Driving Trip - March 21-23, 2013

Note: click on the thumbnails for a larger image

Hartford, Connecticut is in the middle of an area rich in U.S. history. Founded in 1637, the state capitol of Connecticut is known for its many insurance companies who call it their home. Hartford was also the home of a music educator's conference this year. So while my wife attended the conference, I did some sight seeing of the area.

We had driven through Hartford several times while traveling to visit the in-laws in Maine but never stopped to take a look around. The downtown is fairly hilly and the road structure probably was originally a bunch of horse and buggy paths which over time were paved and improved. I found some of the road layouts puzzling at best, and coupled with aggressive drivers who seem to do whatever they want regardless of what the signals indicate, it amazes me that there aren't more head-on collisions. No wonder why the insurance companies call this city "home"! The people I spoke with in Hartford were very friendly.

Thursday March 21, 2013
Austin office

After dropping off my wife at the conference, I made the short trip to the west end of the downtown area to the Austin Organ Company. Austin has been in business since 1893 and is one of the oldest continuously operating pipe organ companies in the United States. Along with their product's proven longevity, one of Austin's biggest claims to fame is their patented Universal Airchest System. I had called ahead and arranged for a tour of the factory. I arrived and was greeted by a few members of the staff including the office cat Opie who is shown in the photo on the right. The large photo above Opie is of John Turnell Austin who founded the company.

Austin consoles

Dave Secour, the Design Engineer for Austin, was my tour guide for the day. Dave started by showing how they begin to lay out the racks of pipes, making sure that there is enough spacing between the individual pipes, and between the ranks (or voices) of pipes. We then headed into the shop. Just walking from the welcome area to the factory floor was like walking through a time warp. The factory construction of wood floors, lots of windows, etc. all screamed late 19th/early 20th century. The first shop area we looked at was for organ consoles. At the time of my visit they had four consoles in various states of construction. The organ console takes a beating over time and often needs a rebuild, rewiring or gets replaced. Dave points out that their consoles are built to last and have a steel frame construction, something that few, if any, other builder does (see photo at left).


We then moved to Dave's area which is organ design. The advent of AutoCAD and other computer aided drawing programs have made organ design easier than by doing it all by hand. But as Dave pointed out, even the best computer design can't map out every little nuance of space and surprises with layout still sometimes occur. No two organs are exactly alike, and part of this is because each building is physically and acoustically different. Dave showed several drawings including one of a mostly brand new instrument going in at First Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Next we moved upstairs to where pipes are made and voiced. The art of voicing a pipe is one of precision and skill. Pipes can be voiced in many different ways and it is up to the voicer to get it just right to create a unified sound. Final tonal adjustments are always made after the instrument is installed in its permanent home. Many of the pipes shown in these pictures are for the First Baptist Church instrument. While on the same floor, Dave pointed out another relic - their ancient Otis elevator which, despite its age, still functions and is used on a daily basis to move people and organ parts up and down the building.

magnets and pouches
Moving lower into the building we descended upon an area where most of the organ components other than pipes are built. This includes magnets, valves, trackers, etc., most of which are parts only seen by organ technicians performing service on the instrument (see photo at right). Most of the machines are custom built to fabricate specific parts for the organ. A few of these machines are so old they were originally powered by steam and still retain their belt driven motors (see photo below). Dave noted that with the exception of the organ's computer system, blower and a few types of pipes, Austin makes everything else in its shop.

old machine

In the bottom of the building is where a finished organ is completely erected and tested. Dave noted that the instrument for First Baptist Church was so large that they could not put it all together at the same time. The ground floor is also where metal is melted to create the rolls of metal for making pipes and where wood is stained or painted. There's also space to stage organ parts for eventual shipment to the customer. Parts of the First Baptist instrument were awaiting transit as were parts for two other organs. Years ago, Austin used to ship finished instruments to their customer by railcar!

Finally we returned back to the welcoming area. Nearly overwhelmed by everything I had seen, I thanked Dave and the rest of the staff for their hospitality and departed the shop. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what there is to see, so if you are interested in seeing more of the factory the Austin web page has lots of photos and a detailed history of the company. You'll actually see one of my photos on their web page! Tours are also available if you call ahead.

