Monday, September 30, 2019

MARPM Days 3 & 4: Clinics & The US Military Railroad

Having already pretty well perused the vendor show and model displays, Saturday was primarily another jam-packed day of clinics. The day started off with a really impressive presentation by Todd Hermann on his modeling of the LNE's Catasauqua Branch. If the goal of a presentation on a particular railroad is to get you to want to stop whatever you're working on and model that railroad, then Todd hit it out of the park. What a cool prototype! And the layout itself is even more impressive in person - but that's getting a little ahead of ourselves . . .

I followed that up with another great prototype presentation, this time on the B&O's Allegheny Yard by Eric Hansmann (which I mentioned in yesterday's post) which was right before the talk given by Yours Truly.

Andrew Dodge - who has the amazing O scale Colorado Midland layout I mentioned before - gave the next clinic; this one on model railroad operations. And I finally got to see a presentation by fellow AML-er Tom Jacobs on his Reading RR-based layout (being built in its own dedicated building!).

While I enjoyed seeing everybody's progress and learning some new things along the way, Lance Mindheim gave one of the most provocative presentations of the weekend. "Model Railroading as Art" certainly resonated with me as I (as I'm sure many of you) struggle a bit to find the right balance on the spectrum between prototype and freelance modeling (what Lance may refer to as "illustration" vs. "Art" - but that's a debate for another time). I already had his latest book on the topic on my Christmas list - and now I'm looking forward to it even more!

Two days of clinics were rounded out by Bill's presentation on the model railroad manufacturing process and one last, great presentation by Mike Pulaski about how he's modeling the Mohawk & Hudson using a great combination of prototype & freelance elements.

The only regret/complaint I had of the clinics/presentations was that I couldn't see them all and had to make some difficult choices. As it was, one of the clinics I would have probably gotten the most practical benefit from was one of the ones I totally missed - the one given by Dave Ramos, et al on weathering. Ah well. "There's always next year..."

While the MARPM - like most RPMs - is technically over Saturday night, there was more to do on Sunday, including two official (and two UNofficial) layout tours!

So, since this post has been nothing but text so far, I'll treat you to a visual feast of the first layout we visited Sunday morning - Bernie Kempinski's Aqiua Line (which just so happens to be featured on the cover of the current issue of Model Railroader magazine!). Bernie combines his loves of military history, modeling, and art to create a world where it's easy to forget that you're not actually in northern Virginia during the late winter/early spring of 1863. I'll let the photos of his impressive work speak for themselves (you'll do yourself a favor if you enlarge the images by clicking on them . . .)

Yes, Bernie paints his own backdrops and the amount of depth they give to the truly-impressive 3D modeling in the foreground has to be seen to be believed. These photos don't really do them justice. I couldn't help but keep thinking this whole layout looked like a large Civil War museum diorama - with operating trains. Really amazing.

With 3 packed days already behind us, I couldn't believe there was still so much cool stuff to see - and Bernie's place was only our first stop of the day! But the rest of the day will have to wait til next post...

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Fixed Bike Train Video & MARPM Day 2

Not quite sure what to make of it, but it appears the link for the Bike Train video from Saturday may not have worked. Did any of you have trouble with it? If so, try this link:

Hope it works since it's a really cool video, especially seen along with my post - if I don't say so myself...

MARPM Day 2 was the first full day of the event, starting with breakfast and setting up first thing. Both days are full of clinics/presentations, as well as model displays, weathering demonstrations, and a vendor show. Here are a few of the displays (remember, you can always click the image for a larger view):

I actually took a bunch of my models down, and made some cool description cards for each of them showing a prototype photo for comparison as well as some notes on the prototype and how I modeled it. The NHRR head rest cloth was a last-minute addition. It would have been neat if it was tablecloth size, but it shows off some of the models nicely.
Despite his major house renovation (which includes a nice new layout space!), Bill is still getting some modeling done - and it's amazing work as usual. The highlight has to be his scratchbuilt model of the O&W station at Walton, NY. Some other stations and freight cars round out the display.

Ted Culotta's modeling is always impressive, and his display this year did not disappoint.

I've been following Eric Hansmann's work for a while and he was very encouraging to me when I was doing my first resin freight cars (which I brought but forgot to show him). He also put on a great presentation of his plans to model the B&O's Allegheny Yard Branch. Here are some of his freight cars, all exquisitely completed and weathered.

I don't know Dan Mitzel, but his detailing and weathering on these diesels was really impressive!

