There’s lots to do around a tourist railroad to keep things rolling smoothly, both in a mechanical and aesthetic sense. From carpentry, welding, or painting to brush clearing and trackwork – and all of that takes human effort to accomplish. The Valley Railroad, based in Essex, Connecticut is no different. But they have one asset that helps make a lot of that work happen – a volunteer organization at the ready to work alongside the railroad staff, making completing some of those projects a reality.
The Friends of the Valley Railroad is the not-for-profit volunteer group that helps out around the railroad with any number of tasks – from cosmetic restoration and metal fabrication for equipment to working on the railroad’s infrastructure. This work is often complementing, or even in concert with regular railroad employees as they perform their duties (click here for a recent blog post example of a couple VRR employees at work). The FVRR has regular volunteer work days on the calendar – typically Wednesday evenings are spent in the Essex shop working on any number of projects, as directed by the supervising Valley Railroad employees. Saturday mornings are usually spent along the right of way working on track maintenance. I met up with the group on a Saturday morning as they were replacing ties on the northern end of the line in Haddam, Connecticut.
A mostly manual process, the track crew removed the old ties, cleared out a channel where it was, and slid a new tie into place. With it centered on the rails, it was backfilled, then lifted up to the rail and tamped (for the unfamiliar, tamping is the process of lifting the tie and forcing ballast under the tie so it lies flush beneath the foot of the rail). There is one piece of machinery that is used in this process – a track scarifier. This machine essentially loosens and removes some of the ballast between the ties, making it a bit easier to remove them from under the rails.
If you’d like to help out, be sure to visit the site for more information on joining the Friends. To make it easier, use these direct links:
Here’s a set of photos showing the crew working their way north – by the time I left, they had inserted, tamped and finish graded about a dozen ties by hand, and the scarifier cleared out at least another 100 feet of track.