Essex Steam Train

essexsteamtrain

essexsteamtraindirections

The Valley Railroad Company

The Hartford & Connecticut Valley Railroad, formerly called the Connecticut Valley, was completed Hartford to Saybrook in 1871 and to Saybrook Point in 1872.

For many years there was good passenger business on this line, being very heavy during the summer months, as it was a quick way for Hartford and Middletown people to get back and forth to the shore resorts. Automobiles took their toll, however, and in the late twenties passenger service was abandoned.

The H & C V was leased to the N Y, N H & H in 1887.

Condensed History

The southern portion of the railroad is the Essex Steam Train.

The central portion in the Middletown area was brought back to service when Conrail did not want it by the Connecticut Central. It is now operated by the Providence & Worcester Railroad.

The northern portion is owned by Connecticut Department of Transportation and operated by the Providence & Worcester Railroad.

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Essex Train Ride / The Valley Railroad Company

Living in Connecticut, I had no excuse NOT to visit the Valley Railroad in Essex. Even living in upstate New York, it is a place not to miss. The big feature of the Valley Railroad is the steam train ride.

The train runs from Essex to above Deep River and then backs to Deep River where boat passengers get on and off. The former branch line runs from Old Saybrook on Long Island Sound to Middletown (you guessed it – in the middle of the state).

The train ride is not the only attraction. Essex is also the location of the Connecticut Valley Railroad Museum.

The Connecticut Valley Railroad Association was established in 1968 to operate trains powered by steam over the New Haven Railroad. It is a non-profit organization which works closely with the for-profit Valley Railroad Company which owns the abandoned New Haven Valley Branch along the Connecticut River. The museum is an all-volunteer effort while the VRR concentrates on running the steam trains (a very expensive proposition). The museum’s aim is to provide a successful interpretation of the history of New England railroading that will be the equal of the state-supported museums in Pennsylvania and California.

The original steam locomotive on the Valley was #97, a coal-fired 2-8-0 “Consolidation” built by Alco’s Cooke Works in 1923. The first owner was the Birmingham and Southeastern (an Alabama shortline). Stored from the 1950’s until 1964, #97 worked a while for the Vermont Railway before going to the steam department of the Connecticut Electric Railway. After the takeover of the former New Haven by the Penn Central, which tended to discourage steam excursions, the locomotive sat in Danbury for almost a year before being shipped to the VRR.

#40 is a 2-8-2 “Mikado” built by Alco’s Brooks Works in 1920. It was a “boomer” and worked for railroads all around the country. Purchased by the VRR in 1977, #40 is a favorite of engine crews even if not quite as economical to operate as #97. #40 is currently being overhauled.

There are several other steam locomotives on the VRR which are currently unserviceable or static displays: #3 is an 0-4-0 Fireless built by Porter in 1930. #10 is an 0-4-0 Saddle Tank built by Baldwin in 1934. This locomotive is being restored to service with funding by donations of beverage containers (for “bottle bill” refunds). #103 is a 12-6-2 “Prairie” built by Baldwin in 1925 and last run in 1975. #148 is a 4-6-2 “Pacific” built by Alco’s Richmond Works in 1920 for Florida East Coast’s passenger service. #148 switched for a sugar refinery before going to the New Hope & Ivyland. Destined for the Adirondack Railway, it finally ended up on the VRR and is stored unserviceable.

The sole electric is #300, an EF-4 3300 HP electric road freight locomotive built by GE in 1956. It was owned originally by the Virginian Railway but picked up almost new for $20,000 when the Norfolk & Western took over. When CONRAIL ceased electric freight operations in 1979, #300 became surplus. It is the sole survivor of the once-huge New Haven fleet of 125 electrics.

Numerous diesels are on the property. As you enter the parking lot, E9A #4096 is displayed in a classic New York Central “lightning stripe” color scheme. Built in 1963 for the Union Pacific, it hauled the last Union Pacific passenger run before AMTRAK. It then went to work for AMTRAK. It hauled the last Auto Train in 1981. #0401 is an FA-1 1500 HP road freight diesel built for the New Haven by Alco in 1947. There is an RS-1, 2 SW-1s, 2 RS-3s, 2 44 ton GEs, a U25B (last locomotive built for the New Haven) and an 80 ton GE owned by the Army and used by a local Army Reserve unit.

