Introduction: The IPMS/USA Nationals is coming up soon. In 2019, the location is Chattanooga, TN. We’ve been to Nationals just about every year since 1995. This article was written for the IPMS/USA Journal way back in 2003. If you haven’t considered attending Nationals, either as a competitor or attendee, Dem Brudders heartily recommend that you try to get there. We still get that same enjoyment out of Nationals that we did during our early visits when it was a brand-new experience for us!
Dem Brudders: Join Us at the Nationals!
By Bill Engar
In my travels, I often run into IPMS club members who have never attended the fine convention and model contest sponsored every year by the IPMS/USA. I hear many reasons why some excellent modelers have never taken advantage of the annual opportunity, several of which kept me from “taking the plunge” into the world of National Competition!
Reason Number One: It’s too expensive!
There’s no denying that attending “The Nationals” can get expensive, but there are a few things that can be done to cut the costs dramatically. Traveling “Thelma and Louise” style can be an extremely economical way for the truly budget conscious. Conventional travel times would be greatly reduced and there would be plenty of excitement to keep you occupied during your drive.
For the more practical and sane modeler, some strategic planning can defray an otherwise substantial outlay of financial resources. Presently, the national contest moves around the country, and within a given five year period, the contest should appear at a location within a day’s drive distance for most modelers in the United States. A few tanks of gas will then constitute travel expenses. Lodging, then, becomes the next biggest financial bugaboo. Inviting one or more fellow enthusiasts along to share the bill will quickly cut lodging costs by big fractions. Recall what the “buddy” factor did for the “Thelma and Louise” movie. Movie producers know that traveling is more fun with a friend and it shows at the box office!
There is more money out there screaming to be saved. Convention hotels usually have superior accommodations and are adjacent to the contest, but they generally cost more than the usual budget digs. Alternate lodging besides the convention hotel can be easily arranged for most locales. The Internet can be a great resource here for the truly discerning cheapskate. When my brother Dick and I made our first trip to the Nationals, we stayed at a seedy, inexpensive hotel saving lots of money. We worked out a pretty good compromise with the bugs and balky air conditioner and all coexisted in peace. Since then, our respective financial situations have improved to the point where we can afford the rates that generally accompany the onsite convention lodging. In fact, most convention hotels negotiate pretty low rates on what would usually be considered a luxury hotel room. The big trick is getting a reservation before the room block fills up!
One way I’ve saved a lot of money on travel expenses for out-of-town contests is with “Frequent Guest” programs available from many hotels. I travel a lot with my job, and have racked up many free hotel stays. If you don’t travel routinely, some popular lodging chains have points programs with common credit card issuers. Many of them have no extra fees! Purchasing common items such as groceries and gas using these cards will yield points towards a free stay. It generally takes awhile to gather enough points for a free night, but if you pay the balance off in full every month, there are generally no interest charges (make sure you read the fine print). It takes discipline to use a charge card in this way, but it’s another option for free hotel nights—unless the credit bureaus have rated you in the “Thelma and Louise” category.
If the previous suggestions just aren’t right for you, another alternative is to impose on a relative that lives in the convention city to put you up for a few nights. In exchange, give them a cheap kit from the convention’s vendor area. You’ll save money and nurture those wonderful extended family relationships. See? This is getting cheaper all the time—and even more warm and fuzzy!
Budgeting for the event way in advance will be helpful. Buy a few less kits than you normally would and stash the difference. List a few kits you already have on EBay to raise funds. Eat from fast food restaurant dollar menus on your convention trip! You can always recover your health later.
With so many great model kits to build out there, who would consider such a thing? Now, I realize I just gave away the ending of “Thelma and Louise,” but please continue to restrain yourself from going to your torch and pitchfork closet to take out your frustrations on Dem Brudders.
At my first convention, no one said my models stunk, no one said I wasn’t a good enough modeler to be there, and my only frustration was that I had been missing out on years of fun. I took home three awards, which I didn’t expect. If you take a lot of decent quality models, I would say it is likely that you will win one or more awards. Decent quality simply means you’ve met the model building basics such as everything being put on straight, seams and sinkholes completely hidden, and your painting, decals, and weathering are squeaky-clean. Entering multiple categories multiplies your chances of winning awards, too.
At my first convention, I met some great modelers who weren’t at all stingy about sharing modeling secrets. I saw some fantastic models and learned many new tricks that have since become an integral part of making my own projects better—and more satisfying. Even if you think a model isn’t great and won’t win an award, bring it anyway! Give hundreds and maybe thousands of others a chance to see and enjoy it. Isn’t that better than having it sitting on a shelf catching dust particles? Even models need a vacation from all that effort!