Friday 3/22/2013

Today I would have a good chunk of the day to myself. Eventually I wanted to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, however it didn't open until 10 a.m. so I took a leisurely trip north and followed the Amtrak line starting at Hartford Union Station. The station, built in 1889, has certainly seen better days but obviously is also still a source of pride for the community. Renovated in 1987, the station hosts a dozen or so Amtrak trains a day and has a bus terminal on the bottom level. I had thought about taking the train to Springfield to go to the Hall of Fame but it would have been a 40 minute walk from the Springfield station to the Hall of Fame so I decided to postpone my trip until later.
South end of passenger platform - Hartford, CT
The south end of the passenger platform in Hartford, CT is visible in this photo
South end of passenger platform - Hartford, CT
Panning a little north is more of the platform as well as a nice restaurant
Hartford, CT Union Station
The Hartford, CT Union Station is a substantial structure but little of it is used for trains
Hartford, CT Union Station
A close up of the main entrance to the Hartford, CT train station
Hartford, CT Union Station
The main concourse has been renovated but sits largely unused.

I then headed north, again dealing with the convoluted street layout and aggressive drivers. I was also armed with the Amtrak schedules and made it a point to see as many of the Amtrak trains as I could while following the line. I could see freight trains all day long back home, but passenger trains are absent from the local rail scene. Following the line north I stopped in Windsor which it proudly proclaims as Connecticut's oldest city, founded in 1633. The town's station, originally built in 1870 was rebuilt in 1988 and is a beautiful structure in a pretty community.

Windsor, CT depot
Windsor, CT depot basks in the mid-March sunlight, awaiting the next train
Windsor, CT depot
The view north at the Windsor, CT depot. Note the wide right-of-way and LED lights in the signal.

The line then twists north to its next station in Windsor Locks. As can be assumed by the town's name, yes there are canal locks in Windsor Locks! A state park devoted to the water method of transportation allows people to walk along the tow path of a large canal which parallels the Connecticut River. The canal extends for a couple miles or so and ends just north of the current location of the Amtrak "station", which is nothing more than a concrete pad with a bus shelter. Less than a mile north is the original Windsor Locks train station which locals are trying to save and reuse as the town's station for Amtrak.
Old Windsor Locks, CT depot
Here's the original Windsor Locks, CT depot which locals want to renovate and make the stop for Amtrak

A little north of the old station the line splits. At first I thought the Amtrak route stayed on the west side of the river, but after crossing the track and finding myself in an industrial park it was obvious that this was the Connecticut Southern freight line which splits off for a few miles. So I rerouted myself to the east side of the river and took in the large railroad bridge over the river. A spot next to the road on the east end affords a nice telephoto view of the bridge, but unfortunately no trains were around. A train station also sits on private property just east of this location.
Bridge over Connecticut River
An obstructed view of the bridge over the Connecticut River north of Windsor Locks, CT
bridge north of Windsor Locks, CT
The view looking west through the bridge north of Windsor Locks, CT.

Continuing north my timing was such that the Amtrak train #490 was going to be approaching my area and that I needed to find a spot to stop. For anyone who remembers their first attempt to photograph an Amtrak train at top speed (in most cases 79 mph) chances are you were thrown off by how much faster the train moves as compared to a freight train. Most intermodal trains top out at 60 mph (70 mph in some areas), so this train is moving at least 10% faster than the fastest freight train. Point being that if you are going to take a photo, you better be prepared well ahead of when you think you need to be in your spot.

The GPS showed a series of roads in a marshy area which looked to cross the tracks. So I pulled down and found myself in a nature preserve which, while it was very quiet, also had me blocked from driving to the tracks. So I got out and started walking, frequently looking at my watch to see if I was going to get to the tracks in time. After a few minutes I passed a woman near the tracks taking photos of some birds. I told her I was going to take a picture of the train as it went by just so she wouldn't think I was up to anything suspicious.

