Model Maker Pilgrimages Part 3: Events

These Model Maker Pilgrimage series of articles are all about looking forward to being able to get out freely and enjoying things again. The first article was about Museums that I want to visit. The second article was about the historic places I’d like to travel to.

This one is going to be about the scale model shows I want to attend. I really look forward to participating in the local and regional model contest scene when it is safe to do so. However, this article is about getting out to see the big guns. These are in no particular order and in each case I have asked for some expert guidance from someone who has attended each of these shows in order to get insight and those key tips for those thinking of going as well.

IPMS USA Nationals – Omaha NB

Oh, I had planned on going to Vegas. Actually, that trip would have involved a drive through Monument Valley on the way to the show as well as a few other side trips with the family. But then yadda yadda yadda Covid and… Frankly, I am tired of talking about it. Suffice it to say: I am very jealous of those who are able to travel to the Vegas show and I hope you all have a wonderful time. Have one for me, post some pictures and let me know how it went!

Sigh…. that would have been nice. Maybe some other day.

The Nationals will just have to wait for me until next year when it is in Omaha. I’ve spoken with a few who were there in 2017 and if past performance is any indication of what the future holds, the Omaha show will be special. I really hope I can go. I have been to one IPMS Nationals back in 2018 in Phoenix and I had a great time but that hardly makes me an expert. I was a Nationals rookie trying my best to take it all in.

However, I happen to know David Knights. David is the co-host of the Plastic Model Mojo podcast, he is a regular blogger, he is on the IPMS USA Executive and has attended 23 IPMS National shows so far. So, yes, I’d certify him as an expert. He will be in Vegas in 2021 and very likely in Omaha in 2022.

He had this to say about participating in any IPMS Nationals or “Nats”:

“Once a year (COVID-excepted) modelers from the US, Canada and many other countries gather to talk, display models, buy and sell and generally share anything and everything about our love of modeling.  It is something that no modeler should miss if they can possibly get to the show.  The Nats are 4 days, running from noon on a Wednesday to late into the night on Saturday.  I freely describe it as the best 4 days of my year. 

The Nats, unlike Scale Model World in Telford UK and E-day in the Czech republic, change locations every year, with a local IPMS/USA club serving as host and supplying much of the staff and grunt work for the show.  The main features of the show are a contest with about 3000 models entered (this varies from year to year given the location.) and a vendor room often described as the world greatest traveling hobby shop.  However, it is much more than that.

It is a chance to gather with 1000 or more modelers who share the same hobby.  It is a chance to connect face to face with many modelers who you may interact with online, but never see in person other than at a Nats.  It is a chance to attend seminars on various model and historical subjects, which gives us modelers the chance to pick up a new skill or share information that might otherwise not get shared. (Not everything is on YouTube)  It is also a chance to see a new city.  Go to and explore a place you might never have been to before.  As you may be able to tell, I really recommend the experience.”


I had a blast at the 2018 Nationals. I attended at least at half dozen seminars. A few of which I had to scramble for a pen and paper to take information down! In addition, I stayed behind a couple of these seminars and was able to ask the presenters a few additional questions. What I found were friendly modelers who were more than happy to share information, advice and techniques.

As for the vendor room, I definitely took advantage but I did not run wild. My concern was the ability to bring it all back safely. Ok, the concern was fitting all those models in a suitcase. What I did not consider was the ability to throw everything in a box and ship it back home. I’m told there will be an on-site service for this in Vegas and I can only assume there will be something similar in Omaha. Brilliant.

David was extremely generous and supplied me with a trove of IPMS pictures. Here is some of the work displayed at the 2017 Nationals in Omaha:

David also had some tips for anyone planning to go to a Nationals show. I fully endorse each and every one of these tips:

“1. Preregister.  Even though the show is 4 days long (if you attend for the whole thing) it goes by quick.  You don’t want to waste any time standing in line to register the day of the show.

2. Register, even if you aren’t entering.  You can attend and just get a day pass if you aren’t entering the contest. It is cheaper, but if you can afford it, register for the show and you’ll get some goodies, usually including a decal sheet produced especially for the event.

3. Pace yourself.  That first time you walk into the vendor room, you will experience sensory overload.  You’ll see tons of stuff you want to buy.  Take your time.  Walk around and look at all the vendor tables.  There are tons or great deals and hidden gems and you don’t want to run out of money too early.

4. Don’t sleep on the seminars.  The seminars are the hidden gems of the Nats.  Look at the seminar schedule and plan your day around the ones you want to attend. (extra tip, if Dana Bell is putting on a seminar, attend, even if the subject isn’t something you think you’re interested in.)

