Highlights from 2018 NSE National Convention, Salt Lake City, Utah

Published: 2018-06-27 - By: Jenna
Last updated on: 2018-06-28
visibility: Public
George and I arrived in Salt Lake City late Thursday night from Boston, MA. This was my first NSE convention and George’s third.

By the time we arrived, the Auction and Room Sales had already happened, but we had plenty to do and see on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was great to make new n-scale friends, catch up with manufacturers, win prizes at the raffle, get the prized NSE banquet car and see some great layouts. We did not go on any outings (bowling, home layouts, Golden Spike Site, Ogden Union Station Museum, Herber Valley RR trips) or sit in on any clinics but heard they were all fun/worthwhile.

The Convention, which had 455 attendees, was a great opportunity to be immersed in all things n-scale for a few days. Here are some highlights of our experiences at this 26th National NSE Convention in the Beehive State -- Utah.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Before getting in line for swap-a-rama, we took a quick peek in the layout room, which featured Free-MoN, n-trak and t-trak modules.

Free-MoN, a type of n-scale modular layout (which is considered more prototypically correct than t-trak and n-trak) dominated almost three quarters of the layout room. Mark Watson from FreeMo-Nebraska and Rick Brodzinsky from Silicon Valley Free-MoN manned their layout of approximately 12 scale miles. Rick, who has been modeling n-scale for nine years, was kind enough to explain all about Free-MoN modules, which have a standard interface, use a single track located in the middle of the module and are easily interchangeable.

Rick Brodzinsky from Silicon Valley FreeMo-N

Since there are no back drops on these modules, long consists of trains on the move can be viewed from both sides. These modules are situated 50 inches high, which is more adult-friendly and great for taking photographs. “You tend to see more FreeMo west of the Mississippi,” said Rick.

Rick Brodzinsky's San Felipe desert module

Rick’s San Felipe desert module caught my eye for two reasons. It’s well done and given that we live in the northeastern part of the US (30 miles north of Boston, MA), where most modelers depict lots of tree-filled landscapes, this dry, sand-filled landscape was a welcome change.

It was nice to meet Rick in person as we have only communicated via the TrainBoard forum where he is a moderator.

I re-visited the Layouts room on Saturday (see below).

Like other NSE conventions, there was quite the queue of people waiting in line for the swap-a-rama well before the doors opened.
Folks waiting for the swap-a-rama doors to open.

Considered one of the best in the nation, this swap-a-rama offers collectors and runners new and used items from manufacturers, vendors and individuals. Almost all the items for offer were n-scale, with a smattering of some z-scale items.

Ronn from Harlem, GA likes this swap-a-rama because he gets a "chance to see new stuff and hear about new announcements."

Lowell Smith NSE special run, a concept car tailored to Salt Lake City.

Fellow attendees also in the swap-a-rama line were all abuzz about the Lowell Smith NSE special run/concept car: a flatcar with a golden spike. This car was tailored to Salt Lake City, which is near Promontory (where the Union Pacific RR and Central Pacific RR were united in May 1869 creating America's first transcontinental RR).


While in line, someone from the NSE booth came out and gave us a preview of the Atlas special run 2-car set, the Salt Lake City Brewing Company boxcars commissioned by the NSE. These were one of many items created specifically for the show.
Atlas special run 2-car set, The Salt Lake City Brewing Company boxcars commissioned by the NSE.

Once the doors did open, many folks, including Gary from Burley, ID, made a bee-line (along with his great grandson) to Lowell’s booth. WiFi was a bit wonky so the wait in line took a while. That just meant more time to shoot the breeze about n-scale and ask about yesterday’s Room Sales.
Lowell Smith created Rail Smith Models (after purchasing Walthers' passenger car toolings) and plans to create more special runs under this brand.

Randy from Moorpark, CA (in line at Lowell’s booth) said this about the previous day’s Room Sales.

