The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

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

Last Spike: Meet Gerry and Audrey O'Callaghan, "Z" Ambassadors

Meet Gerry and Audrey O'Callahan, Z Ambassadors
Last August 20-21, I met Gerry and Audrey O'Callaghan. The O'Callaghan's are from Smith Falls, Ontario and they were participating as exhibitors for the first time at the annual Exporail "Great Passion for Small Trains" model railroading weekend. Gerry and Audrey were presenting three layouts to the public who came in droves to the Canadian Railroad Museum to enjoy the 30 operating layouts in every scale (including live steam!).

My wife, Marthe, and I were also displaying our layouts at the main entrance to Exporail. The O'Clanaghans were upstairs in the large multi-purpose room with many of the operating layouts. At one point during a lull in the excitement, Gerry stopped by the VECRR to say hello and to show me a pair of Micro-Trains Line F7 diesels custom painted in VIA Rail and CNR colours. I was quite surprised that there was someone at the show interested in Z-scale let alone having custom-painted locomotives. When another wave of visitors arrived, Gerry had to rush back to his layout. With a big smile, he made me promise to drop by to see his display area later. Well, little did I know that this small introduction was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it came to Gerry's interest in Z.

A few hours later, when the crowds had thinned enough for me to chance taking a run upstairs, I managed to locate Gerry talking very earnestly with a group of visitors gathered around his three "Z" layouts...yes, three "Z" layouts! I had to pick my jaw up off the ground when I realized that I was staring at a foldout steamer trunk housing a five-level double mainline "Z" creation. As I walked beyond the trunk, I spotted a guitar-case layout with a Märklin crocodile hauling freight around an oval. Next to the guitar case was another "Z" layout in a large briefcase. This was incredible! I had to find out more about Gerry and Audrey.

Gerry is a long-time model railroader having worked in "N" for many years. While on a fan trip to New York City's Central Station, he stopped at a Great American Train Store where he saw a Märklin briefcase layout. Gerry says he was hooked on "Z" that moment. Of course, being a modeller, he gathered the materials to make his own briefcase layout. That was nine years ago and he has never regretted his love affair with "Z". His layout collection has grown to a total of four, the three he had on display at Exporail plus his 12' x 12' "Switzerland in Miniature" home layout.

Gerry is on disability having had open-heart surgery a couple of years back. He now has the free time to exhibit at ten or more train shows a year. Judging from the big grin on his face when he is with the kids at the show, it doesn't look like he has plans to slow down any time soon.

The crowds were getting four deep once more! It was time to head back downstairs. I had one last "burning" question for Gerry. “Why do you go to train shows?" He explained that "Z" being so small and portable, it only made sense for him to take it on the road to train shows. By his count, he has participated at more than 120 events in Eastern Ontario and upstate New York in the last nine years. (Gerry explained that he was a late bloomer!) However, to top that story, at least in my mind, his wife Audrey has been with him at train shows from the very beginning.

I felt that Gerry had a more powerful motivation to share and I was right. He concluded, "You know, I once belonged to a train club but all the members had grey hair. How in the world is this hobby going to survive if kids don't become involved. If we don't do something, it will die with us."

Thank you for sharing the passion, Audrey and Gerry.

The steamer trunk layout
Layout at a glance:

Construction history: The trunk was ordered from the Sears catalog in December 2004

Era and setting: Swiss, freelance, multiple eras

Dimensions: 4' x 2' x 2'

Track: Double mainline in five level helix (4% grade rising 24") ending in stub yards top and bottom. Note: no catenary is planned due to maintenance issues

Operation: Trains start from top and bottom and automatically send a second train in the opposite direction

Construction: Styrofoam insulation base, Woodland Scenics risers for grades. 100% Märklin track, minimum 220mm and 195mm curves, 10 turnouts

Structures: 20 kits from Faller, Märklin, Kibri and Vollmer

Controls: 2 Märklin power packs, one for each mainline

To-Do list: Waiting for Faller bridges, lighting in buildings, scenery

Gerry began the guitar-case layout for a friend. Unfortunately, the gentleman passed away before he could take possession of this unique work of model railroad art.

Gerry's briefcase layout was inspired by a Märklin set he spotted at Grand Central Station.