Sunday, March 08, 2020

Model railways without exhibitions?

Imagine our hobby, but without any of the 500 or more public exhibitions that take place around the country every year.

This isn't so far fetched in these coronavirus ravaged days. Were the government to block all large gatherings then we could see shows cancelled. Not just those for toy trains, but all trade shows and other events.

If this happens, then there would be a lot of exhibition centres standing empty and idle that would be very tempting brownfield sites for housing development, removing the venues we make use of.

What would all this mean for the hobby?

I'm going to suggest that there are already models we can look to in Australia and America.

The UK is compact enough that living in the Midlands, I'm able to travel to a large percentage of the country in a couple of hours. OK, Glasgow is out, but York (proper north) is only 3 hours away.

Compare this with Australia where drives of 500 miles aren't uncommon. Adelaide to Melbourne is 451, but how many sizable towns are there on the way? Not many, and kangaroos don't play trains.

Instead, the hobby involves visiting people's home layouts. People attending conventions are loaded into cars or buses and moved to the models as opposed to our loading models into cars and vans to bring them to the people.

I understand a similar sort of thing happens in the USA, for the same reasons of mahoosive geography.

Now the aforementioned geography ensures that many homes in these places are larger than your typical UK abode so maybe this sort of thing isn't so practical here, but could people visit clubs on regular open days instead of an annual show? Would this force clubs into upgrading their facilities since you'd want to impress visitors, or at least not appal them with the state of the toilets!

In the large scale world, visits to people's gardens are already the normal way to see a line. You can't dig up a garden railway and put it in a van after all. 

With no shows, magazines and the Internet would become more important as ways of showing off your modelling. This is important as I know I'd not have stayed in the hobby years ago without the pleasure of showing off to the public. There's a bit of ego, but also a huge amount of pleasure in being part of a show, one of the people inside the barrier. Let's face it, if there wasn't, no-one would get up stupidly early, drive to a venue and spend all day on their feet paying trains!

One problem for the press would be finding layouts. You can watch social media for some (I do for GR) but visiting a show is far more efficient, even if you don't shoot the model there. While shooting at shows isn't common (ideally, you need a public-free zone) I've snapped layouts so small that it's not cost-effective to make a special trip at quiet times during events. There have been several favourites of mine captured this way. 

We might even see a resurgence of the local model shop as getting your paws on products will be much harder. Yes, traders will have to move on-line, most are there anyway so that's no great change, but they can't be everywhere and people do like to see items in real life. Impulse buying on-line is harder than when standing in a shop with temptation in front of you

So, while it would be different, I'm sure that the hobby could evolve. The biggest loss would be the chance to expose the general public to what we do. While most shows like plenty of enthusiasts, it's the "normal" people who make the difference between profit and loss. Maybe not many go through a damascon conversion to share our interests, but we are planting seeds of interest that may well bloom in the future.

For this, we'd need to get out and about more. Assuming shopping centres still exist then taking stands in these (I've done this in the past) would be effective, but not able to offer the same variety as the annual show, nor bring in any income to cover the costs.

This is all pondering out loud, but worth considering in my opinion. Hopefully, it's all theoretical, I'm optimistic to believe it is, but you never know.

What do you think?

Would US and Assie readers care to comment on how it works in their countries?


Anonymous said...

Hello from Germany,

It's by no means universal, small and large model exhibitions in hired venues are mounted too, but quite a lot of model railway clubs here are focused on the construction of a large permanent layout in their clubrooms. For them, an exhibtion means inviting people from the local area to see the layout in operation.

Colin said...

The apparently different philosophy and physical properties of US model railroading and British model railways fascinates me but it's very hard to have a conversation with US modellers about the differences because they seem to take any discussion of difference as implying criticism.

It's a shame because I believe both have something to learn from the other.

Salmotrutta said...

I belong to the European Train Enthusiasts in the North Eastern USA. We have two chapters locally; I belong to both. One has mostly home visits and the other goes to shows as well as a few meetings every month in member's homes. The main display layout is huge and requires a two-axle trailer and a sizeable SUV to pull it. Like the UK a number of our members are getting beyond lifting heave baseboards out fo the trailer so the logistics of setting up mean only 3 - 4 shows a year. We also have a smaller layout that lives in a smaller trailer and needs only a small SUV to pull it. I show this one about 2 -3 times a year; the longest haul is around 80 miles to the Springfield show in Eastern Massachusetts (come and see us there if you can!). I also have a mini-HOm layout that fits in the back of me SUV and I show whenever I can - particularly to demonstrate that you don't have to have an enormous layout to enjoy the hobby, and that it needn't take a huge amount of your free time to build something.

I believe that the effort showing layouts is worth it; nearly all our new members are a result of being at exhibitions. It's the best way to grow the hobby.

Geoffrey Loosmore said...

I live in Country Victoria, my nearest Railway club is 80k (50miles) away, they hold an exhibition once a year and another town about 100k away also hold one exhibition a year but they are Australian Layouts with limited interest for me. there is a big exhibition in Melbourne (Caulfield) but that is 127mile away (Mile Stone on my local station platform, no passengers). So don't get to that very often, that is the nearest train shop as well. no railway club near me so most of my inspiration is on the WWW, your blog, There used to be four of us in town doing model Railways in town but two have passed away an one moved. so only me left that I know of.

Anonymous said...

Whilst there may be temporary closures of such events this is unlikely to last long enough for the sites to be sold off as brownfield sites. Next year all will be back to normal. We are lucky enough that. With so many shows I can pick and choose which ones to attend. Even living in the remote south west most are within 50ml and the only one more than 100 is Warleys NEC show which is a weekend away with about 8-12 other club members. There seems to be a slow down of new cases in China so hopefully all will be back to normal come November..
More at risk is short term imports from China.

Paul B. said...

Hmmm, with the death of the high street could empty shops be used as exhibition venues?
The larger ones will have toilets, easy loading facilities (big enough for artics in some cases), good lighting, parking won't be such an issue and there's always plenty of cafes around.
The problem would of course be cost, but maybe a forward thinking council could help out, after all think of the extra people visiting the town, paying to park, buying lunch in the local eateries, and maybe doing some shopping as well.

Phil Parker said...

Paul B - Not sure there are many councils with the cash to be "forward thinking" nowadays. All those sort of luxuries are long gone according to people I know who work there. Yes, they might bring in more people but you can't quantify this for the accountants or voters who just want lower Council Tax.

Anonymous - I'd like to believe you are right, but think we are a long way from the end of this, if we ever reach that stage. If a venue is shut for 9 months, can many survive financially?

My feeling is that many would be easy to sell for short-term gain and I know of one where it will soon be in the middle of a housing estate instead of fields.

Another issue is that if all the indoor trade shows are cancelled for the same period, who would rent the venue when normality returns? The chances are those organisers will also have gone bust.