Friday, October 30, 2020

Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's All Hallows' Eve Eve ;^) I hereby repost this from last October. I think you'll agree it's especially fitting this time of year...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley Line is to keep alive the memory of the men & women who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat to a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered almost exclusively by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, your historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that Halloween-time, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or goulish wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? What were their dreams and plans? Were they anything like us? While dead people don't actually haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...

Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back when I used to ride my bike to work, but only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the right-of-way. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Portals into the Past: Railfanning the Batten Kill RR

What do you think about when you think about October?

The smell of wood smoke? The crisp nip in the air? The brilliant fall foliage? The shushing sounds your shoes make through the leaves after they've fallen to the ground?

What about ghosts? Sure, there's Halloween, but what about the ghosts of the past?

I've always thought of the month of October as the perfect time to see some ghosts. As the leaves reveal their true colors, right before they fall from the trees, and things begin to slow down a bit, we can start to recall - or sometimes we have to imagine - what life used to be like, before all the craziness of modern life.

And if you find yourself in just the right spot during the month of October, you might just think you've fallen through a portal into the past - and if you're truly lucky, you might just see some ghosts of 1950s railroading in upstate New York.

That's what happened to me on a recent Autumn day, exploring the Rod Serling countryside along the Batten Kill River. Follow along as I share some of the memories with you . . .

Evoking the old D&H, switching the feed mill near Greenwich Jct., NY

The main ghost, spotted - Former D&H RS-3, near the end of its life and fading, like so much of the foliage surrounding it, but still serving the same stretch of railroad it's run on for years - shot through the Rexleigh Covered Bridge.

And just off to the right, you can make out the ghost of an old mill along the river....

Southbound through Shushan, NY - only the modern vehicles spoil the specter of a mid-20th century meet between two freight trains in small-town America.

Two ghosts, divided by 100 years - Station built c. 1852, Locomotive built 1952

21st century digital zoom softens the colors and captures an echo of railroading from almost 70 years ago.

Our fading pumpkin of a locomotive makes its way over the railroad's namesake river and past a fading farm.

A little paint, a little polish, and a lot of elbow grease, and this ghost of a car might just live to chase another train on another day . . .

Grab shot tension

New meets Old

The gathering clouds and fading foliage provide the perfect metaphor for a farm which has seen better days.

Heading back north from Eagle Bridge, NY

Ghosts sometimes do cast a reflection...

Cornfield, barn, trees, engine - all fading, evocative, beautiful.

Only another unfortunately parked vehicle spoils the illusion of 1950s railroading, including one of the last (if not THE last) crossing sign of this type in the country.

Nature's Reclamation

Mirrored Streaks of Weathering - Heading back to the Junction, and finishing up for the day.

I hope you've enjoyed this little portal into the past - and that it's inspired you to keep your eyes open, especially during this time of year. You may find a few happy hauntings of your own. And if you do, I hope you'll share them here . . . I'm always looking for new opportunities for a little time travel . . .

* * * * *

Given the ephemeral nature of the BKRR, you really can never just "find yourself in 'just the right spot" when trying to capture it. You need a guide - someone who knows the place as well as the member of the family that it's become. My guide for this once-in-a-lifetime trip was Ken Karlewicz, who went out of his way - literally and figuratively - not only to give me the heads up that the BK was running the RS-3, but to make sure I was in every good location at every right moment all throughout the day. While "finding oneself in just the right spot" works well as a foil for telling a story of ghosts, the reality is that it doesn't actually happen that way, and never by accident. Thank you, Ken, for an amazing day and especially for sharing your love of the BKRR.

Technical Info: All original, unretouched, unfiltered photos shot with iPhone SE

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Throwback Thursday: More on the Car from which the Headlight came...



As I try to piece together where my locomotive headlight came from, I received some additional information from Bill on the car where it ended its service...

The car was built at the Worcester, MA plant of Osgood Bradley Car in 1907.

As built, the car was copper clad with a truss-rod under frame and open ends.  One window was located on each end to the left of the doors.

The letter board was also copper clad with “New York New Haven and Hartford” spelled out in gold-leafed cast aluminum letters.

The interior of the car as built had an African Mahogany interior.  Seating had mahogany walk-over frames with burgundy plush upholstery.  Ceiling panels were painted light apple green with a dark green band surrounding each panel with a gold leaf stenciled pattern applied.  The cars are equipped with Pintsch gas lightning fixtures.

In 1929, #1591 and a number of other copper clads were rebuilt at Readville Shop for suburban service.  The car received a steel under frame, steel ends and electric lighting.  The interior woodwork was painted over and the car renumbered #4404.

When removed from passenger service, circa 1949, it was rebuilt again for wire train service as W-162.
As an example of early push-pull, the lead end of the car had the steel on the end removed, the end window from the opposite end was installed on the right side of the door.  Hand operated windshield wipers were installed on these windows.

A Golden Glow headlight was installed on the roof end cap and whistles for signaling installed.  An air pressure gauge and brake handle were also installed.

On the interior, the seats were removed, lockers and tool bins and a desk for the foreman were installed.  Heating was by means of two coal burning stoves, one on each end.

