Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

The Sinsheim Chronicles: Episode 7

It's Show Time, Folks!

Thursday March 21, 2002

6am: "Got up, got outta bed, dragged a comb across my head..."
7am: breakfast in a crowd but Dieter had a table all ready for us, there was electricity in the air
7:20am: back to the room to grab camera etc., took a few pictures

The view from our room at the Bruchsal Business Hotel. Our carriage awaits...the bus to Sinsheim.

and made our way to the bus which almost immediately started the 45 minute journey to Sinsheim via the same back roads that we had travelled the day before. The interior of the bus reverberated with the animated conversations of our fellow exhibitors. Before we knew it we were at the main entrance and with our passes in hand we rapidly snaked through the waiting crowd into Hall 1 and then made the long walk to the end of Hall 4 to our booths. The show was about to open and all we had to do was take the plastic sheet off the layout, position the halogen lights, bring out the documentation, turn on the power to the 2000 watt transformer/converter and turn up the three throttles to get the trains smoothly on their way for the arriving visitors.

Alas, it was not to be...everything worked but the speed potentiometer for Val Ease West. Somehow it had burned out, probably from a spike from the 220v - 110v converter. It was a new pot as was its twin in the VEE controller. This was not a good thing but it came at the best time, I suppose. I quickly set up my soldering iron, retrieved my backup MRC1300 throttle and 15 minutes later had swapped the 5 k-ohm potentiometers. The 'new' pot would do the trick for the remainder of the show but it did look a little odd to have it hanging out the side of the box. The other positive aspect of losing the speed pot was that I would make a complete tour of the show later in the day looking for an electronics vendor who just might have a replacement. I stopped at 6 booths but no potentiometers. Oh well, my foresight had kept 1/3 of the layout working but I'll put a couple of spares into the parts box for the future.

As anyone who has taken part in a train show knows there are normally a couple of bugs to be worked out before the layout settles into a groove. Once VEW was up and running I had to contend with problems with my double-headed MTL F7s on the passenger train running on the CVE outside loop. Derailments were occurring at irregular intervals on the front truck of the F7A. This was somewhat of a mystery since I had changed all the drive sets on both locos the first day at the show. Terry and I began to identify and repair possible track-related causes around the loop all the while answering questions (in English) coming from the ever thickening crowds. We found a couple of gaps that needed to be taken care of as well as attaching the layout to the table since we noticed that it was sliding ever so slightly clockwise. I guess that it was not properly seated on the anti-slip material I had placed under Val Ease East. Fortunately we had no further layout movement problems for the rest of the show.

Dominique and Terry pitch in to rerail some wayward cars. (photo courtesy Gerhard Beuttenmüller) A corollary of Murphy's Law states that whenever you are in the middle of a problem someone shows up to enjoy your embarassment (this is a variation of problems only occur when someone is watching, never when alone). In this case a very special visitor showed up to revel in our misfortune. Dominique de Champeaux had made the journey from Paris, France to meet us and to see the VECRR in person. Dominique may have seen more than he had bargained for as Terry and I tried to track down various gremlins. It wasn't long before we had the trains running smoothly once more and Dominique and I had a long and extremely enjoyable conversation, in French of course, about all things Z, his layout plans, the exciting new developments in US Z modelling and, where could he find Harald Freudenreich. Dominique and Harald should go into business together...since Harald has been building Husky stack container cars and hoppers practically non-stop to equip Dominique's huge rolling stock requirements. Dominique has also been keeping AZL in business with his Dash-9 purchases.

Before Dominique could run off to see Harald and Ilona at their booth at the other end of Hall 4, we stopped for a photo-op.

Dominique de Champeau joined us from Paris.

