Friday, September 28, 2018

Fun Stuff Friday: On the New Haven Railroad - 77 Years Ago Today . . .

(Ok - so this post has nothing to do with the Valley Line, and I post it on this day every year, but I include it because it gives me a chance to combine my two primary passions: the New Haven Railroad & bicycling.  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 in New England on the New Haven Railroad on the eve of World War II, exactly 77 years ago today . . .click to 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., in 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 those 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 27, 2018

Throwback Thursday: September, 1948

It was 70 years ago this month - the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, I'm told - 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 didn't sound like this . . .

But 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 7, 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 meant to write this closer to - if not on - the actual anniversary of this event, which is all - mostly - verified as true. 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 that event 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 his 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 five 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 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 . . .

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Unfinished Business

(This past week, I heard of the passing of another fellow model railroader - Stewart Sterling. At only 54 years old, he was way, way too young. While I didn't know him personally, his constant presence on the A Modeler's Life podcast, whether in person or by reference, will be sorely missed. Thankfully, he'll continue to be present in our memories of him. I wrote the post below a couple of years ago, after the passing of another friend, but it's still a good reminder to live each day to its fullest.)

Bear with me - this post is intended to be motivational, not morbid. But it's no surprise that the older we get the more we hear of contemporaries passing. In the model railroad community, these hopefully-not-too-frequent announcements take on a unique poignancy - we wonder whether he (or she) accomplished everything they wanted with their layout, whether they built all the kits they had, or read all their books.

Unfortunately, the answer is usually "no" - there never seems to be enough time to do all we want to do and model railroaders tend to have especially long "to do" lists. Whether it's our "dream pike" plans or our ever-growing stash of kits that "I'll get around to, someday," our reach all too often exceeds our grasp. We eventually run out of time just like everybody else and leave our share of unfinished projects behind.

The Missus - wise woman that she is - told me a story once of how sad it is to hear of folks saving stuff "for special occasions" and somehow not finding occasions "special" enough to use the "good" stuff. Or waiting until "someday" to do something they've looked forward to. She'd say "wear the special dress, use the good dishes, bring out the fancy linens, take the trip. Why not have those experiences and enjoy those things as long as you can while you can?"

Why indeed.

The model railroader's equivalent isn't far off. Don't save the kits for when you think you have enough skills. The irony is that you won't get the skills until you start building. Don't wait to do a layout until you have the dream space or your dream plan - start small, but at least get started.

I did a post on this blog a couple years ago titled "Too Much" which described some of the anxiety I was feeling at the time for having taken on the Valley Line project. I, too, have been guilty of too much planning and buying and not enough doing and building. But as I hear of yet another model railroad estate sale, and confront all the structure and freight car kits I have on my shelves - not to mention the many unfinished projects in varying states of progress - I've made my mind up about something:

"Someday" is NOW.

NOW is the time to finish that Micro Engineering bridge kit for East Berlin that I started a couple years ago. It only needs a little more work...

NOW is the time to finally get past the roadblock with my tender modification for J-1 #3022. Once that's done, the Air Line Local will finally have accurate steam power...

NOW is the time to get going again on the Old Saybrook Tower kit I opened last July and quit obsessing over the proper paint scheme (I'm color blind anyway)...

And, yes, NOW is the time to (at least start to) get over my scenery phobia, despite said color-blindness...

Why not just finish these projects and develop these skills? What am I waiting for?

Now that NERPM 2016 and my layout open house is in the rear-view, it's time to get back to the modeling that has taken a back seat during the past 18 months of construction. I got a nice kick-start last Saturday when I attended my first-ever hands-on clinic - modifying an Accurail boxcar kit to a 1 1/2 door boxcar. Admittedly, I didn't finish it, yet, but I did start. And I got beyond my usual analysis paralysis and accomplished much more in a shorter period of time than I ever had before.

So I'm going to keep up that motivation momentum as long as possible, rejecting "someday" and embracing "today." There's not much left to do to finish that boxcar, so I'll finish it. If I hit a snag in the process, I'll either address it and move on (I ordered the necessary decals last night) or I'll set it aside for the moment and dive headlong into something else (maybe that ME bridge). The point is - continue moving forward.

Don't wait for "someday" to accomplish what your imagination inspires you to do. Progress breeds even more progress and skills only develop as you do as much (or at least as often) as you dream.

