The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

Taking Z Scale to the Public Around the World
(Text and photos © Copyright Jeffrey MacHan)

Last Spike: Z-scale at the 2006 London Festival of Railway Modelling

Last April 1-2, I had the great privilege of representing Exporail – the Canadian Railway Museum at the London Festival of Railway Modelling, London, England. The Festival is in its 7th year and is held at the most impressive Alexandra Palace Exhibition Hall. Of the 42 operating layouts at the Festival, two were Z-scale: my “Val Ease West” section of the “Val Ease Central RR” and the “Loosely Warren” by Ann Silby.

The London Festival of Railway Modelling

The train show was divided into four categories: Exhibitors (commercial displays), Layouts, Clubs/Societies, Demonstrations. The show venue was divided into two major display areas. The Great Hall, where I was located, had an immense organ, a huge round stained glass window and a high, vaulting translucent roof which allowed natural light to bathe the displays. The West Hall, where most of the specialty traders and demonstrations were situated, had a low ceiling and no natural lighting. Fortunately for both Ann Silby and me, we had stands roughly in the center of the Great Hall, close to the food courts and restrooms!

The Festival takes place annually in the majestic Alexandra Palace Exhibition Hall.

Nothing compares to natural light and high ceilings for a comfortable train show.

The Festival is, by any measure, a major train show. With 205 stands of varying size and 42 operating layouts, the Festival was as big as they come in the UK. For good measure, the Festival took place in one of the most beautiful exhibition venues I have ever had the privilege of visiting.

Two other things struck me about the Festival. First of all, Warners Group, the show sponsor, published a 36-page full-color show guide with a floor plan and descriptions of all the exhibitors. Second, I was very impressed with the British attention to the quality of their displays. Almost all of the layouts had valences with hidden lighting. The layout fascias also invariably had a space reserved for all of the exhibition badges where that particular layout had been on display. The badges usually said something like this - As seen at NEC Warley Exhibition, Date. I noticed that several layouts had already adorned their Festival badge.

In my experience, the only North American show that comes close to the sophistication of the Festival (i.e. show guide, exhibitor badge, professional organisation, etc.) is the NMRA National Train Show, held annually in conjuction with the NMRA National Convention.

“Val Ease West” by Jeffrey MacHan

Most Ztrack readers are familiar with the VECRR so I’ll not go into detail describing VEW. What is of most interest, I believe, is the fact that VEW successfully travelled from my home in Gatineau to Ottawa via taxi, then on to Montréal international airport via intercity bus, then to London, Heathrow via Amsterdam, Schipol and return in checked baggage enclosed in a custom-made case specifically designed to hold one VECRR suitcase. Although the fit is snug, there is enough room in the case to hold a 220v – 110v voltage transformer and a set of international plug adapters. Exporail posters and brochures for the Festival were laid flat along the top of VEW or stuffed into free space along the edges of the suitcase.

Honorary VEC crewmember Peter Ibbotson enjoys the enthusiasm of some young visitors.

VEW was a big hit at the Festival which attracted about 13,000 paying visitors and about 15,000 overall including the non-paying exhibitors and the under 5’s. There were many Festival highlights including visits from notable UK z-scalers and from the local press. However, the most interesting story is the fact that I had no layout power due to a failed Darlington power transistor in the VEW throttle. Fortunately, Peter Ibbotson, Z-scaler and member of the VECRR Yahoogroup came to my rescue. Not only did Peter provide a Märklin transformer, a power bar and hookup wire to get the trains running, he supplied several rounds of much-needed coffee and became a full-fledged crewmember, interacting with the crowds while I was off on potty breaks or making a quick tour of the Festival. Peter was such a helpful fellow that I am proud to list him as an official VECRR life member.

Note: The VECRR International Adventures are supported by Micro-Trains Line, Ztrack Magazine, Märklin Inc. and Exporail - the Canadian Railway Museum, home of the “Val Ease Central Railroad”.

The “Loosely Warren” by Ann Silby

I was immediately impressed by the extraordinary craftsmanship and conceptual design of Ann Silby’s diorama which is “loosely” based on the Dawlish seaside beaches. Ann was apologetic for her "poor" scenery! On the contrary, she has done a magnificent job with rock faces, vineyards, beaches and water surfaces. She should be giving workshops for gosh sake.

British outline Z-scale is a rare sight indeed.

The “Loosely Warren” features excellent seashore scenery by Ann Silby.

Attention to detail and a fine sense of perspective help to create a believable scene.

The layout is a simple double mainline oval design with only one side of the oval visible to the public. Valence lighting really brings out the highlights of the great scenery work. The “Loosely Warren” features British-outline locos and rolling stock, some of which she had painted herself. She has a small classification yard on the operator's side of the layout so that she can run a variety of trains. Most of her structures were bought used which kept her costs down.

Here is how Ann describes her layout:

The south Devon coastline around the Dawlish area has always held a particular facination for me and when I acquired three Z gauge Class 47 locomotives I decided that I would build a small diorama depicting the area. The track (Märklin) was laid and the sea wall was put in place. The red sandstone cliffs so typical of the area were constructed using polystyrene blocks and plaster. The many trees were made using heather twigs dressed with Woodland Scenics foliage. The buildings were obtained from a fellow member of the Z Club GB and, with the exception of the hotel, are architectural models.

Being a member of Z Club GB I am able to acquire additional rolling stock to supplement my own collection. The Class 47 bodies are made by a firm called Elmo and these fit onto a Märklin Class 103 chassis. Unfortunately the bodies are no longer available. The layout is powered by two Märklin 8-volt controllers and measures 5’ x 2’.

Some last thoughts:

I had a wonderful time at the Festival. The crowds were friendly, curious and appreciative. There is certainly lots of room for more Z at the Festival. Believe it or not, a week after my return home from the UK I received the registration packet for the 2007 edition of the Festival…I’m tempted!

Z-Scale: minimum size, maximum enjoyment

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