Sunday, February 10, 2013

Quiting the exhibition circuit

The sharp eyed will have noticed that we aren't at Doncaster show as previously advertised. Last minute transport problems meant we had to let the organisers down. We don't like doing this. It's the third time over our exhibition career that it has happened. That's too often.

So - we are going to leave the model railway exhibition circuit.

I'm in the process of writing to all the show managers who have booked us to let them know that we're giving up. Since the next booked event in a few months away, hopefully the loss of a small layout won't cause any headaches.

Getting off the circuit isn't easy - the latest layout, Clayhanger Yard, is being serialised in Hornby Magazine so even though I don't get anything for attending, I feel duty bound to show it at the 4 events it's already booked in to: Hartlepool, Midland Railex, Telford and Gaydon.

Our other layouts will be kept nice and safe while we work out what to do next. My feeling is that we'll be aiming to take Melbridge Dock to the L&WMRS 40th anniversary show in 2015 as a final hurrah. Apart from that, we'll do our booked demos at Warley NEC as long as they will have us and I'll probably have to turn up at a couple of other events in connection with magazines.

You might be thinking this is a bit of an over-reaction to having problems with one event, but the truth it, this has been coming for a while.

The Parker exhibition team is my Dad and me. He doesn't drive and so transport falls on my shoulders. And I hate driving. I do it, but only because I have to. I might like cars but if I never had to get behind the wheel again, I'd be happy.

This makes the joys of getting half way around the country pretty unappealing. Maybe it's because I'm getting older but these are starting to outweigh the fun of the event itself. Last years Warley show is a good example - For two days my ego was massaged by visitors saying how much they enjoyed my work. All I remember is breaking the car exhaust driving through some flood on the way in and the frustration of dealing with the NEC security staff when attempting to get near the hall at the end of the event to collect our stand.

There have been other events where the nitty-gritty of being part of the show has overwhelmed the events itself for me. I enjoy the practical aspects a bit, but less than I used to. I am fed up of the feeling about half way through the second day when I wish the public would get lost so we could go home. It's not fair on anyone.

We cause ourselves some problems with high standards for putting on a display. Our model will work and work all day. For the Dock, this isn't much of an issue. Once up and running it's pretty reliable. The Hospital is more cantankerous with the overhead but we can usually work around this. It's still boring to operate. Flockbrugh sees me constantly on edge. Finescale 3mm is at the limits of my construction abilities and even though it works OK, I don't really relax.

Finally, there is the cost. Ignore the expenses for the moment - increasingly these are petrol money only with receipts provided please - to move even a little train set you need a reasonable sized vehicle. In our case, this is the family Belingo as my 206 is far too small. In an ideal situation I'd upgrade the Peugeot but finances don't allow for that and even if they did, I hardly drive at the moment so I'd be buying a car just for exhibitions. This isn't a business, it's a hobby (even for me) so that isn't going to happen. Don't mention van hire either - it whacks up the expenses so we don't use it and on the odd occasions I have, there is usually a £500 excess hanging over me...

Of course, over the 25 or so years we've been shuffling layouts around the country, exhibition circuit has changed. Some of this is for the good - better accommodation for example. We haven't been put up with a member for many years, something I'm very happy with. Reasonable B&B's or Travelodges (cheap for block weekend bookings and easy to manage) tend to be the order of the day.

The Saturday night socials do seem to have died off. Even if you didn't want to go, at least there was an option and we've enjoyed many an evenings entertainment with other exhibitors, traders and club members. I miss those.

Layouts have changed too. The world is moving towards RTR based, DCC controlled displays with flashing lights and noise controlled by operators prodding at keypads. Plain DC with no gizmo's but a loads of kit-built locos is pretty unfashionable now but that's what I enjoy doing.

We will miss some parts of the hobby. Chatting over the layout to visitors. That's the best bit by miles. That's why we plan to carry on with Warley demonstrations as long as we can. Lots of chat, but your display is small and doesn't take a lot of effort to get in and out of the hall. We can even get there on the train on Saturday. I'll certainly miss taking part in something that made me feel special because I was inside the barrier and listening to people saying what a nice model I'd brought.

Both of us will carry on model making but will need to find new focus without a project layout to aim my efforts at. Mind you, that is another change over the period, I have to do a certain amount of modelling now for publication so this takes me in different directions.

It's been fun but the time to call it quits has arrived. Thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to book one of our layouts. At a rough guess this amounts to over 150 shows, most of which we've enjoyed, the others making for good anecdotes. At least now we can turn up at shows as visitors without a stupid o'clock start!


James Finister said...

