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Diamondhead’s “Sweet Sixteen” Party

A report on the 2009 International Small Scale Steamup

by Jim Pitts

In mid-January 2009, a hundred and seventy small scale live steamers gathered in Diamondhead, Mississippi. While many regions of the nation were contending with snow and ice, the Gulf Coast offered an inviting oasis filled with friends, good food and 24 hour permission to play with trains. The atrium at the Diamondhead Resort featured three rings of track, tables and chairs, a hospitality suite (filled with King Cake, coffee and hot tea), dealer displays, steam flea market, and a pool for steam boats. 


The cares and concerns of the larger world; Presidential inauguration preparations, financial gyrations and a commercial airliner’s emergency landing in the New York City’s Hudson River were largely out of view. The TV cable system in the host motel is reminiscent of the 1950s during the twilight of steam. Therefore the continuous show to watch was live and in person inside the atrium. Also, it was shared worldwide on the internet with digital images and a live webcam. 


While the Steamup officially begins on Friday morning at 8, some began arriving the weekend before. Many devote themselves to helping set up the three track systems and doing the other necessary chores to host the event. The International Small Scale Steamup is a collegial affair. Track gang guys come from Canada, Michigan, Louisiana and Arkansas. Front Desk Ladies chair the registration process, distribute aprons and shirts, greet and guide. Track Marshals with bowler hats keep the trains running in order and on schedule. 


The Clack Valves and Cornets Steam Band under the direction of Bandmaster Joe Hall presented two concerts on Saturday. Rob Lenicheck describes their repertoire of 18th and 19th century scores as ‘a medley of peanuts and popcorn music.’ To the discerning ear, composers include Joplin, Mozart, Leroy Anderson, Tom Turpin, Sousa and the ever popular - “anonymous.” 


In a time when the constant is change, inquiring minds have asked about the future of the Diamondhead Steamup. When asked, Jerry Reshew, founder and continuing coordinator of this unique experience, said “I plan to do it until I die!” So Lord willing, the show will go on next year, same time and same place. When asked about her husband’s ongoing enterprise, Charlotte Reshew tells friends, “my husband works for a non-profit!” 


In reflecting on the success of the Diamondhead International Steamup, Jerry says “it is truly beyond me! While it is a year around task, there is an ambience, a family feeling. The volunteers are crucial. Over 50 people arrive nearly a week ahead to help with the set up and hosting. The Steam Flea market is a perennial favorite. Also, the Weight-Lifting Contest measuring the draw pull of locomotives has become a tradition bestowing bragging rights on strong steamers with traction.” 


As is obvious, since Hurricane Katrina, the Diamondhead Resort has faced trying times. Our hats are off to staff in providing hospitality to our live steam crews. Saturday’s brunch at the Diamondhead Country Club has proven to be a genuine diamond in a sea of glass. It illustrates the genteel ambience and culinary charm of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, beyond the Waffle House and Dairy Queen. Also, the seafood cuisine of Trapani’s and Jordan River Steamer are truly without peer. 


But there was more! Steam Seminars were presented by Peter Jobusch – “A Tale of Two Tracks”, Jerry Reshew – “A Steam Scam”, Jeff Young – “Clockwork”, and Marc Horovitz – “A Visit to the U.K.”. Dealers representing Accucraft, Aster, Regner locomotives, Sunset Valley Track and Piedmont Steam Supply were present. 


In many ways, the International Steamup is both a collegial reunion and a continuing educational experience. A highlight is the opportunity to renew ‘face to face’ friendships sustained through email and phone conversation. Veterans and newcomers are able to put names with faces, and meet and greet ‘Lord’ Geoff Spenceley, John Coughran, Bob Pennock, Bob Moser, Norm Saley and Walt Swartz. A highlight for admirers of Argyle Locomotives was the privilege of being with Australia’s Gordon Watson.  


Pete Comely was present and responding to questions regarding Sunset Valley track systems. Ken Johnson, always “Mr. Congeniality,” graciously presented the Regner line of locomotives and rolling stock. He was all smiles in reviewing Howard Freed’s assembly of a Smock Steam Passenger Car known as the ‘Kittle.’ 


