Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

Gateway 2001
2001 NMRA National Train Show, Saint Louis, MO

Warning: the following is biased personal opinion of the basest nature and may not come even remotely close to reality as perceived by those unfortunate enough to be mentioned here within ;-)

  1. Fri Jul 6, 2001 10:29 pm / Summer Tour Travelog, Part 1
  2. Sat Jul 7, 2001 10:55 pm / Summer Tour Travelog, Part 2
  3. Nashville, TN, July 8, 2001 / Summer Tour Travelog, Part 3: GATS wrap-up
  4. Wed Jul 11, 2001 12:58 am / Summer Tour Travelog, Part 4: St. Louis.
  5. Thu Jul 12, 2001 12:15 am / Z Summer Tour part 5: NTS2001 Report, Day 1
  6. Fri Jul 13, 2001 12:35 am / Z Summer Tour part 6: NTS2001 Report, Day 2
  7. Mon Jul 16, 2001 12:26 am / Z Summer Tour part 7: NTS2001 Report, Day 3
  8. Mon Jul 16, 2001 1:29 am / Z Summer Tour part 8: NTS2001 Report, Day 4
  9. Tue Jul 17, 2001 1:16 am / Z Summer Tour part 9: NTS2001 Report, Day 4
  10. Tue Jul 17, 2001 11:08 pm / Z Summer Tour part 10: NTS2001 Report, Day 4
  11. Thu Jul 19, 2001 12:54 am / Z Summer Tour part 11: NTS2001 Report, Day 5
  12. Thu Jul 19, 2001 11:25 pm / MR photo session
  13. Sun Jul 22, 2001 10:10 pm / Great Summer Z Train Show Tour: Wrap-up
Date: Fri Jul 6, 2001 10:29 pm
Subject: Summer Tour Travelog Part 1

Hi Gang,

Today is officially the first day of the 2001 Summer Train ShowTour for the Val Ease Central RR. After 3 days on America's interstate system, we have arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, where we met up with Terry and Helen Sutfin for the Nashville Great American Train Show (GATS).

The view from our Nashville Motel 6.

The GATS starts tomorrow at 11am but being the seasoned GATS participants that we are, we arrived the day before in order to scope out the venue. The drive to the Nashville Coloseum is about 10 minutes so we hopped in the car and checked in with Moe Goehegan, the GATS employee supervising the show. We now know where our layouts are supposed to be on the floor plan (we placed 8 foot tables in our places to hold our spots).

After asking a couple of locals where we could find the Hard Rock Cafe, we said goodbye to Moe and drove around the Coloseum to get our bearings and to decide how we were going to deliver our layouts in the morning.

Scoping out the Nashville Coloseum.

Our plan of attack is to arrive at the show at 8am to set up and to visit the vendors before the doors open at 11am. I have some last minute things to do on the VECRR such as refurbishing a few of the trees that have lost some foliage with the bouncing the suitcases have taken on the trip down and to finish some wiring on Centre Val Ease.

Terry, Helen, Marthe and I finished out evening discussing the upcoming shows and our plans for Europe in 2002. When we finally said good night, Terry was eagerly looking at the copy of Ztrack that I had brought for him.

Cheers to all,
Jeffrey MacHan
Roving reporter

Date: Sat Jul 7, 2001 10:55 pm
Subject: Summer Tour Travelog Part 2

Hi Gang,

The Great Train Show Tour of 2001 is officially under way. I'll spare you the details of our breakfast in sunny and muggy Nashville, the set up in the Coliseum and the installation of our "Z Scale, the Champagne of Model RailroadZ" sign 10 feet above our layouts.

The VECRR all ready to greet visitors.

Suffice to say that shortly after the doors opened to the public at 11am there were crowds around the Z delegation. The beaming faces of the youngsters and the elated smiles of their parents and grand parents made the 1500 mile trip for Terry and Helen Sutfin and the 800 miles that Marthe and I put on the car all worth while.

The trains ran flawlessly and smoothly after I discovered that I could clean the wheels even better if I used 9 volts rather than the 5 I usually used with the MTL Speedi-Driver cleaning brush.

The highlight of the day for the Z gang was the visit by Cam Cornelius, a reporter and videographer for the local NBC affiliate (Channel 4) here in Nashville. He spent a good deal of time around the Z layouts. We learned that he was a MiniClub enthusiast and he had a soft spot in his heart for our CUTE trains. We heard that expression a lot today.

Terry Sutfin explains the workings of his PVDC to the TV4 cameraman.

After the 5pm closing and a feeling of accomplishment in promoting Z to Tennesseans of all stripes, we went to enjoy a fine italian meal and to relive the marvelous moments that we had witnessed during the show.

We retired to our motel rooms and at the strike of 10pm we were tuned in to the local NBC news. The anchor newscaster introduced Cam's segment by explaining that kids of all sizes and ages were sure to have a great time at the train show taking place in Nashville on the weekend...and there was the VECRR with 2 trains passing as they faded to commercial!

We were all abuzz in the room waiting for the start of the clip. The report was very well done with interviews of kids from 3 to 6 years of age and clips of trains of every scale running during the voice over. Then there was the PVDC! Then we heard Terry's melodious voice-over explaining that trains were great fun...way to go TERRY! more trains and smiling faces, then the VECRR in a medium distance shot showing a group of kids and bigger kids around the trains. Wow, we thought, 3 references to Z...but that was nothing...there was Terry in a face to face interview. We had the pleasure of his big smile as he explained that Z was the newest and the smallest of the scales with the advantage of offering more trains in less space. Way to go, TERRY!

All in all, Z scale received 4 plugs, including the one of 3 interviews with adults (well if you can call model railroaders adults) and was the only scale mentioned in the segment of about 3 minutes in length. Thanks Cam Cornelius and thanks to the crowds gathered around the Z layouts who told us how Z was their "most favoritest" trains!

We'll be back at the show tomorrow at 10am. There is still a little work to be done to get the layouts into top shape for NTS and GATS gives us the opportunity to shake out the bugs.

