Monday, November 4, 2013

The Iron City Award

Awhile back, in discussing the little red truck that shows up in some of my layout photos, I mentioned the Iron City Award. Both the truck and the award were outgrowths of a friendship among three Pittsburgh modelers: Larry Kline, C.J. Riley, and me. After awhile, we had a weekly round-robin at our houses, involving layout work or layout operation, and beer consumption, not to mention traveling together to Mid-Central Region (MCR) and other NMRA conventions. With a group of only three, we felt we should compensate by having a correspondingly long name. We called ourselves the “Iron City Ferroequinological Society,” or ICFS. We pronounced it “ick-iffs,” and in fact, having remained friends, we still do.
     The award, as I described in that earlier post, was intended to reward the skillful or insightful kitbasher, who had no real chance under the NMRA contest rules of those days, but had still built a pretty terrific model. You can find that post at: .
     The criterion for winning the award was simple: we gave it to what we perceived to be “the niftiest model” in the contest, and naturally one dimension of “nifty” was that it was not scratchbuilt. Modelers with a good eye can often create something very impressive without much scratchbuilding, as the NMRA contest now is closer to recognizing. I don’t mean to disrespect scratchbuilding here, and in fact I do it myself whenever necessary, but the old NMRA contest rules put way too much weight on it, as a component of overall model quality.
     The physical award we gave out, which I took responsibility to create each year, was an HO scale freight car, of suitable size so I could make a good display out of it, with graphics taken from a bottle label of Iron City Beer (which was brewed in Pittsburgh). The car was then mounted on a small piece of track on a wooden base, and a plaque attached with the place and year.
     I don’t seem to have any photos of the various awards we made, but I did make a duplicate of one of them, the 1987 car, to keep for myself. Here it is, without base or plaque. As you can see, it is merely an Athearn Pullman-Standard covered hopper, repainted and suitably decorated.

     As may be evident, there was a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to this award, and not a little intent to tweak the nose of NMRA contest mavens, with which MCR was liberally supplied in those days. Again, however, I hasten to point out that this was not really disrespect. (The award had been authorized by MCR.) All three of us entered and won NMRA contests in those years; all three of us have served as contest judges for regional and national NMRA contests; and all three of us were involved in the drive to “reform” the NMRA contest scoring to recognize a much higher point total for the category of “prototype conformity” and comparably to decrease the points for scratchbuilding. I even served a number of years in the 1990s as regional contest chair in NMRA’s Pacific Coast Region (in the process, implementing and publicizing the new contest scoring rules).
     But I think it remains true today that some outstanding modeling is being done, usually to achieve a prototype replica, which nevertheless does not compete very well under NMRA rules. That’s okay, in one sense; the NMRA contest is just one set of rather specific rules about assigning points during judging of models. In another sense, though, I think it heightens the impression many have that the NMRA is not really very relevant to a lot of modelers. I happen to be a Life Member of NMRA, so I guess that doesn’t apply to me, but clearly it does apply to an awful lot of people in the hobby.
Tony Thompson

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