Amherst Railway Show 2023, Part 2
Published: 2023-02-02 - By: gdm
Last updated on: 2023-03-22
Last updated on: 2023-03-22
visibility: Public - Headline
Amherst Model Railway Show, 2023: 18,369 visitors and 21,869 total participants.On Saturday morning, the main show starts, I went to Memo's Café, across the street from the Big-E, and enjoyed a wonderful diner breakfast with my friends Jim Pyle and Jim Nolan from Northeast NTrak. The café had staffed up for the event and both the food and service were excellent. This was a nice change from the hotel buffet and definitely a step up from Mickey-D's.
After stuffing ourselves with pancakes, we drove over to the Big-E, a massive event center in West Springfield MA, where this mecca of trainliness occurs every January. We arrived at about 7:30 and the doors do not open to the public until 9:00 am, but the buildings were super busy. This year, the event saw 21,000 attendees. Of those 21,000, about 3,000 were presenters and vendors. Since Northeast NTrak puts on a display of its modules, we were presenters and therefore allowed to enter early. I rolled up my sleeves and helped set up the DCC at the club layout.
After an hour of fiddling with the wiring, we were able to get trains running on the two DCC lines. NTrak specifies 3 main lines, each of which can be set to either DC or DCC at the club's discretion. Typically we set ours to Blue and Red on DCC and yellow on DC. Many of our members have older DC only locomotives that get to see daylight due to keeping one of our old lines running analog. After success with both systems, I grabbed my pen and notebook and started exploring. Right about then, the doors opened to the public and the crowds rushed in.
Micro-Trains sets up near Northeast NTrak, so I stopped there first to chat with Eric Smith a little more. We discussed the challenges of doing manufacturing in the United States and how that affected their production of Special Runs. Do not hold your breath, it looks like there will be a fairly long pause before they resume taking orders. They are plenty busy manufacturing their regular production runs. That does not mean there will be any shortage of product; there will not. But if you are a club or you are hosting an event, you might have to wait until quite a bit later in the year before you will see your logo plastered on the side of an MTL car.
My next stop was at Kato. Please pronounce the name correctly. It is "Kah-Toe" not "Cay-Toe". It is a family name and they like to see it treated with respect. Leon Waldack was friendly and helpful as always and I enjoyed catching up with him. Their new ALC-42 is a beauty of a loco.
This gorgeous modern N Scale loco comes in DC and DCC. If you like to upgrade them yourself, you can use the same decoder from Digitrax that fits in the Glacier Express. I have upgraded several of the Glacier express locos myself, so it is an easy upgrade, though the shell on the ALC-42 is a bit of a challenge to remove. Be careful. Kato did not have any announcements to make at the show, but if you are running a local TTrak club and you want to work with Kato, feel free to reach out to Leon. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
Next on my list was InterMountain Railway. I had a good chat with Lee Ryan and he caught me up on their products. I saw their latest run of enclosed bi-level autoracks. They will soon be releasing another run of F7 locos as well as their bathtub gondolas. Unfortunately their production of 5276 boxcars was cancelled due to lack of interest. Lee did offer to help me backfill my list of road numbers for older IMR releases, and this could be very helpful!
I was able to catch up with Scott Fortier, one of our TroveStar programmers who came up from Connecticut for the day. Scott introduced me to his friend, Luke, who is sadly NOT an N-Scaler. He did seem to be a potential convert and a very jovial character. We enjoyed some barbecue for lunch and chatted trains and kids. There is definitely a pattern in our hobby of empty-nester fathers deep-diving into the train hobby after the financial pain of college is over and we have time money and space on our hands.
Sometimes the moms and grandmoms get dragged along to these shows. A little bit of crochet can help ease the boredom while hubby gawks at the trains.
At the Athearn booth, I met up with Jon Stackpole. He is an avid N-Scaler and explained that continuing to pour resources into N is a challenge since 95% of their sales are in the HO (Horribly Oversized) market. Despite this, they are continuing to push and have now segregated their branding into three product lines. The new top-end is their Athearn genesis line. This idea was already in play with their HO products, but the idea of having a high detail product in N is new. All of their new tooling this year will be part of this high-end line, and they include an ACF 2970 covered hopper, a GACX 2600 covered hopper, NSC 6000 and 6400 gondolas and F-89 based flatcars and autoracks. The Genesis line features metal detail parts, road number specific detailing on the cars, with both the molded parts and the paintwork.
