Sunday, December 21, 2008

Essex, the Phoenix Has Landed...

No. 3025 at Essex, 12/19/08

Well, it took long enough, but Barber Trucking Inc. was finally successful in obtaining the permits needed from the Connecticut Department of Transportation to bring our locomotive to it's new home at Essex. It had sat at the Smith Hauling, Inc. yard in Oliveburg, PA for several weeks, but on the 17th, the permits were granted: good for 3 days, including the 17th. Oh, and by the way, the load had to be ready to cross the Newburgh-Becon Bridge between 10:00 and 11:00 AM on the morning of the 18th. Quickly, the locomotive was re-loaded and on it's way.

3025 at Newburgh, NY 12/18/08 - Bob Loitsch photo

After crossing the bridge at about 11:00AM, the load proceeded on to Connecticut. At Waterbury the route left Interstate 84 and sort of wandered via Meriden to Route 9, rolling into Essex at about 2:00PM. Since we had North Pole Express trains running that night (and therefore needing the parking lot/unloading area, not to mention several hundred customers to deal with) the trailer was parked until the next morning.

a-quick pick Crane Service, inc. was on hand bright and early on the 19th. The rear of the trailer was backed partially into the shop so the locomotive would "land" just outside the building. After rigging as we had done in Kane, the locomotive was gently lifted and the trailer driven out from under it. The "H" beam skids that had been previously used during No. 40's rebuilding were positioned under the locomotive's frame and it was lowered down to them. After "squaring up" the locomotive on the skids, it was placed and the cranes unhooked.

We thank Smith Hauling, Inc., Barber Trucking Inc. and a-quick pick Crane Service, inc. for their safe and careful handling of this large, yet fragile object. All these firms were great to deal with and brought the job in on time and within budget. They are to be commended (and recommended) for their work.

Once the annual work on the coaches and Essex Clipper Dinner Train has been completed this spring, we'll grease up the rails and slide No. 3025 into the shop. After it has been leveled properly, we'll remove the pistons and valves and begin "tramming" the frame. More on this later...


Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Old 97 Saves the Day"

The original illustrations created by artist Gretchen Hatfield for the new Children's book: Old 97 Saves the Day are on display at the Oliver O. Jensen Gallery at the River Valley Junction display building adjacent to the Essex Depot. The gallery will be open during operating hours on days when Holiday Trains are running (see schedule).

In the book, two children on Christmas vacation discover an abandoned railroad complete with roundhouse, a steam locomotive (Old 97) and a mysterious old man who asks for their help getting the locomotive running. Along the way the children learn about railroads and how a steam locomotive works and help repair Old 97 before going on a magical trip to the North Pole and back.

The book is soft bound, measures 7" X 9" and has 27 pages, each with a full color illustration as well as color covers.

Individual copies of the book are available at our Gift Shop at the depot priced at $12.00. Single copies are also are also available by phone or Internet for $12.00 plus $2.00 shipping.

Bulk orders (5 or more copies) can be obtained by mail from the publisher: Steam Locomotive Services, 23 Blake St. Ivoryton, CT 06442-1130 for $8.00 each, shipping charges added to invoice.



After several days work dismantling the locomotive to lighten it's weight and lower it's height, No. 3025 was lifted off it's wheels and loaded onto a trailer truck on November 25, 2008.

Wayne Hebert and Kjell Benner made two trips to remove the brake rigging, valve gear and rods as well as remove all the fasteners on the spring rigging, etc. prior to returning on November 23rd with Bill Wolf and Dave Conrad for the final preparations. On the 25th, as cranes from Smith Hauling were positioned, the driver pedestal binders were removed. The locomotive was slung front and back. Once a test lift of a couple of inches had been made, the locomotive was lifted about 6 inches and the trailing truck was rolled back to free the tongue. Finally the locomotive was lifted up about 5 feet to clear the driving wheels. It was then swung to the side and set on blocking so the binders could be safely re-installed. The lead and trailing trucks were disassembled sufficiently to remove the wheels. All the wheels were loaded for shipment to a wheel shop for turning.

Once the loading area had been clear of snow (again) by former Knox & Kane employees John Hafer and Chris Slater (who also helped with the dismantling), a heavy hauling "beam" trailer from Barber Trucking was backed into position. The locomotive (sans wheels) was again lifted, swung and lowered onto the trailer. After a bit of repositioning, it was chained down and the cranes were disconnected. The next day it was moved to Barber's yard for final weighing, possibly another repositioning and final measuring for clearances. It is hoped that it will be delivered to Essex before the end of the year.