5.  Spend time with the models in the contest room.  They are amazing.  Really take some time to look at the models.

6. Hook up. (no, not like that.  Get your mind out of the gutter)  The Nats is the one time of year you may get to see your internet modeling friends.  Take the time to hang out. Go to lunch and dinner or hang out in the bar and talk models.  Modeling can be a solitary hobby, and this is the time to interact face to face with other modelers.

7. Stay in the convention hotel if you can. A lot of modelers will try and find a cheap motel near the convention and pile 5 or 6 guys into it to save money that they later spend on a $60 photoetch set for something they are never going to build.  The convenience of being in the convention hotel and the ability to be able to pop back up to your room to drop off the latest purchases or take a quick nap make it well worth it.

8. See the town.  Find out what the attractions are and plan to see something in the city you are in.

9. Comfortable shoes.  You will do a lot of walking.  Now is not the time to break in a new pair of dress shoes.”

To further David’s Point 8 and seeing attractions, when it comes to Omaha, there appear to be more than a few interesting side trips. The Strategic Air Museum is chock full of cold war goodness including a U-2 of all things!

There is minor league baseball nearby and it would appear the locals know a thing or two about steak. Yes… this would be an excellent trip. My biggest regret about my only Nationals experience was that I did not participate in the social aspects of the show. Its not that I was anti-social but the Giants were in town and I got tickets to every game. However, I intend to be a lot more sociable in Omaha.

First one’s on me!

Shizuoka Hobby Show – Shizuoka Japan

In my previous article, I mentioned this show as a key interest in a future trip to Japan. This time I’ve got a lot more information about this show from a friend who traveled to this show in May 2014.

I first met Jonathan Irwin at the local IPMS contest some ten years ago and since that time I’ve met up with him at various regional IPMS shows and our build nights at the LHS. Jonathan is an accomplished builder of airplanes of all scales and ships in 1/700. From what I have seen, he pretty much builds anything that catches his eye. He also has a taste for adventure which led him to travel to the Shizuoka Hobby Show. He had a great time but he warns, this show is a bit different than others he’s attended:

“The first thing to keep in mind is that the Shizuoka show is not an IPMS competition-type event.  It’s a couple of things.  First, it’s a trade show like the Nuremberg Toy Fair.  For three days, mostly Japanese manufacturers display recent and upcoming releases.  Some new releases are announced to the press for the first time.  The first day (Friday) is open to the press only.  The weekend Saturday and Sunday are open to the general public.

The manufacturers represent much more than static plastic models.  One hall is devoted to RC models alone.  The main hall, which is very big, includes all the usual companies making static plastic models (Tamiya, Hasegawa, Dragon, Fine Molds…), as well as model train companies, hobby tool makers and Tokyo Marui which makes airsoft bb guns.  Their setup looked very fun: they had a small range on the floor but a discouragingly long lineup to try out their latest wares. 

Every company does sales on site and there are Easter eggs all over the place.  Hasegawa had boxes full of sprues for about a dollar each.  If you know what you’re looking for, you can probably put together an entire kit for very little.  I was told Hasegawa’s customer service allows you to purchase (at regular price) the missing sprues you didn’t find and you could even have it delivered to your hotel, depending on the duration of your stay.   

This is Scott Hards’ (of HLJ.com) Japanese import business .  They import many brands into Japan from Central, Eastern Europe and Asia.  Eduard’s president was also on hand.”  

Scale Model celebrities?

“Another entire hall is devoted to model displays from clubs across Japan.  Some of these clubs are local or regional but many are based on themes, scales or types.  This is the part of the show that most resembles what people expect of a hobby show in North America and the UK.  There’s a fair amount of thought put into displays and collections.  This is less a competition and more of a congress of clubs and special interest groups, some local and others that exist mainly online.  In fact, I’m not sure that there was a competition at all, just displays and networking.

Don’t miss the private vendors section on the second floor of the small building nearest the entrance.  I almost did.  There are small craft or cottage industry businesses here and people selling from their private collections.  Matuo Kasten was demonstrating his products and building.  Yes, there’s lots of deals and many things you’ve never seen before.  And yes, you should probably bring an empty suitcase.”  

