Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ghosts of Railroads Past


(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's All Hallows' 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 it’s 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.

This is a bridge on the old line between Middletown and Berlin, CT. 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.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Clear Signals & Warm Stoves Ahead* for Rosie


For those of you that didn't hear over at the FB group, the Valley Local lost its mascot and I lost one of my best modeling buddies this past Saturday. Our cat Rosie hasn't been doing well for a while and took a turn for the worse last week, so we had to let her go. Many of you know her from the many photos I've posted of her over the years, keeping me company by the NHRR stove, or in front of the fireplace. She was a real joy and we'll miss her very much. I know many of you will too. Rest in peace, my sweet little girl.

(*credit to my friend JoeV who wished this for her)

Friday, October 27, 2023

Friday Fun: Rapido Dealer Event Video - including a visit to the Valley Local!

Last week, I mentioned the fun time had at the Rapido US Dealer Open House over at the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat (aka The Valley Railroad). Well, THIS week, David Popp over at Trains.com posted the video he took of that event, which includes many new product announcements and some great info and footage of the steam train.

And it also includes some great footage of my friend Bill Schneider's NYO&W layout, as well as - you guessed it! - The Valley Local (at 7:20)!

It's SO very cool to see the layout shot professionally - first time ever! - and David and Jason couldn't have been more fun to have visit.

So check it out - hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The NHRHTA and a New Train Show

Lots going on lately on the Valley Line between manufacturer visits, new articles coming out, and even a little layout work in between. But here are a couple more things happening 'round here . . .

The NHRHTA has a new President
I've been a member of the New Haven Railroad Historical & Technical Association (NHRHTA, Inc.) since the late 1980s and have been it's Photo Librarian for the past 20 years or so. During that time - in fact, for the last 43 years - the Association has been ably led by either Bill Dulmaine, Wayne Drummond, or Bill Dulmaine (for a second stint :^) So when Bill decided it was time to retire and asked whether I'd consider filling his position, I was reticent at first since he leaves such huge shoes to fill! But I decided to accept because I'm excited about the future of the NHRHTA and look forward to helping keep the memory of the New Haven Railroad alive for future generations.

With that goal in mind, one of my first efforts as the NHRHTA's new President is to promote our Association at as many train shows as we can.

There's a New Train Show in CT

And the first opportunity will be at a BRAND NEW train show that's coming up next Sunday, October 29, sponsored by the Amherst Railway Society (of Springfield show fame) and directed by my friend Dave Owens (of NERPM fame). Anyone familiar with Dave or Springfield can expect this new show to be pretty great right out of the gate. There are a number of vendors already booked (including Ron's Books, Tom's Trains, Steve Magnani/Hobby Gallery, a tool vendor, and several Lionel and American Flyer dealers), and your truly will be there as well, flying the NHRHTA flag with my friends Randy, Pieter, Dick, and Charlie.

So I hope you'll make plans to come out and support Dave and the show. Admission is only $8 and benefits the Rockville High School Music Department. And if you're able to make it, be sure to stop by the NHRHTA table to say "Hi!" - and consider becoming a member! :^)

Friday, October 20, 2023

Friday Fun: Rapido Visit and a Few Surprises!

A while back, Bill mentioned that a few of his coworkers would be in town for a meeting and asked if it'd be ok if they visited the layout while they were here. Well, if you know Bill, you know these weren't your run-of-the-mill coworkers - but employees of one of the preeminent model railroad manufacturers in the industry - Rapido Trains. So of course I agreed they could visit!

As the day got closer, I learned that their visit would be part of an annual open house that they do for the public and dealers - and this year it would be held at the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. Since the Valley RR is just 4 miles up the road, I figured I should probably stop in and at least say "hi." I'm so glad I did!

Even though it's the "Essex Steam Train & Riverboat," a diesel inexplicably greets you as you pull into the lot.

The Rapido event was held in the beautifully restored Dickinson Witch Hazel Warehouse building. This is also where the Valley RR holds its board meetings.

While I figured I'd just go say hi to Bill and see some of the Rapido guys before they came over to the house, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few other familiar faces that had come much further than I to be here. That's John Sheridan on the left and of course many of you know the Grand PooBah of the NERPM, Dave Owens.

I think the steam train was up the line, but here's one of the VRR's diesels, powering the lunch train.

After spending more time than I expected visiting with some friends at the show, I had to high-tail it back to the house to get set up in time for the actual visit I'd planned for.

It seems Rapido is always growing and there were a few more folks than I expected - including a surprise visit by non-Rapido employee David Popp who was covering the event for Model Railroader magazine. I certainly wasn't expecting that!

And Dan Darnell brought a little "layout warming" gift in the form of this awesome Texaco tanker! He actually smuggled transported it over the border in a pill bottle! And it was so newly-done you could still smell the paint.

I'd only planned on the Sunday visit, knowing that the Monday activities were for Rapido dealers. But on a whim, I decided during my lunch break to head back over to the railroad to see what was going on - and got a couple other surprises!

As I was walking down the platform, what to my wondering eyes should appear but Otto Vondrak, the editor of Railroad Model Craftsman!

Of course, the 3025 never disappoints. Here she is about to take the Rapido folks and their dealers on a trip north and a ride on the river.

