CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why 1984? (part 1 - Modeling Considerations)

Over the past few years, I have agonized about what area and time period to model the D&H in. It seems that the most popular time period would be the 1960s - 1970s, and I think a large reason for that is those were the last few "golden years" of the D&H. The engines wore the new Lightning Stripe scheme, the railroad had fan-favorite Alco PAs and Baldwin sharks, the road was mostly Alco, and company pride was high. In 1973 in celebrations of the D&H's 150th Anniversary even "D&H steam" returned in the form of modified Reading T-1 #2102 for a couple of excursions. And all of these would combine to make a really interesting layout.

However, for the area that I am planning to model (see my earlier posts) my layout will feature mostly switching areas. The focus won't be on passenger operations (which didn't exist in 1984) or the the railfan-friendly engines of the 1970s. It will be grittier, perhaps darker and more worn out, and I am sure a bit more mundane. Maybe even boring?

Once I settled on the 1980s, I had to pick a date or window to focus on. This was extremely tough, and I started by making a timeline of D&H engines that existed in the 1980s. Though this will be the focus of a future post, I determined that in 1984 there were still many interesting engines on the roster. Next, I focused on what industries still existed and were switched by rail. This led to extensive research in books, magazines, online forums, maps, and even the government. After about 2 years' worth of work, I have focused on the spring/summer of 1984. Here is why...

Reason #1: Good Photographic evidence of what existed
I have photographs of the Colonie Main Line from Watervliet to Kenwood yard taken in early 1984. When New York State offered grant money to the D&H to improve their track, the NYSDOT mounted a camera on the front of a hi-rail truck and took pictures every 100 feet or so as the truck went down the line. Though all shots are from the main line (meaning the point of view sometimes crops out sidings that curve away), these thousands of pictures show trains meeting, freight cars spotted at industries, tracks out of service or being removed, what road crossings existed at the time, and what areas hadn't even been developed yet.

With these pictures, I can scroll through them quickly like a movie and see just what existed at the time. There is evidence of Guildford's recent acquisition of their "rationalization" of the main line, Menands Yard, and various industries. The Colonie Main wasn't frequently photographed because railfans tended to focus on busy main line areas like Binghamton or Whitehall. So, these DOT pictures are crucial in understanding what existed then.

I also have pictures from the summer of 1986 from Kenwood Yard up to Mechanicville Yard and many of the tracks existing in 1984 were gone. Guilford didn't take long to change things and choosing to model a period during their early years means frequently referencing photos.

Reason #2: Online customer base was still strong
The 1984 pictures also showed that many online customers in North Albany, Menands, Colonie, Cohoes, and Watervliet still existed. While the number was probably half of what was there even 15 years before, I am not looking to maximize the amount of areas to switch. Most of the buildings will need to be scratchbuilt so the less required, the better. And, since I likely won't have a large operating crew over having 15 spots compared to 40 is more manageable for one or two crews. Some of the interesting customers include a millwork company in North Albany; a grouping of a liquor distributor, tractor distributor and an Agway all located across from a cemetery in Menands; a rock quarry in southern Cohoes; an Abrasive company in Watervliet; and Mohawk Paper in Cohoes. That will mean a large variety of freight cars.

Reason #3: Guilford's "rationalization" was just starting
Guilford purchased the D&H on January 4, 1984. From that point on, Guilford started to “rationalize” their infrastructure and many yards were condensed, sidings pulled up, and maintenance allowed to suffer. Modeling the prosperous 1960s-1970s will entail double-track main lines, lots more industries, a full yard in North Albany, etc. For a switching layout, this will only result in spending more money on track and having scenes appear "busier" than they need to be. In contrast, by 1984 some of the dual main lines were removed, portions of the Colonie Main were weed covered and barely visible, yards were in various stages of being torn up, and spurs were out-of-service.

To some, this is depressing and I see their point. However, I am fascinated whenever I travel someplace new and see evidence of where railroads used to be. Old factories, tracks buried in the dirt, crossings gone except for the rails in the pavement, etc. Modeling in 1984 will allow me to recreate various stages of railroad abandonment and neglect. Between Kenwood Yard and Mechanicville Yard there were yards in North Albany, Menands ("Breaker Yard") and Colonie. I don't need this many operational yards, but by modeling North Albany as abandoned it becomes a model on its own. And rarely do I see on other layouts anything more than an abandoned siding to suggest "the past." Here, it will feature prominently.

If I model any later than 1984 though I risk missing out on many interesting scenes. By 1986 some yards and sidings were completely gone, fewer online customers remained, and that (for me at least) is when it becomes depressing. Besides, even Guilford offered a few interesting things to model. For example, their executive and railfan excursion trains featured high-nose Geeps (which I love because my first train set had one) and passenger cars, which means I can actually... occasionally... have a legitimate reason for running passenger consists on my layout!

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