I am back from attending my first National Narrow Gauge Convention. I wish I knew where to begin to describe the experience. It is a several day long immersion on all things narrow gauge both the real thing and the models of. Now that I know what I’ve been missing, I can’t remember why it took so long for me to finally get to one. Will I go back? Yes please.
I can’t go any further without addressing the folks who organize this. Events like this are massive undertakings. I don’t know why anyone volunteers to coordinate these things but I’m sure glad they do. I believe that the measure of success for how well organized an event is, is how easy it all appears. On that measure alone, the folks behind the 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention in Augusta, Maine, are clearly masters of the craft. There are no words to express how much we all appreciate your work to make our experience as great as it was but I’ll start with “Thank you.”
I’m sure the team behind this sort of event is massive and diverse but the name I know best of all was Lee Rainey’s. So often, I’d open up my inbox to find a message from Lee, like this one, his second “last” email:
I know I said yesterday’s email was the final update.
But leave it to our good friends at the amazing WW&F Museum to come up with yet another unique afternoon activity that we think you will find . . . well, absolutely riveting.
The WW&F has recently acquired an 1877-vintage, deep-throat, pneumatic riveter. Intended to be much more than just a museum display, this device will actually be used to assist with the construction of new boilers for locomotives Nos. 10 and 11.
The WW&F crew will demonstrate the riveter in operation at Alna on Thursday afternoon, between 2:00 and 4:00 PM. The task will be completing the reattachment of No. 9’s original smokebox to its original boiler.
So if you ever wanted to sample the sights and sounds of a steam era backshop, this is your chance!
I copied Lee’s message as it alone speaks to the spirit of this type of event. In every way possible, the Convention was a showcase of pride and passion. Everyone had something to share and just as many people as there were sharing something and it seemed there were as many invitations to “join in” as there were imaginations to spark.
We arrived in time to register and attend a clinic on Wednesday evening. I had been looking forward to Rod Clarke’s talk on Toronto-area narrow gauge and he did a superb job. Rod is a passionate, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic speaker on the subject and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. In addition to the presentation, Rod had brought along some models he had under construction and based on Toronto rolling stock. I first heard about Rod from his book: Narrow Gauge Through the Bush (http://www.narrowgaugethroughthebush.com/) and buying a copy of this book is something that I am proud to have finally gotten around to. The book is massive and deserving of a review unto its own and I will do that. This book is easily one of the finest on the subject of Canadian railroading and I recommend it. Thank you Rod. It was a pleasure to meet you and your wife. I hope our paths cross again.
Equal of interest to me was Jeff Young’s talk on the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway. Jeff is working on a new book on the railway and I can not wait to purchase a copy of this. Jeff was joined by Peter Foley and together they shared a knowledgeable and enthusiastic preview of what’s to come in the new book. I am thrilled by how much they’ve uncovered on freight service on the line. They’re really on a deep dive with this project and their talk introduced some of their research from surveying the route of the line, documenting and drawing all of the railroad equipment, through to making sure they meet with and recorded the stories of so many who knew the railway. They don’t have a website for the book, yet, but there is an email address for more information: email@example.com.
These days hobby shops seem to thin on the ground, so to wander through a vendor hall with table after table devoted to just the subject of narrow gauge model railways was something amazing all to itself. The feeling is strange. Furthermore, so many of these tables were run by manufacturers themselves. It was really cool to meet the folks at PBL and Coronado Scale Models. I’ve used a lot of Micro Engineering rail and had a chance to meet some of their team too. Sometimes, some of the names were just so big (to me) I felt a little tongue-tied, not knowing just how to say something as simple as “Hi. I’ve read about your products and I really admire what you’re doing. I just wanted to say hi.” That was certainly the case when I forgot even my name when David Hoffman introduced himself at his table. Sorry David.
Vendors were all centralized in one main hall at the heart of the Augusta Convention Centre. Layouts were found in the many smaller event rooms throughout the facility. The feeling is a bit hard to describe as you embark on a treasure hunt down a rather non-descript hall and grab a “Seen one. Seen a million of them doors!” only to be rewarded with a room packed with narrow gauge model railway layouts. In the time since the Convention, I realise that as much time as I spent studying and just enjoying the fine work on display I have missed a lot. (“Just how exactly did I completely miss most of the apparently giant HOn30 modular layout?!”) I didn’t bring a camera to the Convention Centre so don’t have photos to share. I wish I did but I also wish I was the kind of guy who could take decent photos of models.
Bob Harper’s Franklin layout was the first of those layouts I wanted to make a specific point of seeing and it did not disappoint. I had first seen this layout on the Maine On2 website:
It is a superb, well-built and smooth-running, layout built in 1/48 scale and based on Maine two foot gauge railroading. Despite the amount of operation and track on the layout it doesn’t feel cramped or model railroad-like. It was a real joy to learn about the layout and watch it in operation. Further to their credit, it was being operated to a plan throughout the show with trains arriving and departing, each with purpose and work to do. I can fully appreciate just how much effort has been invested in creating a layout that works as well as Franklin does and in doing so, he really showcases just what is possible. Narrow gauge in 1/48? I could see that in my future…
The second layout on my own “must see list” was The Crowsnest Tramway. In other posts here on Prince Street as well as in (any chance I get) emails I’ve been praising model railway layout presentation styles that are as attractive as the work in the frame as they are out. Craig Parry’s approach to showcasing and framing this layout is a just such a superb example. Even from across a busy room, this layout stands out as one that I wanted to look at. It was terrific to have a chance to meet Craig and talk about the layout itself. From what I understand, when the Tramway is at home it lives in their living room. Something as nice as that, should. Like minds…well done! This layout was one that makes me regret not bringing a camera. The NNGC 2016 website does have some nice photos of the layout:
Another layout highlight was Conrad [sorry, I have forgotten his surname]’s Paper Creek. Built in Nn3, it is probably the finest operating Nn3 layout I’ve ever seen. Conrad was a wonderful host and I really enjoyed talking with him. As wonderful as his layout was, Conrad brought along several examples of models he is working on for his next Nn3 layout. What really impressed me was that he was 3D printing structures. I’m not sure why the idea never occurred to me but I thought his was a really unique approach to use this technology in a way that I’m not. He had brought along some models that were exclusively 3D printed as well as his Chama roundhouse which is a mixed media approach using a 3D printed core with a laser cut (Monster Modelworks) cladding. It is so exciting to be a part of a conversation like this with someone who is clearly leading us into the future and using modern thinking to facilitate modelling. Once again, the NNGC website to the rescue with photos:
I figured I’d write a couple of posts on the Convention. We just did so much and that seems like the best approach. Before closing out this first post, I wanted to thank everyone again:
I would not have done any of this had Steve Dickie not started the whole thing rolling in the first place. Thank you Steve. Equally, thank you Bill and David for joining us on this adventure. In all, the finest company anyone could ask for on an adventure like this.
At every layout, sales table, or Convention badge was someone who was keen to introduce themselves and their whatever. Thank you, all, for making me feel so welcome.
I had the great fortune to meet several friends who I previously knew online. It was superb to finally shake some hands and meet in person. I hope our paths cross again.
Finally, thank you to Krista for making absolute sure that I didn’t find a way to talk myself out of this. All the good bits? Yup, that’s her. Every time.
Geez, look at the time. I need to go make supper.