Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hard at Work

The folks in the Engine House are taking advantage of the warmer weather, sunny skies, and minimal weekday operations as they continue a number of spring maintenance and renovation projects. Although the public face of the Valley Railroad Company is our popular tourist excursions and events, the company is filled with individuals dedicated to maintaining and preserving vintage rolling stock and equipment.

J.David was kind enough to send along a sampling of works in process!

Bill rebuilding a brake beam for Dacosta

Eloise and Liu repairing coach seat.

Scott patching on Dacosta roof while Mike fits new steel for window

Contractors digging out for the inspection pit in the Engine House Addition

Anthony needle chipping rust out of Meriden belt rail
Before too long, Essex Station will be filled with families for Day Out with Thomas, and our regular Steam Train & Riverboat operations begin May 10. But in the meantime, we've got plenty of work to do. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Spring Updates (Long Overdue!)

Yes, we know we've been lax in posting here, but that does not mean we've been cooling our heels! We've just been too busy to sit down and write it all up! Thanks to JD Conrad for taking the time to write this up!

New Locomotive
Photo by Stephie Kolata /
Yesterday we were the successful bidder on another 80 ton GE locomotive, US Air Force No. 1606, last operated at an AFB in Utah. The main reason we bought it was that it has exceptionally low hours on it after a complete overhaul (albeit done back in the 80s', but it appears to be well cared for and stored in a dry climate). Also, it is a simple, robust design with which we are familiar and have spare parts for. Since we are running more evening trains (Essex Clipper and specials to events at The Lace Factory), it was felt that another backup locomotive would be prudent. Kevin is figuring out the best way to get it transported to Essex.

Keep an eye out for this new piece of equipment at Essex Station in the coming months!

Engine House Addition 
The Engine House Addition project has begun. The portion of track 7 next to the Engine House has been removed and building materials (re-bar, insulation, "new" rail for inside the building) are being piled nearby the work site. It expected that the construction company will begin digging out for the new pit next week; the addition will run teh length of the existing engine house. The addition will bring the servicing, inspection and repairs to the steam locomotives inside as well as overnight and long term storage. 
The schedule calls for the contractor to be finished with the concrete work and building frame prior to "Day Out with Thomas", so you will be able to see the work in process throughout the spring and early summer.

Photo by B. Coolidge / Passenger Car Photo Index
The DaCosta Parlor Car

We've owned the Dacosta, an old PRR Pullman (PRR 7068), for many years, and this is the year she will be returned to service, for the popular North Pole Express, as well as for general use as a First Class car and Dining Car.

After the sandblasting was finished, work began on removing rusted sections of the car body. New window sills and window post are being fit and installed. Repairs have been made to the side sills (frame). The steel work for the new sections of floor is in place, we expect to pour fiberglass reinforced concrete  to renew about 2/3 of the floor on Monday. Work is also progressing on rebuilding the brake rigging as well. New wiring is being installed throughout the car, although historic lighting fixtures will be used.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Locomotive No. 97 (2-8-0 "Consolidation")

Locomotive 97 was built by Alco's Cooke Works (#65188) in November 1923 as a stock coal-fired engine along with twelve other 2-8-0's of various sizes, two 2-6-0's, and five 0-4-0T's. The 200 was her original road number and she was sold new to the Birmingham and Southeastern (an Alabama shoreline) in March 1926, running there through the 1950s. While being held in storage, the locomotive was purchased by a New York businessman about 1964 and hauled to the Vermont Railway. Her original number conflicted with one of Vermont Railway's diesels, so the 200 was renumbered 97. She worked occasionally in Vermont in 1965 and 1966, and was then hauled to Connecticut where she would play a significant part in the events leading up to the creation of the Valley Railroad operation in southern Connecticut.

In 1966 and 1967, the steam department of the Connecticut Electric Railway ran locomotive 97 on occasional day excursions out of Hartford over New Haven Railroad. These excursions were sponsored by the Connecticut Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. At the end of 1967, a group of individuals from the steam department formed our organization, the Connecticut Valley Railroad Association, and ran three trips during 1968 with the help of the Empire State Railway Museum of Middletown, New York. After the takeover of the former New Haven Line by Penn Central, which tended to discourage steam excursions, the locomotive sat in Danbury for almost a year before being shipped to the Valley Railroad. After repairs, she returned to service in 1973, and then underwent a major rebuilding in 1979 that returned her to a more original appearance. Since then, locomotive 97 has logged thousands of miles along the Valley line.

Locomotive No. 40

Built by the AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE COMPANY at their Dunkirk (N.Y.) works in August 1920, No. 40 has had a long and interesting career. It was one of an order for three identical units constructed for The Portland, Astoria & Pacific Railroad and hauled train loads of logs and lumber. Later it was sold to the Minarets & Western Railway for similar service. When that railroad could not pay its debts, the locomotive was given to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which sold it to a used locomotive dealer which in tum sold it to The Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad in North Carolina.