Arriving at the tracks I looked south and the train was in sight - I had made it just in time. Another characteristic of an Amtrak train at speed is its sound, or lack there of. Instead of the normal rumbling, flat spots, squeaks and locomotive whine, you usually only hear a hissing sound of the cars breaking through the wind and the locomotives usually are at a low rumble. In less than 30 seconds, the train which seemed in the far distance whizzed by me at top speed with its single locomotive and two coaches, hardly a load to break the sweat of the locomotive. What a rush!
Amtrak 490 at Enfield, CT
Amtrak 490 approaches. The large building in the background is a Bigelow carpet factory which has been converted to loft apartments
Amtrak 490 at Enfield, CT
Amtrak 490 rapidly approaches at track speed. This location is at a nature preserve near the town of Enfield, CT
Amtrak 490 at Enfield, CT
A close up of Amtrak 490 just before it passes at track speed. The two coaches are hardly a load for this unit

I headed back out and proceeded north through Enfield, CT. I'm mentioning this town for two reasons. First, the topography is such that you feel like you are on top of the world here. If you look to the east or to the west, you find that you are on the highest point in the area for many miles. Second, Enfield is the home of ham operator NM1K who has sent out thousands of ham radio messages for many years and kept those of us on the traffic nets busy handling his messages.

Finally I arrive at the James A. Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. Naismith was born Canada and invented the game in 1891 while working at the YMCA Training School in Springfield. He died in Lawrence, KS, home of Kansas University which has named their basketball court after him. The entrance to the Hall of Fame is inside a small mall of sorts which is occupied by a few restaurants and a radio station studio. You get a flavor for what's inside by the piped in basketball highlights broadcast over speakers in the main corridor. I guess think of it as a way to want you to go inside.

The Hall of Fame is divided into three floors. The top floor is the ring of honor with a photo and background information of each inductee. A timeline showing key rule changes is also shown and gives perspective as to when certain things took place. Videos subdivide the years and show clips of world events and key events in basketball. I took my time and spent about 45 minutes browsing the many famous athletes and coaches who have been inducted, making sure to take photos of everyone from Ohio State in the hall. Most people probably could go through it in about 30 minutes.
Ring of Honor at the Basketball Hall of Fame
Photos of each inductee hang from the ceiling of the Hall of Fame
James Naismith
Here is the photo of James Naismith who invented the game of basketball in 1891
Basketball Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame has a nice display about Naismith and his game "Basket Ball"
Jerry Lucas
Jerry Lucas was arguably the best basketball player ever at Ohio State
James Naismith
A bio of every inductee is given, listing their lifetime accomplishments.
Bob Knight
Another Ohio State alum, Bob Knight, is also in the Hall of Fame but as coach of Indiana

The middle floor is where all of the exhibits are displayed. The Hall of Fame spans all levels from high school to professional and includes both men's and women's basketball teams and coaches. As I watched the many videos they had available I tried to focus on the style of play from years ago to see how it has changed. It's obvious that the biggest change is the physicality of the game. The old games basically show teams running around in circles with little physical interaction. Today the players push and shove to establish position and guards use their forearm to create space between them and the defender.
Basketball Hall of Fame
An exhibit on the early years of the game. The original 13 rules are in the display in the foreground on the right
Basketball Hall of Fame
Basketball players were known as "cagers" due to the cage around the floor which kept the ball from leaving the floor area
Basketball Hall of Fame
Examples of early score books. While technology has advanced the game, score books are still used today

It was nice to see a good balance between college and pro players and teams. Depending on where you are in the country your focus may be on one level of ball or another.

Basketball Hall of Fame
Lots of historical memorabilia is on display at the Hall of Fame
Basketball Hall of Fame
Signatures from Jim Valvano and Michael Jordan are visible on these items

The women's side of the game had a smaller presence but was still represented well. I was very happy to see a Columbus Quest uniform worn by Valerie Still displayed. The Quest played in the American Basketball League which formed before the WNBA and only lasted a couple years before being dwarfed by the WNBA. Most people felt that the ABL teams had better basketball players but the league couldn't compete with the marketing of the WNBA.
Basketball Hall of Fame
The Columbus Quest were part of the American Basketball League which began shortly before the WNBA
James Naismith
Valerie Still was one of the key players on the Columbus Quest, who won both ABL titles. Ohio State great Katie Smith was a teammate
Iona Gales
The day I was there, Ohio State was playing Iona in the NCAA tournament. The Hall of Fame had this display of the Gaels

