Thursday, September 21, 2023

On the New Haven, 85 Years Ago Today. . .The Great New England Hurricane

September 21, 1938 marks a somber - and for the New Haven Railroad, a devastating - event in history.

Making landfall that dayThe Great New England Hurricane was - and remains - the most powerful and deadly storm to hit New England in at least 300 years. It killed an estimated 682 people, damaged or destroyed 57,000 homes and cost an estimated $5.6 billion in 2019 dollars. Even as late as 1951, you could still see damaged trees and buildings.

The New Haven's Shore Line route was hit especially hard. . .

But the railroad - despite being in receivership after having gone into bankruptcy a few years earlier - restored its many washed-out lines in record time. The little booklet above tells the story:
"On September 21st, 1938, with flood waters already threatening major washouts at important points along the New Haven Railroad where the tracks paralleled or crossed the swollen torrents of New England's rivers...suddenly, just before dark, in the teeth of a howling southwest gale which increased momentarily to hurricane proportions, a steadily rising tide which in some places rose twenty feet in as many minutes, swept inland along the New England coast-line across the Shore Line Route of the New Haven Railroad...carrying on its crest hundreds of boats, ships, cottages, buildings, and wreckage. Communications by rail, wire, and telephone with many devastated areas was completely cut off. No one realized as yet what a staggering blow had been dealt by this combined hurricane - tidal wave - flood throughout the length and breadth of southern New England. But the next morning revealed a grim picture of death and desolation. Where fast freights and through passenger trains, including the crack Shore Line Limiteds had sped in rapid succession between New York and New England points carrying passengers, mail, express, and the vital necessities of miles of silent track hung at crazy angles over yawning chasms in a hopeless tangle of power lines, signal towers, houses, boats, and thousands of tons of debris. Further inland at Hartford, Springfield, Norwich, Willimantic, and Putnam the hurricane had left its toll of felled trees and communication systems, crumbled freight sheds and roofless factories...and to add to the chaos, the raging rivers from the north broke through dams and temporary dikes, washing out railroad bridges and miles of track...rendering useless the strategic points through which Shore Line trains might have been re-routed. The vital life-line between New England and points south and west had been effectually severed. It had to be restored without delay. Thousands of men were needed for the Herculean task of rebuilding a railroad. The summoning of trackmen, engineers, skilled repair crews, and laborers had to be carried out without the help of modern communications systems. In an incredibly short time an army of 5,000 men were at work...toiling 24 hours a day in 3 shifts...many of them eating and sleeping in work trains and Pullman cars on the job..."
Those of us living in New England a few years back went through "Superstorm Sandy" and got a taste of what The Great New England Hurricane might have been like. But, as it turns out, it was a pretty small taste - as bad as Sandy was, it didn't come anywhere close. Check out this site for an eye-opening comparison of the two storms.

There are fewer and fewer folks that have first-hand memories of that fateful day 85 years ago, but thanks to the extensive coverage the storm received - not to mention the wonders of the internet that allow all that coverage to be easily saved and shared - the heroic efforts of the employees of the New Haven Railroad, including those on the Valley Line and most especially along the Shore Line, will never be forgotten.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A New Approach to Blogging... And An Update (Fascia Painting, Scenery, and Repair)

At the risk of repeating myself, it's axiomatic that there's an inverse relationship between layout progress and blogging about the layout. Unless you're not doing either, which I hope isn't the case . . .

Well, it certainly hasn't been the case here on the Valley Line - I just can't believe it's been literally over two months since I posted an actual layout update. In my defense, we had a wonderful visit with my parents and a trip to Cape May during that time, not to mention trying to wring out as much as possible of the last weeks of summer, including a spectacular stargazing cruise.

And sure, I've uploaded quick little posts showing that I chased the modern-day Valley Local, started track weathering in Saybrook, and even did some rocks around Old Deep River Road and mocked-up a photo backdrop in the Deep River scene, but progress updates per se (not to mention posts about other things, op sessions, and such) have been harder for me to get around to posting.

