exhibiting a model railway at a model railway exhibition
the pitfalls of exhibiting laid bare
You have been to a few exhibitions as a
punter, you model railways, and now you are thinking of exhibiting one.
Ask yourself why you wish to exhibit?
If you are looking for feedback on your efforts, you can easily
post images of your line on numerous forums or launch your own website,
like this one. You can even show how well it works by posting a video, on
If you get your layout featured in
magazines you can really consider your efforts are getting somewhere. If you
are listed as 'Railway of the Month' or 'Inspirational'; consider that you
have arrived. What is even better, if you write the article, they even pay
Some associations have 'at home' days when like
minded folks will take turns visiting members homes, play with your trains,
show off their latest models, chat and enjoy tea/biscuits and if you are
lucky, fantastic cakes. This can be a pleasant informal way of sharing
your hobby; normally a very solitary pastime.. Local groups of the 009
Society do this on a regular basis.
Already, as a railway modeller, you will have
come to terms with the fact that as far as most
women are concerned, it ranks as one of the most uncool things you can
possibly do; just about in the same category of beer mat collecting, spotting buses and
watching paint dry. This may explain why very few exhibitors are virile good
looking young men! In fact, model rail exhibitions are largely a repository
of middle aged and older blokes. Don't get me wrong, a handful of women are railway
modellers but they are as rare as hens' teeth. So if you are a female railway
modeller and single, you have already arrived at the happy hunting ground! If
you are in to uncool middle aged and older men, that is!
But you still want to exhibit?
If you are located near a model railway club,
you may wish to join them and become involved with an existing club layout.
This has the advantage that you will be able to share the experience with
like minded people and go out on exhibition with them and have a good jolly.
You may find that the club layout holds little interest to you but all is not
lost. You can build your own under the auspices of 'members layouts' and
still get a lot of help to exhibit.
For many others, a model railway club may not be an
option so you will be on your own. Fortunately, a wealth of information is
available to you, from some excellent magazines to numerous websites. There
are many forums where you can ask for help and the answer will probably come
back almost immediately. However, I have never seen a balanced article on the
business of exhibiting. This is perhaps because some in the hobby consider the
whole subject a 'holy cow' and any negative comments can be met with a storm
of outrage and protest. I may very well find myself the subject of a model
railway 'fatwa' after writing this!
Well, the answer is simple enough.....money.
Most exhibitions are run by model railway clubs. They cost a lot to keep
going; maybe it's the rent of the
clubhouse or buying supplies and there are all the other expenses experienced when
running a club.
"So we could run a model railway exhibition and
collect money from punters at the door and from traders who wish to show
Now this article is largely concerned with the
larger shows that draw exhibitors from around the country. The small local
show in the church hall has its own charm and perhaps a lot fewer pitfalls.
Let's take a look at the expectations from
both sides of the fence.
The exhibition manager of a larger show wants:
|A large selection of good
model railways which will 'wow' the visitors. Remember, you want them to
come back next year.
||That exhibitors will not let
you down at the last minute.
||That exhibitors set up their
layouts in time and are ready to operate when the doors open.
|That the layouts are
properly run during the opening times and exhibitors do not start to pack up
||That someone is available to answer questions
|That the exhibitors cause
the least amount of bother to the organiser and demand the smallest amount
of expenses for getting there.
The exhibitor's requirements are
perhaps more varied but here are some factors to consider:
|That the exhibition manager
sends them a complete information pack about what is expected of them and
about the locale they are visiting before the exhibitor commits to the
|That if the venue is away
from your locale, suitable accommodation is provided. The exhibitor may even
wish accommodation for the night after the show rather than drive home
exhausted through the night.
||That acceptable expenses are
paid to cover your costs.
||That acceptable free food and
drink is provided for during the show.
||That there is security for the layout at
the venue during the evenings and at night.
||That it is properly insured during
transit and during the show.
||That the layout is protected
from the ravishes of the public by good barriers.
||That there is a good 'social
opportunity' for exhibitors.
||That the exhibitor feels
valued and cared for.
The whole arrangement, and don't let's forget
it, depends on getting a good selection of excellent layouts in show to
the public. OK, layouts from other clubs will come, but a good show needs
more than the 'usual suspects' and this is where the good privately owned layout
is sought. Without the layouts, the public and of course the traders will not
bother to come either.
There is a country mile between having a
demountable layout and one that is suitable for exhibition.