(originally posted 6/9/2016)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Weekend "WE"search: Notes on the New Haven Railroad's DEY-3 & DEY-5 Switchers

New Haven class DEY-3 switcher #0967 with Valley Local freight at Fernwood Street, Wethersfield, CT in 5/1949.
John Wallace photo.
If you've read this blog for any time at all - and especially if you've perused the Valley Local website (be sure head over there if you haven't before) - you know that I really enjoy the historical research aspect of this hobby. And it's even better when you get to collaborate with a buddy. So, with the release of ESU's sound for the non-turbo Alco 539 prime mover, (and the resulting move up the modeling priority list for our Alco S-1s) Randy and I decided to do a little "we"search into the New Haven's Alco S-1 & S-2 switchers, which they designated class DEY-3 and DEY-5, respectively.

The first resource for all New Haven railroad locomotives is Jack Swanberg's seminal work New Haven Power, which provides encyclopedic coverage of all NHRR motive power throughout the history of the railroad. You'll also want to be sure and consult the series of books produced by Bob Liljestrand (Bob's Photos) that have covered NH engines. Volume 1 covers the switchers and road switchers, including the DEY units. While we reviewed these prototype resources, and more, during the course of our research, Marc Frattasio and Bill Chapin have aggregated all of this information and provided the definitive prototype resource for the DEY-3 and DEY-5 switchers in the Volume 35, Issue 1 edition of the NHRHTA's Shoreliner magazine.

Since we'll be modeling both types of engines for our layouts (as you can see above, the Valley Local needs DEY-3 #0967, and I also need a DEY-5 for the lower end local), I figured a quick reference of prototype information would be helpful. And if you have any interest in these engines, I hope you find these notes helpful too. But for the most comprehensive information, including lots of photos, be sure to consult the Shoreliner article and the books mentioned above.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
General Information

The New Haven's DEY-3 and DEY-5 class switchers differed visually from standard Alco S-1s and S-2s in two primary respects:

  • Cab Roof Profile

The New Haven cab is a low-profile version, to provide additional clearance when used in the electrified zone. The compound curves resulted in an overall roof height that was approx. 6" lower than the standard cab.
 Image from the Shoreliner article.

  • Crosley 3-Chime Air Whistle

Instead of a standard air horn, the New Haven used brass (or bronze?) 3-chime air whistles.
Image from the Shoreliner article.
Classification System & Number Series
  • "DEY" classification system started 1944
  • Class DEY-3 (Alco S-1), number series 0931-0995
  • Class DEY-5 (Alco S-2), number series 0600-0621
Prime Mover
  • DEY-3
    • Same primer mover as HH660 - 660hp McIntosh & Seymour Model 531
    • Model 531 was designated 539 when in the S-1
  • DEY-5
    • Turbocharged Model 539, designated 539T, produced 1000 hp
    • Same prime mover in Alco RS-1 (DERS-1b) and DL-109 (DER-1)
    • Turbo produced a distinctive high pitched "chirp"
  • Neither prime mover equipped with automatic air reservoir blowdowns, so no "spitter" sound
Delivery Dates
  • DEY-3 (1941-1949), 65 units
    • 1941 0931-0940
    • 1942 0941-0950
    • 1943 0951-0957
    • 1944 0958-0970
    • 1947 (Nov/Dec) 0971-0976 (green/orange scheme begins)
    • 1948 (Jan-Mar) 0977-0983
    • 1948 (Sept-Dec) 0984-0992
    • 1949 (Jan) 0993-0995
  • DEY-5 (1943-1944), 22 units
    • 1943 (Dec) 0600-0601
    • 1944 (Jan) 0602-0603
    • 1944 (May-Nov) 0604-0621
DEY-3 Whistle Locations
  • 0931-0950 had whistle mounted even with roof overhang
  • 0951-0973 had whistle mounted about a foot forward of the roof overhang
  • 0977-0995 had whistle mounted about 3.5' forward of the roof overhang
Paint Schemes (late 1940s)
  • 0931-0970 delivered in all Pullman green with Dulux gold (yellow) lettering
  • Hunter Green cab & orange hood started with delivery of 0971 November, 1947.
  • Cab interior likely dark (Pullman?) green in pre-Nov. '47 units; light gray thereafter
Cab Signal Equipment
  • The following units were equipped with Hartford Line cab signal equipment:
    • 0967, 0981, 0605, 0606
  • The following units were equipped with Shore Line signal equipment:
    • 0610-0612
  • The following units were equipped with Dual Cab Signal equipment:
    • 0993, 0995, 0604, 0616, 0620
Radiator Shutters (louvers)
  • First 40 DEY-3s
    • 24 narrow vertical shutters set in a thin frame w/shallow protrusion
    • Horzontal space/cutting across the shutters at mid-height
  • Last 25 DEY-3s
    • 11 wide vertical radiator shutters also with a horizontal spacer
    • Rivet at each of the two quarter points of each louver
    • Larger cross-section frame around the perimeter, resulting in deep protrusion
  • First 9 DEY-5s (0600-0608) had horizontal radiator shutters
  • Last 11 DEY-5s (0609-0621) had vertical shutters.
This is just a list of notes for prototype reference. For a nice narrative, including even more detailed information on later paint schemes, additional detail changes, and final dispositions, be sure to consult Marc and Bill's comprehensive Shoreliner article.

