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The Great Train Expo Review

Updated on December 23, 2012
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Bill Watson has authored 3 books and many articles online and for print publications such as Sports Afield, Income Opportunties and more.

Much Fun and Great For The Whole Family!

It doesn't matter what age you are, what level of modeling experience you have or even if you know anything at all about model railroading, there's definitely something for you to enjoy at The Great Train Expo. Attend alone or with family and friends, you won't get bored easily or quickly.

The Expo travels around the United States with upcoming shows located in California, Texas, Florida and Georgia, just to name a few locations of the many scattered throughout the country. This review is of the show in Norcross, Georgia that occurred earlier this year.

Although I had an HO scale train layout as a teen and re-entered the hobby in N scale recently, this was my first model train show. So, having invested time and money in traveling and having also dragged along family members, some of whom have little interest in model railroading, I was a bit aprehensive, unsure of what to expect. Fear that this venture would disappoint mounted as we pulled the rental car into the parking lot of the North Atlanta Trade Center.

I need not have worried. Not only were all the common model railroading scales represented, there were toy trains, trains children could ride on, interactive layouts that both children and adults could control and more. Layouts and displays were everywhere. The place was literally buzzing with activity!

All of the photos for this article were taken at the show.

The North Atlanta Railroad Club Display in O Gauge

The North Atlanta Railroad Club Display in O Gauge
The North Atlanta Railroad Club Display in O Gauge
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So What Was There To Do?

My Review of The Great Train Expo

The Great Train Expo is a place for local railroad modeling clubs to show off their work as well as a place for model railroad dealers to sell their wares. The dealers have an obvious motive. But in discussions with a few of the club members I discovered they do get paid for being there. Not much, but I suppose it helps keep their club afloat financially. I'm guessing they occasionally find new members through these sorts of events as well.

The entry fee was only $7 per person which covered both days of the event but it may vary according to venue. Children under 12 do get in free at every stop on the Great Train Expo calendar but it wasn't easy for me to suck on a bottle and wear those diapers all day just to save a few bucks so I have to advise against it, it detracts too much from the enjoyment of the event. Once admission is paid you are permitted to enter and exit the building at will.

Upon entering the huge hall the event was held in, we were confronted with a massive display of trains! Model trains for sale, model trains running on layouts, books about model trains, paintings of real trains, just trains, trains, trains everywhere. And that was fine with me, in fact, it was exactly what I'd hoped to see. So often these types of events morph into a hodgepodge of things for sale unrelated to the theme but here at least 98% of it was indeed about model trains. There were no deer antlers. There were no "Justin Bieber I Heart You" T-shirts.

Of course much of the day was spent looking at the varous train layouts. I must admit, while the layouts were of sufficient quality and complexity to astound the average person, most came up short of fully impressing me and I doubt the layouts overall would greatly impress most enthusiasts who, for the most part, will likely think, "My home layout is better." I suspect the work on display was the "traveling version" of the club's layouts and the better, more detailed work, is permanently mounted back at the clubhouse. Still, portions of many layouts were highly impressive and all of them were well worth seeing.

Food was available and other than eating, the remainder of the time was spent shopping at the dealer's tables. It was great fun to browse table after table of things that I'd mostly seen only online or in catalogs prior. But the prices were pretty near normal retail, don't expect too many bargains without a lot of digging around. I did find five or six items worth purchasing.

Most of the dealers were obviously professionals. Some had hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory on display. I had hoped to find some excellent deals on used items but there were few, if any, individuals selling used personal collections. And beware, some dealers are business people first, train people, not so much. One lady dealer tried to sell me used "N scale buildings" that were clearly HO scale. Surprisingly she got a little miffed when I tried to pay her with a $10 bill that was clearly a $1 bill. Go figure.

While The Great Train Expo wasn't perfect, it was still a great deal of fun. And being around so many train enthusiasts and model trains was quite a cool hang for a day. I do intend to go to another Great Train Expo event in a different city soon. Check one out, you won't regret it!

Celebrity Model Railroading Enthusiasts Include:

Tom Brokaw

Warren Buffett

Johnny Cash

Phil Collins (he even delayed an album to finish a train layout first)

Alen Cox (the developer of Linux)

Roger Daltry

Walt Disney

Wouldn't you LOVE to see Warren Buffett's layout?

List of Model Railroad Clubs - Organizations That Exhibited Layouts At The North Atlanta Trade Center

In all there were 45 dealers as well as the following model railroad clubs and organizations who had working layouts on display:

  • NMRA - Piedmont Division
  • TCA, Atlanta Chapter
  • Atlantic Coast S Gaugers, Georgia Division
  • Atlanta Fremo Society, HO Scale
  • North Georgia Modurail HO Scale
  • Atlanta Interlocking Model Railroaders. This was a 36 foot square layout featuring modules that apparently were built individually with a few standards to ensure they'd work together, then hooked together at random for the show. Very interesting.
  • Georgia Garden Railroad Society 16' x 48' G Scale
  • Northwest Georgia N-Scalers 20' x 25' N Scale Layout
  • North Atlanta O-Gauge Railroad Club
  • Train on Time 40' x 50' Riding Train
  • Athens Bend Track 30' x 50' N Scale
  • Mercier Hobbies 28' x 34' G Scale
  • Shilo and Redmond RR 8' x 8' N Scale Layout

Start YOUR Layout With a Train Set From Amazon.com

The O Guage here is a larger scale set aimed at small children. Choose the HO set if room to roam isn't a problem. Space at a premium? Choose N scale. You could run this N Scale set in a suitcase!

The Great Train Expo Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size

More Celebrity Model Railroaders

Merle Haggard

Tom Hanks

Elvis Presley

Elton John

Michael Jordan

Ringo Starr

Rod Stewart (Reportedly one of the largest celeb layouts, mostly self-built in hotel rooms on tour).

Neil Young

Eric Clapton

Johnny Cash

I wonder, did Mr. Cash sing "I hear that train a comin'?" while he operated

Upcoming Great Train Expo Shows

I had so much fun the first go-round, I'm going to attend at least one of these upcoming Expo shows. Changes happen so please check with both the official website and the venue to verify dates and times!

  • December 29th, 30th Overland Park, KS Overland Park International Trade Center
  • January 5th, 6th 2013 Indianapolis, IN Indiana State Fairgrounds
  • January 5,6 Anaheim, CA Anaheim Convention Center
  • January 12,13 Marina Dist. of Richmond, CA Craneway Pavilion
  • January 19, 20 Columbus, OH Ohio Expo Center
  • January 19,20 Sacramento, CA Cal Expo
  • January 26, 27 Belleville, IL Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center
  • February 2, 3 Council Bluffs, IA Mid America Center
  • February 9, 10 Houston, TX Reliant Park
  • February 16, 17 Louisville, KY Kentucky International Convention Center
  • February 16, 17 Santa Rosa, CA Sonoma County Fairgrounds
  • February 23, 24 Dayton, OH Hara Arena
  • February March 9, 10 Atlanta, GA Cobb Galleria Centre
  • February 16, 17 Wichita, KS Century II
  • July 28, 29 Belleville, IL Belle-Clair Fairgrounds & Expo Center
  • August 3, 4 Orlando, FL Central Florida Fairgrounds
  • August 10, 11 Tampa, FL

If you've attended a Great Train Expo event in the past and have comments, please share here!

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