Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Visit to the Essex Shop (Tom Nanos)

Wonderful inside look at the Locomotive Shop / Engine House at Essex, courtesy of Tom Nanos at his Nanosphoto blog

A Visit to the Essex Shop (August 9, 2016)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What Do You Do With the Ashes?

Visitors occasionally ask: "What do you do with the ashes?" Its a fair question given that all coal contains a certain amount of material which won't burn, generally referred to as ash. 
By law, in the State of Connecticut, the coal we burn must contain less the 2% sulfur. Another characteristic of our coal is that it has a low volatile content, which means it produces little or (if the fireman is doing a good job) no smoke.  
Since ash generates no heat, it is to our advantage to burn coal which is low in ash, ours generally runs between 8 and 10%, which means that if we burn about 500 tons per year we are left with about 50 tons of ash per year. So, what is done with the ash? Years ago, the railroads used it on their tracks for fill and ballast (e.g. - the Lyman Viaduct in Colchester). 
Fireman Ron Olsen loads ash for return to Pennsylvania
Today, it goes back where it came from: the coal mine. A couple of times per year, the truck that brings us a load of coal is loaded with ash which is returned to the mine.
J. David 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lounge Car "Middletown" Receives Finishing Touches

The Middletown (formerly known as Carolyn) is receiving finishing touches to its interior. 
Earlier this year, restorationist Alex Cielo painted the interior moldings a contrasting, yet complimentary color. Gail, from Lombardozzi Interiors, made curtains for all of the windows using a blue fabric, often used on fast trains such as "The Royal Blue", which harkens back to the car's days as Baltimore & Ohio "Capitol Road". 

Here, Bill Wolf has mounted all of the brackets needed and begins to hang the curtains.

J. David

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer Intern Position: Boilermaker?

When Chip Mahoney, an 18 year old senior at New Canaan High School approached Valley Railroad Shop Supervisor Wayne Hebert about the possibility of a summer internship, Wayne was a bit skeptical, it is unusual to find young people who want to work on steam locomotives per se, and it would mean a nearly two hour drive each way. 

But Chip is an unusual young man. 

As he put it: “I found myself interested in railroading at a very young age. My parents took me to a 15” gauge miniature railroad in the Berkeley, California foothills one day and I was hooked from then on. Eventually I started to volunteer there, doing track work and later locomotive maintenance. Even at that young age I was captivated by the moving parts, slowly escaping steam, and the people who ran and maintained the equipment”.

“In the steam world you have to do a bit of everything. For the most part my skills as a machinist, welder and general mechanic are self- taught. I read a bit, and try to teach myself how to do something for a specific project. It’s a very “learn as you go” method”.

“I currently attend New Canaan High School. As a graduating senior, the school offers an internship program to students who wish to have practical work experience in the field that they are going to pursue after high school. I approached the Valley Railroad about a possible partnership with the school program and was greeted with enthusiasm for my participation”.

Chip was put to work on steam locomotive No.97, first stabilizing the tender, then turning to the removal of the piping, sand domes and boiler jacket. By that time, it was apparent that well motivated and not afraid of hard work, so his next task was the removal of the boiler tubes and flues in preparation for the Federally mandated 1472 Service Day Inspection. (See prior “Enginehouse Blog Posts” for the background on this)

“It has been a fantastic experience to work with everyone at the railroad. They are like a family, where everyone helps one another with whatever is needed, and more importantly, everyone loves what they do”.

“Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Patience: When something won’t come apart or loose, use more Kroil
  2. Think ahead:  Look at how to make something easier down the road. 
  3. Simplify large projects:  Break down large projects into smaller steps so they are more manageable. Finish one step before starting another”.
Ari Rothman, Chip’s advisor at New Canaan said: “I’m happy that Chip found an opportunity to work and learn in an area of interest that prepares him for his continuing education and career path. The folks at Essex Steam Train have been wonderful mentors and teachers and I truly appreciate all you’ve done with and for Chip. This has been an ideal internship experience!”

Wayne summed it up nicely: “This has been a beneficial experience for all concerned, Chip’s enthusiasm is contagious and he has made a meaningful contribution to the restoration of No.97.

J.David Conrad

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Crosstie Renewal in Haddam

The Friends of the Valley Railroad have been busy doing crosstie renewal up in Haddam, just north of Midway Marina.

Credit: Brendan Matthews / FVRR

The team has been working hard, mostly by hand, to bring this track back to life, having not seen regular train service since 1968. In the background is Midway Marina; once they have all their boats in the water, the VRR track crew will get to work unearthing the track in the vicinity of the marina to connect active track with the portion the volunteers are currently working on. 

Credit: Brendan Matthews / FVRR
 The yellow machine (a track bed scarifier) was dragged across the gravel through the marina, as the rails are buried beneath the gravel. The scarifier loosens the ballast material between the ties, then it's all hand work to dig out the ballast, jack up the track, remove the deteriorated tie, and pull a new one in by hand. Then the tie is "tamped" to make it solid, plated, then spiked. A time-honored process!

As this track is opened, it will be used by the Essex Clipper, the Haddam Special Foliage Excursions, and the upcoming Eagle Flyer.

Robert W. Bradway, Jr.
Vice President - Track and Property

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Found: One Ancient Boiler

During a landscape project last week, we were surprised to discover an ancient boiler buried in the ground. The boiler is typical of the type used in small factories of that era, such as the birch oil mill adjacent to where it was found.