Jonathan had this to say about getting to and from the show as well as general advice on shopping and sightseeing in Japan:

“My trip started in Tokyo, as it is likely for many visiting Japan.   I’d refer any reader to the old but still relevant AFV’s modelers’ extremely prejudiced guide to Tokyo hobby shops as a starting point.  http://tokyo-hobby-shops.geraet040.net/  Again, the extra empty suitcase will come in handy.  It might help Canadian readers to know that, in 2014 (and likely still today) they can make cash withdrawls with their interac debit cards at ATMs in Japanese seven-eleven convenience stores.  I didn’t check what fees were or what the exchange rate was.  It seemed fair enough.

Getting to Shizuoka was a two-hour bullet train ride starting at Tokyo’s Shinagawa rail station.  Economy on the N700 was very comfy and roomy, especially compared to any commercial airliner.  From there, it was a short (under 10min) cab ride to the Twin Messe conference and events centre.  Language is a bit of a barrier.  That being said, an impressive model on display or a good price on a kit doesn’t need that much translation.  There was a cafe on the second level of the hobby trade show hall with a view over the whole thing.  There were food trucks outside as well.  There may have been other food/drink vendors but I can’t comment much on that: there was so much to take in and so little time, I skipped lunch and really didn’t notice.     

If you’re in the area for the show, there are other things to do around the city like visiting Sempu castle.  But, if you’re keen on more modelling related tourism, some of the companies represented at the show are based in Shizuoka including Tamiya which has a museum at its headquarters.  There are also stores in the city.”

Well, like I said in the previous article, I’d really like to go and I’d definitely be combining the Hobby Show with all sorts of other things Japanese – both model and non model related. Just in case you want to see more, The Modeling News blog has this show report from 2018 featuring the builds Jonathan was talking about.

Scale Model World – Telford UK

They tell me Telford, or Scale Model World is THE scale modeling experience. And who am I to argue? I’ve seen the many spreads in the Tamiya magazines and I have even seen some videos on YouTube. One of those “theys” is my buddy Kevin Brant. Kevin is an avid builder of almost everything but I mainly see him build tanks and aircraft and over the years I’ve known him, he’s produced some real beauties in addition to a few memorable zingers during club build nights at the hobby shop.

Ah yes…. remember club build nights? Someday, Chris…. someday…

At any rate, he attended the 2014 Telford show and raved about it when he came back. I recently caught up with him over Facebook messenger and had this to say about his experience:

“Telford is a better model show than any I have been to in North America. There are a lot of vendors at the show and they come from all across Europe and there are even some from Russia and Asia. Individual scale model clubs have tables at the show featuring member builds and engage in lively discussion. In terms of manufacturers, Airfix has about 25% of the floor space which features a free “make & take” for young modelers. There was ample space for the kids to build their models.”

Somewhat related to that was the average age of the participants. Kevin noted that North American shows usually attract an older crowd but in Telford there is a much wider range of ages, including youth, and he believed there was an effort to try to include the younger generation. He also described what he felt was the big difference between the hobby here in North America and that of Europe:

“The comradery between people is amazing, they serve beer, and if you are friendly with some of the vendors they will even give you a beer.”

Vendors giving out beer? Now that is an interesting concept. I can be as friendly as the next guy at a model show but all that has gotten me has been an extra decal sheet or perhaps a used Tamiya mag thrown in on a deal. The prospect of beer, free or otherwise, has never come up. Frankly, I would be happily stunned and maybe a bit curious as to why I was being offered one.

Over on the contest side Kevin said:

“The quality of builds for judging are outstanding. I would have to say the majority of builds are better then anything I have seen in North America.”

Now, I did not follow up with Kevin about how many vendors he was friendly with before stumbling over to the contest side. However, assuming his normal level of friendliness and knowing how many shows Kevin has attended, that is quite the statement about the quality of the builds.

So let’s sum it up: A massive scale model show and contest featuring friendly people, a wide range of vendors and world class contest entries. Sounds like a winner to me. I asked Kevin about the venue, places to stay and if he had any tips for first timers:

Hotels right in Telford are very difficult to come by. We stayed in Wolverhampton, about 30 minutes away. And if you don’t get there really early, parking is a pain. We had to park about a mile away. It is a large convention center with lots of parking, but a LOT of people attend. This is just a two day show, but both days are just packed. We arrived about 30 minutes before the doors opened and the line up was huge. We were lucky as we had press passes as we were there on behalf of Kitmaker that year.

When I go (notice that is not an “if”) I will keep that in mind. I plan to show up early, pace myself over the two days and be super duper extra friendly in the vendor area. Kevin did not have any photographs to share but to give you some idea about the show and what it looks like there are some great pictures available at the Modeling News site.

