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Industry News - July 2009

Published: May 28, 2009

A puzzling challenge

How's this for a goal?

Putting together 24,000 puzzle pieces in 24 hours.

To get more specific, assembling "Life: The Great Challenge," the world's largest commercially made jigsaw puzzle, which measures approximately 14 feet by 5 feet.

Karen Romito, who with her husband, Steve, co-owns the HobbyTown USA store in Folsom, Calif., said she and Steve are continually coming up with weird and wacky ways to promote the store.

"We never know quite what we're going to get into, but we're forever thinking up something different," she said.

Quite often, those promotional ideas get paired with more altruistic endeavors.

"We're very, very involved here in the community, as far as volunteering our store time and resources," Romito said.

So recently, when a friend at the local Twin Lakes Food Bank said the organization was in need of donations to keep up with demand, Romito was pondering ways to help out when she happened to glance up at a store shelf and think: "You know, I've been wanting to bring down that puzzle that's been sitting there for a year. What if we did something to join the two together?"

And with that, Romito decided that building the puzzle would be a way of drawing attention to the store and subsequently bringing in donations for the food bank.

Romito quickly went to work on logistics, setting up puzzle boards and adjustable-height tables to make the build session as ergonomically friendly as possible; copying and laminating an image of the finished puzzle for builders to use as a reference point "so that not everyone was fighting over the box"; posting sign-up sheets; and rounding up goodies (coffee, bottled water, snacks) for the builders. From there, the pieces fell into place, so to speak.

The puzzle team sprang into action Friday, May 29, at noon. A core of eight to 10 people constantly worked on it; a total of 50 people contributed their building skills.

"We had an absolute blast," Romito said. "We didn't know what record we were trying to break when we set it. It turns out that there's a group of Adobe systems engineers in India who practiced for six months in groups of 10 - there were 40 of them - and they were the ones who set the world record at 56 hours. So when we said, 'Oh, we want to do 24,000 pieces in 24 hours,' we thought that sounded like a really cute little catchy thing."

When time was up, the team had completed a quarter of the puzzle - or nearly 6,000 pieces; one piece got lost in the shuffle, so the store is getting a replacement. Although they didn't finish the puzzle, they succeeded in their goal of raising awareness about a local charitable organization.

"The whole thing started out as a benefit for the local food bank, which is why it got as much media coverage as it did," Romito said. "I would highly recommend this (to other retailers). Find a local cause that is just really remarkable and helpful and good and hang your hat on that hat rack and go for it, because the media just came out in droves. We had four television stations cover us, and we had a great time with it."

"We were able to drum up a lot of donations for this," Romito said. "People brought in cans; a lot of people wanted to play with the puzzle. We said, 'Well, you have to make a donation.' So they ended up paying money, and that was fine too." Romito said they collected several hundred dollars' worth of food and cash, and from now on, they're going to keep a collection barrel in the store as a perpetual drop-off spot.

But wait! There's more!

Romito said the puzzle building event is now part of an annual fund-raiser and drive for the food bank. For the next three years, they're going to add 6,000 pieces at a time to the puzzle until they finish it.

And after that? Said Romito: "Probably another, bigger puzzle will exist and we'll start that one!" -Sue Brettingen

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2010 WGH on Tour shows scheduled

The World's Greatest Hobby on Tour shows for early 2010 have been announced. The schedule is as follows:

  • Jan. 23-24: Washington, D.C.-Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Va.

  • Feb 13-14: Long Beach, Calif.-Long Beach Convention Center

  • Feb 20-21: Denver, Colo. - National Western Complex

  • At least one additional show will be scheduled in the 4th quarter of 2010; it will be announced later in 2009, according to show organizer Randy Bachmann.

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    Walthers announces 2010 Reference Books

    Wm. K. Walthers Inc. has announced its 2010 HO Scale and N&Z Scale Reference Books will be available in September and October respectively for $14.98 each.

    The Reference Books showcase the entire line of Walthers and Proto locomotives, freight and passenger cars, structures, scenery supplies and more. They also offer up-to-date product listings from more than 300 manufacturers. In addition, Information Stations offer useful modeling tips and railroad trivia, and the Magic of Model Railroading all-color photo gallery inspires modelers with ideas they can use on their own layouts.

    The cover hints at the Walthers' next passenger train offerings - Union Pacific's "Cities" streamliners.

    To order your Reference Books, contact Walthers at 800-877-7171 or visit the company's Web site.

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    Obituary: Harold H. Carstens 1925-2009

    Harold H. "Hal" Carstens, president and former publisher of Carstens Publications Inc., died at his home near Newton, N.J. He was 84.

    Carstens Publications produces Railroad Model Craftsman, Railfan & Railroad, and Flying Models magazines, as well as soft- and hardcover books, primarily in the model railroading field.

