Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum Home        Ghost Train Journal Back Issues

Ghost Train Journal logo
Jeffrey Ricard, Editor  Volume 5, Number 9, September, 1997 

RAILFANITIS
By M.T. Hopper

 
 

I remember it well.  It was a cold and crystal clear day in December of 1991.  The occasion?  The first steam locomotive to visit Willimantic in over twenty-five years!  How could I pass that up? Even if it meant taking a day off from work.  The Valley Railroad had sold its Chinese built locomotive to the Susquehanna Railroad in New York and it would be leaving Connecticut, perhaps forever.  This was an event not to be missed.  So there I was, heading for the railroad yard in Willimantic, feeling terribly guilty about my phone call of a few minutes earlier informing my employer of how awfully sick I was and that I would have to take the day off.  It seems I was suffering from a severe case of railfanitis. 

At Willimantic I ran into my good friend Bob LaMay.  I told him how sorry I was that he was feeling ill and could not go to work.  He expressed sympathy for me as well.  We decided we were both just a couple of hopelessly sick railfans, so we might as well enjoy ourselves anyway.  Railfanitis is a very uplifting disease. 

It was easy to spot the expected point of arrival for the train.  The area adjacent to the Amtrak station was buzzing with activity.  A fire engine was positioned at the far end of the parking lot, waiting to perform its assigned task of supplying 5500 gallons of water to the thirsty locomotive when it arrived.  About a dozen or so railfans milled about with cameras at the ready, waiting for the big moment.  Upon arrival of a police cruiser, the local citizenry driving by on nearby Bridge Street began to take notice of all the hub-bub.  Some of them even stopped so as to take part in history in the making with the rest of us.  Soon the crowd grew to a substantial size. 

Word started to filter through the group that the locomotive was not facing forward as originally planned.  Instead it was facing south (traveling backwards) and was being pulled by a diesel.  Now I'm a great lover of diesels, but this was not the time for such a thing.  Even though the locomotive was fired up and under steam, I could sense a little disappointment among my comrades. 

Finally they arrived.  Creeping slowly across Bridge Street came the blue and red (GT colors) diesel of the Central Vermont Railroad with the star of the show in tow.  The steamer looked great!  But no longer was the beautiful and elaborate logo of the Valley Railroad adorning the side of her tender.  Instead, her new owner's name, SESQUEHANNA, was spelled out in traditional railroad roman lettering.  An no longer would she be known at 1647.  Now 142 appeared on her cab. 

As the two unit consist came to a stop next to the fire engine at trackside one thing became immediately clear.  Having the 142 travelling backwards was not so bad after all.  In this position her front end was facing directly into the sun.  Great for photos!  If she had been running forward we would have been treated to some well lit shots of her backside.  Definitely not her best feature. 

As the steamy beast gulped down water from the fire hose, railfans hovered at her feet, positioning themselves for that one perfect photo.  Meanwhile, old timers harkened back to the good old days when more than 40 trains a day would pass through Willimantic. 
 
 

Bob and I left town before the train, hoping to take more pictures of it on it's journey northward.  After a quick stop to tank up (the car..not us!), we pulled to a stop on Rt.32 in Willington where the tracks run parallel to the road.  A great spot for photos.  Several railfans were already there and set up for the action.  Thinking we had plenty of time before the arrival of the train, Bob and I leisurely piled out of the car and started gathering up our camera gear.  "Holy Cow!", I shouted (I really didn't say cow).  "Here it comes already!"  Bob and I ran across the road as fast as we could and snapped off a couple of quick shots as the train sped by.  It was travelling much faster than we had anticipated. 

Now picture this:  about a dozen railfans lined up on Rt.32, their vehicles all parked on the other side of the road.  Each one of them thinking they have to beat the other guy to the next good photo spot.  If you've ever seen l LeMans start at the beginning of an auto race then you know what happened next.  A mad dash across the road, engines fired up and the screeching of tires, all in an effort to beat the other guy into the first turn.  This scene repeated itself several more times on the way to Palmer Massachusetts, interspersed with the crazy caravan of cars and trucks careening down the road at better than the legal speed limit.  Railfanitis makes you do strange things. 

Palmer Massachusetts has many good places to photograph trains.  However, Bob chose to position ourselves in a nasty little neighborhood that is apparently the breeding grounds for all the killer watchdogs on the entire east coast.  I was unsure as to whether I should photograph the oncoming train or, for insurance purposes, snap off a couple of quick shots of the half crazed dog that wanted to tear off my leg or at least devour my car. 

