Val Ease Central Railroad by Jeffrey MacHan

Cincinnati Limited
2005 NMRA National Train Show, Cincinnati, OH
Introducing "Val Ease Summit Division"

Reminder: the following photographic content is copyright Jeffrey MacHan. No copying or retransmission is permitted without the express written authorisation of the copyright holder.

  1. The Ztrack Convention / Columbus Z Layout visits
  2. NTS2005 - Day 1 (Setup)
  3. NTS2005 - Day 2 (Opening Day)
  4. NTS2005 - Day 3 (Formal Day and 2nd prize!)
  5. NTS2005 - Day 4 (wrapup)

Z-Con 2005 in Columbus, Ohio

My wife Marthe and I arrived in Columbus in the afternoon of July 4th. About an hour later, our dear friends and VECRR Ambassadors, Terry and Helen Sutfin joined us at our Hampton Inn Hotel just off of the Interstate. Our first order of business was to drop the ladies off at the hotel so that Terry and I could drive over to the Depot to check out the route and the physical arrangements. It only took about ten minutes to reach the Depot where we had a chance to walk around the grounds and to peer into various windows. Unfortunately, there was no sign of intelligent life nearby. Nothing left to do but show up at 8am July 5th for the start of the Z-Convention.

July 5th saw Terry and me wearing our white Ztrack polo shirts (as were all of the Ztrack staff and other clinicians). We arrived just as Bill Kronenberger and David George were unloading their respective vans (also clinicians). At the registration table we were greeted by Jenni Kluz who handed us a nice red cardboard goody box containing the sponsors' gifts to attendees. Let me see if I can recall what the contents were:

- Ztrack pen
- Ztrack notepad
- Tettertottertrainstuff Wheelwiper sample
- Hays Brothers gondola load sample
- Loren Snyder's hydrocal tunnel portal sample
- Micro-Trains Line lapel pin
- Micro-Trains Line red plastic rerailer ramp
- AZL steel thermos cup
- Märklin steel thermos cup
- Ztrack (MTL) special run box car for Z-Con 2005

The Depot is a nice but small venue for 100 guests. Unfortunately, it was not the best place to give clinics with 50 people sitting on chairs, 15 rows deep. It was dark and few if any of the clinic attendees saw what was going on and the ones in the back rows probably couldn't hear anything that was being said.

Both Terry Sutfin and I were obliged to change the content of our clinics so that the people who had signed up to hear us could actually get something for their money. Another big problem was that there was no time period between clinics so that we could set up and pick up our props. Terry was so irritated by the logistical hassles that he "forgot" his AZL E8 on the clinic table at the end of his clinic. I know this since I "found" it a few minutes before I was to start my clinic in the same room. Terry only noticed that he had misplaced his prize locomotive when he read the September-October 2005 issue of Ztrack which had a lost-and-found announcement.

I litteraly had to run through my planned 45-minute clinic in 30 minutes. It was not my best performance, by far. I did hand out complementary CDs of the "Val Ease Summit Experience" to attendees and to anyone else at the convention who wanted a copy. I had made up 80 CDs and I left the convention with 15 extras which I offered to members of VECRR on

Since I never really had a chance to give the "VES Experience" clinic, I have made it available in the VEC Library.

Lunch was a catered affair under the canopy during a driving rain. Several people had to abandon their positions under rented tents due to rapidly rising water running down to the creek below. The clouds parted at 2pm, just in time for the afternoon clinics. I attended the "round table" discussion hosted by Rob Kluz. Quite frankly, nothing much of any consequence was discussed. There was no panel of experts nor any particular topic, just a general chat with the gathered hobbyists.

Rob Kluz, in a grand gesture of generosity, invited his clinicians to supper at a local Italian restaurant where we had a relaxing evening of conversation and good food.

Day 2 of the Z-Con was for self-directed layout tours. There were four stops on the itinerary including Rob Kluz's home layout. Jim Thomas had a total of six Z layouts running in his home. Rich Petruska impressed visitors with his brightly lit main street using Miller Engineering Electroluminescent lighting kits. Paul Peterson offered visitors a tour of his suspended Z layout and a very impressive back-yard garden layout.

By 2pm we were ready to head south to Cincinatti and to the excitement of the NMRA National Train Show, number 5 for both me and Terry, where we looked forward to meeting many good friends and to sharing our passion for model railroading with the public. My goal was to get Marthe's layout into top shape for the layout competition (paperwork in on Thursday evening / judging on Friday morning). And I was quite nervous about the two clinics I had on my schedule for Friday, "Game-Based Operations for Small Railroads".

Time to check in at Z-Con 2005 at the Train Depot. Jenni Kluz is greeting conventioneerZ.

"Mister Dave" George unloading his terrific trailer.

Bill Kronenberger unloading soldering irons for his students.

Ztrack Magazine publisher and Z-Con host Rob Kluz addresses the attendees.

The inimitable Sam Berliner III (beard and crossed arms) listens to instructions for the start of the activities.

The Depot is a restored B&O "depot".

Lunch was served under the "platform".

