Monday, March 2, 2020

Dave Messer

It somehow seems fitting that my usual "Monday Motivation" post would be dedicated to one of the biggest motivators behind the Valley Line in recent years, Dave Messer.

Long time readers of this blog will recognize Dave. Along with fellow "Wethersfielder" John Wallace, he's been a huge help to this project, not only through his memories and reminisces of Wethersfield, but through his sharing his amazing modeling skills and talent by contributing so many structures to the Valley Line. In fact, almost all of the structures in the Wethersfield scene are his work - and he even branched out, building structures for East Berlin and Dividend as well. He was most recently working on lineside structures for East Haddam.

We enjoyed ribbing each other about the balance between prototype modeling and freelancing, with one of our recurring "arguments" being whether to change the orientation of the siding for the Wethersfield Lumber Co. I'd concluded last year that I'd keep it where it was, but eventually I realized how right Dave was and have recently been reworking that siding.

When I first started posting photos of the "excavation" a few weeks back and hadn't heard from Dave about it (I was actually looking forward to an "I told you so"), I checked in. Turned out he was in the hospital for an ear infection. Having had many of those when I was younger, I knew how painful they could be and prayed he'd get rid of it quickly. A follow-up email found him in rehab and I thought he was on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, an email from his wife Saturday morning told me the sad and shocking news that he had passed the previous day.

I've written elsewhere about how many folks in our hobby are always looking forward to "someday" when they'll build the dream layout and build all the kits they've collected. Sadly, all too often they leave behind a lot of unfinished business.

But Dave wasn't one of those folks. Not only was he a Master Model Railroader, and writer of award-winning modeling articles, but he was one of those rare guys that actually completed his model railroad. In fact, he often told me - when I was reticent to accept another one of his models - that he loved being able to build more structures for somebody else's layout since his was done. Having accomplished his layout goals, he was happy to help somebody else achieve theirs - especially since he could build so many of the structures he remembered from childhood.

And I was one of the lucky beneficiaries of his enthusiasm and energy. It's not for nothing that I coined the phrase "Messer Motivation" to describe his good-natured encouragement and drive to get to more modeling. And, way more often than I could have dreamed, many of those words of encouragement were accompanied by something for the layout. From the first-ever "Thankful Thursday" when he sent me some freight cars after having first visited the layout, to two different shipments of trucks and other vehicles, to a full scene depicting the Valley Coal Co., complete with a model of the office with a full interior. Dave helped me finally get my model of the Rt. 15 overpass done by fashioning abutments based on prototype photos, and his beautiful model of the Gra-Rock Bottling Co. building anchors the station area scene in Wethersfield. These shipments were usually preceded by an email telling me that "Ray Seery has something in his truck for you" (Ray Seery was the express agent at the Wethersfield station during my era). And every time, after letting him know that the item(s) had arrived safely, he'd inevitably ask - "so what's next on the list to be built?" He was hard to keep up with.

I could go on, but hopefully you get a sense of Dave's tremendous generosity, energy, and willingness to help somebody else along the way. But what I'll miss most is his sense of humor. We bantered back and forth a lot about different layout projects - and had a few fun debates along the way as well. And one of the funny things he started was how he'd describe some of the builds: "Right-On Rayon" (for the Hartford Rayon buildings), "Rock On" (for Gra-Rock), "See-um, Got-em, Haddam" (for the structures he was working on in East Haddam). They were silly - and even he sometimes admitted he stretched things a bit - but I always looked forward to seeing what he'd come up with next.

I'll end with a quick story of how he made one of the biggest highlights of this layout possible. As I mentioned earlier, Dave grew up in Wethersfield, but was a few years behind John Wallace in school, so they never crossed paths. John's memories and photographs of the Valley Line from his teenage years are my largest source of material for this project, and I wanted so badly to have John's house on the layout - right where it was, beside the tracks.

Well, two huge things happened over the past couple of years. First, I had the great joy and privilege to introduce Dave and John through this project and they were able to share a lot of the same memories of growing up in Wethersfield. But secondly, Dave was able to use his great modeling skill to recreate John's house in HO scale. Being able to send Dave a picture of John with his house will always be one of my greatest memories of this project.

That was Dave Messer - a man of great generosity, energy, passion, skill, and humor. I'm a better man for knowing him. I only regret that I didn't get to know him earlier and for a much longer time. His passing is a profound loss not only to his family, but to his many friends. I'm glad that I can count myself as privileged to be one of them.

John Wallace's House

Gra-Rock Bottling Co.

East Berlin Station

Valley Coal - office and oil tanks. Bins & garage in the background.

More bins and buildings
Hartford Rayon warehouse

Hartford Rayon factory


  1. Thanks, Chris, for this detailed and thoughtful text.

  2. So sorry to hear about Dave, he was a great guy. Thanks for sharing the stories.

  3. Thanks for sharing , that's a truly moving eulogy right there. Take care of those beautiful models and remember him well.

  4. What a great tribute. It sounds like Dave was a great friend to many.