Street and Camelback, Phoenix. Next came the first “Turkey Meet”, originally called a Thanksgiving Meet. The “Turkey” name came from John King, a former Southwest TTOS Division President, who announced at a Cal-Stewart Meet in Pasadena that the Arizona group was going to have a “Gobble, Gobble, Turkey Meet the Saturday after Thanksgiving”. The moniker has stuck for over two decades now! It has escalated into one of the premier and most recognized meets west of the Mississippi River.

The year 1978 saw two major steps take place. First was the building of a module layout. A train display at the old Thomas Mall was the first of what is now and annual occurrence; the appearance of our module at the Chris-Town Mall and McCormick Railroad Park’s “Rail Fair”. Second, in 1978 the Division produced a McCoy Manufacturing Standard Gauge Box Car. This piece is now a desirable collectible among the Division memorabilia.

From these early events we have expanded into a forward looking, innovative, trend setting Division. Picnics, golf tournaments, Holiday Parties, and a nationally-recognized newsletter (the DISPATCH) are but a few of the reasons we have reached this level of acknowledgement.
Our last three Presidents – Peter Atonna, Paul Wassermann, and Gordon Wilson – have been appointed to and have served the TCA as chairs of some of the most influential committees. Peter headed the Membership Committee; Paul the Finance and Endowment Committee, and Gordon, the membership Committee as well as twice being elected to the Management Committee. In 1994 the Desert Division was honored and proud to be the home territory to TCA National President Alvin Levin. In June of 1997 we will be the showcase and focus of TCA’s premier event as host for the 43rd annual TCA Convention. The first 25 years have been a “great ride”. The next 25 promise to be even better.


The Next Chapter
Chris Allen - Division Historian


When Tom penned those words in 1996 I doubt he would have imagined how the Division would continue to prosper over the next few decades. Following in Al Levin footsteps Gordon Wilson became the TCA National President for the millennia year 2000, Paul Wassermann was National President for TCA’s 50th Anniversary in 2004, and Chris Allen was elected National President in 2008. The 43rd National Convention that the Division hosted in 1997 at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Phoenix was followed in 2009 when the Division hosted the 55th National Convention, this time pulling out all the stops and having it at the five star Marriott Desert Ridge Resort.

The Division has grown to over 300 members, and through the efforts of many members in New Mexico, formed the Rio Grande Chapter in 2006. The Rio Grande Chapter was the vision of Bert Adair who used to travel several times a year to train meets in Arizona. Following Bert’s death, Greg Palmer continued the work until completion and became the first President of the Rio Grande Chapter. Based primarily in the Albuquerque area, but with meets at various locations in New Mexico, the Rio Grande Chapter focuses on fellowship, education, and FUN!

Speaking of fun, the Desert Division seems to be the stand alone leader that category, in or outside of our hobby. During the 1980’s local businessman Ray Korte, hosted Division meets at his Scottsdale auto dealership but more importantly once a year hosted a spring picnic and auction at his home. There is not enough space to even begin to explain to new members or to the public what Ray Korte meant and did for this Division. Putting the focus back on the fun and friendships that are made because of this hobby, the Division started many traditions that are carried on today. After Ray’s passing , each spring the Division continues to host an annual picnic, now named the Ray Korte Memorial Picnic. However the auction that Ray used to host now has a new twist. The auction is held each April following one of our regular meets, but while an auction team puts together the lots for an action packed afternoon, we eat PIZZA! The April PIZZA-MEETZA is the only one of its kind in all of TCA. Serving as much as you care to eat free pizza, the mid-day break is a time of telling yarns in a relaxed friendly atmosphere prior to the afternoon auction. This yearly meet has proven to be a huge success with both our members and families. Our Kids Club always has the most children attending the April Meet as well. To say we have served a boxcar load of pizzas would be an understatement. Since it started in 1995 the Division has served over 600 pizzas and at eight slices per pie, well you do the math, that’s 4,800 slices and counting! Every auction brings out items of various quality and condition; however the rumors you may have heard are true, because at each spring auction we sell at least one new, mint in the box, ……pizza! Thanks Ray, it IS about having fun.

With the world famous Y2K computer bug more of a yawn than an event, the Desert Division planned something that no other TCA Division or toy train organization did, celebrate the centennial year of Lionel Trains in the year 2000, but as the song goes, we did it our way! Taking over a year to plan, coordinate, and schedule, this was going to be a huge event open to the public to watch. Calls went out and trains were borrowed to represent the few years our local members did not have in their own collections. To represent the years during World War II when Lionel stopped toy production for the war effort, examples of Lionel’s military production were shown in a static display. What a spectacular event, the running of over 100 trains simultaneously representing each year of Lionel’s manufacturing! Without a doubt, ask any of the Division members who participated, and they will tell you they hadn’t had that much fun in years.

From spring picnic’s to the winter Holiday Party, the Desert Division has focused less attention on using every opportunity to buy or sell trains, and more attention on increasing the fun factor of our hobby. The Grinch’s and Scrooges complained at first and never showed up, but the rest of us learned that there are some pretty interesting people who collect trains and although it is trains that have brought us together, it is the friendships that we build because of this hobby that makes it so much more special. I, and the rest of the Desert Division, look forward to the next Chapter and our Golden Anniversary.

Desert Division Officers Roll Call

(Listing of past Division officers 1971 - present)

The First Decade

The Second Decade


The Third Decade


The Fourth Decade

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