The car operated on the Bridgeport wire train for most of its time in company service.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Local Railfanning on the Valley Line Today

Wow - it's already 1/2 way through October and what a month it's been! It's not only right smack in the middle of my favorite season (which I also model), but it's also the "shortest" season - since I consider anything before the colorful foliage as "late summer" and anything after the leaves are down as "early winter." So I have a very narrow window during which to enjoy it - and get any pics I need for photo backdrops, etc.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to in my last post, I missed the first 4 days of the month spending time in the hospital. Long story short, as many of you know, I have Crohn's disease and I'm grateful to have had a remarkable run of 17 years since my last hospital stay. But a major flareup ended that run earlier this month. Still have some stuff to go through, but for now things are good and I've done my best to make up for some lost photo opportunities.

Fortunately, my chosen area to model is literally right outside my door. So I've been doing some railfanning on today's Valley Line taking TONS of photos (no more dozens of rolls of film - thank you, digital age) for reference, for fun, and of course for photo backdrops.

Here's just quick sampling, and all taken less than 10 miles from my driveway. Enjoy!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Monday Mustang Mover

The photo above, provided courtesy my friend Mike Ribuffo (who is also editor of the highly-acclaimed Shoreliner magazine), shows one of the New Haven Railroad's Wire Trains - a special work train that, as you might have guessed, repaired and maintained the overhead catenary on the West End of the railroad. The car in the foreground - numbered "W-162" - was the crew car for the Bridgeport Wire Train and is the subject of today's post . . .

Originally built for the New Haven in 1907 as a first class copper clad coach with open platforms and truss rods, it was rebuilt by the railroad at its Readville shops in 1929. At that time, it received a steel underframe and enclosed steel ends, as well as a new number - #4404. In the late 1940s, it was converted to company service as wire train crew car #W-162.

The W-162 was saved from the scrapper by Mr. Bill Dulmaine, longtime president of the NHRTHA and publisher of the Shoreliner and - while parked on a siding in Grafton, MA - was used for many years as the unofficial "office" of the Association. Many a Shoreliner was developed, pasted up (literally - long before computers), and produced in this car. And during the winter months, the crew was warmed by an old NHRR shanty stove acquired for the purpose.

After many years of faithful service in its second life (actually, third life if you count its original use as a day coach, then wire train crew car), Bill eventually decided to let the car go and it is now the Parlor Car at the Steaming Tender Restaurant - which just so happens to be the site of an annual dinner I host during the weekend of the big Springfield show.

But check out the headlight . . .

In work train service, these cars were placed at the opposite end from the locomotive and spent as much time being pushed as pulled. And when being pushed, the rules required a light as well as whistle on the leading end. So, the W-162 received such appliances when it was converted to work service. Best guess is that this particular headlight came off a steam locomotive that was on the scrap line at the time (c. 1949). Unfortunately, there's no info on which specific engine it may have come from.

Thankfully, shortly after purchasing the car, Bill removed and stored the headlight safely for many years - until recently, when he wanted to give it a new home . . .

He reached out to me and we arranged a date for me to pick it up. Unfortunately, a 4 day hospital stay intervened earlier this month, but this past weekend The Missus and I swung by Bill's on our way to do some leaf peeping. Unfortunately, my truck has also been "converted to work service" and is limited to dump runs only these days. So we drove up in my car instead:

Not exactly the best vehicle to use for hauling stuff (though it's admittedly very good for haulin' tail....), but I figured "it has a trunk - how big could a steam locomotive headlight be?"

Well, as you might have guessed, the answer is "just a bit larger than what you can fit through the trunk opening." I worked up quite a sweat trying every which way to angle, fit, and finagle that light into the trunk. I knew if I could just get it through the opening, it'd fit just fine. 

The trunk's big enough - but the opening just..... wasn't.

Good thing the back seats fold down:

Even then it was challenging to get it in there without damaging the interior in the process. Fortunately, Bill had some chunks of styrofoam to cushion everything for the journey.

And it made it home safe and sound. Whew! Sure does look a good deal larger than the Custom Finishing detail part I use on my models...

The New Haven RR used the Electric Service Supplies Co (ESSCO) "Golden Glow" headlight on all its steam locomotives in later years and also on many of its electric MU cars. In photos, you can usually tell the headlight is a "Golden Glow" because the hinge for the lens is on the top rather than on the side, as with most headlights. And while the only known provenance of this particular light was that it was used on the W-162, I choose to believe the very plausible story that it started its life on one of the NHRR steamers I'm so fond of. Maybe one of these days, there'll be some way to find out for sure.

In the meantime, thanks to Bill's foresight in saving this small large piece of New Haven Railroad history, I'm now the proud owner of an official Locomotive Headlight (says so right on the nameplate). Now I just have to decide whether to try and restore it (and perhaps even light it), or leave it as-is with the original patina. 

Thankfully, there's no hurry to decide.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Happy October!

Ah October! The best - or at least one of the best - months of the year. At least it's one of my favorites.

And if you live in New England, it's certainly the most colorful of months - and right smack dab in the middle of my favorite season: Autumn! It's also the shortest season - since I only count when the leaves have erupted in full color, my favorite season lasts only a few weeks. Anything before that is "late summer" and anything after that is "early winter."

But for now, I look forward to enjoying the shushing of leaves, the smell of wood smoke in the air, the taste of a warm cup of apple cider by the fire. And it wouldn't be a bad thing if I spend some more time in the basement on the layout as well in the coming weeks - after all, it's always Autumn on the Valley Line!