Having attended the Naperville/Lisle (and now, back at Naperville again) RPM Meet, I decided to branch out this year and went to the sixth annual St. Louis RPM Meet for the first time. Held at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville IL on Friday and Saturday, July 27-28, the two day meet featured the usual format of model displays, clinics and vendors.

I wasn’t certain what to expect or whether I would even know anyone there. Imagine my pleasant surprise at seeing lots of familiar faces and old friends like John Pautz of American Switch and Signal (PDF catalog), along with Norm Buckhart of Protocraft and Ted Schnepf of Rails Unlimited. The Gateway Center is very easy to find, being just off I-70/55. I noticed there are several hotels and restaurants surrounding the center, info I filed away for future reference.

This meet was smaller than Naperville with both model displays and vendors occupying a single meeting hall.What I enjoyed most was the relaxed spacious atmosphere. It was easy to move around and see the models and products. This was refreshing compared to many train shows and swap meets, which are often so crowded with tables and people, that you can’t turn around without bumping into something or someone. RPM meets tend to be much more relaxed. Love it!

As usual the quality of modeling was superb and all those who think RTR killed scratchbuilding, kitbashing and craftsmanship, you need to attend one of these meets. The majority of the work was in HO and N scales but I believe all of the major scales were represented in some form. Even though I work in P48, it was good to see work in other scales and there is always something to appreciate if you look for it. I have written several times that I used to work in P87 and the P87 Stores display was enjoyable to view. Andy Reichert is doing some amazing things in P87 with his line of track products. The Electric Avenue street track components are especially interesting. Another manufacturer doing things with finer standards is Exactrail. They had samples of their new wheels featuring an accurate profile for the front and rear faces. The rear wheel face has the dished profile seen on the prototype. In addition, the rear face bulges inwards where it meets the axles which is also in accordance with prototype practice. The axles also have the correct profile of the prototype. These wheels will be available in both .110″ and the semi-scale .088″ profiles for HO with N scale versions coming. Another plus, they’re made and assembled domestically at their plant in Utah. I’m always encouraged when I see modelers and manufacturers embracing finer standards for track and wheels. We’ve thankfully come a long way.

While the models often take center stage at these meets, it’s the people, the organizers and clinicians, who make them work. Meet organizers John Golden, Dan Kohlberg and Lonnie Bathurst did a great job of things, including giving directions to this out-of-towner. The meet featured 60+ tables of vendors and 12 historical societies were represented. I only attended one clinic on adding detail to commercial turnouts given by well-known HO diesel modeler, Tony Sissons. It was well done and I learned some new tricks. Tony has developed a slick method of making a scale looking HO head rod robust enough to be driven by a Tortoise switch motor. His technique could be translated into any scale.

Tony and I are both members of the ProtoModeler Forum, where I’ve followed his many scratchbuilding threads and tutorials. We’ve exchanged e-mails many times and spoken by phone and it was great to finally meet in person. He brought lots of models to display, including an HO scale D8-40CW by Atlas (photo below), that he “casually” upgraded as an experiment in upgrading a commercial model to a standard he finds personally acceptable without putting in the hours of fastidious, exacting work he is known for. At my request (because someone forgot to bring his tripod), Tony graciously provided some better quality photos of the model along with a description of the work done and permission to post them  here.

NS D8-40CW by Tony Sissons. Photo by Mike Cougill

The prototype 8408 at Norton VA on January 23, 2010. Photo by Tony Sissons

For this model, Tony removed and replaced all original front and rear handrails together with all handrails and hand grabs on the nose of the cab, leaving the long horizontal handrails in place. He replaced the rim of the exhaust stack with one of his thin top plate etches and the horn was replaced with a Details West unit. The air conditioner was removed and replaced with a custom a/c unit etch he does.

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Left front of Tony’s D8-40CW Photo by Tony Sissons

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The rear truck has the brake chain and brackets applied. Photo by Tony Sissons

Although hard to see in the photos, Tony also added the appropriate pipes, brackets and other details to the ends of the fuel tank. The truck side frames were detailed according to prototype images. This was his first attempt at adding brake chain equipment to the rear truck side frame (photo above), which included scratchbuilding a few brackets for the chain, per prototype images. He also modified the front plow to the correct profile and added Details West MU hose receptacles at the front and rear along with Hi-Tech rubber MU hoses. Tony removed the existing Atlas coupler pocket and scratchbuilt new pockets to scale that are dimensioned from field measurements of the prototype. Each coupler pocket is made up of 13 parts. The pair of air reservoirs on the conductor’s side were removed and repiped and all the pipework and brackets under the sill were added. To finish up, Tony added spare coupler knuckle holder brackets and spare knuckles to the rear pilot and applied the NS patch and number, and then weathered the loco. Think that’s a lot of work for an upgrade? You should see what he does when he gets “serious” with a model build. I’d love to see what he could do with a quarter-inch scale diesel. You can check out Tony’s dual build, NS Dash 9 thread at The ProtoModeler Forum. To learn more about Tony’s other work check out his website.

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HD is hard at work on this 3-rail covered hopper an attendee brought in.

Another friend from the PM Forum is Dave Schroedle known to forum members as Hummer Dave, Hummer or just HD. Dave conducted all day weathering clinics where modelers could bring in a model of theirs and learn techniques or have him do the weathering. Of the many times I wandered past his booth, he was weathering away or helping someone with their skills. I did mange to sneak in some time for a chat and to snag this photo of him working away on a modeler’s Lionel hopper.

I enjoy the platform and the exchange of ideas vibe of the RPM meets and I encourage folks to check one out whenever you can. It’s always good to see old friends and make new ones. I signed up for next year as a vendor, so stop by the OST Pubs display and have a chat. Hope to see you there.