Photo: Brian Demello
SPOTLIGHT By Sharman Andersen
The approximately 80-ton locomotive was in the museum’s engine house for a federally mandated, monthly inspection or boiler wash. No. 97, built in 1923, will be in next for a major overhaul, which, according to master mechanic Bill Wolf, is mandated after 1,472 days “of fire” or use. Today, such overhauls can take up to three years because each piece that requires work must be repaired or re-created one by one. In railroad’s heyday, says Wolf, when the requisite manpower and material were plentiful, similar work would have been measured in days or weeks.
The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat receives close to 150,000 visitors per year and is one of Connecticut’s most popular tourist attractions. Herb Clark ’62, who has been an integral part of the living museum since its inception in 1971, says the trains can carry up to 400 passengers on a single trip.
Following the Connecticut River through a state park, the trains travel on a branch line that stretches north from Old Saybrook on Long Island Sound to Middletown. The line originally was constructed for prominent Hartford families who had summer homes on the sound. After roads and highways improved, the line was used for freight rail traffic through the 1950s.
Currently, due to the condition of the northernmost track and bridges, the trains run just up to Haddam. Passengers may disembark to continue on side trips on the Connecticut River aboard the museum’s Becky Thatcher riverboat or hike up to Gillette Castle, a 1919 stone mansion, after a cross-river trip on a state-owned ferry.