C&P Junction 2013: Some Thoughts and Observations…
The annual MidEast Region (MER) convention was held over Columbus Day weekend in Rockville, Maryland from Thursday evening October 10th through Sunday morning October 13th. C&P Junction was co-hosted by two of our closest neighboring NMRA divisions, the Chesapeake Division and the Potomac Division. Featuring over 45 home layout and club tours within easy driving distance, in addition to 40 clinics, a white elephant room, contest, and banquet, the MER convention was one of the most interesting and entertaining NMRA events I have ever attended. Those of us lucky enough to take part owe a great deal of thanks to the organizers and volunteers who put together such a wonderful event. This was my first NMRA regional convention, and in all honesty, I was somewhat apprehensive going in. However this meet was superb from start to finish and I have already made tentative plans to attend the 2014 MER convention in Hagerstown, Maryland. While it was impossible for anyone to see and do everything on the crowded schedule, I will briefly recount my convention experience and overall impression.
I arrived late Thursday afternoon in anticipation of not only the opening of the convention, but also modeler Steve King’s two-part Train Order and Time Table (TT&TO) super-clinic (it even had a lab!). Mr. King, who is well known as one of the foremost operations based modelers within the hobby and one of the long time leaders the NMRA’s Operations Special Interest Group (OPSIG) provided a rigorous introduction to the intricacies of TT&TO operations through a two hour PowerPoint presentation followed by an operating session “lab” at his home the next day. Aside from being a very nice person, Mr. King has a pedagogical knack for taking very complex material and making it accessible and relatively easy to understand. He is also the co-author with David Sprau of a new OPSIG book, “19 East, Copy Three”: The Art and Practice of Time Table and Train Order Operations for the Railroad Historian and Model Railroader, which I highly recommend to anyone interesting in finding out more about this form of prototype based operations. (For more information about the benefits of membership in the OPSIG and to ordering 19 East, Copy Three go to their website. While I count myself at very best a newbie—OK I really know nothing!—when it comes to TT&TO operations, I look forward to learning more both through study and hands on experience in future op sessions on other model railroads. Mr. King’s clinic was a great way to begin my convention experience.
After two hours of intense note taking on Form 19 applications, I talked my friend Brian Good from the Philadelphia Division, who I earlier spied in the lobby, into helping me carry my Biscuit Run module from my car to the convention layout display room. My primary reasons for attending the convention were to give a clinic and to also operate and display McCook’s Landing, the sectional O-Scale Civil War layout I helped build with modeler extraordinaire Bernie Kempinski. Bernie would arrive early the next morning with the other 4/5 of the layout but I wanted to get my module set up because it looked like the rain was only going to get worse. And it did. But, more on that later.
Friday dawned very wet and windy (monsoon like actually) and I began Day Two by meeting Bernie in the layout display room. Within about 45 minutes, we had unloaded the other four sections from his car, assembled McCook’s Landing, attached our red, white, and blue bunting, and were operating a short train. Much like the Atlanta NMRA National, our Civil War layout quickly attracted a crowd of interested onlookers. We had people taking photos and asking questions pretty much continuously until we took the layout down late Saturday afternoon. We shared the layout room with two other much larger modular layouts, the HO scale Meade Area Model Railroad Society (MARRS) from nearby Laurel, Maryland and BANTRAK, the Baltimore N-Track group.
With the three major scales represented (or at least I think they are currently still the three leading scales?) convention attendees, not to mention various hotel guests and hotel staff, were able to observe passenger and freight trains running from early each morning until the about ten each night. Having operational modular or sectional layouts at the convention hotel makes any model railroad meet much more user friendly to those who are new to the hobby or are perhaps unaware the hobby exists at all. I spent a good deal of time operating McCook’s Landing and answering questions and while I am big fan of static RPM model displays, it seems to me the best way to reach out to the public, not to mention other modelers, is to have trains moving. Both MARRS and BANTRAK ran long consists including various steam and diesel prototypes. The MARRS layout featured not only some very long C&O and Pennsylvania RR coal drags, but also some interesting European prototypes not to mention a set of Harry Potter modules that included a gigantic scratch built replica of the Hogwarts campus. Taken together the layout room created a dynamic meeting space to observe operations, talk about model railroading, or just chat about the convention.
Aside from, hopefully, seeing operational modular layouts, the two major activities at an NMRA regional meet are clinics and layout tours. Unfortunately, because of general time constraints, tours and clinics are usually scheduled simultaneously. Thus, in order to maximize their convention experience, well-prepared attendees make careful decisions prior to their arrival about how best to spend their time based on their interests. Or in my case, upon arrival just sort of fly by the seat of your pants depending on the schedule and weather conditions.
