Railroad Model Craftsman

Craftsman Special - 2010 NMRA National Convention

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The National Model Railroad Association's 75th Anniversary National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was an exciting week-long event! Among the highlights, the NMRA debuted their new logo "for the next 75 years."

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

by Otto M. Vondrak/photos by the author

NMRA 75th Anniversary ConventionWhile I have been a member of the National Model Railroad Association for a number of years (first through the Niagara Frontier Region and later with the Northeastern Region), I never had the opportunity to travel to a National Convention. I had participated in and helped plan a few regional events, and I found those experiences most enjoyable. Growing up, I had always read the exciting post-convention reports in the hobby magazines, which made me feel like I was missing out on something pretty special! Somehow, attending a National Convention always seemed a bit out of reach for me.

This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the NMRA and the National Convention was held in the city that started it all: Milwaukee. The founding members of the NMRA met in Milwaukee in 1935 to establish the organization and set its goals, and 75 years later are still hard at work making the hobby better for model railroaders everywhere. I managed to fly in for the tail end of the convention to take part in the festivities.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The convention hotel had some history behind it as well. The Hilton Milwaukee City Center was once the Hotel Schroeder, and was the location of the first NMRA meeting in 1935. The hotel was a fitting location for the NMRA to return to in its 75th year. The easily accessible Frontier Airlines Center across the street was host to clnics, contest rooms, and the National Train Show.

Thursday morning I headed down to the Registration Room to pick up my credentials and name badge. At first there was a bit of confusion, as it turns out that there were two registrations on record for me (Carstens Publications had provided credentials for me as well, since I was helping them out at their booth during the event). Eventually we got it all straightened out, thanks to the very patient volunteer staff!

My name badge said "First Timer" and at first it made me feel a little uncomfortable as I walked through the halls. The feeling faded away as many smiling folks introduced themselves and welcomed me to my first convention. And there were many friendly people from all over the country, and some from as far away as New Zealand!

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Clinics are a large part of the convention experience, with presentations ranging a variety of topics from modeling techniques to prototype research to design theory and everything in between. Thursday morning I hurried to grab a seat for my first clinic, "From the Track, Back" by Lloyd Larson, MMR. Many layout builders are hesitant to create backdrops for a variety of reasons. Larson showed some simple techniques that are easy to master for creating backdrops with depth and texture. Using paints, masks, foam and other materials, Larson demonstrated the convincing results from his methors. He then wrapped up his clinic with a series of hilarious photos taken on his layout that gave new meaning to the phrase, "When pigs fly."

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Paul Hobbs presented "75 Years of Development and Achievement in Model Railroading," which discussed the evolution of the movement from a loose association of model builders to an organized hobby of model railroaders. Much of the interest in scale model railroading was inspired by the large railroad display at the 1933 Century of Progress exposition. Hobbs discussed the pioneering suppliers and authors that helped promote the early days of the hobby, as well as landmark developments that helped model production adapt to changing needs.

Later in the evening, I checked out a clinic by RMC Editor Bill Schaumburg called "An Introduction to Commuter Railroad Operations." These special kinds of passenger trains have a lot of operating potential, and can be scaled to fit any interest. Schaumburg explained how commuter trains are different from rapid transit and regular passenger locals, and have operating patterns all their own no matter what era or locale is modeled.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The judged model contest room was a popular destination for many convention attendees. Everything from large dioramas to small structures could be found here. Many of the model builders were present to talk about the work and techniques with curious visitors, and there was a lot to talk about! The model contest is often one of the most anticipated events of the convention.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Right down the hall was the Railroad Prototype Modelers model display room. The goal of RPM is to promote and encourage the modeling of specific prototypes of all eras, to exhange ideas with other modelers, and to encourage manufacturers to release more accurate models. A fantastic assortment of modern prototype models was on display here. Careful attention is paid to modeling the specific characteristics of a single prototype, and the results are amazing.

I arrived for the tail-end of the convention, so I wasn't able to go on any of the layout or prototype tours. I'll have to block out more time next year, as there was quite a selection of tours to choose from! Those curious about the hobby industry could visit the Wm. K. Walthers offices and warehouse in Milwaukee or the Badger Air Brush plant near Chicago. Local railroad Wisconsin & Southern opened their shops for an inside look at how a modern regional inspects, maintains and repairs its fleet of locomotives and freight cars. Tours to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Illinois Railroad Museum in Union, Illinois were popular choices as well. For those looking for a dose of classic "cool," a visit to Milwaukee's own Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory and museum was a must! There were also dozens of great model railroad tours catering to every area of interest, from large clubs to small homes to garden and backyard railways. A special treat, two restored Milwaukee Road passenger cars were on display at the downtown Amtrak station. Full-dome "Super Dome" #53 was on display along with Skytop lounge observation car "Cedar Rapids," and these classics are familiar sights running behind Milwaukee Road 261.

