Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the New Haven - 73 yrs ago today

(Ok - so this post has nothing to do with the Valley Line. I include it it because it gives me a chance to combine my two primary passions: the New Haven Railroad & cycling.  It's also an absolutely wonderful window into the past - a veritable time machine, a trip down Memory Lane despite the fact that you're viewing it on a computer or tablet. So, turn back the pages of history and get a little glimpse of what life was like on the New Haven Railroad on the eve of World War II, 73 years ago today . . .cue the music) 

September 28, 1941 was a Sunday too. An early autumn day in Southern New England, clear and mild.

World War II had been raging in Europe for exactly two years this month.  The German army had advanced into the Soviet Union over the summer and was riding high on the success of having already conquered most of Western Europe.  France had just been split into German-occupied and Vichy zones the previous month.

It wasn't learned until much later that at some point in the days leading up to September 28, 1941, there was an important meeting concerning Nazi Germany's capacity to develop nuclear weapons.  We thought the atomic age didn't start until four years later.

We didn't yet have to "Remember Pearl Harbor."

On this particular Sunday, the Japanese were celebrating the 10 year anniversary of occupying China's northeast territory of Manchuria.  At some point during that same day, perhaps as some sign of heaven's outrage at such an audacious celebration, the sun was blacked out during a total eclipse visible in most of China - from just northeast of the Black Sea to the Pacific ocean.

Just three weeks earlier, the Japanese government assured President Roosevelt that it had "no imperialist designs on any foreign nation."

Britain had survived the Blitz, which ended the previous May - the same month Glenn Miller first recorded "Chattanooga Choo Choo" which was featured in a hit movie starring Sonja Henie.  "Blue Champagne" by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra was the #1 song on September 28, but the Henie movie, "Sun Valley Serenade," was released to theaters exactly a month earlier.  By then "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was already a top ten on the Hit Parade, well on its way to becoming the first gold record ever the following February.  It was the nation's #1 hit by that December.

Bobby soxers fed the voracious appetite of juke boxes across the country one nickle at a time and made Frank Sinatra the top male vocalist that year.

Families had probably gone to church that Sunday morning in Connecticut, though some navy yard workers may have slept in having worked so hard to launch the Gato Class submarine USS Greenling (SS-213) at the Electric Boat Co., Groton the previous day.  Many were still marking the 3 year anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane that devastated the Connecticut coast and rendered Hollywood screen siren Katherine Hepburn temporarily homeless, having to rebuild her family's home in Old Saybrook.

But there was no sign of bad weather this September 28 and at least a few folks took advantage of the beautiful Sunday afternoon to go for a bike ride and have a picnic - all courtesy of the New Haven Railroad.

There aren't many left that remember the "Hobby Trains" run by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (aka the "New Haven") during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In an effort to boost ridership, the New Haven took advantage of the fact that their railroad connected the Great Metropolis of New York with New England.  There were camp trains in the summer and ski trains in the winter.  Photography specials in the spring and all year 'round.  But what better time for a Bike Train than Autumn and what better place than the Berkshire Hills?

Thanks to a recent discovery of raw film footage by the NHRHTA, we can go back to that Sunday seven decades ago and enjoy the sights of a pre-war bike ride.  You'll have to pedal your single-speed cruiser over a bunch of rollers before you get to eat.  Don't worry if you have to walk up some of the hills - and ladies, be sure to mind your skirts that they don't get caught in the spokes.  There are no "rest stops" as we think of on 21st century rides - bits of orange and Powerbars - but an entire spread complete with potato salad, Boston baked beans, chicken and watermelon awaits us.

So give your Schwinn, Columbia or Raleigh to the porter to put in the baggage car, give the conductor your ticket, and enjoy the trip.  The train is about to arrive at the station . . .

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Few Words about Wordless Wednesday #36

Yesterday was Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 - but yesterday's Wordless Wednesday was a little window into the past, exactly 73 years ago to the day.

I don't know much about Charles W. Cushman, but I know where he was on September 24, 1941 (which, as it happens, was also a Wednesday). He was right near the Air Line, up on a small hill in Hampton, CT taking a picture of a quintessential New England farm.

Unfortunately, I have no idea where exactly in Hampton he was standing, or whether this farm still exists. Even if it does, it's unlikely that you could reproduce this photo today - there are probably too many trees. If the Blogosphere wants to help a brother out and tell me where this is, I'd be most appreciative (Turns out there are a lot of small lakes in Hampton. I've checked.)

I wish there was some way to expand & stretch this scene into a photo backdrop. It's scenes like these that I'd love to include in my miniaturized version of the Valley & Air Lines. And it'd be educational too, giving us some idea why there are so many stone fences in the middle of forests (hint: fewer trees back then).

