FRRS and WPRRHS Conventions and Meets in the Early Days

By Mike Mucklin - photos as noted

As the Feather River Rail Society grew and evolved through the late 80s and 90s, prior to the official formation of the WPRRHS in 1996, the predecessors for what would eventually become the WPRRHS conventions were already happening, but they were nowhere near Portola or even Northern California.

Southern California resident and FRRS member Pete Solyom was a dedicated WP fanatic and one of the early adopters of what is known today as prototype modeling. Pete was very social, attending many railroad and modeling events both in Northern and Southern California, hobby shops, symposiums, and social gatherings where he eventually met others in the Southern California area who shared his interest in the Western Pacific. Before long we were having gatherings at his house in La Habra, working on his WP inspired HO layout, and sharing WP modeling information.

Then in 1990, Pete approached the FRRS Board of Directors about sponsoring a Southern California get-together to help the FRRS stay in touch with the "not-so-close-to-Portola" WP community. With the approval of the Board to provide the seed money to launch the event, plans were forged between Pete, his Co-Founder and FRRS member, Tom Bacarella and FRRS member Dave Dodds, and on November 10, 1990 the first Feather River Rail Society Southern Regional Meet was born.

The meet took place in what was then, the La Habra Senior Citizen's Center at 165 E. La Habra Blvd., which was in an old bank building. The meet was an instant success, attracting about 60 guests and resulting in 15 new FRRS membership sign-ups. It was the first time any of us had seen so many WP models assembled in one location with table after table of steam and diesel locomotives, freight and passenger cars, cabooses, MOW equipment and even structures, photos, WP memorabilia, you name it.

Making the trek down to Southern California to represent the FRRS that first year was Wayne Monger, Hank Stiles, John and Mary Ryczkowski, Larry and Lynn Hanlon, Gary and Pat Cousin, Steve Habeck, and Skip Marshall.

At the end of the day a raffle was held, including a prized Rent-A-Locomotive session from the FRRS/Portola Railroad Museum and a copy of WP Pictorial from John Ryczkowski. The event was a great success so Pete committed to try to make it an annual thing from then on.

In 1991 the FRRS Southern Regional Meet was held on November 9th with over 70 in attendance and 13 new FRRS members signing up on-site. The event was organized by Pete Solyom, Tom Bacarella, Dave Dodds and Mike Mucklin.

There were four outstanding WP oriented presentations; Easy to Model WP Freight Cars by Tom Bacarella; WP Steel Cabooses by Mike Mucklin; and WP Diesel Paint Schemes by Peter Arnold. Then Vic Neves wowed the crowd with his Winterail style slide show, Remembering the WP; The Final Years.

WP related model and memorabilia displays and a popular-vote model contest filled out the day with over 200 models of Western Pacific equipment on display. The 1991 model contest winners were; Bill Mattil - Diesel Locomotive (super detailed Athearn F7A); John Brown - Steam Locomotive (a beautiful HO scale 2-6-6-2 Mallet); Mike Mucklin - Freight Car (custom detailed and painted WP 62' beer car); Bill Mattil - Caboose (modified Athearn WP steel bay window); and finally Pete Solyom - both Passenger (CZ steam generator car) and MOW categories (WPMW 37-9 cab).

As with the first year, there was great representation from the Northern California crowd and the FRRS including Vic Neves, Skip Marshall, Bill Evans and Steve Habeck. The raffle was popular again and the event was deemed a great success.

From 1992 to 1994 the FRRS Southern Regional Meet chugged along, attracting more people and great presenters like Dave Stanley, Norm Holmes, Ken Rattenne, Thom Anderson, John Brown, Bob Larson, Maynard Priest, Don DeLay, Tim Dickenson and others in the WP community. But over time, many of the core WP enthusiasts in the greater Los Angeles area moved away or got busy with other things and it became harder and harder as time went on to come up with enough content and enough guests to hold a WP-only affair.

So starting with the 1995 meet, Pete sought to diversify the focus to include models from all western railroads, particularly those in interchange with the WP. The location of the meet was also moved to the "La Habra Clubhouse" at 200 W. Greenwood Avenue in La Habra and the date was moved from November to October 14th.

