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Official 2012 Convention Recap

               “The Best Convention We’ve Ever Attended!”

Those comments were heard all during Friday and Saturday as the convention week came to a close. I thought surely this must have been the first convention they had attended, but no, these were some old timers just reflecting on what a great time they had in Norfolk at our 42nd annual convention. Some remarked on how wonderful the tours were while others mentioned the entertainment during the Get Acquainted Party and still others could not stop talking about the unbelievable “S Gauge” layouts we saw at Paul Sharp’s home along with his wonderful neon signs, coin operated games that were on free play and the juke boxes loaded with music of the fifties and sixties. This convention provided something for everyone, so let’s take a quick look and review an outstanding week of food, fun and fantastic activities.

The week began with a first ever President’s welcome on Sunday evening. The event was basically a desert function from 7:30 pm to 9 pm for everyone who arrived early for their Monday morning train rides. With fresh baked cookies and brownies filling several platters, everyone had a chance to mingle and get reacquainted with old friends before they hit the store for another first, the opening of the LCCA store on a Sunday night. Everyone crowded into the store to purchase the on-site car and for a look at the other goodies waiting for them. We stayed open until 11 pm to satisfy the needs of those just having to get their train items before they went to bed and buy they did! The store was full (I’m glad the fire marshal did not come during that time) from wall to wall, but the attitude of our club was one of calm and politeness. I have never been so impressed with such an orderly crowd, but then why not? After all we are train people and an old working buddy once told me “train people are nice folks!” And I certainly agree!

On Monday two train excursions were provided with one leaving Norfolk on a Norfolk Southern Executive train for Petersburg, VA, and the other leaving on Amtrak for Richmond, VA. Both trains offered a scenic view of southern Virginia with one, a round trip to Petersburg, providing  vintage equipment that was polished and buffed and showed how the N&S executives travel. The Amtrak ride was an Amtrak ride, but it let its passengers off at the old Main Street Station in downtown Richmond where they boarded a bus and toured among other locales the famous triple crossing, the Old Dominion RR Depot and the Broad Street Station, now a science museum with a few rail cars on trackage, adding to the museum’s rail history.

Returning to the hotel after both train excursions to stretch out and get a second wind, it was off to the Spirit of Norfolk for the evening’s dinner cruise in the harbor. As we all enjoyed the outstanding cuisine, we also marveled at the sheer size of the world’s largest naval base housed at Norfolk. Getting a narration of the vessels currently docked at the base was an education in it self and learning that an air craft carrier leaves port with over 130,000 rolls of toilet paper made a few of the guests chuckle. Monday was a full day of trains, buses and ships and it started a week full of non-stop activities.

Tuesday morning began with two tours, #3 was the Hampton Roads Peninsula with a stop at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News. This is one of the largest and most comprehensive maritime history museums in the world and the collection of models is absolutely extraordinary. The museum just added a $30 million exhibit featuring the USS Monitor. This first iron clad ship, made famous during the Civil War with it’s battle against another iron clad, the CSS Virginia, is here for all to see and study. This ship changed the future of fighting ships for ever, sending the wooden vessels to the briny deep in lieu of steel clad ones. We all enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Boxwood Inn before our next  stop, the home of the US Army’s Transportation Corps at Ft Eustis, VA. At this newly renamed base, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, we saw the transportation museum with exhibits depicting the modes of Army transportation from colonial days to the present. Some highlights were the DUKW (Duck) landing craft from WWII, newly opened outside static displays featuring railroad equipment including several locomotives and rolling stock. Unfortunately the Avrocar “Flying Saucer” was not on display. The heat and humidity drove many of us inside for some well done static displays that brought back many memories to us Army vets.

The other tour, #4, was Virginia Beach from the air to the sea. Arriving at the Virginia Beach Airport we saw the Military Aviation Museum, which is home to one of the largest and most extensive private collections of WWII and Korean War era fighters, bombers, trainers and seaplanes. The aircraft have been restored to their original condition and are still used for flight demos, static display and movie productions. We then toured the Oceana Naval Air Station. This facility is the East Coast’s only Master Jet Base and home for the Navy’s fighter/attack squadron – the screaming F-14 Tomcats and the F/A-18 Hornets.  Absolutely awe-inspiring! I had no idea there was so much military history within this area of the state. Following lunch on base and free time at Virginia Beach’s beautiful Boardwalk, it was off to the old Cape Henry Lighthouse which is still standing guard to the entry of Chesapeake Bay just as it has been since 1792. This tour was truly one of historical importance and I only wish I had taken it when I was back in high school.     