On the one hand Bernie and I were somewhat constrained, as we had to operate McCook’s Landing and needed to spend much of our time in the layout room. However we agreed in advance to divide our layout responsibilities depending upon what the other wanted to do. On the other hand, one of the great things about bringing a layout to a convention is people come to you and it is a really great way to meet other modelers and find out what they are doing, which is something I would highly recommend! In addition, to give ourselves a bit more flexibility, we also decided to forgo the type of formal operating sessions for guests that were very popular at the Atlanta NMRA because the layout would only be up and running for two days instead of five. Bernie kicked off the Friday afternoon session after lunch by giving a clinic entitled “Introduction to Modeling Railroads of the American Civil War.” If you enjoy Bernie’s articles, his amazing RPM modeling, and his award winning blog, you will find his live clinics a real treat.
And it was not just Bernie. The overall clinic schedule at the MER was excellent, thanks to Marty McGuirk who as clinic coordinator put together a stellar group including Andrew Dodge, Paul Dolkos, Steve King, Tony Koester, and Fred Lango, among others. Marty also somehow found the time to give a clinic on “Modeling the Central Vermont Railway of the 1950s” and hosted an op session with two days of open houses. Also in attendance was Neil Bescougloff, the editor of Model Railroader who gave a much-anticipated talk entitled “What’s New at Model Railroader Magazine.” Finally, although he did not give a clinic, NMRA President Charlie Getz also attended the MER convention and spoke briefly at the banquet. I first met Mr. Getz at the Atlanta NMRA and previously communicated with him at length via e-mail. He is a very sharp person, has a broad vision for the NMRA’s future, and is extremely open to listening to all NMRA members about the present and future direction of the organization. He is working on any number of initiatives to make the NMRA a better, stronger, and more efficient organization (including hopefully curbing the tomfoolery present at the division level in various locales) and, in my humble opinion we are very lucky to have him.
I decided to try seeing some layouts Friday afternoon. While those of us who live near or drive through the greater Washington metropolitan area on a regular basis often shake our heads at the traffic, the heavy population density provides a home base for a very large number of serious model railroaders, many with operational home layouts. Many of these model railroads are already well known through feature articles in mainstream hobby publications in addition to others whose owners maintain an active online presence. Unfortunately, there were two factors beyond NMRA control that prompted me to limit the scope of my layout travels to destinations close to the convention hotel. First, the weather continued to be terrible with heavy rains making the roads problematic if not a bit scary. Second, a group of out of town protestors was planning on shutting down I-495 Friday-Sunday for reasons that made sense only to them. The possibility of both conditions led me to only two layouts, but these were both more than worth the trip. For the record, the protest fizzled but the rain was steady.
As a Chesapeake & Ohio Railway modeler, I met John Glabb a while back. Over the years I have seen John give talks at the C&OHS and shopped at his Peach Creek Hobby store, although, somehow, I never saw his layout. John, not surprisingly, is a BIG C&O steam fan and his HO C&O Peach Creek Division is a 20 x 29 layout that recreates operations between Hinton and Prince, West Virginia. The railroad features handlaid track, handlaid turn-outs built in place, brass locomotives, scratch built bridges and structures, MRC DCC wireless control, and a marvelous track plan and design that uses track height, mountains, and view blocks to place operators deep within West Virginia coal country. John and his wife were very gracious hosts and John’s den reminded me of the archive at the C&OHS, although John may in fact have more material on hand. John is like me as he models the C&O in the pre 1947/48 “For Progress” logo world, a distinction that makes for a more interesting railroad, in my opinion. John also oversaw a five part, multi person super clinic series called “The Steel Track.” The clinics, which took place in one room all day Saturday, were designed for those interested in all aspects of modeling steel production.
My next stop was to Andrew Dodge’s 1897 Colorado Midland Railway, a Proto-48 layout that reflects Mr. Dodge’s abilities as a master craftsman. The plan for the Colorado Midland was featured in the 2013 issue of Model Railroad Planning and has only been under construction since the beginning of this year. His previous effort, an On3 version of the Denver South Park and Pacific, was featured in the 2007 issue of Great Model Railroads. His new layout, which occupies half of his large basement and is still under construction (although he works fast!), features a fleet of scratch built Proto-48 locomotives which have to be seen operating in person to be fully appreciated. The track work, rolling stock, structures, scenery, and attention to historical detail embrace the aesthetic beauty and mechanical reliability only made possible by adhering to the exceptional standards of Proto 48. At one point during my visit, I spent a good fifteen minutes just studying the trucks and couplers on one of the boxcars. Suffice it to say, the layout not only looks great but literally runs like a Swiss watch. He was also a very nice host and answered all of my incessant questions. I look forward to seeing what his basement looks like a year from now. Wow!!!!
