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The Commodore's Ramblings
Michael Sinclair, aka the Commodore, has been attending science fiction conventions since 1975. He has graciously agreed to provide his reminiscences of those great old days of science fiction fandom to The Thunder Child.
Godzilla menacing Michael

Index to The Commodore's Ramblings
The Ramblings

  • Introduction to the Commodore
  • Kublai Kahns and More
  • Hotel Horrors: A comedy of errors and more in the life of a convention-goer
  • Say Da to Moscow: The Tale of the 1995 Moscow Bid Masterminded by Mikhail Sinclair
  • The Commodore's Collection

  • Convention Badges
  • Convention Programs
  • The Trains
  • Nola Con Photos 1984, 1988
  • Say Da To Moscow - Moscow Bid for WorldCon
  • Miscellaneous Convention Photos
  • The Commodore's Ramblings Part II

    The Prisoner's Portmeiron
    I visited Portmerion a couple of times, in 1981 and 1982. I always stayed in Telford Tower. Great place to stay and the service was very good indeed.

    At one point I had been staying there almost a week and I thought maybe I ought to reckon the bill before leaving in a couple of days. They had not asked for a credit card or anything when I registered. I told the Manager that this was sort of unheard of in America that hotels over there would want a swipe on a credit card or cash deposit. He said, "we figure that if you make this far into Wales you're probably good for it. Mind you it was running about a Hundred Pounds a night in 1980. The guy asked if I could show the Vice-President of European Ford around Telford Tower as he had always wanted to stay there. I believe his name was Troutman who later became President of the Ford Motor Co.

    Telford Tower itself was a self-contained cottage. Living room, Kitchen, a bedroom in the tower and one on the ground floor. a bath and a wc. It had a very nice patio with stone wall overlooking the garden.

    The artist of the sketch above was Jane Peyton who is a fan in Louisville and once was a Society of Creative Anachronism Queen in Louisville back in the early 1970's.

    One slight funny story about SCA and her. Years ago I was riding my bike in Cherokee Park one foggy morning and as I came over a rise there was this Medieval tent city and chaps having a go at one another, but first they had to salute the Queen and as it turned out years later it turned out to be Jane Peyton.

    Kublai Kahns
    Returning to the early con-going days places us at such conventions as Kublai Khan, which was run by Ken Moore and the Nashville folks. One of the first Kublai was held in a downtown hotel that actually had a penthouse suite which was the con suite. Stephen King was the Guest of Honor, and was talking about his days as an English teacher. Having taught 8th grade I could sympathize with how he came to write horror stories.

    Even then Kublai tended to get people from around the country to show up as their Fan G. O. H. or as Artist G. O. H. Ken Moore always insisted on having an Artist G.O.H. and some of science fiction's best artists were always in attendance. [As an aside: This is where a collection of program books would come in handy; alas I think our collection was ruined when our basement flooded a few years ago.]

    Hotel Horrors
    One time Cliff Amos and I agreed to help Ken by running his con suite and we thought we would show up on Thursday evening to set things up. It was a dark and stormy night (I'm not kidding). We arrived in Nashville and saw that the motel was spread out on a couple of hills. You had to climb up about 50 to 75 steps up the side of one hill and th is was the section of the motel where the con suite was going to be. Talk about having to haul cases of soft drinks, beer, and ice up these hills. We got to calling it Mt. Surabachi.

    We then noticed that a tour bus was unloading tourists and a bunch of airline pilots and flight attendants were in the lobby. Now, for you people who haven't been to Cons, you should know that both of these groups are incompatible with fannish activity, such as staying up all night and loudly wandering the halls in search of new parties. The final indignity occurred Sunday morning when a funnel cloud briefly hovered over the hotel. Fortunately it did not fully descend to destroy the local area and our hotel.

    That con had a number of writers and artists in attendance and I think it may have been where I met Frank Robinson (publisher). We were having lunch with him and people kept dropping by his table and asking if they could leave a manuscript with him. After a while I said, "Frank, aren't you glad some of us just read the stuff." Frank Robinson is an author and has been an editor. Some of his titles are Waiting, The Donor, The Great Divide and numerous short stories.

    Frank Robinson
    Since that time we've been friends for about 25 years or so. Frank was at Boston last World Con and since Christa and I we in Room 2001 and an easy number to remember, we asked Frank to give us a call and we would go to dinner together. When I returned to the room Christa told me that Frank would meet us up in the lobby for dinner. We met up and after looking over several of the restaurants, chose one for dinner.

    The next day Frank told us that he was supposed to have had dinner with the G.O.H., but had mistakenly called us instead.

    Frank later gave me a personal tour of the Boston World historical art show collection. On display were paintings that had ben used as book covers of books I had read as a kid.

    See a photo of Frank on the Miscellaneous Photos page (link above), and, by the way, I recommend Art of Imagination, with an introduction by Frank Robinson.

    Conventions "Down South", and the L & N Railroad
    Returning to other of these 70s and 80s conventions would put us in cities such as Chattanooga, Bowling Green, Birmingham and Atlanta. That sounds much as a train terminal would have sounded in the glory years of American railroading, which has something to do with an element of southern fandom - an interest in railroads.

    The L&N Railroad became a standard theme for fannish parties in the region. The rooms would be decorated with RR photos, signs, and fans took to wearing engineer's hats and red bandanas around their necks. We also started going on steam excursions with Southern Railway.

    These were big brutes of engines. The 765 was a Mikado that weighted in at about 275,000 pounds, with a tender that held 22,000 gallons of water.

    We were on an outing one time and stopped in "Monkey Ville" - the town where the Scopes "evolution" trial was held. Monkey Ville is what the train crews called it. Anyway, we stopped to let the people wander in the town, and to get more water for the tender. Mr. Purdy, who was chief mechanic for steam for the Southern, left to go downtown and returned to find only one fire hose being used to fill the tender.

    His reaction was, "What are you guys doing? At this rate it we will be here all day! Get at least two or three more hoses filling the tender!"

    Mr. Purdy also had been kind enough to let one of my former students ride in the engine that trip to celebrate his 12th birthday. Earl still has fond memories of that trip.

    Another chapter draws to a close and the memory banks have barely been scratched. Of course, hotel horror stories are a staple of fannish conversations, so there will be many of these, but none to top the horror of a convention outside of DC in a Sheraton.


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