There are four self-propelled rail cars: a 1930 Brill, two 1954 Pullman M.U.s, and a 1931 Brill rail detector car (ex New York Central).

There are 33 items of passenger rolling stock. They have come from as many sources. Typical is the “Wallingford”, a parlor car built by Pullman in 1927 for the New Haven. It ran on many New Haven limiteds. Originally a 36 seat car, it was rebuilt in 1937 to a seat-parlor lounge. In 1952 it was sold to the Kansas City Southern and in the early 1960’s to the Reader Railroad in Arkansas. Several cars are in the museum or otherwise being used (office cars, storage, etc) by virtue of not being scrapped as they were in work train service at the time railroads were wholesale scrapping passenger equipment. Much of this equipment was donated by the Schiavone Scrap Yard in New Haven.

There are 18 pieces of freight equipment and 7 cabooses owned by the museum or privately owned and stored on the property.

Work equipment includes air operated side dump cars once operated by the Hartford Electric Light Company. There is a locomotive crane, snow plow and derrick car.

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essex40

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New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Alternative

The Valley Line also could serve as a great by-pass for the New Haven to Springfield Line. With all the current talk of turning the New Haven to Springfield Line into a high-density commuter line, I can see great value in using the Valley in conjunction with the Armory Branch as a great North-South bypass. New Haven still would have service via the Air Line, and the P&W no longer has to move over the Shoreline between Cedar Hill and Old Saybrook there by saving per-axle charges. The Valley Line could be reinvented into a very nice bridge-line, something that would have not been relevant in the days of the New Haven. Lots to do on both the Armory Line and Valley Line.

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valleylocal

Modeling New Haven’s Connecticut Valley Line (and a little Air Line)

Just so you know the scope of the project (and not to get into a “modelers vs. historians” debate, because it’s *both* ha!) this is from the description: “This site is dedicated to information on life in the Connecticut River Valley during the early post-war period. While all aspects of that period are fodder for exploration, the primary focus is on re-creating the day-to-day movement of freight along the picturesque Valley & Airline branches of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad during the Autumn of 1947.”

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engine97

New Steam Comes To Essex

A few years ago, I was excited to receive an engraved invitation to attend a dedication of a new Chinese-built steam engine for the Valley Railroad Company in Essex, Connecticut.

Saturday, April 21, 1990 brought a rainy, cold day. I got to Essex well in advance of the 11am starting time. The engine was in the station with a crowd viewing it. Flat cars had been positioned on the second station track and the colorful bunting on the side of the cars was already soaked from the heavy downpour. A band was playing from underneath the overhang on the station. The crowd stood around on the platform in raincoats and umbrellas.

I was looking at the first new steam engine delivered to an American railroad since 1953! The $400,000 monster was trimmed in red and white. Data plates on the engine were inscribed with Chinese characters.

Following the shortened (but seemingly long in the rain) ceremony, the engine backed across the highway at the south end of the station-engine house complex and retrieved a 12-car train.

800 guests, distinguished visitors and railfans now started boarding the train. The first four cars (diners and parlor cars) required a special colored stamp so I boarded the fifth car – a plain old coach with reversible rattan (straw) seats. The forward cars supposedly contained dignitaries and members of the press but my car had Charlie Gunn, now-retired but still the “official” photographer of the New Haven Railroad; as well as the team which inspected the new engine for the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company (they have lapel pins with a tiny steam engine on them). We got coffee and donuts – I don’t know what was served up front.

The big engine pulled the train effortlessly from Essex to Chester. This ten-mile stretch is the usual route of the steam excursions. The railroad also continues south from Essex to an AMTRAK connection at Old Saybrook but trackage north from Chester to just below Middletown is currently out of service. The Valley Railroad owns a freight subsidiary operating around Middletown and would like to connect the trackage (owned by the State of Connecticut) someday.

