The Essex Steam Train Ride


Living in Connecticut, I had no excuse NOT to visit the Valley Railroad in Essex. Even living in upstate New York, it is a place not to miss. The big feature of the Valley Railroad is the steam train ride.

The train runs from Essex to above Deep River and then backs to Deep River where boat passengers get on and off. The former branch line runs from Old Saybrook on Long Island Sound to Middletown (you guessed it – in the middle of the state).

The train ride is not the only attraction. Essex is also the location of the Connecticut Valley Railroad Museum.

The Connecticut Valley Railroad Association was established in 1968 to operate trains powered by steam over the New Haven Railroad. It is a non-profit organization which works closely with the for-profit Valley Railroad Company which owns the abandoned New Haven Valley Branch along the Connecticut River. The museum is an all-volunteer effort while the VRR concentrates on running the steam trains (a very expensive proposition). The museum’s aim is to provide a successful interpretation of the history of New England railroading that will be the equal of the state-supported museums in Pennsylvania and California.

The original steam locomotive on the Valley was #97, a coal-fired 2-8-0 “Consolidation” built by Alco’s Cooke Works in 1923. The first owner was the Birmingham and Southeastern (an Alabama shortline). Stored from the 1950’s until 1964, #97 worked a while for the Vermont Railway before going to the steam department of the Connecticut Electric Railway. After the takeover of the former New Haven by the Penn Central, which tended to discourage steam excursions, the locomotive sat in Danbury for almost a year before being shipped to the VRR.

#40 is a 2-8-2 “Mikado” built by Alco’s Brooks Works in 1920. It was a “boomer” and worked for railroads all around the country. Purchased by the VRR in 1977, #40 is a favorite of engine crews even if not quite as economical to operate as #97. #40 is currently being overhauled.

There are several other steam locomotives on the VRR which are currently unserviceable or static displays: #3 is an 0-4-0 Fireless built by Porter in 1930. #10 is an 0-4-0 Saddle Tank built by Baldwin in 1934. This locomotive is being restored to service with funding by donations of beverage containers (for “bottle bill” refunds). #103 is a 12-6-2 “Prairie” built by Baldwin in 1925 and last run in 1975. #148 is a 4-6-2 “Pacific” built by Alco’s Richmond Works in 1920 for Florida East Coast’s passenger service. #148 switched for a sugar refinery before going to the New Hope & Ivyland. Destined for the Adirondack Railway, it finally ended up on the VRR and is stored unserviceable.

The sole electric is #300, an EF-4 3300 HP electric road freight locomotive built by GE in 1956. It was owned originally by the Virginian Railway but picked up almost new for $20,000 when the Norfolk & Western took over. When CONRAIL ceased electric freight operations in 1979, #300 became surplus. It is the sole survivor of the once-huge New Haven fleet of 125 electrics.

Numerous diesels are on the property. As you enter the parking lot, E9A #4096 is displayed in a classic New York Central “lightning stripe” color scheme. Built in 1963 for the Union Pacific, it hauled the last Union Pacific passenger run before AMTRAK. It then went to work for AMTRAK. It hauled the last Auto Train in 1981. #0401 is an FA-1 1500 HP road freight diesel built for the New Haven by Alco in 1947. There is an RS-1, 2 SW-1s, 2 RS-3s, 2 44 ton GEs, a U25B (last locomotive built for the New Haven) and an 80 ton GE owned by the Army and used by a local Army Reserve unit.

There are four self-propelled rail cars: a 1930 Brill, two 1954 Pullman M.U.s, and a 1931 Brill rail detector car (ex New York Central).

There are 33 items of passenger rolling stock. They have come from as many sources. Typical is the “Wallingford”, a parlor car built by Pullman in 1927 for the New Haven. It ran on many New Haven limiteds. Originally a 36 seat car, it was rebuilt in 1937 to a seat-parlor lounge. In 1952 it was sold to the Kansas City Southern and in the early 1960’s to the Reader Railroad in Arkansas. Several cars are in the museum or otherwise being used (office cars, storage, etc) by virtue of not being scrapped as they were in work train service at the time railroads were wholesale scrapping passenger equipment. Much of this equipment was donated by the Schiavone Scrap Yard in New Haven.

There are 18 pieces of freight equipment and 7 cabooses owned by the museum or privately owned and stored on the property.

Work equipment includes air operated side dump cars once operated by the Hartford Electric Light Company. There is a locomotive crane, snow plow and derrick car.

Read more on the Essex Steam Train
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