Deja Vu


The photo above at Connolly Drive, Old Saybrook in November 1987.  By me. But - as they sometimes say - "there's a lot more to the story."

At the time of this photo, I was into the 3rd month of my first Autumn without school since kindergarten. I'd just graduated high school the previous June and moved out of the house - and into a boxcar - literally the very next day.

Lest you get the wrong impression, no, I wasn't kicked out of the house. I just have very supportive parents and they agreed to let me put off college "temporarily" while I pursued my dream of working on the railroad. So the day after graduation, I packed bag and baggage and moved into an old Pullman Troop Sleeper (which looks very much like a boxcar - and I could never convince my mom that it wasn't) next to the enginehouse at the Valley Railroad to become one of the youngest full-time steam locomotive firemen in the US at that time.

The previous November, 1986, I'd attended the VRR's Railfan Day and - long story made short - was invited to volunteer in the restoration shop. I did that for a few months and, once I turned 18 in January, I was able to start my training as a fireman. I spent that first summer after high school living my dream.

By November though, the novelty had started to wear off just a little. I still loved what I was doing, but watching so many of my friends go off to college was tougher than I'd expected. I couldn't help feeling like everyone was moving on with their lives except me.

But when Railfan Day, 1987 rolled around, I had the weekend off and was free to do some railfanning - getting on the "other" side of the camera for a change. I had a blast chasing this "photo freight," headed by a newly-restored & painted New Haven U25b (the railroad's last locomotive), all the way down to Old Saybrook. I'd never noticed Connolly Drive before, but since it was one of only three major grade crossings south of Essex, it was a "must shoot." The fact that there was still an old home signal/semaphore I could use to frame the shot was an unexpected bonus.

What was even more unexpected is what happened almost exactly 20 years after I took this shot.

I continued working for the railroad as I started college, but gave it up as my academic workload increased. Then I met my future wife, went to law school, got married, and started my career. We lived in Shelton and Milford before deciding to try finding a place in Old Saybrook, where we'd spent so many fun summer day trips over the years.

As luck would have it, the only house we could find that we could afford and didn't need a lot of work was - you may have guessed - on Connolly Drive. We moved in July 2007, about 150 yards west of the spot where I'd stood to take the photo freight photo almost exactly 20 years earlier.

And as if that weren't enough, twenty FIVE years to the month after this photo was taken, I was out railfanning the VRR and saw that same guy I'd seen way back during Railfan Day 1986, and I got a second invitation to (re)live my dream. I started firing again the next month and have been working on the railroad again (though only part time this time) ever since.

I don't remember exactly what I was thinking as I clicked the shutter way back then - 18 years old, working on the railroad, my whole life in front of me and having no idea where I'd end up. But I couldn't possibly have imagined then the path my life would take - that I'd be living along the tracks in Old Saybrook with a wonderful wife, a good career, and the privilege of being blessed enough to live my childhood dream again in middle-age.
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