Great Lakes Express
For me, the annual NMRA National Train Show adventure actually got off to a start with the visit to our home in Gatineau by our great friends and VEC Life Members, Terry and Helen Sutfin. They came by on July 16-19, a few days before we set off for Detroit but they set the stage for a wonderful week of vacation fun.
Although Terry seemed interested in all of my train stories, he was really eager to show me his van...well his licence plate, to be exact!
I figured that Terry was always good for a surprise. His new Washington State licence plate was a wonderful acknowledgement of his passion for model railroading, i.e. "Poorville & Debt City Railway".
Terry, Helen, Marthe and I had several enjoyable meals together where we reminisced about our trips to San Jose, St. Louis, Germany and the Netherlands. We also talked about future travel projects. For Terry and Helen, their most cherished trip is to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in Australia in 2010. Both Terry and Helen are very active in the Lions Club and they are excited about attending the International Lions Convention in Sydney. Why not join "pleasure" with "pleasure" I always say!
Basically, the rather large investment such a trip entails has put other, less worthy trips on hold (such as Modellbahn Treff and the Paris and Tokyo train shows). Terry is still dreaming of Treff but it looks like any joint effort will have to wait until 2011.
Unfortunately, all good things have to pass, and our friends left for their long drive home on July 19th. Marthe was very excited about our trip to Denver (via Detroit). We hit the road on July 24th but took the long way to Detroit, stopping at Ridge Road Station, the world's largest garden railway shop (Holley, NY just outside of Rochester, NY). I couldn't resist and left the store with too many G-scale "Rhätische Bahn" freight cars. The trouble with LGB cars is that they come with plastic wheels. My preference, by far, is for blackened metal wheels by Aristocraft. My mission at NTS was to hunt down at least 5 packages of Aristo wheelsets.
But first, we had to get to Cobo Center in Detroit. There was still a long road ahead and lots to see and do.
Although our Red Roof Inn was 10 miles from the Cobo Convention Center as the crow flies, the drive there was easy along Michigan Avenue, the main thoroughfare linking Dearborn and Detroit. As we drove towards city center, we passed through several areas that looked like they had been abandoned for several years. These "war zones" were separated by new developments that looked like yuppies were moving into the neighborhood.
I had been forwarned that downtown Detroit is not so easy to navigate. If you take a wrong turn, you could find yourself heading into Canada either through the tunnel or over the bridge. Since we had the time, Marthe and I drove all the way down Michigan Ave. from Dearborn to downtown to find the convention center and to determine the best way to get there. Although I spotted Cobo Center I didn't find the way to the parking garage next to it on the first attempt. We knew that we needed to leave early (7am) on Friday in order to be at the Ztrack booth before the 9am opening.
Thanks to Marthe's keen eye, I managed to stay in the USA on Friday morning and we even found the spiral ramp up to the rooftop parking garage at Cobo Center. We parked next to the elevator and a quick trip down 3 levels brought us out right next to the NTS registration counters. We were greeted by two pleasant ladies who could not find our name tags, even though our names were listed as exhibitors. After several minutes confusion, they finally printed out tags for Marthe and me and we headed into the exhibition area.
The hall was very big and the space between displays was very wide. Obviously, this show was different from my five previous experiences. I later was told by Dean Dickerfoof, NTS layout coordinator, that several vendors and layouts had cancelled. This was painfully obvious judging from the huge expanses of open (i.e. wasted) space between layouts.
The Ztrack booth was close by the main entrance. Dean Shepard was already in attendance and Dave Miller had soon joined us. I unpacked VES and waited until Rob Kluz came before setting it up on a countertop. When Rob and Jenni arrived around 8:50am, we moved some AZL stuff and set VES on a good spot on the display table. While I had some time on my hands, I checked out the AZL display. The most extraordinary item that I saw on rails was the AZL cab forward. In my experience, it is the most impressive scale locomotive ever produced in Z-scale. It is truly a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship.
