2011 National Narrow Gauge Convention Report

I composed this post 6 weeks ago, but never got it posted….So how about a late report to refresh us all on the joys of the yearly gathering of narrow gauge enthusiasts.


This year’s convention was held in Hickory, NC a place I’d never been to.  Actually I had never heard of it until it was announced as the 2011 location.  I must say, my expectations were low, especially after the great 2011 convention in St. Louis.

Sn2 Crew – Free-mo Setup

Again this year I participated in the module displays as a member of the Sn2 Crew.  I had planned more work on my modules, but work, life, etc just got in the way.  So I went to the convention with only minor improvements:  1) one new structure – White Birch Tank which got damaged during setup (I’ll discuss this in a future post)  2) Auto Reverser on the Bigelow Turntable and 3) some minor scenery and structure improvements.

To transport the layout, I used my father’s pickup truck, that has a cap over the bed.  He graciously brought the truck over and stayed to help load.  His side kick, mom, opened and closed the garage door for us.  Additionally, good friend Jim Stewart came over and helped with the loading.  It only took us one hour to get it all loaded.  Thanks Mom, Dad and Jim. Nice to have such good support.

Once in Hickory, Frank Knight, Lee Rainey, Gary Carmichael and I got the whole layout set up in less than 6 hours.  Less than the 9 hours for St. Louis.  Probably was the great help we received from Yvette Knight and Becky Carmichael.  Don Rigling, a friend of mine, also pitched in to help me level and set up my sections.  Those additional hands go a long way.

The Hickory module layout space was grand in size, but low in amenities.  In comparison to St. Louis it lacked lighting, carpets, and drink coolers.  It was actually cavernous and reminded some of us of the 2010 Midwest NG Show at the Canfield Fair Grounds…At least there was’t any oil on the floor…In the end, the module room became our home for 4 days.  A place where I could enjoy Sn2 trains, friends, people and other modular layouts…

An overall shot of the Sn2 Crew Layout - Hickory 2011 NNGC

For more photos of the layout, see my “Sn2 Report” on http://sn2trains.com

Time-Table and Train Order Clinic

I have an interest in model railroad operations and love partaking in operating sessions. I’ve established TT&TO sessions on two layouts with success.  I feel that it’s not required to have a large model railroad to play TT&TO.  In Nov 2009, I presented the clinic to the Mini-Bunch her in Cincinnati, so was prepared when it got accepted by the staff of the Hickory convention.

The two presentations of the clinic went well.  Attendees seem to enjoy the simulated operation of a freight extra.  This is an interactive session where members of the audience have the opportunity to think like an operator (of a local freight extra) participating in a TT&TO session.  As a result of the clinic I’ve been invited to present it again in Seattle in 2012 (time will tell if I can present at the convention).  Additionally, I met a fellow who worked on the railroads and has a collection of train orders.  I’m honored to have access to some of his collection.  I look forward to reading some of his train orders so I can learn more about railroad dispatching and operations.

The Introduction to TT&TO clinic notes have been posted to Sn2 Modeler.

In the end, giving the clinic pays me back….(Friendships, knowledge, laughs, etc…)

PS:  I had a mishap that caused me to loose several business cards.  One person asked for me to send the clinic.  I hope the notes linked above are sufficient.  If not, please contact me.

Modular Layouts

There were several modular layouts on display.  Many were great.  Here are some photos of those that caught my eye.

The James River Division On30 Group's Atlantic & Danville layout.

JDR On30 group layout

Atlantic & Danville On30 layout. Plenty of detail including the order board at the depot.

Robertsdale, PA on the On3 East Broad Top. Was brought down from New York

Overall view of the EBT Robertsdale setup. A continuous loop connection was added behind the backdrop.

Close up of the EBT coal loading dock.

Robersdale station on the On3 EBT layout.

The Fn3 Sundance Central (Florida), On30 Bear Creek (Columbus, OH), and On30 Muskrat Ramble (Austrailia) all seemed to have more viewers than the Sn2 crew layout. Which gave me pause to think why? Theories:

  1. Larger Scales with Dominating Sound
  2. Backdrops
  3. Lighting
  4. Details

The first three are not things we can easily change on the Sn2 Crew layout.  The 4th is something that I could do more of on my Sn2 modules.  Honestly, my modules lack enough detail to be worthy of comparison with the above mentioned layouts.  I’ll have to correct that in the future.

Interestingly, none of the above layouts is Prototype.  They are all free-lanced.   Sn2 Free-mo also lets me model prototype scenes the essence of my SR&RL modeling.   

The On3 EBT, HOn30 Great Lakes and Sn2 Crew contained the only prototype scenes.

On30 Bear Creek layout out of Columbus Ohio

The On30 Bear Creek layout is inspired by the Tionesta Valley Railway that once ran out of Sheffield Pennsylvania. This layout was very well detailed and captured the essence of the area. Having participated in the HO Eastern Loggers layout for many years this layout revived my feelings for PA logging and the Tionesta Valley Ry. I've hunted the old TVRy around Sheffield and Halton, PA. Several of the structures appear as photos in the Pennsylvania Logging Railroad books by Kline, Tabor, and Casler. The left house appears in the books and was an RMC article back around 1979 in a series by Jerry Stangarity (co-founder of Eastern Loggers)

Big Run is a free-lance location. The prototype location was a log loading landing. The depot here is based on the Halton, PA depot. A wonderful model.

There were a few other On30 layouts making On30 setups out number all other scale gauge modular layouts and along with the two On3 setups made O scale the number one scale for display layouts.

I was disappointed that the 7/8n2 layout did not make it…Seeing their 2-foot gauge forney’s is a pleasure.