AMT Torrent Show – Spain

I’m a fan of the “Spanish school” of model finishing. I get why some do not like it but I really like how it makes cockpit detail pop. I tried to pull it off once but, well, it did not quite work. I really want to try it again and I bought a DVD of finishing techniques by JM Villalba. But what I think would really help me put it all together is a show featuring all sorts of these models.

It just so happens I am friends with Dana Nield who has been to the AMT Torrent show. This show runs annually in the spring in the city of Torrent, which is a suburb of Valencia. Dana, who is a builder of everything but mostly airplanes, has been to the AMT Torrent show a number of times and has very much enjoyed his trips to Spain where he has taken in a lot of the local culture in addition to the models:

Valencia is an amazing city and its metropolitan area is home to approximately two million people. While touring the city you can contemplate original paintings by the masters such as Caravaggio and El Greco in church galleries, original works by Salvador Dali at the museum of modern art, or a former Spanish Air Force Mirage III hanging from the ceiling of the Prince Philip Science Museum. Wherever you go in the city there is some display of that old world charm that so easily seduces those colonial commoners like me.

Dana got to the show by way of a train which he describes as comfortable and clean with pleasant classical music playing on the intercom. How chic. After a short walk from the train station he came upon the show where he noticed something a little different:

The first thing I noticed that the vendors are outside. Yes, outside, rather than in an auditorium, however, it isn’t what you think. Instead of table rentals, the vendors are supplied with small, 8’x12’ pods or sheds that either stand-alone or are joined together into larger units.

But that’s not all. The vendors were just that, vendors. There weren’t any modellers thinning out their collections at this show. The vendors included local hobby shops (Big Cat, FullHobbies, Carmina Hobbies), publishers (Abrams Squad, Euromodellism), figure companies (Alymer, Gordon Mitchell, Tiny Leads), and lastly other manufacturers (RP Tools, Idepo Composites, Peanas.net).

Dana also noticed a significant number of re-enactors representing the Medieval times to practically last week in the Middle East. He also spent a longer time than usual in the vendor area because at this show, model judging is serious business. The contest room was closed to the public until after judging was completed! However, after meeting up with some friends and having a legend level lunch, Dana finally got to see the contest entries. It was worth the wait:

Every table hosted masterpieces in every category. Armour, by and large, dominated the contest, with figures a close second in numbers, followed by aircraft, science fiction, and ships. The Automotive category was limited to less than a handful of entries on one of the smaller tables.

Perhaps I should take a moment to explain the table set up. The tabletop rests at slightly above waist level, and the support legs continue to head level and are topped by light fixtures. No need for flashlights as every model on the table is bathed in light! And to stop fiddle-some fingers from touching the entries, Plexiglas is secured to all sides of the table. Photography was a bit tricky, but as the Plexi only reaches about halfway to the light fixtures, one could manage.

Aside from the sheer number of AFV models on display, the thing that was surprising was the quality of the entries. You would be hard-pressed to find anything mediocre! At every show I have attended you find a scale of quality of builds, from beginner to advanced, and there is nothing wrong with that. But this show simply blew my mind.

Well then, a summer weekend in Spain with friendly modelers, an outdoor scale modeling bazaar and top notch contest entries may be in my future. As for Dana’s quality impressions, I recall seeing two of these models in model magazines.

Last Thing

This pilgrimage series had me thinking a lot. My city has just entered another lock down period so, in a way, this is a repeat of last year. However, despite what the talking heads howl about, things ARE better than a year ago. And with some luck, maybe, just maybe, if we squint a little, we can see a small light in the distance. I have no idea when I’m going to get jabbed but if jabbing me will inch this process forward just an inch, then sign me up.

Writing about places I want to go to and experiences I want to have was therapeutic. I do not know what travel will look like in the next 12 months but I can only imagine there is a lot of pent up demand. When I approached my wife and asked if she’d be interested in a trip to France, she yelled: “Hell, YES!” and did not care one bit where we would be staying or how many D Day exhibits I’d be taking her to.

I hope this series of articles got everyone else thinking too. I was speaking with Model Buddy Ian about things opening up again and whether there will be a huge influx of show goers or models on display. He said “No matter what, I don’t think any of us will be taking these shows for granted ever again.”

I could not have said that any better.

One thought on “Model Maker Pilgrimages Part 3: Events

Add yours

  1. Man, I only live a few minutes from Telford and I’ve yet to attend the show. I almost went two years ago but something came up. Now, though, I think you’ve persuaded me to make sure I attend next opportunity (might have been the comments about free beer that tipped the balance!).

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