Jeffrey MacHan
Reporting live from Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, TN, July 8, 2001
Subject: Great Z Train Show Tour, Part 3: GATS wrap-up

Hi Gang,

We've now finished the first leg of the Summer 2001 Train Show Tour. Nashville GATS is history and Z scale has made history once more...

Our intrepid band of Z adventurers made quite an impression on the members of the General Public (my favourite kind). As I'm sure that few of you know, the Great American Train Show organization hands out ballots to about 100 randomly selected visitors during the first day of the train show. These 100 visitors are invited to vote for their favourite layout of the 15 clubs at the show. All of the individual or club (modular) layouts receive a $50 contest fee for displaying their railroad at GATS.

Crowds at the Val Ease Central. The Z section attracted lots of attention.

Today it is safe to say that Z made an impression because both Z layouts took home prizes! The Val Ease Central finished 2nd and the PVDC finished 4th in the popular vote along with a very nice monetary reward. A large and very well done N-trak modular layout finished 3rd and we don't know who took home 1st place money. Note to US modelers: take your layouts to the GATS in your area and take part in the contest. You're garanteed $50 and you might take home much more!

Terry and I are very happy with the response to Z from the local media and the model train loving public who showed their appreciation with their votes.

Unfortunately today started off with a mishap that crippled Val Ease West. I hooked the hand held control box cable with my foot while moving behind the layout. The control box fell to the concrete floor and landed on the upper RH corner. Although everything looked OK the operation of VEW was not OK. The speed control was lost. I don't think that the 5k ohm potentiometer is to blame for the fact that there is no slow speed control...only 100% voltage at the top end of the range. I really, really hope that the Darlington transistor has not been damaged. If that is the case the fix will be complicated and expensive. Only a disassembly of the control box and a check of the components will tell the whole story.

Terry still has one trouble spot to take care of in the yard throat of the PVDC. We'll discuss our plan for repairs over supper tonight. You'll be the first to know what we decide to do.

Our next stop on the Summer 2001 Train Show Tour is St. Louis, Missouri for the National Train Show. Our Z layouts will arrive as champions which should help us in our PR match with the NMRA and our friendly Z or future Z manufacturers.

Before I sign off on today's report, I must make a correction to yesterday's mileage numbers. Helen and Terry were adamant that I set the record straight. They have covered 2458 miles since leaving Vancouver, Washington for the start of the 2001 Z Tour. Another tidbit of information that they insist that you know is that the Z segment on the local news broadcast took place despite the presence of 15,000 conventioneers for the International Barber Shop Quartet Association and Championships! Well, that says a lot about how far Z has come in Tennessee!

Not only is the PVDC

Total attendance for the GATS was 6500, 4500 on Saturday and 2000 today. The organizers are pleased with the turnout (any attendance over 6000 is a success in the summer we were told) and the Z adventurers are certainly pleased with the reception and the success that we have enjoyed in Nashville.

Tomorrow we go into "tourist" mode to see the sights and to perhaps find a Radio Shack for a 5k ohm potentiometer (this happens to be Helen's favourite word!). The next report will be coming to you live from the NMRA National Train Show in St. Louis beginning Wednesday, July 11 when we set up shop in the TWA America's Center along with our colleagues from across America who are bringing Z modules.

Warm regards from 100+ degree Nashville,
Jeffrey MacHan
Well roasted Z scaler and roving reporter

Date: Wed Jul 11, 2001 12:58 am
Subject: Great Z Train Show Tour, Part 4: St. Louis.

The incredible St. Louis Arch.

We've arrived safe and sound in St. Louis. We've made a quick scouting trip to the Convention Center to get our bearings and to locate the loading dock for tomorrow's chaotic entry onto the show floor. We will be setting up in the afternoon as soon as we can get our passes and fight our way into the building.

Here's some good news...I was able to find the source of the problem with the VEW control box. The base lead of the darlington power transistor had lost contact with the copper band on the printed circuit board. I had a good idea that I would find the source of my troubles there. A jumper soon had the layout working great. I found a couple of loose wires that needed to be reattached on the Relco unit which will help operations during the show.

I was so happy about fixing the control box that I got out my tool kit and added wind shields to my remaining F7s and weathered the VEW fuel oil depot. I also discovered that the lead F7 in my UP passenger consist has a bad tower gear so I swapped out the motor from another unit. The passenger train should glide around the layout from now on.

More from NTS2001 tomorrow...
Jeffrey MacHan

Date: Thu Jul 12, 2001 12:15 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 5: NTS2001 Report, Day 1

Hello captive Z audience,

The Sutfin van is loaded and we're off to the National Train Show.

Today was the day of reckoning for the Great Z Gathering. As we gathered our layouts in the car many questions crossed our minds...Were the groups converging on St. Louis going to arrive without incident? Was Dottie Finch going to give us our passes to enter the stadium? Where would our layouts end up on the floor plan? Would we have to wait for hours on end to get into the stadium to set up?

The answers came in short order...

Dave George from Houston was the first in line to get into the stadium followed by Terry Sutfin. Z scale was the first through the doors at noon because we were able to get our passes from Dottie a little early and I had found a shortcut through the bowels of the stadium to get to the waiting cars at the loading dock.

Terry Sutfin gives David George a hand unloading. Soon we were joined by Rob Kluz, Ztrack Magazine.

The Z group has probably the best space in the train show. That's good. Unfortunately the space is where unloading vehicles must pass. That's bad. So as we watched surrounding groups set up their layouts, we had to stack our material to the side in order to keep the main aisle clear. While waiting for the Texas groups to arrive, we managed to pigeon hole the chief judge for the layout contest, John Selkirk, in order to get the judging forms and the final instructions on participating in the contest.

The modular layouts arrive. Terry Sutfin and his PVDC once again gets the media attention.  It helped that his layout was the only one up and running.