At 9am the doors opened and soon there were inquisitive visitors all around us. The show was underway. I handed out many Exporail brochures and gave directions to the Museum in Québec. During lulls, I took off with my notebook in hand and tracked down our fellow Z exhibitors and manufacturers. I was warmly greeted by all of my Z acquaintances with the exception of Micro-Trains Line staff. They need to learn basic trade show manners, i.e. to show genuine interest in visitors to the booth, smile and introduce themselves. MTL is my main sponsor for the VECRR International AdventureZ so I would just like to see them do a better PR job. It is not hard to do, but you have to remember to do it!
National Train Show NewZ
The highlight of the Z participation at the 2007 NMRA National Train Show was the outstanding quality of the modeling on display.
David "Mister Dave" George was awarded "Best in Show Modules - Individual - FIRST PLACE" for his seaside village section and "SECOND PLACE" for his "Royal George Gorge" section, part of the 9-section "Golden~Blackhawk & Central City". Mr. Dave generously shared his achievement with his crew: wife Judi, 10-year old helper Tristan Horton, Dora and Garth Hamilton and Judy and Don Avila. Special thanks were offered to Bob Brown who prepared the NMRA judging paperwork for the G-B&CC modules.
Mr. Dave got his nickname seven years earlier when his neighbour's kid, Tristan Horton, wandered over and discovered the magical world of little trains in Dave's garage. Tristan was a precocious three years old at the time. The nickname stuck and Tristan has been a loyal and devoted helper during the construction and travels of the G-B&CC Railroad.
Dave's crew are indispensable for the operation of the ten or more trains during train shows. Dave goes to several of the largest and most important shows in North America. He usually travels several thousand miles every year with his custom trailer. From what I gather there are more modules in the works at his home in Spring, Texas. Dave promises even more exciting developments for the layout. Future shows include World's Greatest Hobby shows, some local exhibitions and the 2008 National Train Show in Anaheim, CA.
The Z presence at NTS Detroit
Jim Drukemiller and Paul Fifer (Topeka, KS) had a 4.5' by 2' module in operation for visitors.
Jim and Paul first met at the US Navy model railway club in Okinawa, Japan in 1962. They have been good friends ever since. Jim uses Micro-Trains Line "Micro-Track" on his modules and says he "loves it!"
Jeffrey MacHan and Marthe Simard (Gatineau, QC) returned for their 6th NTS. Jeffrey, representing Exporail, displayed the "Val Ease Summit" section of the VECRR for attendees gathering around the Ztrack Magazine booths. Note: "VES" appeared at NTS thanks to the generous support of the Canadian Railway Historical Society. "VES" and "VECRR" are part of the permanent collection of Exporail - Canadian Railway Museum.
Special mention: Dave Miller worked for many weeks to prepare his highly detailed home Z layout which he generously offered to show as part of the NMRA Convention Program. His hard work was greatly appreciated by the 45 visitors to his home in Toledo, OH on the Convention Layout Tour.
At the "Ztrack Magazine" / AZL / SZL booths, Rob and Jenni Kluz, Dave Miller and Deane Shepard were kept busy promoting Z, making sales and keeping up a lively exchange with the many Z-friends who dropped by as well as with conventioneers and the general public.
Dean Shepard is the new advertising sales rep for "Ztrack Magazine". He was busy all day meeting with current and prospective advertisers.
Deane answered a call from Ztrack for someone to handle advertising. His ful-time day job is with Ricoh/IBM as Director for Contracts and Negotiations in Lenexa, Kansas. Deane obviously is helping out for the love of Z. By the way, his other hobby interest is "cowboy action shooting"...and his nickname is "Colonel Shep". He has a real cowboy hero costume! I think that there is a whole chapter here about Deane's secret identity!