And of course - as always - if you have any additional information to share, please let me know in the comments or contact me directly. One of my main goals with this blog (and especially the website) is to provide a nice repository of information on the New Haven Railroad - but especially the Valley Line and its equipment and operations. Thanks in advance for any info you have to share - and for being a part of the "we" in WEsearch (sorry - couldn't resist one last time...)

Friday, September 21, 2018

On the New Haven Railroad - 80 Years Ago Today . . .

The Great New England Hurricane

Today marks a somber - and for the New Haven Railroad, a devastating - event that happened exactly 80 years ago.

Making landfall on September 21, 1938, The Great New England Hurricane was - and remains - the most powerful and deadly 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 $4.7 billion in 2017 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..."
For more photos, be sure to check out the NHRHTA's 60th Anniversary coverage here and for more detailed information on the hurricane itself, check out this site.

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 80 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.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Fun - MRH Posts Decoder Install & ESU Decoder (RE)Programming

If you're a long-time reader and you also get MRH's weekly email, you may have recognized the photo with the "Bachman steamer sound upgrade" link. Yup - today's "Friday Fun" is especially fun since the weekly email featured one of my past posts!

Check it out here and join the conversation
* * * * *
I've often said that ops sessions are one of the best ways to tease out problems with your equipment, and my last session was no exception.

I use ESU decoders exclusively in the diesels that operate Shoreline trains and the Full Throttle feature - which allows you to ramp-up the prime mover sound while maintaining the motor drive independently - makes it easy to simulate the starting of a heavy train. But I discovered that you have to be a little careful with how you do the programming - especially if you start moving functions around (which is super easy to do with ESU's Lokprogrammer software).
My ESU decoder mapping

As you can see (if you click on the image), I've remapped the Full Throttle functions (Drive Hold and Independent Brake) to functions 5 & 6, respectively. That way, they'll show up on the screen on my NCE "dogbone" throttles (the LCD only shows the first 6 functions). I also (thanks to Roman) changed the sound default to default "on" so that whenever a Shoreline operator acquires a road engine, it doesn't automatically shut down the prime mover.

So far so good. Everything was running well - until someone wanted to run a two-diesel consist with the Full Throttle feature. Turned out, only one of the locomotives in the consist would respond to either Drive Hold or the Independent Brake - and it'd literally drag along the other engine. After a bit of troubleshooting, I figured out the problem.

I'd forgotten to make sure those functions would respond to the consist address(!) Yup - the checkboxes for functions 5 & 6 (Drive Hold and Independent Brake) weren't checked.

My ESU Consist Functions
Once I figured that out, it was a simple matter of making sure F5 & F6 were checked and loading the changes into the decoder. Now everything works as it's supposed to (yay!).

Decoder programming can be a hobby in itself, and it's way too easy to go down yet another rabbit hole in this hobby. But knowing at least a little bit makes the engines run so much more realistically and, fortunately, ESU's Lokprogrammer makes these little adjustments super easy. Once you know what the problem is . . .

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Feeling Overwhelmed by "Too Much"?

For many of us, having Labor Day Weekend in our rear-view mirror means that "Model Railroad Season" is upon us - that period of time, roughly Labor Day to Memorial Day, during which we spend the most time doing our hobby.

But if it's been a while since you've been down to the basement (or wherever your layout room is located), you may have a small sense of dread as you contemplate all you have to do. It's frustrating how persistent certain themes are in our hobby, and one of the most common is that sense of being overwhelmed by the prospect of building - or continuing to build/finish - a model railroad.

