The Val Ease Central Railroad

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

A Barge Bash: Add a Barge to Your Harbor Scene with this easy to modify N scale barge kit.

Note: the original photos illustrating this article have been lost (hard drive crash) but they will be replaced shortly.
The key operational element of the entire Val Ease Central Railroad is the Centre Val Ease Dock. The valley's resource industries need bulk shipping of their products to distant markets and the Val Ease economy depends on incoming goods that arrive by rail and by ship. (At the time of writing, the VEC has no road connection to the outside world!) Managed by the Centre Val Ease Shipping Authority, the dock serves as the principle traffic generating element of the track plan.

It is one thing to have a plan and a dock. It's quite another to provide the vessels that must occupy them, especially in Z scale. Unfortunately for Z scalers, there are few boats of any configuration available commercially. Those that have been produced are almost impossible to find. On the other hand, we Z scalers can practice the time honored tradition of stealing, er, borrowing from other scales, notably N scale in this case. And for this project, I have found a very nice resin kit produced by Sylvan Scale Models, 32229 Sylvan Road, R.R. #2, Parkhill, Ontario, Canada, N0M 2K0. The kit is N-208 Barge with Coal and sells for less than $15 Canadian.

Barges come in all sizes, shapes and colors. While living on the West Coast, I had the opportunity to observe working barges in action. The most appealing ones that captured my imagination were the rusty beat-up work horses that were often tied up along rotting pilings set in the water in front of some tired bulk loading terminal. Many barge loading facilities were nothing more than a dock crane or even a front end loader on a ramp. Obviously, I could use any type of barge that tickled my fancy and there would be a prototype somewhere that mirrored it.

Out of the bag, the barge is probably acceptable for some Z scale layouts as is. However, the available area for the barge on the Val Ease Central was a little narrower than the original dimensions of the kit. I also wanted a shorter version in order to please my personal tastes. As a result, I decided to do some surgery on the kit by removing a 15mm section longitudinally in the exact center of the hull as well as a 20mm section transversally near the mid point of the hull.

Tools used in this project:

1. hack saw with metal cutting blade
2. large metal file
3. sharp hobby knife
4. NWSL True Sander or other finishing sanding system
5. 5 minute epoxy
6. hobby finishing putty
7. fine sanding film
8. acrylic paints in black, ocre, gray, white
9. 1cm flat paint brush
10. C clamps
11. ruler and pencil

Kit Preparation

The barge comes out of the bag basically in one piece with separate mooring posts to be added later. There is a little bit of flash that is easily removed with the hobby knife and the file.

Preparing for Surgery

I clamped the barge to the edge of my work bench so that I could make my first and second cuts down the length of the hull. The objective is to remove a section of hull between the center two gunwale supports so that, when glued together, the supports meet with no sign of our cosmetic surgery.

Before making any cuts, I traced the cutting line from stem to stern using the ruler and pencil. The line ran just inside the gunwale support toward the center. I followed this cutting line using the metal blade in the hacksaw. It is important to use slow even strokes in order to avoid heating and melting the resin. If melting occurs the cut will become ragged and the blade will eventually bind.

The First Operation

Be careful to hold the hull near the final strokes so that it does not break off leaving you a small repair job. Repeat the same sequence of steps but this time trace the cutting line to the inside of the opposite center gunwale support. The idea is to leave the supports in place so that later filing will allow you to mate the two halves so that the supports appear as one.

You now have two pieces of hull that need to be squared up and narrowed ever so slightly to bring our gunwale supports to half their thickness. Using the True Sander or any other method that you may prefer, sand the two sides smooth and square until the gunwale supports at both ends mate to create a nice single thickness. It's time to mix up the 5 minute epoxy!

Glue the halves together and set the barge aside to set completely. At this stage, you may decide to use the barge at its full length. I decided to be radical and make another excision!

The Second Operation

Clamping the victim, I mean, barge securely to the workbench, I traced a line between the 4th and 6th supports back from the bow of the hull. This cut is designed to remove the 5th gunwale support and shorten the barge by about 2cm.

Following the same steps as in the first operation, I removed the center section, sanded the fore and aft sections square up to 1/2 the thickness of the supports and glued them together using 5 minute epoxy. I let the hull recover over night.

Finishing the Surface

Even using the True Sander, I did not make perfectly invisible seams. There was some epoxy to be removed and sanded down as well. For the gaps and holes, Testor's Hobby Putty came to the rescue. It comes in a tube, is easy to apply and sand to a smooth finish. I used the file to make nice sharp edges along the side walls of the hull. Sanding film finished off the surface preparation before painting.


As I mentioned at the beginning, I saw barges in every condition imaginable plying the Fraser River in Vancouver, BC. I find that the rusty old timers had the most personality and also made painting more fun and less work!

The hull is painted completely using a grimy black mixture of black and a drop of gray acrylic paints applied with a flat brush. The real barges rarely had a glossy black finish to them except when in the show room.

The next colors to be applied were generous amounts of ocre (rust) along seams, down the hull from mooring post positions, inside the hold and on welding joints anywhere on the hull. Some white was used to depict presents left by the local seagull population. It could also represent salt spills!

The Final Word

The coal supplied with the kit can be a useful load. I left the hold empty for the various shipments that will be passing through Centre Val Ease Dock such as softwood lumber, crushed rock, riff raff and even the odd 0-6-0 steamer to be sent off for scrap or, if luck may have it, to a railroad museum or tourist road.

All that is left for the final scene on the layout is to install some styrene rod mooring lines and tie up the barge to the dock. Someday I might even come up with a witty name for my barge but for now I call her Rusty!

Copyright 2000 Jeffrey MacHan


Info received from Bill Kronenberger:
Kleins in Baltimore has a very similar barge made by Coastal Forces, 136 West Broadway, Bangor, ME 04401. It appears to be an almost identical barge to yours except that it has a coal/ore load. If you buy it with a matching small tug boat in the package its Model 9602 at $14.99. Barges by themselves are model 9603 at $6.39 each.