Also on the second floor were a few interactive displays. One allowed you to measure your vertical leap height and compare it with what other basketball stars can do. Another display gave you the opportunity to be a sports announcer complete with lights, camera and a teleprompter. Having done some announcing of my own several years ago (yes I consider the public access fake pro wrestling shows real announcing!) I can honestly say it isn't as easy as it looks or sounds. You really have to be quick with your delivery and be descriptive at the same time.
Basketball Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame also has a section devoted to the media
Basketball Hall of Fame
To the dismay of all Kentucky fans, the call of the Laettner shot is prominently displayed

On the bottom floor was a full size basketball court where you could shoot hoops as long as you like. They also had low height hoops set up for those who wanted to practice dunking the ball and some backboard/hoop constructions of years past to show how the equipment has evolved. Exiting the court takes you to the gift shop which had a plethora of basketball gear along with videos of basketball greats and books written by people involved with the game. The bottom floor also has a theater where documentaries and other films are shown. The day I was there was the second day of "March Madness" so they had the NCAA tournament on. I grabbed some lunch and watched the games on the big screen for about 30 minutes. Sweet!
Basketball Hall of Fame
Several displays highlighting key players from each position are shown in this area
Baskeball Hall of Fame
The bottom level is a full size basketball court. All attendees are allowed to shoot hoops

Overall I would give the hall of fame a B+ grade. The information was very interesting but many of the videos were dated and looked like they needed to be refreshed. It took me about two hours to go through everything, but I went very slowly so most people probably could go through everything in about 90 minutes. Considering the popularity of the game I was expecting maybe a little bit more content. People may feel that they should have gotten more for the price of admission.

I then departed the museum and headed over to the Springfield, MA train station. The station was built in 1926 by the Boston and Albany Railroad and has a similar stone facade as the station in Hartford. However unlike the Hartford station, this building sits in a fairly run down area of town and is not in the best of shape. Apparently the station is about ready to go through a major renovation and in my opinion it can't occur soon enough. After departing the station I found the CSX yard on the other side of the river and took a few photos of  some equipment in the yard.
Springfield, MA Union Station
The massive wall of the Springfield, MA Union Station dwarfs cars in the street.
Springfield, MA Union Station
Here is the entrance to the Springfield, MA Union Station

rail equipment
An old B30-7 has a second life as part of a safety train, seen in the Springfield, MA yard
rail equipment
This insulated boxcar has received the CSX yellow end paint scheme just like the locomotives
Erie Lackawana trailer
Permanently parked in the Springfield, MA yard is this Erie Lackawanna TOFC trailer

With a couple hours to kill I basically reversed my route but again kept an eye on the time and the Amtrak schedule. Train 56, the Vermonter, was due north so I looked around for a suitable location to observe its passage. My first stop turned out to not be ideal so I doubled back to another road crossing. As I parked the car the gates began to activate so I ran out and was able to see it by at track speed.
Vermonter #56
The Vermonter, #56, heads north at track speed a few miles north of Windsor Locks, CT
Vermonter #56
A close up of train #56 as it blasts by my location north of Windsor Locks, CT

Moving further south I watched the southbound Vermonter counterpart, #55, at the Windsor Locks station. This would conclude my touring of the day.

Vermonter #55
The Vermonter, #55, makes a station stop at Windsor Locks, CT

Saturday March 23, 2013

Today I again had most of the day to myself. My goal was to ride Amtrak from Hartford to Springfield and back just to say that I rode the train, something I cannot do back home. I parked at the station (free street parking on the weekends!) and went to the station agent to purchase my ticket. The agent said that the 9:20 a.m. train was running a few minutes late and that I probably could make it. I instead deferred for the 11:27 a.m. train which the agent responded that it was also running late. With a 40 minute layover in Springfield I didn't want to be so late that I miss the southbound train. "You should be OK," reassured the agent so I booked my reservation ($19 round trip) for the 11:27 a.m. train.