While there were a number of other displays, I'll end with one of my favorites - this collection from Jim Dufour showing some of his very talented modeling of B&M structures. Coming full circle, I got the idea for my display cards from his display at last year's NERPM.
In addition to spending lots of time taking in all the great modeling, I attended clinics by Doug Chapman, Randy Laframboise, Marty McGuirk, Mat Thompson, Paul Dolkos and Bernie Kempinski. I can honestly say that I left each one with at least one tip or insight I hadn't thought of before. It always amazes and impresses me how high the quality is of all the RPM presentations. Lots of hard work goes into preparing them and sharing the info with us - and it certainly shows!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

On the New Haven Railroad - 78 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 78 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 almost eight 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 rolling hills before you get to eat.  Don't worry if you have to walk up some of them - 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 . . .

Friday, September 27, 2019

MARPM Day 1 - An Ops Session & Two Layout Visits

Since I wasn't able to attend this year's New England Railroad Prototype Modeler's meet (NERPM), I decided to attend my first Mid-Atlantic RPM (MARPM). Wow! What a wonderful 4 days packed with operating sessions, layout visits, model displays, and clinics. I'm already making plans to attend MARPM 2020!

The first day started early with picking up Bill and driving down to the Baltimore area. Seems every time I try to get out of New England, there's some sort of traffic barrier. This time, it was the Merritt Parkway - it took us 3 hours to get to the west side of the Hudson River! But after over 7 hours, we finally arrived at our first stop: an ops session at John King's B&O Shenandoah Branch layout.

The engine terminal at the beginning of the branch, near the staging yard. All off-stage, but a beautiful collection of nicely detailed and operating steamers (a feat in itself!)

While most of the layout is unscenicked, that didn't detract at all from the fun of operating it - especially with mockups indicating all the industries.

As an operating layout first and foremost, it's no surprise that there's accommodation made for a dispatcher and operator. What is surprising though is how authentic a space John's made. Manning this desk, it'd be awful hard to remember that you're dispatching models and not actual trains!

Here's our local freight, ready to depart. Notice the white flags showing us as an Extra.

I mentioned the mockups before and this probably the largest. Very impressive!
After a nice trip back in time running trains in the late 1940s Virginias, we decided to try and get to at least two of the three layout open houses before the end of the day. We started off at Andrew Dodge's Colorado Midland . . .

To call this layout impressive would be an understatement. It's O scale, standard gauge, set in the 1890s and 100% fully scenicked. It's very easy to believe you've actually stepped back in time to turn-of-the-(last)century Colorado. And yes, all of the steam locomotives you see are scratchbuilt(!)

We rounded out a very busy day at Jim Brewer's Norfolk & Western layout . . .

Among the many highlights of the layout is the HUGE rayon plant, which you see first as you hit the bottom of the basement stairs.

Believe it or not, as large a complex as this is, it's still very much compressed. For more (and much better) photos, be sure to check out "How to Build Realistic Layouts: Industries You Can Model" published in a special issue by Model Railroader.

In addition to the rayon plant (and a not-very-much-compressed depiction of the entire town of Luray, VA), there are prototype scenes throughout the layout, including this one based on a famous O. Winston Link photo (handily provided on the fascia for comparison).

And how often do you see an entire baseball diamond on anybody's layout? Yup - Jim has one.

Here's the main classification yard - well, part of it. And yes, it goes all the way through the basement wall.

Another interesting feature of Jim's layout is the number of super deep scenes like this one. Soooo effective - and so difficult to fit in.
As you can imagine, these photos are just a very small sample of the many I took that day. But hopefully they give you a sense of the quantity and quality of layouts in the Baltimore area. They alone would have been worth the 7hr trip to see, but they were only the beginning of a fun-filled four days.

Despite how much we were enjoying ourselves though, we were ready to hit the sack so we could catch the first of the clinics the next morning. . .

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Throwback Thursday - September, 1948

It was 71 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 don'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 six 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 . . .

* 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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On the New Haven Railroad - 81 Years Ago . . .

With everything going on lately, I missed the anniversary of the actual date - September 21, 1938. That day marks a somber - and for the New Haven Railroad, a devastating - event that happened 81 years ago.

Making landfall that day, The 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..."
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 over 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.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thankful Thursday - Chemical Tank Cars

I got a message from my buddy Dave Messer a few days back telling me that Ray Seri would be making a delivery to me soon. Long-time fans of the Valley Line will recall that Ray was the express agent at Wethersfield station and had a smoky old Dodge pickup he'd use around town making deliveries.

Well, I got home yesterday and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a package - ostensibly left by "Ray" - and containing two tank cars which will be used to deliver chemicals to Hartford Rayon in the Dividend section of Rocky Hill. There they are in the photo above, sitting on the siding at The Chapman Co. in Old Saybrook awaiting the next local to pick them up.

