GFO Bergamo



1984 - The year of the foundation

The Gruppo Fermodellistico Orobico (GFO) was born out of a group of railfans and model railroaders on the occasion of a first Railway Modeling Exhibition, held in the waiting room of the Bergamo FS Station in 1984. Already about thirty members strong since its foundation, the GFO organizes the first trips on the Italian railways lines, and the first visits to locomotive servicing and storage plants, as well as and to companies producing modeling material.

In its early years, the GFO was a guest of the FS, holding its meetings in the Professional Education room of the Bergamo station. Thanks to the collaboration with the DLF (Dopolavoro Ferroviario), in those years a modeling exhibition was set up on a regular yearly basis. Members' models (but also material from companies and from other groups of enthusiasts) was on display on Habs freight cars, equipped with special access ladders. On these occasions, we also were able to have on rolling stock of historical interest (the real thing, in 1:1 scale). Also, competitions on railway subjects (modelling, photography, etc.) were often held with great success. Those years also saw the creation of the first company H0 scale layout, consisting of a series of modules of limited thickness, absolutely flat and devoid of scenery and of catenary poles, in consideration of the fact they had to be folded for being transported in the members' cars whenever we wanted to assemble them. This “Plywood Pacific” layout survived until the early 1990s, when it was decided to rehaul it with the some basic landscape elements, that incorporated the old modules.

1990 - The headquarters at the Lazzaretto

In 1990 the GFO obtained permission from the Municipality of Bergamo to renovate a cell (about 25 square meters, 250 sqft) in the structure of the former Lazzaretto (the sixteenth century hospital meant to treat people hit by the black plague), a location already used by other local associations. After signing a ten-year subsidized rental contract, the transfer was completed in the summer of 1992, with the inauguration of the new headquarters. In the new headquarters, meetings were held twice a week, allowing fast progress on a new and expanded layout. In fact, there were numerous requests to exhibit the club layout and models of the members, with a almost relentless events in Bergamo, in the neighboring communities, and in other locations all through Lombardy and Northern Italy.
Particularly demanding were exhibitions in some large shopping centres, that forced the involved members to work shifts during long and busy days. GFO also took part in local fairs, thanks to the collaboration with the involved agencies, that made stands available free of charge. The tenth edition of the show in Bergamo was held in December 1993,and will be remembered for the exceptional number of visitors. The event took place in one of the most prestigious venues in the very center of the city, and was scheduled during the Xmas shopping days for Christmas (and the traditional festivity of St. Lucy, that brings gifts to the small ones in this part of Italy, according to the Venetian roots in Bergamo’s past).

1995 - The first "rail photosafari" in the USA

1995 marks an “oceanic” turning point, in the sense that a group of eight brave GFO members ventured on a railway "photosafari" in the USA for the first time. The initiative will be repeated several times (now, with one of these trips roughly every other year, we have reached a total of 14 trips). Both the East and the West coasts, as well as selected location in the Midwest, the Southwest, the South and the Appalachians have been among our targets. Of course, these trips were complemented by visits to the main tourist attractions of the places we crossed going from one railfanning location to the next.
The success of the trans-oceanic initiative launched a series of travel experiences, which lead groups of GFO members to visit places and museums of railway interest (but not only) during journeys in distant parts of our country, as well as in France, Austria, Germany, Denmark (and, of course, in neighboring Switzerland) n different years and on different occasions.
Obviously, in these years, the activity of greatest interest for lovers of the real railways continued, which among other things led to the execution of special trains on some particularly suggestive lines, such as the Trento-Malè, the Genoa-Casella, and the nearby Rhaetian Railway. GFO members also managed to visit twice the Alp Transit construction site, when workers were still busy excavating the 62 km (40 mile) two-track tunnel underneath the imposing Alps in the Gotthard region.
To these activities are added new ones, mainly conducted for the purpose of proselytism. In fact, the first “educational” initiatives of GFO date back to the end of the 1990s, offering to fellow enthusiasts courses in railway modeling (with particular attention to the creation of unique models), and courses on the most basic aspects of the application of electronics to railway modeling (with an obvious focus on those aspects that were of interest to the broadest – and least specialized – audience).