Dominique eventually wandered back loaded down with a big bag of goodies from FR Models and elsewhere I'm sure. He had to head home but he wanted to say that he would try to join us in Ft. Lauderdale in July at the 2002 National Train Show. He also said that he would be attending the Paris Hobby Show on the weekend of April 6-7 and that he would look into the possibility of an invitation for the VECRR to the 2003 edition. What a wonderful surprise to meet Dominique in Sinsheim. Terry and I look forward to seeing him again, if not in Florida, perhaps in Paris next year! We've got our fingers crossed ;-)

The loco derailments continued to plague us. I wasn't ready to mothball the F7A-B set so I finally decided to swap the shells of the F7A and F7B and run them backwards. That seemed to do the trick, at least for the rest of the day. In the meantime Terry had set his brand new FR boxcab on the VEW circuit and it was gliding along at a remarkably slow pace pulling the open-air tourist gondola and UP caboose. I had a single F7A pulling a short freight on VEE. As is my custom, I ran an Aztec track-cleaning boxcar behind the locos during the entire show to keep dust and oil accumulation on the track to a minimum.

Day one of the show was "school" day so we expected hundreds of youngsters to find their way to our area after spending time with the cars, trucks, airplanes and boats. It is impossible for me to describe the sight of so many playthings with so much activity going on around them so here is a sample of the delights we encountered in Halls 1, 2 and 3.

The car models were of every variety imaginable including a real Formula 1 car brought in by Herpa. The planes were small to huge! There was an Airbus A-300 model that could
probably take me for a quick flight around town. There was even an air combat section with slow-flyers and other RC planes.

I found the boats almost mind-boggling in their detail and size.

Lots and lots of boats! This carrier came into the hall on its own personal trailer, just like a real boat, hey it is a real boat! The crowds were thick and the many activities provided entertainment as well as visual delights.
This Titanic model was famous for actually sinking on command. It had been used in a German TV show that used a hidden camera filming unsuspecting people who, after taking the controls of this RC boat, would watch horrified as it sank usually in the middle of the pond or lake! It also refloats itself after a few minutes...

Just like the real one, the model Titanic sank! I came back several times to see the big boats in the pool. My timing was terrible...I never did see the battleships in action.

Interestingly enough the crowds were relatively light considering the numbers of kids but I soon realized that they had stopped to watch the planes and boats, basically plugging up the accessways to Halls 4 and 5 where the trains were located. Terry reported that getting to the WC was a real challenge. Anyway...we interacted with the adults who braved the blockade and made it all the way to the BDEF area. We had a great time talking to former Canadian and US residents who had retired to Germany. Whenever we encountered a language barrier we would simply make a half turn to our right and invite Dieter into the conversation. Over the course of the show, Dieter became just as knowledgeable about the VECRR as Terry and me. We also learned to keep a copy of the VECRR brochure opened up to the German text. Whenever I saw someone who was obviously interested in the layout I showed them the German panel in the brochure. This usually resulted in a series of questions in German and a call for help to Dieter!

Speaking of brochures, we had put out the literature that Märklin had provided. The small Mini-Club brochures were very popular during the week, much more so than the larger Märklin Z presentation document. Terry had also put out oval shaped stickers which he had scrounged from the Märklin booth showing various locomotives. These were especially popular with the kids. We eventually ran out but Terry managed to get a bag full of them at the close of the show for distribution at shows in NA.

Knowing that we would have a difficult time visiting the show while occupied with the layout, I had brought along a little something that would allow us to take time off individually to wander around. I had brought a pair of Family Service (FS) band walkie-talkies. These tiny 2-way radios had a good enough range to give us the freedom to wander away from the layout for walk-abouts and to keep in touch with each other in case we saw something really interesting to buy :-) or in case of some emergency at the layout. :-( Fortunately we used them to inform the other of wonderful things we had discovered in our explorations of the show...and I mean explorations. There was so much to see that we often couldn't find a booth that we had seen in a previous expedition. It sometimes took me several attempts to find a booth even with the floorplan in hand. Hey, I'm pretty good with a map, I tell you it was a real maze and really amazing as well.

Isn't it about time we talked about trains in this chronicle? Well stay tuned for the next installment where I'll share with you some of the amazing sights we saw and more of the great people we met.

Stay tuned for Episode 8 of the Great European AdventureZ 2002 | Return to Sinsheim Chronicles Home.