While in the Palmer yard, the diesel was cut off from the 142 and moved aside.  The steamer was at last free of its captor.  Steam pressure was built up and the mighty monster began to move on its own.  With her whistle blaring, and her steam piercing the brilliant blue sky above, 142 made several photo run bys up and down the yard.  This was without a doubt the highlight of the day. 

Bob and I continued to follow the consist northward, the 142 back in the grasp of the diesel.  After a stop in Amherst, we finally made it to Millers Falls.  We had chased our two friends for over one hundred miles bu t now it was time to say good bye. 

As we headed home I thought about the two short years that the 142 had spent with us in Connecticut.  I never much cared for the idea of a new Chinese locomotive on the Valley Railroad.  I would have preferred a restored American built version instead.  I never liked her tender.  I hated her red colored trim.  But now felt sad that she was gone and I wished that I had enjoyed her more when she was here.  I decided one thing though.  If she ever comes back this way again I'll be coming down with another severe case of railfanitis much worse (or better) than before. 

Postscript: 
How could I have known on that cold December day in 1991 that the Central Vermont RR would soon become a "Fallen Flag", securing its place in railroad lore.  That the CV locomotives that paraded through Willimantic so proudly for so many years would be coming this way no more.  If only I had been able to see into the future.  If I could have, I know I would have paid more attention to the Central Vermont diesel doing yeoman service on that day. 

The railroad scene is ever changing.  What seems common and mundane today could be tomorrow's treasure.  Thanks to the efforts of the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum and other groups like it, some of these treasures will be preserved for future generations so that they will be able to see, touch, and experience the rich heritage of the railroad.

 

Order Board

Just a reminder that we have started work sessions during the day on Tuesdays at 9:00am.  If you can volunteer your time please contact Burt Turcott or Dick Sobielo.  Their phone numbers are listed on the back page of the newsletter. 
 
Last quarter SNET donated another $21.84 to the chapter from the SNET Community Connections program.  Please remember to sign up any of your friends!  Any new member that would like information on helping the chapter in this matter, please contact an officer.  Remember even if you already have SNET sign up anyway.  It costs nothing, but helps the chapter !!! 

Thanks to the following members that have made contributions to the Locomotive fund for the month of August: Paul Cichon - Engineer, Arthur Schnabel - Conductor, Mark Granville- Conductor. 
 

Heritage Grant Update

As you may recall we received a grant to do engineering work on the turntable and to possibly have the bearing manufactured.  To date we were unable to get an engineering firm to commit to doing the studies and drawing at no cost.  We are currently negotiating to have the drawings completed by December 1997. 
 

Dates to Remember

October 5 - CV Historical Society will be meeting in New London.  We have invited them to tour our site and take a look at our locomotives and rolling stock. 

 October 10-12 Walking Weekend.  Our site walk will be on October 12 at 10am and again at 2pm.  Please come on down and give us a hand. 

 October 18 - Balloon Festival in Willimantic.  We will have the site open 9-5 for visitors to come and take a tour.  The model T&A club may have volunteers bring some autos to the site.  Volunteers are needed to staff. 

 November 15 - Annual Banquet.  To be held again this year at Eastern CT State University in Willimantic.  Move info will be at the September meeting and in the October Ghost Train Journal.

Entertainment for September 

Member Bob Carlson will present us with a slide show at the September meeting. 

Donations Accepted 

In August the chapter paid a visit to the Connecticut Central Railroad in Middletown Ct.  About 5 tons of track material was retrieved, including 6 switch stands, 6 derails, 10 gauge bars, 2 fifty-five gallon drums of 
bolts and spikes, a dump truck load of tie plates, and brake shoes for our Alco locomotive.  Thanks go out to Steve Loomis and Francis Saunders for arranging for and helping us to load this valuable track material. Thanks also to Ken Mahler for providing his dump truck and trailer.  About 10 members made short work of this project and we were back and unloaded at the museum by 1 P.M.  Steve informs me that there may be a little bit more to pick up in the future, if so, I will announce a second trip via the newsletter. 

Bill Jeske 

The next Scheduled meeting of the 
Connecticut Eastern Chapter, 
National Railway Historical Society 
will be at the Willimantic Fire/Police complex 
on Sunday September 21st at 7:00 pm. 

Please note: The monthly business meeting will be held at the 
same location on the first Sunday of the month. 
All members are welcome to attend. 
 

News Flash!! 

Work sessions will now be held at the site now every Tuesday Mornings at 9:00am. 

WELCOME NEW MEMBERS

Please welcome Mark Granville to the chapter.
 
 

Previous Issue     Top     Next Issue


Copyright ©1997 Connecticut Eastern Chapter, National Railway Historical Society September 3, 1997