As a non-driver who struggles to find the time to even attend the odd exhibition that all sounds very reasonable. The exhibition circuit must end up being a bit of a treadmill.

The current state of the mainstream model railway magazine market, coupled with digital sources like this, make layouts and models much more accessible than ever before. In fact at Warley I hardly got to see anything of two of the most popular layouts.

I think it is still too early to know where the DCC and RTR path is taking us.

From a quality of running DCC is excellent - even taming the cheap Hornby 0-6-0. I dislike the layout where you can spot the source of every RTR component, but Chris Nevard, for example, has shown how modern RTR can be transformed creatively.

Paul B. said...

Well, I'm glad that I have seen both your Melbridge Dock and Hellingley Hospital layouts at shows, as photos on the 'net or in magazines rarely show a layout as it really is. How many times have you seen a layout for the first time 'in the flesh' only think 'I thought it was bigger' or be slightly dissapointed when the actual article isn't quite as nicely finished as the camera makes out?
This is the great thing about shows, there's absolutely no hiding any faults with the layout, what you see is the layout how it really is, warts and all.
Which is why its a shame that you're giving up the show circuit, from what I've seen of your workmanship you build layouts that run well, look good and try to avoid the usual modelling cliches. Hopefully the organisers of the shows that you've pulled out of can find something more original than yet another modern motive power depot, all DCC sound and flashing lights, to fill the now vacant spot.

James Finister said...


Rather a lot of times, though to be fair exhibition halls don't flatter layouts with odd lighting and the ability to view them from every angle.

I wonder how many of the layouts I loved as a boy depended for their atmosphere on the muddy reproduction of photos in the RM?

I'm with you on the dislike of the ubiquitous MPD layout but I can also see DCC being used to transform the small shunting layout.

Anonymous said...


You make some very good points with which I fully agree.

I keep threatening to retire my layout and find a permanent home for it in the garage. I know of numerous others where they've recently decided the same.

My personal slant on it is that there seems to be quite a bit of publicity on exhibition organisers who moan at rising costs of hall hire, the price of fuel, etc. What people seem to forget is the layout owner. Okay, we get basic expenses covered, but this doesn't allow for wear and tear and the numerous hidden costs (eg I wouldn't be eating out in a pub if I weren't away - not to mention keeping loco's fit for 14 hours constant use, depreciation on your car doing many extra miles, etc). My personal gripe is having to share a room with one of my mates; not much sleep to be had in the same room as a snorer! (or is that my friends who say that...)

At a few recent exhibitions we had to buy our own tea and coffee. At another last year, I was out of pocket because they'd only pay the expenses I'd quoted nearly twelve months before (and diesel hadn't come down over the year)

In summary, I think they could do an awful lot more for the layout owners who are giving up their time. It doesn't have to involve money. It's just showing appreciation and stopping them from feeling that they'd been a mug. !

If I have any more trouble trying to find "staff" then I'm definitely giving up!

Chris MacKenzie in Timpdon.

Phil Parker said...

Chris - Good points. Personally, I appreciate the need to reduce room costs. Giving everyone a single room would double the bill.

Most exhibition organisers look after exhibitors very well. Those that don't quickly find it difficult to book decent train sets! They are under the cosh from punters who whine about paying anything to come in the door. It's not an easy job - I've done it and so have a LOT of sympathy.

Having said that, charging exhbitors for drinks is criminal and anyone who does that finds I come in at the expenses level quoted and not under as is normal.

I'm not looking for sympathy here. No one is forced to take a layout to a show. I've just decided that for me, it's not working any more. I'd rather leave the layout in store than feel guilty for letting a show down or not putting on the best display I can.

Jackofallhobbies said...

Though I have never seen your work on display (I live in Canada) I have appreciated the people who have brought their layouts to shows I have attended. For you, and all the others who do it, I just wanted to say thank you.

Bill Luty said...

Don't be too hasty Phil. I've had transport problems too. Two years ago my clutch failed the day before I was due to go to the Glasgow show with a display and to help friends operate their layout. The RAC found me a garage who replaced it that afternoon, not cheap. Luckily(?) I've now got an Hyundai,they don't break down very often so they don't keep parts in stock! Good thing is under their warranty they've had to provide me with a replacement vehicle(s) otherwise I'd have had to cry off about 4 exhibitions this year. Why not hire a van? As long as you factor it into the expenses it would be up to the exhibition manager to decide whether to deprive us of some excellent layouts and banter or not. Please reconsider.

Phil Parker said...

The trouble is a hire van would add a couple of hundred pounds to the expenses as it's required for 2.5 days. For a layout under 10 feet long, that's a big bill. Can't see any exhibition manager wanting that as if everyone did it, the expenses bill would go through the roof!