The rest of our intrepid band finally arrived around 3pm and began to unload what was likely the largest collection of vehicles of any exhibitor. Z made an impression once again...the smallest scale was delivered using the largest trucks.

At the time doors closed at 6pm about 1/3 of the modules were standing. We still have lots of work ahead of us tomorrow to complete the installation. The only person who had his layout up and ready to go was Terry Sutfin. As a result, Terry once again became our spokesperson in front of the local TV camera. Channel 4 News (CBS) came looking for running layouts and the only ones ready at 5pm today were the G scale and Terry's Z scale. Z is making points with the NMRA brass with our capacity to come to their rescue when the media shows up unexpectedly.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...for the module groups to set up.

Now it seems that the small size of Z is beginning to appeal to the NTS brass. The latest news from Terry Bacus, NMRA Bulletin Editor, is that he wants the VECRR to be on the set of a local TV morning show Friday at 6am! I'm not sure that I am game to try to set up and repack the layout Friday morning before 8 am when the NTS judges are supposed to be making their rounds. It may be a case of Terry Sutfin to the rescue again, that is if he wants to get up at 5am Friday morning! We will have something to talk over at breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow.

The show opens officially Friday morning at 10am and you'll read about all the juicy news and rumours as they happen so stay tuned for the next installment.

Reporting from St. Louis,
Jeffrey MacHan

Date: Fri Jul 13, 2001 12:35 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 6: NTS2001 Report, Day 2

Hi Gang,

Today was a very long, long day. We arrived at the convention centre at 9:30 am and left to return to the motel at 8:30 pm. I'm dead on my feet so this will be a quick note to say that the VECRR is set up and running. While waiting for Rob Allbritton to finish setting up his impressive Swiss modules and free up my assigned place on the floor plan, I added two blocks to Centre Val Ease and finally added the GR Lighting camp fire module to the VEE-CVE bridge section.

Time was in short supply as Jeffrey begins installing the campfire module Those wires seem to be shorter than I remembered.

My fingers seem to be bigger than I remembered! Almost done...soldering the leads.

The working campfire. David George came by to check out the undercarriage of the VEC.

Fortunately there will not be an early morning expedition to the local TV station. The crew will be coming to the show at 9am. We'll be back on the show floor at 8am to finish installing details and putting out cars. Judging for the contest takes place between 8am and 10am. Dave George and I have entered the contest. Results will be announced Saturday morning.

We were happy to meet Harald Freudenreich and briefly glance at his extraordinary locos and rolling stock. I was also a pleasure to meet Helmut Paule from Florida who pitched in to help me with set up.

More tomorrow,
Jeffrey MacHan

Date: Mon Jul 16, 2001 12:26 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 7: NTS2001 Report, Day 3

Hi Gang,

Friday, July 13, What, me superstitious?

The show opened at 10 am for the convention attendees and at 2pm for the general public. Most of the exhibitors were on site at 8am to put the finishing touches on the modules, layouts and stands. The judging for the NTS module contest ran from 8am to 10am. This was important to myself and to David George who had entered our modules in the competition.

At around 10:30am one of the teams of judges arrived at the VECRR to begin their examination. Interestingly enough, 2 of the judges had seen the layout in San Jose last year. Their first question to me was, "What has changed in the past year? This will make our job much easier!" I said that it would be more fun for them to try and find the changes and I made a discrete exit to let them do their job in peace. After about 15 minutes they proceded to David George's layout to repeat the scoring process. The results were to be announced Saturday morning at 9:30am.

For me the highlights of the day were definitely meeting Harald Freudenreich (FR Models), Reynard Wellman (Micron Art) and Hans Rittervold (American Z) who had brought their brass masterpieces for us to drool over. In some cases the drooling became a flood when we saw the magnificent PAs from American Z. I am not particularly fond of Alco PAs but I had to admit that the Pennsy version with the fine details was great. My personal tastes lean toward the miniscule "perfection" of the boxcabs made by FR. I had already exacted the promise from Harald that he would test run a boxcab on the VECRR. He came through with the ultimate result that my pocketbook became considerably lighter later in the day! More on the VECRR list.

Derailments kept me busy trying to hunt down the causes.

I have to admit that the VECRR was not behaving as expected during the opening day. The UP passenger train was derailing coming out of the VEE tunnel into Upper Centre Val Ease. With the expert help of Thom Welsh, a pioneer Z scaler from St. Louis, I was able to find the source of the problem and get the train running smoothly once again. A word about Thom...he started in Z 27 years ago! He built a layout with scratch built buildings and took it to Great American Train Shows (GATS) for many years. Following the loss of his car (the means of transporting his layout to shows) about nine years ago he put his Z into storage... Funny that he took a pause just when I was starting in Z. We had a great many conversations about his experiences as the Z missionary in the early days.

Other highlights of day one of the show were meeting with other Z members, Rob Kluz, Will Wright, Jim Milne and his wife Sandy, Reynard Wellman and his wife Liz, Helmut Paule, Ed Scullin, Bill Kronenberger, Billy Roden, David Huffines, Chad Bryan, Roger Hauser, Jeffrey White and all the other members of the modular groups.

The gathered Zeds at NTS2001.

The show closed to the public at 7pm Friday and, as you already know, I was so tired by the time I got back to the motel that I couldn't lift a finger to send you a report.

One last thing to add, I made a short trip over to the Kato booth to start our campagne of terror to interest them in producing Z scale unitrack. Over the course of the weekend about 6 other members of our delegation made the same trek to delivery a similar message. Rob Kluz later told me that the Kato people had been by his booth to look over the Z stuff. Who knows what the future holds? It was certainly fun to see our strategy being put into action and the reaction of the Kato staff.

Jeffrey MacHan
Playing catchup in St. Louis

Date: Mon Jul 16, 2001 1:29 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 8: NTS2001 Report, Day 4

Hi Gang,

Well I guess that Thom Welsch scooped me on the big surprise of day 2 of the National Train Show. It was more than exciting, my friends, it was exhilarating!!!

