On Assignment: Danbury Railway Museum

Story and Photos by Chip Deyerle

Old Outter Yard Limit Sign for danbury, CT

Danbury, CT: In the Danbury Railyard Museum (DRM) it is beginning to look a lot like…winter. The docents are breaking out the heavy flannel shirts and wool sweaters to make the run with the 44-Ton GE diesel switcher. It’s slow to crank, but comes to life with a smooth rumble.  With two blasts on the Claxton, the engineer gets the signal from the conductor and up the old New Haven yard we go for a very short trip.

Not knowing what to expect, I ventured to the DRM one cold Sunday afternoon just after Thanksgiving  to see what treats were in store for this old rail fan.

According to the DRM website, the Danbury Railway Museum is a non-profit organization staffed solely by volunteers. The Museum, located in the historic station and rail yard in downtown Danbury, Connecticut, offers railroad history, tours, train rides, a collection of original and restored rolling stock, and opportunities for hands-on railroad work at “12 inches to the foot” scale.

The   purpose of the Corporation shall be to operate a railway museum in Danbury,   CT, to educate the public as to the history of railroading and to the role of   the railroads as part of our local and national heritage, and to engage in   any and all activities convenient to said purposes.

Our Mission is today as it was in 1994.

 

Built in 1903 for the thriving New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Danbury Station boasted adjacent railyard facilities including an engine house, a freight house, a round house and a turntable. Through the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, Danbury was an important station for the New Haven Railroad. Film buffs will find it interesting to learn that Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train was filmed in and near the station. But, the 1960’s began a period of decline for the railroad and the station, and by the 1980’s, the engine house had burned and it and the freight house were torn down.

Metro-North, the commuter rail system serving Danbury and NYC, closed the station in 1993; the once-lucrative hat business was gone, a new mall had been built 3 miles west of the city, the inner city was in decline and the station was crumbling. Not wanting to govern a city in decline, then Mayor Gene Eriquez proposed that interested citizens form an organization to develop and implement a plan which would utilize the available facilities and bring people into the city. With track in place, connecting rail lines in all four directions, a large turntable, and a 6 acre railyard, Danbury was the ideal place for a railroad museum.

For model railroaders, there are four layouts that are started with a convenient push button.  For most children and model railroaders, the layouts are challenging with lots of detail and of the best I’ve seen.  As you enter the main waiting area of the old station, the O-Gauge set up is found to the left and features several trains and landscape representative of the area. A little further one finds the HO layout which ahs lots of detail but was under some service when I visited. This is followed by a very interesting G-scale  with handcrafted wooden structures including a saw mill, a high trestle and other logging operational details. However, the biggest challenge was in building a replica of the  Station, the railyard, the water towers, the roundhouse, coaling station, sand tower, and surrounding roads and commercial buildings in operation in the mid 1950s…in “N” gauge, no less.

Peeking out fromthe right side of the piocture is the Tonawanda Valley Pullmancoach built by Pullman and operated by the NYC in 1928It was donated in 2008 by Dr.Diana Beardsley-unaltered since the 1920s. Donations have been accepted to refurbish the coach.

In the railyard, there are collections of old coaches, an original wooden box car, several cabooses, a crane, and support equipment. The collection of artifacts includes a number of diesel engines which the museum hopes to rebuild and put into operation.

#1455 is a 2-6-0 Mogul tht ran for the Boston and Maine Railroad as a passenger hauling engine for many years. Restoration is planned.

 

DRM is also home to one steam locomotive, #1455, built by American Locomotive.  This beauty is slowly being restored to its original glory. It is a 2-8-0 from the Boston and Maine RR.

There are also a Sperry Rail Flaw Detection Car, a Maine Central Caboose, a Canadian National Caboose, a Railway Postal Car and an E-9 Diesel.

The DRM is also looking for volunteers in the area to help with restoration, record keeping, archiving, fund raising, marketing and maintenance.  Besides, it’s a great way to spend a weekend or off-time at the most exciting place for rail fans…a railyard.

You are invited to visit the Danbury railway Museum at www.danburyrail.org.

NOTE TO READERS:  Please Comment if you enjoyed this article.

A GE 44-Ton Diesel Switcher pulls one passenger car and one red caboose for a tour of the railyard at Danbury.

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“New Departures ” To Be Released This Month

Article By Chip Deyerle

There is a new writers group in the Manassas, Virginia area, called Write By The Rails (WbtR).  This group has undertaken publication of anthology of shortstories and poems generally related to new destinations and in some cases, travel, even by train.