Even though I've been at this project for a while, and have had a lot of fun doing it along the way, I'm not immune from those feelings - and they tend to crop up at the least opportune times. So, for this "Throwback Thursday" I'm posting a little reminder - a post I posted a while back and which I go back to any time I'm feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew. It's a nice reminder that you can even eat a whole elephant, provided you do it one small bit at a time. . .

If you could use a little encouragement as we enter hobby season, click here and enjoy! (incidentally, you'll notice that it looks like I hit this mood about every two years, but I'm about a month early for 2018 . . .%^)

And for additional perspectives from the MRH Forum, click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Word(less) Wednesday #232 - The New Haven RR During the 1940s

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times"
but for the railroad historian & modeler, few eras have as much variety.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Valley Line Ops Session - October 7, 1949 (9/8/2018)

While my primary era focuses on the Autumn of 1948, my ops sessions can run from 1947 through 1949 (well, 1947 is tough until I get more steam locomotives finished). So my operators can readily tell what year it is by what engines are running. For the session I had this past weekend, with the local freights being all diesel-powered, the date was October 7, 1949.

I was a little nervous about how the layout would operate, especially since 1) it's been a while since I've operated, and 2) this session would be primarily for folks that were coming from out-of-state for the annual NHRHTA Reunion. It also took me longer than usual to set up, since I'm a bit rusty. Yet another reason to have sessions more regularly and closer together . . .

I needn't have worried though. By all accounts (in addition to this one detailed account :^), the layout ran great. It's pretty well dialed-in at this point, thankfully. No major issues - or any issues really - and the resulting punch list is very short. Heh - speaking of shorts, I'm going to tweak the wiring on the liftout between the Saybrook wye and Essex that decided to start shorting toward the end of the session. And I want to change the programming on the latest additions to the motive power fleet. But that's pretty much it.

Oh - and I want to get going on a LOT more scenery and structures! As much as I enjoy operations - and devote a lot of my hobby time to setup and sessions - it's SO much nicer to operate through completed scenes. So I definitely want to get more of that done.

So, without any further ado, here are some photos I was able to take before and during the session (thanks to BillS, who took over as the Saybrook Tower Operator).

This is what operators first see as they come down the basement stairs - Saybrook Jct, and most importantly, the Crew Register which they must sign before going on-duty and getting their paperwork.

Speaking of paperwork(!) - this session I tried dividing it up between clipboards given to the operators that would hold their job card, locomotive/engine card, wheel report, etc (seen on the stairs) - and clipboards holding subsequent train orders that the agent would hold until needed (seen hanging on the side of the stairs). This experiment was a fail - way too confusing for everyone. So next time, I'll probably just put the orders in the bill boxes rather than have operators have to see the agent for them.

There's something strangely satisfying about seeing all the trains staged for an up-coming session, ready and rarin' to go. So much anticipation.... Here's the "west end" staging yard, representing New Haven and points west.

And here's "east end" staging, representing New London and points east. Note the debut of orange & green ("layer cake" scheme) DL-109s and PAs (thanks again Ted and Bill!)

Things are just a bit crowded at Saybrook Jct at the start of the session, with PDX-1 (eastbound Shoreline local, operated here by Bill Chapin and Bill Lupoli) and PDX-2 (westbound Shoreline local, operated here by Mike & Mel Redden) in town at the same time. Yet-another-Bill, Bill Schneider keeps things running smoothly at Saybrook Tower.

While PDX-1 is a fairly easy job ("all" it does is come from Cedar Hill Yard/New Haven, works Saybrook, and then terminates in Fort Yard/New London), it is responsible for handling cars swapped between it and PDX-2. The swapping tracks (tracks 5 & 7) are on the north side of the double-track main, next to the tower, so PDX-1 has to wait for windows of opportunity between mainline trains to get across the main to do its work on the swap tracks. Yup - that extends the time that PDX-1 is in town. Somtimes, by a lot.

Shot of one of the westbound Shoreline passenger jobs, powered here by "layer cake" DERS-1s (and their first time on the layout!)

Having completed their work in Saybrook, the PDX-2 crew works the town of Essex, just a few miles north on the Valley Line.

Meanwhile, Tom Derwin holds down the west end staging, operating the many Shoreline trains according to the actual prototype timetable (though on a 4:1 fast clock).

BillS takes a break from his tower duties to watch as a long freight passes through Saybrook westbound.

Meanwhile, "way up north" on the Valley Line, first-time Valley Line operator Ted Culotta and veteran Jim Fellows work the namesake Valley Local in Middletown.

The Two Bills - Lupoli & Chapin - work the Air Line local in Mill Hollow.

