Thursday, September 28, 2023

On the New Haven Railroad 82 Years Ago Today - Cycle Trains

(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, 82 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 of the land 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 nickel 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 Saturday.  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 on this day, 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 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 . . .

For more about the cycle trains - and all the other "Hobby Trains" the New Haven Railroad ran - be sure to check out the comprehensive article by Marc Fratassio in Volume 40, Issue 2 of the NHRHTA's Shoreliner magazine.  I also came across the following article from the May 2, 1936 issue of Railway Age magazine which covers the New Haven's cycle trains shortly after the first one ran.

Hope you enjoy this additional little journey down Memory Lane . . .

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Mystery Power Outage - A Turnout Fail

 So this happened . . .

I recently discovered while running my DERS-1b across this turnout that it would stall every time. After checking the wheels and rails for dirt, I used my "poor man's continuity tester" (a bulb & two alligator clips) to check that all rails were getting power.

Strangely, as you can see from the video above, one of the outside/stock rails was NOT getting power - at least not all the time. That's not too strange - I figured I might have to add a feeder to that rail - but what was really strange is that, as I would run the clip down the rail, it would get power and lose power. And it's all one solid piece of rail!

Thankfully, I was on the Wednesday Night AML Chat and showed the folks there (literally from all around the world) what was going on and I think it was Mark from Australia that first suspected a faulty rail joiner. Actually, BOTH rail joiners at each end of this rail weren't making solid contact - and thus not providing continuous power.

Turns out, as I would slide the clip along the rail, as I got closer to the rail joiner - and was pressing down - contact would be made.

So this is what having two rail joiners fail at the same time looks like. Who knew?

Well, I do now - and now so do you!

As a temporary fix, I tightened the rail joiners and all is well for now. But the longer term solution will be to add a feeder to this rail. And while I'm at it, I'll probably go ahead and add a feeder to the other stock rail (the closure rails already have a jumper soldered between them and the stock rails). And do the same thing for the other turnouts. . . Ugh.

I guess I should have just added feeders to the turnouts before installing them. But at least now I know what a failure looks like and can fix them as needed.

Hopefully this little writeup will help someone else out - and if you've ever had this happen, let us know in the comments!

Friday, September 22, 2023

Starting Scenery in Deep River

In keeping with my "new approach" to blogging, here's a quick/short post on how I do my base layer of scenery (along with a couple of "oopsies"), using my latest effort in Deep River as an example.

Steps 1 & 2: Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the 1st step. Instead of brushing on white glue as I typically do over a base that's been previously painted, I painted on a thick coat of my brown dirt paint in the areas that are going to be lots for parking/etc. and a thick coat of black paint for the main road area (like this). The photo above shows the 2nd step - a layer of fine dirt sifted all over the wet paint areas.

Step 3: Once that dried overnight, I reclaimed the dirt (even though it's "dirt cheap" it's still nice dirt to salvage!) by brushing it into piles and using an index card as a "dust pan" to collect it.

Brushing up the dirt not only leaves what's adhered to the layout, but also reveals variations in tone revealed by the underlying paint.

Close up of Depot Road (tar & dirt)

Step 4: Figuring grass typically goes over dirt, I added the base layer of vegetation next. I first brushed on straight white glue and then sifted on various colors of fine ground foam all over - Earth, Earth Blend, Green Blend, and - mostly - Burnt Grass. I also used Yellow fine turf sparingly as an accent color.

Step 5: I misted everything heavily with "wet" water from a fine mist sprayer. I used to use alcohol, but found that it tended to screw up my fine mist sprayers over time. So far, I haven't had this problem with the water/soap mix. And - bonus! - I think the water, since it takes longer to dry, gives the glue more time to wick up into the foam, which is what I want.

Step 6: You'll see areas where the water & glue saturated the foam a little too much. I just sprinkled more foam over those areas and let it all dry.

