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?