The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

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

Last Spike: The Val Ease Central Makes TrackZ to Canadian Railroad Museum

I have a little announcement to make...

The "Val Ease Central Railroad", my partner of 11 years, and I are separating. Yes, the VEC is leaving me to move into a new home at the Canadian Railroad Museum - "Exporail" located in St. Constant, Québec, Canada.

The VEC greets visitors to the annual

The VEC greets visitors to the annual "Great Passion for Small Trains" theme weekend at Exporail, Canadian Railroad Museum, August 2003.

I'm sure that you are thinking, "What ever possessed him to give up the VEC?" or "Why, why, why?". These are legitimate questions. The answer is slightly involved but here goes.

From almost the very beginning of our relationship, the VEC and I have been on a "mission" to introduce Z-scale to the model train-loving public. We've participated in 66 exhibitions across Canada, the USA, and even had two European AdventureZ. We've tilted at the windmills of the National Model Railroad Association to have Z recognized at NMRA local, regional and national meets including four National Train Shows. We have even brought home a few trophies including the one I'm most proud of, "Best of Show" at the NMRA National Train Show in St. Louis, MO in 2001. As a team, we've done things and been places that, alone, I would never have undertaken. Except for the twelve months beginning April 1997 that the VEC was part of "Zoom sur les miniatures" at the Québec Museum of Civilization, we've been inseparable, achieving all but one of our improbable goals. Judging from the flurry of activity and interest surrounding Z these days, I can probably safely say that our "mission" has been taken up by many others and that my self-appointed role as the "Don Quixote of Z" is no longer relevant.

Ever since taking the NMRA's top prize in 2001 and following trips to Germany (2002) and the Netherlands (2003), the VEC had unexpectedly become a liability in a certain sense. It was impossible to insure outside of my home when participating in train shows. The alternative of having visitors to my home to experience the VEC presented the risk of it's loss through an accident, vandalism or theft, a very unpleasant prospect. I figured that I faced three options. I could lock it up in my home and abandon the great personal pleasure I derive from sharing the VEC with the public. I could sell it outright and accept never seeing it again or, ideally, I could find a place where it would be protected and continue to be shared with the public. Well, as improbable as it may appear, 30 kilometers down the highway from my home, I discovered such a place.

Exporail-The Canadian Railroad Museum, owned and operated by the Canadian Railroad Historical Association (CRHA) and funded by the Canadian and Québec governments, is a world-class heritage museum for historically significant Canadian locomotives, rolling stock, documents and railway-related artifacts. The Museum's mandate is to preserve, exhibit and expand it's collection and to educate the public concerning Canada's great railroad heritage. The most significant pieces of the railroad and traction collections are housed in 'Exporail', a 7-million dollar building opened to the public in May 2003. A second construction phase is underway and will be completed May 31, 2004 at which time the VEC will be installed in a special display area.

The idea of donating the VEC to the CRHA germinated following an immensely enjoyable experience as an invited exhibitor at the Exporail special theme weekend on Model Railroads in mid-August 2003. My wife and I were very impressed with the Museum complex and expansion plans, as well as with the staff and volunteers we had met. By the end of August, after further soul searching and some fiscal research, my mind was made up. When I finally approached the CRHA in September 2003 with my offer to donate the VEC to the Museum, I didn't know what to expect. Much to my surprise, the Museum curator and his senior staff immediately saw the educational potential that the VEC would provide as part of their collection. Not only did they want the VEC as a "unique and historically significant" railroading miniature, they wanted it to continue to fulfill the role of "Railroading Ambassador" to the world.

Posing proudly in front of CNR FPA #6765, the author (center) is joined by Jean-Paul Viaud, Curator and Kevin Robinson, Director of Educational Services to celebrate the formal transfer of the VEC to Exporail.

Posing proudly in front of CNR FPA #6765, the author (center) is joined by Jean-Paul Viaud, Curator and Kevin Robinson, Director of Educational Services to celebrate the formal transfer of the VEC to Exporail.

It only took a few hours to agree in principle on the conditions of the transfer of ownership. However, it took three months to complete the paperwork for the donation and ultimately to get the green light from the CRHA board of directors at their next regular meeting. Here are the main elements of the agreement. In return for the layout and the "VEC Transportation system" (see Ztrack issue #9-04), I obtain a receipt for income tax purposes and the permanent privilege of running the VEC during special operating sessions at the Museum. My wife and I have joined the CRHA as volunteers and, as such, we are authorized to accompany the VEC to a small number of prestigious international and national events. The layout will be fully insured by the Museum at these events and, as a representative of the CRHA, my travel expenses would also be tax deductible. Finally, I agreed, with much enthusiasm on my part, to work with the Museum staff to develop a series of activities and strategies to generate the most impact using the VEC in their educational program. This last point explicitly involves developing the VEC web presence and amplifying the VEC brand, as it were.

So, it all comes down to this...the VEC has a new home where it will spread the "joy of model railroading" 365 days a year, up from the 14 or so days that I would normally spend annually at train shows. The VEC will travel from time to time as "Exporail Ambassador" to select events. And, most important of all, the VEC will be preserved for generations to come. Although physically separated from the VEC, I will continue to explore the miniature universe of Val Ease County on the Internet and in the hobby media.

Tune in to for more of the continuing amaZing adventureZ of the the Val Ease Central Railroad, a "layout built to share", or come see it year round at Exporail.