Ride Along with Housatonic RR NX-13

Ride along with

Housatonic Railroad Company

Many of you know that I railfan the Housatonic Railroad, a short line that roughly follows the Housatonic River and operates from a connection with CSX at Pittsfield, MA to Danbury, CT, where I work, and a branch East to Derby, CT.

The local job, NX-11, usually is working Danbury around the same time I take lunch, so I often see them switch while I'm out. Occasionally, my job will take me to other places along the line.  Years ago, when I first started chasing them, they would refer to me on the radio as Johnny Railfan. At the time, they intended this to be a derogatory term.  Once they made a comment during radio chatter something like 'ya think Johnny Railfan would buy us a coffee or somethin' - To their surprise, a few weeks later, I met them at one of the industries they switch with coffee for everyone in the crew. I let them know that my name was Jon, and I started signing posts on the Housatonic Email List as Johnny Railfan. Attitudes changed a bit after that.

A year or so later, I was feeling rather generous at Christmas, and picked up a 6 pack of beer for each member of the 4 man crew and chased them to where they tie down so I could give it to them after they were off-duty. As a result of that gesture, friendships were made and a few months later I was invited up into the cab while they did a little switching.

Railroad schedules changed, crews changed, and my job changed a bit, so I didn't see the same guys very often over the last year or so. When the economy caused car loadings to go down, 1 train was annulled and the local job went back on my lunch schedule. Crews changed again recently and one of the guys that did ground work on our earlier encounters is now the engineer.  His first comment on the radio was 'Hey Johnny - where you been?"  Since then when he sees me he'll blow the horn, wave and say hello over the radio.

A few weeks ago I had a chance meeting with the train as I was headed out to lunch. I watched them do a gravity run-around to change directions, and then chased them further North than I usually do.  I was waiting at the station in Brookfield, CT when the train came into view.  They always run under 10 MPH through this stretch, but they seemed to be going very slow. I was quite surprised when the engine stopped directly in front of me, the window opened, and one of the crew members waved me over.

Once I got close, they asked if I wanted to go on a run with them.  I thought they meant now, and I had no way to get back to my car since  they were not coming back. They meant another day, and offered me a phone number and instructions to call when I can meet them at a junction where I can ride the Eastbound out-and back job.

 

I made the call a few days ago and had the pleasure of riding along with the crew of NX-11 on a cold December morning. The adventure began with a 0730 hours crew-call to Kimberly Clark Yard in New Milford, CT. The outdoor temperature was a pleasant 18F, Significantly warmer than the previous day and much less wind. The sun was rising over the Housatonic River as Craig, the engineer, coaxed the vintage GP-35 to life. I arrived too late for photos of the engine starting with the hood doors open, but you can tell from this shot from inside that it will be quite a while before the heat warms the frigid steel and glass of the cab...

Frosty!

This, and every image on this page may be clicked to enlarge.

Train orders for the day were pretty light. First we needed to drop the tank just ahead of the engine, then take 3 empty Construction & Demolition Debris gondolas South to AWD in Danbury. Depending on another customer's need, we might go East to Hawleyville for some work.

In short order, the tank was left on the Kimberly Clark siding and we were getting into position to pick up our short Southbound train...

Almost ready

Back on the main ready to couple to the train...

Almost ready

We begin the trip to Danbury running long-hood first with our cars behind us. On the right is the siding for Quality Food Oils. The won't be getting any tanks of vegetable oil today, they are still trying to get yesterdays loads warm enough to unload :)

Southbound aproaching Quality Foods

Approaching some less than stellar track, Craig begins to reduce speed to the Slow Order mandated 10 miles per hour. Most of the trip from here to Danbury will be at this slow speed.

Craig at the controls

Victorian Homes and an old New Haven Station come into view at Brookfield.

Brookfield

Finally in Danbury, we arrive at Berkshire Junction call-sign SHIRE. The foreground switch is the end of the Berkshire Line (BL). The second switch has the Maybrook Main Line to the right, and the Tilcon Running track straight ahead. Here we will need to get around our train to service the facing point switch at AWD, off the Tilcon Runner. Notice the normal positions of the switches put the Maybrook Line over on the Ticlon Runner. This is to accommodate a seasonal daily tonnage stone train of the P&W Railroad that services Tilcon Danbury just a mile or so ahead.

SHIRE

The Maybrook Line (ML) once originated in Maybrook, New York, crossed the Hudson River on the famous Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge and ran through Western Connecticut following the Housatonic River South to join the New Haven main line near New Haven, CT. We drop our train and pull clear of the switch on the Maybrook Line. Our cars will follow, by gravity, over on the Ticlon Runner allowing the engine to get behind the train...