Rob Kluz presented an original painting to the Depot manager.

Waiting for Terry Sutfin's clinic to begin.

International "Z" Ambassador Terry Sutfin hard at work giving clinic on locomotive maintenance.

The MTL GP35 was the BIG Story of the Convention. This is MTL's first "in-house" Z locomotive design.

Loren Snyder's magnificent silverware case layout with custom painted backdrop.

Rob Kluz next to wife, Jenni, welcomes his guests at the Ztrack Convention supper at La Scala.

Backs of heads: Hans Riddervold, Rob Allbritton, Riley O'Conner, Eric Smith.

Paul Peterson's raisable Z empire (6 train operation!)

Jim Thomas' end table layout using Miller Engineering houses.

Closeup look at lighted downtown on Rich Petruska's "living room" layout.

An overview of Rich Petruska's home layout.

Rob Kluz has a beautiful "Swiss-themed" layout in his basement.

Several catenary-powered SBB trains lined up at the station on Rob Kluz's home layout.

An overview of Rob Kluz's "U-shaped" layout.

Right hand view of Rob's layout.

A view of mine cars and the distant ore cars.

Rob has a great eye for depth, both above and below track level as demonstrated by this fine river scene.

NTS2005 Setup day 1

Thu Jul 7, 2005 10:22 pm
Subject: Thursday July 7 Ztrack Convention 2005 photos

Hi Gang,

I was pretty busy at NTS today but I did manage to take a couple more photos to share with you.

The Z area is by far the most impressive of the entire operating train area. Rob Allbritton's breathtaking "New Gotthard" sectional layout dominates the entire area. It is massive, spectacular and outstanding in its accuracy and detail.

Already Scale Rails Magazine has given me an order for a feature article on Rob's layout. In fact, the magazine wants it in 15 days for publication in the September issue. This is one tall order since I am in the middle of selling and buying a home, moving in a couple of weeks and three weeks into a new job. So I'm doubtful that I'll make this kind of deadline.

There are some superb modules in the Z area. Stan Jones has constructed a spectacular series of modules for Jeffrey White. David George's new rock gorge module is a work of art. I haven't had a chance to check out the other modules. I'll have the time tomorrow when we make the official measurements for the "World's largest Z layout". It would have been even larger but unfortunately several groups didn't make it to the show.

The VEC and Kofferbahn von Sankt Bartholoma waiting for an 8' table.

The backside of the 10' high "New Gotthard" modules, designed and owned by Rob Allbritton.

A worker surveys the progress on assembling the large return loop of the "Gotthard" layout.

Terry Sutfin's "Poorville and Debt City" is ready to greet the crowds in no time flat.

A special gift to Terry Sutfin from Harold Freudenreich.

Jeffrey White (seated) and Randy Smidt (module coordinator) take a break from setting up the modules.

The Z-Bend Track modular groups will have no trouble finding their area in the show.

"Gotthard" moving slowly into position.

An aerial view of David George's award-winning "Golden ~ Blackhawk & Central City" and the MacHan's layouts (under yellow sheets).

Copyright Dave Hjortneas.

Copyright Dave Hjortneas.

Copyright Dave Hjortneas.

Opening Day!

Fri Jul 8, 2005 11:19 pm
Subject: Opening day of NTS 2005

Hi Gang,

Day 1 was GREAT! Lots of super people and lots of incredible modelrailroading sights to see. The ZBT folks had trains running by late morning but the Rob A. sectional area was not cooperating. By the end of the day there were still no trains running over the spectacular alpine scenery.

No matter, the 9' high mountain attracted attention from far and wide. The BYOZ participants also garnered their fair share of compliments from the rather impressive crowds for an opening day. From comments overheard in the, ahem, men's room, it appears that the Z area and the Lego zone are creating the most buzz at the train show.

MTL's GP35 is also attracting a lot of well-deserved attention. On one of my walkabouts this morning, I stopped by the MTL booth to see how things were going. Joe D'Amato was chatting with someone behind the Loren Snyder-built figure-8 demo layout where I noticed that the GP35 was tooling along at a most UN-PROTOTYPICALLY FAST speed! I asked Joe if the engine was capable of running any slower. He obligingly turned down the speed to a crawl and said that the power pack that he was using wasn't optimized for low speed operation but that the GP35 was capable of snail-like creeping. I introduced myself and jokingly remarked that I was only doing my duty to keep Z from running too fast. From that time on the Geep ran at a more dignified pace. (I think that I'm on a new kick. After rail weathering, it will now be slow speed running!).

Our good friend and Z Ambassador, David "Mister Dave" George, appeared on the late night local news although neither he nor I saw the spot. We had reports from other Zedsters that his mug made it on to the boob tube. Another media victory for Z!

Things were hopping for me today as I gave my two clinics as part of the NMRA Convention program.