On the A&R it pull freight and passenger trains until about 1950 when it was retired and stored in a small shed. Here it remained until it was discovered by an employee of the Valley Railroad. It was purchased in 1977 and loaded onto flat cars for it's trip to Essex and a new career pulling trainloads of tourist for the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat.

No. 40 is one of less than 200 steam locomotives in the United States which remain in operable condition. It burns about 2 tons of low sulfur coal for fuel each day and evaporates about 6000 gallons of water pulling a 400 ton train a total of 50 miles. It takes two people to operate a steam locomotive: an "engineer" to run it and a "fireman" to shovel coal into the firebox and maintain the proper level of water in the boiler.

The original Connecticut Valley Railroad was built in 1871. Today the tracks are owned by the state of Connecticut and leased to the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, which provides the traveling public with a historic and enjoyable means of experiencing the Connecticut River valley.

J. David Conrad
Vice President
Valley·Railroad Company

Eagle Flyer – a Fresh, Relaxing Perspective on the Conencticut River Valley.

Heading out over the railroad to inspect the track prior to it being buried in snow reminded me very quickly of why riding on the Eagle Flyer train is such a unique and relaxing way to spend a leisurely 2½ hours in the stark, wintry Ct River Valley. With trees lacking their foliage, additional clear views emerge of the surrounding forest, river, and an abundance of wildlife. From the windows of this train we have seen countless eagles, a harbor seal sitting on a log watching us watch him, followed a harbor seal along the shore north of Deep River station, heron nests in Haddam, red-tail hawks. 

People have de-trained at Eagle Landing State Park with their binoculars and headed down to the dock for nature watching; others step off at Goodspeed Station Country Store in the old freight house in Haddam to do some shopping. We have people board at our outlying stations; one couple actually rode north on the 11:00 train, walked across the East Haddam Swing Bridge to have lunch at the Gelston House restaurant, and returned on the later train. Check the schedule on our website, and use the train as you wish! You are limited only by your own imagination (and the train schedule, of course....).

For 2014, it appears that ice on the river will be a given. The railroad is covered in a blanket of snow which should hold through the weekend. Our guest Master Wildlife Conservationists will be on-board to point out all the natural wonder of the valley. In addition to our traditional Eagle's Nest snack bar on the train, where snacks, soft drinks, cocoa and coffee are all $1.00 each on the honor system, our Essex Clipper Dinner Train chef John Evans will be aboard providing hot soups, and sandwiches made to order, for a nominal charge. 

Passengers may wander through the train at will, which will feature five (5) warmly heated cars consisting of three coaches, one diner car, and a parlor car with individual leather lounge seating – same ticket price for all, sample all of the cars during your trip! The train will be drawn by our two vintage diesel locomotives, one on each end of the train. Engine 0901 is widely regarded as the oldest diesel locomotive in regular service in the country.

It's been a long, cold winter so far – treat yourself to a day “outdoors” within the cozy confines of our vintage train, have lunch and creamy cocoa with us, and marvel at the frozen splendor of your Ct River Valley – aboard the Eagle Flyer!

Rob Bradway
Vice President of Track and Property
The Valley Railroad Company

Monday, February 18, 2013

Along the Line: Snow Plowing for Eagle Flyer

The Blizzard of 2013 gave the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat an opportunity to put its theory of “Accessible History” to a real test. Nearly 30” of heavy, wet snow deposited itself upon our tracks from Essex to Haddam just ahead of our winter Eagle Flyer series. Like most other railroads in the northeast, we found ourselves snowbound, as our diesel locomotives would only move about 50' before a pile of hard snow was packed ahead of the coupler.

The allure of running the Eagle Flyer series in deep snow, the desire to train new people in snow removal operations, and the need to test our newly refurbished 1896 Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington snow plow all added up to the decision to open the rail line for the February series. While we’ve cancelled the Eagle Flyer in the past due to snow, this year we were motivated to take on the challenge.

The first step was a comprehensive track inspection prior the storm, to ensure the safety of the rails prior to becoming impossible to see. After the storm, our payloader was dispatched to clear the railroad crossings of up to 10' of accumulated snow. Then General Electric locomotive 0901, believed to be the oldest regularly operating diesel in the country, nudged up against what certainly must be one of the oldest wooden snowplows in the world and gingerly pushed its way 9 miles north through the snowpack. What an experience, riding in a 120 year old wooden box, with 500 horsepower and 80 tons breathing down the neck, and seeing nothing but a sea of white splitting ahead of the silver and orange wedge. This was the first time in the 42-year history of the company that a plow was needed to clear the line.


Railfans at Deep River Landing capture the spectacle of snow plowing with classic equipment!