Hans Huwyler demonstrated the superb performance of a Great Western Railway “Castle” class locomotive, Aster Hobby’s most recent release. Paul Lator has his SP Cab Forward AC 12 tuned and powerfully steaming away. What was a rarity is this particular locomotive was manually controlled. “Southern Digital” Paul later exhibited his radio control expertise with a NKP Berkshire, USRA Mikado, etc. 


Fun to watch were the father and son “steam teams” of Oklahoma’s Mike and Tanner Moore, and Georgia’s Mark and Daniel Tilden. They gave evidence that the legacy of steaming continues from generation to generation. Speaking of smiles, Kevin Schindler was a happy lad in taking delivery of a 7/8th inch scale steamer custom crafted by John Shawe. As we know, our hobby teaches patience! Currently, delivery of a Shawe coal fired steamer is a two to three year wait! 


In addition to custom embroidered shirts and aprons, souvenir coffee cup, the take away highlight for many was securing an autographed copy of Marc Horovitz’s A Passion for Steam. This 208 page hard cover book is destined to be the definitive reference on small scale live steam. Profusely illustrated with photos and drawings, it will be useful to both newcomers and experienced steamers. Doubleheader Productions’ Ken and Jerra Matticks completely sold out the three cases they brought to the Steamup and went home with orders for more. 


The 2009 gathering represented 170 steamers from 30 states and 5 other countries. Florida had 22 in attendance, followed by Texas with 15, Louisiana had 11, both Georgia and California posted 9 each, Virginia 8, Colorado and South Carolina had 7 each, Mississippi and Michigan had 6 each, and Illinois and Washington State had 4 each. Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri and Ohio each had 3. North Carolina and Utah each had 2. Attendees also came from Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. International guests included 10 from Canada, 4 from the United Kingdom with 1 each from Australia, Mexico and Trinidad. 


Both introductory orientation and “graduate” clinical experiences are offered. One of my accomplished goals for the 2009 Steamup was sit in the inner track circle with Yves Gulliaume, the Dean of the Caribbean School of Coal Firing. This expert in ‘retro-engineering’ modestly refers to himself as an acolyte in comparison to John Shawe. “John,” he says, “is the Bishop in his mastery of the sacred skills of coal firing.” To John Shawe’s Welch coal, Yves adds his own ‘cocktail mixture’ of Guinean wood roasted into charcoal in Trinidad. Soaked in liturgical lamp oil, lighted and then when glowing red, “Smokey” coal is added. Then it is evident to everyone by the smoke plumes that coal firing is in underway. 


Not content to leave well enough alone, after a successful initial run with alcohol firing of my Aster SNCF U1, masterfully assembled from a kit by Ross Schlabach; under the guidance of Yves it was converted to coal. Hours later, coal was burning, steam raised, the locomotive majestically moved into motion at midnight. For the next two hours, stops for fuel and water brought approving smiles to Yves Gullaume, John Shawe and sigh of satisfaction to Ross Schlabach and to this appreciative owner / operator. Patrons of the bar wandered over to trackside and wondered what we were smoking! Fortunately, hotel security was present and approving smiled. 


What a permissive place – the Diamondhead Resort! They allow adults of all ages – 24 hours a day – to burn alcohol, pass gas, inhale coal smoke in their annual winter ritual of boiling water and blowing off steam!  And the show goes on come January 2010.


The general consensus at the 2009 wrap up meeting was to have the 2010 event last longer.  Jerry Reshew reports that 80 steamers arrived by Tuesday.  Therefore, the 2010 steamup will be extended to cover Sunday to Sunday (January 10 – 17, 2010) with fuel, water, and good weather available.  The track will be up by noon on January 10 and taken down on Sunday morning, January 17. 


Other changes for 2010: The Country Club brunch will be held on Friday; with the band concert on the Country Club stage before the meal; 'Saturday Night at the Movies' will be enhanced with a good set of speakers; and seminars will be scheduled throughout the week.    Already some 50 small scale steamers are registered to return. As they say down south, “y’all come” and let the good times roll!

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Travelers from near and far, arrived by air, road and rail. - Amtrak, Magnolia, MS. 

Photos by Gary Herring

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