We arrived at the Z area about 9:45am, 15 minutes after the awards ceremony. Fortunately Rob Kluz was already on duty at his booth when the announcement was made. As a result, when I finally walked up to the VECRR, there was Rob with an excited look on his face. He said that he was sorry that the cover was removed from my layout...I was beginning to feel very nervous. Last year when the cover had been removed from the VECRR by hands other than my own, it was because a fork lift operator had run into it! Rob pointed towards Centre Val Ease and........ .......there was the plaque that read:

National Model Railroad Association, National Train Show Module Contest

"Best of Show"

There is was..the Best of Show plaque waiting for me on the layout.

I knew that I must have turned white as a sheet and staggered slightly. I couldn't believe what I saw. Not only was the VECRR a prize winner at the NTS, it was the first ever National Champion Z scale layout. My wife Marthe was so happy for me that she was jumping up and down and clapping. My fellow Z scalers and many of the exhibitors who were nearby came to congratulate me. I was still flabergasted. Last year I had fought to have the layout judged and finished second with a respectable 93 points on the judging score sheet. This time, after the extra week that I spent working to improve the layout, especially weathering and ground details, the result was an astounding 105 points out of 125.

Any Sperandeo, MR editor came by to congratulate the dazzed winner and to finally see the VEC in person.

The immediate consequence of winning a national competition is that people who didn't consider Z a serious modeling scale were coming to look at the layout. For example, I had a visit from Andy Sperandeo, editor of Model Railroader Magazine who looked genuinely impressed. When a visitor standing nearby asked when MR was going to publish an article about the VECRR, Andy replied that it would be soon. We'll see...but still a positive developement. I hate to mention this but the NMRA Bulletin editor never came by to take a picture or to say hello. There is still some work to do in that quarter, I guess?

A few minutes later, John Selkirk, the chief module contest judge, came by to congratulate me in person and to have his picture taken with me and the plaque in front of the layout. He jokingly informed me that winning best of show would get the Z scale guy out of his hair in the future! He also told me that a national champion could no longer enter contests. This was to allow other entrants a chance to compete. He said that I would simply have to build another layout!

John Selkirk, NTS Chief Module Competition judge. Dean Windsor, NMRA Contest Chair and NTS Judge.

I also had a visit from Dean Windsor, MMR (Master Model Railroader) NMRA Contest Chair and one of the judges who gave me the 105 points. He told me that the decision was unanimous amongst the 3 judges. I'll post the score sheet along with my explanations on VECRR when I return home on the 24th.

It is important to mention that David George entered his modules in the contest. David had told me that he would be happy with 50 points. His objective was to compete and to see where his starting point was. He was awarded 82 points if I am not mistaken which is 5.5 points from the Achievement Program Scenery Certificate. David has every reason to be proud of his score. He plans to continue to improve the layout and to compete in next year's contest. He already has his space reserved with Dean Dickerhoof, NTS layout coordinator. (It's always a good thing to get to know the NTS brass. It will certainly come in handy in Fort Lauderdale, FL in 2002, David!).

Hans Riddervold of AZL poses proudly with his E8 and other offerings in brass.

In the meantime, the president of Ajin of Korea was hand delivering a small box to Hans Riddervold at the Ztrack booth. How do I know this? Terry Sutfin was there spying! Believe it or not, Hans was taking possession of the very first Z scale E8 (in Union Pacific colours, of course!). Terry nearly died, Hans nearly died, Rob Kluz nearly died, then they came to get me and I nearly died. It is simply the most beautiful Z scale locomotive that I have ever had the pleasure to see. The big test came when Hans took it over to the Houston modules, which were working fine now thanks to Bill K's team of detectives who had traced the problem to a M turnout which was shorting across the flange contact strip. Bill K's opinion of M turnouts took another nose dive! Hoping to get in on the action of the maiden run of the UP E8, I offered to put my custom painted UP passenger cars behind the E8. Hans said sure, I put them on and soon we had a heart stoppingly beautiful UP train running arount the curves and long straights of Rob Allbritton's modules. Only after a wayward catenary post knocked a passenger car off the tracks did the E8 run into any trouble. It negotiated the curves in style and grace.

The other big event of day 2 of the NTS2001 was the Great Z Supper. More on that in my next installment. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Terry Sutfin and I wore formal wear all day? For the second year in a row, we had unilaterally declared Saturday of the NTS, formal day in honour of Z Scale, the Champagne of Model RailroadZ! We made quite an impression, I can assure you.

Stay tuned for the next installment when I try to convey the tingling sensation that we all felt all day Saturday. There is lots more to tell.

Jeffrey MacHan
Proud owner of the VECRR, NTS2001 "Best of Show"

Date: Tue Jul 17, 2001 1:16 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 9: NTS2001 Report, Day 4

NTS Day 4, Saturday part II:

One of the many great pleasures of NTS 2001 was meeting some terrific people. As I mentioned in my previous posting, Thom Welsch arrived on the scene to lend a helping hand and immediately made himself invaluable...spotting trains for Rob Allbritton, rerailing my trains whenever I wandered out of sight of the layout, giving Dallas and Houston 10 extra fingers to make up trains and help in any way possible.

But Thom was not alone. We were fortunate to have Helmut Paule and Ed Scullin join us for the 3 days of excitement as well. Ed Scullin had made arrangements to become an honorary member of NTS2001 very early on. He arrived Friday with his wife who declared that she was not a Z scaler, she just signs the checks... Ed is a lucky guy! I think that he also brought a couple of trains to run but I didn't get to see much of what was happening on the far side of our floor space. I know that Ed worked very hard helping dismantle the modules and pack the trailer after the show closed. Thanks, Ed.

Helmut Paule takes a break from the show to run his ICE on the VEC.