Run-Around

Tom rides the train manning the brake and will bring the cars to a stop clear of the switch...

Gravity does it!

Next, Tom throws the switch so we can get on to the Ticlon Runner and connect back with our train...

Lining for the main

Underway again, looking down the long hood as we shove across the Still River...

Still River Bridge

Looking behind us, this was once a dual-track main of the New Haven...

Maybrook Dual Track Main

AWD is just around the bend...

Rounding the bend

Did I mention it was cold? The AWD switch was frozen solid due to heavy rain followed by deep freeze temps. No worries, Scotty, the HRRC Track Maintainer arrived there ahead of the train in his Hi-Railer to free up the switch...

Arriving at AWD

As we roll by the switch, you can see that Scotty has his torch at the ready. We will drop our empties clear of the switch, then go in light and get the loads...

Marshmallows anyone ?

NX-11 waits clear of the switch while Scotty does his best to make it work...

Frozen switch gets a fix

Leaving the empties behind...

Dropping empties

A little tune-up to the ground throw...

Thawing the throw

And we are in, ready to tie on to the loads...

AWD Siding

Pulling the loads back to the runner...

AWD Loads out

4 to go...

Loads to the main

Empties on the rear, ready to go back into the siding...

Empties tied on

Empties are spotted in the siding at the loader...

Empties spotted

Work at AWD complete, we now run forward back toward Berkshire Junction with our train of C&D loads. On the right is the two track siding for the Tilcon Danbury Stone Plant. During warm weather, there would be 20-40 hoppers staged here and serviced each night by the P&W Railroad. Above is I-84...

Passing Tilcon Danbury

Arriving back at Berkshire Junction the dispatcher calls with orders to proceed East to Hawleywille. The Shepaug Reload Center has empties to pull. In this view, the main line of the Maybrook comes in from the left and continues straight ahead and curving right to Hawleyville and points East and South. The branch to the left is the Berkshire Line heading North. This is the line we came down from New Milford. Between the two is Stearns Siding where extra C&D empties are being stored..

Berkshire Junction

We drop our loads here and will run light over the Maybrook to Hawleywille where the Shepaug Reload Center and storage siding are facing point....

Loads stay behind

A pair of deer cross in front of us on our way to Hawleywille....

Deer Crossing

As the train arrives in Hawleywille, the work is laid out in front of us. To the left is the Shepaug Reload Center. On the right is a storage siding where more C&D loads originate. We need to pull all the cars from Shepaug, move the C&D hopper to the storage siding, and pick up two of the three cars on the storage siding in this view....

Hawleyville

Going in the Shepaug Reload Center...

Shepaug Reload Center

Gondola and empty Center Beam flats come out...

Empties at Shepaug Reload

The Close Clearance sign wasn't kidding...

Close Clearence

As cars are pulled from the Reload Center, the train blocks CT Route 25 for a short time. The locals put up with this once-per-day inconvenience without making any fuss...

Crossing Route 25

Switching complete, our train of empties is now on the main, with the empty C&D hopper on the siding...

Empties ready to leave

As we pass the Shepaug Reload Center, a better look of the siding comes into view...

Shepaug Relod Center

Tom locks down the switch and we are ready to head West to Berkshire Junction...

Relod Center swtch

Long hood first again, we begin the trip West to Berkshire Junction. This section of the line is welded rail and rides much smoother than the Berkshire Line...

Westbound from Hawleyville

We arrive at Berkshire Junction. Notice that on the Maybrook Line, this junction has a call sign of BERK. Our C&D loads sit on the Tilcon Runner waiting for us...

Arriving BERK

We drop our train and back into the C&D loads on the Tilcon Runner as Tom rides the center-beams down the grade and on to the Maybrook Main Line...

More gravity work

Empty center-beams continue to roll by down grade and on to the main...

And more gravity work

Finally clear, Tom throws the switch and we bring our three cars ahead to clear the switch...

Back through the junction

Looking behind us, Tom throws the switch again and we back into the train...

Coupling to the train

The Northbound train now fully assembled, we pull forward up the BL to clear the switches Tom will line the ML switch for the Ticlon Runner and the BL switch for the ML, then lock them down...

Clearing the junction

After a very short stretch of 25MPH track on the South end of the BL, Craig slows the train to 10 for most of the Northbound trip...

Doin' 10

It's a long and rough ride pulling a heavy train up the BL. We finally arrive back at Kimberly Clark Yard. The main continues on the right, across the Housatonic River truss bridge. Kimberly Clark's New Milford plant is up the steep grade at the far left and the center track is a run-around...