Tuesday evening was a memorable visit to the Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth. Junie Lancaster left his marvelous collection of over 10,000 trains and toys to the museum and a lot were on display. Also getting a lot of attention was the layout that Skip Novak, Museum Director of Trains, designed and had built depicting the areas of Virginia from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic coast line. A lot of photos were taken that night of his excellent layout and the smooth running trains as they crossed his triple crossing. The museum is a hands on facility and those of us that still feel we are younger that we really are tried out some of the learning activities available. I heard one say that he’d wish they had this when he was young because it “sure would have made physics easier.” A delicious meal of pulled bar-b-que pork, potato salad, beans, green salad, hotdogs with all the fixins and cookies and brownies topped off an evening of wonderment and entertainment. If you are ever in the Portsmouth area, be sure to stop by and check out the Children’s Museum, and tell them the LCCA sent you.

Well, if I thought Tuesday was a history tour, here’s Wednesday, tour #6, with Colonial Williamsburg and the Williamsburg Winery filling the day. Talk about historical venues? It just doesn’t get more close to history than this. We got off the bus and bingo! You were back in the 18th century. We had a historical interpreter who helped us understand the events that took place in the past and how they helped shape our history. Did you know that Williamsburg is the largest “living museum” in the United States? It is also the restored capital of the British Colony of Virginia, and the reinactors in costume brought the past alive. We had lunch at the Shields Tavern, which was historic in itself and then a tour of the winery. The hours spent in Williamsburg were just not enough. It looks to me like a return visit is in order, just too much to see and not enough time. 

Also on Wednesday was tour #7, A Taste of Norfolk with a ride through the historic district of Norfolk. We got to see the magnificent homes along the Hague, old St.Paul’s Church, the MacArthur Memorial, the historic Freemason District, Nauticus: The National Maritime Center and the Battleship Wisconsin.  We also stopped at the Chrysler Museum of Art and the Norfolk Botanical Garden. We all enjoyed lunch at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, overlooking the beautiful Lafayette River. The highlight though on this hot all day tour was the stop at Doumar’s Drive- In. Yes, a Drive-In, but not just any old drive-in. This is the home of the world’s first ice cream waffle cone making machine. Mr Abe Doumar created the first ice cream cone at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and the family still makes their cones on the same machine today. There is nothing like a warm fresh made cone topped with smooth butter pecan ice cream. I could have stayed here a couple of cones longer.

While the tours were going Wednesday morning, the Mayor of Norfolk, Paul Fraim, came by the hotel and after being presented an engineers hat, he officially started the trains with the help of Cameron, this years Make-A-Wish child, who was the honorary conductor. Both the Mayor and Cameron had a great time running the Lionel layout, blowing the horn and ringing the bell. There is just something about electric trains that bring out the child in us all.

Wednesday night was the annual First Timers Reception and we had about 80 attendees who made Norfolk their first LCCA convention. It was a joy to welcome them to the convention, introduce them to President DeVito and the other officers and have them enjoy the fun of meeting and mingling with other first timers.  Also on Wednesday night was the first crush of people attending the unbelievable S-Gauge displays in the home of Paul Sharp. From the time you entered his garage, which was an old Ford dealership in downtown Norfolk, until you left wearing some of the biggest smiles seen this week, it was total amazement. His home is filled with games, neon signs, juke boxes, soda shop booths with juke box wall boxes, coke machines and three rooms of American flyer and S-Gauge trains, running and on display. It is a 10 year old boys dream, come to life. And to Paul, we can’t thank you enough for opening your home to us to enjoy all your toys. We are truly indebted to you. In addition to trips to Paul’s, several clinics were held. Two were sponsored by Lionel presenting information about Legacy with Mike Reagan, Tom Nuzzo and Bill Schmeelk, and one by our own John Wood discussing LCCA Collectibles.