If you enjoyed this little trip back in time, be sure to check back this coming Sunday, September 28.

Our time machine will still be set for 1941.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday #36 - 73 Years Ago Today


Monday, September 22, 2014


Once I finally decided to bite the bullet and "do-over" my backdrop, I discovered that the actual logistics weren't as complicated as expected.

At least not so far.

When we last left this project, I'd gotten as far as attaching the first backdrop backer board. Since I didn't get all of the backer glued on before company started arriving that evening, my revised timetable was to get the rest of it done Friday after work so that I could put up the extension Saturday morning, then tape/spackle the seam Saturday evening, and paint Sunday morning. It almost worked out that way...

Here's a closeup of the first section of backdrop backer board, showing the detail at one of the backdrop supports. Note the offset backer to the backdrop backer board (all these Bs are getting ridiculous!) to create a nice flush mounting surface. As I described before, the backer board itself is glued to the back of the existing backdrop, acting as a splice between the existing backdrop and the extension..

Here's how thing looked Friday night - all the backdrop backer is now in and drying. Still on timetable at this point.

Saturday morning, I removed all the clamps from the backer, confirmed that all was secure, scraped off any excess glue that would prevent the extension from mounting flush, and then applied glue to the back of the extension. NOTE TO SELF: if I ever have to do this again, I'll smooth out the glue. Leaving it like this created a lot of mess when I turned the extension vertical to mount it, and a bunch of the glue squeezed out and dripped on the floor.  Glad I put down dropcloths!

All clamped up & drying. The jaw depth of the clamps was barely enough to be sure I was able to clamp to the backer board  itself - deeper jawed clamps would have been better. I lucked out.

And here's how it looked at the end of Saturday morning. Unfortunately, that's how it still looks. We (I) got distracted by other things later that day and then had family over all day/night Sunday. So I'll try to get to taping next chance I get. That piece of scrap on the left there is my attempt to "extend" the clamping ability of my clamp a bit.  I think it worked pretty well. Hope it didn't end up getting stuck with glue.
I have meetings after work every night this week and plans for all day Saturday, so the earliest I'm likely to get back to this is next Sunday(?!). But that's ok - as long as I'm making some progress, it's better than the no progress that usually happens (progress that usually doesn't happen?).

But I hope to have my next operating session sometime in October, so I gotta ramp things up get Wethersfield back to at least what it looked like before I started this backdrop dropping backdropping project. And if there's anything that motivates progress, it's the prospect of an upcoming operating session...

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Do Over (An Antidote to Analysis & Progress Paralysis)

One of the biggest reasons folks never get started on a project is that they're afraid of not doing it "right." Consequently, they seldom even try. This "analysis paralysis" can afflict model railroads at all sorts of stages of development - from before birth (when a layout never gets started) to any point during its life.  But when layout progress stops because you think you've gone too far down the wrong path, you may be suffering from a related affliction: "progress paralysis."

In either case, the remedy is the same: raising your comfort level with Doing It Over.  Yes, the "Do Over" is something with which experienced model railroaders are all too familiar. They've come to realize that the only thing worse than doing something over is never doing it at all - and the regular progress of their layouts is testimony to their approach. Even one step back is progress if you eventually wind up with two steps forward. And you'll often get three or more steps forward if you've learned something new as a result.

Now, I don't consider myself an "experienced model railroader," having for far too long been content with armchair daydreaming (and my recent RR library weeding/reorganizing hasn't helped), but this layout project is teaching me - sometimes harshly - that I've got to get really comfortable with doing things over (or at least considering that possibility more often) if I'm going to be happy with the outcome.

Case in point: the backdrop in Wethersfield.

If you were reading this blog back in early June, you'll recall that I've been very dissatisfied with the backdrop. Long story short, it's too high - there's anywhere from 2-4" difference between the bottom of the backdrop and the top of the subroadbed. Making up that difference with terrain requires a slope from the track to the bottom of the backdrop and while there is slight slope east to west on the prototype (as the topography moves west from the Connecticut River), it's not nearly as steep as I'd need. Consequently, I extended the backdrop at the north end of Wethersfield where the prototype is the flattest.

But the more I research Wethersfield, the flatter I realize that it is and the more problematic the backdrop becomes. This problem became a major affliction once I started adding mockup structures - things just didn't look right, so I didn't want to continue to add mockups, and I didn't know what else to do, so layout progress stopped dead.

So, not having the backdrop extend down far enough (or failing to install it low enough in the first place) has been a big mistake and an enduring frustration. BUT! At least I have a backdrop, and a layout to have a backdrop on. I've started down this layout-building path and to continue forward I have to get over this affliction.  So, I reach into the model railroad medicine cabinet and reach for a healthy dose of "Do Over."