At Chester, we backed up to Deep River where there is a siding to run the steam engine around to the front of the train. A lot of the Valley Railroad’s equipment is also stored there. At Deep River, the first problem was that the run-around siding was too short to simply run the engine to the front so they jockeyed the train using an Army diesel from the local Reserve unit. (Valley Railroad’s diesel, ex-New Haven 0800 – a 44-tonner, could not move 12 cars). The second problem was the connection between the last (now first) coach and the steam engine proved “difficult”. Everything finally worked and we made it back to Essex an hour late – but everyone still had a good time.

Viewed on the property, but not operating were 2-8-0 No. 97 built in 1926 and 2-8-2 No. 40 built in 1920. The whole reason behind the Chinese locomotive was that maintenance was becoming more and more expensive and parts harder to get.

The new engine was built by the only company still making coal-powered engines – the Tangshan Locomotive and Rolling Stock Works, about 140 miles east of Beijing. The 83-ton locomotive was ordered three years ago and took four months to travel from China. Completed almost a year ago, delivery was delayed by the political upheaval across China last summer. An ocean freighter delivered the locomotive to Camden, New Jersey. CONRAIL took four days to bring it to Essex.

Two other 2-8-2’s were also ordered by other tourist lines in this country. One was built by the Datong Locomotive Works for the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Iowa. The other was also built by Tangshan and went to the Knox & Kane Railroad of Pennsylvania.

Chinese class SY No. 1647 sailed aboard the freighter Trade Fir and went through the Panama Canal on its way to Camden. Customs inspectors made a detailed study of the locomotive for drugs before CONRAIL touched it. 1647 first went to Jersey City, moving at night to avoid AMTRAK movements. At Jersey City, it was put on a car ferry for the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The Long Island then moved it to Fresh Pond Junction where CONRAIL resumed the movement. The move took 1647 from Fresh Pond Junction in the Bronx to New Rochelle, Cedar Hill in New Haven and finally to Old Saybrook.

Winter movements like the Valley’s annual North Pole Specials at Christmas will be a little easier as the engine has a vestibule cab. The side windows have been extended outward permitting a large front windshield. Chinese engines have more cab heat than the old American engines did – probably because of the cold in northern China. Chinese characters on the side of the side window warn the engine crew to keep their heads and arms inside the cab. Another unusual feature is a weight distribution mechanism controlled by the engineer to put more weight on the drivers when required for adhesion.

An interesting note for private car fans… Included in the train was ex-Baltimore and Ohio R.R. office car No. 907, the “Sherry Lynette Brannon”. The 907 was built by the B&O in its Baltimore shops as the “Ohio” in 1897. Originally numbered 707, it was built for Mr. Harvey Middleton, B&O General Superintendent-Motive Power. It was later transferred to the B&O Southwestern Railway Co, lost its name and was renumbered 907. It returned to the parent company in 1906 and was rebuilt for President Oscar G. Murray. In 1910, the new President, Daniel Willard renumbered it 99. It was again renumbered 907 in 1913 and kept this number except when the car was controlled by the United States Railroad Administration (1919-1920) and numbered 63. It remained in B&O service until 1961 and served the Engineer-Maintenance of Way at Pittsburgh. The first private owner, Richard Snyder, named it “Housatonuc” (the Indian spelling of the Connecticut river). The current owners purchased the car in 1981. The 907 was originally all wood but was modernized in 1915 with steel. The interior is mahogany and contains an observation lounge, two state rooms with baths, dining room, galley and crew’s quarters. Currently it can sleep 9. It is 79′ 9″ long and weighs 97 tons. It is outfitted with Type E automatic couplers, Westinghouse AB brakes, baseboard hot water heat and household electric lighting system. Originally it had steam heat and Pintsch gas lighting. Quite a beauty!

