Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

Amherst Railway Society The Amherst Railway Society BIG Train Show 2007

Amherst Railway Society BIG Train Show newZ: Märklin tales and other interesting sights

Dear fellow Valeasians,

For the first time ever, Märklin USA had a booth at the BIG Train Show. To be quite honest, there was not a whole lot to see. The booth was more of a big Märklin backdrop than a product display. Be that as it may, the most important thing was that Fred Gates, Märklin USA CEO, was present along with Brenda Hensleigh, Marketing Coordinator and Tom Catherall, Märklin's technical (i.e. DCC) guru.

The gang from New Berlin, WI, was there to answer questions and to basically wave the flag to demonstrate that the company was still in business, despite the takeover of the head office last year by Kingsbridge Financial, a UK-based buyout specialist.

I spent several minutes chatting with Brenda about her experiences with Märklin. She was a joy to talk with. Her hobbies are golf, reading, movies and hosting an Oscar party! She also confessed to picking up a Z collectible from time to time as a souvenir of her travels to Germany. Brenda is pleased with the results of the World's Greatest Hobby shows and she felt that it was important to be at the Amherst Show.

DCC and I are still strangers so I didn't have anything intelligent to say to Tom Catherall. My next stop was at the side of Fred Gates, the top dog.

Me and Fred Gates
This 1999 NTS photo proves that I DO know Fred Gates!

I have always looked up to Fred, literally, since he stands at least a good 6 to 8 inches taller than me. Fred is a soft-spoken kind of guy and he is very well-liked in the hobby industry. Although we did not have much time to chew the fat, Fred shared some interesting tidbits of info about how things are shaping up at the head office in Göppingen, Germany.

When asked what the mood was in the company, Fred gave me a surprisingly frank assessment. He indicated that things were not going too well. Up to 60 positions were being eliminated, mainly by attrition. The company has not been investing in Z for several years and the feeling is that Micro-Trains has taken the lead in innovation and new products. In fact, Fred mentioned that Märklin had the plans ready 4 years ago for a new track system (I personally presented Fred with a Z_Scale petition on the subject in 2001). The head office did not act and since 2006 Micro-Trains Line has a track-roadbed system on the market.

Fred spoke at length about the new corporate pricing policy designed to make Märklin more competitive in the USA with their retail channel.

I hope that things work out for the best for our friends at Märklin. In my mind, their market lead is in steam locomotives. Micro-Trains has new diesels coming out shortly (the new GP9 is due in 2007) but nobody is offering steamers other than Märklin. They really need to invest heavily in improved steam locomotive mechanisms and more detailed shells.

Conway Scenic Railway

There were many not-for-profit displays at the show. One notable booth was occupied by a trio of excited gentlement from the North Conway Model Railway Club. When I reached them it was hugs all around as we rekindled our friendship from 10 years earlier. The last time I had seen these guys was in 1996 at the North Conway Club Show. I was an active member of the club up until 1997 when I was transfered to Vancouver, BC. It was great seeing Pete, Scott and Dennis. They hadn't changed a bit, well, except for a few extra inches around the waist!

Pete Davis, Scott and Dennis
I ran into three of my old mates from the Conway Model Railway Club, North Conway, NH.

Mike Tylick and Mr. Polk

While making one of several tours around the main exhibit hall, I came across an extraordinary modeler and a great teacher of model railroading, Mike Tylick. Mike is a well-known author and custom layout builder. At this year's show, Mike had brought along a modular Gn30 layout that he plans to build on-site at the show. All of the track was hand-laid on individual wood ties. It will be worth while returning to the show in 2008 just to see how this layout will have progressed.

At another stop along the way, I bumped into Neil Polk, the grandson of Nat Polk, of Aristocraft Trains. Mr. Polk was holding his own while his father and uncle were in Europe making deals for new products. Unfortunately, not every visitor to the Aristocraft booth had the same appreciation for G-scale as I. I left Mr. Polk trying to detach himself from a slightly weird-looking and acting person. I felt kind of bad that I had abandoned him to his cloying admirer but sometimes descretion is the better part of valor, as they say. (Note: January 2012 - Neil Polk was named President of Polk Hobbies, owner of Aristo-Craft Trains).

What did I buy?

Yes, I did spend some of my hard earned cash at the show. My top priority was to find a digital caliper for my scratch building projects. I found an excellent model at The Toolman / Hobbytools located just inside the door of the Young Building. I also picked up a dental pick for scribing work and a replacement 40 watt soldering iron. That was it for purchases.

I filled a bag with freebies...Bachmann catalogs, Micro-Trains price list and an N-Scale Collector magazine, courtesy of Eric Smith, Aristocraft new products catalog and price list, and handouts from several museums and historical societies. My next purchases would not take place until our stop at Township Toy Trains in Knowlton, Quebec on Sunday.

Good food and good company make the trip a holiday!

There is nothing more enjoyable on a trip than to travel with someone just as crazy about trains as yourself. My friend and travel buddy for the BIG Train Show, Yves Rousseau, is a veteran trainshow ambassador and has a love for model trains that puts me to shame. This was his first trip to the Amherst Show but not his first trip to W. Springfield. This was a good thing...he was very excited about taking in the show and he also knew of some terrific restaurants in town! Needless to say, I took full advantage of Yves eatery knowledge and accepted his suggestions for suppers at the Longhorn Steakhouse on Friday night and at Chillies on Saturday night. Both restaurants were perfect choices for anyone hungry for a generous and fine-tasting meal. Unfortunately, we were not alone...there were also generous lineups at both restaurants. Still, the wait was worth it and we ate like kings.

Comfort Inn
Our room at the Comfort Inn...comfortable...yes, convenient...yes, cheap...yes, everything a model railroader could ask for!

The trip home was less direct than the trip to the show. I was still itching to spend some money and I suggested that we head due North and make a stop at Township Toy Trains in Knowlton, Quebec in the Eastern Townships. Yves was all for it since he wanted to show me the real trains he had discovered at the White River Junction Historical Society along I91-I93.

We set off early Sunday morning, right after a quick breakfast at the hotel. The day was sunny but the roads were very slick with frost. We passed several accidents where SUVs had slid off the highways into deep ditches or into rock faces. At each crash site there was a Highway patrol car warning us to slow down. As the sun rose higher, the frost burnt off and the pavement was dry for our trip through Vermont.

866 mile Big circle trip
The trip from Gatineau, QC to West Springfield, MA (B), to White River Junction, VT (C), to Knowlton, QC (D) and back to Gatineau (E) covered 866 miles and about 16 hours behind the wheel.

We were greeted warmly by Monique Gillespie and her son, Martin, at the train store. I had a great time browsing and finally decided to pick up a sound-equiped tender for an LGB American 2-4-0 loco. I also grabbed a 6-pack of LGB 4-foot brass track. You can never have enough track, I like to say.

We finally got home before sunset on Sunday. Yves and his wife, Elaine, headed off home to Montreal. The trip was a real adventure...filled with excitement and wonderful experiences for both of us. Funny how a couple of days acting like a little kid is so refreshing. I felt like I had been on holiday for a week! Maybe not having to exhibit my trains had something to do with my deep sense of relaxation? Interesting...!

Best regards,