A success in recent decades is the growth of railroad prototype modeling (RPM) meets. These are events where people display projects and promote better, more accurate modeling. In terms of being a project-rich environment, RPM events are Zion. And so, one may be inclined to view these meets as an outflow of the project-based thinking described in my last blog. But, against the observations of that blog, it may surprise you that I attribute the rise of these events to how they do the opposite. The success of these events is in relation to how they go beyond project-minded thinking and speak to our broader sensibilities as participants in the hobby.
The RPM meet to see the most growth in recent years is the St. Louis RPM meet. Consider with me the introduction copy from the organization's homepage. It is:
The meet provides numerous touch points for connecting people vis-a'-vis relevant, content-driven interactions. The concept of RPM meets is that they are learning communities. Where one may characterize the floor space of traditional venues as lanes of traffic through rows of vendors, RPM meets are couches, break-out rooms, and the dinner thereafter. This difference is more than a facade (as if couches make that much of a difference). In a fundamental way, RPM meets are the product of different paradigms.
To finesse this distinction, please consider the following thought experiment:
Imagine: how would an event would change if all vendors were removed from the venue? But, everything else about the event (venue, total floor space, floor plan, etc.) remains unchanged.
For traditional train shows under this experiment, I have thoughts of modular layouts separated by vast convention space. The majority of exhibitors at traditional shows are dealers of one kind or another. The largest model trains show by space is the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield, MA; it has 8.5 acres (375,000 sq.ft.) of floor space! There are over 450 exhibitors, most of whom sell something. (Even if you would have to travel to do so, please attend this show! And when you do, go with money in hand, because you can find it at Amherst.)
For RPM meets, far less would change. For some events, there would no ostensible difference. In fact, I have had to get directions to find I find the vendor room with many RPM meets, but all the while, I can stumble into a clinic room at will. The different outcomes from the thought experiment underscore a difference in mindset between these types of shows.
And this is the point. At the threshold of a traditional show, a person is met with the prospect of commerce. The clinician rooms generally need to be sought out from there. At the threshold of RPM meet, the learning community surrounds you, and you have to go in search of commerce.
I would argue that both have great value in this industry. Where the largest traditional train shows may draw attendance close to 25,000 people, the larger RPM meets may draw close to 500. But, they are growing. The purpose of this blog is to suggest that RPM meets are growing because they appeal to a different set of our motivations. I have attended clinics of photographic essays of railroads through a particular time, history of a particular town, overview of an organization (that is only loosely associated with the railroad), etc. If RPM meets are well organized, they have tremendous value to get at other motivations for our participation in his hobby.
I will be speaking at the Pacific Northwest RPM meet in Seattle, WA on April 29., and the St. Louis RPM Meet in June. I will also be giving clinics at the National Train Show in August, and the Missouri Pacific Historical Society Convention in October. If you have the opportunity to attend any of these events, please do. It would be great to meet you there.