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It was 1994 when the idea of Tour de Chooch was conceived in a hobby shop in Groveland, Massachusetts called Bay State Models. Win Nowell, owner of Bay State Models and I were discussing how customers would come into the shop, purchase all kinds of model railroad “stuff” and leave with no hint of where all this material was going or how it was being used. The next logical step was to have an informal open house/layout tour on a convenient Saturday so customers could show off what they building. The open house would be centered on Bay State Models so travel distance wouldn’t be excessive and, besides, every one that came to the shop knew one another. It would be low key and fun.
This conversation went on for a couple of weeks at the shop until one Saturday afternoon Bill Borelli came in to hang with the guys at the shop. Upon hearing of the idea Bill, without skipping a single heart beat, blurted out “we’ll call it Tour de Chooch!” In addition to being a model railroader Bill also had an active interest in motor sports.
Now we had an idea, a name and a lot of “let’s do it” enthusiasm. Bill took on the creation of artwork for fliers and I started building a flyer distribution display for the shop. Bill’s idea for the flyers was to print a single flyer for each host’s layout with a brief description of the layout, driving directions and an assigned number. The idea was that a visitor would look over the layout description in the flyer, choose the one or two layouts that he would like to see and off he went. There were eight layouts signed on for that first year.
Right here is where the first lesson on open houses was learned. Hobbyists don’t choose which one they want to see. They have to see them all! If there are eight layouts all of them must be visited. If there are eighteen layouts then all of them must be visited also. It was 1999 that the Tour was expanded to two days with ten layouts. That slowed the traffic down so there was more time to visit. Each year after 1999 the Tour continued to grow even though the tour had layouts that were one hundred miles apart in two states. In 2009 there were twenty-seven layouts on the Tour.
The second lesson learned was now that the Tour was established modelers would pick out the “new layout” on the Tour and head there first. That put up to two hundred visitors at the new host’s layout! It was now time to institute crowd control!
In 2011 after seventeen years of organizing the Tour the reigns were passed to Keith Shoneman. Today Rand Hoven puts together the Tour with help from Ken Rice, Stan Ames, Fred Hessler and others who work to bring yet another year of great hobby experiences together.
Let the Tour continue for many years to come and bring camaraderie, sharing and fun to generations of model railroaders.