    Carstens had been a model railroad industry icon since the early 1950s when he joined the staff of RMC. Upon the retirement of Charles A. Penn in 1962, Carstens, his wife Phyllis and their parents bought the company, and Hal became RMC's editor and publisher. He later founded Creative Crafts, The Miniature Magazine, and Railfan and bought Flying Models and Railroad; the latter merged into Railfan to form Railfan & Railroad.

    Hal also served as president of the former Hobby Industry Association 1970-71 and was awarded the HIA's Meritorious Award of Honor in 1979 and the National Model Railroad Association's Distinguished Service Award and later named a Pioneer of Model railroading.

    He is survived by wife Phyllis, daughters Heidi and Rebecca, and sons Harold G. and Henry. Henry has served as publisher since 2006. Funeral arrangements are pending. -Tony Koester

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    Round 2 announces new Star Trek license

    Round 2 will be producing new Star Trek vehicles, licensed by CBS Consumer Products, based on the popular film that hit theaters this past May (see July 2009 Market Trends: Models).

    The reimagined USS Enterprise, designed for the movie by Ryan Church, will be the first kit in this new model kit range, with a release date sometime in the second half of 2010.

    The new Enterprise, while reminiscent of the ship in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," is proportioned differently, according to Round 2's product development team. It maintains the basic design features though, with a saucer section connected to a secondary hull via a pylon and twin warp nacells.

    The scale for the new Enterprise kit hasn't been decided. Although Tom Lowe, president and owner of Round 2, says that a 1:1000-scale kit would be nice. The first release will more likely be a 1:2500-scale kit, putting the finished model at just under 12 inches long.

    A veteran of the Star Trek brand, Round 2 will have produced more than ten Star Trek kits under the AMT and Polar Lights badges by the end of 2009. Some haven't been available for years.

    For a detailed product history, visit Round 2 Models.

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    Looney Labs to release demo copies

    Looney Labs, makers of the award winning games, Fluxx and Treehouse, and the new hits Monty Python Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx (read the Zombie Fluxx review), announced that it will make store demo kits available for upcoming games three to four weeks in advance of the game's release.

    Designed to help build buzz and generate sales, Looney Labs demo kits will be available through game distributors and will cost around $15. This covers a copy of the game, a pre-order sign-up sheet for customers, poster to hang in the store promoting the new game and 100 postcards with an advertisment for the new game and space for retailers to add their store information. The postcards can be mailed to customers or slipped into bags with purchases. Each postcard will also include a perforated bonus card for use with any of Looney Lab's Fluxx games.

    The first demo kit release is for Looney's new party game, Are You the Traitor?. The demo kits are currently available for $14. The game's release date is July 10. Retailers interested in the demo kit should contact their game distributor and order the demo kit with code: LOO-DK-037. The kit is also available directly from Looney Labs.

    Looney Labs' remaining releases for 2009 will be supported by the demo kits too, including the 10th anniversary edition of Aquarius, due out Aug. 28; Martian Fluxx, Sept. 25; and an updated and revised Chrononauts, due out Nov. 23.

    Finally, Looney Labs is providing distributor sales reps and managers with copies of their new releases.

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    Gross, McMichael to appear at iHobby Expo

    Michael Gross, best known for his portrayal of the father Steven Keaton on NBC's "Family Ties," and Steve "Mongo" McMichael, former NFL defensive tackle with the Chicago Bears, will appear Oct. 24 and 25 during the 25th Anniversary iHobby Expo at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont, Ill., according to the Hobby Manufacturers Association (HMA) Show Committee.

    Gross will join HMA and industry members at the welcome party Thursday, Oct. 22 at 5:30 pm, will appear at the Expo during the trade day Friday, Oct. 23 and will sign autographs during the consumer day Oct. 24. McMichael will appear Saturday, Oct. 24 and will sign autographs and participate in various radio-control events during the Expo. Both Gross and McMichael will participate in model railroad demos and radio-control competitions Saturday.

    Gross is an avid model railroader and McMichael is a long-time participant in the hobby industry and a radio-control car enthusiast.

    For more information about the 25th Anniversary iHobby Expo, contact the HMA at 973-283-9088 or visit

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    Tony Phalen joins Maplegate's "RC Driver."

    Phalen joins Maplegate

    On June 1, 2009, "RC Driver" magazine, published by Maplegate Media Group, hired Tony Phalen to fill the newly created west coast editor position. Phalen will also take over as Web designer for all of Maplegate's Web sites, along with covering product news on the west coast for "Robot" and "Fly RC." An experienced R/C car racer, Phalen has spent the last few years as a graphic designer and promotions director for Associated Electrics.

    Maplegate hopes that Phalen's experience in the R/C world will be a boon to both its readers and advertisers. Living in southern California should allow him to attend west-coast events for "RC Driver" and be available to meet with industry leaders in the area to discuss new products.

