Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Traveling Display, the real "Interurbans of The Fox Valley"

I've been steadily collecting railroad books and materials for much of the last 30 years. An invaluable resource for modeling projects, that has now grown into a pretty sizeable collection.

Along with the books, papers, and photos, I've started collecting various items of railroadiana and memorabilia, mostly centered on those electric lines out of the Chicagoland area that hold most of my interest. Lanterns, advertising, paper goods like tickets/transfers/timetables/etc.

I've long held the idea that many people in this hobby do the same thing, some of more extensive levels than myself, some less. But the one overriding thing that most of them share is that they don't share any of it, it's all squirreled away in private collections that no one gets to see or appreciate. Over and above the obvious that you're not sharing what are historic artifacts, is the problem that most people in your family have no clue about the value of what you have, and upon your passing, it's just as likely to be tossed away, instead of preserved.

Like the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Last year I made the decision that I would become a one man show of sorts, putting together a display featuring some of my modeling efforts, along with some of the memorabilia. If done properly, it would be much like a traveling museum display (in theory anyways), highlighting and explaining a way of life now long past.
My original debut was to have been Trainfest 2008 in Milwaukee, but work and family conspired against that. I sat and stewed for awhile over that, but realized I had to make it work if this was what I really wanted to do. So, the first showing was at the HighWheeler 2009 show in Palatine.

The display features a mix of models and memorabilia primarily from the Chicago Aurora & Elgin RR, and the Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric Railroad, with a sampling of materials from some of the the connecting lines like the Rockford & Interurban, the Elgin & Belvidere Electric, the Fox & Illinois Union, the Aurora Plainfield & Joliet, etc.

I was gratified, to the point of surprise really, with the response. This is a train show that is really focused as a display of the hobby for the public, so there's a good mix of railfans/modelers, and just folks out to see the trains, show their kids, etc.

To have compliments from other modelers is really the best, this is truly a jury of your peers, people who may not know exactly the amount of effort needed to build something from scratch, but can tell this isn't something you picked up at the local hobby shop.

The compliments and conversation with just everyday people was the most gratifying though, and proved my theory about sharing these things. So many people who remembered the "Roaring Elgin" and life in the suburbs with electric trains. Very nice to bring back some memories for these people, as well as be able to educate some folks who had no idea any of this existed.

The second showing was at the Fox River Trolley Museum on 7/3/09, and was as a direct result of one of the long time members seeing the display at HighWheeler and asking if I would be interested in setting up at the museum.

Somewhat different layout this time, the museum was kind enough to provide a nice tent that kept everything protected. I've made a concious decision to try and never have the same set-up twice, I want to add to it, change things so that it will always be fresh. As one of the museum members who had seen it at HighWheeler asked, "I see it's different, what did you add ?", to which my reply was, "That's the fun part, finding out on your own"

Hopefully this link will work, some photos of the event at FRTM.


Tenative future display plans at this point are for one, possibly both days of the South Elgin Riverfest Express (again at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin), the weekend of Aug 15 and 16, 2009, and I'm working with the fine people at Trainfest in Milwaukee to make the 2009 show in November.

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