Times are good for model railroad enthusiasts in Denver. An old friend returned last weekend, and a spring ritual at the Denver Mart is back today and Sunday.
RMTS Executive Director Jim Marski says the show has become a comprehensive introduction to the hobby while maintaining appeal for hardcore model railroaders. It started as a local swap meet in 1976.
“Our future requires us to create new hobbyists, most of whom are youngsters and families that haven’t had much exposure to the hobby,” he said. “Our show is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate all the aspects of the hobby and encourage their interest. It’s also a place where model railroaders of all levels can see the latest products and techniques and hone their skills.”
In 2009 the show took a new direction after attendance declined. Organizers “bet the farm” and contracted with the 120,000-square-foot Denver Mart to take the show to a new level. As attendance and participation from national manufacturers grew, RMTS reinvested profits into additional advertising.
Today the show is billed as the largest west of the Mississippi River and has a growing following of top-level players, including Athearn, Bachmann, InterMountain Railway, Kato, Kadee, Marklin/LGB, Micro-Trains, ExactRail, Rapido Trains, SoundTraxx and MTH Electric Trains. For rail purists, Union Pacific’s senior manager of heritage operations, Ed Dickens, will give a presentation on the status of UP steam power.
Show times are today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Cowcatcher Magazine will have a booth and hand out copies of the March/April issue. The show will have door prizes and an hourly train set giveaway.On Feb. 25, Denver and model railroading regained a landmark with the grand reopening of the former Caboose Hobbies.
A line of about 200 waited outside the store, which occupies a former auto parts store in Lakewood, a few hours before the opening, owner Kevin Ruble said. Sales were brisk, as many of the estimated 1,000 who showed waited as much as an hour and a half inside to check out. Lines to the registers snaked through two-thirds of the store.
“It was crazy,” Ruble said Friday afternoon before Athearn unveiled its new HO-scale Amtrak SDP40F locomotive during a special Facebook Live presentation at the store.
Caboose, Inc., is a spinoff of Caboose Hobbies, the longtime Denver fixture that closed in September after 53 years. Caboose Hobbies was known as the world’s largest model train store and attracted customers worldwide.
Ruble said the store aims to provide a fresh model railroad experience with something for every railroad enthusiast. The owner of Michigan’s Marquette Rail from 2005-12, Ruble bought Caboose Hobbies shortly after owners Duane and Joanna Miller retired.
“We’re bringing the true 21st century omnichannel retailing experience to the space supporting the broader tribe of railroad enthusiasts, whether they are people who have casual interests in trains or artwork, all the way to people who built a 3,200-square-foot model railroad,” he said in January. “We’re looking to support the entire tribe.”
Ruble, a former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad employee, had hoped to open in late 2016 but finish out took longer than expected.
The store occupies a building about a third smaller than the original on South Broadway, but Ruble said it will maintain the same level of inventory and railroad flare with an emphasis on customer service. A prerequisite for being hired to work there isn’t necessarily a depth of railroad or model railroad experience.
“We are destination retail,” he said. “The interior has to be appealing, the store has to be inviting and merchandised well. And most important, you have to have people to engage customers and not ignore them. We have hired the crème of the crop when it comes to that.
“All we have to do is focus on taking care of these customers and raising the bar for the whole industry, then I think we’ll do just fine.”
The store is five miles west of the old store at 10800 W. Alameda Ave., a major thoroughfare on the way to Golden. Hours are Monday-Wednesday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m.