Upon leaving the Colorado Midland, I braved the rain to return to the hotel for my evening clinic although in the back of my mind, I contemplated taking up stamp collecting in the future. I returned to McCook’s Landing, caught up with Bernie, had dinner with Bernie and Marty, and prepared for my clinic, which involved a quick look at my slides and a test of the projector. My 7PM clinic on the history of water softening technology on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway is one I have given before and usually attracts a small core audience of steam enthusiasts. I had 35 people in my Atlanta audience (which was a record) and about 12 at the MER, which was pretty good considering it was relatively late in a long day. The talk seemed to go well as the audience was very knowledgeable about the topic.
Following my clinic, I went down the hall to see my old friend Tony Koester give his “Update on the NKP” clinic. Tony, aside from being one of the most famous people in the hobby, is also one of the most thoughtful and entertaining. His clinics are always fun to attend. He has made a lot of progress scenery wise on his gigantic Nickel Plate Cloverleaf District home layout and his photo of the new roundhouse complex at Frankfort, Indiana (well new to me at least!) was very impressive. Tony also showed some very interesting slides of how to model very large Midwestern soybean, wheat, and cornfields. This may sound boring—which is not the case—but it is really difficult to model large scale agriculture scenes. Yet, he and his colleagues seem to have finally solved that particular scenic puzzle. Apparently, we can look forward to an update on the Cloverleaf Division in Model Railroader in 2014. Tony will also be speaking in a few weeks at the New Jersey RPM meet. That RPM meet follows on the success of the recent Mid-Atlantic RPM meet that was held last month within JRD territory in nearby Stafford, Virginia.
After a late night chat in the lobby with Tony and Layout Design SIG founder Doug Gurin about various issues in the hobby, I limped off to bed to ready myself for the next day of the convention.
Saturday began…wait for it…with heavy rain but amazingly enough the weather finally cleared up by mid-afternoon. Bernie started the day at 9AM with his other Civil War clinic, “Aquia Harbor Line: Modeling a Civil War Layout.” That clinic focuses on his home layout, a model railroad that also has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. It is sort of an IMAX-3D approach to American Civil War model railroading sans the funny glasses and the popcorn. In any case, I started running McCook’s Landing while Bernie was gone and remained in the layout room for most of the day save one layout visit. A large number of people swung by the layout, asked questions, made suggestions, which was a really nice way to spend the day. All the children who came by seemed fascinated by the layout and especially the steam locomotives.
In the late afternoon I went off to see Steve King’s Virginia Midland layout, a model railroad I have wanted to see for many years. I even wrote about it in the Layout Design Journal but had never seen it in person. Suffice it to say, this layout was worth the wait. Additionally, Steve and his wife were very generous hosts. I had the opportunity to take a train over the layout, a process which Steve feels is the best way to understand what he is doing. Mr. King is of course VERY interested in operation, which explains why he may be a little behind in his scenery. However since his layout is sort of an ongoing graduate seminar in operations, a few missing trees does not really matter in the bigger picture. After two hours of taking notes on his approach to layout design and operations, I made my way back to the hotel. After a few more hours of operation, Bernie and I quickly dismantled McCook’s Landing and helped close out the layout room. Later Bernie went home and I stuck around to go to the post banquet awards ceremony.
Overall it was a very fun and not too exhausting model railroad weekend. Aside from meeting old friends and making some new ones, I even accrued points for the AP Volunteer program for giving a clinic and bringing the layout. Not too shabby. Needless to say, the organizers and volunteers did a wonderful job. My clinic room was all ready to go and all I had to do was bring my thumb drive. Also, and this may seem minor—but it isn’t—because I am sure it took a tremendous amount of work, the layout tour directions not only contained directions on how to get TO the layout (not to mention house to house directions) but also instructions on how to get BACK to the hotel. This may seem obvious, but it was really helpful with all the heavy traffic and rain. These directions were very detailed and PERFECT, which was especially important, as the weather was so problematic it made the GPS spotty. Thanks!
On Sunday morning I dropped by Bernie’s house on the way back to Charlottesville where I saw Paul Dolkos, Doug Gurin, Neil Bescougloff (who is a super nice guy) and soon Bernie put me to work until dinner making trench “duck boards” for his HO scale World War I model railroad project. But that is a story for another day…