Heritage Model Trains Article

Model Train Show Fever


We have been to dozens of model train shows and can testify that it does bring out the “kid” in all of us. There’s always a new layout that we want to hurry home and decide where we can fit it in our layout.


One type of show is a combination of a sales event and an opportunity for local clubs to display their modular layouts. Hobby Shops love to set up at these events – it’s a great opportunity for people to browse the show yet find the best deals on items that they have been drooling over for months; hard to find or discontinued items, both rare commodities.


Generally speaking, all scales are represented in new and used condition. And to me, the best part is many times manufacturers are there to introduce their new upcoming merchandise, and we get to see them first.


Northlandz Show Bridges


Another type of show is typically local clubs or groups of clubs will put on a giant show together. It’s all to increase exposure of Model Railroading or as a fund raiser for some local club. This type of show does not include any sales and is usually based on only one certain scale of model railroading. Of course it is still worth your time as you can pick up a new facet of the hobby you were not familiar with.


It is just plain fun no matter which type of show you attend. Many times it is an annual event to raise money for a church or promoting modular railroading in HO scale. Often these modules join together to form one giant layout that could fill an entire gymnasium.


Then there was the Great American Train Show, or GATS and what was, for two decades, the largest traveling model train show in the United States. The company was incorporated in 1985 and went defunct in 2006. During the 1990s, the company operated as many as 90 train shows every year in 40 different states.


It was founded by David Swanson as an outgrowth of a monthly train show in Wheaton, Illinois that was itself an outgrowth of a local model railroad club. Beginning in 1982, Swanson began running train shows in cities outside the Chicago area, eventually expanding the operation to the West coast by the mid 1980s and to the East coast by the mid 1990s.


The core business of GATS consisted of running consumer shows focused on model railroading. These train shows consisted of several dozen vendors selling a variety of model railroad related merchandise as well as several operating model train layouts. Shows were opened to the public over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday. Public attendance could range from around 1,500 to as many as 10,000 attendees over the course of the two day show.


As show promoter, GATS performed facility and show operation, personnel contracting, exhibitor registration, floor plan design, and on-site management functions, as well as conducting advertising and public relations campaigns to draw attendees.


This was model train show fever at its best.


All Aboard……



Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains