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
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,
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.
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 Val-Ease-Central.com 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.