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