Step 0
It was at this point that I realized I'd gotten ahead of myself.
If you're going to weather the ties, weather your ties before dirt & ground foam!
This is especially important if you plan to apply your dirt over sidings.
So "Step 0" - the step I'll do first next time, before "Step 1" above - "Weather Ties."
Here's my tie weathering arsenal all laid out - various colors of gray and light brown craft paints, a palette, a cup of water (was well as a cup of coffee!), and an old small brush. Click here (and scroll down) for the details on this process, but to summarize it in a word: "Drybrushing".

As alluded to above, it's difficult - if not impossible - to get a good effect on track that's already ballasted, or on sidings that are already embedded in dirt. I could try, but I'd probably get paint on the dirt as well as the ties. So I'll leave these sidings alone and see if I actually notice the difference in the long run. The main line above though IS weathered, and you can certainly notice the difference there. But it was a pain to have to keep brushing/picking off ground from from the ties. Much better to weather the ties first.

And I even had to go back "south" of Deep River, past Old Deep River Road . . .

. . . and just about into Essex to weather the ties, after the base scenery had long been done here. Thankfully, I'd been able to get almost all of the fine ground foam off the ties first.

So there you have it - and I have a quick reference for next time I need to do base scenery. If you're at all like me, you have a really hard time getting started - especially on scenery. But hopefully you'll see (and I'll remind myself) how easy it really is to get started. And the results are HUGE!! There's no mistaking these areas for being "finished" - but BOY! - they certainly look better than just plain brown areas (or, worse, foam board or plywood areas!) and it immediately gives your layout a "more finished" look.

So get out an old paintbrush, some white glue, some dirt and fine ground foam, and have at it! But be sure and remember to paint and weather your track first!

Mill Hollow shows my first efforts at "finished" scenery, with just ground foam. Other than adding some polyfiber bushes though, this is only what I would consider "base" scenery nowadays. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

On the New Haven, 85 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..."
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 85 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.

Monday, September 18, 2023

A New Approach to Blogging... And An Update (Fascia Painting, Scenery, and Repair)

At the risk of repeating myself, it's axiomatic that there's an inverse relationship between layout progress and blogging about the layout. Unless you're not doing either, which I hope isn't the case . . .

Well, it certainly hasn't been the case here on the Valley Line - I just can't believe it's been literally over two months since I posted an actual layout update. In my defense, we had a wonderful visit with my parents and a trip to Cape May during that time, not to mention trying to wring out as much as possible of the last weeks of summer, including a spectacular stargazing cruise.

And sure, I've uploaded quick little posts showing that I chased the modern-day Valley Local, started track weathering in Saybrook, and even did some rocks around Old Deep River Road and mocked-up a photo backdrop in the Deep River scene, but progress updates per se (not to mention posts about other things, op sessions, and such) have been harder for me to get around to posting.

So, instead of just blowing them off, I've decided to take the same approach to blogging as I have to the layout itself - tackle them one little bit at a time. If this new approach works, you can expect more frequent - but shorter - posts here at The Valley Local (though not as short as the "Wordless Wednesdays" I've limited myself to lately...).

At the risk of stepping on the toes of my good friend Tom Jacobs with his #AnHourADay, sometimes I don't even have an hour to spare - but if I can just #DoOneThing, progress will add up over time, a little bit at a time.

So, in preparation for an upcoming layout open house, I figured the biggest bang for my time would be to paint some fascia and put down some ground foam and I broke each of those projects down to smaller tasks I could do relatively quickly. . .

Fascia Painting
One of the selling points of model railroading to the Missus (not, to be fair, that she needed any convincing) is that so many of the skills you develop building a layout are transferrable to working on the house. Suffice it to say, I've become really good at patching/topping, and painting...

To wit - here are some "before" photos of the fascia:

Shailerville Bridge area

Somerset section and staging yard

I forgot to take a "before" photo of the Mill Hollow section, but here it is as the first of the "during" photos.