MacHan, Jeffrey
Single persons & small layout owners are the neglected majority
when it comes to "operations." Not anymore! Jeffrey MacHan
demonstrates how game-based operations can be used to enhance
the joy of small railroads, such as his award-winning "Val Ease
Central". The system is highly flexible and can be adapted to basic,
intermediate and advanced operations.
FRIDAY 1 :00 PM - 2 :00 PM ROOM 211
FRIDAY 4 :00 PM - 5 :00 PM ROOM 211

Doug Auburg, the NMRA Clinic Chair was very helpful and arranged to have 30 copies of my presentation printed out in time for start of the clinics. I had 20 attendees at 1pm and another 10 at 4pm. This wasn't a bad turn out at all since I was competing with home layout tours and the train show. The clinics, Game-Based Operations for Small Layouts, were a great success and I came away relieved that my ideas for putting the FUN back into layout operations were so well received. The clinic may eventually become a Z-Scale Rails column. The only mishap was that I misplaced the compact flash memory card and adapter that I used to transfer my Powerpoint presentation to the master laptop. ;-)

Hiroshi Kato and JAM

I also had lots of fun wandering the aisles aimlessly. One of the fortuitous happenings on these meanderings was meeting Hiroshi Kato, President of Kato USA and Chief Executive of the Japan Association of Model Railroaders JAM. Immediately following my 30 second VECRR intro, he agreed to having the VECRR and its crew take part in the 2007 JAM Convention in Tokyo. He said that 2007 was an excellent proposal since the 2006 edition of the convention would be held in Osaka.

I had already secured the support of Micro-Trains and Märklin USA for such an outrageous VECRR adventure. I'll be looking for other sponsors to help with shipping costs which, no doubt, will be the largest single expenditure of the project.

It didn't take long for me to inform my intrepid crewmembers, Terry and Helen Sutfin, Jim and Emma Manley and my wife Marthe, that they should circle August 2007 on their calendars. Their reactions were much more positive than I expected. So, until further evidence to the contrary, plans are officially underway for a 2007 expedition to the Land of the Rising Sun.

The show closed at 6pm today and will reopen tomorrow at 10am. Some members of the ZBT contingent plan on being up and ready to go at 6am for a TV crew that has requested to film the modules.

Tomorrow is Formal Day for Terry Sutfin and me followed by our traditional group supper. Stay tuned for more exciting news from NTS2005.

NTS2005 Photo Gallery Zone - Day 2 and 3

A shot from the overhead walkway of the hundreds of commercial booths inside the auditorium.








Terry Sutfin and visitors surrounded by the BYOZ tables.

Lots of action around the Z-Bend Track modules. There must be a mainline distance record.

Stan Jones prepares to move the last section of Jeffrey White's "Silver Lady" layout (photo copyright Dave Hjortnaes) into position.

"Val Ease Summit Division" makes its first NTS appearance. Courtesy of Exporail - Canadian Railway Museum.

Marthe Simard's "Kofferbahn von Sankt Bartholomä" takes second place - group module.



The crew from Rail Dreams hunt down electronic bugs in the "Gotthard" layout. The layout is wired for DCC but it never became operational during NTS.

A look at a small sample of the electronics designed by Rob Allbritton.

David George and Sam Berliner III spent an enjoyable time at NTS with the G~B & CC.

Some of the extraordinary artistry of David George on his award-winning layout.

Z Ambassadors Jeffrey MacHan, David George and Terry Sutfin on "Formal Day" at NTS.

They looked so good in formal attire that we had to show them twice!.

Joe D'amato, design engineer at Micro-Trains Line, poses proudly with their new GP35. Display layout by Loren Snyder.

Lajos Thek brought his superb SW-1 yard switcher.

Don Avila chats with Loren Snyder who brought his incredible "silverware box" layout to BYOZ.

Dave Miller's Searails refinery module.

Chad Bryan from Houston, Texas sports his Top Hat for "Z".

55 happy model railroaders gathered for the annual "Z" supper. Once again masterfully organized by Helen Sutfin.

Wrap Up

Sun Jul 10, 2005 7:14 pm
Subject: Closing remarks re: NTS 2005

Hi Gang,

Well, we're all packed up (a record short time of 23 minutes to get everything into the car) and back at the hotel. A small group of us will meet in a few minutes for supper and to reminisce about a terrific week in Columbus and Cincinnati.

The NMRA announced attendance of 17,331, a little lower than expected. Today's crowd was noticeably lighter than yesterday. No matter, we had a great time. At 3:05pm, the "official" Milwaukee Road MTL F7 completed a complete circuit around the entire Z-Bend Track and Gotthard Line modules and sections. It took 35 minutes to make the trip which was witnessed by Randy Smidt (ZBT module coordinator), Dean Dickerhoof (NTS Layout Coordinator) and myself. The engine drew quite a crowd of onlookers who cheered its appearance at every tunnel portal. Cars dropped off along the way so it wasn't the smoothest run but it established a new record length for Z modules. Randy should have the scale mile number a little later.

Next year's show will be in Philadelphia. Terry Sutfin is registered as layout #1! David George and myself are also officially registered for individual layouts. Adam Amick has already declared his intention to bring modules. No doubt a large number of other groups will sign on. Although there is some talk of a Z-con before the NTS, nothing firm can be reported at this time.

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