OMSA, OVMS, MVPA… it’s that time of year when I write out checks for all of my club memberships. With a small stack of check-bearing envelops in hand, I drove to the Post Office before making my 14-mile drive home. During those country miles along the St. Croix River before I crossed the bridge to my home state of Minnesota, I gave a lot of thought to how clubs support our hobby.
I wonder if clubs are a generational thing? Many of us grew up belonging to Boy or Girl Scouts; baseball, football, basketball or any other sports teams; church groups; or any of a number of opportunities for membership with like-minded kids. For me, my memberships were limited to one sports team a year (a family rule that placed the highest priority on working in our store); a reenactment group (when I could find one close enough to my SE Minnesota home); and the Houston County Handgunners—a group of local shooters who emphasized “police-combat” training. I will admit, that is an odd mix for a kid growing up in Minnesota, but that’s the genesis of my sense of “belonging to the club.”
Only when I was in college, did I learn about various, scattered military collecting clubs. I was eager to join—the first being the Ohio Valley Military Society. I had known about it for a few years but really thought it was a regional club. That is, until I finally attended one of their shows and quickly became aware that it was a nationally-based organization.
I had heard about “local” clubs in larger, metropolitan areas, but for me, the national clubs provided my connection to the collecting fraternity. Each of the national clubs generally held a national convention or meeting. Other than that, the method of communicating with the membership was through a newsletter or magazine.
A CHANGE IN THE COLLECTING LANDSCAPE
We all hear about “declining memberships,” whether the group discussed is a military collecting club, a church, a local shooting club, or most any other civic organization. I think there are a couple of things behind this: First, the aging of any group causes folks to get scared about the potential longevity of the club. We hear it all the time, “We need to get the young involved.” Some carry that battle cry even further, declaring, “Kids these days just don’t care!”
The second thing affecting club membership is a change in how people enjoy a hobby. I honestly don’t see a decline of interest in all-things history among young people, but I do see there are different ways they satisfy their curiosity.
I will admit, I spend too much time on my computer(s). Besides the netbook and iPad that are always on my couch, I keep two computers running in my office all day while I work: One is for working on the mechanics of our magazines, the other is for maintaining our social media.
“Social media?” you ask? That’s a fancy way of saying, “our Facebook pages,” which is also a fancy way of saying, “our club houses.” Yes, we have a very active pair of clubs—one for historic military vehicles and one for folks who collect militaria. The club has never changed in the 25+ years of existence of Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader, but the way we connect with our “members” is always evolving. In addition to our traditional subscribers, we connect with more than 10,000 like-minded folks on a weekly basis through these two pages.
We are not alone with these “electronic club houses.” If you have a specific collecting interest, there is probably a Facebook page, internet forum, or an enewsletter out there that caters to it. As an example, we send out a weekly enewsletter to another 20,000 people—many of whom have never visited our Facebook page or subscribed to our magazines!
WHAT BINDS OUR HOBBY?
While Facebook pages, forums and other forms of electronic connection provides instant access to information and other like-minded folks, there is something inherently missing. As collector, we crave a sense of “belonging.” Sure we can contribute to a forum’s upkeep, or even pay to have digital delivery of magazines, but those things don’t really appeal to a collector’s need for face-to-face interaction with like-minded folks.
We are, by our very nature, hunter-gatherers. After making the “kill” when we acquire a new relic or military vehicle, it is important to us to display the trophy. There is no fun in displaying if no one sees it! Our electronic connections can give us a “thumbs up” or a “nice score!” but those are lousy substitutes for getting together with a room full of collectors and having show and tell. That immediate feedback—whether comments, compliments, or questions—is what leads us further down the path of our historic explorations. Membership in “real life” has benefits that just are not replicated through our computers.
Like any good mechanic would tell you, to be successful, you need many different tools in your shop. Even though a 1/2-inch wrench will allow you to tighten many bolts and nuts on your historic military vehicle, it would be foolish to drive off with just that wrench in your toolbox. The same is true for maximizing the enjoyment of our hobbies.
While I might get swept up in my enthusiasm for one or another internet forums, it has taken a few years of membership to realize that I need more than the electronic connection with other collectors to fully enjoy my hobby. That’s is why, in this “electronic age,” I write out those yearly membership checks. I know those groups are working for me—through their efforts to preserve research, fight legislative battles, and to keep me informed on the news pertinent to the hobby. Each membership is a “tool” in my collecting toolbox.
I don’t want this to be one long pitch to subscribe to Military Vehicles Magazine or Military Trader (even though they are extremely good tools to have in your collecting toolbox!), but rather, a gentle reminder to not become blindsided by only one venue, whether it is a magazine, a forum or a local club. Each is a tool in your toolbox—together they allow you to attain the best experiences as you explore military history through collecting.
Keep finding the good stuff,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine