The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, Essex, Connecticut

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The state of Connecticut is the third smallest state and the southernmost state of the New England states.  Despite its size, the state has many quaint little towns.  Among them is the town of Essex.  Located on the west shore of the Connecticut River about six miles inland from Long Island Sound, it was attacked by British forces April 8, 1814.  Today, you can visit some of the historic buildings to include the Griswold Inn where you can spend a night or take in a meal, or you can drop by the Connecticut River Museum.  Essex is a town that is truly a treasure to visit if you are a history buff or one who enjoys the water, and it is also a great town… if you are a railfan.

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Welcome to the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  Steam Train and Riverboat?  How is this possible?  How does the train suddenly become a boat?  Is this like a floating railroad?”

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The train does not float.  Here is what you will experience.

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You arrive at the Essex Steam Train depot.  You park and walk around looking at the vintage rolling stock.  There is also a model train display inside the old freight house that is open when the trains are running.  You go to the ticket office to buy your ticket, but you are overtaken by the steam locomotive chugging along.  “Toot toot!”  The whistle blows.  Then board the train and you take your seat.  The train pulls away from the station.  You look outside, and you come in site of the Connecticut River which the railroad parallels on most of the journey.  The train arrives in the town of Haddam which is the terminal for the train.

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Now you are saying, “Yeah!  Yeah!  Yeah!  I know.  You get off the train.  You walk around Haddam.  You get back on the train.  Then you go back to Essex.  It is the same old same old.  This is nothing new.  Every train I have been on does the exact same thing.”

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Please note why it is called the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.  You have just taken a ride on the train.  It is not time to take a ride on the riverboat.  You walk over to the riverboat.  You board the boat, and your cruise begins on the Connecticut River.  You go north and go under the East Haddam Bridge and see the town of East Haddam on your right.  Along the way you see homes built on the waterfront and eagle’s nests and, if you are fortunate enough, you may spot a few eagles.  You turn around and head south under the East Haddam Highway Bridge.  A few miles later you see medieval castle high on a hill.  This is Gillette Castle, the home of William Gillette who was a stage actor who was famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes.  It is now a state park.  Sadly, the riverboat does not stop here for tours, but you will get great views.  The boat returns to the dock.  You get off the boat, and you ride a shuttle to the town of East Haddam.  Here you can see the old opera house that still hosts shows, and you can visit the Gelston House where you can catch a meal with a great view of the river.  Once you tour the town you can river the shuttle back to Haddam and walk through the old Haddam depot that houses a gift shop.  You then walk back to the train and then head back to Essex.

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The Essex Steam Train runs along tracks owned by the Valley Railroad.  The tracks were originally owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

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The Essex Steam Train is located a 1 Railroad Avenue in Essex, Connecticut just west of Connecticut Route 9 about a few miles north of Interstate 95.  Parking is available on site.  Excursions options vary.  You can go to http://essexsteamtrain.com to learn about the different excursions and to purchase tickets.

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If you only want to ride the average train trip, the Essex Steam Train is not for you.  You want an train experience that is unlike any other, come ride the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum, Richmond, Virginia

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Is there anything worth seeing in Richmond, Virginia?  It is just the capital of the state of Virginia.  All that is there is the state government and nothing else.  It is just a place you pass through on Interstate 95.  No travel writers write about Richmond which usually means that it is not worth your time.  If this is what you think that the city of Richmond is, you should take a little time to think of this city other than the home of the state government.  Those who have been here know that it is a city with lots of history.  It was the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  The White House of the Confederacy where Jefferson Davis resided from is open for visitors as well as numerous other sites.

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As much as the city is a haven for American history, it is also a haven for railfans.  With railroads passing through the city and the famous ‘Triple Bridge’, the city has also preserved a few of its station stations to include the Main Street Station which is served by Amtrak plus the old Broad Street Station.  Then you have the old Hull Street Depot which rests across the James River from the downtown area.  What is special about the Hull Street Station?  It is the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Since the early days of the railroad Richmond was a hub being served by many railroads.  For this reason, the Confederates made this city their capital during the American Civil War.  Through the years, train stations were built.  The Southern Railway built the Mill Street station in downtown Richmond in 1900.  The station had a short life as it was demolished in 1914.  (Mill Street is now Canal Street.)  The Hull Street station was built a year later across the river.  The station was damaged by floods a few times (until the flood wall was built).  In February of 1957, the station saw the last passenger train leave.  The station was dormant for many years as ownership was transferred from the Southern Railway to the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society who refurbished the building, and it became the home of the Richmond Railroad Museum in 2011.

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Today, the Richmond Railroad Museum has a few box cars, a baggage car, cabooses, a locomotive and a signal outside.  Inside you will see the old ticket office in its original setting.  The freight room has many artifacts on display to include old schedules, models of the other stations in Richmond, plus a speeder car.  There is also a HO model train display by the Old Dominion Chapter Model Railroad Club which depicts the railroads of Virginia.  If you need something to remember your visit, there is also a gift shop.