Probably the best way to discover what is
required is to note where the crowds are at exhibitions or how long they remain
at a layout.
Again, there is often a difference between club
layouts and private ones. One of the stars of the club layout is called
Dewsbury. The layout is huge and is superb in detail, quality and operating
interest. It arrives in a massive truck and takes hours to assemble by a large
team who seem as practiced as a Formula One pit crew. They even wear matching
Dewsbury at exhibition
Not all layouts have to be built to such
exacting standards to be popular. A few layouts are down on realism but have
loads of trains rushing around, which can be very exciting to the public. One
has no scenery at all, just several tracks laid down as a large loop and kids
are allowed to control the trains. Kid paradise!
The private entry is often very much smaller but
can have exquisite detail.
privately entered gem, Pempoul; Reseau Breton in 1:50 scale
When designing your layout, you may wish to
consider these factors:
|Lighting: Many halls
have inadequate lighting and some larger ones use sodium bulbs which wash
out all colour. Ideally your display should include its own lighting system which
makes the best of your model.
|Presentation: How will you frame
your layout for the viewing public?
|Composition: How will
your layout look to the public? Does it 'hang together' from the viewing
Does the trackplan allow sufficient
train operation to maintain the public interest?
indefinable factor, but these may be pointers. Does the layout invoke
memories of a certain area? Can visitors mentally 'place' themselves in the
landscape and feel part of it?
|Reliability: Will your equipment
run for two days without failure?
|Transport: How easy
is it to transport your layout? Will the rail joints between baseboards
always line up? How many people do you need to help carry it and set it up?
Can your stands be adjusted to allow for floor irregularities?
|Health and safety:
Yes, the cold clammy controlling hand of bureaucracy has even descended on model
railways! Your layout may have to pass various tests, often to do with
some woman called Pat and you may have to supply RCDs....( you may have to
Google this to find out what on earth they are).
forget you are part of a show, so get into the role. You must consider how
best to operate your layout to maintain public interest. This is not quite
the same as 'playing with trains'.
There are just so many
factors to consider, it can be a bit overwhelming.
So you have built your exhibition layout and are
'raring to go' ......but where?
You will need to acquire photography and colour balancing
skills using a software
programme like Fireworks or Photoshop. You should also be able to post
submissions on the internet. If you really cannot do it, persuade someone who
can to do it for you.
Now is the time to post photos of your layout on
a few of the better forA. Indeed, if you have been smart, you will have
regularly posted during construction so that the layout has had maximum
You should also place your layout in listings
UK Shop Directory.
Not everybody is computer literate and there is
still nothing quite like being featured in a major magazine. It is best
to send photos by post or email and offer to submit an article to the editor.
You will have to make sure that your
layout is completely ready and that everything is working to perfection. Work out
how you are going to operate it to create maximum interest. You will need to
get together a tool kit for running repairs, RCD plugs and all the rest of
the paraphernalia. It is very useful to use a checklist so you do not forget
If you have a larger layout which will not fit
into the back of the car, you will have to organise the rent of a van or
Luton. This will also need collecting. Larger layouts have many more logistic
issues. You may need more than one person to help load and operate. You could
experience some difficulty in conning friends to go with you! If you do
manage to elicit help, your volunteers quite rightly, may expect you to
provide all meals throughout the journey and at location. This can become
From the moment your model leaves your front
door, it is going to be under threat.
Can your model survive rain? Are your bricks
hand painted with water colour? What will you do if you have to move the model
around under a deluge?
Your layout may very well have operated
perfectly at home, but after a few major changes in temperature and humidity
experienced during transport and erection at a venue, the story could be
|transport: Even with the most careful driving, anything
that is not fixed on your model will be elsewhere when you arrive. Loose
scatter will be all over your track and bits of ballast can be jamming the
point blades. Think of taking a small vacuum cleaner with you.
Shows generally open at 10.00/10.30 hours and
you have to be ready by then. Often, it is necessary to get there the evening
of day before to offload and set up. Sometimes the exhibition hall is not open
sufficiently early on in the day of the show to get it all done by then. If the
venue is a long way from home you will have had a tiring journey and may have
had to stop for resuscitation at a motorway service area where it costs a
week's salary for a tea and a bun.