Thanks Dave!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


It's been a busy couple of weeks in Valley Local Land as I've been getting ready for the Mid-Atlantic Railroad Prototype Modeler's Meet happening this weekend. I'll be giving a presentation at 11a Saturday morning, but before that there's operating sessions, open houses, and tons of other clinics and presentations to see.

And if that wasn't enough, there'll be a whole room devoted to showing all the different models that folks have done. I'll have some models there too - a couple of engines (including the DERS-2b) some freight cars, and a couple of cabooses - but I'm really looking forward to seeing others' efforts and learning from what they're doing.

So hopefully you can make it to the DoubleTree by Hilton Baltimore - BWI Airport and check out all the cool offerings. And if you do, be sure to stop by and say hi!

Looking forward to seeing some of you there!

Wordless Wednesday #282

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wordless Wednesday #281

Owner, Photographer, and Date Unknown
Location - possibly East Haven/Branford, looking east

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Weekend Fun: NHRHTA Reunion, Ops Session, Caboose Ride

Over the past few days, I took a break from my scenery progress to prepare a presentation for the Annual NHRHTA Reunion, and set up for an operating session. As a bonus - I capped off the weekend with a ride along the real Valley Line down to Saybrook from Essex, and I did it in style: in the cupola of a caboose(!)

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of the Reunion, but I did remember to shoot the ops session. Here's RonP 'fanning his train (PDX-2) while his partner JimF (just off to the right) checks the paperwork. ChrisZ is holding down the right-hand seat of PDX-1.
TomD assembles the eastbound trains departing Cedar Hill Yard, while in the far distance 2 Bills (BillC & BillL) operated the Airline Local in Somerset.
Our 3rd(!) Bill of the session - BillS - worked the Saybrook Tower and performed Dispatcher duties. I thinks his expression proves he was definitely the right choice for this particular job.
I've been trying to get PaulC3 & JohnS over here for at least a couple years, but this day the planets aligned and I assigned them to the flagship of the layout - The Valley Local. Here they are coming southbound into Rocky Hill.

ChrisZ having fun at his first ever operating session! Or he could be smiling since it's his birthday (which I discovered much later). It's really cool not only that he chose the Valley Line as his first session, but that he wanted to spend part of his birthday with us. Very cool indeed!
Since we had a full crew, I was able to float around a bit, answering questions and such. But mostly, I got to sit in the "bleacher seats" (the basement stairs) and just enjoy watching the trains go by through Saybrook Junction.
After the session, we all adjourned over to Pizza Works - which, appropriately, is not only located within the old Old Saybrook freight house along the busy Shoreline/NEC, but also has a couple of operating model railroads upstairs. It provided the perfect ending to a fun, but pretty exhausting day.

I was able to talk JimF into staying over to save a long, late night drive back to New Hampshire, and after a nice long sleep we had breakfast at the local diner and then decided to head over to the real Valley Railroad to catch the Saybrook Special.

The first weekend of every month during the main operating season, the train backs south from Essex to just north of the wye in Old Saybrook. Here's the train sitting at the Essex Station waiting to depart.

Not only is the southbound trip relatively "rare mileage" for the train, but the Special also includes this ex-PRR N-5 caboose which we were able to ride for the trip down and back.

As often as I've seen the Saybrook Special from the ground (it literally passes right over my street and through my backyard), I've never ridden it as a passenger (I have, however, fired it). And the last time I was in this caboose was Railfan Day 1986(!)

Here's the End of the Line for the present-day Valley Railroad - Milepost 0, just north of Mill Rock Road in Old Saybrook. Amtrak owns the wye.
 Though I shot this video on a different day, it gives you an idea of what the Special looks like from the ground, northbound at Connolly Drive, Old Saybrook.

And here's Connally Drive not from the ground, but from the cupola of the caboose!
My buddy JimF - who doesn't seem like he's having a good time at all. %^)

Speaking of cabooses, I remembered to get a shot of the recently-restored New Haven NE-5 caboose on the way back. The C-540 was for many years an office at Landon Lumber Co in Madison, CT. But Landon graciously donated it to the Friends of the Valley Railroad who did an absolutely amazing job of restoring it to its 1950s appearance.
One last shot from the cupola as we entered the Essex Station area.
What a great way to cap off a wonderful weekend. But it was a little bittersweet since our friends Mike & Mel couldn't join us for the weekend as originally planned. Mike was involved in an accident a few weeks ago and is still recovering. Hopefully they'll be able to join us again very soon - and now that we've reconnoitered the Special, I expect we'll all be on the caboose next year!

Having completed its run south to Saybrook, here's the 11 am train departing Essex northbound.

Booty from the 2019 NHRHTA Reunion