Thursday’s tour #8, was Virginia’s Historic Triangle, and we rode around the historic Virginia Peninsula and the Hampton Roads area, returning to Williamsburg and strolling through the streets of that historic Colonial city. We continued on to Jamestown which was established in 1607 as the first permanent settlement in the New World. After lunch at the Jamestown Café, we had a guided tour of the re-created village of Jamestown as it was in the 17th century with the confluence of the Powhatan Indian, English and western central African cultures. We were also able to see recreations of the Powhatan Indian village, a colonial fort and the three ships that brought the colonists to Virginia in 1607. After Jamestown it was on to the Yorktown Victory Center to see exhibits relating to the Battle of Yorktown, the last major decisive battle of the American Revolution. Again more history as we saw a recreated Continental Army Encampment and the Revolutionary War Battlefields where General Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington which ended the War for Independence from Great Britain.

Tour #9, also on Thursday, was the James River Plantations. After about a 1.5 hour bus ride we arrived at Charles City County, which is located between the James and Chickahominy Rivers. We visited the Berkeley Plantation, considered to be Virginia’s most historic plantation. It’s known as the site of the first official Thanksgiving in 1619 and after walking down the hill we saw the plaque designating it. We had costumed guides that hosted the tour of the property, taking us instantly back to the 1700’s while showing us the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as President William Henry Harrison. A delicious Southern style lunch was included at the nearby Charles City Tavern.   We also visited Virginia’s oldest plantation, the Shirley Plantation, founded in 1613. Descendents of the Carter family welcomed us to the oldest family owned business in America. Unfortunately I’m not related to this Carter family, so it’s back to reality when I get home to Texas.

Thursday night was the annual Get Acquainted Party (GAP). Again, the food was flowing and not a soul was hungry when they left, due in part to the Norfolk icon of Doumar’s. This little drive-in that’s been around since 1904 brought their waffle cone making machine and provided us with THE BEST FRESH MADE WAFFLE CONES ever. Complete with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, Randy Doumar cooked and scooped for a couple of hours, even sending out for more ice cream as the stock began to run low. The smell of fresh made waffles filled the air and watching Randy roll the waffle into the cone and setting them aside to cool, then getting a fresh warm one to hold the ice cream…well “it just doesn’t get any better than this”, said one happy member as he walked back to his table with a cone in each hand.

While Doumar’s was making and scooping ice cream cones our entertainment began with our own Dom Caponi taking the spotlight to kick off the night’s music. Dom, the director of the club’s Junior Member program grabbed his guitar and, accompanied by the house band, belted out a couple of tunes, which got the crowd moving and grooving. Following Dom, the evenings featured entertainment, The TRIBUTES, took the stage and we heard from the likes of Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and the king himself Elvis. These performers shook the stage and the house. Everyone was clapping and keeping time with their feet and a few were even singing along. After all, it was music we had all grown up with, the era of original Rock and Roll was alive and well in Norfolk that night.

Friday’s Tour # 10 was the most attended tour outside of the train excursions. This tour included a visit to Naval Station Norfolk, home of the World’s Largest Naval Base. It is home port to 78 ships from subs to carriers and is headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet. Over 100,000 military personnel call the base home and while we had hoped to visit an active duty ship, after 9/11 we understand that was not possible, especially with the number of tour attendees. It would have required several ships and that just could not happen. Still, it is an impressive base and quite a sight to see. We had plenty to eat at the buffet lunch at the Breezy Point Officer’s Club on base and enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with active duty military personnel here.

We also made it to the newest National Park, Ft. Monroe and the Casemate Museum. Ft. Monroe is the largest stone and masonry fort in the US and served as an active Army base from the 1819 until 2011, making it the longest serving military installation in our history. At Ft. Monroe is the Casemate Museum housing some of the cannons responsible for defending the Hampton Roads area from the Civil war up to and including WWII. Also on view is General Robert E. Lee’s living quarters and the prison cell for Jefferson Davis, and uniforms and a ton of artifacts from revolutionary days to today’s Army.

Friday also had Tour #11, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Museum. This tour provided hands-on exhibits and a behind-the-scenes look at Animal Adventures where we got to meet some of the Animal Ambassadors to discover how we can all make a difference in conserving wildlife and their habitats.

