61 Years ago TODAY

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61 Years ago TODAY

Postby Noel Weaver » Fri Aug 19, 2016 2:11 pm

Today, Friday, August 19th, 2016, 61 years ago today on Friday, August 19, 1955 one of the very worst disasters ever to strike Southern New England the floods from hurricane Diane. The New Haven suffered a huge amount of damage especially in Connecticut. The Naugatuck Valley was especially hard hit. I was living with my parents in Waterbury, Connecticut up on Bunker Hill and well out of the river basin. We had no power or water for days after this event. The water was so high it looked like the Hudson River around New York. I saw box cars floating down the Naugatuck River, we really realized the power of nature on this one. It destroyed two railroad bridges on the Naugy as well as the long trestle to Scovill on the Dublin Street Branch, SS-202 which was the interlocking tower at Bank Street Junction (it stayed destroyed and was replaced by a couple of hand operated switches). There was a huge four track trestle over the Naugatuck River with a signal bridge on it, totally destroyed. The freight station on Freight Street was under water up to the second floor but it was restored and survived for a long time after. The railroad bridges at Derby, Seymour, Waterville and Jericho were badly damaged or destroyed and there were a lot of total washouts all the way along this line. There was little or no damage between Derby Junction and Devon. The three track bridge over the Naugatuck River at Derby (only one track remains) was badly damaged but they managed to get one track back for the Maybrook Line long before they were able to get the Naugy re-opened. McGinnis at one time said the railroad were be back bigger and better than ever but that was NOT the case here, they did not restore all of the existing passenger service that we had before the flood and they did not restore a lot of facilities either. The passenger station at Ansonia was washed out and never rebuilt or replaced, all that existed after the flood was a short platform with a small canopy for protection from the elements. Waterbury was isolated from the west (New Haven direction was east and west all through this area) and freight could only reach Waterbury by rail from Cedar Hill via Berlin and New Britain. There were some washouts between Waterbury and Berlin but they were not nearly as bad and were quickly repaired. Trains DN-1 and ND-2 ran via Berlin for several months after the flood and the line to Devon was not restored to service until late February, 1956. There was a bridge washed out at Putnam which severed the route between Hartford and Boston and it was never replaced which resulted in no more Boston service out of Waterbury or Hartford. McGinnis was a "hatchet man" and yes the railroad took a big hit but the flood played right in to his cards as he wanted to cut, cut and cut some more. He did the same on the Boston and Maine until he ruined that railroad as well.
More floods hit in October, 1955 but the damage at least in the Naugy was not as severe although it delayed restoration of services by a couple more months. For a long time the only passenger service in and out of Waterbury was two round trips between Waterbury and Hartford with Budd Cars.
Before the flood Waterbury had a through freight between Hartford and Maybrook that worked in Waterbury in both directions, a through freight to Bridgeport with PRR connections for NE-1 to Bay Ridge and a through freight to Cedar Hill with other freight. After the flood the Maybrook job never ran again at least on any sort of a regular basis. Passenger service consisted of four round trips to Hartford two of which ran through to South Station in Boston, two round trips to Winsted and six or seven round trips to Bridgeport one of which ran through to and from New York with an engine change at Bridgeport. After the flood we ended up with four round trips to Bridgeport with Budd Cars making it necessary to change trains at Bridgeport, two round trips (later reduced to one) to Hartford and two round trips to Winsted that lasted until December, 1958. McGinnis even considered dumping the line between Waterville and Winsted but there was still a lot of business in Torrington and finally he had second thoughts about that one. With the damage to the Freight Street facility the freight offices were temporarily relocated somewhere else in Waterbury but I can't recall exactly where they were, I might be able to find out from old newspaper clippings from the period. They probably would have dropped the line between Torrington and Winsted except for the fact that there was not nearly as much damage between Torrington and Winsted as there was west of Torrington.
Could this happen again today? At least in the Naugatuck Valley it is not too likely with the huge flood control dam about two miles north of Thomaston which can hold a lot of flood water if necessary. Winsted and Torrington are also protected by a flood control dam a little bit west of Winsted.
I was still nursing recovery from a broken leg that I suffered while skiing in Vermont in March, 1955 and just graduated from high school that June. Before the flood hit in August our area had received a huge amount of rain. In addition there was a move premier at the State Theater in Waterbury that Thursday, August 18th that starred local favorite Rossiland Russell (not sure if I spelled that right or not). Late that night the very last train left Waterbury around midnight which was a special train with all of the big wheels who were at the premier showing of the movie that evening. The train had an RS-3, two or three SS coaches and the Bunker Hill. I don't know just how far they got but they had to return to Waterbury when they came to a washout somewhere down the road. Those cars were laid up at the Waterbury passenger yard which was close to the engine house until they were able to move them out after trackage was restored via Berlin.
Today exactly 61 years later, let us not ever forget this tragic event which cost a lot of lives, loss and damage and changed the railroad forever.
Noel Weaver
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Re: 61 Years ago TODAY

Postby Allen Hazen » Fri Aug 19, 2016 8:13 pm

Thank you Noel! I remember that flood, though I wasn't very aware of railroads at the time. (We lived in Farmington, and could sometimes hear the whistles of the Canal Line freight in the evening, but the Canal Line was some distance to the west of central Farmington: between Farmington and Unionville.) As I recall, the meteorology of it was that a hurricane met a continentally-based low pressure area over New England, in effect giving us two superimposed storms.
Given the de-industrialization of New England and the growth of a totally automobile-based life style, I suppose many of the branches in Connecticut were doomed anyway, but the floods hastened their demise.
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Re: 61 Years ago TODAY

Postby oamundsen » Fri Aug 26, 2016 1:19 pm

Thank you Noel, the storms were terribly destructive to New England in the 1950's, I grew up on the water in Connecticut and certainly remember a number of fearful days each fall as hurricane season bore down. I doubt that much in the way of Federal aid was available in those days and for the NH, the timing could not have been much worse.
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Re: 61 Years ago TODAY

Postby Rockingham Racer » Fri Aug 26, 2016 3:00 pm

I remember Diane; I was visiting my cousins for a few days in N. Abingdon. But wasn't there also Edna a few weeks later to add more misery?
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Re: 61 Years ago TODAY

Postby TomNelligan » Fri Aug 26, 2016 4:06 pm

As Mr. Weaver wrote above, Connecticut (where I too was living at the time) was hit by a second flood, not quite as big, in mid-October, which undid some of the repair work from August.
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Re: 61 Years ago TODAY

Postby Noel Weaver » Fri Aug 18, 2017 8:46 pm

Bumping this one up, now 62 years ago. The last train out of Waterbury that Thursday evening to get anywhere was 465 from Winsted to Bridgeport which left Waterbury shortly after 10:00 PM. There was a passenger special with some movie stars (famous ones at that) scheduled out much later on but although they left Waterbury Station, I saw them depart, they did not get too far before they encountered major water conditions and reversed back to Waterbury. The consist of the special was a couple of 8600 class SS coaches and the observation car Bunker Hill. It had a 500 (RS-3) for power. The passenger cars got marooned in Waterbury for a period of time before the route from Waterbury to New Britain and Berlin got restored for freight service several days after the flood. It took over six months for passenger service to be restored between Waterbury and Bridgeport and Waterbury - Boston never got restored, the bridge just west of Putnam got damaged and never got restored thanks to McGinnis. This wiped out the through route between Hartford and Boston. McGinnis blurted out we'll be back bigger and better than ever, eventually most of it came back but it was not bigger and better but smaller and worse. I cherish what we had in Waterbury before this fateful day.
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