So, instead of just blowing them off, I've decided to take the same approach to blogging as I have to the layout itself - tackle them one little bit at a time. If this new approach works, you can expect more frequent - but shorter - posts here at The Valley Local (though not as short as the "Wordless Wednesdays" I've limited myself to lately...).

At the risk of stepping on the toes of my good friend Tom Jacobs with his #AnHourADay, sometimes I don't even have an hour to spare - but if I can just #DoOneThing, progress will add up over time, a little bit at a time.

So, in preparation for an upcoming layout open house, I figured the biggest bang for my time would be to paint some fascia and put down some ground foam and I broke each of those projects down to smaller tasks I could do relatively quickly. . .

Fascia Painting
One of the selling points of model railroading to the Missus (not, to be fair, that she needed any convincing) is that so many of the skills you develop building a layout are transferrable to working on the house. Suffice it to say, I've become really good at patching/topping, and painting...

To wit - here are some "before" photos of the fascia:

Shailerville Bridge area

Somerset section and staging yard

I forgot to take a "before" photo of the Mill Hollow section, but here it is as the first of the "during" photos.

The process is pretty straightforward: I sanded down all the rough areas, spread lightweight spackle over the holes and gaps, and sanded smooth once dry. I repeated the process 2-3 times in order to get as smooth a base for painting as possible. I then rolled-on a primer coat of latex Kilz2, and a top coat of my agonizingly-chosen fascia color.

And here are the "after" photos - quite an improvement!

Shailerville Bridge


Staging yard box

Mill Hollow section

Base Scenery
Eagle eyes might have noticed that the end of the peninsula in the foreground of the photo above has been transformed a bit. Yes - I've been confronting my scenery phobia by "just doing one thing" with regard to scenery, "just" doing a base coat of ground foam - and it's amazing what a difference it makes!

After a few fits and starts (one of the downsides of waiting too long between scenery sessions is that you have to relearn so much), I've settled on the following process for base scenery:

Step 1: Paint full-strength white glue over the area - in this case, dry brown ground goop (Sculptamold colored with latex paint color matched to the dirt I use).

Step 2: Sprinkle on a variety of different colors of fine ground foam, meant to represent the "thatch" below the static grass which will come later. In my case, I use the different Woodland Scenic colors in the above photo, using "Burnt Grass" the most.

Step 3: Dampen the foam with a mist of "wet" water and drizzle on diluted white glue to fix in place. One of the problems I had was that the foam ended up drying much darker than it went on. You can see the contrast between the glued/dried area and some dry foam I just added.

I actually came up with two solutions to this persistent problem:
1) I sprayed cheap hairspray as an adhesive and sprinkled new/dry foam on top of that; and
2) After wetting the foam as in step 3 above, I just added more ground foam on top of the wettest areas.

I'm happy to say, both approaches work fine. And - at the end of the day - as so many folks have reminded me: "It's scenery - you really can't mess it up!"

Speaking of messing up though, I realized almost too late that I should deal with the roads before adding the ground foam. Here, I used my tried-and-true technique for making "tar and dirt" roads by applying a thick coat of black paint and sifting dirt on top. Click here for more details about this process.

And here are the "finish" pics of the end of the peninsula. LONG way to go yet, but certainly gives it a base level of "finish" and it's much better than plain brown foam or Sculptamold!

"Fixing" Scenery - a.k.a. Scenery Over Scenery
I'm learning that effective scenery has a LOT to do with layering - texture over texture. The more layers and textures, the better your scenery will look.

But it's also true that you can apply more scenery over previously applied scenery to change the look or to repair an area that's bothering you.

Case in point: This "hole" in the scenery at Shailerville Bridge:

I don't remember whether the fascia was added before or after the scenery here, but I wanted to fill in this hole behind the bridge abutment and the gap behind the fascia. I'd already painted the fascia here (see earlier in this post :^) so first step was to mask it off to protect it.

Another view of the hole/gap. I suppose I could have passed it off as erosion - or just cut the fascia down to match, but the solution ended up being easy peasy.

First - just like the prototype would - I backfilled the area with "fill" - in this case, some of my handy dandy ground goop.

