About Me & the Layout
My name is Chris and I've been a history buff for as long as I can remember. It started with dinosaurs and progressed through Civil War & WW2 history. Modeling quickly followed as a way to recreate that history. I never got into gaming, but my room had its share of B17s, P40s and Corsairs. Christmas 1982, I got my first computer and my little brother got a train set. Significantly, my great-grandmother was visiting us and the train set prompted recollections of my great-grandfather's and great-great-grandfather's careers on the railroad. I found this combination of family history and modeling compelling and the computer faded into the background as my dad & I "helped" my kid brother with his train set.
Five years later, I deferred college for the chance of a lifetime to work on the real thing as one of the youngest full-time steam locomotive firemen in the country. Although I was participating in "living history" at the Valley Railroad, the modeling never really stopped - I was always imagining ways to recreate scenes that had long since disappeared. Model railroading - starting with that old trainset - provided the perfect catalyst. What better way to recapture the past than by recreating an industry that permeated every aspect of everyday life? Of course, all the carpentry, electrical work, and engineering involved in building a layout would be fun - not to mention the research & planning. All pretty intoxicating to a Type A with OCD tendencies!
But what would be the focus of such a huge endeavor? I'd first considered modeling the Illinois Central railroad my grandfathers had worked, but I found New England - being right outside my door - much more convenient to research & photograph. A freelanced "New England-y" railroad with 44 tonners & covered bridges is pretty compelling, but once I discovered what railroad ran near my house (the New York New Haven & Hartford), I flirted with different parts of the system: the Naugatuck line (I lived in Shelton, CT at the time), the Berkshire line (my girlfriend - then wife - and I did many roadtrips up Rt. 7), and even - for a brief time - the old Central New England. Once we moved to Old Saybrook, CT - just two doors away from the New Haven's Connecticut Valley Line and within earshot of the steam locomotives I'd fired so many years before - the final choice was obvious.
In addition to my personal history with, and - now- proximity to, the CT Valley Line, there are two other reasons to try and recreate this railroad in my basement: John Wallace and Max Miller. John shared his extensive memories of firing on the Valley Local in a 2 part series in the Shoreliner magazine, produced by the New Haven Railroad Historical & Technical Association (NHRHTA). His vivid memories and great photos would make anybody want to try and recreate the line somehow. I first met Max when I fired on the Valley many years ago, and when we got back in touch shortly after I moved back to the area, I discovered he'd been documenting the line for years. Between these two guys alone, I'd have access to a wealth of material that would help my project - and the fact they come over every week to help with the NHRHTA Photo Library means that suggestions & guidance are never far away.
I hope through my efforts here you'll not only get a sense of what life was like in the lower Connecticut River Valley in the late 1940s, but that you'll get to know some of the folks responsible for delivering the "stuff of life" to the area back then and the equipment they used to do their jobs. I see model railroading as much more than "playing with trains" (not that there's anything wrong with that); I see it as a virtual time machine that can take you where ever your imagination leads. My model railroad - if I do it as effectively as I hope to - will take you aboard the Valley Local in the Autumn of 1947.
I hope you'll join me. And if you do - Welcome Aboard!
Back firing on the Valley RR, Chester, CT. Photo by John Wallace