Monday, September 20, 2021

On the New Haven, 83 Years Ago Today . . .The Great New England Hurricane

September 21, 1938 marks a somber - and for the New Haven Railroad, a devastating - event in history.

Making landfall that dayThe 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 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 9, 2021

Friday Fun: AutoReverser Fix & Hindsight 20/20 Returns!

What a difference a week makes. 

Last Friday, I'd about reached the limit of my patience with a reversing section located between Middletown and Wethersfield. It's kind of a big deal since that section is also where the flagship train of the layout ("The Valley Local", natch) is staged at the beginning of my ops sessions. If the polarity of the gaps at the Wethersfield end of the reversing section are aligned, then the train will enter the scene nice and smooth. But when it gets to Middletown and starts switching in the yard, it inevitably will cross the Middletown end of the reversing section - where it will short.

So I need that section to, um, reverse. I discovered it's easy enough to wire in a DPDT switch and just switch the polarity manually - and I was resigned to that solution as of last weekend - but it would be super nice if it would just happen automatically. Anyway, if you want more background/detail on the problem, check out this post.

I tried another PSRev (thanks Randy), as well as a Digitrax AR-1 (thanks Pete), and even a bare-bones MRC autoreverser (thanks Bill), and Every Single Time, I'd get a short when the loco would try to cross the gaps. THEN, Alex Wood (one of the members of the Valley Local Facebook Group) offered to let me try one of his PSX-AR units.

Problem solved(?!)

Could it really have been this easy?! And why?!

The short answer (excuse the pun) is that I don't really know, but I'm not going to question it (I will, however, just keep this temporarily hooked up while I run (quite) a few sessions with it...). Other than this PSX-AR unit, the only change I made was to have the reverser get its power directly from the booster, rather than getting its power from an adjacent, circuit-breaker-protected, power district. But all the other reversers I tried were direct-wired as well. Weird.

The longer answer is based on a little speculation: I suspect the ultimate issue had little/nothing to do with trip current, but with trip speed. Apparently, my PSRev - and the other reversers I tried - may not be switching the polarity fast enough to keep the circuit breaker on the adjacent track from sensing a short and tripping. The trip timing on the PSRev isn't adjustable, but it is on the PSX circuit breakers. Unfortunately, only one of my circuit breakers has the newer software that allows adjustment.

The PSX-AR, by default (and perhaps since it's the reversing unit companion to the PSX circuit breaker product), must switch the polarity faster than the circuit breakers.

At least that's our theory. Like I said - I'll just keep things wired temporarily while I put everything through multiple, thorough, tests. But for now, I am a VERY happy model railroader. Many thanks, again, to all of you who weighed in with help & advice.

Friday Fun, indeed! But WAIT! There's MORE!

I just got an email from my buddy Jim Dufour that, after a summer hiatus, Hindsight 20/20 is back! I'll let him tell you all about it:

The fellows behind the Hindsight 20/20 virtual RPMs have lined up a nice pair of upcoming events that will feature yet another array of interesting clinics.

First up is a single, mid-week clinic on Wednesday, September 22nd to be given by Hunter Hughson on Penn Central's fleet of EMD SW1200s. Who doesn't love end-cab switchers?!?
The timing of Hunter's clinic alongside Rapido's recent release of the SW1200 in HO scale is no coincidence.

You can sign up for Hunter's clinic on the Speedwitch web site here. And yes, it's FREE!

Hindsight 20/20 “Wednesdays” – September 22, 2021, 8:00-9:00 PM Eastern Daylight time
(click on the image to enlarge) product/hindsight-20-20- wednesday-september-22-2021/

Next up is a full day of FREE clinics on Saturday, October 2nd. This is a great line-up!
For sign-up and clinic information go here.

(click on image to enlarge)

Hindsight 20/20 10.0 – October 2, 2021, 12:00 – 8:00 PM Eastern time product/hindsight-20-20-10-0- registration/

Do yourself and all of us a favor and SIGN UP EARLY! It helps everyone concerned and doesn't commit you to anything.

