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San Jose Show Report – the “Fall” of 2008

September 28, 2008


The Great American Train Expo show in San Jose was heald on Sept. 27th and Sept 28th, from 10-4. It featured a healthy mix of the same modular layouts I have seen since I was a kid, and a few new comers. We were in a new building this year, it looks like a building at the San Jose fairgrounds that they might have auctioned livestock many decades ago. The Bay Area Z scalers “freemo” layout has grown appreciably since I last saw it in Pleasanton last year. There were plenty of vendors, but not even close to the crowds I wanted to see. Some G scale guy had a steam locomotive with an amazing sounding whistle…the first 12 times you heard it. There was a vendor behind me who had a bellows-whistle that, when pushed down, produced a cheesy 3-chime whistle sound, and then the vendors in the booth would yell “HERE COMES THE TRAIN!” which usually scared customers away…not a good sales tactic.

There was a good mix of the usual vendors, but not any new ones that I could find. This economy has really taken a bite out of the train-show market.

From the Perspective of the Buyer

From my initial wanders before the show started, there was a good mix of scales available to the potential buyer. Some neat and unusual HO scale stuff was for sale (I’ll show you my loot later.) For the first time there was a noticable prescence of Z scale offerings. N had the usual 2-3 vendors, there was an acceptable amount of H0. There were too many Lionel 027 dealers out there, and the vendors knew it too. There was also a fairly good selection of G and F scales. I didn’t notice much, if any, S scale. On30 was gaining popularity, and a few dealers had some really pleasing displays, like myself and a nice guy who sold british trains along side some excellent kits by Chivers Finelines, all built, painted and weathered. I would have bought quite a few of the excellent kits that day, but alas, I was short on cash. The convience of having an ATM at the front of the building was a really added bonus, because last year, people had to drive quite far to recharge their wallets. The food in the “California Grill” was much improved from last year, it was actually tasty, but it was PAINFULLY expensive.. $4.00 for a 16 oz fountain soda?!  

From the Perspective of the Vendor (Me)

It was really diappointingly slow. One vendor wa very worried, because the “sunday crowd” of Mothers with no money and their children, and the mentally disadvantaged were out in force. I have nothing against either group, but they don’t buy anything, at anybody’s vendor. They’re great crowd-fillers and layout spectators, but they don’t buy expensive custom weathered rolling stock or scratchbuilt buildings. (what I was selling.) 

Other vendors were really worried along with me, they had brought a LOT of merchandise, and it was all moving like molasses.  Half 90 percent of the interested people I talked to were either club members of Pleasanton, Fremont, or one of the Modular Groups or the Vendors themselves. They all had worried looks on their faces, and the more tables they had purchased (at $65 apiece), the more concerned they looked.

As far as sales were concerned for me, I didn’t even make my table money. I made a paltry $60.00 from selling an On30 porter to a nice gentleman in the On30 modular group, for which I extend my deepest thanks. The weathered cars were show-stoppers, but nobody bought them. (My prices weren’t that high either..compared to what I get for them on eBay.) My friend, Mike O. made a couple hundred dollars, and I was certianly glad that he did, his stuff was affordable and interesting.

I really wish I had seen more model railroaders out there in the crowd, but there were VERY FEW. It was really ominious. I hope the disposable income of the average model railroader wasn’t completely erased by the tough economy.

Photos of Show Vendors.

A sea of Lionel
The Show had too many lionel and toy train dealers, this is not what I’m looking for, and the average age of lionel lovers is geriatric to say the least. I see less and less people interested in LIONEL as the years pass. I may be incorrect, but It’s really looking like that’s the truth.

HO loads
One of my favorite vendors is the nice gentleman who sells these amazing custom HO, N and O scale loaded flatcars and gondolas.

load closeup

Here’s a closeup of some of his custom loads. Look at the experimental “ribbon-rail” UP MOW flatcar on top.

ON30 lokies
Here’s a selection of locomotives, the two top being the Bachmann Spectrum On30 offerings, and the bottom is the GE25tonner On30 diesel from Chivers, it’s powered by the “black beetle” powered truck.

I hope you enjoyed this insider view of the San Jose Trainshow.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Lon Hettrick permalink
    October 9, 2008 7:46 pm

    the guy with the bellows whistle was a jerk to deal with too. I asked a price on a couple items and he would just say, “make me an offer”. I don’t like playing games.

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