Special thanks are due to all of the fine people who helped us and were so nice to us while we were in the Kane area including: John Hafer and Chris Slater formerly of the Knox & Kane Railroad, Steve and the crew from Smith Hauling, Tom and John from Barber Trucking, Sterling Watts (who let us use his frontend loader AND installed a furnace in his store room so we could warm up now and then), Bob from Peete M&A Services (who moved, hauled and loaded tons of spare parts for us), Margi and Warren from the Kaneview Motel (who sheltered us), all of the waitresses at Texas Hot Lunch (who kept us fed) and the staff at SUBWAY (who even Wayne couldn't get a laugh out of), (but he kept trying).


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

NYNH&H No. 3025?

The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad never had a steam locomotive No. 3025. Their class J-1 Mikado 2-8-2s were numbered from 3000 to 3024 and none survive, in fact, no New Haven steam locomotive escaped the scrappers torch. But what if the New Haven had purchased one more steam locomotive and what if it had been saved? It might look like this concept drawing courtesy of former New Haven Railroad Historical Society President Alvin Lawrence.
The basis for the above is, of course, the Valley Railroad's "new" locomotive, recently purchased at an auction in Pennsylvania. While planning the rebuilding of the "new" locomotive, a number of employees and volunteers suggested that since we must build a new cab anyway, why not build a typical "US" style cab and while we're at it, make it look like a New Haven cab with the classic arched windows, and how about putting a New Haven "Sunbeam" headlight on it, and, and, and.
So, the plan is to modify the appearance of our "new" locomotive to resemble a New Haven class J-1 and incorporate as many "New Havenisms" as we can manage. Some of the J-1s even had "clear vision" tenders like ours (we'll modify the sides of ours to suit). When finished, No. 3025 will be a decent representation of New Haven steam power and right at home on a former New Haven branch line.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Auctioneer Mike Peterson in action

After a two year search (and a number of dead ends and nearly "done deals"), The Valley Railroad Co. has purchased an additional steam locomotive.

Former Knox & Kane Railroad No. 58, a 2-8-2 built by Tangshan Locomotive & Rolling Stock Works in July 1989 (construction number SY1658M) was purchased by the Company on October 10, 2008 at the liquidation auction of the K&K along with 10 tons of spare parts. Why buy another locomotive? Why now? A bit of background on the motive power situation at The Essex Steam Train.
As our business name implies, one of our missions is to operate trains powered by steam locomotives. Steam locomotives are inherently expensive: to operate, to maintain and to restore. Under Federal Railroad Administration rules(49CFR, part 230), each steam locomotive can operate no more than 1472 "service days" within a period of 15 calender years. Our No. 40 will come due for it's "1472" in May 2014 (or sooner if we use up it's "service days). Our No. 97 will come due in March 2011, so we really have only the balence of this year and the next two before it comes due (as of last month, it had accumulated 1271 "service days). We'll use up those 201 "service days" and then No. 97 will be due. But the "1472" on No. 97 will entail a good deal more rebuilding than usual, we estimate that with the size of our crew, facilities and resources, the work will take 4 or 5 years to accomplish if all goes well. Should the project not go according to schedule we could have a motive power crisis in 2014 when No. 40 comes due. Rather than risk not having two steam locomotives available (remember, they must be inspected and maintained during their "term of service" and being old machines are subject to failures) we decided add a third steam locomotive to our roster.

Some readers will recall that in May 1989 the Company purchased a brand new steam locomotive from Tangshan, our No. 1647. It had a beautiful all welded boiler (equivelent toASME standards), well made running and driving gear which proved easy to maintain and was economical to operate. Unfortunately, we sold it in 1992 due to a number of factors (a banking crisis, cash flow, lack of resources AND someone who had an immediate need for a "new" steam locomotive). The locomotive just purchased was built to the same specifications as ours and arrived on the same boat.

Knox & Kane No.58 too is due for a "1472" plus a good deal of cosmetic work having been in a building that burned earlier this year. Early this month, a VRR team of Wayne Hebert, Kjell Benner and Dave Conrad spent two days inspecting the locomotive and tender inside and out.

Our immediate plans are to stabilize the locomotive and tender prior to moving them to Essex. Our near term plan is to begin work on the restoration once the annual inspections of Nos. 40 & 97 have been completed in January/February 2009.

We expect to have the locomotive (Valley Railroad running number to be determined) restored, inspected and ready to steam by mid-2011.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Work Begins (again) On Coach 1001

We have begun work on coach 1001 several times over the last few years only to leave it and move to more pressing projects. This time however, we are pretty well committed, having removed all of the windows and seats (not to mention cutting out large sections of the window posts and roof hip corners).

Preparations for this years work began last year when we contracted with Eric Seamans to construct a new set of windows. We chose to make the frames from "sapeli", a species of wood which is very similar to "true" mahogany but a lot cheaper. Eric did all of the millwork, glazed with automotive safety plate and finished (stained and clear coated one side, primed and double coat painted the other side).