The book, produced by the writers of WbtR, are applying their talent by showcasing multiple short stories and poems under one cover to delight readers with interesting stories  and poems. For some members of the team, this is a unique first venture into print media and they will actually see their efforts appear in print and distribution.

WbtR is a 501(c) 3 Virginia Corporation and a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. To that end, New Destinations when published later this month  will be the first fundraising project undertaken.

Find out more about the book in the following” Book Trailer” by viewing the following Youtube video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmYn02aGjp0&list=UUp99-k4FwW382x10HvrCR0g&ind

New Directions is expected to be available in hard copy and Amazon.Com at some point soon. Keep checking in with Days of Steam Website daily.

 

 

Winter Comes to the Railyard

Excerpt from “Last Train From Cleveland”  

By Chip Deyerle       

    It was a cold December first, under foreboding grey skies, when BL pulled his Overland into the gravel parking lot next to the 16th Street railyard.  With his metal lunchbox in hand, he locked the car and walked toward the yard entry gate to begin the day’s work. It was dawn and overcast, the yard lights cast shafts of light on the rising smoke and steam.    At 6:40 this morning and the yard was beginning to crank up with activity.  Steam and smoke curled up into the darkness from the yard engines, waiting for their “masters” to put them to work. A noisy freight train with box cars, flat cars and chemical tank cars rumbled near the yard on the main line and east bound past the 5th Street Bridge.

The gravel path to the Yard Office led across four sets of tracks and several puddles from the rain of the previous evening.  The lights were  on in the Yard Office revealing the three dispatchers busily preparing the day’s train orders and posting the train schedules for the day when BL walked in.

As always, his eyes were drawn to the Board to see what was scheduled for the day. He noted that Engine 813 was his assigned engine this day rather than an older engine he had to use while 813 was out of service for some long-overdue maintenance.

“Good morning, Mr. Deyerle, there is a message here for you to see the Trainmaster at the Roanoke Terminal at 8:00 this morning,” said the young dispatcher as he handed the note to BL.

Through weary eyes, BL read the note, which indicated a meeting with the trainmaster this morning. Immediately, he felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him.  What was this all about? There was no further explanation, but he now noticed a schedule board note that he had been substituted on his engine crew for the morning through lunchtime.

“Thanks,” replied BL, as he pondered the note. “Please confirm with him that I’ll be there at 8:00 to the Trainmasters office as requested, but I’d like to know what he wants to see me about.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, Mr. Deyerle,” replied the dispatcher.

Could it be that they were going to reassign him to other work because of his current health situation?  After all, he had not heard anything from Dr. Barrett.  Maybe the Trainmaster wants him terminated.  These were the fears lurking in the psyche of most railroaders. After all, the union efforts to represent members of the bargaining unit can only do so much these days. BL would have to wait to find out what the Trainmaster wanted.

With much skepticism, BL walked out of the office and slowly headed back to the parking lot.  Many thoughts were running through his mind, not the least of which was job security in these troubled times. After all, he had been a faithful engineer his entire career with the N&W, over twenty years. Imagining the worst case situation with the Trainmaster, he wondered what would he do without his job, without medical care as such? Reaching the Overland in the gravel parking lot, BL reasoned that maybe it wasn’t something so severe that he might lose his job. But what could it be?

Leaving the parking lot, he drove down the street the several blocks to the Roanoke Terminal, just east of the N&W Station near the city market area. Along this end of Campbell Avenue there were several small cafes where he could get a cup of coffee for a nickel and prepare himself best he could for his meeting.

He opened the door to the small café, busy serving breakfast to workers from offices up the street, and found an empty seat at the counter.

“What’ll you have this morning, Mister?”asked the man behind the counter, burley in appearance and wearing a greasy white apron and cap.

“Coffee, please,” replied BL as he got comfortable on the counter stool.  Moments later a steaming hot mug of coffee was placed before him.

“That’ll be a nickel, Mister!” said the man. ‘Here’s cream and sugar.”

BL placed a nickel on the counter and contemplated the steaming cup of coffee, reached over to the little cream pitcher and added some, followed by a teaspoon of sugar.  Checking his watch, it was already 7:20.  A newspaper remained on the counter next to him, so he picked it up and started reading it. As he quickly fanned through the newspaper, his eye caught on an advertisement for Lionel Electric Trains. Maybe this is something for Hampton or Little BL to think about for Christmas, which is just around the corner.