Randy takes a break from holding down the fort (Fort Yard, New London/staging, that is) to show Bill something on his phone.

Grab shot of an eastbound passenger job running through Saybrook, taken from the "bleacher seats" which provide an amazing vantage point (i.e. "the basement stairs).

The westbound continues on....
Despite how stressful they can be (all of my own doing, frankly), I really enjoy hosting these ops sessions. It's great to be able to hang out with friends and take a little trip back in time to do some railroadin'. It's also the best way to make sure your layout stays in shape - lord knows that if there's gonna be any problems, they'll show up during an ops session!

They're also a good opportunity to experiment with different approaches. This time, I'd hoped folks would "visit the agent" to get subsequent train orders and such. So I prewrote those order and put them on clipboards, sorted by train, on the wall next to the tower operator. Success was spotty, so I think for the next few sessions I'll just put orders in the bill boxes at the proper towns until my crews get used to using them.

This time I also tried having one crew do two locals. PDX-1 is a fairly short job and I don't like giving that to folks that have traveled so far to operate. So this time I put our "New Jersey contingent" on the Air Line local (HDX-12) as well as PDX-1. Turned out, they completed both jobs in about the same time as it took our longest job - HDX-7/The Valley Local - to finish. So that all timed out really well. Combining these jobs also reduces the number of folks needed to "fully staff" a session - and that means a little less crowding in the aisles.

One of the coolest - and, frankly, just lucky - aspect of my ops is that they're "scaleable." In other words, I can operate the railroad with as few as one or as many as 11 persons. I've only had 11 folks once and it was a bit crowded. And, admittedly, it takes a minimum of 7 people to operate ALL of the trains (including the Shoreline trains) - though I could get by with 6 if I continue to combine PDX-1 and HDX-12 (but I think I'd still want 7 - so the Valley Local/HDX-7 could have a two man crew. Otherwise, it gets pretty lonely). But even operating by myself, I could just do one of the locals and save the remainder for "the next day." That provides a LOT of flexibility - and means that I can have a session any time, without having to worry about crew call response.

So far though, I haven't had any problem getting folks to come have fun operating the Valley Line. But that may have something to do with the treats that the Missus always manages to provide - though being able to adjourn to a local pizza restaurant located, in all places, right in the old Saybrook freight house right next to the still-busy Shoreline (!and which has a huge operating layout) probably doesn't hurt either.

So, another great session. Things are running really well and, since my punch-list is thankfully getting smaller as a result, it looks like I can focus less on operations and more - much more - on scenery and structures, so these smooth-running trains have something more interesting to run through than plywood and foamboard!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Valley Line Ops Session - A Crewmember's Perspective

The Annual NHRHTA Reunion & Train Show was yesterday and, as has become a little custom of mine the past couple of years, I hosted an ops session for the folks that can only make it this one time per year.

While I do plan on doing a full post myself on yesterday's session, my friend Ted Culotta beat me to it. I've been bugging inviting him for a while to make it to a session, and yesterday he finally did and wrote about his experience on his blog here. I hope you'll click on over and check it out.

In the meantime, I have some cleaning up and reorganizing to do - and I may even find some time to set up the next session(!) Stay tuned for my session report which will hopefully follow soon!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Day on PDX-2: Part 3 - Essex & Old Saybrook

Essex is the largest town on the south end of the Valley Line and has the most customers. It also has the most track real-estate, so there's plenty of room to switch & sort cars. Additionally, all the stub-ended sidings are trailing point southbound so best practice is to work Essex on the return trip from up the river.
PDX-2 southbound, arriving back in Essex.
Once the train clears the Middlesex Turnpike, it's time to head to the station and get our work to do.

There's a lot to do in Essex, between delivering 3 cars that we brought from Fort Yard, delivering 4 cars we picked up in Old Saybrook from PDX-1, and picking up a whopping 10(!) cars - one of which is going back to Fort Yard on PDX-1 (in addition to the two we got from East Haddam). The rest of the cars continue with us to Cedar Hill Yard.

Here's the situation in Essex when we arrive. The six cars on the passing track (track 5) are destined for Essex customers. The seven cars on the bulk track (track 7) and the two cars on the house track (track 6) are all pickups (an empty hopper pickup at Burdick coal is off-picture to the right).

Here we've pulled the house track cars and are delivering a car to the feed mill at the end of track 8.

We've delivered the two hoppers to Burdick coal and are spotting cars on the house track.