Here's what I've done so far . . .

The easiest thing to do would be to unscrew the backdrop supports and drop it - but, as you can see, it's all nicely joined in to the wall.  I don't want to have to redo all that.

Wethersfield, looking south. Here's how things looked when I started - you can see the flat area to the right (north) and the previously extended portion of the backdrop.

Wethersfield, looking south. This shows the difference in elevation. Prototype photos show the area as pretty flat. What really drove this home to me was that Valley Coal needs to go in this spot - and that whole area's supposed to be flat. And to be anywhere near prototype size, Valley Coal will have to right to the backdrop.

Since I'd be removing the plastercloth, I figured there'd be a mess - so first order of business was to put down dropcloths.

I used hot glue to attach the cardboard strips to the backdrop and plywood, so a putty knife was all I needed. Attaching the strips to the back side of the backdrop made the strips more difficult to remove, but was necessary in my attempt to keep the slope as low as possible.

Here's the Church Street area where I used some foam board, which will stay. To get the slope here, I used a combination of cardboard strips and wadded up newspapers.

What have I done?!

Once everything was removed, I needed my backdrop extension and a backdrop, um, "backing."

The backdrop backing will give me something to glue the backdrop extension to, so the seam doesn't just "float." The backing needs to go behind the current backdrop in order to act as a "splice" between the original backdrop and the extension. One problem with this is the backdrop support - I can't tuck the backing in.

So I split the backing at this point and added some scrap wood for - heh - backing for the backing. I want to create a flush surface to attach the extension to.

And here's where things are as of now - first section of backing all glued and clamped. Next step will be to install the backing to the left of the support - then I'll be able to install a long one-piece extension across it all.
All of this took only a couple of hours, but I think I know it's going to be time very well spent in the long run. Pay attention when you have a problem nagging you. If that nagging persists, it could be a sign of a deep-seated affliction that won't leave. In extreme cases, it could evolve into full-blown progress paralysis. Be willing to do what it takes to address the problem, even if it means going back and doing it over again. Your layout will be much better off as a result.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Photo Library Night

If I don't get any modeling done on Thursday nights, this is why. Just about every week a bunch of us get together to catalog the New Haven Railroad photo archive. I'd say that's a pretty good excuse, eh?

A Few Words About Wordless Wednesday #35

It's April, 1948 and the Air Line Local is heading back to Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven having made its run up to Colchester, meeting the Valley Local in Middletown. The fireman's doing a fine job keeping a clear stack, but it was still pretty chilly out, as evidenced by the condensing steam coming from J-1 class Mikado #3022. It must've been a pretty hard winter, with lots of snow - note the collapsed barn over on the right. And if you look really closely, you can see a '30s era car and a cool tractor. That tractor is going to be doing some heavy work plowing up those fields, but none of that is on the mind of our photographer, Kent Cochrane. He hiked up to the top of a small rise here in Middlefield, CT and composed an archetypal scene of late steam era branchline railroading in southern New England. Could he have ever imagined we'd be appreciating his work, over a computer "internet," over 66 years later?

Monday, September 15, 2014

(Almost) On The Valley Line - Today

Saybrook Junction has changed a lot since the days the Valley Line crossed here at-grade (just beyond that first catenary tower).  The freight house has been moved to the west (closest) end of the passenger station, and is now a pizza restaurant (with LOTS of railroad decor, natch), the station platforms are now high-level, there's an overhead pedestrian bridge to cross the tracks, and there're wires - something not seen east of New Haven until the 1990s.

But one thing that hasn't changed - other than the equipment and frequency - are the trains. Trains still go through Saybrook Junction. And some of them go pretty fast.

Here's one of the fastest...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Few Words About Wordless Wednesday #33 & #34


It's the Summer of 1948 and John Wallace, along with a couple of friends, hear the southbound Valley Local whistling for Nott Street in Wethersfield. They had just enough time to get down to the end of Fernwood Street to watch the train pass. Holding down the left side of the cab, John sees his friend Dave Corsair, in his trademark white t-shirt (nervy for a fireman) and Dave must've yelled over to engineer Bill Beaupre that John had his camera out, because Bill popped out of the cab window too, just as John clicked the shutter. And thus was preserved forever one fleeting moment, an all-too-brief glimpse into a beautiful summer day in 1948.


Another shot of a southbound Valley Line train, this time at East Haddam/Goodspeeds - though I'm not sure if this is the Valley Local freight. It's early 20th century - certainly pre-1933 - so it could be a passenger local, stopped at the station. The passenger station is there on the left, but it's long gone today. The freight station remains, somewhat modified and added to. The grade crossing is present-day Route 82. The Connecticut River is just out of view to the right, If we could pan right, we could date the photo based on whether the East Haddam swing bridge is there (built 1913). No matter what the era, the right-of-way and surroundings are immaculate - and the entire scene is inviting. What would we give to be able to climb aboard that train today?