Former WP Passenger Department and Public Relations man, Arthur Lloyd, was scheduled as the the keynote speaker for the 1995 meet. Also presenting was Anthony Thompson, who had just released his new book, PFE Reefers, Dave Hussey, a well known local contemporary prototype modeler, Thom Anderson, and Norman Holmes. The event went off great but the writing was on the wall as far as being able to have very many more WP-focused events in Southern California where the WP community was simply shrinking.

While the Southern Regional Meet was evolving, the movement to create an official "historical arm" of the FRRS was gathering steam up north and with Southern Californian's Pete Solyom and Mike Mucklin joining forces with the "WP historical group up north", we finally received approval to form the Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society in March of 1996. In the mean time, part of the WPRRHS mission statement included a requirement that we develop an annual historical convention so at that point it was unclear what, exactly, we should do with the FRRS Southern Regional Meet.

For the time being, the 1996 meet was planned for October 12th but would operate this year under the banner of the newly formed Western Pacific Railroad Historical Society. Even though there was still a heavy WP presence, it was clear that the "western railroad" theme was gaining ground. The 1996 meet had some great presentations but for the first time, none were specific to the WP. Presenters that year were Joe D'Elia (RPM Today), David Casdorph (Modern Coal Cars), Mike Hopkin (Diesel Detailing Below the Side Sill), and the keynote presentation, Running Down the Hill...The Real Challenge of Railroading on Cajon, was presented by Los Angeles area UP engineer "Diesel" Dave Smith. Ken Hitch brought the PRM gift shop down and Mike Mucklin sold a bunch of the newly made WPRRHS caps and T-shirts. But starting in 1997 the interest in prototype modeling and super detailing grew quickly and diversification of the meet was necessary for survival so Pete renamed it the "Western Prototype Modelers Meet."

So when was the first official WPRRHS convention? A month prior to the 1996 Southern Regional Meet, the FRRS held their 11th annual Railfan Photographer's Day on September 14th so it was decided by the newly formed WPRRHS, lead by Administrator John Walker, to hold a "pilot" or "test convention" in conjunction with Railfan's Day to help us develop a master plan for executing future WPRRHS conventions. While trains ran outside under the theme of "A Celebration of First Generation EMD Hood Units", the WPRRHS held clinics and provided information to introduce the new organization to museum guests that day. Steve and Norma Hayes, Pete Solyom, and Mike Mucklin manned the WPRRHS table most of the day. John Walker gave a clinic on WP Wood Reefers, and Art Lloyd provided an evening presentation outlining some of his experiences working on the WP in the Passenger and PR Departments. There was a railroadiana swap meet organized by Roy Gabriel and the featured slide show came from John E. Shaw, Jr. titled Logging Railroads of Eastern Plumas County.

There were over 300 guests at the 1996 Railfan Photographer's Day and many of them stuck around for the WPRRHS presentations, even into the evening. It was a great way to test some of our ideas and introduce people to the historical society, while paving the way for future conventions which have occurred every year since then in various cities and towns along the Feather River Route, and that of its subsidiaries.

In 1997 the WPRRHS held its first "official" annual convention in the former Western Pacific depot in Oroville, California. The event program was based on the successful format of the FRRS Southern Regional Meets that Pete Solyom had started developing seven years prior. Pete was very instrumental in helping the WPRRHS get the conventions going in the early days. Sadly, in 2003 at the young age of 51, Pete passed away unexpectedly leaving both the WPM Meet and the WPRRHS without his knowledge, experience and guidance. Wishing to continue Pete’s legacy, Tom Bacarella and Joe D'Elia, along with a group of Pete's friends, long standing WPM participants, and volunteers, formed a committee to assume responsibility of the WPM Meet to assure its growth and evolution, which continues to this day. The WPRRHS conventions carry on as well, and continue to grow, through the guidance and perseverance of WPRRHS volunteers who are dedicated to keeping the memory of the WP alive for current and future generations.