A decade ago – in February of 2006, to be exact – I visited the Copetown Train Show and saw the modules built by the S Scale Workshop. I was working in another scale and gauge at the time, but a seed was planted that today has resulted in the layout featured on this blog.
It was the Workshop’s first exhibition of their free-mo style modular layout and it impressed a lot of visitors at Copetown that year. I headed home and wrote a letter to Bill Schaumburg – then editor of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine – about the show, and the debut of the S Scale Workshop on the southern Ontario exhibition scene.
Here’s the letter… which Bill printed in the June, 2006 issue as part of his Editor’s Notebook feature. After you read it, I’ll offer up some observations…
Greetings from the Great White North! Although I must admit it’s not really white in Southern Ontario these days, despite it being the middle of winter. It’s cold, but the ground is brown and the roads are dry, which makes for easy driving (always a concern at this time of year).
But even if the weather outside IS frightful, many enthusiasts (myself included) brave the elements at the end of February and hit the road to the Copetown Train Show, which takes place in a small town of the same name just west of Hamilton, Ontario.
Copetown has never been a typical train show, but rather a showcase for fine model building with a focus on Canadian prototypes.
Copetown does not attract the usual train show crowd of families and casual punters (not that there’s anything bad about shows that do, but not every show has to cater to every taste). Instead, it draws many of the same people one meets at Railway Prototype Modelers meets such as Naperville, Cocoa Beach, and the others you regularly write about in your monthly column. Word is, about 400 people attended this year’s event, and I even saw some old friends there who had driven a good six hours to attend. (That’s particularly impressive when one considers that Copetown is only open to the public on Sunday: Exhibitors set up on Saturday and then get the chance to visit each other’s displays, buy stuff, sell stuff, socialize and so on. The day ends with a dinner, followed by an evening of slide shows and/or clinics. All in all, it’s good incentive to become an exhibitor: I’ll have to do something about that.)
Copetown features photo dealers, Canadian railway SIGs and Historical Societies, booths about area club layouts, tables staffed by manufacturers of Canadian-prototype rolling stock, structures or other details, authors or dealers of books about Canadian railroads, and layouts that exhibit a high degree of craftsmanship, usually based on a Canadian prototype.
There were a number of layouts on display this year, but I think it’s safe to say that the one that created the biggest buzz in the hall was a modular layout created by seven members of the S Scale Workshop. This layout is built to the Workshop’s own version of the Free-mo standard, which allows groups to build modules of any size and shape and then link them together in any number of ways to create large free-form layouts (the concept is described in detail at www.free-mo.org).
The members of the S Scale Workshop began building their modules in earnest just a few months before the show, yet managed to assemble an astonishing 93 linear feet of model railroad in a large, lazy U-shape that worked its way through the main exhibition space.
The modules assembled into a single track line with a staging yard at one end, a model of Port Dover, Ontario at the other (actually, part of one member’s home layout), and a passing siding in the middle, with a couple of spurs still to be built. Using wireless walk-around DCC throttles and a small fleet of sound-equipped S scale Canadian National 2-6-0s built from etched kits by S Scale Loco and Supply (www.sscaleloco.com), the layout kept visitors entertained all day.
Some of the modules were unfinished at show time – one was still at the pink Terra Foama stage, while another had nothing more than green garbage bags stapled to each side of the roadbed to prevent any derailed trains from making a 50-inch plunge to the floor – but the potential was readily apparent and I’m sure this group will impress us all over again the next time they do a show.
It was particularly enlightening to see an S scale, craftsman-quality layout up close and personal. Interesting things are happening in 1:64, and it’s worth looking into (as if I need ANOTHER distraction). I can understand the attraction, especially if one’s modeling subject is a modest prototype, such as a branch line patrolled by small engines pulling light trains of 40’ steam-era cars: The “slightly larger than HO” nature of S would give small prototypes a presence and heft that HO just can’t accomplish, without having the overall scene overwhelm a layout room.
