Defining your era can also be one of the most enjoyable research projects for your model railroad, especially if you're really into history. Why else would it even occur to you what the proper colors of stop signs and mailboxes were in, say, 1947? The answers to what "normal" folks would probably consider pretty esoteric questions are the puzzle pieces that make up the mosaic of time and place. And the more questions you ask, and the more answers you get, the more effective you'll be at conveying that sense of time and place and the more convincing your "time machine" will be.
The "era puzzle" includes many pieces, one of the most important of which - on a model railroad at least - is what type of locomotives you include. There's a reason why the so-called "Transition Era" between steam & diesel power is so popular - you (think you) can have your cake and eat it too and include both types. But the limits of that era can vary pretty widely depending on your prototype. And even when you've picked a prototype that includes what you want locomotive-wise, it may be hard to nail down exactly when those locomotives were last used. That bit of information is essential to defining the outside limit of your era.
I definitely wanted to include steam engines on my representation of the New Haven Railroad's CT Valley line, so determining when steam power was last used is an essential piece of the puzzle for me. The Valley line was only a lowly branch of a much larger system, so there'd be no fanfare or documentation of "Steam's Final Run" on the line. I'd have to figure it out myself. Here's the process I went (and am still going) through. Hopefully my experience will inspire you to figure out that part of the puzzle for your own project. . .
With the delivery of Alco FAs and RS-2 roadswitchers, the Steam Era on the New Haven Railroad started to close rapidly and by the spring of 1949 diesels had taken over the Valley and Airline locals. However, it's unclear when precisely the steam era ended in the Connecticut river valley. Thankfully, railroads generally kept close track of their locomotive use, but the earliest NHRR Engine Assignment book I have is from April 24, 1949. It shows the following:
- Valley Local (HDX-7): DEY-3 (Alco S-1) #0947
- Airline Local (HDX-12): DEY-5 (Alco S-2) #0606
- Shoreline Local (PDX-2): DEY-5 (Alco S-2) #0612
So we know steam had to end before 4/24/49. What else can we deduce? Well, based on photo evidence and the recollections of John Wallace (who "wrote the book" on the Valley Line - well, the articles at least, in the NHRHTA's Shoreliner magazine), we know that the most common engines used were K-1 class moguls on the Valley line and J-1 class mikados on the Airline.
According to John, K-1 #466 was the last mogul in use on the Valley line, supplanted by J-1s before the line was dieselized. He should know - that's him holding down the fireman's box on the 466 below in March of 1948.
|Valley Local southbound crossing the Little River from Cromwell to Middletown|
Kent Cochrane photo from the Shoreliner Vol. 22 #4, p. 35
|John Wallace collection.|
You'd think the photographer - especially a photographer as meticulous as John - would know precisely when the photograph was taken. But I just recently found out, even though it's in his collection, John's not the photographer(!). Turns out, he got the photo from the Hartford Courant after he saw it printed in the paper.
Every Thursday night, a bunch of us get together to catalog the NHRHTA's Photo Library for Shoreliner authors and other Association publications. One of the guys that comes to help out is a professional researcher - Bob Belletzkie (of Tyler City Station fame.). If the Courant printed the photo in the paper, there would be a date. Using his research skills and digging through the archives, Bob found the article (actually only a photo and caption) and got the date for us: December 21, 1948.
So the end of steam on the Valley occurred sometime between December 21, 1948 and April 24, 1949. I may never know the precise date of the last run of steam, but since I plan on modeling Autumn, I now know I can go as late as Autumn 1948. Since I want to use moguls on the Valley local, the latest I can go is Autumn 1947. And that's where I ended up.
But I'm still curious to know when the last steam ran, so if anybody has any additional information that could narrow that window of time further - most especially an Engine Assignment Book from before 4/24/49 - please let me know.
So that's the Valley line (so far...) - what about the Airline? Looks like steam lasted there just a little longer. Here's another Kent Cochrane photo, this one of the Airline local westbound at Middlefield, CT in April, 1948:
|From the Shoreliner Vol. 22 #4 p. 31|
|New Haven J-1 #3022 on the Airline Local eastbound at Rockfall, CT|
|New Haven J-1 #3022 at Canaan, CT. Leroy Beaujon photo.|
Seeing these two images together, and knowing diesel #0606 would be assigned by April, it looks most likely that John's photo is of one of the last (if not, in fact, the last) runs of steam on the Airline - perhaps January/February 1949. If that's true, then Leroy's shot is probably of the engine after it left the Airline for a new assignment in Canaan, perhaps as early as Jan/Feb '49 but more likely December of that year. In any event, my chosen era of Autumn 1947 is well within the period of time the 3022 was used on the Airline local.
If you've read this far, then you likely appreciate the