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More exhibition experiences - at the show itself...

David Holman


I really enjoy exhibiting, especially when things go well. Guess it is the teacher [bit of a show off?] in me. However, I also find the process both tiring and a bit stressful at times & with my layout fast approaching its exhibition debut, these notes are as much a reminder to myself about final preparation as a window to any reader about how I go about things.

I’ve been exhibiting since 1987, with over 50 shows in that time. When displaying my models, I am always conscious of the fact that folk are paying to come and watch, so therefore it is essential to put on a good show. This leads to an important rule:

‘The layout must not only run well, but trains need to be frequent [far more than the prototype] and during any breaks in service, there should be enough interest to sustain the viewer’s interest.’

I’m afraid this is not always the case in my experience - & my own attention span [or lack of it] tends to mean I soon move on if nothing is moving, unless the scenics are very good indeed. Two good examples of the latter were the late Tom Harland’s ‘Bramblewick’ – a North Eastern layout of impeccable design and more recently ‘The End of the Line’ a 7mm model with working radio controlled lorries, which more than entertained when there were no trains. On the other hand no doubt we can all cite 4 track main line layouts with trains less frequent than a country branch or those with more operators than trains and no interest in engaging the viewers. So, what to do…

Preparation is vital and cleanliness is key to that. ALL wheels get a thorough clean [wagons and locos], as does the track before any show & before the layout leaves home [cleaned again after setting up too]. Couplings need a look. I use 3 links, which always seem to get in a tangle, so these need checking again as wagons are put on the layout. All motive power is checked and serviced, a little light oiling, cleaning & adjusting of pickups, plus a quick once over in terms of paintwork & any fine details which may have come loose.

Much rehearsal goes on before a show, to check that each train in the sequence does what it is supposed to. That means no derailments, buffer locking, etc & anything that does is put to one side for attention. At a show I also have a small notebook to record any problems & try to make sure these are attended to before the layout goes out again. Enough spare stock to cope with the odd breakdown is therefore useful.

Testing hopefully weeds out any other issues, such as point & signal control & the loco controllers themselves. I have always carried a spare since a very early show when a short on a loco caused a handheld controller to overheat. ‘Ere mate, did you know your controller is on fire?’ was the comment that drew my attention. It was certainly giving off smoke…

Hopefully, the Show organisers will provide barriers. Personally, I don’t like Perspex screens to keep inquisitive fingers away, but appreciate why some do. At one show, folk were so close to the layout, their heads were encroaching on to the running tracks. One chap seemed keen to look through the ‘hole in the sky’ to see into the fiddle yard. Not sure why, as it was open to view, but after asking him if he wouldn’t mind moving & not getting a response, I announced in a loud voice that if he didn’t move, then the next train would be driven up his nose. He soon shifted!

What you can pretty much be sure of at a show, is that you will spend many hours on your feet and do a lot of talking to people who want to know more. This is very tiring, but can be very rewarding. Many’s the time I have learned something new about what I’ve been trying to model. The worst part of exhibiting, is at the end of the show. All that packing up to do and just when you really just want to get home – which may well be a long drive away. Can never understand why some shows go on till 5pm or later on a Sunday. Most shops shut at 4pm and have lost count of the number of times when the only folk left in the exhibition hall after 4pm are the exhibitors themselves...

My usual routine is to gradually get all the stock packed away as closing time approaches. This is where a railcar or similar is useful, to keep something running for those still left. After that, it really pays to be disciplined about packing up, for this is the time when most damage can occur. Somehow, things don’t go back in the car the same way as you set off so care and patience is essential. Then you have to do it all again when you get home, especially if the van has to go back Monday morning or you need the car for work. Here is where a trailer can score. Unhook, roll into the garage and go to bed! At the next opportunity, the notebook comes out on what went wrong & the whole sequence starts again, ready for the next show.

Weather permitting, will be doing a trial fit of Arigna Town in the car soon, so will post a few pics - as long as it fits ok!


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Before any show, I like to 'rehearse' the sequence I plan to use. Indeed, in the early stages, the sequence changes quite a lot, as I find out what is workable, or not.

Recently, have discovered that Arigna Town's trackplan has a couple of entertaining [?] challenges inadvertently built in. These centre around the fact that the headshunt/engine release section by the buffers is a bit on the short side. It will hold a loco, the bogie coach, railbus or two wagons, but ideally it would have been better if three wagons long instead. This makes shunting the mixed train more difficult than I would like, especially in terms of getting the coach next to the locomotive.

Originally, I'd decided the mixed would be an exchange of cattle vans, but the shunt is too protracted for an exhibition, when you need to keep things simple and moving. However, there are ways around it & the sequence has been altered to suit.

Test running has shown that stock still needs fettling - mainly adjustment of coupling hooks/chains, but also some work on locos. For example, the J26 had been running ell, but them became erratic. suspected dirt, then pickups, but still no better. reamed out the couple roads, but again no good. Another look at the wheels revealed black marks on one of them. Answer, a short, where a pickup was touching bare metal on the body. No wonder the motor was also a bit warm! A bit of insulating tape and it is back running well again.

Other minor issues include back to backs on some wheels, but [fingers crossed] the only derailments should be operator error & not the track.

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Less than 3 weeks to the Show now & have turned the layout round so am operating from the back, as per at a show.

As mentioned elsewhere, Fermanagh has had a new gearbox fitted to cure erratic running. Tried everything else & thankfully all now seems well. Running further improved by purchase of a new Gaugemaster hand held controller - this time with feedback to aid slow running. There is a marked difference to the W unit I'd been using, so the latter will be kept as a spare. Also have my now ancient H&M Clipper, which still finds use powering the wheel cleaner.

Getting the track and wheels clean [and keeping them that way], has been a bit of a pain. A combination of paint, glue and grease means wheel and track cleaning has been far too frequent at first, but again now starting to improve.

Another small issue was the height of one rail on the loco turntable, which somehow had risen a millimetre or so - enough to make exiting the table a bit of a lottery. Traced the problem to a weakened glue joint, so again all well again.

Have also been making laminated instructions for any guest operators. In my experience, some are better than others, so I use a set of simple rules to try and keep them on the straight and narrow. Key points include:

- using a very simple sequence

- keeping shunting very basic, such as each train shunts just one siding

- a big reminder to only crank the turntable handle clockwise [or it will ruin the pickups]

- another to emphasise 'set points, then signals & only then drive the train'


May do another about running at prototype speeds too...


Me, a control freak? Well, nobody gets to be a headteacher without having at least a small one lurking somewhere!

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