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's On My Workbench - 9/8/2014

I haven't done anything model railroady since Labor Day Weekend when I "flew solo" with the airbrush for the first time and pre-painted some structure parts for what will become Ballantine's beer distributor warehouse in Wethersfield. I only have to mask off the concrete portion of the walls in order to shoot the red brick portion (thanks for the masking tip Haksaw).

But for my lack of model railroad progress, I blame Trevor Marshall. He did a really wonderful post recently on "the importance of a good library for any serious hobbyist" - and that got me to thinking about my own book mess stacks of books library. Especially how unwieldy it's become. It's not so useful if you can't find what you're looking for when you want/need to. The final straw was finding a book in the "recent purchases/to read" pile that - you guessed it - I already had on one of my many shelves.

You might also guess what happened next - a flurry of organizing, reorganizing, reading, reshelving, etcetera, etcetera. That project - the type of which always seems to mushroom a bit - took up whatever time I would have otherwise had the past week or so for modeling. Admittedly, that amount of time wasn't actually all that much - but that won't keep me from trying to blame somebody else for my time (mis)management.

Nevertheless, there is something "on my workbench" - actually, a few somethings. "What?" you might (hopefully) ask . . .

Well, other than the usual hobby-bench detritus, there are a few boxcar parts there on the left end that have various weights placed on them to remove some warping. They'll eventually be New Haven Railroad 30,000-series steel boxcars. Also, obscured by the phone stand, there's a 30' deck plate girder bridge done and ready for weathering. And finally, there's the (never-ending-seems-like-always-being-worked-on) Middletown Tower - my "quick & dirty" project (not). All I have left to do is glue the trim on, modify/install the staircase, and mount it on its foundation. If I play my cards right, I may even be able to get to that tomorrow night.

Or, I may just peruse the shelves of my newly-organized railroad library, pick a good book, and sit in a comfortable chair, hot beverage at my side. No wonder "armchair modeling" is so darned attractive!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On the Valley Line Today (Labor Day Weekend Edition)

Ah, Labor Day Weekend - the Unofficial End of Summer, but more importantly the Official Beginning of Modeling Season. At least that's what it looks like in Internet-land. Apparently, LOTS of folks used the 3-day weekend to make some major progress on their layouts. I'd planned to, but it didn't quite work out that way.

I ended up spending most of the day Saturday working on the busted water pipe problem, but first I met John & Roman for breakfast at a great place in Higganum prior to doing something I've wanted to do for a long time - Ride the North End of the Valley Line!

The Valley Railroad (dba Essex Steam Train), only runs a little farther north than East Haddam and the Providence & Worcester only goes as far south of just south of Middletown. The track between those two points hasn't seen a train since 1968(?), but the tracks are still there - going through the forest and buried in the weeds.
Bridge across Higganum Creek (out of service)
Fortunately, volunteers from the Friends of the Valley Railroad have restored some sections of track and have started running inspection vehicles and speeders over the line between an unstable bridge to the south and a major washout to the north. And Labor Day Weekend would be my last chance this year to ride this section.

Here's our "motive power" for the trip - at Haddam Meadows "station"

It was a really cool trip, especially with John providing some insight to the line (he hadn't ridden that section since the late 1940s) and major kudos to the FVRR folks for making it possible.

Afterwards, we went down to Hadlyme to catch the Valley RR's regular steam train . . .

As you can see, there was LOTS happening on the real Valley Line this weekend - just not much happening on the model Valley Line in my basement.

Most of the rest of the weekend was taken up with non-railroad stuff (mowing, cleaning windows, etc), but I did get some basement cleanup done, which is somewhat tangentially related to layout stuff - to the extent I can now find tools and such(!).  And I got down to the Saybrook station to watch the trains go by for a few minutes while enjoying a cup of coffee from my favorite place.

Bonus: I lucked into seeing Amtrak's latest motive power . . .

I'd heard about these locomotives for some time, but hadn't yet seen one in person. Until yesterday.

Oh, and also yesterday, this happened:

Yup, I actually did get to a little bit of model railroad stuff after all. I broke out the airbrush for the first time totally unsupervised (I'm such a rebel) and pre-painted some structure parts. I'm undecided whether it was smart to do this while the parts were still on the sprues. Seemed like a good idea at the time, and an easy way to handle them. But I'm afraid I may have some touchup to do later, after the build. Next, I'll be doing my first masking job. Any suggestions on what to use for masking tape (other than, um, "masking tape")?

So that, in a (large) nutshell, was my Labor Day Weekend. Hope you were able to have some fun too!