Monday, September 28, 2015

On the New Haven - 74 Years Ago Today

(Ok - so this post has nothing to do with the Valley Line, and I've posted it before. But I include 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, 74 years ago today . . .cue the music) 

September 28, 1941 was a Sunday. 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.  Some 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 . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cookeville & Crossville, TN

More railroad-related sites from the Cumberland Plateau . . .

The Tennesee Central Railroad station at Crossvilee, TN

Some history of the railroad in Cookeville, TN

Cookeville Station

In addition to the station, which contains a cool museum of local railroad interest and a model railroad of the town, there's a TC loco and caboose displayed outside...

 And, across the street from the station, this cool sign (and the ice cream parlor underneath the sign is a definite must-do!)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Do you know the way to Monterey? (and Nashville)

Continuing our whirlwind tour of RR-related places we discovered during our family visit down South...

We decided to head over to Nashville next - the Missus wanted to see Cheekwood Gardens and I figured, if nothing else, the passenger station might still be around to see (not to mention maybe some freight yards). As luck would have it, along the way we saw a sign for "Monterey Railroad Museum" and got off the highway for a few minutes...

Here's the station at Monterey, TN on the Old Tennessee Central. This building is actually a reproduction of the original but built on the same footprint.

Downtown Monterey looks very model-railroady, with this cool old hotel right near the station.

AH! And once inside the station/museum, you see that art imitates life! In addition to many railroad artifacts and displays, there was this cool model railroad which included an HO scale version of the town.

During its heyday, Monterey was quite a busy railroad town, with a branchline heading off for the coal mines and an engine servicing facility as well. That concrete sentinel in the photo above is what remains of the coaling tower.

And what railroad museum would be complete without a caboose on display?
While talking to the very friendly and informative folks at the station/museum, I discovered that Monterey is currently the end-of-the-line from Nashville - and the line only comes up this far in order to serve a quarry just outside of town (using that old coal branch). The line was upgraded a few years back in anticipation of a booming economy that would require daily trains. Alas, the bottom fell out of those plans and now the line is served on average about once per week - usually on Tuesdays. And we were there on a Wednesday.

But as luck would have it, not only did the sun come out to brighten an otherwise dreary day, but the Nashville & Eastern (current operator of the line) came out to service the mine on an off (for them) day!

Talk about lucky! Sorry the videos got cut off a bit. One of the hazards of using my phone exclusively for video and photos (shame on me!) is that I have to be careful with storage space. So I was being a little bit (too) frugal on the footage.

After our little sidetrip (which took a good deal longer than first expected, but for good reason!), I figured I'd had my fun for the day. But there was more to come!

The weather had been pretty sketchy so far that day and when we got to Nashville and the torrent opened up, we feared our visit to the gardens would be a washout. We weathered the storm at Nashville's famous Pancake Pantry (holy-varieties-of-pancakes, batman!) and by the time we'd finished, the sky had cleared.

The gardens and grounds were amazing (not to mention the house, which was built by the Folger's coffee family - "Good to the Last Drop" indeed!), but since this is a railroad blog, you'll want to see what you get when you combine gardens with railroads. You guessed it! A Garden Railroad!

But as you can see in the photos, this isn't your typical garden railroad...

Everything's made with natural indigenous materials and I'm told all the buildings depict actual prototype buildings of significance in Tennessee. I could have sat mesmerized, watching the trains for hours. But there was a lot more to see of the grounds and house - and we wanted to see the Nashville Union Station before it got dark . . .

Considering the time, I was actually going to pass on seeing the station this trip - but that was before the Missus had gotten on the 'net and told me a bit about what to expect. Apparently, the station had been remodeled and repurposed into a luxury hotel. The pics show how beautiful a facility it is today - and a true reflection of its as-built grandeur!

I got this shot from the balcony of the hotel's restaurant. As you can tell, there's plenty of railroad action to see. Just off the right edge of the photo was where the passenger train sheds used to be.

These cars are stranded near the building where the Folger's folks got their start (tying everything back together again).

Better view of the yards where the trainshed used to be. The station is just off the left of this photo.