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higganumconnecticut

Train Station in Higganum, Connecticut

The name originated from the language of the Higganumpus Indians which means Great Bend in River. Higganum lies on the banks of the Connecticut River and is found immediately south of Middletown.
An old postcard purchased from Charlie Gunn

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swingbridgemiddletown

Swing bridge on the Airline at Middletown

The swing bridge at Middletown was part of the Airline that came out of New Haven to Middletown (where it crossed the Valley line at grade), then crossed the Connecticut River on the swing bridge, proceeded to Portland, then Willimantic.
The line was severed between Portland and Willimantic after the 1955 floods.
The bridge is still in use today by the Providence & Worcester; prior to P&W it was used daily by the Connecticut Central until being absorbed by P&W. The Providence and Worchester provides service to 2 customers in Portland.
A scrap metal company and a paper company.
The Railroad at different times was also called The New York and Boston RR CO.; New Haven, Middletown, and Willimantic RR CO.; and The Boston, New York Airline RR CO., before being absorbed by the New Haven. Actually, the portion between Portland and Willimantic was intact until 1965 when it was abandoned, although most likely seldom used at that time.

Connecticut River RR Bridge at Old Saybrook
built in 1907
10 spans:
5 182′ through Baltimore trusses
158′ Scherzer rolling-lift bascule
38′ deck-girder
65′ deck

The navigation channel is nearer the Old Lyme side. Note that the piers were built for four tracks and on the north side of the bridge there is room for a set of bridges identical to what is already there. The basic principle of Scherzer lifts is the same: the opening leaf does not pivot but instead rolls back on a large toothed track (or rack gear). The drive mechanisms are different, however, based upon the size of the operating leaf, how much clearance there is, etc.

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Essex Freight

Starting on the east side from the south: Essex Lumber spur, still intact to the former gate area to the lumber yard. Starting in the VRR days it was called the AMF track after an adjacent industry. Now used for car storage, also used to drop cars by due to a sharp grade from the switch. The NH also used it to drop cars by after the Essex passing siding was removed.

Standard Oil (?) siding, long gone, parallel to main south of Plains Rd. crossing. Access road to former AMF plant built over it. The siding served a petroleum dealer, a few buildings, somewhat modified, remain. This siding tied in with a long siding that served the coal dealer, the E E Dickinson cooperage and bottling plant, and a feed and grain store in the NH era.

The silos that were there into the Valley RR era were for coal, C P Burdick was the final dealer using them. The property was owned by the NH and leased by the dealer.

E E Dickinson was the major on line shipper. The bottling plant and cooperage were on the east side, the distillery on the west side. The coal silos were not used during the VRR era, what small volume remained was handled in two bins by dealer C P Burdick. Burdick leased the property from the railroad. After the VRR took over, the unloading pit next to the poison-ivy and bittersweet encrusted silos was modified to become an inspection pit. At some point the feed store went out of business and E E Dickenson took the building over for storage use, probably in the 1950s. The siding was extended by CVRM and VRR personnel in the early 80s for its current use as a display track.

Roughly opposite the coal silos was a switch off the above siding which was the house track, parallel to the main, with only the switch timbers remaining by VRR time. The VRR eventually restored it for most of its length, today it is used to park the dinner train and the grill car. The house track originally ended along the freight house platform, south of the freight house.

Next, the west side, again from the south – The VRR shop caused some track realignment, and today’s track layout is different. Originally the first switch was north of the crossing, with a long spur leading to the E E Dickenson distillery, which received coal on a trestle and tank cars of alcohol. Also along this track was evidence of coal unloading and team track activity, much of this may have been for the Pratt and Read piano key factory in Ivoryton. Some of this track exists in its original location north of the VRR shop, but was removed on the former Dickinson property north of the current location of the RMNE’s CP 1246 steamer. When the VRR built the shop, the track was relocated along the west edge pf the property and tied into the main south of Plains road. The shop track was built off of this.

North of the crossing is a switch to a long double ended sidng that went almost up to the Middlesex Turnpike crossing at the north end of the station area. (The distillery track mentioned above once started off this track about where the south part of the shop is now.) This siding is still basically in its original location through the private crossing at the north end of the yard. The NH had cut out the north switch and shortened the siding to a point south of the private crossing, most likely by the 50s but the VRR extended it a couple of carlengths north of the private crossing in the 80s. This track was used as a team track and today parts of it are used for car storage and display, as is the distillery track west of it.