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    Trainfest details released

    America's largest operating model railroad show, Trainfest, will be Nov. 14 and Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park's Exposition Center in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb. Within the 200,000 sq. ft. area will be 70 manufacturers, 60 hobby dealers, 12 historical groups and more than 50 operating model railroad displays and scenic reproductions.

    The show will again feature the Friday Product Showcase on Nov. 13, open to dealers, manufacturers and distributors. The session is also open to hobbyists who purchase a $40 ticket. This special event lets exhibitors meet those attending to let them ask questions and compare products. More information on the show is available at the Trainfest Web site.

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    Venom names new media contact

    Chad Geissler, formerly the creative director at Venom Group International, is the company's new media contact, according to director of sales and marketing, David Kouche.

    Geissler had been creative director for the company for the last five years and has been involved with the industry for 10 years. He will assume all media relations and advertising placement duties.

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    Atlas lets GP40-2 Ph. 2 plans slip

    Atlas representatives at the New England/Northeast Prototype Modelers Meet in May confirmed the company will release a new HO Atlas Master GP40-2 Phase 2 locomotive later this year. The units will be available in five road names: Southern Pacific, Burlington Northern, Boston & Maine, Norfolk Southern and Cotton Belt. Silver (8-pin DCC-ready) and Gold (DCC-sound) versions will be produced. Pricing, model numbers and estimated delivery date will be announced in July.

    The Phase 2 Southern Pacific model will include several signature features, including L-shaped front windshield, round brakewheel, operating Gyralite, SP-style low nose headlight with non-operating red signal light and the related rear headlight package. These models will also include a cab-roof air conditioner and antenna platform with related piping. Other units will also feature road-specific detailing.

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    Hobbico participates in new wireless technology tests

    On April 23, Boeing Research & Technology scientists, in conjunction with Professor Natasha Neogi of the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, demonstrated new wireless multi-hop technology at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The technology is meant to improve the ability of emergency and rescue personnel to receive high-quality video from surveillance aircraft.

    The multi-hop technology is said to make communication possible via mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) composed of stationary and mobile ground units, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. Because MANETs are predictably unstable, the technology allows for decentralized control among a dispersed group of communicating nodes.

    For the demonstration, a network comprised of stationary nodes, small roving carts and airborne radio-control model planes with mobile routers was used. The planes were built from Hobbico kits (owner of Great Planes Model Distributors and Tower Hobbies) and flown by Hobbico employees. The demonstrators broadcast video among the various routers in the network and found that the stationary nodes and roving carts received good-quality video from the planes, even when network links were broken.

    Professor Neogi says that the application of this technology will be very useful to firefighters and might make an impact in the context of larger disasters like hurricanes and tornados when difficulties can arise from downed power lines or impassable roads. This technology, according to Neogi, will allow rescue workers to better coordinate air and ground coverage during an operation.

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    Märklin Inc. has moved

    Märklin Inc. has moved to a new location. Due to the size of the undertaking, the company's voice mail will be on through June 1.

    The mailing address remains: Märklin Inc., P.O. Box 510559, New Berlin WI 53151-0559. Any remittance should be sent to the mailing address. The new physical location is 402 Travis Lane No. 64, Waukesha WI 53189-5011.

    The company's toll-free number is still 800-321-8811. The new phone number is 262-522-7080, and the fax number has also changed: 262-522-7288. Club forms should be faxed to this number.

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    AeroTech's new rocket line

    AeroTech has created the Karl E. Bauman (KEB) Signature Line of specialty and high-performance rocket motor products. Bauman is currently AeroTech's director of operations and was Tripoli Rocketry Association's first Level 3 certified flyer.

    The line will initially consist of products to include end-burning and boost-sustain motors and a number of high-power reload kits using a specially-optimized version of AeroTech's Blue Thunder propellant and other advanced formulations.

    The company anticipates shipments of the KEB reloads to its dealers will begin in three to four weeks.

    AeroTech Consumer Aerospace is a division of RCS Rocket Motor Components, Cedar City, Utah.

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    CHA offers business tools

    The Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) is offering free business building tools to those participating in its upcoming CHA 2009 Summer Convention & Trade Show. These services include:

  • Complimentary, one-on-one consulting sessions with industry experts that will be available to show visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Consultation topics will range from in-store events, customer service and legal issues, to press relations, social media and Web development. Interested retailers should register for sessions online in advance of the show.

  • Cost-effective demonstration seminars (demo-nars) for $25 (CHA member rate) and $50 (non-member) per session that teach retailers in-store selling techniques.

  • Seminar passes that grant show guests access into any seminar anytime during the show; now available for $50 to CHA members and $100 for non-members.

  • The convention and trade show, themed "The Power of Consumer Connection: Sharp Insight, Smart Activation, Superior Sales," will begin July 27 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

    To learn more about the show, click here.

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