Now one person who I saw a lot of during the show was Helmut Paule. Helmut lives in St. Pete, Florida and defends Z religiously at the H&R Hobbies train show twice yearly when he takes his award winning layout out for a spin. Helmut explained that we had it good in St. Louis. At the H&R show he runs his trains outside, in a tent with dirt floors. Now there is a torture test for Z! I have to thank Helmut for coming to provide security at my layout and to discipline my trains if they got out of hand. He was always ready to give me a chance to visit the show for a few minutes by filling in at the controls. Helmut even attempted an experiment on the VECRR. He had brought an ICE train with extra cars. In a moment of inspiration he suggested that we try it out on the VECRR. I was doubtful that it would behave since my trackwork is rather unforgiving it seems for anything but an F7. Well he skillfully installed the ICE on the track and after briefly refusing to take the control into his hands, he hit the accelerator and had the train cruisin' around the layout. It ran so good in fact that we soon had it doing the CVE loop. It was nice to see the sleek shape of the ICE gliding around the curves of the layout with the characteristic whisper it makes flying down the track. We ran it for the rest of the day! Judging from the look on Helmut's face as he tweaked the speed dials for the train, I would have to say that he was enjoying himself. Thanks, Helmut.

Roger Hauser on L and Jeffrey White on R.

Another gentleman who came from afar to share his passion with Z trains was Jeffrey White from Atlanta, Georgia. Jeffrey is an honorary member of the Dallas, Garland and Mesquite modular group ever since he joined them in Richardson, Texas for the big Z roundup. Jeffrey pitched in everywhere and his constant smile and good humor really connected with everyone. My wife wants me to thank Jeffrey for helping her with her purchase at the show. She bought an Ott light on a large swivel base and Jeffrey was kind enough to carry it for her to our layout area. Jeffrey will soon be a resident of Jacksonville, Florida which he insists on calling South Georgia! Now Jeffrey has been seen adding hopper cars and Dash 9s to his collection. When I confronted him with a charge of being a collector, he defended himself by claiming to 'collect to run'. OK, Jeffrey, I'll give you that one. You certainly can think on your feet. We hope to see a bustling Z group in South Georgia in short order.

Jim and Sandy Milne from Roanoke, Virginia, arrived with a swoosh and a mighty handshake to let us know that Jim, not Sandy, was ready to rock and roll in Z! After Jim, David George, Jeffrey White and David Huffines had finished their assault on the Z vendors at the show, there was hardly anything left over for us slower Z scalers to buy. Sandy spent several hours with Marthe Simard and Helen Sutfin, the two other Z widows at the show. She explained to me that she was very happy to see Jim fulfill his urge for the weekend wore on she knew that her house would get much more than the new drapes that Jim had offered in exchange for being allowed to join us in St. Louis. :-) every time I saw Jim go past the layout, he had a bigger grin than the time before. Someone was having FUN!

Bill Kronenberger from Houston, TX. Billy Roden from Dallas, RX and Rob Kluz from Ohio.

It was great to have the wives at the show. In fact, it was Helen Sutfin and Marthe Simard who organized the Great Z Supper of Saturday night. I had proposed the supper in order to continue the tradition that we started in San Jose at last year's NTS. I sometimes have a good idea and asking Helen and Marthe to take on the supper was certainly a good idea. They canvassed the Z scalers for their committment to attend the supper. Then with the numbers in hand, they visited the Tourism and Convention Information Stand at the America's Center next door to the convention center in order to get suggestions for a restaurant that could accomodate 24 people in a private party with no smoking, not too far from the train show. They succeeded brilliantly and soon I was printing out flyers for distribution giving the who, what, when and where of our group supper. Yes I had a portable color printer to complement my HP Jornada!

Sorry to cut this 'short' but I'm losing the tug of war with the Sandman. If I'm lucky, I'll get this transmitted right away.......

Stay tuned for part III of Saturday's report, lots to share with you.

Jeffrey MacHan
Wearing a tuxedo all day Saturday

Date: Tue Jul 17, 2001 11:08 pm
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 10: NTS2001 Report, Day 4

Hi Gang,

Before I continue with the NTS travelog, I want to say that our dear friends Terry and Helen Sutfin are now on their way back to Vancouver, Washington. Marthe and I have two weeks of wonderful memories of the time spent with them at Nashville and St. Louis. We're looking forward to future adventures together and we hope that they as well as all our Z friends at NTS2001 return home safe and sound.

I am composing this mail in Chicago, IL, on our way to Milwaukee, WI. I received confirmation this morning from Andy Sperandeo, Editor of Model Railroader Magazine, that the photo shoot at MR's studio is scheduled for 1pm Thursday. Marthe and I will be taking pictures of the picture taking and you'll hear all about this upcoming adventure.

Now back to our regularly scheduled report...

NTS2001 - Saturday Part III

In our last episode, the Z group was about to rendez-vous at Lombardo's Trattoria next to Union Station for our Great Z Supper. We had 24 confirmed for the supper which got under way at 7:15 pm. I was more than a little apprehensive since the restaurant accepted the reservation for a private dining room on the condition that they provide a single check for the party and charge 18% gratuity. Guess who took care of the check?

The evening was extremely pleasant, the food excellent (I recommend the canelloni) and the assembled company charming and above all interesting. The highlight of the evening, aside from the food, was a round of introductions where everyone was invited to share how they got started in Z scale. For the better part of an hour we discovered the depth of our passion for Z scale trains.

The only thing that I would change about such a round table interaction is to have the orders taken and the bread and salad served before beginning! As the host for the evening, I should have not made this logistical blunder, but I was in such a hurry to hear from my assembled friends that my good sense fell off the train. So, for next year's supper, learn from this mistake...Begin dining, then make the speeches!

My major concern about the conclusion of the evening was how to collect from everyone before chaos took control. My associates had been prewarned that they required cash to pay for their liberation from the supper group. Fortunately, with the help of Josh, our waiter, I managed to keep my head above water. Using my HP Jornada, I started an Excel spreadsheet where I listed each person along with their food and beverage order. Josh gave me the total from the master check and I added the 8% food tax plus the 18% gratuity. Several individuals needed to leave early and estimated their bill and gave me the cash with the understanding that I would reimburse an overpayment and collect an underpayment. Only one person needed to supplicate my generosity and pay up on Sunday.