It always takes much longer than you think
to offload and complete setting up and you may have some problems getting
things to work right. It is made more difficult because everyone else is
trying to do the same thing all around you. There is no such thing as
organised chaos! Further delays can be experienced because you might have to
wait for the electrician to do a safety check on your wiring. It is always
better to get your trains out onto the track to give them the maximum time to
temperature and humidity normalise. Never lock them in the boot and leave
them overnight. Half the locos will not wake up the next day for some time.
Watch out for the 'curved ball'. You will
know what your requirements are to operate your railway and you should have
made these very clear to the exhibition manager. If you arrive and the
facilities promised are not provided, don't give in. Insist on your table,
operating space or whatever else you required. If they are not forthcoming,
don't give in to emotional blackmail. Pack up and go home.
Although the exhibition manager expects you to
attend a booked show, be aware that some will cancel you out within weeks of
a show, despite having booked you months earlier.
With all of this going on, you will already be
feeling tired and hungry. Many clubs do not offer any food at setting up time
the evening before and you can find yourself driving around a strange town
late at night trying to find somewhere to eat. If you have brought helpers,
£100 can disappear very quickly!
Hopefully, barriers will have been already set
up for you at your allocated position and these also have to be properly
You will then have to find the hotel or B&B
(unless you found this earlier). It is amazing how hard this can be after
setting up as you will feel completely brain dead. This is a time when GPS
comes into its own.
Getting to bed exhausted, you will have to be up
early enough to get to the venue to do any last minute adjustments and
checks, provided that a host club member has remembered to get up early too,
to open the door to the exhibition hall. This is not always the case!
With any luck, you might get a fleeting glance
of the other exhibits before the door opens to the public.
Many visitors have no more than a passing interest in the hobby and have no
idea of how delicate models can be. After all, toys are made from
unbreakable lead free plastic...aren't they???
A proportion of the public come well equipped with
small children whose sole purpose for existence is to destroy your precious
Sadly, it is not allowed to insist that they have their hands tied behind their
backs and what is worse, the doting parents do not keep the little dears under
If one does get through your
defences and pulls off your line side fences, you are very likely going to
shout and you will almost certainly get an angry response from an indignant
parent saying "Well, he's only three". Amazing: when did they breed out
common sense in these parents?
This means that you will not
only have to concentrate on operating the railway, you will also have to
watch for kids and the occasional adult who has crawled under or around the
barrier. This can be a tad stressful.
Some visitors will be great
pointers. Given half
a chance, they are quite capable of pointing their fingers right through
telephone wires or model ship rigging. Others are the 'touchy feely' types,
who just cannot resist touching everything, no matter how delicate it may be.
It is amazing how they can manage to reach your layout even if you have a
Then there are the 'danglers'. They will lean
over the layout and in doing so remove trees, fences and anything else in
their path with their hanging camera, handbag, coat or beer belly.
Finally, there are the photographers, who may
very well thrust their zoom lens in your delicate model, destroying all in
How are you feeling so far?
Throughout the day, you will be expected to keep
operating your layout in an interesting manner and continue to answer the
same questions, over and over again while still smiling. If you are to retain
any sanity, you will need relieving by a companion for food and a few
breaks. If the whole affair becomes mind numbingly boring it can be a good
time to get into comfort eating!
If you are a smoker, you may discover that you are not only prohibited from
smoking indoors but also outdoors.....even if there is a howling wind. Check
this one out before you agree to go.
Hopefully the food will be OK but sometimes it
can turn out to be little more than a bag of crisps.
Once the doors close, you may get another
fleeting glance at the exhibits and then, hopefully, but not always, you have
a get together with the other exhibitors. Realistically, it may be the only
opportunity you get to socialise other than during a rushed lunch. With any
luck, the get-together will be in a hotel where everybody is staying. This is
by far the best arrangement as you can have a few jars and not worry about
driving to a digs afterwards.
What better way of having all your hard work
validated than by winning a prize at a show. Well, all is not quite as it
seems to be. Many clubs appoint their own judges who award the prizes. It is
not surprising therefore, that they may be awarded to 'friends' rather than
for merit. Sometimes, one can actually predict who will win by reading
postings by club officials made on forums prior to the actual show!
If winning a prize is important to you, then
attend those shows which award a trophy for best in show, voted by the
public. After all, it is the public who pays to go and their votes will not
be affected by the 'old boy network' which can pervade this hobby as surely
as the Masonics do elsewhere!