As always, attendance is free (!!!) but tips to cover overhead and to thank the presenters are indeed welcome and can by made via to this email address:  <>

Please take good care,

Thanks Jim! You certainly made this Friday even more fun! I hope many of you will take advantage of what Ted Culotta & Co. are offering - and remember, they're not recorded so this is your only chance to see these great clinics. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Throwback Thursday - Labor Day Weekend, 1948

It was just over 73 years ago, September 3, 1948 - 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 . . .

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 7pm, 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 try to relate this story at or at least near the anniversary of this event, which is all - mostly - verified as true. Especially since it not only inspired John to a life-long love of the New Haven RR, but - indirectly - influenced my choice not only of prototype, but of era and locale. 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 this event, more than anything else, 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 John's 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 eight 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 of 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.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Friday (not)Fun: Auto Reverser Fail

Folks following the Valley Local group on Facebook have been hearing of some on-going trouble I've been having with my brass steam locomotives (which I mentioned in an earlier post, here). At least one of the steamers (#359) definitely has some shorting issues; however, as I've been troubleshooting things, I've discovered another, deeper, issue that may have been the source of my trouble all along. . .

My reversing sections. I just cannot seem to get an auto-reverser to work properly.

By way of background, I have my layout divided into different power districts. Each power district receives its power directly from the NCE PowerPro (5amp) command station/booster, and through a Tony's Trains PSX circuit breaker.

I have 3 reverse loops and 1 wye, all of which have - for years - been protected by Tony's Trains PSRev auto-reversers (the PSRev is the predecessor to today's PSX-AR). These auto-reversers are wired in between the power bus and the reversing section it controls. And - as mentioned above - the power bus in each power district comes from and is protected by a circuit breaker.

However, like PSX-ARs, the PSRev is a combination auto-reverser and circuit breaker. I've just recently learned (totally my bad) that the PSRev should therefore get its power directly from the booster, and not be inline after another circuit breaker (although my setup hasn't created any problems in the past).

The reversing section I've diagrammed below is the easiest for me to work on, so I'm starting my troubleshooting there. As you'll see, I've disconnected the PSRev (auto-reverser w/built-in circuit breaker) and replaced it with a Digitrax AR-1 (auto-reverser only) since the AR-1 can get its power from an adjacent power district, rather than from the booster.

And, not having its own circuit breaker, is has Only One Job - autoreversing the polarity so it matches.

Problem is, I cannot get that AR-1 to work properly, no matter where I set the current trip point (which can be set anywhere from .25A to 8A). Every time a loco confronts a non-polarity-aligned gap, the PSX circuit breaker of the power district the loco is coming from, trips.


There is no way this should be so difficult, so I must be missing something (hopefully not something TOO obvious, but I'm desperate enough not to be embarrassed no matter what mistake I've made).

So, check out the diagram below. I've also provided pics of the instructions from the AR-1. FWIW, I tried using a DPDT toggle switch to manually change the polarity of the reversing section as needed, and it of course works perfectly - just not automatically. :^\

Let me know what you think in the comments below - or, if you really want to point out something obvious that I missed, contact me via email ;^)  Here's hoping I can get this figured out soon!

Click on image to enlarge

Thursday, September 2, 2021

On the Valley Line Today... (prototype & model)

Looks like the remnants of Hurricane Ida wreaked some havoc on the Valley Line...

Apologies for the bad cellphone pic, but this is a major washout of the line where it goes past the TPC golf course in Cromwell, CT. Here are additional photos from the eweather site:

I'm afraid there will be no Valley Local through here for a while. :^(

Thankfully, unlike years past when I've had major flooding in my basement, all we had this time was a puddle. So at least the HO scale version of the Valley Local can continue to operate.

As an antidote to the pic above, here are some recent photos taken along the miniature version of the Valley Line recently (originally posted on the Valley Local Facebook group, which you should join if you haven't already :^)