Randy from Moorpark, CA and George Michaels, TroveStar N Scale Database

“You can find very popular stuff to buy at better prices.” He was pleased with some of the flat cars he purchased from Charlie Hopkins who customizes car loads.

Hopkins customized car load: ever wonder how damaged cars get transported to be repaired?

Ken from Dallas, TX also got what he wanted (Charlie Hopkins cars) at the Room Sales and enjoys coming to the NSE conventions to “catch up with Lowell Smith and see the manufacturers.”

Later on in the afternoon, I ran into Ronn who happily showed off his swap-a-rama find, an older Kato North Pole and Southern model.

A happy swap-a-rama customer

Individual Sellers
David from Castle Rock, CO had a table and was trying to “thin the herd” and sell a MicroTrains 12-car beer reefer series. In previous years, he did Room Sales to sell his stock but this year decided to get a table.

MicroTrains 12-car beer reefer series

David’s table was right next to that of Doug Hickman, who had lots of inventory and had just completed a 100+ car transaction as I walked up. His son, Ryan explained that collectors, runners and re-sellers like the show because they can find special runs and older models with limited production numbers and deep-discounted items.

Early MicroTrains Blue Label release

He showed me a coveted blue label item (MicroTrains early release where the jewel box print was blue vs the current black) with clip-on trucks (a unique feature that appeals to collectors).

MicroTrains Appreciation Car

Doug Hickman also offered the MicroTrains 2018 NSE Convention Appreciation car (an illustrated flatcar with golden spike) given out to die-hard Convention volunteers.

Manufacturer Announcements

A number of manufacturers wait for this kind of event to make new announcements. Some do this at the swap-a-rama/public show and others wait until the Sunday Manufacturers’ Breakfast Buffet.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I learned.

Atlas acquired Walthers' toolings for locos and freight rolling stock. Paul Graf said this acquisition "fit into our plan, with little overlap in models." He expects to issue product announcements for these Walthers' toolings in late Q4. Please note this acquisition does not include the passenger rolling stock models, which were acquired by Lowell Smith.

ScaleTrains.com continues to add to its n-scale inventory and announced two new toolings, one for a loco (never done before in n-scale), the GE C39-8 engine and one for a freight car, the Pullman-Standard PS-2CD 4785 cf covered hopper. As is typical for manufacturers at these kinds of shows, ScaleTrains.com also announced an NSE limited edition run of the Big Blow, complete with an NSE logo. Only 126 of these models will be made. Although this might seem like a fantasy run, because this logo (which Shane Wilson showed us) was actually placed on the real prototype #26 loco in Ogden, Utah (albeit on a temporary basis via magnetic signage) that makes this model technically not a fantasy run.

GE C39-8 engine

Pullman-Standard PS-2CD 4785 cf covered hopper

InterMountain announced a new loco tooling for the Dash 9 (GE C44-9W loco) model. As is customary with InterMountain, these models will come in DC, DCC and DCC with sound for each road number.

Prior to the show, ExactRail (as promised at the Amherst Train Show this winter) announced a new tooling, Johnstown America Autoflood II Hopper with removable coal loads.

InterMountain new loco tooling for the Dash 9 (GE C44-9W loco) model.

Similar to its previous work with brand names (Heinz, Hershey, etc.) MicroTrains announced the Thomas Kinkade Freight Series. Different paintings from Kinkade, known as the Painter of Light, will adorn black box cars, a loco and a caboose.

Thomas Kinkade Freight Series

These paintings will be illuminated from within the car using led lights.

Trainworx Two new toolings: Denver & Rio Grande Western switcher cabooses: Salt Lake City switch caboose and Utah State RR Museum Caboose. ETA early 2019 Both models were on display at the show and the plan was to have them available for the show but some kind of glitch didn't make that possible.