Also, for a brief time in the late 70s, a temporary storage track between the above siding and the distillery track was built to hold several newly arrived ex NH passenger cars until the South End yard could be built. One last track in the station area was the passing track, a double ended siding just west of the main line. This was long gone by the tiome the VRR arrived, but by 1972 it was rebuilt in a slightly shorter form. North of the Middlesex Turnpike crossing was another freight customer late in the NH era – Essex Sash and Door took boxcars right on the main line. By this time the main between Essex and Deep River saw little use – a local from New London serviced Essex, and the Valley local came down as far as Deep River as required. At one time two interchange tracks existed in this area, serving the Chester branch of the Shore Line Electric Railway, which took freight cars to Ivoryton for Pratt & Read. The trolley line crossed the Valley Line just north of this point on an overhead bridge, and the abutments remain to this day. One last note – a bit south of the Essex Lumber switch are several tracks that I knew as the South End or South Essex Yard. These were built during the VRR era primarily for CVRM (now RMNE) and VRR equipment storage and are now somewhat empty as the RMNE equipment has moved to their Saybrook Yard or to the Naugy.

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Northern Valley Line

The northern portion is owned by Connecticut Department of Transportation and operated by the Providence & Worcester Railroad. Previously, it was out of service for a long time. It received some upgrading with State $$$. P&W has interchanged in hartford with Connecticut Southern (CSO).

I heard that the upper Valley – the Dividend area (of Rocky Hill) where a new customer, is located to Hartford – was placed out of service due to track conditions by the P&W. The rail in that stretch is mostly 80 lb per yard which is rather light by todays average. The traffic that formerly moved over that line was primarily construction and demolition debris and with the current economy that traffic is way down. I would guess that the P&W does not think that track repairs on the state-owned line north of Dividend is worthwhile. The track south of Dividend was extensively rebuilt by the mid ’90s with relay ties and heavier rail.

It would be nice to see CSX, CSO and the P&W develop the interchange business at Cedar Hill. I think it would benefit CSO in general and the P&W in particular if it could get its New Haven traffic routed over Amtrak’s Springfield line instead of by the scenic route though Eastern Connecticut and Amtrak’s Shore Line. I it might be faster by a day or two and potentially a little cheaper.

P&W and CSO/CSX do interchange at Cedar Hill but RARELY. I have heard the yardmaster call P&Wand tell them a car is on track XX for them. Could simply be a misdirected car.

I will admit that my knowledge of the Conrail Express Agreement vague, but view it with mixed feelings. The agreement, in my opinion, may have been a good deal for CSO in the shortline’s early years where Conrail (now CSX) would handle the paperwork such as billing and marketing etc. leaving CSO to basically worry about moving the traffic. But as time went on the agreement seems to have become more of a liability for CSO. The agreement makes CSO almost totally dependent on CSX and limits the amount of potential traffic it can pick up from other railroads in the area which CSO would probably like to see.

The Conrail Express agreement continues to dictate interchange routings and partners EXCEPT for new business – when the C&D facility opened in Portland CT that was new business and that is why the P&W could interchange directly with CSOR at Hartford with that traffic. I don’t know if the 7-D traffic is considered “new” as reportedly it was an existing customer that moved to a new location. But then I heard that the Portland C&D facility was owned by an existing customer in Hartford, named something like “Murphy Road Recycling” IIRC. I also have heard rumors from time-to-time of the CR Express agreement ending but I don’t know if the agreement is perpetual or not.

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Fire in Essex 2006

The news talked about antique rail cars going up in flames, leaving charred pieces of history in Old Saybrook. The smell of smoke hangs in the air and charred pieces of debris cover the ground.

These cars were set to be refurbished by the Thomaston-based Railroad Museum of New England which uses this yard for storage.

The bunk car, an ex WW2 troop sleeper then DL&W MoW bunk car 3633, was totally gutted by fire. The body structure did survive with no apparent heat damage. Coupled to the bunk car was the NH 3040, a former mail/baggage/express car which received damage to the doors when the fire department entered it to make sure there was no fire inside. Next to the bunk car was the NH 5111, a former commuter club EMU car. Several windows were lost and several feet of the stainless was warped due to heat. The incident is under investigation and so far three arrests have been made.

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essex97

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