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The Arts

Danbury railroad station


The Danbury Railway Museum

The story of the Danbury Railway Museum begins when the railroad industry
was at its height, prior to 1920. Danbury Union Station opened July 13, 1903, to serve the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroads. In this April 1919 view, we see the people of Danbury welcoming home troops from
World War I. It gives us a good overview of Danbury's railroad facilities. We see not only the station, but a yard full of freight cars, with the
freight house at top center. In the distance on the rightis the engine house. In the lower left corner is a car of the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway, eastbound on White Street. Film buffs will be interested to
learn that several scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film, Strangers on a Train, were shot in and around Danbury Union Station.
Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, Danbury was an important city on the New Haven Railroad. This May 1959 view looks west from near the engine house toward the station and shows a yard full of activity. But by
this time, money was tight. The facilities were beginning to deteriorate and when something broke, it stayed broken.
The backbone of Danbury's economy was hat making. Dozens of hat-making facilities were spread throughout the city. But as men's hats fell out of style, they closed leaving the city with no hat-related industry by
New England's largest enclosed shopping mall opened three miles west of downtown in 1986 . . . making this a common sight on Main Street. Short-sighted policies of New Haven Railroad managers lead to the cessation of electric service to Danbury from Grand Central Terminal in New York.
Economical electric motors such as these shown in Danbury in March 1958, no longer traveled the Danbury branch after 1961. The engine house burned in 1965 and was torn down. The freight house was torn down in 1989.
Decrepit trains carried commuters to Stamford and New York from an increasingly forlorn Danbury Union Station.

Inside, the building was falling down around employees and passengers. Finally, in May 1993, Metro-North abandoned the station in favor of a trailer set 100 yards to the south. About the same time, the freight yard
was closed. Not content to hold office while the city deteriorated around him, Danbury Mayor Gene Eriquez actively pursued ideas that would bring
life back to downtown Danbury. Among those was the conversion of the unused railroad facilities to a museum to bring tourist traffic to Danbury.
The Railroad Museum of New England had outgrown their facilities in Essex, Connecticut, and were looking for a new home. They had tried but failed to move their collection to Willamantic, Connecticut. Danbury seemed like the ideal place for the RMNE. Here we see some RMNE pieces on display at Union Station in 1993.
Unfortunately, negotiations broke down and the RMNE moved on. But Mayor Eriquez was not about to give up. He asked local citizens with an interest in railroading to try to form a new group, and in February 1994 the
Danbury Railway Museum was born. A $1.5 million grant was obtained for the restoration of the station, shown here in May 1995 after work had begun on the roof. The interior was gutted and returned to its 1903 appearance.
The canopies for waiting passengers, so important to the look of the building, were restored.
In early October 1995, the building was almost ready. Finally, on October 29, 1995, Mayor Eriquez and other important officials spoke, and over 1,000 people toured a restored Danbury Union Station. Today, the interior of
the station is filling up with exhibits along with our gift shop, and is soon to become the finest railroad library in the Northeast. On a busy day, more than 100 people come to the museum.

Meanwhile, back in April 1995, the city and the museum had signed a lease making the museum the tenant of the former New Haven freight yard adjacent to the station. On April 8, the museum's first equipment arrived in
the form of five coaches that had recently been used by the Housatonic Railroad for tourist trains around Canaan, Connecticut. The Housatonic was no longer in the tourist train business and wanted them off their property. To
our surprise, they also added this ex-New Haven 40-foot drop bottom gondola.
Since Danbury was a New Haven town, we are especially interested in New Haven Railroad artifacts.

Sitting derelict in the Metro-North yard at Croton, New York, were two ex-New Haven RDCs that had served Danbury. Metro-North was willing to donate them, and they arrived in June 1995. RDCs, or Rail Diesel Cars, were
created to cut costs on declining passenger service. Self-propelled cars were cheaper to run than cars pulled by diesel or steam locomotives.
Our RDCs were built in 1953.While all this was going on, the museum was running excursions as a way of raising money to buy and restore railroad rolling stock. In December 1994, we ran our first Holiday Express non-stop to Grand Central for a day of shopping and sightseeing in Manhattan. Over 600 passengers were carried.
In 1995, two trains carried over 1100 passengers. In 1996, we added a weekend of Santa trains to the schedule in an effort to appeal to younger children. One of the reasons our trips are successful is that we give people a destination, with something to do once they get there, rather than just a train ride. Here we see our Hudson River Express train laying over in Poughkeepsie, New York, in May 1995.