So at last the doors close and you can get
packed up again and sort out expenses, which should be paid in cash. Some
organisers now expect you to send an invoice which will be paid at a later
date. Avoid these shows like the plague as sometimes the expenses are not
fully paid. Some exhibitors depend upon immediate payment to have enough
money to get home!
There will be a rugby scrum of
exhibitors and traders at the doors and it can be some time before you are
able to load up your Luton/van/trailer/car unless you are prepared to carry
your stuff half way across the car park. Tempers can get very frayed by then,
so do not be surprised to find yourself being shouted at! If you are a very
long way from home, are you going to feel OK driving through a dark winter's
night? This is when it becomes a good idea to stay a further night and leave
Monday. The additional hotel night must be organised in advance with the
exhibition. This is all very well, but how many of your friends will be prepared
take off Friday and Monday and be away all weekend just to help you with your trainset?
By the time you arrive home, you will no doubt
be doing a very passable imitation of the 'living dead' but you will still have to
offload your layout and return any rented vehicle.
Some exhibitions are run extremely well and the
host club is charming and welcoming. Others are organised badly and your
weekend can turn into a nightmare. The same goes for exhibition managers.
There are some wonderful individuals but there is also the occasional rude
bully who can reduce all but the toughest to tears. You may find yourself
being 'blacklisted' at exhibitions if you argue with some of these 'good old
boys' so it is best to get everything really clear before you agree to go.
You are the guest of some railway club
and have the right to be treated as such. Rather sadly, some clubs have the
arrogance to consider that you should feel 'honoured' to have been invited!
Some clubs may actually be downright unwelcoming unless you are part of their
If the worst happens and your layout is damaged,
you may be facing many hours of repair work. This is the time to inform the
exhibition manager...after all, it was insured, wasn't it?
Hmmm....what can actually happen is that the
manager will start muttering about the insurance excess and how expensive it
is for the club to make a claim. It you are not careful, you will leave
making no claim and be made to feel how unreasonable you were to think about
it in the first place.
So before you agree to accept an invitation to
exhibit at Twitty Fee Model Railway Exhibition find out exactly what you are
letting yourself in for before agreeing to attend. This is often not as easy
as it should be as some managers can be very evasive at the booking stage of
If you feel that you have an acceptable offer,
send the manager a letter stating the terms as you understand it and get them
to sign and return it. Better still, if you have strong views about what you
expect from the exhibition, send them a copy of your terms. The exhibitions
are only too keen to send you their terms but often seem quite put out that
you may have some of your own.
Your terms can include requirements for hotel
accommodation, (do you really want to spend some nights in what appears to be
a young offenders facility? - I did recently and have to say the experience
was ghastly! Apart from anything else, the place was the centre of the
Birmingham sex industry!)
You need to make it quite clear what your layout
needs as a 'footprint'. This includes the space you need around it to operate
properly. If this is not clearly understood and accepted some real problems
can arise. Below is the 'footprint' of County Gate as an example.
Check up for what is on offer for food at the
exhibition. Ask to see menus from the previous exhibition. Nearly all
exhibitions do not pay for evening meals; the exception being Utrecht.
Remember. without good layouts, there will be no
exhibition. You are the exhibition. You may be happy to go but do you want to
find yourself a few hundred pounds out of pocket apart from the considerable
investment in time?
Perhaps it is time to review this whole thorny
issue. The better private railways are one of the highlights of a good
exhibition and some will be lost to the circuit unless some expectations of
managers change. Perhaps this explains the current trend to have pizza
layouts and 'railway in a shoe box' displays. I doubt the public will
stampede to the show to see too many of these though.
all goes pear shaped
I do not want to give the
impression that all exhibitions are frightful; they are not. I have only
been very unhappy at three shows: a tiny percentage of shows we have
attended. Indeed some can
be really fun and fulfilling. There will be the odd time however when things
go really wrong and you end up in an impasse with the Exman. What can you do
about it? Model railway exhibitions do not belong to some national guild that
monitors standards so anything can happen at a show if they are so inclined.
The club will always close ranks against you so unless you are prepared to go
to small claims court, there is not a lot you can do. If you complain on
forums or websites as I do, be prepared for a great deal of unpleasantness!
There it is. The world of model railway
exhibiting. Some folks thrive on it and others find the whole system so
ghastly that they watch daytime TV or join SAGA instead. Just make really sure what you
are getting into and have it in writing!