Most of the original latches are being transferred to the new windows. For the balance of the latches, reproduction window latch patterns were supplied by Jim Case and castings produced by Mystic River Foundry. Machine work, fitting and polishing is being done in house.

The H.R.Hillary company has supplied formed steel sections for use as patching material for window posts, etc. while roof patches have been formed "in house" with our sheet metal roller and new press brake.

We'll continue to post on this project as work progresses.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Oliver O. Jensen Gallery opens

Ellsworth Grant at gallery opening, July 11

A room at the former Dickinson Witch Hazel bottling plant, now known as "River Valley Junction" has been transformed into the "Oliver O. Jensen Gallery which opened July 11th.

Oliver was one of the founders and chief visionary of The Valley Railroad Company and for many years President and/or Chairman of the Company. His long time friend, Ellsworth Grant spoke at the opening, entertaining a crowd of over 100 with anecdotes about Oliver and the early days of the railroad.

The inaugural exhibit is "Faces of Essex Steam Train & Riverboat" by Caryn B. Davis. The show is made up of twenty two, large format color photographs of EST&R employees at their workplace.

"Bruce Edgerton, Locomotive Engineer"

The exhibit was inspired by Davies' "Chester, Poetry of Place" show. A committee selected the representative employees. JDC composed the scenes, scheduled the shoots and organized the lighting, etc.

The show will be open10:30-3:30 daily until Labor Day and then weekends until Columbus Day.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Out In The Sun

Dateline: Essex, Connecticut, July 10, 2008-

In a veritable frenzy of activity over the last couple of weeks, the repainting of No. 0900 is finished. Out in the sun after hiding in the shop for over two months, it spent this afternoon switching and is now on the point of the combined Essex Clipper Dinner Train/Laugh Tracks operation (think: Union Pacific's "City of Everywhere" in the pre-Amtrak days) for tonight.

The Friends of the Valley Railroad were out in force on Wednesday night painting the frame and steps. Scott Dimartino and JDC also worked on the frame as well as touching up the orange and green. Veronica Trudeau came in at the last minute to hand letter the unit.
The transformation of this once frumpy workhorse into a stylish passenger engine is truly amazing.
Thanks to one and all for your good work!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Oklahoma Orange & JDC Green

Well, its' about time!

Valley Railroad No. 0900 is (finally) getting a fresh coat (two, actually) of paint.

No. 0900 is a General Electric 80 Ton diesel-electric locomotive built in March 1947 (construction No. 28689 for you numerologists out there) built by GE for use at their plant in Schenectady, NY. It was later sold the Berkshire Scenic Railway which in turn sold it to VRR in May 1991. It actually looked pretty good back then, but over the years it became a bit tatty and not really suitable for hauling "The Essex Clipper Dinner Train" our premier offering and No. 0900's usual assignment.

Early this year Scott Dimartino began by prepping (sanding & body work) and painting the cab with DuPont "Fulthane". This included removing all the windows which received new gaskets and were reinstalled by Middletown Plate Glass. The project languished until last month when our support group, "The Friend's of the Valley Railroad Company", volunteered to prep the hoods. They were assisted by VRR engineer Jim Miller and Locomotive Foreman Wayne Hebert. Once prepped "Friend" Chris Pakula primed and finish coated it with DuPont "Centari" (assisted by Tom Krulikowski).

The paint scheme is an "homage" to the dear departed "New York, New Haven & Hartford": orange hoods, green cab and black frame and trucks. But sorry New Haven fans, the green is a bit darker, almost "Pullman Green" as per the suggestion of VRR engineer Mike Camera (and the parsimonious nature of the CMO who mixed left over paint from several projects to come up with the final color).

Come to think of it, the locomotive's number too harkens back to the NYNH&H, whose early electric and diesel electric locomotives had their numbers prefixed with a "0" (zero) to distinguish them from their steam locomotives. Somehow I think that the crews would have noticed the difference, at least once they got into the cab.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Photos by Fred Guenther

05/16/08 Essex Steam Train: I was fortunate to ride in the cab of Valley RR 97, for a steam train charter up to Chester and back to Essex. Here are some photos which tell the tale but don't fully express how much fun I had.

We found this wonderful set of photos recently, which you can view online here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Quest For Cash

Well, I finally saw the latest Indiana Jones epic. I had tried several times previously only to find it "sold out" for any performance prior to 9:30PM or so. My motive for seeing the movie was that one rather short (although pivotal) scene had been shot at Essex, using some of our equipment as props.

A bit of background.