2001 - The new headquarters at ATB

As the expiry of its contract with the Municipality approached at the end of the 1990s, the GFO received a particularly interesting offer from the ATB (Bergamo Municipal Transport Company). The hypothesis put forward by the company executives was intriguing: the GFO would have been housed next to the “Historical Collection” of ATB at a next-to nominal rent, with GFO being committed to offer assistance to visitors of the collection (that boosts some early 20th Century materials, including cars from the cablecars that connected the hilly parts of the town with the lower part and, lots of period photographs, and early heavy electromechanical devices). Od course, a visit to the GFO model railway was meant to be included in the visit by individuals and groups. Thanks also to the sensitivity of the ATB Management, in the almost mythical personality of Ing Ramorino, the deal developed with unusual rapidity, and GFO moved from the former “Lazzaretto” to the ATB structures the early months of Summer, 2001. Thanks to the space available in the new headquarters, the GFO layout (that was presented on the Italian magazine iTreni, nr. 211, January 2000, p. 48) was assembled in a semi-permanent way and was given the possibility to develop further, as highlighted elsewhere.
The evenings dedicated to the world of real railways also gained new momentum in the new location, mostly because of the increased availability of the cheap and easy-to-use digital media for both photography and video. Thanks to the acquisition of a multimedia projector, it finally became possible to enjoy in timely fashion photostories and video sequences prepared by individual members, often as a documentation of GFO outings.
Equally important has been the reorganization of the GFO collection of books and magazines, that steadily grew afterwards, and now can boast a complete record of the Italian railroad-themed magazines in an ordered and well presented fashion. Also available are the most relevant books on Italian railways at large: the quite large selection also includes pieces of historical relevance, as well as some books on foreign prototypes. Of note, there is also a complete collection of the American magazine "Model Railroader" (all numbers to date, starting from the extra large issue marking the 50th year of publication of the magazine, in January 1984).

2006 - One hundred years of the Ferrovia Valle Brembana

The year 1906 saw the inauguration of the Ferrovia Valle Brembana (FVB), that back then ran from Bergamo along the steep banks of the Brembo river to the terminus of S. Giovanni Bianco. The line reached its final terminus of Piazza Brembana in 1926, and was closed to operation in the summer of 1966. All the engines were scrapped (they were literally burned) shortly after. Built to the highest technical standards of the time, the short line (38 km, roughly 25 miles) was fully electrified at 6000 V c.a. (the only application of this Westinghouse-backed traction system in Italy) . The line ran through spectacular scenery along a breathtaking sequence of bridges and tunnels, connecting fancy Art-Nouveau passenger stations as well as similarly ornate - but less imposing - whistlestops, and had as its main target the affluent patrons of the world-famous thermal springs of San Pellegrino and lesser known - but much popular - mountain resorts in the most distant areas of the valley. The centennial anniversary seemed to represent an occasion worth celebrating with all the possible bells and whistles (pun intended), and to put to good use all the material GFO members had gathered on the line (vintage photos, documents, artifacts and - of course - models and dioramas!).
However, in spite of knocking repeatedly at the doors of public authorities and of institutions and companies we thought could be interested in remembering such a turning point for a quite large community, all GFO was allowed to realize was a one-week exibit of models and historical artifacts in a lonely and neglected room next to the thermal sources in San Pellegrino (with paid access only in the afternoon). Setting up the exhibit was a lot of work (including moving of a section of the FVB H0 layout mentioned above from the attic of Erli Pievani’s house to the exhibition place), but with a very meager return in terms of response from the public.
In short, as a consequence of being neglected by the media and essentially ignored from local public officers and politicians, this remains one of the lowest points in the history of GFO (at contrast with what happened with FVS, as narrated below). It did not help noting – back then and as of today - that the modest GFO initiative was the only event associated to this historical date in Bergamo and in Italy at large...

