Hundreds attend fourth annual Model Train Show at the Mini Dome

Jonathan Roberts • May 31, 2019 at 7:07 PM

Carter Train Museum Director Fred Alsop knows how important it is to put on a good model train show inside the East Tennessee State University Mini Dome this weekend.

“It’s a way of generating interest and it’s a way of trying to attract people to Johnson City,” Alsop said. “The word is beginning to get out and we’re becoming the bigger train shows in the Southeast.”

After several busy days of setup, Alsop and more than 60 vendors were ready to go once the doors opened at noon Friday. And while the train show will be back Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday was a busy day for vendors and attendees as a turnout numbering in the thousands was expected.

“Business has been real good (today),” said Pete Steurer, a vendor from Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s fantastic (to have shows like this), it’s just a great thing.”

Jackie Richardson, a vendor from Crossville, Tennessee, said it was “interesting” to actually attend ETSU’s Train Show, saying she and her husband heard about the event from a friend who had previously attended.

“I think it’s good (to have these shows) because if you look around, you don’t see just train people, you see families,” she said.

David Casmer brought his grandchildren out to the show, his grandson for the third time and his granddaughter for the first. Casmer said his grandson got a train last year and that his grandkids enjoy coming to the show.

Gale Collie also brought her grandson out, but this year was her first year.

“It’s a very nice setup, I didn’t realize you could purchase stuff here also, so I got him a few things for his train set at home,” Collie said. “We’re just adding to his collection.”

While grandparents used the show to get the kids out of the house, the show was really a big boon to train collectors.

“I love these shows, I just wish there was more of them,” said train collector Fred Martin. “I saved my pennies all year (for this) because last year I ran out of money.”

Alsop says that the ETSU Train Show attracts people from all over the country, and has been featured in national and international train show magazines. In addition to that, the train show has piggybacked on the increasing notoriety of the Carter Train Museum within the train community as a way to bring in more people.

“We have a model railroad club that’s been that backbone of that museum for the last 12 years, and one of the galleries — a 1,300 foot gallery — we’re doing a replica of the (East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad) that started here and that’s gotten a lot of press,” Alsop said. “We’ve been featured nationally and internationally for five consecutive years on just that one layup.”

Through the first three years of the show, Alsop says attendance has been relatively flat at around 1,200, but they’re hoping for an increase in 2019.

“Attendance has stayed fairly flat, kids 12 and under are let in free so we don’t have good numbers on that — usually there’s about 500 to 700 — the paid attendance has been about 11 to 12 hundred,” he said. “I’m hoping for more growth (this year).”

“I think that as the information spreads, the quality also improves,” Alsop said.

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