One of my favorite events of the year is the annual gathering of the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association http://www.nhrhta.org/. This is a collection of perhaps 100 hard core railroad buffs who come together to remember the days when our state was the center of one of the most important transportation corporations and systems in the country. Yes, much of the activity is reduced to swapping old magazines, comparing modeling techniques about how to create the perfect dirt on a 1938 reefer car and remembering an old FA9 Engineer who has passed away. Still, underneath the alumni functions for a school that no longer exists, is a group of guys and a few gals who have a great understanding of the value and importance of the community and connections that the rails provided to Connecticut from the mid 19th century to the 1960s.
Last Saturday the 2008 version of the reunion featured the usual assortment of tables stuffed with model trains, shirts with NH and NHH&NY logos plus a growing quantity of short run specially books on every railroad, engine and trolley car line that ever existed. One of the features of digital technology and boutique publishing is that there are probably more books available on the golden age of railroads today than ever before. Wanting a gift for a friend with a vacation house in Vermont I had a choice of probably a dozen books covering every line and just about any mile of track that ever ran in the Green Mountain state. A decade ago I would have been lucky to find a few blurry pictures.
The highlight of the day for me was a bit bizarre even by Association standards. Some old home movies shot from the cab of one of the last trips by a train from Bridgeport to Pittsfield on the old Housatonic line had been rediscovered, and, although technically the shots had been taken aboard a train from the post New Haven "Penn-Central" short-lived era, they were deemed worthy of inclusion in the Associations archives. So, for an hour about 40 grown - very grown - men watched with fascination the rails and overgrown trees flash by along an ancient piece of New England transportation infrastructure. The stations and the track still exists for much of the run, but this group was both celebrating the memories and morning the death of the connections when people could go North and South in western New England without a car. What a good thing to have available today, more than one person was heard to mutter, and why on earth are we forced to carry on in this fashion of relishing 40 year-old super 8 movies when any other culture would have maintained and preserved the actual link between communities and people. Why indeed.