The Val Ease Central Railroad ©

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

Last Spike: The Howard Kannitbee "Val Ease Summit Diaries"

The first part of the VES construction series appeared in Ztrack in June 2003. It took a while but I’m happy to report that VES is finished. Like many a project, VES underwent several changes along the way.

For comparison here are the three "major" versions of the VES track plan.

The "official" version as published in Ztrack Issue 9-03.
In essence, this was my ideal version of VES. The objective was to be able to place VES between CVE and VEW on an angle that would allow the layout to be set up in an "L" configuration. A dry run using empty suitcases highlighted several major concerns: it took up quite a bit more space in the corner angle than I had expected, it required the construction of two large wedge-shaped bridging sections and it called for a multisegmented backdrop! This was definitely not a configuration for a temporary setup at a train show. It was strictly a design for a permanent home installation on an open-grid subroadbed support (i.e. no suitcases). Since I was in no hurry to renovate my home to accommodate a four-section VECRR, I “shelved” the VES!

The last "drawing board" version after a lengthy period of consultation with members of VECRR.
Some projects never die!

Shortly after stumbling across a by-that-time rare Delsey hardside suitcase in black, I returned to the workbench with a second plan for VES as a linear extension of the VECRR. I was so excited about the project that I documented the “sod-turning” with the June 2003 Last Spike article.

Once I had cut out the layout base in styrofoam, I began to play with my collection of left over pieces of sectional track and turnouts of different types. Testing showed that there was no room for my double mainline design and even less room for a siding of any length. VES was once again to be a linear extension module to the three-section VECRR. I was still concerned about having to paint an additional backdrop section that would mate convincingly with the original three panels.

My snail’s-paced progress on VES ended when the VECRR was acquired by Exporail in December 2003. The suitcase along with all the track and styrofoam went into the closet where it remained for the next twelve months.

The "Golden Spike" version that was unveiled at Exporail, January 4th, 2005.
VES came back to life as a result of several parallel events. Exporail wanted me to travel on their behalf but with an important condition. The VEC had to continue operating for visitors to the Museum even when I was on assignment. The obvious solution…a substitute section for VEE or VEW!

Then the November 2004 issue of “Model Railroader Magazine” appeared with a feature article about the VEC which concluded with a mention of suitcase #4. I began to receive inquiries about the mysterious fourth section of the VEC. (And to think that I had almost gotten over my feelings of guilt about not finishing the Ztrack VES construction series!)

So during December 2004, the VES suitcase came out of the closet and I went back to the drawing board. After much hesitation due to reliability and operability concerns, I finally decided to use a double-slip switch in the design. I would rather have avoided using this particularly troublesome piece of trackwork but it did offer some definite advantages. A double-slip made it possible to shorten the arms of the wye and add two leads at the point, both leads long enough for two 50-foot cars or one car and a short-wheelbase locomotive such as an F7. The return loop to the lower level made VES much more versatile in the overall scheme of things. As a result, VES could be inserted between CVE and VEW as an extension or used to replace VEW as the right-hand end module.

Val Ease East + Centre Val Ease + Val Ease Summit + Val Ease West

Armed with a simplified track plan and strong motivation I finally returned to work on VES. I set up a camera and tripod along side the workbench so that taking photos would become a reflex and no longer an afterthought. I also made nightly reports to my fellow “Valeasians” as proof that I really was working on suitcase #4. VES took shape in a flurry of activity just before the holidays and the arrival of house guests. Since the work shop also doubles as a guest room, I didn't really want to have to pack up all my supplies and then unpack once the visitors had left.

Lesson learned: “laziness” can be a terrific motivator!

Anyway, to make a long story short, (too late!) the result of all this modelling, photo taking and report writing was a step-by-step primer on my lightweight layout-building techniques suitable for sharing. And what better place for sharing than in the -Val Ease County Library- founded in the early days by two great “Valeasians”... F. Ike Andewitt, Howard Kannitbee.

The Val Ease County Library presents “The Howard Kannitbee VES Construction Diaries”

For many years the HKDiaries, as historians called them, were thought to be irretrievably lost until Mrs. Lotta Smudges, the library cleaning lady, stumbled across a major "find" while she was taking a smoke break in the upstairs storeroom. When bending over to pick up the smoldering butt that she had dropped on a pile of old notebooks, she noticed the hand scribbled name of VECRR pioneer Howard Kannitbee, P.E. Superintendent of Engineering with the railway. Thanks to the quick thinking of this dedicated Library employee, the HKDiaries were saved before the roof collapsed from the flames.

Miss Terry Knovell, head librarian, and her staff have put in many overtime hours to reassemble the burnt pages and to restore the original notes that Howard made during the entire three-year construction of Val Ease Summit Division. The ultimate conquest of "Summit Pass", first mapped by Oliver D. Place, Chief Surveyor, opened Val Ease County to the outside world or, depending on one’s point of view, unleashed the “Valley” on an unsuspecting world beyond!

*A word from Hizzoner, Mayor of Val Ease East and Chair of the Val Ease County Library Foundation:

"Ahem...dear friends, for some time now, the VEC Library Reading Room has been undergoing reconstruction. Today, it is ready to receive our honored passholders. It is my great privilege to preside over the re-opening of the Reading Room where the long-lost diaries of Howard Kannitbee, Professional Engineer and first Superintendent of the Val Ease Central Railroad have been painstakingly restored and made available for your reading pleasure. Now I'm sure that you'll take good care of these documents and that the apocalyptic warnings from my dear friends of the Library Staff are unfounded. So, without any further ado, I hereby declare the Val Ease County Library Reading Room officially open and invite you all inside."

NOTE: the Library pass is for the strict personal use by "Last Spike" readers and is non-transferable.