The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

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

Last Spike: A Countdown to Remember


Exporail – the Canadian Railway Museum holds a special model railroading weekend every August. Outstanding layouts and craftspeople are invited from all around Eastern Canada and the Northeastern USA to share the very best of the art and craft of model trains. The 2006 edition was a very special event. It marked the first time that the VECRR would be presented to the public in its new home in the miniatures room of the Museum rather than in the main foyer. My mission, if I accepted it, was to prepare and staff the layout for the thousands of visitors who would soon be streaming into the Museum. So much to do, so little time. Let the countdown begin.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Emptied van of display materials, Val Ease West Division and tools. Moved van to accessible parking spot nearby.

In 2003, the Canadian Railway Historical Association opened Exporail, the main pavillion housing the nation's largest collection of historically significant railroading artifacts. A popular miniatures room contains a very large HO-scale DCC-equiped operating layout and the "Val Ease Central RR" under glass.


Ferried materials into the main lobby of the Museum. Cursed self for leaving collapsible dolly at home! Wondered where everyone was?

Visitors entering the main hall are greeted by friendly and bilingual staff. Guided tours of the collection are offered several times a day. Next to the main entrance, visitors can shop for railroadiana, books, clothing and other souvenir items in the Boutique.


Found staff member who had keys to miniatures / layout room and secured access to the display area.

Exporail is home to the national railroad archives, several hundred pieces of fully-restored locomotives, rolling stock and trolleys. Visitors can climb aboard several locos and explore vintage passenger cars.


Transported tools, table, chair and "Val Ease West" division to work area.


Set up folding chair and took up thinking position. Took stock of the situation and considered my options....A. Leave the layout in situ and operate VEW on a table along side the main display....or B. Swap in VEW for « Val Ease Summit Division » and prepare the full layout for operations.

Considering that the signs had to be installed at some point in the mission, the decision was made to tackle Plan B.

The layout of the miniatures room at my arrival. The HO layout is operational although scenery was in its early stages in August 2006. Fully DCC-based, the layout, built by a group of dedicated volunteers, is operated most days by members of the Montréal Model Railway Club.


Corralled another Exporail volunteer into helping to lift the rather large and unwieldy plexiglas cover from the VECRR display. Thanked the volunteer profusely in the hopes that he would help to replace the cover later on. Watched volunteer disappear in a cloud of dust (if there had been any dust) and never to be seen again!


Unfolded work table, covered the plexiglas surface with felt cloth, arranged tools and assembled banner. Began delicate operation to remove VECRR background panels.


Successfully removed backdrop and laid it flat, face down on the felt work area on top of the plexiglas. Unplugged "Val Ease Summit" controls and began the VES separation manouver from CVE.


Completed removal and set VES aside for safekeeping and storage. Began VEW installation procedure.

Step 1: threaded power and RS233 control cables through access holes in base to the side control drawer. Removed sliver from under thumbnail and applied pressure to stop bleeding.
Step 2: added multiplug electrical extension cord to complete the power circuit to VEW.
Step 3: made electrical and control connections to VEW and tested basic control functions.

All systems GO!


Began track cleaning and running tests. After complete rub down with chamois and isopropyl alcohol, ran "The Rocket" over VEW. Several spots of poor conductivity detected. Removed two tunnel sections to gain full access to the track. Heavy oxidation areas encountered. Broke out track eraser and polished the oxidized areas which then passed the "Rocket" test. Ran the "Rocket" and an Aztec track cleaning boxcar over the circuit continuously for 5 minutes. Declared all systems GO for VEW hookup to main VECRR layout.


Slipped into the « Tramway » snack bar for refreshment break!

Visitors to Exporail can pause to enjoy snacks and sandwiches at the "Tramway" cantine.


Commenced VEW-CVE docking manouver.


Completed docking approach and installed steel arch bridge and front edge connecting tracks. Installed top sections of sceniked bridge section and replaced foliage clusters to hide the separation joint.


Began maintenance of three-panel backdrop. On close inspection, identified areas on panel reverse side that needed immediate reinforcement. Discovered severe adhesive supply deficiency. Scrounged duct tape from HO layout supplies and successfully completed the reinforcement procedure.


Test fit new plastic-laminated bilingual (French-English) signage for VECRR. Applied high adhesive white "velcro" strips to signs. Began tricky series of positionning tasks, two signs per VECRR suitcase lid, plus Micro-Trains logo in middle section.


Interrupted backboard insertion to respond to arriving HO layout team members complaining that Z is "too small". Explained how some model railroaders are blessed with an appreciation for "Z". For everyone else, there is "G" gauge.


T-Minus 15 minutes to opening! Successfully completed background repositioning manouver. Reinserted auxiliary scenery sections at the base of the backdrop in CVE and VEW. Applied 3-inch pins to hold backdrop « wings » in place.


Took several deep breaths to steady nerves.