Athearn will continue to release production runs of the MDC toolings they acquired back in the early 2000's. These will be part of their new entry-level brand "Athearn Roundhouse". They will also continue to release their other toolings under the "Athearn" brand which represents their mid-tier quality product which will use details that are specific to a paint scheme or road name but NOT car-specific details.
Nearby Athearn, I visited my friends at Brooklyn NTrak. Chris Oliva coordinated with John Bingel of Valley NTrak and set up one heck of an amazing NTrak loop. Chris is an excellent modeler and his modules are a delight to the eye.
Nearby the Valley/Brooklyn layout, I caught up with Eric Spencer who had coordinated a huge FreemoN layout. The total length was 10 - 12 scale miles (about 350 linear feet) of N Scale trackwork. About a dozen modelers got together to construct this layout. Most of the modules were beautifully landscaped rural settings which naturally blended together. I did not see a lot of trains running here, but I was assured that the layout was set up for continuous running.
Adjacent to the FreeMon and Valley NTrak layouts, the leadership junta from NRail was situated. NRail is celebrating its 50th anniversary and I got a chance to briefly catch up with John Wallis. These guys are doing a great job of promoting all the N modular specifications including NTrak, TTrak and FreemoN (and some others).
I then took a short walk over to visit Atlas. I saw their really cool office container tooling which is due to be in stock later this year.
Atlas has several re-releases in the works. I chatted with Drew Postle and walked me through the release schedule. It includes GP38 locomotives, Trinity 17.6K tank cars, and GSI 60 foot flatcars, They are also redoing their True Track product line with more realistic ballast. This high quality snap track is code 65. They are also producing a whole series of cool new N Scale lighting for your layout.
Next up, I visited Fay Chin at the TTrak layout. Fay had his largest TTrak layout to date and had over 60 modules. 30 different people contributed to his layout and he used up a 32x32 foot space for his E-Shaped setup. With T-Trak, an E-Shape means their was a single continuous outer loop and three separate inner loops. The inner loops were configured to hot swap to DC if someone wanted to run an analog train.
My favorite part of the T-Trak layout is always Dudley Foster's drydock. The module is always the same, but each year he brings a different N Scale ship model to be laid up alongside the track. This year, I saw a Civil War era blockade runner. This detailed model was a delight to the eyes and featured exquisite sail work. A sail plan is VERY hard to model in ships, and a real challenge in N Scale. Dudley pulled it off in style and I am once again awed by his modeling skills.
The prior evening, Lowell Smith had described the tail lights on his new series of passenger cars to be "Blood Red". I wanted to see for myself, so he graciously lent me a new car to put on the TTrak layout to witness this marvel of N Scale luminosity for myself. The car and the lighting were truly impressive.
Did I mention it was simply a gorgeous day for a New England January? The Big-E is immense and the train show sprawls across 4 different buildings. It was nice to to have to fight through snow drifts, gale-force winds and iced-over asphalt when traveling between buildings.
Back at the Northeast NTrak layout, I was able to catch up with Jim Nolan and Mike Wong. Mike will be hosting his own professional grade photo tour of the show on his personal website: https://mikewongphotography.zenfolio.com
Northeast NTrak hosts a modeling competition every year at the ARS. After wrapping up at the Big E, my friend Jim Nolan drove me back to the hotel. We all got together in the Hilton banquet room for a presentation on the contest and the winners. The competition was hosted by Northeast NTrak and Northeast TTrak. Jim Pyle and Fay Chin coordinated the contest.
After we wrapped up for the night, I took my goodies back to the hotel room. I was ready for bed, when my friend Jim Nolan called me up and asked me if I wanted to go see a 3-alarm fire near the hotel in downtown Springfield. He is a professional Fire fighter so he used his scanner to locate the scene and took us over to watch as the entire Springfield fire department converges on one building to "Surround and Drown" a raging fire. Very impressive!
It was all a lot of fun with quite a blazing finish! I look forward to attending next year.