This past weekend I was in Connecticut for a memorial service for someone I have known since before kindergarten. Three days, lots to share from the past, but again you are going to get my trip home first before the first two days (remember I still owe you Lake George – sorry, I am lucky to have too much to do). For the trip home Sunday I planned to visit two railroad museums in Connecticut, and travel up my favorite US Route 7 partially, and then cut back to I-91 and home. I had an adventure, and now some “bragging rights?” I can say I have experienced a train derailment.
My first stop – the Danbury Railway Museum, opening at 10AM – I was there at 9:30. Life in the 50s and 60s was not malls – but Friday nights in the “big cities.” As a family we would travel south to Norwalk or north to Danbury from Wilton. Dinner at diners along the way, miscellaneous shopping, and grocery supplies. On Main Street in Danbury about 1958 or 9 I bought my 3-speed English bicycle. I have not been “downtown” Danbury in maybe fifty years, and not much has changed as far as architecture, but previous stores are now housing something else. The museum in the restored 1903 station is right behind downtown.
Greeting you at the museum is this 38-foot-tall Uncle Sam. ‘Meet me at Uncle Sam’ was a common phrase spoken by patrons of the Great Danbury State Fair during fair week. The fair ran for 112 years, closing in 1981, and I have many fond memories of the fair. From 1971 to the fair’s closing in 1981, Uncle Sam stood on the fairgrounds welcoming all. After the fair closed, he was purchased by the Fairy Tale Magic Forest Theme Park in Lake George, New York, where he resided for 37 years. In late 2018, the park closed, and Uncle Sam was slated to be sold to Troy, New York (legendary home of Uncle Sam). Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton stepped in, outbid Troy, and had the 4,500 pound fiberglass statue trucked back home. In the museum shop I discovered, and immediately bought, the book, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE GREAT DANBURY FAIR.
The doors opened at 10, I bought my ticket to the museum which included a ride on the 10:30 on the “The Husking Bee” train for a ride out to the Pumpkin Patch!
I have big feet, but putting things into perspective here is my size 12 next to Uncle Sam. PS – this is the largest Uncle Sam in the world.
The Metro-North train from NYC terminates at Danbury. There is a new station on adjoining land with a raised platform. The trains however will remain in the museum’s yard while waiting for their next run south.
The museum’s displays, panels, layouts, and collection of toys are not to be missed. On one panel was information on six classic railroad movies – Silver Streak 1976 – Strangers on a Train 1951 (and directed by Alfred Hitchcock at the Danbury Railroad Station in 1950) – Hello Dolly 1969 – It Happened to Jane 1959 – Harvey Girls 1946 (you best know about the Harvey Restaurants at western RR stations) – North by Northwest 1959. You know what I will now be doing. I also felt I need to share the below image. Hooks were made with messages for the train’s engineer clipped to them. The hook would be scooped up by hand when a train passed, message removed, and hook tossed back for reuse. If the engineer did not like a station master the hook would be tossed further than it should have been.
It was then time to get on the train – a set of 1920’s coaches pulled by a 1940’s diesel locomotive.
I was in the rear coach – loved it.
what I learned is that the train trip was only within the yard since the museum does not have access rights to the adjoining tracks. Thus about a half mile (not even) – stop and throw the switch – a half mile down another track to the pumpkin patch. Well, little pumpkins on pallets for the kids to enjoy. But this kid enjoyed the cider and cookies.
coming back – in the foreground below you can see the original turntable which is under restoration (roundhouse sadly torn down) and to the rear “The Tonawanda Valley is the sole survivor of the 16 heavyweight ‘Valley’ series of observation cars built by the Pullman Company and leased by the New York Central Railroad for use on their flagship train, The 20th Century Limited.” Due to COVID the various cars were not open (guess another visit needed some day)
on the grounds I was trilled to see this Semaphore Tower from the Wilton station. I vaguely remember it when as a 12 and 13 year old I would catch the train by myself (in coat and tie) and head to Grand Central Station in NYC for the day.
ALL ABOARD — and time to get back aboard for the trip to the end of the yard, throw the switch, and head back to start. Toot Toot – short haul – stop and throw switch – Toot Toot, and off to start. I am facing the rear, and see smoke coming up through the rear vestibule. Thump – Thump, and louder, and more smoke, and then the coach begins leaning – a leaning more than there should be. And, thanks to slow speed, slow motion sets in with the coach taking a fall to the ground. Conductor begins hanging onto seats working his way back to the engine to halt the train. Ray starts thinking – “do I brace myself in place, or on the downhill side so I do not fall downhill to the other side?” And, then the train stops and the falling shift appears to stop. In the image below the forward car is the level one.
How to exit? Through our door so the coach can fall on us, or in the forward coach on the tracks? Strangely those not in peril on the level coach exited first. Getting out, this was what we saw – not what you should see.
and, a collection of views which you should realize are not what you should see. The wheels of the truck came off the track, and the track on the other side was twisted in and pulled up from the ties. Not Good.
What can I say? As I was leaving the next group of youngsters was walking to the “pumpkin patch” with no train ride. On the museum’s website they posted – “Due to technical difficulties all operations for today are cancelled. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, all pre booked passengers will be offered a free transfer to another train on another day, or a full refund.
UPDATE – 21 October — I have had some wonderful email exchanges with the Director of the Danbury Railway Museum, Jose Alves, and the Safety Officer, David Fuller. I am so impressed with these folks and their work. Jose emailed again enclosed the below image, and said, “As of Tuesday night, coach “B” was returned to the rails by Winters Rigging (our contractor) and volunteers were able to stabilize the track so that the cars could be moved off, inspected and be ready for departure from another track. The picture was taken last night at the end of the day around 8pm .
(and the Wilton semaphore is lit every night from dusk to dawn).”
If you can, I encourage you to visit the Danbury Railway Museum, and/or make a contribution.
I then hopped on I-84 exiting on US Route 7 north to Brookfield, through New Milford, to the former home of Ray Boas, Bookseller on the New Preston waterfall. As you will read, once I write about the first two days, fortunately once you get north of New Milford not much has changed. Relief for Ray who has little desire to travel again on US 7 south of Danbury – the changes (not nice) and the traffic is not liking to Ray. Cathy and I sold our shop and home on the falls in 2002. The village is as quaint as always, and maybe more posh. The current owner of my home, Anne, advised me a few months ago that water was not going over the falls, but the flow has increased through the dam, owned by the Town. Twenty-five years ago I tried to get repairs initiated. But it is still beautiful.
even without water over the falls on the left, this is a gorgeous spot – so glad I was its conservator for seven years.
above left you see no water to the right where it used to be. Also the vegetation was not there, nor in the right hand view where my drive was to the underneath of the shop. In what I had as a garage – two Model A Fords inside, of course.
And, the former home of Ray Boas, Bookseller. Anne and Rich have done a wonderful job preserving and enhancing this special place.
I decided it was enough for the day, and headed back to safe, remote and bucolic Walpole. Well, to be safe I will not be flying. If a car breaks down you can pull over to the side of the road. If a ship has mechanical problems you can float. It a train derails it is not too far down. If a plane has problems – well, lets not go there.
Stay safe and be well – back to you soon with the first two days of this adventure, and in time Lake George. As Always, yours, RAY