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The Richmond Railroad Museum is a National Historic Landmark.  It is located inside the old Hull Street Station at 102 Hull Street in Richmond, Virginia just across the James River from downtown Richmond.  It is open on Saturdays from 11:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.  Admission is $10.00 for adults, $8.00 for seniors, $5.00 for children six to thirteen and free for children five and under.  Parking is available on site at the museum and on the street if the museum lot is full.  Go to http://richmondrailroadmuseum.org/ for directions, for events and to read more into the history of this station station.

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The next time you are approaching Richmond, Virginia, do not think of it as another pass-through city.  Think of it as a great place to stop and see.  While here, made your way to the Richmond Railroad Museum.

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Roads and Rails Museum, Frederick, Maryland

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Frederick, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., is the second largest city in the state.  It is a town rich in history that has many great treasures to include the Museum of Civil War Medicine, the home of Barbara Fritchie, a Unionist during the Civil War who was part of American folklore, the Carroll Creek Walk and Baker Park.  You also had the Battle of the Monocacy which took place on the south side of the town.  It is a major crossroads with the National Road (U.S. 40) and U.S. 15 as well as Interstate 70 with Interstate 270 and U.S. 340 branching south.  With all of this, it is easy for a place like the Roads and Rails Museum to be easily overlooked… but it should not be.

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From the outside, it is just an old brick building.  You enter the building, and you see a store that sells train stuff.  You say to yourself, “This cannot be it.”

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This is not it.  You pay the admission, and then… you have officially been transported into a whole new world.  You find yourself in the subway station, but you thought that this was just model trains.  Then you walk a little further.  A new world has just opened.  The trains are everywhere.  Trains are going through the farms, passing through the towns, passing through cities, going around the mountains, passing by waterfalls, passing through tunnels and over bridges.  You stop to watch the circus, but you must move on because the volcano is about to erupt.  All this is going on as you make your way though, and then… you find yourself back in the store again.  You look at the person at the register and ask, “Can I do this again?”

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The Roads and Rails Museum features a hobby shop and a model train display that is one of the largest in the United States.  They are located at 200 N. East Street in Frederick, Maryland.  It is just minutes from Interstate 70 and from U.S. Routes 15 and 40 and a short walk from the historic district and visitor center.  They are open Friday to Monday from 10:00am to 5:00pm (12:00pm to 5:00pm on Sunday).  Admission is only $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children.  (Three and under are free.)  Parking is behind the building and on the street.  You can get more information and learn more about the layout at http://www.roadsnrails.com.

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The next time you are approaching Frederick, follow the roads to the Roads and Rails Museum.  You will be glad that you stopped by.

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Thurmond, West Virginia

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Thurmond, West Virginia was once a thriving town in the south-central region of West Virginia.  Located in the New River Gorge next to the New River, Thurmond was a served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.  It played a major role in the coal mining industry.  Incorporated in 1900, the town was a town like any other town with a train depot, a post office and two hotels.  It was the home of a rail yard and rail shops.  For many years the town was only accessible by the train until 1921 when a connecting road was built.  In the 1930’s one of the hotels burned down.  The town was in its decline until the 1950’s when it officially became a ghost town.

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There is only one road that enters the town.  The road runs alongside of a rail line that you cross a few times.  You arrive at the New River, and you drive across a long one lane bridge (which is shared with the rail line) to enter the town.  You see the depot and what remains of the town.  You stand around and feel the ghosts of the trains and the people walking around.  You walk around, and you come upon the C&O Walk which details the history of this town.  You look around, and you see just old structures.

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Today, the facade of the main street remains, and there are only a handful of residents.  The yards and the shops are gone.  Only the main line and the depot remains.  The depot is now a visitor center for the New River Gorge New River National Park and it only open seasonally.  CSX continues to roll through the town.  Amtrak does have a stop here, but very few people use this stop.  (It is said to be the second least used stop on Amtrak.)

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The town of Thurmond is accessible by Amtrak and by Thurmond Road which is a short drive from U.S. 19 south of the famous New River Gorge Bridge.  The town is accessible twenty-four hours a day, but the only paved parking is at the depot / visitor center.  Most of the old town is mainly accessible by foot with very little handicap access.  The tracks are still active, and if you are fortunate enough, you may see a train roll by just like the good old days of Thurmond.

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Welcome to the town of Thurmond, West Virginia, a ghost town where the ghosts are alive with the heart of the railroad.

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The Freedom of the Train in America

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The Declaration of Independence was signed in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1776.  The United States of America was born.  People came from across the oceans to live in this new land.