With an hour or so to kill I left the station and drove to a very large church I had spotted the day before. The church was the Cathedral of Saint Joseph which was built in 1962 and stands 281 feet tall according to the Cathedral's web page. I walked in and was amazed at the architecture of the structure. The large stained glass windows which are 67' tall, are like gigantic paintings which surround on all sides. In the front is a mural over 80 feet tall, and in the rear is a massive Austin pipe organ with over 8,000 pipes! I sat in a pew for a few minutes just to take in the beauty of this church. A calendar showed choir practice was supposed to start at 10 a.m. so I was hoping to hear the Austin speak but that would have to wait for another day.
Cathedral of St. Joseph
View inside the stunning Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, CT
Cathedral of St. Joseph
The stained glass windows look like giant paintings along the walls
Cathedral of St. Joseph
The colors and scenes depicted in each window are nothing short of amazing
Cathedral of St. Joseph - Austin Pipe Organ
In the back is the large Austin organ with the window Christ Seated in Glory behind it
Cathedral of St. Joseph - Austin pipe organ
A closer view of the organ shows the pipes plus the chambers on either side. The largest pipes in the front are 37' long but are dwarfed by the size of the church

I then made my way back to the station which turned out to be somewhat of a problem as almost every street around the station was closed for a special 5K run for the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. The town of Newtown is only about an hour away and in several areas of Hartford you could see remembrances of those affected by the event. Around 15,000 people signed up for the run.
Sandy Hook 5K run
Runners return on the last part of the 5K run supporting the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy

Around 11:20 a.m. I went up to the platform to wait for my train (#490). A sign on the station agent's window boldly states "All Trains on Track 1", and now I know why - there's only one track at the station platform! It looks like at one time there were at least three tracks with room for a fourth but I couldn't tell if it was simply a bypass track or actually used for passenger trains.
Hartford, CT platform
View of the Hartford, CT Union Station from the platform. Track 1 is in the foreground
Hartford, CT platform
The other side of the platform reveals space for two more tracks, though today nothing exists
Hartford, CT platform
Amtrak train #450 arrives at the station in Hartford, CT

My train showed up around 15 minutes late which, barring any unforeseen delay, would leave plenty of time to catch my return train. My train was like the other shuttle trains I had seen - one locomotive and two "Amtube" coaches. The conductor scanned my ticket with an iPhone type device and I found a spot on the engineer's side of the rear car. I also came equipped with the GPS to get an idea of how fast we were going.

For those of you who have never been on Amtrak, the accommodations of the coach are similar to an airplane with two seats on either side of the aisle. That's where the similarities end. The coach has a wider aisle, more comfortable chairs, larger windows, more space to stow baggage and AC power outlets in each row. In other words, much better than an airplane (and this was on an old coach).

We pulled out of the station and maintained a 20 mph speed for a 1/4 mile or so. We then passed an old block tower which looked to have been deserted for many years. Once past the tower we quickly picked up speed and flew through the small yard on the north side of town at 60 mph. It quickly became apparent that my coach had some sort of a vibration problem at speeds between 55 and 60 mph which made for a less than ideal ride, but not too objectionable unless you were trying to apply lipstick or something like that.

Past the yard our speed quickly increased to 70, then 75, then 80 and leveled out at 82 mph. Now I've owned this GPS long enough to know its nuances around the speed displayed. It occasionally will jump by two mph if it does not have a clear view of the sky, however the consistency of the speed seemed to indicate that what it showed was accurate. At top speed I found the ride fairly smooth with an occasional rough spot. It compares similarly to the Downeaster rides I took years ago. The rail along this line is 140 lb. rail from 1973 (or 1979 - can't remember). Another thing about this line is that the right of way is wide enough for two tracks in all locations with a few areas wide enough for three tracks. Closer to Springfield it's good for four or maybe even five tracks.