2008 - The GFO layouts get some major revamping

In 2008 it was decided to renew the “traveling” layout by building new standardized modules, owned by individual members, that faced the task of finishing it at their pleasure while respecting some uniforming rules (please see the dedicated page of the website). At the same time, the old layout was progressively dismantled, if not for six modules (including the station). These “leftovers” of the old layout were re-assembled in the new headquarters and given – through a number of rearrangements - the current permanent linear configuration.
In the following decade - until the COVID pandemic of 2020 - the new "traveling" layout progressively expanded, developing on 80*120 cm panels, which connect the return loops necessary for "false double track" operation. The layout first incorporates the new "Biviglio" station, followed by five modules created by Claudio and Carlo Brambilla and by the large radius curves necessary to be able to assume a "U" configuration for exhibitions in limited spaces. Four modules were then added to include the 5-track “Biviglio Scalo” yard, which includes sheds for locomotives and a programming track (the whole system now only works in DCC), followed by a very detailed refinery (built by Beppe Ravasio on three modules) and from a vast area for logistics (three modules, by Marco Ponzoni). Beppe Ravasio also took care of the insertion of a working system for the circulation of road vehicles (based on the Faller Car System, but broadly revised), as well as of the reconstruction of the "urban" module created by the deceased member Francesco d'Abramo, in which a service station (with attached car wash) is built on top of a nightclub (complete of its picturesque fauna of patrons and not-much-dressed girls), both accompanied by attractive animations. With the construction - still in progress, as of this writing - of two mountainous modules by Andrea Barrica, the layout has reached a total of 22 modules (plus loops, curves, and connecting elements), equal to roughly 36 linear meters (40 yd) of layout. This is equivalent to about 6 actual km (that is, 4 actual miles) of mainline track, with the possibility of safe circulation of up to 8 trains on 12 occupancy blocks. Since August 2022, the layout is controlled via smartphone by a Roco Z21 control unit, supported by an adequate booster circuit.

2010 - The layout depicting trains in the Bergamo valleys gets a new home at GFO

In 2010 - concomintantly with the dismissal of the old “traveling” layout and with the new one well underway - group members approved to move to the GFO headquarters the layout depicting the railroads that run North from Bergamo through in the valleys of the Brembo and Serio rivers, towards the Alps. The joint Ferrovia Val Brembana/Ferrovia Val Seriana (FVB/FVS) layout was donated by Franco Bonomi and Erli Pievani, and was merged with portions of a layout depicting some major spots of the Ferrovia Val Brembana (built by Franco Bonomi and Sergio Morzenti using techniques derived from US-style model railroading practices and presented on the Italian magazine iTreni, nr. 97, Ottobre 1989, p. 44), that was moved to the current GFO location in 2005 after its former l ocation was no longer available.
Individual sections salvaged from the original layouts were duly merged, and made fully functional. The restored layout now occupies most of the GFO headquarters, for a total surface of more than 400 sq ft. The layout was presented to the public for the celebrations held in September 2013 on the 30th anniversary of the first GFO event, and is the most complete and accurate model representation of the now disappeared railways (FVB closed in 1966, followed by FVS in 1967).
Most of the models running on the layout are scratchbuilt, or heavily kitbashed (or kit-mingled, if you prefer the term suggested by Art Curren, a master in this aspect of modeling) and all run on DCC. GFO has been praised for the layout and the models on it in a visit from Dr. Eng. Luigi Cantamessa (CEO of the Fondazione FS, the historical branch of the Italian Railways), and was used (together with the iconographic material in the GFO archives) to support the request to attribute the qualification of "Building of Historical Relevance" (equivalent to the National Register of Historic Sites in the USA) to the cluster of buildings forming the Clusone station, the FVS northermost terminus.

Come back upstairs