Then the railroads came.  The people were able to go farther into this new land.  When the Golden Spike was driven in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869, people were able to take the train from coast to coast.  What began in Baltimore, Maryland became the open door to the United States of America.

As the railroads was a source of freedom in America, it is not the case in some countries.  In nations run by dictators, the railroad is used to send people who were declared enemies of the government to concentration camps or slaughterhouses.  They were shoved into box cars until they were packed like sardines, and they traveled in these box cars even in harsh weather.  Most of these people did not survive.  To them, the railroad was a killing machine.

The next time you are standing at your favorite railroad watching site, think about the pride that the railroad brings to this nation.  Think about those men who signed a very important document that made this nation free, and think about the American railroad that brought the people to freedom.

The Story of Albert Carpenter Kalmbach

Who is Albert Carpenter Kalmbach?  He was born on June 25, 1910 in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.  What is he famous for?  He printed newspapers.  Commonly known as Al C. Kalmbach, he brought a small printing press at the age of twelve with moving from his savings account, and he printed papers for the Milwaukee Sun.  After he graduated from Marquette University and losing a job due to the Great Depression, he started the Milwaukee Commercial Press where he printed newspapers for churches.  He died on October 14, 1981, but he left a legacy for many to enjoy.

Some of you are saying, “This is wonderful.  He printed newspapers in Milwaukee and made a great life of it.  He must have been a great guy, but journalists seem to turn me off.  However, I am more interested in railroads.  Therefore, I will not be reading about Al C. Kalmbach in print anytime soon or anytime later.”

Who is Al C. Kalmbach?  He did grow up around the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, and he did print newspapers, but that is just the beginning.

Al Kalmbach is known for printing newspapers, but he also had another great interest in railroads.  He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin near the shops of the Milwaukee Road (a railroad company).  He became interested in model train when he helped one of his friends build their later.  (This friend later became the mayor of Milwaukee.)  After high school he began to build a model railroad layout in the attic of his parent’s home.  After graduating from college, he had a job offer with the Pennsylvania Railroad working with the electrification project which sadly fell through with the Great Depression.  In 1932, he started the Model Railroad Club of Milwaukee.  In 1935, he organized a convention for the National Model Railroad Association bringing model railroaders from the United States and Canada together in Milwaukee.

You can say that Al Kalmbach accomplished a lot, but this is not his real accomplishment.

Before the first model railroad convention he published ‘The Model Railroader’ with the release of the first issue in January of 1934.  It did not receive much enthusiasm.  Some told him to give up the magazine.  His wife, Beatrice, encouraged him to continue with the magazine.  After many years the magazine was successful with model railroaders and eventually made a profit, and it became the official magazine of the National Model Railroad Association.

In 1940, Al Kalmbach began another publication known as ‘Trains Magazine’, a publication that tells about railroads in general.  ‘The Model Railroader’ and Trains Magazine’ were the two main publications of his company, Kalmbach Publishing.  The company continued to print books and magazines.

Through his life, Al Kalmbach promoted the hobby of model railroading to the general public.  From 1952 to 1953, he was the president of the Hobby Industry Association of America.  He continued to promote model railroading until his death in 1981 at the age of 71.  Although the company based in the Milwaukee area still bears his name, he is also remembered at the Al C. Kalmbach Memorial Library at the headquarters of the National Model Railroad Association in Chattanooga Tennessee.

Today, you can go www.kalmbachhobbystore.com and see all kinds of products from books to videos to magazines to model trains to scenery plus so much more.

The next time you read ‘Trains Magazine’ or the Model Railroader’ or the next time you visit a model train show, think about a man named Al C. Kalmbach whose legacy continues on.

Who Is Kent Courtney?

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Who is Kent Courtney?  Those of you who do not live or travel in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States may not have heard of him.  For those who attend Civil War events may have seen him at reenactments.  Although he has done a little acting in Civil War documentaries and have written a few books about the war, most people who have met Kent Courtney know him for his music.  He performs old authentic Civil War songs with his guitar before crowds at events commemorating the Civil War.  If you have ever heard this man in concert, regardless of if you are interested in the Civil War or not, you will not leave disappointed.

Some of you are saying, “This is cool.  I love reading about the Civil War, and I enjoy Civil War events.  I do think that it is important to keep the history of the Civil War alive so that many generations can learn about the war.  What does Kent Courtney have to do with railroads?”

That is a very good question.  The answer is that Kent Courtney has performed many songs about the Civil War, and he has performed songs about the railroad.  In matter of fact, his album ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ is a collection of railroad songs.  You have famous titles like ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’, ‘Casey Jones’, ‘Wreck of Old 97’ and, of course, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’.  Whether you are an old timer or a young one, you will have a great time listening to Kent Courtney.  You can learn more about Kent Courtney and where you can catch one of his shows at www.kentcourtney.com.

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