This trip met cruise boats in Peekskill and Garrison, New York, for sightseeing cruises on the Hudson River. Here we see one of our boats, the M. V. Rip Van Winkle. We participate in area events as a way of promoting ourselves. Here we see our float in the 1995 Newtown Labor Day parade.

Back at the yard, there was much work to be done. Removal of several switches by Metro-North left our yard with no connection to the outside world. We had to rearrange track within the yard to fix that. These days most track work is done by machines, but since we do not have track machines, we resorted to the 19th century method, using hand tools to complete the work. Here a volunteer uses a spike puller to remove a spike. Once the rail is no longer secured to the tie, the rail can be moved or a rotted tie replaced. Sometimes muscle isn't enough and we have to resort to cutting with a torch. Of course, when constructing track, spikes have to be driven into ties with a sledge hammer. Although it looks like nothing but brute force, there is some fine art involved. The rails must be 4-feet 8-inches apart if the train is to stay on the track. Here a volunteer uses a track gauge to check our work.
Sometimes we can get machinery to help with our work. This man found out about our project from a friend who is a DRM member, and brought his backhoe to the yard for a day. That 39-foot section of rail weighs about 1,300 pounds.
It's a lot easier to move with a backhoe than by hand.
In the spring of 1996, our big track project was to restore access to one of the museum's priceless assets - our turntable. Turntables were vital during the steam era. Steam engines are very difficult to run backward and therefore needed to be turned at the end of a run. Even into the diesel era, turntables were used in yards to allow access to various locations in tight spaces, such as the stalls of the Danbury engine house shown here in May 1959. But by the spring of 1995, the Danbury turntable had been out of service so long that some large trees were growing out of the turntable pit. After the volunteers cut down the trees, the pit remained full of debris. In the spring of 1996, a contractor was engaged to clean out the pit. Now we have a clean turntable pit and restoration work can begin. Although it will be a long and expensive process, the Danbury turntable will turn again, and it will be a big attraction for the museum.
Meanwhile, restoration work was beginning on our rolling stock. The five Housatonic coaches needed to be repainted. These coaches had been built for the Reading Railroad of Pennsylvania by Bethlehem Steel between 1922 and 1925. But they had been renovated so many times that they no longer closely resembled their as-delivered appearance. The two coaches closer to their original appearance were painted in a Reading livery. The other three received Danbury Railway Museum lettering.
Our RDCs are thousands of man-hours and tens of thousands of dollars away from running on their own. But cosmetic restoration can make for terrific static displays. Here we see #47 waiting to leave Danbury for a run to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in September 1970. This is what it looked like when delivered to us. But with much scraping and a little painting by our volunteers, it's looking as it did in the late 1950s.
What about the future? We are always busy looking for more rolling stock such as this Whiting track speeder, acquired in June of 1996.
With this self-propelled vehicle, normally used by work crews, we can safely shuttle visitors to the site of our turntable restoration project.
We also found this rare creature. This is an FCD Railbus. New Haven President Frederick C. Dumaine wanted to restore passenger service to some lightly-used branch lines, and ordered ten of these railbuses to do so.
But by the time they were delivered in 1954, Dumaine had been removed from the presidency and his successor had no interest in the project.
Consequently, only two of the ten were ever used by New Haven. Most remained unused for years. Two were sold to Sperry Rail Services of Danbury. This one was scrapped in the 1970s. The other was converted to a vehicle that tests rail for hidden defects. It was destroyed in a fire in 1985. Two others were sold to Remington Arms of Bridgeport, Connecticut, for service within
the manufacturing complex there. They were in turn sold to Sperry in July
1985. One was converted to a rail test vehicle for the New York City subway system. The other sat in the weeds for 11 years.
Sperry said we could have it. Although it was only two miles away, it would cost $2,500 for a crane to put it on a truck and bring it to us. This was money we just didn't have. Then we found help in the form of another volunteer organization; the Connecticut Yankee Chapter of the Antique Truck Club of America. They volunteered the use of a 50-ton wrecker and an excavator, and with the assistance of Sperry Rail Service employees, the FCD Railbus was lifted and placed on an antique Mack truck for delivery to our site.
The New Haven delivered FL-9s that currently serve Danbury, but are in their final years. We hope Metro-North will donate one when the end comes.
At least we know getting it to Danbury will be no trouble.
The Danbury Railway Museum was created as part of a campaign to revitalize a city that had fallen on hard times. This highly energetic,
all-volunteer group is helping to bring life back to downtown Danbury. We intend to be one of the top family attractions in Connecticut.
Source: Danbury Railroad Museum

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