We had, of course heard that Steven Speilberg, et al were filming another episode and that New Haven would be one the locations. The State of Connecticut gives tax credits to motion picture production companies that use locations/facilities in the state, so suddenly there is quite a bit of movie work to be had. However we were surprised when a location scout called and asked for a meeting.

We chatted about the scene and what they would need: "typical" depot, typical day coach, paved station platform (huh? "well, there is some action on the platform"), an airport nearby (huh? "don't know, but it's important". We asked them what sort of a locomotive they wanted and it didn't seem to matter as the scene didn't include a locomotive.

A few days later another group came for the same tour. This time there were electricians and other tradesmen along to figure out how to deal with getting plenty of "clean" power on the train and in the "Indy" car. We chose our former L&NE gondola to carry their generators and a caboose to bring up the read of the train.

A few days later yet another group arrived for the same tour (routine by now). The Art Director was along: "typical" depot too clean (just repainted the year before), typical day coach ("Indy car") to be No. 503 (not the nicest or the scruffiest of the fleet), platform fine except for yellow safety line and he liked the old airport around the corner (not much landing space but it has a neat old arched hanger building). He wanted to see our selection of locomotives but got no further than 2-8-0 No. 97, loved it and that was that.

There were endless negotiations about costs, logistics, available days, etc. For enough money, we were prepared to shut down the railroad for a day.

In the end, we maintained our regular schedule operating from a track in our parking lot. Each regular train would load, back onto the main track at which time the movie train would have to stop and stay in the clear. Then our passenger train would pass the movie train on the Essex passing siding. Once they were clear, the movie train could go back to work until it was time to get the passenger train back into the parking lot. It worked well and our passengers got a front row seat as they passed the "set". My job was to cordinate the movements of the trains between the Railroad and the production company.

Preparations for the "shoot" took days. Our freshly painted depot was given a patina of age and use, signs were changed or removed. Truckloads of dirt, small tree and shrubs arrived and were artfully placed (and often moved). Huge light trucks arrived (think of O. Winston Link's obsession with controlling light) as well as a fleet of antique autos.

On the big day, the station area was a beehive of activity as everything got set up. Scenes were run through and tweaked. Eventually they began actually filming and not long after, someone said: "he'll be here soon. "Who? "Speilberg, that's his helicopter... And sure enough, there was a helicopter landing over at the old airport, and sure enough, a few minutes later, Speilberg arrived and everything moved into high gear.

Aside from the lunch break (plentiful and delicious and relaxing), it was a fast paced afternoon.

I kept the trains moving and other of each other's way AND I instructed Harrison Ford (a nice guy) on how to properly get off a moving train so he wouldn't fall down. But that shot wasn't used ( they wanted him to get off backward so he would face the camera).

Eventually Speilberg and all the important people left, which left cleaning up and putting everything away to the worker bees. It took days to put everything right again. The depot was repainted, temporary trees and dirt removed, cables stowed away, generators, etc. sent back to from where ever they came from, and Essex eventually returned to "normal".

Oh, and we got our final payment for our efforts.

And the movie (remember, I went to see the movie) was good. I especially liked the brief glimpse of The Ark of the Covenant in the warehouse scene and the snake. Oh, and the scene shot at Essex is a good one too.

Ken Blandina can be seen in the gangway of No. 97, Brian Messinger walks across the platform, cars 503, 602 and Wallingford appear as does the running gear of No. 97 and plenty of steam, although most of the steam was created by machines other than No. 97.

Thats' Hollywood!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Engine House

The Engine House, at Essex Station, from space, courtesy of Microsoft's Virtual Earth. It's almost like being there!

Friday, May 23, 2008

"New" Boom Truck Placed in Service and Other News

Our "new" (well 1986 is new for those of us who are use to machines from the 1920s') was placed in service this morning. We used it to lift coach 501's "A" end truck to facilitate the replacement of a set of wheels. "Boomer II" handled the task with ease. Its crane is a good bit more powerful than our boom truck, plus the new one has four (count them, four) outriggers for better stability when making lifts. Right now I hear the whine of 35 ton Norton air jacks, as Wayne Hebert and Bill Wolf lower the 501 back onto its truck.

Scott DiMartino has begun work on the roof of our open car "RIVERVIEW". This year, rather than receiving just another coat of "Koolpatch", the roof is getting a good scraping, needlechipping where necessary and a few patches where the clerestory meets the hip. The open car is scheduled to go back into service on June 21st, the day after the final school trip and first day of our daily (until Labor Day) service schedule.

Paul Horgan and Ken Blandina are putting the final touches on the "Trackside Cafe" prior to it opening for the season. I saw the van from "Downunder Subs" make a delivery. We sell their mini subs at the Cafe and on our riverboat "Becky Thatcher". These little subs are quite tasty (our senior management favors the Chicken Salad...) and a good bargain.

J. David