Hosting Your Layout Open House


Nicholas ANick@ Kalis


As the Potomac Division=s unofficial coordinator for Open Houses this past year, I would like to share some pointers on open houses. First, a recent membership poll confirmed that sponsoring open houses is the most important benefit membership in the Potomac Division offers. Much of what I know about open houses I learned from my friend Monroe Stewart, MMR and NMRA trustee who previously performed this task.

For a successful open house your layout need not be even nearly finished. However, you should be able to run a train over some significant amount of track. Scenery need not be finished nor even started. Perhaps the most vital ingredient is that you be a good host with a good sense of humor.

Depending on your layout, you might want to start planning your open house up to one year in advance C but you can plan one with only a few month=s warning if that suits you.

On the day of your open house you will need  (1) friends to run your trains; (2) snacks and liquid refreshments of all kinds to keep your visitors happy (remember, many visitors are there mostly for the comradery and only secondly for the trains); (3) signs in the house leading guests to the snacks (don=t assume that everyone can guess  refreshments are in the kitchen or even where the kitchen might be); (4) a sign for the bathroom; (5) a lawn sign (usually provided by the Division); (6) a front door sign either welcoming folks or directing them to the basement or side entrance if that is chosen); (7) an operating VCR and model or prototype railroading tapes running.

On the day of the open house (1) greeting visitors; (2) answering questions; (3) seeing that the refreshments are replenished; and (4) supervising your assistants will keep you busy.

When closing time comes at 5 PM C the usual time you will feel relieved but superbly satisfied at how much you accomplished in such a short period of time.

Sundays are the most convenient day for an Open House for most visitors and by force of habit the easiest day for previous attendees to remember. Schedule a Saturday open house and half the folks will forget about the open house and kick themselves for missing it and the other half will show up on Sunday while you are away or worse yet when you open the door in your bathrobe. The best times for an open house are 1 - 5. Opening at 12 is a bit too early and taxing on the host. Anyway, people need time to attend religious services on Sunday morning. Anything after 1 or before 5  makes it hard for people to get to your home without feeling rushed.

Besides the sheer fun of it why should you host an open house? First, it gives you a target and can really stimulate a great deal of construction progress. A layout open house gives you a valuable negotiating tool with your spouse or significant other. AHoney, if you don=t let me work on the layout this Sunday instead of painting the lawn furniture we will be humiliated come layout tour time@. Believe me this ploy works! Just don=t let your spouse see this article. Seriously, make sure your spouse or significant other is the second person to learn about your open house date after yourself of course. Also, it makes it easier to request and receive assistance from friends both old and new with building your layout. Fourthly, the previously mentioned leverage with one=s spouse. Fifthly, you should receive a certificate of appreciation from the division. Finally, by way of thanks, you should except two years free membership in the division.




Why Open Houses?


The answer to why a Division should have open houses is much more than the benefits to the membership as a whole - comradery, continuity, education, another better layout for all to share in the future, and promoting the hobby to newcomers. There is a host-focused benefit as well. At the end of the year some 10 to 12 members have experienced personal growth as a result. They experienced the joys and tribulations of hosting an open house, but they gained much more than that. They made new friends as they reached out to get others to shoulder the load of getting the layout presentable C however they may define Apresentable.@ Hosts got their layouts looking and operating better than they ever thought possible. Hosts also gained the esteem of their friends and family who had previously shaken their heads to often to count about the inertia that had gripped this layout. The host also learns a great deal about himself. He learns that he had skills he never thought he possessed as well as limitations that he must cheerfully accept. So layout tours are not just about the group. While they are a selfless giving back to the hobby and the community of fellow modelers they are also a vehicle for personal fulfillment.