York is probably the favorite train meet of most tinplaters. However, those of us who live in the vicinity of Allentown, PA are indeed lucky to be able to attend another fine train meet twice a year, a meet that features a lot of tinplate, and tinplate-related parts dealers, manufacturers, etc.
The Allentown Train Meet Associates (ATMA,) are an independent, non-affiliated group of five partners now in their 27th year of organizing two shows a year, the “First Frost” show held in early November, and the “Spring Thaw” show held in late February.
These shows are held at the Allentown, PA fairgrounds, 1725 Chew Street, in Allentown, PA. The venue for the meets is the “Agricultural Hall,” a huge “quanset hut” type of structure of about 36,000 square feet. According to Bob House and Jeff Schlener, two of the partners, the shows are always a sellout, and there is always a waiting list. Jeff notes that attendance over a typical show weekend is between six and seven thousand. Perhaps this is one reason why the partners were able to prevail upon the venue owners to embark upon a major expansion. Bob and Jeff are enthusiastic about the recent addition of another 15,000 square foot building immediately adjacent to Agricultural Hall, which was completed in 2003. The new building “hosts about 130 more dealer tables, more operating layouts, displays from manufacturers, and more room for attendees,” according to the partners. “The expansion represents a real value for both dealers and the general public," according to Bob House.
Saturdays are always the busiest at the ATMA shows. Pre-registration is available and those with advance-sale tickets are admitted at 8 AM, one hour earlier than same-day ticket purchasers. A line always forms early outside as eager ticket holders wait, usually in the bitter cold, to get into “AG Hall.” Attendees receive a copy of the “ATMA Signal,” which contains a table layout plan and a listing of table-holders, and a nice plastic carrying bag with the ATMA logo on it. Once inside the huge hall, the crowd can fan out in all directions and begin making the rounds. The aisles are comfortably wide, with a crush happening only at the busiest times. In addition to tables, the meet features operating layouts, a test track, and train races, which particularly appeal to the kids always draw a crowd. There are a least two food and refreshment stands, and ample comfort facilities inside the hall.
These ATMA shows are unique in that there always is a great deal more tinplate and tinplate-related trains, tinplate manufacturers, and parts vendors than one would usually see at small local shows or at one of the national-name, multi-city meets. George Tebolt, a major source of tinplate parts, has been an ATMA vendor for over 20 years.
According to George, the ATMA shows are his favorites second only to York, a sentiment echoed by Bob Morgan and some of the other tinplate vendors I talked to at a recent show. I asked Tebolt why Pennsylvania was such a hotbed of toy train activity: “Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, is the heart of trains,” explained George.“Everything used to have to pass through Pennsylvania,” which has left us with a strong train and toy train legacy, according to George.
Joyce and John Davanzo, of Pride Lines, LTD, manufacturers of beautiful modern, American-made tinplate reproductions, also spoke highly of ATMA shows. “Our market is the tinplate collector who is interested in Amercian-made tinplate,” said John. Even though the economy is uncertain, John indicated that their business was steady given the nature of their market. If you do a casual stroll through the hall you will be surprised at the variety and amount of tinplate offerings, both vintage and modern, typically including manufacturers such a Bob Thon’s “Robert’s Lines,” to vintage tinplate traders like Bob Morgan.
On a personal note, I have to say that the ATMA shows are my favorite train shows. In fact, I like the ATMA shows even better than York because they are just the right size, offer plenty of tinplate, and are doable comfortably in just one morning. As a bonus, the Fairgrounds are also the site of a large farmer’s market offering Pennsylvania Dutch foods. Lunch in the farmer’s market is always a treat after the show. I always take the opportunity to purchase some fresh-baked Pennsylvania Dutch potpies or other goodies before starting the drive home. With the recent expansion, these ATMA shows can only get better. I can’t wait for the 2005 “Spring Thaw” show this February!
For more information about ATMA and it’s shows, visit the ATMA website at www.allentowntrainmeet.com
For information on Pride Lines products see: www.Pridelines.com
For information on George Tebolt train parts see: www.georgetebolt.com
For information on Robert's Lines contact Bob Thon at (315) 986-1365
For information on the Train Collector's Warehouse, Inc.(Bob Morgan) see: www.Train-Collect-Whse.com
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