We all got back to the hotel in time to make the LCCA business meeting and the Lionel Q&A with Lionel President Jerry Calabrese, sales rep extraordinaire and our own Ed Richter, followed by the Lionel marketing seminar. After the 3 hour information session and a brief dinner, it was Trading Hall time and as soon as the doors opened at 6 pm the hall was crowded. It looked like both buyers and sellers were doing well, so I’d guess it was a win-win for everyone involved.

Saturday morning was the final tour of the week and this time it was especially for the women, where they enjoyed the Hermitage Foundation Museum followed by a delicious lunch at the Freemason Abby Restaurant. They also strolled and browsed the unique shops in the Ghent neighborhood. The men, meanwhile, shopped the trading hall or made a last call to Paul Sharp’s home to see his “man cave” or attended one of several clinics featuring Mike Reagan with Legacy updated, milk carton scenery with David Cohen, repair of post war locomotives with Ed Brooks and the S Gauge with Ed Boyle. If this wasn’t enough, the BSA RR Merit Badge Committee was entertaining over 200 boy and girl scouts with their leaders down the hall.

The trading hall was wrapped up and the store was put to bed and packed ready to ship back to the business office. At 6 pm the ballroom doors were opened and the final event of the week began. The Banquet was underway. Filing in we all saw the tables piled with orange and blue boxes and know that Santa had arrived and it was only a matter of time before we all got a glimpse of what was hiding from us. After a delicious meal of filet or grouper, the Executive Chef of the Marriott Waterside was introduced, not only as chef but also as a newest member of the club. Executive Chef Christopher Thomas is now a full member of LCCA and we are proud to have him. He and the rest of the staff at the hotel made our stay most enjoyable and the food, well does gaining 5 pounds say anything?

After introducing Chef Chris the natives were restless and wanted to see what was in the boxes, so it was on to business at hand. At each place setting there was a golden billboard frame. On the back of each was a blue dot with a number. Co-chair Captain “Bubba” Bob Carter then asked young people in the audience to pull a card from his hand and read the number. The number of the billboard matching the pulled number then selected their gift from the stack on the table.  At the end there were no more prizes left on the table but there was one person without a prize. Those were the lucky winners of the banquet prize, which was a Vulcan engine, like the registration gift, only this one was lettered in GOLD, not white like all the rest. This limited edition switcher was instantly collectible and I understand that offers were being made that night for upwards of $150 per switcher.

The big winner of the night though was Don Pagel, RM # 18320, who won the giant raffle…a free 2013 convention in Chattanooga. All Don has to do is get there and get home. His registration, GAP, banquet, all tours for two and the hotel are covered. Hey Don, congratulations and aren’t you glad you came?

There is no way this article can finish without thanking Lionel for their outstanding layout that they’ve brought these past 7 years to inspire us and the public into either getting started or working on our own layout; to the Pittsburgh Independent Hi-Railers for their large spectacular layout that filled the presidential foyer of the hotel and amazed the thousand of folks that came and saw the work of those talented gents from up north; and the Tidewater O-Gauge Assn. (TOGA) who in a matter of a couple of hours set up their large modular layout in the trading hall for our members and the public to enjoy all during the week. And how can we finish without saying a word of thanks to Phillips Destination Management Services? They were our partner in coordinating the venues for the tours, buses and lunches. And they did it all efficiently and with some of the biggest and brightest smiles. To all of you, we are very grateful and thank you for taking your time and sharing your talents with us.

Also, a special thanks goes out to the Ronald McDonald House of Norfolk who provided Ronald  for his Photo Op appearance at the hotel and to our members and the public who generously gave over $400 to the RMDH charity, and to Lionel and LCCA who provided a Thomas train set to the Norfolk Ronald McDonald House for use by the siblings staying at the house while their family member is in the hospital.. This is the second year we did not charge the public for admission to the trading hall, asking instead for a donation to a local charity and they responded.

Is this a great club or not?

So as we leave Virginia, the coastal city of Norfolk, and the world’s largest naval base, making our way west to Chattanooga, Tennessee, home of the famous Moon-Pie and the Incline Railway, we look forward to seeing you next year, one week earlier, now jot this down, July 15-20, 2013, at the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. Have a great year, and be safe!

Bob Carter
RM 6620
Convention Co-Manager