Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Railroad Prototype Modelers (RPM) meets

I’ve just returned from an RPM meet (in Salem, Oregon). The Salem event was the usual kind of interesting and enjoyable occasion, and while traveling to and from the meeting, I was thinking about the entire RPM idea.
     As many know, RPM began 20 or so years ago as a kind of revolt by “modern” modelers, who felt excluded by the atmosphere of NMRA contests, not only in the sense that entries in that contest were primarily steam and transition era models, but also because prototype fidelity was not an important focus of those contests. This meant that kitbashing and redetailing, especially of diesel locomotives, would score relatively poorly under the NMRA contest system. That was a frustrating outcome, since far less prototypical models, sometimes of imaginary prototypes, could outscore a redetailed diesel model of considerable prototype accuracy.
     The very name of Railroad Prototype Modelers obviously emphasized the goal of reproducing prototype equipment and structures, but the RPM concept also largely abandoned the idea of any contest whatsoever, substituting a display mode in which modelers were free to bring many models, including incomplete and in-progress ones, and to remain with their model display to talk to others. It was an immediate success.
     As soon as the RPM idea was introduced for “modern” models, however, modelers of all eras responded enthusiastically, not only because of the importance of prototype fidelity in every era, but also because the RPM presentation involved a social dimension entirely missing, indeed explicitly discouraged, in the NMRA type of contest.
     From the outset, it has been a core tenet of RPM that there is no “organization,” no membership, no dues, no magazine, no national headquarters, and no officers. Anyone and everyone can participate if they wish. An RPM meet is typically organized and conducted by a local volunteer (or several), and admission fees are modest, usually to cover costs of using a facility for the meet.
     Today there are RPM meets all across the country, ranging from small to large. The “granddaddy” is the annual meeting at Naperville, Illinois (this year in the adjoining town of Lisle, Illinois, next month), closely followed in size and quality by the Cocoa Beach, Florida meeting in January. Both meetings attract 200 to 300 attendees. But in some ways the local, smaller meets are more important. They link up local modelers and naturally tend to present regional modeling, and of course involve far less travel for those in the locality. Many such local meets are announced on a web site, at
     The Salem meet last weekend was a good example. There were clinic presentations, but the main action was in the large display room, where a good range of interesting models (and their builders) was available. As always, being able to talk to modelers and learn the techniques they use (and their sources of information!), while examining their models, is a benefit which would not be easily accomplished any other way. Some vendors also attended, always an additional benefit for those who need a specific product.
     Many who read this will already know the entire story. But for anyone who does not, I would strongly recommend watching for announcements of an RPM meet near you. And don’t just attend, take along a few models and be prepared to both learn from others, and maybe, just maybe, provide a bit of inspiration to someone else. I’m sure you will enjoy it. I sure do.
Tony Thompson

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