Friday was the first day of the 2010 National Train Show which was populated with hobby manufacturers showing off their latest offerings, many quality vendors to browse, and some excellent model railroads on display. The show was a great way to get connected to what was new and exciting in the hobby of model railroading.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Of course, Railroad Model Craftsman was there promoting their latest projects. Pictured in the photo above is Publisher Henry Carstens shaking hands with Wayne Wesolowski, long-time contributor and author of Model Railroad Structures From A to Z. Also present was Bob Walker, author of the all-new Scratchbuilding for Model Railroaders. The two authors hosted a very popular book signing event during the first day of the convention. There was also a large selection of Carstens products available for sale, while RMC editor Bill Schaumburg made the rounds on the floor of the train show. Click here to see a brief video tour of the Carstens Publications booth.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the exhibition hall, the latest RMC project layout was on display. Several model railroaders pooled their talents to build this layout, designed to replicate the operations through Milwaukee Station in the mid-1950's. Cassette-style staging at either end allowed operators to move trains on and off the modeled portion of the layout quickly and efficiently. The model railroad features key elements of Milwaukee scaled down to its most basic interpretations. Even though the scenes have been "selectively compressed," the effect was well-received! Click here to see a short video tour of our project layout.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The colorful passenger trains of the Milwaukee Road are hard to resist! In this scene, a steam-powered Hiawatha and a train headed up by an Alco DL-109 wait under the trainshed as a Fairbanks-Morse switcher scurries away to fetch mail and express cars. The railroad is powered by Digitrax DCC, and all of the turnouts are controlled by manual throws. The steam-powered Hiawatha model is an example of the latest offering from Fox Valley Models.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The Milwaukee layout offered the perfect opportunity to introduce young people to the hobby. Here we find RMC contributor Gary Quayle instructing a young model railroader in the operation of the Digitrax DCC controller. Many curious onlookers were handed the throttle over the course of the weekend! Look for more details about this layout in upcoming issues of Railroad Model Craftsman.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

The week of exciting events culminated with the Covention Banquet on Saturday night. The Crystal Ballroom was a very appropriate venue for the banquet, as one could imagine the vintage hall hosting many NMRA functions over the years. NMRA president Mike Brestel was the emcee for the evening, presenting many awards and accolades throughout the night. At first I was a bit apprehensive to sit down at a table full of strangers, but by the end of the night we had become fast friends. You certainly meet some friendly people at these conventions!

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Model Railroader senior editor Jim Hediger (left) was the keynote speaker for the Convention Banquet. Jim's presentation was a humorous look back at his model railroading career, working alongside such greats as prolific photographer Emery Gulash and legendary editor Linn Westcott. Also present was W. Allen McClelland (center), creator of the well-known Virginian & Ohio, who was the recipient of a Pioneer's Award (along with several other well-deserving folks who have contributed to the hobby over the years). NMRA Director At-Large Tony Koester (right) presented the NMRA image "for the next 75 years." Tony's presentation explained the idea behind the NMRA's new look and logo, and how the organization is looking for new ways to serve its membership, while honoring the accomplishments of the past.

The NMRA's 75th Anniversary National Convention

Walthers is known the world over as a distributor and manufacturer of quality model railroad products. Founder Bill Walthers was a founding member of the NMRA, right here in Milwaukee. Now enjoying the involvement of the fourth generation of the Walthers family, the company remains a leader in the hobby of model railroading. It was no surprise to find the family attending the Convention Banquet! From left to right, Stacey Walthers Naffah, and Mr. & Mrs. Phil Walthers.

My first national convention was a great experience, and I hope to be able to block out more time next year so I can enjoy more of the tours and events. Visit our Facebook page where I have posted more than 100 photos and a couple of videos from the convention. With the variety of clinics and tours, the excitement of the National Train Show, and the cameraderie of your fellow hobbyists, it is truly something that every model railroader should experience first hand. Not a member of the NMRA? Consider joining not only to show your support but also to be immediately welcomed into the world of model railroading! See you in Sacramento in 2011!


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