Diamondhead’s “Sweet Sixteen” Party
report on the 2009 International Small Scale Steamup
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 -
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
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
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
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
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!