Utah State RR Museum Caboose

Salt Lake City switch caboose

Nathan Sanders and Pat Sanders

Refurbished, more user-friendly website in the works (thanks to Pat's son, Nathan)

North American Railcar had test shot from their PS 5077 boxcar, which will be out soon.
North American Railcar's PS 5077 box car

Anticipation: Kato said it will announce six products, three of which will be new toolings at the Manufacturers’ Breakfast Buffet.

Pizza box
Kristina and her Pizza box module

I ran into kids posing with their Pizza box layouts. As you would guess from the name, this layout is about the size of a large pizza box and is something kids and their parents work on as part of the Northern Utah Division of the NMRA once a month. When asked how she got interested in this, Kristina said: “My Dad has model trains in the basement and told me this would be really cool to try.” Kristina and two of her friends, Izzy and Sierra all created these layouts.

Blaine Holbrook, Northern Utah Division of the NMRA

I personally was very glad to see three young ladies interested in this hobby. Kudos to Jamie, Kristina’s dad, and to Blaine Holbrook, Northern Utah Division of the NMRA for spearheading this effort.

George and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch with Bruce Alcock from N-TRAK who oversaw the layouts portion of the Convention. We talked about the NTRAK newsletter among other things.

Model Contest View and Voting
Here are some pictures of some of the entries.

Diesel entry


Diorama, 1st place

Vehicles, 1st place

Saturday, June 23

Today's foot traffic at the show was much lighter as the Convention had to compete with some local attractions including an air show.

More about Layouts

The T-trak layout (more kid-friendly due to fact that modules are displayed at a lower viewing height, which creates a better vantage point for tykes) had some whimsical aspects to it, including a Dora the Explorer figurine and some kind of water creature.

Got to clean that tunnel track!

For all you T-trak fans or anyone undecided about attending the August NMRA show, this year’s show will feature the largest T-trak layout ever, with more than 300 modules. Something to consider!

The Wasatch N-Scale club had its own layout. Here are some pictures.

Wasatch N-Scale Model

Mining module

Banquet Dinner Buffet

This was a yummy (the menu consisted of chicken, steak, risotto, lobster bisque (a fellow diner explained a true lobster bisque must contain finely ground lobster shell), cheesecake and chocolate cake) and fun event, complete with a slide show, music, a raffle (lots of prizes donated by manufacturers) and of course the NSE membership car, a beehive/honey tank car, a whimsical (vs fantasy) quite apropos for Utah, the Honeybee State. The tank cars came with little bottles of honey!

2018 NSE Convention Car: honey tank car and a side of honey!

Lowell Smith began the dinner with a prayer. Centennial Express (MicroTrains’ Eric Smith (vocals playing the ukulele) and Kato’s Jumpei Kikukawa (he played a cajon, a box-shaped drum) provided some very pleasing and mellow entertainment.

Some of their playlist included: Already Gone, Eagles; Learning to Fly, Tom Petty; and Can’t Buy Me Love, Beatles. They have been practicing for this event once a week (via skype) since February and have already committed to doing this gig in Chicago, next June.

Lots of folks bought raffle tickets (we estimated that our table alone purchased more than $500 worth of tickets) and the model contest winners were announced.

Here are some of the loot (donated by manufacturers) won at our table.
Raffle prize

Raffle prize

An author’s car was also awarded to folks who contributed articles to the NSE magazine and the Appreciation car (graffiti flat car with gold spike) was given to die-hard NSE volunteers.

George Johnsen was quite proud the 2018 NSE app, which synced with attendee’s iCalendars, making navigating the many show events (various RR trips, home layout visits, bowling) much easier.

Raffle prizes included single tank cars, rolling stock sets, engines, as the evening wore on got bigger and better with complete train sets and full sets of locomotives. George Johnsen, with the help of several kids, announced these high-ticket raffle items.

