CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why 1984? (12 reasons)

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 May 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!

Reason #4: Opportunity to model something unique that I researched
Let's face it... there aren't many D&H layouts out there. And out of those that do exist, most (if not all) do not focus on the Colonie Main line or the year 1984. I have seen wonderful layouts set in the other regions of the railroad, including the northern Adirondacks, the Pennsylvania regions, or the Albany to Binghamton line. I have even seen Schenectady modeled, but not the Colonie Main. And, usually the period modeled is the 1960s-1970s.

The area between Kenwood Yard and Mechanicville isn't glamorous and much of the original railroad infrastructure is gone. However, when I first moved to Albany I lived in Menands and explored the remains of the Colonie Main Line during my free time. Because of this, I have a personal connection with the area. And, modeling something different appeals to me. Doing my own research instead of following in the footsteps of others is exciting. And frustrating. If I were modeling the Sante Fe's Cajon Pass or the D&RGW I would have thousands of sources of research. Here, there are very few. My pair of sneakers and Kodak camera are my most valuable tools. I have lot of good memories exploring the old buildings and taking measurements, and I find it enjoyable. So, for me the research is just as much fun as seeing the final layout.

Reason #5: Recreating childhood memories
I was born in 1982 in Rochester, NY. That was Conrail territory and "Big Blue" was everywhere. But, the types of trains that I saw as a kid in Rochester will be the same types modeled on my D&H layout. There weren't many TOFC or COFC trains, boxcars still were prevalent, and there was no graffiti on the cars. Though my layout will be set several hundred miles east of my hometown, watching the trains roll by will trigger early railfan memories. Plus, Conrail trains interchanged with the D&H and Amtrak trains rolled across on bridges so I can model them too.

Reason #6Evidence of 1983's "Year of the Bible"
In 1983, President Reagan declared that 1983 was going to be the "Year of the Bible". While looking through my DOT pictures from 1986 I noticed on the southern side of the prominent Central Warehouse in North Albany a large banner advertising the Year of the Bible. Assuming it was put up sometime in 1983, it likely was there in 1984 and it apparently lasted at least three years. I have no idea when it came down. God is very important in my life and, as a Christian, this is a great way to incorporate my religious beliefs into my layout in a realistic way.

Reason #7: Diverse D&H Motive Power:
The D&H owned a tremendous variety of engines in the 1970s from Alco, EMD, GE, and Baldwin. By the early 1980s, however, the selection was much smaller. The D&H moved nearly all of its Alcos up to Colonie Shops to consolidate maintenance of them, and that included seven types of Alcos (RS3, RS3m, RS11 high nose, RS11 low nose, RS36, C420, and C424), one type of GEs (C33C), and two types of EMDs (GP38-2 and GP39-2). Aside from the EMDs, the roster is small enough and the paint schemes are varied enough (Lightning Stripe with small numbers, Lightning Stripe with large numbers, blue dip, blue with yellow nose, blue with yellow chevrons) that it is reasonably possible to build accurate models of nearly every class of engine. And, the engines are recognizable and lend credibility to the layout. And because of the Colonie shops, I have an excuse to run whatever motive power existed on the D&H at the time.

Reason #8: Colorful Freight Cars:
The late 1970s "per diem" boxcar incentive was over by the 1980s but all of the boxcars built a decade before remained, complete with bright color schemes. The D&H alone had red, orange, yellow, green ("Reading repaints and other), maroon, brown, and blue/white boxcars, along with red covered hoppers and tank cars, silver covered hoppers, blue glass hoppers and gondolas, etc. And that doesn't even count the interchange cars that went through the D&H. And, very important to me, this was before the era of graffiti on cars so they don't have to be marked or decaled to represent vandalism. In preparation for my layout I already have dozens of boxcars assembled and weathered. I am, admittedly, a 50' boxcar junkie.

Reason #9: "I ♥ NY" boxcars
I really like the classy paint scheme of the NYSDOT/D&H collaborative "I ♥ NY" blue and white boxcars. Though they were introduced in 1982, many were still in great shape in 1984. There were at least three variations as well, with some featuring green "Operation Lifesaver" emblems, some featuring NYS DOT emblems, and others having neither. Several manufacturers have offered models of these and I plan to get a few. Sadly, several brands (Bachmann and Athearn/BevBel) have released them in the wrong color blue.

Reason #10: Cabooses still used
The D&H still used cabooses on their trains in 1984. There were many different styles including wide-vision cabooses, bay window cabooses, center cupola cabooses, and a few odd ball wooden and homemade cabooses. And they came in two different paint schemes- red or yellow- with a variety of heralds. Nothing boring here! While the cabooses wouldn't last forever on the D&H, I can justify using them in 1984. And no train looks complete without a caboose.

Reason #11: Foreign Road Power
Because Guilford and Conrail interchanged with the D&H in the Albany area, I can model B&M geeps (though the "McGinnis Bluebirds" were gone by this time), some MEC engines, Conrail units, and some of the early gray Guilford engines. I am especially looking forward to getting MEC #2311, which was the D&H's gray ghost. This engine alone almost made me move my layout back to 1983 (the D&H purged themselves of U23Bs in June of 1983) but because the MEC kept it gray and put their pine tree emblem over the D&H shield, that is fun too. Thus, we shall stick with 1984.

Reason #12: Amtrak Phase III paint scheme
You don't have to say it... I know what you are thinking! Amtrak didn't run trains over the Colonie Main line in 1984. They did, however, roll them over the bridge in downtown Albany and cross the Hudson River on the Livingston Avenue Bridge. So, I might be able to partially model that. And perhaps Amtrak had to detour off of the NYC/PC/Conrail tracks at one point. I don't really know about that.

What I do know is that I really like the Amtrak Phase III paint scheme with the equal red-white-blue stripes, which was introduced in 1980. I also like the F40PH engines because I saw more of them than any other train engine as a child. My grandfather always took me to the Amtrak station to watch the trains and because of that, I have a fondness for Amtrak. And compared to Conrail trains, they were much cleaner and classier. Though some railfans I know say "if all I saw was an Amtrak train I didn't see anything" I don't agree. Besides, I can do what I want on my model railroad!

An interesting fiasco occurred when the D&H repainted Amtrak's dome car into blue and yellow stripes without asking Amtrak! (Note the yellow instead of red in the picture). It was part of the Adirondack passenger train consist and waiting at a station stop when some Amtrak officials spotted it and demanded it be painted back. The dome lasted less than a week before being restored to red/white/blue. Though that occurred in the 1970s, I seriously considered backdating my layout so that I could include this interesting piece of D&H history.

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