Tracks are pretty crowded here - house track has 3 cars and we're making up our outbound train on tracks 1 & 5 (mainline and passing track, respectively). Note the two Canadian cars and GTW car - those will need to be left in Saybrook for PDX-1 to take to Fort Yard and the Central Vermont interchange in New London, so we're putting them on the engine's pilot.
The last move is to spot a hopper on the bulk track (track 7).

Having finished our work in Essex, using all the track here to block & assemble our train, we're ready to depart southbound for Old Saybrook with a whopping 16 cars(!).

Putting the cars destined for PDX-1 & New London on the front of the train pays off in Saybrook. Here, we've left the remainder of our train north of the Mill Rock Road crossing . . .

 . . . . so we can continue south, along the west leg of the Saybrook wye . . .

. . . to spot the cars on track 7 for later pickup by PDX-1.

If there were any cars left in Saybrook that were destined for points west, including Cedar Hill, we'd pick them up at this point. There being none, we reverse our moves back up the wye to pick up our train.

And then, provided we have clearance from the dispatcher, we head down the west leg of the wye onto track 5 and proceed west on the Shoreline to Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven.

Looking south on the old Middlesex Turnpike (grade crossing long-since closed).

Final view of PDX-2 heading westbound toward New Haven.
I hope you've enjoyed this (long-ish) glimpse at operations on the Valley Line. PDX-2 is only one of four local freights I'm able to model - in addition to all the Shoreline traffic. Depending on the response/interest, I may "railfan" the other locals at some point (hopefully after doing some more scenery work!).

While the locals operate similarly (since I try to operate them all according to the prototype), you may want to check out some additional links for more detail on how I do ops. You can find more information at the Valley Local website - - by clicking on the "Operations" link on the left side of the homepage. Enjoy! And I hope you'll weigh in with any suggestions on how I can do ops more prototypically.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Day on PDX-2: Part 2 - East Haddam & Deep River

East Haddam is a busy place on the Valley Line, second only to Middletown in importance. The railroad presence consists only of a main track and two double-ended sidings, a freight house, and a bulk loading area. But this is where the north end and south end Valley locals exchange cars, typically using track 6 (the center track) for swapping. Track 8 serves as both the bulk track and the house track, just as on the prototype.

Since any cars left on track 6 are most often destined for consignees south of East Haddam (or headed toward either Fort Yard or Cedar Hill), PDX-2 typically enters East Haddam by heading into track 6 and coupling onto the cars left there.

East Haddam is also an order station, so be sure to sign the train register before checking for any work in the bill box.

As you can see, there's a lot of work for PDX-2 to do in East Haddam. In addition to delivering a car from Fort Yard to the bulk track, we also have to pick up two cars for delivery back to New London (Fort Yard), one car for delivery to the transload track at Deep River, and two cars that have to go back with us to Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven.

Though it looks deceptively simple, that's a lot of switching. Here are some photos of some of the different moves required:

PDX-2 continued north on track 6 to clear Bridge Street, uncoupled from its train, and is here pulling the cut of cars south on the main (track 1) that it had coupled to on track 6.
Here we've broken the train to be able to deliver PRR boxcar 45939 to the bulk track.

Having picked up all the cars we need to, we're now switching them all together for the southbound train.

Best practice is to use the track real estate we have up here to sort & block the cars for efficient delivery to consignees on the southbound trip.

We don't have any cars heading further north that we have to leave for the Valley Local (HDX-7), so track 6 is empty and we've assembled our southbound train on the mainline, track 1.

With our train all assembled, and having orders in hand authorizing the return trip south, we whistle off and head back down to Deep River.
As we saw before, all the sidings in Deep River are facing point northbound, so we work those sidings on the southbound trip.

We know from the paperwork we already have that we have 4 cars in our train destined for Deep River customers and we discover when we check the bill box at Deep River that the two empty cars sitting here have to be picked up and taken with us to Cedar Hill.

First step is to spot the flat cars at the transload track. The 2nd Baldwin Bridge over the Connecticut River was being built during my modeling era, and many of the construction materials were transloaded here to barges and floated down to the construction site.

Next, we spot the gondola of poles at the bulk track (though we have to remember to pick up the boxcar sitting there first).

We also have a Southern boxcar to spot at the feed store (represented here by an old school house model).

With the 4 cars spotted and the 2 cars picked up and added to our train, we head south to Essex. . .
For more information on operations, be sure to check out the website at
and clicking on the "Operations" link on the left side of the homepage.