One of the most memorable prizes was a food basket with, you guessed it, honey products! As a consolation prize, folks who did not win anything from the raffle got to pick from the loser’s table.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Manufacturers’ Breakfast Buffet

While in line with folks from Kato for the doors to open, George shared some of the Japanese phrases he learned while working there in the ‘90s. Later on at our table, we learned that last night some train folk got quite aggressive when picking from the Raffle Loser’s table. Over a meal of scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon with folks from Kato we learned that Japan is more of a collector’s vs a runner’s market (that explains why they aren’t that interested in DCC). I showed Don from North American Railcar the TroveStar n-scale database.

The Manufacturers' Breakfast Buffet sponsored by Digitrax featured more than 20 manufacturers of all shapes and sizes who discussed new available releases as well as new announcements.

Here are some highlights of what some of them reported.

North American Rail Car New tooling: a marine industry cylindrical hopper (known in Canada as the Trudeau (for the Prime Minister) hopper). Details to follow

N Scale Architect Re-tooling its fence line

Walthers Atlas may have purchased all loco and freight car toolings from Walthers but said Phil Walthers: "I'm not going to work for Atlas; will stay in cheese land; not out of n-scale; we will still make our Cornerstone kits."

On the horizon: expect new announcements at the NMRA and Trainfest shows

Kato New tooling: Based on polling from customers, the company is now researching and plans to produce a 1950s version (lightweight) of the 20th Century Limited passenger train (each car in the set will be a new tooling). ETA: late 2019, early 2020.

Trainworx Two new toolings: Denver & Rio Grande Western switcher cabooses: Salt Lake City switch caboose and Utah State RR Museum Caboose. ETA early 2019

Atlas Walthers toolings acquisition Will continue to convert locos to DC with sound functionality and will produce BLMA detail parts in Q3/Q4 2019


Trains of Time

A non n-scale item (or z-scale for that matter) meant to attract younger folks to the hobby: The Trains of Time set. If you are familiar with the American Girl product line, this is similar but for trains. The first of the series is based on the worst circus train wreck in US history and will come with everything needed to run a train. This product will be distributed via Amazon.

Fox Valley New tooling: new 53' single well car.

New 53’ single well car

N Scale Kits more 3D printing (of flat car loads) Plans to work with Tichy Trains and JTC (Jacksonville Termial Co.) on new products

Exact Rail At the swap-a-rama, the company featured its newly announced Johnstown America Autoflood II Hopper with removable coal loads with 8 paint schemes.

Chris was not at the breakfast but via Rich from Digitrax said: "Over the last 5 years, ExactRail has been slow in n-scale but that will change."

Wheels of Time Talked about 3-D printed everyday work trucks. "They actually roll."

Custom Signal Systems (local to Utah) "We make things that people can't find commercially." Products accommodate layouts that use and don't use computers.

Eastern Seaboard Models New tooling: X-72 boxcar (Penn Central and Western Pacific) ETA end of 2018.

ScaleTrains.com Two new toolings: GE C39-8 engine and Pullman-Standard PS-2CD 4785 cf covered hopper. ScaleTrains.com also mentioned an NSE limited edition run of the Big Blow, complete with an NSE 2018 logo.

Lowell Smith He will continue making Lowell Smith Signature Series special runs. Smith, under the RailSmith brand created based on acquired Walthers' passenger toolings/artwork, will make limited quantities of these cars. These items will be ready-to-run and come in new road names/numbers.

George Howedell Just retired from the Post Office. He plans to slow down a bit but will do 2 special runs: MTL Southern Pacific 39' tank car (painted with special scheme for diesel fuel) and an InterMountain Santa Fe (Texas & Chief route) ice reefer.

Digitrax Rich conducted an informal polling of the audience (that looked to be about 200 folks): lots more folks were DCC vs analog. Mostly runners vs collectors were in attendance. "We appreciate all of you. Eventually you will come over to the dark side."
We can expect new announcements at the NMRA show.

All blue ticket holders won a Digitrax decoder!

Kudos to all the folks at the NSE who worked hard at pulling off a very successful convention! Can’t wait to for next year’s show in the Windy City!