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What to expect at your local train show

Train shows are one of the great community experiences across the world. Little kids and big kids alike can see some truly amazing things and have a lot of fun taking in a train show. If you’re even considering model railroading as a hobby, there’s no better first step than attending a local show. With the train show in Columbus this weekend, I figured this would be a good time to discuss what you’ll see at a typical show.

In my experience, the most common location for train shows is the local fairgrounds or expo center. The show in Columbus is usually at one of the buildings of the Ohio Expo Center. This is the same location that hosts the Ohio State Fair every summer. Other common locations include local community centers and conference centers. They used to also include shopping malls, but this seems to be a much rarer occurrence now, especially given the decline of malls in America.

Shows can vary widely in size and content, but there are a few things they’ll often have in common.

S-Gauge layout
S-Gauge layout

Of course a train show has trains. Usually between 1/3 and 1/2 of the floor space will be set aside for train displays. This is the primary point of going and will be your primary focus. This will generally include N scale, HO scale and O Scale/Lionel displays. Sometimes they will also have other displays such as G scale, Z scale and S scale.

Most of these displays will be put together by local train groups and their members. For example, here is the list of displays that will be at show in Columbus this weekend:

Miami Valley Modular Railway – 60′ x 80′ – HO Scale
Central Ohio N-Trak-N – 22′ x 34′ – N Scale
Columbus Garden Railway Society – 20′ x 30′ – G Scale
Columbus Area N Scalers – 24′ x 44′ – N Scale
Central Ohio N-Trak-HO – 12′ x 32′ – HO Scale
Central Ohio N-Trak-T – 12′ x 21′ – T Trak
Buckeye Division TTOS – 25′ x 40′ – O Gauge
Please remember: These displays were built by the members of these clubs using their own personal funds. So please be respectful. Look, but don’t touch.

Garden railroad display
Garden railroad display

Garden Railroad
Many shows will have large numbers of merchants. Some will be local and many will have traveled from further away. These merchants will have wide varieties of product available for purchase. This will include trains, rolling stock, scenery, hats, t-shirts, videos, and train merchandise of all kinds. Some of these merchants will also buy train merchandise if you have it. Just don’t expect to get a lot of money for your used trains.

The number of merchants can vary quite a bit. Anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred, depending on available space and demand. In the Columbus shows, there’s typically about 60 or 70 merchants with about 300 tables worth of stuff. One of the great things about shopping at shows is you can usually find a couple of pretty good deals you won’t normally find anywhere else.

Depending on the size of the show you may have a few of the manufacturers present with some of their latest and upcoming products to demo. They usually won’t have product to sell, but they will often direct you to merchants where you can buy or pre-order their products.

Often a train show of at least medium size will have one or two rides that smaller kids can ride on. These might be peddle cars or electric powered, but either one is a lot of fun. Kinda makes me jealous that I can’t ride them.

Some train shows will have on site seminars and classes during the show to teach various model railroading skills. Most often these focus on basic skills such as engine maintenance, basic scenery construction and basic electrical and DCC work. It’s a great way to pick up a few skills to get started.

Shows will often have door prizes and giveaways. Some vendors will have these as well. In most cases you must be present to win. And if your show is like Columbus, it will often be hard to hear the announcements of these giveaways over the speakers.

Your local train show may have other things as well, but this covers what you’ll find at most shows. So next time your local show rolls around, be sure to take it in. You’ll have fun.

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