After sipping the coffee, and reading the front page of the newspaper, he checked his watch. Abruptly, he got up from the counter stool and walked out the door toward the Roanoke Terminal Building.

This was the first time in many years that he had been called to the Terminal or to see the Trainmaster for that matter.  He knew from the handbook that the Trainmaster was a direct link to the Superintendent and that the Trainmaster exercised the general supervision of employees in trains, railyards, and station services for the Division.  In fact, the trainmaster set the rules and made sure that all employees for the Division had passed the prescribed examinations. In this instance, Mr. Lowry, as the Roanoke Terminal Trainmaster had the same authority as the General Trainmaster for the N&W railroad.

BL checked his watch and noted that it was now 7:46.  Better to arrive early than miss the appointed time-“under no circumstances be late to an appointment” was BL’s mantra.

Checking the marquee directory by the front door, BL found the trainmaster’s office listed on the second floor and proceeded to the stairs, but wondered what was next.

On the second floor he found a larger counter with a scheduling board prominently displaying all train numbers operating this day.  Terminal Dispatchers were busy making adjustments, closing out trains and tracking delays and repairs to the line.  BL approached the counter.

“I’m here to see Mr. Lowry,’ said BL as best he could, trying to get the busy dispatchers’ attention.

One of the dispatchers with a green eye shade and gold-rimmed glasses stopped his scribing on the schedule board and turned to respond,” What are you here for?”

“ I have an appointment at 8:00 to see the trainmaster,” replied BL in a raised voice, irritated that neither of the dispatchers were paying any attention to his appointment.

“Oh, uh, Mr. Lowry’s office is down the hall on the left-but let me see if he is available-who are you?” asked the dispatcher.

“I am BL Deyerle, engineer from the 5th Street Yard,” replied BL in a quieter, less-stressed manner, now that he had gotten their attention. The other dispatcher kept posting the schedule board uninterrupted.

Momentarily, the dispatcher returned, saying “Mr. Deyerle, right this way to Mr. Lowry’s office.” He turned and headed down the long hallway.

Lowry was sitting at his, with a small window facing the N&W Shop yards.  He was a man in his mid forties with glasses, a trimmed mustache, a style that was very popular.  His felt had was hanging from the coat rack in the corner of the room.

“Sit down, Mr. Deyerle,” said Lowry, “I needed to see you first thing this morning because Dr. Barrett was by my office on Friday about a medical report about you.”

“Dr. Barrett has seen me twice about my thyroid condition,” said B.L, pointing to the swelling of his throat.

“Well, Dr. Barrett wants you to move to a temporary assignment training new engineers until you are cleared back on duty,” said Lowry. “You will start down here in the East Yard and work with Mr. Halliday, my trainer.”

“Just like that?” replied BL. “Are you sure that’s what you want me to do?”

“Mr. Deyerle, you are coming up on twenty years with the railroad and you have a lot of experience as a fireman and an Engineer,” stated Lowry. “After all, you’ll be on day shift and you will work your own schedule. We have a lot new engineers to train and this works out well for you and the railroad.”

“When did you want me to start, Mr. Lowry?” asked BL as he sat there wondering why this was happening.  All his life he had been the one to be the leader on the rails as an engineer. When he was first assigned to railyard work, he missed the work of moving multiple carloads of coal and hauling the load to Roanoke from Bluefield, West Virginia.  He had made the switch to yard engineer and while it was repetitive work, he at least got home at a regular hour, not missing days away from the family waiting to pick up a train at all hours and pushing the load to the Roanoke railyards.

“How about this afternoon, Mr. Deyerle?” said Lowry as he handed an introduction note to BL. “ Take that along with you to Mr. Halliday’s  office downstairs.”

“I appreciate your concern and your support, Mr. Lowry,” said BL as he got up from the chair and stepped out the doorway.

Descending the stairs, BL followed the room numbers to Mr. Halliday’s first floor office, knocked and was told to enter.

“You’re Mr. Halliday, I presume?” said BL to the man behind the desk.

“Yes I am,” replied Mr. Halliday. “What can I do for you?” replied Halliday.

“I just saw Mr. Lowry,” said BL as he handed Halliday the note from Lowry. “He said that you would be using me for instructing some new engineers.”

Looking quickly at the note, Halliday acknowledged BL, “Oh, yeah, Mr. Deyerle, you have a lot of experience in freights and railyards…do you think you’d be able to show some of our new engineers how to run a steam engine safely?”

“Yes sir, Id’ love the opportunity to do that, Mr. Halliday,” responded BL.