The spreadsheet idea worked...I only came up $15 short on a $711 tally. Hey that's pretty good, imagine what could have happened!

I would like to say that I slept like a baby after such a hectic day and the relief that the supper had been a success. It was not to be. In fact, sleep eluded me until about 3am. I was simply too excited! I kept my wife up talking about everything that had taken place. Eventually her regular breathing and the fact that she didn't answer any of my rhetorical questions told me that I was talking to myself and that perhaps trying to get some sleep would be more benificial in the short term!

The report on Sunday, July 15, 2001, the final day of NTS2001 will concentrate on all the rumours and scuttlebut that my spies and I picked up in conversations with vendors and other unsavoury characters at the show. There is some pretty exciting stuff...

Regards to all,
Jeffrey MacHan

Date: Thu Jul 19, 2001 12:54 am
Subject: Z Summer Tour part 11: NTS2001 Report, Day 5

NTS Day 5, Sunday, July 15

Hi Gang,

Sunday was a train running day and one where several Z scalers came by to share their passion. In fact 2 veteran Z scalers dropped by to see the 'Zone' and to show their photos of their Z layouts. I remember Verne who had built Z scale replicas of his grandfather's general store and the family homestead. He even had pictures of the village to demonstrate how close to the real thing he had come. The work and the photography were simply superb. Hopefully Verne will join us soon on the list and share the pictures. I also hope to see his work on the cover of Ztrack Magazine.

Another gentleman Z scaler came by with photos of his Z layout taken with a Frico pinhole lens. The effect was breathtaking. The depth of field made the whole image come alive. He explained that the pinhole gave an effective aperture value of f130! I didn't write down his name unfortunately so I hope that he will identify himself if and when he joins us on the list. Perhaps Rob Kluz remembers him and can fill us in.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Peter Fonseca and 7 of his 11 children. In fact the birth of his 11th a week earlier couldn't keep him from dropping in to say hello. Peter models in Z and one of his sons models in N. The girls in the family kept count of everyone because Peter seemed to lose track from time to time.

Running trains became the general theme on Sunday since all the modules and layouts were working within specs. Rob Allbritton had DCC trains and the occasional DC interloper from the Houston area gliding over his tracks under the blackened catenary.

For my part I had finally succumbed to temptation and had an FR boxcab pulling Micro-Train coupler equiped cars very slowly around Val Ease West. I looked the engine over carefully and I am convinced that I can install MT couplers on it. Harald is preparing a new MT conversion base plate but I can't wait that long to do my installation. He agreed to provide me with a set of truck plates to play with. The results will be posted to the list shortly after my return to Toronto next week.

It was generally observed that Jim Milne was a very happy camper. In fact one of the funniest moments that I was fortunate enough to witness involved Jim Milne and his wife Sandy. We had learned that Jim had made the decision to come to the show after reading that Harold Freudenreich would be there. If Harald could make the trip from Germany, then Jim & Sandy could fly down from Roanoke, VA, he reasoned. The clincher came after he had read my NTS report that Terry Sutfin had driven 2548 miles to get to Nashville and then the reports had suddenly stopped... So Wednesday he got tickets and told his wife they were leaving Friday.

Sandy was a little apprehensive about Jim. In fact, when we saw Harald Freudenreich pass by in the direction of the Houston modules with something cupped in his hands followed by a beaming Jim Milne trotting behind, Sandy exclaimed: Oh God, we're in trouble. Is he carrying a bag?" I got a quick look at the delicate item in Harald's hands and told her that she could count on much more than new drapes from Jim! He had just bought a FR Baltimore & Ohio electric boxcab! Beautiful! Boy did we get a kick out of this story.

Now for the rumour mill:

1. I met with Dee Gilbert of Kato USA to discuss the Kato N and HO market strategy. He informed me that Kato had been in N scale for 35 years now and was investing heavily in the risky business of HO for the US market. Their Unitrack line is primarily destined for the Japanese marketplace, he informed me and that it was very unlikely, given the company's current strategy, that they would produce a unitrack like product for Z. That being said, he was not totally negative about the possibilities. His advice was to contact the head office in Japan (he gave me the coordinates and the contact name) and make the case for Z scale unitrack. Kato would need a basic business case covering potential market size, sales projections, the state of the current competition and their product lines, etc.

You get the picture...Nothing is impossible if there really is a demand for Z unitrack. If however the introduction of a good quality US style turnout by a company like MTL for instance would satisfy the Z community, then there would be no impetus to Kato to proceed.

2. Discussions with Micro-Trains Line gave strong indications that they will finally introduce a series of track components to complement their Z flex track. It seems that they are in discussions with Trains&Trains to produce a complete layout form starter set which would include track and switches. I don't know what the time frame is for such a product launch but it would be nice to see something before Xmas 2001 (just in case someone in Medford is reading this)!

3. Several new products were introduced by N scale companies getting into Z scale. Arrowhead and Blair Line were two that made themselves known at the show. I hope that they have enough success to encourage them to continue their Z adventure.

4. Of course, we were there, or almost, when Ajin delivered the prototype E8 in UP colours to Hans Riddervold of American Z Line. It is to die for so start saving your pennies right now. This baby will be offered with B units! YEOW!!!

5. I especially liked seeing Micron Art structures on display. The station and the foundry are beautiful additions to their exquisite brass offerings. The diorama set up in the Ztrack booth also showed the Z vehicles Reynard has come up with. Great work, Reynard, you should be very proud.

6. I have to make a special mention of Rob Kluz and the Ztrack booth or booths that we made several pilgrimages to during the show. Rob decided early on to showcase the small Z manufacturers as well as promote his ever improving magazine. I know that Micron Art, FR Models and American Z Lines were happy that Rob made space available to them. Please support Ztrack Magazine with your subscription. There is lots of good stuff in the pipeline for upcoming issues. Rob is always looking for new authors and new angles on Z modeling. Don't hesitate to send him pictures and text. There is nothing more satisfying that to see your article published in a bona fide hobby magazine and you can't find a more tolerant editor anywhere.