It was also interesting to watch the crowd’s reaction to both S scale and the free-mo nature of the layout. One could almost see the current hit the mental light bulbs. I predict that in the next couple of years, I’ll be seeing many more Free-mo style layouts at Southern Ontario shows – mostly in HO, of course, but in other scales too.
While most of the Copetown attendees have invested serious amounts of time and money into their chosen scale/gauge/era/theme, building a Free-mo style module would give many of them an opportunity to explore an avenue of the hobby that lies beyond their primary interest, and who knows where that could lead? Only to great things, I expect.
The builders of the HO scale Ontario & Eastern sectional layout (which was the cover story in the February, 1998 RMC) started the show several years ago. After a long and successful run, the O&E members decided to retire their exhibition layout to devote more time to their endeavors at home, and they passed the show’s organizational duties onto the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers (with a double “L”, since that’s how we do things here in Canada).
So, Bill, that’s the story. I hope you can make it to Copetown some year – weather permitting, of course. But to be fair, I should warn you that by the end of the weekend you may end up horse-trading your Nevada County Narrow Gauge equipment for some CN moguls, eight hatch reefers, and other signature models of Canadian railway history.
– Trevor in Toronto
I was an outsider to S scale when I wrote that, but I find it interesting that my initial reactions to the scale were, by and large, right on the money for me.
– “(as if I need ANOTHER distraction)”
It turns out I did. I was unhappy with what I was doing in the hobby, and it was time for a change. It took me about five more years to realize that.
– “I can understand the attraction, especially if one’s modeling subject is a modest prototype, such as a branch line patrolled by small engines pulling light trains of 40’ steam-era cars.”
Well, that’s pretty obvious, since that’s what I’ve ended up modelling on my Port Rowan layout.
– “The ‘slightly larger than HO’ nature of S would give small prototypes a presence and heft that HO just can’t accomplish, without having the overall scene overwhelm a layout room.”
This is definitely something that I’ve appreciated as I’ve been working in 1:64 over the past few years. I’m a junkie for detail, and as I wrote way back near the beginning of this blog, I originally tried to design an O scale layout to fit my space. It didn’t. S did, while still giving me most of the presence that I love about O. It’s not “in your face”, but it’s also not “way over there” either.
– “I predict that in the next couple of years, I’ll be seeing many more Free-mo style layouts at Southern Ontario shows – mostly in HO, of course, but in other scales too.”
This has also happened. Since 2006, several Free-mo groups have launched in the region. I’ve even been involved in a few of them. Some have folded, others have remained quite small, but there are also some quite large groups that are very active.
I’m glad I read the crowd right that day.
– “Copetown does not attract the usual train show crowd of families and casual punters (not that there’s anything bad about shows that do, but not every show has to cater to every taste).”
This is still the case, 10 years later – and it’s one of the reasons that Copetown continues to be a terrific show for the “serious” hobbyist.
As a show, though, it remains a novel experience in Southern Ontario – an exhibition with a specific focus, instead of a general train show. Other good examples of “focussed events” in the area include the Ontario Narrow Gauge Show and the Great British Train Show, organized by The Platelayers Society. Both are well worth attending – in large part because of their unique focus on the hobby.
There are several local shows each year that pretty much present the same thing as every other local show. The same layouts are featured. The same vendors show up. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all – so there’s not much point in attending. Some of these local shows are failing. If they want to turn around their fortunes, they could look at how to make their shows a unique event instead of offering up more of the same.
It’s been 10 years since I wrote that piece, and The Copetown Train Show continues. So does the S Scale Workshop – which will be celebrating the 10th anniversary since it first exhibited those Free-mo style modules, as it exhibits at the 2016 Copetown Train Show. Workshop member Jim Martin has written about this on The S Scale Workshop blog. We’ve included a couple of early photos from 2006, as well as a layout plan for this year’s exhibit and information about attending the show.
Check it out, and I hope to see you in Copetown on Sunday, March 6th!