We made our first stop in Windsor where about a dozen or so people got off. The shuttle trains pick up/drop off passengers from other long distance trains which are accessible at the shuttle train's terminals in Springfield and New Haven, CT. The conductor announces, "Next stop Windsor Locks five minutes." We quickly got up to speed, this time briefly hitting 85 mph (the GPS showed a top speed of 85.5 mph). At Windsor Locks we dropped off another dozen or so passengers and picked a few up. Continuing north we approach a large bridge over the Connecticut River at 30 mph and cross it at 35 mph. Once through the east bridge approach we again quickly pick up speed and continue our trip bouncing back and forth between 80-83 mph. The closer we get to Springfield the more our speed drops with the last 1/4 mile or so at 20 mph then 10 mph into the station. We arrive at 12:15 p.m. which is 10 minutes late (but qualifies as "on time") so we did make up some time.

The Springfield platform is much larger than Hartford's. There are six tracks in the station area with four tracks used for passenger trains and two on the west end which are the freight tracks for CSX. I headed over to the waiting room for my return train which was already in the station and waiting. The waiting room was very tired looking and a bit run down, kind of like the rest of the station. I tried to get a beverage out of the pop machine but the bill changer would not work. Maybe fixing this will be in the renovation!
Springfield, MA station platform
My inbound train sits on the other track while I await departure south back to Hartford, CT
Springfield, MA tower
This structure sits across from the Springfield, MA station. Definitely looks like an old tower

The station agent calls for boarding of my train (#463). Again the train is made up of two coaches and a locomotive, except this time the locomotive is pushing. All passengers are boarded in the rear coach and I again find a seat on the engineer's side. We depart on time at 12:40 p.m. We pass an old block tower called SPRING which I missed on the way up. As we rumble through the slower portion of trackage close to the station, it becomes clear that the walking path next to the tracks is on part of the old right of way, again illustrating how wide it used to be. Out of the slow trackage we quickly pick up speed, but this time we never get above 79 mph and usually are bouncing around between 76 and 78 mph. We pass over the big bridge over the Connecticut River at the 35 mph clip and go through the turnout approaches at 30 mph. By this time I'm fully confident the speeds of the GPS are accurate.
Kings Island
View of King's Island as seen from the train while crossing the Connecticut River bridge. This structure sits across from the Springfield, MA station. Definitely looks like an old tower

Our first stop is at Windsor Locks which picks up quite a few people. Passengers heading south are usually headed to New Haven to connect on to New York City or Washington. Then we stop in Windsor and pick up another 10-15 passengers. Finally we arrive back in Hartford on time. I was one of about a half dozen getting off here. I told the conductor that I rode today because I couldn't ride back home. "You don't have trains in Ohio?" I tell him that Columbus doesn't have rail service even though we're the largest city. "Really? Wow." We chat briefly about Ohio State to which he says, "Ohio State seems to have problems with its rivals. I'm not a betting man, but they always have trouble." Well, not quite since in football we've defeated Michigan 10 of the past 11 years. Judging by his Boston accent, my guess is he's more focused on the New England Patriots.

Two things I noted while on the train was that a) there was a large lock near the big bridge worth looking at, and 2) gas prices were 25-35 cents cheaper in Massachusetts. So I drove up I-91 and filled up ($3.67/gallon vs. $3.89/gallon), then found the locks. The path to get on the tow path was closed (open during warmer months) but I was able to take a few photos of the lock. I noticed in several spots that the river, though very wide, is also very shallow so the locks may have also made it possible to navigate the river.
Lock inlet
North end of the lock which is fed the Connecticut River water
One of the locks from the canal is still in place at this location
Visitors can walk along the canal and see how things were moved before the railroads

My timing was such that I could witness one more Amtrak train so I took in the Vermonter (#57) making a station stop in Windsor Locks. One thing I noticed is that most people getting on/off the train at all stations I observed were of a younger demographic (25-49 years). Very few older people were riding or did I see get on/off the trains.
Amtrak #57 Vermonter
Amtrak #57, the Vermonter, arrives at the platform in Windsor Locks, CT
Amtrak #57 Vermonter
Passengers wait for Amtrak #57, the Vermonter, to stop at the platform


I continued south and passed through Windsor's "historic district" which has a number of homes built in the 17th and 18th century along the road. The name of the person or family who built the house and the year built are displayed on the house. Most of the homes look alike - very boxy but it probably represents as much as anything the best building practices of the time period.

I arrived back in Hartford to pick up my wife and begin our journey back home.
Questions, comments welcome!

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