Final photo, having panned left from the previous shot. What a Grand Dame of a station!
With nighfall fast approaching - and wanting to get back to my parents' place in time for dinner, we got Siri to get us out of town as quick as possible - despite the fact it was now rush hour (forgot it was a weekday - funny how vacation can cause you to lose track of time). But on our way out, we made a note of one thing we'll I'll definitely want to see next time we visit . . .

We'll be back . . .
You've heard the saying "a river runs through it" - well, in the case of many of the towns we saw during our trip, The Tennessee Central Railroad runs through it them. Not only did it go through my parents' town of Crossville, but went through Cookeville as well - two towns we'll visit in the next post...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

To the North Carolina Transportation Museum

Continuing our (very) quick pass through railroad-related sites during our recent trip down south . . .

We first stayed a few days with my brother who lives near Cornelius and Davidson, NC and during one of my morning runs I decided to see if I could find the local railroad station.
Not certain, but I think this may be the (heavily remuddled) station at Cornelius, NC. At least the roof looks railroady enough.
Fortunately, the depot at Davidson, NC is much more obvious . . .
The station - excuse me, "Depot" - at Davidson, NC

Davidson, NC trackside

Close-up of bay window and order board.
I'd missed the "Streamliners at Spencer" event last year (despite the fact that our very own New Haven FL-9 #2019 made the trip), but discovering that Spencer, NC and the North Carolina Transportation Museum were only about an hour away from my brother's house, I figured a visit was a no-brainer. Fortunately, bro' and dad agreed and went with me.

The museum is on the site of the former Spencer Shops of the Southern Railway. Though much has changed since the shops were active (there are a LOT fewer tracks & yards), much remains - including the HUGE backshop, turntable and 37-stall roundhouse. It's an active rail preservation facility even today, which isn't surprising given the great facilities that exist here. Click here for a brief history of the shops.

There is a TRAINLOAD of stuff to see (pun intended) and I took a lot of photos, but here are a few that'll give you a quick overview of what's there...

You start your visit at the station, which was transplanted from Barber, NC

Signal display - you can even operate them!

Like the museum at Roanoke, the NCTM is a full transportation museum - so it includes an impressive collection of cars and trucks as well (which my dad and brother especially enjoyed).

Need something like this on my layout - HO scale, of course.

Overview of the car museum, in the old freighthouse.

Spencer Backshop - this photo doesn't do it justice. It's HUGE! I think I read somewhere that at one time it was the largest building in North Carolina.

Shop interior - this is just one half(!) It's not hard to imagine the huge cranes moving entire locomotives around here.

Next stop was the roundhouse which included a number of locomotives and cars (don't miss the film at the beginning of your tour of the roundhouse - it gives you a great overview of the operation as it used to be).

For the blog's obligatory model railroad content.... this is a scale reproduction of the Spencer Shops. What an amazing operation!

View from the other end. Even in N-scale, this thing is huge.

Southern F unit undergoing restoration in the roundhouse.

You don't see too many of these around - looks like a Walthers or Tichy kit(!)

Overview of the roundhouse
I took over 100 photos during my visit (glad I didn't run out of "film" - heh) and didn't want to bore you by posting all of them. But hopefully this will give you enough of a taste of what's there. Like the VA Museum of Transportation - the NCTM is most definitely worth a visit!

But our railroad day wasn't quite over yet.... On the way home, we saw a sign on the highway for a railroad station in Salisbury, NC. So of course we had to make a little detour...

I want to learn more about Salisbury - it looks like it was quite a railroad town at one time and retains a lot of its old buildings - including these. "Embiggen" the pic to see the cool signs painted on the brickwork.

Built in 1908, the station itself is still active, serving both Amtrak and the local commuter service.
The NCTM was, of course, awesome - but I definitely want to visit Salisbury again. It wasn't until I got home that I discovered how many historic sites and buildings there are in town. And judging by all the vacant property near the tracks - not to mention the funny shaped buildings nearby - I can only imagine what railroad activity there must have been there during its heyday.

But there's still a bit of railroading going on - as you'll see in the videos below, with which I leave you for now . . .