The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat is thrilled to have been able to safely open the line, and provide this up-close access to the Connecticut River and its marshlands at a time when just getting to the mailbox was a challenge. The Eagle Flyer ran as scheduled. Wildlife was in abundance, and yes – we did see eagles!

Rob Bradway
V.P. Track and Property

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Clearing the Line

In preparation for this weekend's Eagle Flyer excursions, we coupled our snow plow to one of the diesel locomotives and set to work. Lee Carlson was there to take the picture!

We're all set for the annual Eagle Flyer - two daily trips (11:00 am and 2:00 pm) each day this weekend (February 16 & 17).  Should be a beautiful weekend, with the snow on the ground providing a nice setting for some serious eagle viewing!

More info and purchase tickets here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Car 601 **UPDATE**

It's been a while since the Engine House blog has been updated.  It's hard to believe, but over the next few weeks we're preparing for North Pole Express.  It seems that this operating season has gone by in a flash.

We have accomplished quite a bit this year.  We've put roller bearing wheels on several cars, including 501--which is just about ready to leave the shop.

Car 601 continues toward completion of its cosmetic restoration.  Here you can see the inside and the windows being installed. 


To give everyone an update on what we've done so far:
  • North and south end stairs and vestibules repaired and rebuilt with new steel.
  • Outside sandblasted, primed, and painted.
  • New windows were made by New England Joinery.  They're been stained and painted.
  • Window glass from original Adlake windows was cut to fit new sashes and installed.
  • New bronze window latches were cast, machined, assembled, and installed in the windows.
  • Window sill was cut and fit.
  • Doors were removed, repaired, sandblasted, painted, and being installed.
Charlie at work on window stops and latches. 

As North Pole Express approaches, we'll be finished with 601 fairly soon.

New "Half-round" cocktail tables were made for Meriden.  This year for North Pole Express the Meriden will be converted from dining car to Parlor car.  We have new, comfy leather chairs to make this a true first class experience.  We'll be converting the car in the next week.  After NPE and the Eagle Flyer the Meriden will be converted back to a dining car.

Wallingford will receive the same treatment this year.  Its tables will be removed and converted to a Parlor car for NPE.

Engine 3025 is currently in service with Your Hand On The Throttle.

Engine 40 is in good form and ready for service.

Preparations are underway for North Pole Express.  We've prepared spare injectors for the locomotives.  We have a supply of fresh brake valves for our coaches.  Coal supplies are being increased.  So, we should be in good shape as North Pole Express starts November 16.

It promises to be a good season for North Pole Express.  We hope that we have the same good luck with the weather this year as we did last year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Along the Line

As soon as Essex Steam Train & Riverboat's busy, 7 day-a-week summer schedule relaxed after Labor Day, the facilities crew immediately embarked on its next “Accessible History” infrastructure project. Improving on April’s new Dickinson Crossing at Essex Station, the Main Entrance was completely re-graded and paved -- from Route 154 , across the tracks, and over to our main parking areas. For 41 years, this entrance was traditional gravel; depending upon the season, it could be dusty, bumpy, muddy, or any combination of the three!

To facilitate this project, a short unused section of Track 7 was removed where it passed through the driveway to allow proper grading for drainage.

This Main Entrance upgrade was a joint project with the owner of the Witch Hazel Works, an office condominium located across the tracks in the former Dickinson Witch Hazel Distillery building. By working in partnership, we improved the comfort and safety for patrons of both venues. Road markings and clearly denoted pedestrian pathways make future arrival at Essex Steam Train & Riverboat and the Witch Hazel Works, more welcoming and easy to navigate. 

Rob Bradway
VP, Track Superintendent & Property Manager

Rob Bradway directs passenger traffic around the Quarry Paving vehicles. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Along the Line

While Essex Steam Train & Riverboat possesses many unique features, perhaps the most engaging is our "accessible history" - - up close and personal, not behind a rope barrier, not behind glass, not in a book. Unimpeded access to our active artifacts, people, and natural setting in the lower Connecticut River Valley, is a significant part of what makes a visit with us so engaging, exciting, and unique.

Along the Line...we've just completed 2 projects that further enhance visitor accessibility.  The Essex Station platform has been widened to provide a larger area for photography, chatting with our locomotive crews, or just standing in awe at the sight of a live steam locomotive. A new pedestrian ramp makes access to the platform from the parking area more direct and comfortable. And, a strip of green grass is growing nicely to separate the platform from the adjacent parking area.

Further up the railroad, select brush clearing has been performed along the tracks at Pratt Cove, the largest tidal estuary on the Connecticut River. Now, there are more expansive views of this pristine tidal preserve to enjoy during your Essex Steam Train and Essex Clipper Dinner Train excursions.

Visit us this summer, and see how we make history "accessible"...and more fun for you and your family!

Rob Bradway
VP, Track Superintendent & Property Manager