by John Walker
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Early in the development of the Feather River Rail Society, after a hard days work at the museum restoring and operating our early Western Pacific equipment collection, members would often get together for slide shows, BBQs and chat sessions under the stars around a roaring bonfire. Regular membership meetings in Portola were well attended when the evening's business would conclude with slide shows, lectures or videos. As the museum grew, this type of social interaction among members tailed off as the demands of operating the museum continued to grow. The Railfans Day event and the annual membership meeting helped to promote social functions for members but again, the operating demands and political fallout overshadowed the leisure aspects of the event.
A convention is an opportunity for people with a common interest (in our case, railroading and the Western Pacific) to meet and converse with people with similar interests. Several people in the FRRS have called for the organization to have some kind of convention over the years. Despite the diversity of the FRRS, many members whose primary interest is modeling and history felt that there was no forum for them to get together and share their common interests. And many people simply didn't want to make another four or five hour trip to Portola, they wanted to have an event a little closer to where the membership was located instead of where the museum was located.
In preparing the first stand alone WPRRHS convention, these thoughts were of paramount concern. First was picking a neutral site where everyone could enjoy themselves without worrying about the operational aspects of running the museum. We also had to pick a time of year that would not conflict with operations at the museum. Ideally, the convention should take place somewhere on the old WP mainline which would be very accessible to members and provide a forum where all of the different interests in the WP, Sacramento Northern and Tidewater Southern could be explored fully. Additionally, we wanted everyone to simply relax, have a good time and if we made any extra money, we would use the income to help with the development of the new FRRS/WPRRHS Library.
Our first Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society convention was held at the beautiful Depot Restaurant in Oroville April 18th and 19th, 1997. Eighty guests attended the event. At Oroville, Western Pacific fans, historians and modelers had plenty to look at and admire. Many museum volunteers also had a chance to relax and enjoy themselves before beginning the 1997 campaign up at the museum. The Depot Restaurant just seemed like a natural place to have a get-together. The restaurant took over the WP station after the discontinuance of the California Zephyr. Although it has been modified to some extent, the building still reflects its original purpose. The owners of the restaurant have decorated the building with lots of railroad memorabilia. With WP steam switcher 164 sitting across the street and the mainline just outside the door...who could ask for more!
The festivities started Friday night with a Sacramento Northern slide show by Bill Shippen. Robert Forren took us on a tour of the Highline since the UP began operating the line. Kent Stephens then presented some history of the various railroad shortlines and industrials that once inhabited Oroville and other members showed some of their favorite slides.
Saturday morning opened with an impressive model display. An array of nearly 100 WP and Sacramento Northern HO, N, S and O scale models were displayed and many people enjoyed talking with the modelers, comparing notes, construction ideas and kit evaluations. It is interesting to see how much a person can learn from a model! Indeed, discussing the details of an authentically detailed model is akin to looking at the real thing in a museum! Thankfully, a lot of WP equipment that was never preserved can be recreated in miniature form for the education and enjoyment of WP fans. Frank Beavers display of a heavyweight style, steam powered passenger train and a 14 car steam powered freight are things we will never be able to recreate in real life. Yet, the model tells a story that all WP fans can appreciate. Special thanks goes to Pete Solyom, Mike Mucklin, Thom Anderson, Al Wood, Don Schmitt, Dave Pires, Frank Beavers, Andy Carlson and others for their painstaking work to produce these accurate models.
Many FRRS members have long wanted an opportunity to swap or sell their excess models and memorabilia with other WP aficionados. The swap section at the convention included several brass locomotives, timetables and WP related books at good prices. The WPRRHS was selling Historical Society T-shirts, Hats and WP models while showing WP related videos. Norm Holmes was busy selling items from the museum gift shop and several attendees cleaned up on the many raffle prizes graciously donated by model railroad and railfan gift manufacturers.
Just before dinner, the conventioneers walked over to Hewitt Park where David Dewey had arranged to have the gate opened to WP 0-6-0 #164. This was a rare opportunity for everyone to see this engine and the Feather River Railway Shay up close and personnel. After dinner, Chris Skow presented his hour and a half long, two reel color Western Pacific movie (soon to be available from the FRRS on video) and Vic Neves' multimedia slide program, Remembering the WP.
Several people contributed their time and energy to making this event a rousing success. David & Linda Dewey, Clyde and Linda Lippincott, Vic Neves, Robert & Wendy Forren, Steve & Norma Hayes, Pete Solyom, Dave Pires, Thom Anderson, Chris Skow, Dave Cox, Jim Cooper, Norman Holmes, Kent Stephens, Richard Daniels and Bill Shippen did a great job! We couldn't have done it without them. And thanks to everyone who attended. Thanks to you, we covered the convention costs and raised over $400 for the library. The best part of all of this is that everyone had a great time doing it!