7. Speaking of hobby magazines, I talked to the editor-in-chief of Model Railroading who is on the lookout for Z articles. The good news about this is that he will accept digital photos with at least 3 megapixel resolution. Start recording your jpegs for him. Z should be visible in as many publications as possible. I'll find his business card one of these days and provide his coordinates.

So much happened over the 4 days of NTS that I am sure that I have left out some highlights. I'll leave some of the reporting to my fellow NTSers who have already begun to share their thoughts and memories with you. I want to thank Bill Kronenberger for leading the Houston troops to the show. Your report was excellent, Bill. I enjoyed it immensely.

It was nice to see Billy Roden's scratch EMD switcher. It was an amazing design with a Faulhaber 8mm coreless motor, a NWSL drive to one truck between a split frame housing. Billy's shell was almost ready for casting. Another week or so of carving and it will be ready. If we can get our band of highly creative craftsmen together on this one project, we'll have us a new switcher!

Wrapping up the wrap-up...

The 2002 NTS Mascot came by to invite us to Tracks in the Sand in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

I have to thank my wife Marthe for giving me her support in this extraordinary hobby over the past 15 years. I also want to thank my great friends Terry and Helen Sutfin who have added laughter and promises of laughter to come since we began our assault on the National Train Show. I'm especially proud to have been able to share the 'Best of Show' with them. Without Terry's sense of humour (he suggested the formal day, after all) and positive attitude to running trains (who else do you know who has a Thomas train, a wine train, a vegetable train and Rogue, MTL, Marklin and American Z Lines motive power on the same layout), I would probably not have returned to NTS in 2001. He has been an inspiration to me as a Z scale 'runner' and as a human being. Terry has concentrated up to now on the lighter side of Z and made his layout "kid friendly". I know what a talented modeler and craftsman he is. Since I still have lots to learn from him, I'm planning to join Terry and David George and Helmut Paule and the rest of the Z adventurers at NTS2002 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida next July to see what they bring to the show. Come join in the fun!

What's next? Well, tomorrow is the photo session at Model Railroader. I can't tell you how exciting this is but I'll certainly try to describe the experience as best as I can tomorrow evening.

I'd like to thank all of you who have written to congratulate me on the top prize at NTS2001. I hope that the benefits of this recognition to Z are far reaching and profitable to us all.

Good night, talk to you tomorrow...

Jeffey MacHan

Date: Thu Jul 19, 2001 11:25 pm
Subject: MR photo session

Hi Gang,

This afternoon I crossed off another item from my life's todo list. On the way to Grand Rapids, MI, for the GATS July 21-22, we stopped in Waukesha, the home of Model Railroader Magazine where we had a date with a camera.

Kalmbach Publishing. Bill Zubach, MR staff photographer would do the shoot.

We were warmly greeted by Jeff Wilson who accepted to let TiTi, our Lhassa Apso, sit in on the afternoon's action. After delicately unloading the Val Ease Central Railroad from the car and wheeling it into the reception area on the VECRR dolly, we make our way to the photography studio on the second floor of the spacious and modern offices of Kalmbach Publishing. Arriving at 1pm at the studio, I took approximately 1 hour to set up the layout. The editor of MR, Andy Sperandeo (pronounced speRANdeo) had assigned Jeff Wilson, associate editor to supervise the photo session. The senior editor responsible for the production of the article for MR was Jim Kelly who came by twice during the shoot to see how things were progressing.

Setting up the VEC at Kalmbach. It was nerve-wracking setting up under the curious watch of the MR staff.

Corporate photographer, Bill Zubach, quickly installed his large format camera to take the overall photo of the layout. Jeff Wilson looked over the various angles in order to plan the shots he wanted for the future article. Bill Z took a polaroid shot to check the look of the overall picture. After passing it around to all present, Jeff Wilson gave the go ahead to begin shooting. The studio lights were turned off and Bill took a series of exposures on two plates. He then moved in with his Hasselblad to take the close up shots. The camera was equiped with a CCD back connected to a G4 Mac which recorded the images in ultra high resolution (18 megapixel).

The shoot begins. Checking light settings. A couple of test shots with a Polaroid camera for colour balance.

A first shot was taken with a color chart in order to correct the color balance for subsequent shots. As each picture was taken, Jeff Wilson, Bill, my wife Marthe, who took pictures of the picture taking, looked over the image on the monitor. The digital image could be greatly magnified which allowed us to pinpoint problems with the setting. The occasional tree was straightened and some additional scenery material was carefully positioned to camouflage the joints between the sections. As needed, I moved locomotives and cars around the layout to populate the scenes. As the shoot progressed I became relaxed enough to suggest a slight change in angle here, the inclusion of a Russel snow plow there etc.

Jeff Wilson and Bill Zubach discuss the shots. And away we go!

As we agreed on a key shot, it was developed electronically and recorded on CD-ROM. The first shot showed several locomotives in the VEE turntable area. A second shot was taken of the VEE workshop and highlighted the detailed F7A +F7B pulling the custom painted UP passenger cars. The background locomotive was a Rogue GP38-2 in SP colors (on loan from Terry Sutfin). We progressed to the next shot of Centre Val Ease which included the port, lighthouse, factory and a beautiful FR Models boxcab moving bulk end flats on the dock lead. The final layout picture was made from a difficult angle which required a hand held shot. Here the VEW tourist train pulling out of VEW station was the key component of the image. We also saw a short freight pulled by a 10 wheeler coming around the corner.

The VEC under the lights. Starting to work on the digital photos.

The final image was of the author taken in profile while packing up the centre case. The idea was to show the scale of the layout and to demonstrate that it was in fact Z scale and in suitcases. Jeff Wilson insisted on showing the magic behind the presentation of the VECRR since he admitted to having walked past the layout at the National Train Show in St. Louis and "failed to notice" that it was in fact built inside 3 suitcases.