The process is pretty straightforward: I sanded down all the rough areas, spread lightweight spackle over the holes and gaps, and sanded smooth once dry. I repeated the process 2-3 times in order to get as smooth a base for painting as possible. I then rolled-on a primer coat of latex Kilz2, and a top coat of my agonizingly-chosen fascia color.

And here are the "after" photos - quite an improvement!

Shailerville Bridge


Staging yard box

Mill Hollow section

Base Scenery
Eagle eyes might have noticed that the end of the peninsula in the foreground of the photo above has been transformed a bit. Yes - I've been confronting my scenery phobia by "just doing one thing" with regard to scenery, "just" doing a base coat of ground foam - and it's amazing what a difference it makes!

After a few fits and starts (one of the downsides of waiting too long between scenery sessions is that you have to relearn so much), I've settled on the following process for base scenery:

Step 1: Paint full-strength white glue over the area - in this case, dry brown ground goop (Sculptamold colored with latex paint color matched to the dirt I use).

Step 2: Sprinkle on a variety of different colors of fine ground foam, meant to represent the "thatch" below the static grass which will come later. In my case, I use the different Woodland Scenic colors in the above photo, using "Burnt Grass" the most.

Step 3: Dampen the foam with a mist of "wet" water and drizzle on diluted white glue to fix in place. One of the problems I had was that the foam ended up drying much darker than it went on. You can see the contrast between the glued/dried area and some dry foam I just added.

I actually came up with two solutions to this persistent problem:
1) I sprayed cheap hairspray as an adhesive and sprinkled new/dry foam on top of that; and
2) After wetting the foam as in step 3 above, I just added more ground foam on top of the wettest areas.

I'm happy to say, both approaches work fine. And - at the end of the day - as so many folks have reminded me: "It's scenery - you really can't mess it up!"

Speaking of messing up though, I realized almost too late that I should deal with the roads before adding the ground foam. Here, I used my tried-and-true technique for making "tar and dirt" roads by applying a thick coat of black paint and sifting dirt on top. Click here for more details about this process.

And here are the "finish" pics of the end of the peninsula. LONG way to go yet, but certainly gives it a base level of "finish" and it's much better than plain brown foam or Sculptamold!

"Fixing" Scenery - a.k.a. Scenery Over Scenery
I'm learning that effective scenery has a LOT to do with layering - texture over texture. The more layers and textures, the better your scenery will look.

But it's also true that you can apply more scenery over previously applied scenery to change the look or to repair an area that's bothering you.

Case in point: This "hole" in the scenery at Shailerville Bridge:

I don't remember whether the fascia was added before or after the scenery here, but I wanted to fill in this hole behind the bridge abutment and the gap behind the fascia. I'd already painted the fascia here (see earlier in this post :^) so first step was to mask it off to protect it.

Another view of the hole/gap. I suppose I could have passed it off as erosion - or just cut the fascia down to match, but the solution ended up being easy peasy.

First - just like the prototype would - I backfilled the area with "fill" - in this case, some of my handy dandy ground goop.

Next, I daubed some white glue on the area between the fascia and the poles and added some static grass.  By the way, the Woodland Scenics Static King is the BOMB - especially when used with the AC adaptor.

While the goop was still wet, I blew on some dirt using a folded index card to help direct it.

And here's the result - MUCH nicer, I think.

Of course, this is only a meager attempt to gild the lily - BillS is responsible for all the rest of this amazing scene. But hey, I filled in the hole! And painted the fascia . . .

I've made some additional progress on the layout since these photos were taken, but - in order to stay true to my new approach - I'll stop for now and will post more soon.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience with my spotty posting. In addition to more-frequent posts, there are some cool new developments coming in the next few weeks/months. So I hope you're able to stay on board The Valley Local - having you along for the ride makes this journey even more fun!

Friday, September 1, 2023

Friday Fun: Labor Day Weekend - 75 years ago . . .


I'm told it was 75 years ago "today" - the Friday of Labor Day Weekend, September 3, 1948 - 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 ten 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.