On30 Muskrat Ramble came all the way from Australia. The layout is set in the Deep South Swamps of the United States. This image shows cotton plants in front of a plantation.

On30 Muskrat Ramble

This shay circled around on the On30 Muskrat Ramble

This scene on the On30 Muskrat Ramble is inspired by a structure built by Sam Swanson. What wonderful detail. It was detail like this that kept viewers returning again and again.


There were plenty of clinics, and some I wanted to see.  However, I only attended one, my own.  Having a display layout and presenting a clinic did not leave me time to see clinics.

Vendor Room

The vendor room seemed up to snuff.  However, I only spend 1.5 hours in there and most of that was shooting the bull.  I did not get down all of the isles.  The vendor room did have carpet and seemed to have better lighting than the module room.

Contest Room

Another miss for me.  I walked pasted it 100 times, but was always rushing.  This is a pattern for me.  At the National NMRA this year I missed the contest room.  I do not remember seeing the one last year at St. Louis.  I did see the 2007 contest room in Portland.  Ah well…next time….
Prototype and Historical Tours and Layout Tours

ET&WNC #12 crosses the road as it is about to lead the train onto the trestle at the Tweetsie

For me, one of the great pleasures of a national narrow gauge convention is the layout tours.  St. Louis and Seattle have such great layouts to visit that they are a highlight. Hickory may have had great layouts, but I’d never know it, as the layouts were too far away for me to get to in a reasonable amount of time.  Others may have been able to go, but I could not.  I had to give clinics and be at the Sn2 crew layout so I could not make a 200 mile round trip to see 3-4 layouts in an afternoon.  I hope layout owners were not disappointed by the lack of attendance.

That said, I had a great time at The Tweetsie.  It reminded me of 1982 when I was 15 and went to the Tweetsie, Johnson City, Boone, Cranberry, Hampton and Elk Park in hopes of finding traces of the ET&WNC.  Even though I was unable to ride the train this year (and kind of glad I did) I got to watch the double headed 4-6-0 and 2-8-2 pound their way around the park.  It was wonderful to be in the presence of narrow gauge steam.  Having the park all to ourselves was a fantastic and was better than any layout visit.  The scenery on the drive up and back was great too.

A sea of narrow gaugers slobbering over trains may not seem like a prototype type scene. But consider what it must have been like when the first train reach Boone, NC over a hundred years ago. I'm sure the fan fair was even greater.

Getting up close and personal with narrow gauge steam was worth it. Soundtraxx will never do them justice.

My second day of touring was two spots local to Hickory.  The Alexander Historical society has restored two local NG boxcars and has received a third.  Seeing these restored cars in person was fun.  One of the resorted cars is a Lawndale (Carolina & North-Western) and the other is an ET&WNC.  It was nice to see these cars being taken care of.  This group is looking for trucks, I hope they can get some.

Inside one of the box cars being restored.

The second spot we went to was the ??? museum which had a nice model railroad and many wonderful photos of area railroads (including NG).  I did not take any photos there.  Part of the fun is going on tours is riding with others.  This was the 3rd or 4th time I’ve ridden around with Don Heimburger of Sn3 Modeler and S Gaugian fame.  While we are just acquaintances, Don is the person I’ve known longest at the convention.  I sat next to Don at the 1983 Model Railroader 50th Anniversary dinner.  I was just 16. (Sorry Steve Fisher, you’re the personal I’ve know the second longest, 1985 NNGC in Columbus)


This convention confirmed to me, that it’s not the venue or the clinics or the layouts that make or break a convention. No matter how good or bad they are, it’s the people that make the convention and for me, Hickory was a winner on People.

Don Rigling came from Cincinnati. All of my module frames were built in Don’s basement wood working shop. It was a great pleasure to spend time with Don at his first narrow gauge convention outside of Cincinnati.

Sn2 Crew – The crew worked well as a team setting up and operating the layout. This distant relationship (Maine, PA, Ohio) continues to work even though we only see each other 1-2 times a year.

Maine 2-Foot Guys – I met several 2-Foot enthusiasts I’d never before met. Brain G, who used to live in New England and wrote a series of articles about tracking the SR&RL. The articles appeared in Maine 2-Foot Modeler some years ago. Ron King who started Maine 2-Foot Modeler newsletter with Gary Kohler, before dropping off around issue #9.  John Rogers an enthusiastic SR&RL modeler. He started in On2 just a few years OK. He and I had a number of good conversations about modeling the SR&RL in Sn2 and On2 along with operations. Steve King of 7/8n2 fame. His models and kits are beyond belief…I met all of these guys because I was standing by my SR&RL modules when they happened by. Had I not had the modules, we’d never had met….Another reason to present at the conventions…If your talking Maine 2-Foot, you must talk with Gary Kohler of Maine 2-Foot Quarterly publications. Gary and I had a few conversations as usual I’m certain something will result.  There were a number of other “lurker” or “shy” Maine 2-Foot types and I hope to see them again in the future too.

Cincinnati Friends – Like usual we had a Cincinnati dinner…A nice way to share time with Friends.  Sam Swanson and I joke that the only time we see each other is at Model Railroad events…I guess that’s life….


This convention was better than I expected.  The venue was satisfactory and the organization crew and helpers were pleasant and informative.  I got a cheap hotel ($49 a night on price line) saving my modeling dollars.  Most importantly, I enjoyed the people with whom I shared my time…Thanks to all of you for making it a great convention.

This was the first site I saw when arriving at the Tweetsie Railroad....It deserves a special place, so I part with it. Enjoy....

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