The pictures were absolutely incredible. They looked better than the real thing! There was no way that I could have taken pictures of the quality that the studio photographer had achieved here. Before Bill left the studio, he had the time to do some minor photo retouching with Photoshop. He changed the perspective slighty and erased the seams in the backdrops. Other than that, the photos you will hopefully see soon are exactly as they were taken.

The session ended at 3:30 pm and everything was packed up and back on the dolly at 4pm. It was a great thrill to have had the privilege of a photo session at the home of Model Railroader.

The VEC and Chief Imagineer say goodbye to Kalmbach and another unique experience.

I asked Jeff Wilson what was next on the agenda. The next step is to provide the article written from any angle that pleases me. The article must include a track plan and captions for the photos. I'm looking forward to putting together a comprehensive but concise presentation of the VECRR. MR will send thumbnails via email so that captions can be composed. Once the article is submitted there is no further interaction with the editor. Jeff Wilson takes over and edits the text to MR's liking. It's up to me to present an article that resists editorial changes.

Since the champion of this Z spread in MR is Andy Sperandeo, it is likely that it will be published in a timely fashion. We learned that the January issue is already plotted and that the most likely publication date is April - May 2002 depending on how fast I get the article to Jeff Wilson.

It was a thrill to be at MR and I was surprised that I was calm enough to get the rolling stock on the track during set up. I was nervous initially but once we saw the first images I started to get into the rythme of the shoot. I hope that the issue arrives in the Spring of 2002 so that Z scale gets a boost in time for next year's National Train Show.

The VECRR has one more show (GATS in Grand Rapids, MI) on the weekend before returning to home base in Toronto. I'll give you a final report from GATS on Sunday and a wrap-up wrap-up shortly thereafter.

Date: Sun Jul 22, 2001 10:10 pm
Subject: Great Summer Z Train Show Tour: Wrap-up

Hi Gang,

It's been a remarkable three week's on the road for my wife and me. Starting July 5th, we left Toronto for the beautiful city of Nashville, Tennessee where we joined our dear friends Terry and Helen Sutfin. We took Z scale to the Great American Train Show in Nashville and took 2nd and 4th in the popular vote. Less than a week later the four of us arrived in St. Louis, Missouri for the the largest Z gathering in recent memory.

The National Train Show was a remarkable event for Z. Thirty Z scale enthusiasts had come together for four days of running trains, meeting friends, making new friends, discovering new treasures and creating a strong impression on our fellow modellers. Z scale had been demonstrated to be an equal partner in the model railroading community. Z scale took best of show in the module competition. Z scale ran with Digital Command Control. Z scale had brought together 200 feet of track on modules from Houston, Dallas and Washington, DC. Z scale merchants had scored one of their best sales events ever. Z scale manufacturers were smiling with the enthusiasm they encountered at the show. They came away with full order books and the Z scalers left with many new treasures. Twenty-four Z scalers gathered for a group supper and great conversation.

Z scale had left it's mark in St. Louis. The enthusiasm was so high that many Z scalers have already made plans for the 2002 National Train Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida next July.

Jeffrey with best friends, Helen and Terry Sutfin nearing the end of another great summer adventure.

Two days following NTS, Marthe and I bade Terry and Helen Sutfin goodbye as they left to follow the Lewis and Clarke trail westward and home. Marthe and I headed north to the home of Model Railroader Magazine in Waukesha, Wisconsin. For one marvelous afternoon we lived the dream of thousands of model railroaders as pictures were taken for a future feature article on the Val Ease Central.

Two days later we were in Grand Rapids, Michigan for our last stop on the great summer Z train show tour. The GATS was organized in the Civic Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids. Unfortunately for the many vendors and exhibitors the downtown is in pretty bad shape with construction limiting access to the center. There was no free parking close by and the outside temperatures and humidiy were unseasonably hot and uncomfortable. As a result, attendance was lower than expected. The upside of this low turnout was that Marthe and I were able to visit the layouts and the vendors. We discovered some great goodies for both our layouts and for my train pocket watch collection. The winner of the popular vote contest was an incredible Lego layout put together by area Lego club members. The Val Ease Central took 3rd place in the popular vote which made us very happy. We were able to pay for our goody purchases! We met several Z_Scale list members at the show and introduced several model railroaders to Z_scale and to Ztrack Magazine. I want to welcome Rachel who is planning a coffee table layout and is hoping to get advice from the list. I also had a wonderful conversation with Z_Scale list member David Williams who is collecting information and components to finish a Noch Cortinal layout.

Val Ease Central in Grand Rapids, MI. The kidZ are amaZed by the VEC.

Tomorrow morning we will be making the final dash home were we will re-enter reality. I'm sure that it will take me several weeks to decompress after this unforgettable summer of Z FUN. Of course, I have a feature article to write and a nice load of new goodies to install on the layout.

My wife and I have been reflecting on the experience of the last 3 weeks. We have come to several conclusions and decisions. We have concluded that we really enjoy travelling with our friends Terry and Helen. They make a vacation an adventure. We also have concluded that 1 major train show per trip is enough! We are both tired and ready to take a vacation from trains for a spell.

The decisions that we have made are an extension of the preceding conclusions. I have decided to cancel my planned GATS appearances in Dayton, Ohio in August and Niagara Falls, NY in September. I want to concentrate on working on the MR article, get the layout into tip top shape for my Sinsheim (Heidleberg, Germany) adventure in March 2002 and prepare for the 2002 NMRA National Convention and National Train Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I plan to take part in the GATS in Erie, Pennsylvania in June and perhaps in Columbus, Ohio in August.

Well that's it for the Great Summer Z Train Show Tour of 2001. I hope that you have enjoyed the travelog. I look forward to seeing you at future shows in Canada, USA and Germany next year. Please stop by and say hello.

Respectfully submitted,
Jeffrey MacHan
Chief Imagineer: Val Ease Central Railroad

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