Monday, July 13, 2009

NMRA National Convention Show

The National Model Railroad Association National Convention took place last week in Hartford, CT. The hobby show part began on on Friday for members only and continued on Saturday and Sunday for the general public. I dropped in on Saturday since Hartford is only an hour and a quarter from my home. That gave me a chance to chat with old friends still on the train show show circuit and also had a chance to see the show. (I missed last year's show in Anaheim for obvious reasons.)

First let me say the Connecticut Convention Center, where the show was held, is extremely easy to get in and out of. It's right off Interstate 91, a stone's throw or two from the I91-I84 intersection. The center itself is new, clean and attractive.

Several things jumped out at me. First, there were more beautifully built modular operating layouts than I have ever seen in one show. They were certainly a high point, ranging from Z-scale to tinplate and Leggo. Participants came from Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York State. There was quite a lot of Z scale this year. Noticeably more than I've ever seen at a show before. There was also a dearth of large scale. (Is it the economy, stupid?)

One constantly expanding presence is that of electronics - control systems, sound systems and lighting. I've said it in the past, and I'll repeat it: sound adds more to realism than any other sensory factor. (I can't comment on smell since we haven't figured out how to do much of that with our virtual models.)

Where does VR fit in? The only presence was Chris Cordes, who is the US rep and distributor for Auran Trainz. No other train simulator was represented, nor was RailDriver. Chris, who is a friend from past NMRA shows, was doing a good business, though I didn't see the customary lines of kids waiting to get on a terminal that you see at some shows. To be fair, I wasn't at Chris's booth for that long, since we had time after to the show to congregate. I am struck by the fact that Trainz was selling for $25 a copy. By comparison, junk HO freight cars (used and in varied condition), were selling for $10. Decoders for sound go for $99 and up. A beautiful O scale tug boat kit - had me drooling - was going for $98. If there's a money shortage out there, maybe no one was buying much. I think they should have noticed what a bargain Trainz is.

-- Al