Micro-Trains Line's Ben Thielemann, Marketing Director (accompanied by Joe D'Amato, Product Design Engineer) staffed the MTL booth where visitors could see a good selection of the MTL N-Nn3-HOn3 and Z product lines. The new GP9 was running smoothly on the MTL demonstration layout.
Märklin USA had a large corner booth. The BIG newZ at NTS was the purchase of LGB in Germany by Märklin. Fred Gates, President of Märklin USA was making his last appearance at NTS before his announced retirement in May 2008.
Stephen Priest and his wife Kathy were happy to talk to NMRA members about "Scale Rails Magazine" Mr. Priest and Jeffrey MacHan had some good news to share with the Z community.
NEWZ FLASH! "Scale Rails Magazine" editor, Stephen Priest and Jeffrey MacHan discussed the possibility of restarting the "Z-Scale Rails" column on a quarterly basis after a two-year hiatus. Jeffrey MacHan was also asked to provide official NMRA Z-scale product reviews to "Scale Rails Magazine".
Neil Besougloff, Editor of Model Railroader Magazine, confirmed that a feature article on Rob Allbritton's "Gotthard Line" is scheduled to appear in the December 2007 issue. This tidbit of info came as a result of my insisting that he and his "posse" really should take a walk over to see David George's layout. (This was before he had been awarded "First Prize"). Neil, being the former editor of "Classic Toy Trains", told me that he felt some culture shock wandering around the floor but he concluded that there were enough familiar faces among the manufacturers to help him make the transition without too much difficulty. [Don Avila informed me that, later in the day, both Neil Besougloff and Andy Sperandeo, executive editor, spent 20 - 25 minutes at the layout talking with Mister Dave. They were presented with a handout describing the layout and Mister Dave's adventures].
For the record, here are the names of several fellow Z-scalers and supporters who dropped by the VES section of the Ztrack booth to say hello and to encourage me to keep writing: Bob Scherzer from Kalamazoo, MI, Rob Kornhouser from Waterford, MI, Bruce Wolff from Livonia, MI, Jesse and Ellen Willets from Parmo, OH, and Rick and Linda Spano.
Thanks to Jenni Kluz who made the reservations, the annual NTS Z supper was held at the Andiamo Italian Restaurant on Friday, July 27. The restaurant is located on the main floor of the Renaissance Tower just beside the river-front entertainment area. While we toasted Mr. Dave and his entire crew for their outstanding achievement in the NMRA module competition we were bombarded by gut-pounding base thumping from the rock bands outside. As a side note, the Renaissance Tower and Marriot Hotel must be the most awkwardly designed architecture plan I have ever had the unfortunate experience to have to navigate with a wheelchair. Try to avoid the place if at all possible.
Rob Kluz sent me an email saying that the official NTS attendance was 20,118. He also mentioned that Marthe and I had attended the best day of the three-day show. Crowds were thin on the weekend and exhibitors and vendors were seen wandering the aisles trying to stay awake!
Marthe and I were glad to have attended the NTS, even if it was only for one day. We had the time to chat with friends and share in the glory of another Z-scale "Best of Show" with Dave George and his crew. I was given much positive feedback concerning my "Last Spike" articles. I guess that I am now more of a model railroad author than modeler. Writing about Z and model railroading has always been a great pleasure for me and it looks like I'll have a place for my musings for as long as I wish.
Immediately after the show, Marthe and I leapt into the van and starting our journey to Denver for her Stampin' Up Annual Convention. We stopped overnight in Des Moines, IA. After 4 days in Denver, we headed straight back home with overnights in Des Moines and Cleveland, OH.
This road trip was a great deal of fun, just like old times. I am looking forward to an NMRA regional event in March 2008 (Ottawa, ON) and then to perhaps one more National Train Show. Unfortunately, Anaheim, CA, in 2008 is outside our travel range so we're putting our sights on Hartford, CT, in 2009.
Oh yes, I did find those 5 packages of Aristo blackened metal wheelsets. I'm ready to roll!