KC Yard

While we were working Danbury and Hawleyville, Train NX-13 came down from Caanan, CT with two light engines. They moved the tank we left on the KC lead early this morning, and are up "the hill" pulling empties from the Kimberly Clark plant when we arrive at KC Yard. There will be a lot of action here for the next half hour as the Northbound NX-13 train is assembled, so I hop down to the ground so I can see, and photograph it all. Train NX-11 continues on and will enter the run-around track at the North switch...

End-of-the-line for NX-11

Tom rides the rear and will throw the North switch when they get there...

Tom is the markers

Meanwhile, Train NX-13, lead by engine 3601 (behind 3602) backs down the hill from Kimberly Clark with a string of empties. Today's operations are a bit unusual since NX-13 would normally have arrived during the night with southbound loads, but due to a SNAFU at CSX, there were no southbound cars today. When all is said and done, Shepaug Reload, Kimberly Clark and the KC Yard will all be empty today...

Unusual switch of Kimberly Clark by NX-13

Another shot of NX-13 backing down the hill from Kimberly Clark...

NX-13 on The Hill

The Kimberly Clark New Milford plant produces paper towel and tissues. Pulp arrives by plug-door boxcars and finished product leaves by truck. Here NX-13 approaches the main with empties from Kimberly Clark...

NX-13 enters the main

NX-11 has now entered the run-around from the North switch and is backing toward a string of empty tank cars brought North the previous day. Tom calls out the distance to the hook...

2 to go

5 Feet! NX-10 about to hook on to empty tanks. A few days ago, these tanks were full of alcohol and were emptied at Pharmco in Brookfield. They had no work for the train today...

5 Feet!

3-Step protection is applied before Tom goes between the cars to connect the glad hands...

3-Step Applied

With that hook complete, NX-13 approaches from the South end with the empties from Kimberly Clark...

KC Empties being added

Another hook complete, NX-13 backs out of the run-around...

Backing Up

Then pulls forward into the overflow siding to grab another string of empty tanks...

Tanks!

NX-13 backs the empty tanks out to the main...

Tanks again.

And then up the run-around to complete the Northbound train....

Don't mention it.

NX-13 backs away from the train spotting themselves on the main, just North of the South run-around switch. NX-11 now handles the entire Northbound train with a single GP-35. NX-11 begins backing the train out the south end of the run-around, on to the main...

NX-10's final move

NX-11 backs through the south run-around switch as the light NX-13 waits on the main...

Big Housy Power at KC Yard

Engine 3604 will go back North to Caanan with train NX-13. The crew positions 3604 at the rear of the lash-up and makes the MU connections on the main...

MU Connections made

Now officially train NX-13, they pull the long string of cars back into the run-around track...

Train NX-13 North is made

Lead by freshly painted 3601 and 3602, train NX-13 continues North on the run-around track...

3601 looking good

3601, 3602, and 3604 is an unusually large amount of power for a 20 car train of mostly empties...

3601-3502-3604 lead NX-13

NX-11 is done for the day. Craig unloads crew gear from 3604. Craig and Tom came to KC yard by car this morning and will soon depart the same way and follow the train North to Caanan...

NX-11's day is done

NX-13 is ready for the long trip North along the Housatonic River to Caanan. These cars will eventually make their way to the CSX connection at Pittsfield MA via train NX-12 which usually runs at night...

NX-13 Awaits a form D

The dispatcher issues a Form D to train NX-13 and they depart Northbound crossing the Housatonic River over a steel truss bridge as they exit the run-around siding. Craig will line and lock the North switch so as to not delay the train...

NX-13 enters the main

With their last car on the truss bridge, NX-13 is under way as Craig heads back to his truck for the long drive to Caanan. Tom will ride with him and bring a company car back to KC Yard. The next NX-13 to run will be a dead-head southbound to bring power back for next weeks NX-11. That crew will use the car left by Tom today to return to Caanan...

NX-13 dissapears across the river

I've been railfanning the Housy for close to 10 years. I must say that being in the cab offers a completely different view of the operations. What looks awfully slow when watching from the outside, is actually happening quite quickly when seen from the crew's point of view. You also have no idea how rough the ride can be on minimally maintained jointed rail. It was all I could do to stay in my seat at times, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

A tip of the hat and a huge Thank You to Tom and Craig for the invite to Ride along with NX-11. Our next adventure will be a Friday afternoon run from New Milford to Caanan along the scenic banks of the Housatonic River. Spring sounds like a good time to plan that :D

Thanks for riding along.

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