T-Minus 10 minutes and counting! Began final checklist:

- signs on straight --- CHECK!
- felt skirting in position --- CHECK!
- scenery details in place --- CHECK!
- rolling stock in position and on rails --- CHECK!
- turntable bridge aligned with empty roundhouse stall --- CHECK!
- street lights on --- CHECK!
- interior lighting on --- CHECK except for VEE Transfer Company (couldn't tell if the light was on or not, will have to return when the lights can be dimmed).
- flashing lights (lighthouse) --- CHECK!
- flashing lights (Xmas tree) --- ERROR!


Cleaned accumulated crud from putty ring on tree base blocking fibre optic strand and retested visibility --- CHECK!


T-Minus 3 minutes and counting! 6-member HO layout crew in position and creating turbulence around the VECRR. All systems GO for plexiglas cover reinstallation.


Secured unwilling volunteer to lend two hands to reinstalling the plexiglas cover. After three aborted attempts, completed the procedure on fourth try. Minor damage to plexiglas base (on volunteer's side, naturally!) and to pinched fingers (on my side, naturally!). NOTE to control: schedule repairs for next mission to Exporail.


T-Minus 60 seconds and counting. Early-bird visitors in approach pattern for miniatures room.

T-Minus 30 seconds and counting. Tools accounted for and secured. Folding table in place and brochures in display pattern. Detritus collected and removed from display area. HO layout crew shooed away from leaning on VECRR display case. Mopped perspiration from brow.



We have doors open to the public!

All systems GO for the first public showing of the complete VECRR under glass at its permanent display area at Exporail - the Canadian Railway Museum in St-Constant, Quebec, Canada.

The VECRR in all of its glory under plexiglas. The controls are stored in a well-disguised drawer on the left of the display. A wireless remote unit is used to turn the VECRR on and off. The next projects are to install appropriate overhead lighting and add interactive sound.

The Val Ease Central RR at a glance

Artist: Jeffrey MacHan
Scale: Z 1:220

Era: Autumn 1954, steam-diesel transition
Setting: Bridge line through Pacific northwest mountain valley along major river transportation artery
Railroad: Union Pacific formerly VECRR
Trackage: 65 feet = 4.37 ScaleKm = 2.7 ScaleMiles, providing 15 switching locations
Design: Up to 3 operators plus dispatcher

Construction: Extruded polystyrene foam board, 20-inch high custom-painted gatorboard backdrop in 3 panels. Housed in three Delsey hard-side suitcases.
Dimensions: Area = 13 square feet, footprint = 2 feet x 8 feet
Controls: 3 hand-held transistorized single-cab throttles on 10-foot RS232 tethers, 8x digital fast clock, plug-in voltmeter / ammeter module
Built: Val Ease West (1993), Val Ease East (1995), Centre Val Ease (2000), Val Ease Summit (2005)
Distinctions: Greenberg Shows - 1st Place (1994), NMRA - Golden Spike (1998), NMRA National Train Show - Best of Show (2001), Model Railroader Magazine (2004), Invited exhibit: Quebec Museum of Civilisation (1997-1998), Faszination Modellbau (2002), Eurospoor (2003), Canadian Railway Museum (2003), London Festival of Railway Modelling (2006).
Sponsors: Micro-Trains Line, Ztrack, Märklin, Exporail-Canadian Railway Museum
Web site:
Fan club:

The bank of florescent lights right above the VECRR will be removed at some point and be replaced with variable intensity spot lighting running on a timer circuit. The VECRR is completely wired for night-time running and has a total of 24 Märklin street lights as well as fully-detailed and lighted interiors.

****************************************** Mission notes ***********************************************

Mr. Stephen Cheasley, President of the Canadian Railway Historical Society and Mr. Kevin Robinson, Director of Educational Services at Exporail, were among the first visitors to the finished VECRR display. They have agreed to move forward quickly to install the recommended halogen lighting system for the VECRR exhibit. The overhead fluorescent bank will be disconnected and will be replaced with a full-size ceiling panel. A colour-balanced, variable intensity halogen lighting system will be designed and installed over the course of the next few months. The halogen lighting can be dimmed from time-to-time to allow visitors to appreciate the intricate and extensive lighting effects on the VECRR. Future plans include an interactive sound system to allow young visitors to "hear" the lively goings-on inside the VECRR.


Begun in 1992 as simply a way to put a souvenir « walnut starter set » to good use as stress relief, the VECRR became, over the course of the last 14 years, an International Ambassador for Z model railroading, appearing in over 80 events in 49 cities in 5 countries. Jeffrey MacHan is proud to have crafted a world-class, award-winning model railroad « built to share ». The VECRR joined the collection of Exporail - Canada's national railway museum in December 2003. On August 19, 2006 the VECRR took up its permanent place on display for visitors from around the world. For more information:

Z-Scale: minimum size, MAXIMUM enjoyment