The mill was recently repaired in a joint effort by the Essex Historical Society and the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, and re-dedicated as the "Yellow Label Mill". The railroad stabilized the building, put on a new roof, and painted / replaced windows; the historical society refurbished signs and created panels that will tell the story of the factory.

The Yellow Label Mill was known as the Birch Mill. It was built in 1915 and used until 1927 to distill and bottle oil from Black Birch twigs. It was reopened briefly during World War II when synthetic birch oil became unavailable.

The great thing about the Birch Mill was that the owners stopped using it, but left it fairly intact. “It was like they locked the building and walked away. It’s virtually a time capsule of industrial history from 100 years ago.” says Essex Historical Society Director Melissa A. Josefiak.

Source: Middletown Press - Dickinson Witch Hazel story comes to life this weekend in Essex (5/12/16)

We believe this to be the only remaining mill of its type in existence. 
J. David

Sunday, May 22, 2016

First Train in 48 Years!

Evidence of our on-going restoration of the line northward for enhanced viewing for the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, the Eagle Flyer, the Haddam Special Fall Foliage Day Trip, and other future scenic opportunities in Haddam.

The current limit of operable track is nearly adjacent to the popular Blue Oar riverside restaurant, with more to come in the very near future. This line extension north of Goodspeed Station (Route 82  /Bridge Road) has already provided stunning views of the Connecticut River, East Haddam Swing Bridge, historic homes overlooking the river in East Haddam, eagles dining from holes in the river ice, and the confluence of the Salmon and CT Rivers.

Video courtesy of Lee Carlson

This extension has been the culmination of years of hard work by the dedicated Friends of the Valley Railroad, working under the guidance and supervision of The Valley Railroad Company. The project is entirely privately funded - no public monies are being used on this project.

For folks that want to see or photograph the Dinner Train at this new northern stopping location, we kindly ask that they respect the private property of the adjacent marina.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Winterizing the Becky Thatcher Riverboat

Ever wondered what we do with our riverboat, Becky Thatcher, during the winter months? She stays at our dock in Deep River, covered and shrink-wrapped where we do maintenance all winter. Every fifth winter, she's taken to a shipyard where she gets hauled out for a routine hull inspection. In addition to winterizing the engines and water lines, here's how we break down and cover the boat when she's going to be sitting at the dock for the winter.

Thanks, Captain Paul, for the write-up and the foresight to grab this photo sequence!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Progress on No. 97

Readers of this blog with long memories will recall that a couple of years ago we did a preliminary inspection of No. 97 to assist us with the development of a Scope of Work and a budget for the restoration to service of this locomotive.

Early this year, I received a call from Nick Kallas who was planning seminars and workshops for the Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums convention, held this past year at the Illinois Railway Museum. Nick wanted ideas that would utilize some the specialized machines and facilities there. Knowing the IRM possesses a number of "McCabe Pnuematic Flangers", I immediately suggested a demonstration of one by the leading authority on their use: Gary Bensman of Diversified Rail Services. And oh, by the way, he could demonstrate the machine by making the firebox door sheet patch that we will need for No.97. 

I asked IRM's Steam Department Foreman, Tom Schnieder if this was possible and Tom thought it was a fine idea. Now, for those of you who don't know, a McCabe is a machine designed to bend the edges of parts for boilers or fireboxes in either straight or curved shapes. They could be used to manufacture new boilers or make repair parts for old ones in odd shapes with steel thicknesses ranging from 3/8" to 1". It consists of a frame to which is attached a large air cylinder, which operates a straight rack, which engages a curved rack, to which is attached a die (straight or curved in a variety of sizes). A corresponding die is mounted on the frame. The steel to be shaped is held on frame with clamps. When the piston in the cylinder moves, the die bends the steel. Of course, many small bends are made rather than a few big ones.

Gary Operating the McCabe Flanger

For the demonstration, Gary explained how to lay out the part to be made (his layout lines can be seen on the patch), how to set up, and how to operate the machine.

Section of No.97 Door Sheet Removed For Replacement

Special thanks to Gary Bensman, Tom Schneider and Kjell Benner (who removed the old sheet from No.97 and transported everything from Connecticut to Illinois).

J. David Conrad
Chief Mechanical Officer

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No. 40 Returns to Service

After its 1472 Service Day / 15 Year Inspection, 95 year old Locomotive No. 40 is back at work hauling passengers.

Valley shop crews began the Federally mandated inspection shortly after the last runs of our 2014 North Pole Express trains.

The work included removing all the piping, jacketing and insulation from the exterior of the boiler and all the fire tubes from inside the boiler. Once this had been accomplished, the entire boiler was cleaned inside and out, "minutely" inspected for defects and ultra-sonicly tested for the current thickness of all its parts. Armed with fresh thickness readings, new "Form 4" calculations can be made to determine the boiler MAWP (maximum allowed working pressure) for the next term of service.

The boiler was painted inside and out with special paint designed for the purpose, a new set of boiler tubes installed, insulation, jacketing and the piping applied.

Mechanical work included babbitting the side rod bearings and making new bearings for the main rods. All the rods were converted to oil lubrication.

It will be remembered that the mechanical work was "fractionalized", with the locomotive's wheels being reprofiled to meet Federal standards two years ago. Also, the spring and brake rigging was rebuilt at that time.

No. 40 is back pulling our "Fall Foliage" trains through October 25th, and will be busy working our 2015 North Pole Express trains (along with No. 3025) beginning in November.

J. David Conrad
Chief Mechanical Officer