Next, I daubed some white glue on the area between the fascia and the poles and added some static grass.  By the way, the Woodland Scenics Static King is the BOMB - especially when used with the AC adaptor.

While the goop was still wet, I blew on some dirt using a folded index card to help direct it.

And here's the result - MUCH nicer, I think.

Of course, this is only a meager attempt to gild the lily - BillS is responsible for all the rest of this amazing scene. But hey, I filled in the hole! And painted the fascia . . .

I've made some additional progress on the layout since these photos were taken, but - in order to stay true to my new approach - I'll stop for now and will post more soon.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience with my spotty posting. In addition to more-frequent posts, there are some cool new developments coming in the next few weeks/months. So I hope you're able to stay on board The Valley Local - having you along for the ride makes this journey even more fun!

Friday, September 1, 2023

Friday Fun: Labor Day Weekend - 75 years ago . . .


I'm told it was 75 years ago "today" - the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, September 3, 1948 - when an 8 year old little boy went down to the Old Saybrook station platform to watch trains. The sun was going down - it'd be totally set within a few minutes - and in the gathering dusk a dull roar like thunder could be heard . . .

Looking eastward down the tracks, toward the gathering darkness, the sound seemed to get closer and he could just start to make out what looked like a plume of smoke - or maybe it was two? That didn't make sense. Almost all of the trains on the Shore Line were dieselized now, but, as loud as a pair of back-to-back DL-109s are, they sure don't sound like this . . .

It was the glimmer on the rails, lighting up the curve in the far distance, that was the first giveaway that a train was for-sure coming. Of course, the little boy knew a train was due. He'd been into trains for as long as he could remember and he knew how to read a timetable.

He knew that the approaching train had just crossed the Connecticut River and was accelerating hard off the bridge. It sure sounded like it - and the distinctive bark meant this train had to have a steam locomotive on the point. And with it being a little past 7pm, that meant it had to be The Merchant's Limited.

But was it early? The Merchants wasn't due through Saybrook until 7:17 . . . but just then, the train came blasting around the distant curve - exhaust roaring and headlight blazing! Before he could fully comprehend it all, The Advance Merchants Limited flew by at 65 miles an hour behind not one, but TWO! I-4 Pacifics with 23 heavyweight parlor cars on their tail.

In the rush of the passing train, little John Pryke could just make out the glow of two fireboxes and just as quickly as it had come, it was gone again with the tail sign receding quickly toward the sunset.

As the dust settled and the thunder of the Merchants' passing began to fade, the impression of the sight seared itself into the little boy's memory, and sparked a passion for the New Haven Railroad that would last the rest of his life and spur him into recreating this memory in miniature, someday.

* * * * * * * *
I try to relate this story at or at least near the anniversary of this event, which is all - mostly - verified as true. Especially since it not only inspired John to a life-long love of the New Haven RR, but - indirectly - influenced my choice not only of prototype, but of era and locale. John often mentioned visiting his grandparents in Old Saybrook and going with them down to the station to watch the trains go by. And he remembers seeing the double-headed, steam-powered Advance Merchant's Limited the Friday evening of Labor Day Weekend, 1948. It was this event, more than anything else, that he always pointed to as the inspiration for getting into model railroading and trying to recreate the New Haven in HO scale.

In fact, all of John's layouts - all featured at one time or another in books or the pages of Model Railroader - were firmly set in space and time: Southern New England's New Haven Railroad was the space, and the time could only ever be "September, 1948."

Now, almost ten years after his passing, I'm closer than ever to being able to recreate this memory in miniature. I have the Old Saybrook station scene as a highlight on my layout and, while I don't mind varying my chosen era within the narrow confines of "1947-1949," for all intents and purposes I'm modeling the Autumn of 1948.

I think - and hope - John would be proud of the effort. And I know he'd get a kick out of seeing a little HO scale version of his 8 year old self on the Saybrook station platform, waiting for another train to go by . . .

* This post originally appeared 9/27/2018, 70 years to the month since the event took place. I've reposted it not only to commemorate such an important time in John's life, but to remind myself that preserving these memories is one of the reasons for embarking on this project in the first place.