Some of the models you’ll see at a national contest will undeniably be the best you’ll see anywhere. The “Wow” factor is perhaps the best reason in and of itself for coming to Nationals. You’ll also see models that will make you say (to yourself, preferably), “Wow! I can build better than that!” Don’t let intimidation of competition keep you away from the Nationals!
Tell your Significant Other that you would be happy to see them go on a trip of similar duration with one of their friends or a relative. It’s all the better if their trip centers around some pastime that you find really irritating. This way, everyone’s sanity benefits!
If your Spouse/Sig-Other just can’t bear to be without your presence for the few days in question, then simply take them to the Nationals with you! Many families include the convention as part of their summer vacation plans. The host IPMS chapters usually do a good job of planning special activities for family members who would like nothing more than to get as far away as possible from modeling! Some of these will likely interest the modeler as well, so your family doesn’t need to count you out as Missing in Action by dfault. If the kids don’t want to go, you can always tell them that they get to spend a few exciting white-knuckle days at Grandma’s house!
Reason Number Four: I don’t want to go by myself.
This is a valid reason, especially if you just can’t talk anyone in your family into going with you. Invite a member of your local modeling club to go! Invite a friend who may have shown an interest in modeling! If you just can’t get anyone to go with you to the Nationals, maybe a personality makeover is what you need! (Just kidding) Be careful who you invite, however. You don’t want to be tempted to go on a “Thelma and Louise” rampage.
Reason Number Five: I don’t think I want to go!
What? After all this, you’re not sure if you even want to go? Did my “Thelma and Louise” references scare you away? Let’s talk about what you’re missing! How about a huge concentration of the best models you will ever see anywhere? You will literally want to spend HOURS just gazing at the hundreds of models sitting on the tables. You’ll see the latest and greatest kits—the ones hyped on every other page of the most recent modeling magazines—rendered in perfection. You’ll also see old and obscure kits worked over by some sort of miracle into a gorgeous replica that will make you say, “How’d they do that?” There’s always an assortment of wonders built from scratch that will inspire awe in those who think they’ve seen everything.
When you’re finished salivating over the exhibition models, how about visiting The World’s Largest Traveling Hobby Shop? If you’ve never been to the national contest, the vendors area will BLOW YOU AWAY! Yeah, maybe you’ve seen some big hobby shops in your travels—but the lion’s share of their floor space is occupied by model trains, RC stuff, flying rockets, boring science sets, and those infernal pinewood derby accessories! Imagine a hobby shop the size of a supermarket that sells ONLY scale modeling kits, accessories, books, tools, etc—that’s the Nationals! They’ll call for a clean-up on aisle one when you’ve seen it for the first time. For content, the vendors area reflects the contest room. You’ll find the newest kits available alongside old, obscure stuff that you thought you would never be able to find anywhere, and the prices are very reasonable for the most part. You’ll also likely see bargains that you can’t pass up! It’s not hard to find kits you actually want at cents-on-the-dollar prices.
In addition to all the fun at the contest itself, the host chapters who plan the event always throw in some pretty cool activities unique to the contest locale. In 1998, my brother and I were treated to a visit to Travis Air Force Base, and we were allowed to tour a C-5B Galaxy aircraft. We got to climb all over and around this huge cargo behemoth, and blew through several rolls of film in the process. The Air Force guys among us may ho-hum, but for my brother and me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arranged through the generosity of Chris Bucholtz and his team who organized the excellent 1998 convention in Santa Clara, CA.
You’ll get to meet some pretty interesting people at the Nationals. Aside from great modelers, you have an opportunity to meet manufacturer’s reps and IPMS leadership folks. It’s always fun to chat with the editors of Finescale Modeler magazine. Maybe YOUR model will appear in an upcoming issue! The awards banquet has an intriguing tradition. IPMS officers Aris Pappas and Bill Devins preside over the “Aris and Bill Show”, an entertaining presentation of contest awards that has been a highlight of the convention for years. It’s definitely better than the ending to “Thelma and Louise.”
In conclusion, if you have never attended the IPMS/USA national convention and contest, make efforts to do so. Whether your previous vacation traditions have been elaborate or Spartan, a trip to the Nationals will be new, unique, and rewarding. We bet you’ll like it better than a one-shot Thelma and Louise deal. You’ll want to make it a tradition, guaranteed! Join us next time! We’ll see you there!