Since he couldn't make it the previous day, Rapido's Jason Shron came over to see the Valley Line on Monday - and David Popp again tagged along! It was very cool to get to visit with them a bit in a much more low-key environment. David took lots of photos and video so who knows?! Maybe the Valley Local will be popping up in MR sometime soon!

What I thought was going to be "just a few of Bill's coworkers visiting the layout sometime Sunday afternoon" turned out to be a pretty epic weekend! Not only did I get to spend some nice time with the Rapido folks - many of whom I've gotten to know better over the years - but I was able to meet a few new guys as well. I even got to take care of some NHRHTA business over lunch.

It's certainly not every day that a major model railroad manufacturer and the editors of the two most prestigious model railroad magazines come to your neighborhood - or house! but I'm so grateful that living near the EST&R/Valley RR provides these opportunities. It's really SO much more than just a prototype I model.

And as if that all weren't enough, check these out - pretty much a daily occurrence on the (prototype) Valley Line...


Thursday, October 19, 2023

November RMC & Upcoming Articles

Seems like it's feast or famine on the Valley Line lately - and lately it's been more feast! At least when it comes to the hobby press. . .

Yesterday, I posted a link to the October issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist's Running Extra that includes my article on installing an ESU PowerPack in a Rapido SW-1200 and just today I discovered that RMC has posted an excerpt of the article I did in their November issue on building Jim Sacco's Esso service station. Click here or on the image above to see it.

I also have upcoming articles for the NHRHTA's Shoreliner magazine (going into detail on the prototype New Haven SW-1200s, Class DEY-7) and another one likely in January for Railroad Model Craftsman (on how I modeled B&M SW1 #1109). And while not an article, the December issue of Model Railroader is supposed to include my first-ever Trackside Photo.

So stay tuned! Lots going on and everything coming together at once, it seems. I just have no idea what I'm going to do for an encore %^) At the very least, I plan to have more posts posting here - and hope you'll enjoy following along.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Quick Update, A Unique Switch Box, and Installing Cut-Out Switches

The photo above shows where things sit in Deep River since my last update there... As mentioned, this is just base scenery (dirt & ground foam) for now, along with a mockup of the photo backdrop showing the Connecticut River, shot at the prototype location.

Since getting to this point, I've had an open house in conjunction with the NHRHTA's annual reunion, as well as an op session. I may do posts about those events at some point, but the main thing to report here that resulted from NHRHTA weekend was the return of the #3016 from the shop!

The photo above shows her having just arrived at Essex (which reminds me - I gotta get some more scenery done here!)

I also received a nicely-done reefer from my friend DonM, which I show above at Ballantine's in Wethersfield, having just delivered some product.

As wonderful as those new (and not so new) acquisitions are though, the main focus of this post is on two quick projects that were prompted by my most recent op session.

Ever since the layout was operational, the power and command station switches have been located on the fascia at Middletown.

Unfortunately, for some reason during this last session, they got bumped - not once but twice! - during the session, shutting down the entire railroad! Something had to be done . . .

The crew made many suggestions, including moving the switches, recessing them, etc. I thought boxing around them would be the easiest thing to do - especially since the aisle here is by far the widest one I have, so no concern with something sticking out too far (except power and command station switches, apparently!)

Not wanting to go to the trouble of building a box (or moving or recessing the switches), I searched around for something suitable. And found this . . .

This is an old cufflinks box I found in the attic. Turns out, it's perfect for my purpose. . .

I used scrap paper to make a cutting template, then used spade bits to do the actual cutting (a vise held the box during cutting...)

And here it is in place!

Another issue that's become more and more apparent lately, especially as I power up the layout for testing, op setup, etc., is that I have too many engines starting up, doing nothing. I'd previously cut out all of New Haven staging and 1/2 of New London staging, so engines stored there only power up when I turn those particular tracks on.

But in "Somerset" (the supposed south end of the Airline Branch) and Middletown, engines are typically stored there too. So it was high time to have a way to turn off those storage tracks. . .

I started in Middletown. There's one stub-end yard track there that I often use to store & display power - but there's no good reason to have engines just sitting there idling if they're not needed. The first step was to see if a regular wall switch would fit where I wanted it...

Once I marked the hole location, I used a 1" spade bit to cut the first hole, centered.

That allowed me to insert the switch far enough to trace around it . . .

And I used the outline to guide the cutting of the other two holes, as well as where to drill pilot holes for the mounting screws.

The steamer is sitting on the unpowered stub track. Not wanting to have to construct (or find!) another box to protect this switch from being bumped, I just located it under the bill box for Middletown. 

Should be pretty safe here... "should" be...

Next, I turned my attention to Somerset. The easiest location for the switch was to put it right next to the switch for New Haven staging.

Same process, except this time I used a double-gang faceplate to make sure I put the 2nd switch in the right location.

And here it is installed. The "Pit" is the stub ended track otherwise known as the engine service track, located where you see the coaling tower in the pic above.

Unlike the stub track in Middletown, which branches off using a Micro-Engineering turnout (and thus already had an insulating gap - I only had to reroute the feeder wire to the switch and back), I needed to cut a gap into one of the rails on the pit track. A razor saw made quick work of it, without creating too wide a gap. But I needed to fill the gap with some styrene strip (HO scale 1x3) ACC'd in place.

Before we go, since we're in Somerset already anyway, let's check out #3016 that's just arrived with a local it needs to switch out . . .

Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful weekend - and get lots done on your projects!

Sunday, October 1, 2023

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!