Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Full Size Dioramas

United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J., September 21, 2014
The diorama is something often produced by modelers -- a small scene showing what was or what might have been. But dioramas can often be produced in full size, as well. Such was the case at the  open house held by the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey at its restoration shop in Boonton.

The URHS was established in the late 1980s to assist in the establishment of a state-funded railroad museum; three decades later, the state has yet to act on funding such a project. But back in the beginning, New Jersey Transit was on the brink of a complete modernization of most of its commuter lines in the northern part of the state. The agency asked the URHS which pieces of equipment were worthy of saving. The URHS identified some 60 pieces of equipment and sent the list to NJT. The transit agency gulped -- but to the amazement of everyone, donated nearly all the items on the list.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J., September 21, 2014
The URHS found itself in possession of a ton of equipment including three GG1 electric locomotives, several E8 passenger diesels, a fleet of passenger cars and some former multiple-unit electric cars that worked for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western; there was a host of other equipment as well. The collection was put into temporary storage at a variety of locations around the state awaiting the funding for the state museum. A restoration yard of sorts was established at one of the sites in Lebanon, N.J. As the years dragged on, though, and no museum was forthcoming, one by one the owners of the "temporary" storage locations asked URHS to move its equipment. A permanent site needed to be found.

One thing URHS was able to accomplish was getting some of the equipment restored. Various short lines and tourist railroads leased URHS equipment for favorable rates with the understanding they would restore the units. Even Metro North, the New York commuter operator, leased a pair of ex-Chicago & North Western F7s under the condition that they come back to URHS in running condition -- and painted for the Lehigh Valley! The generous rules around various federal transportation funding bills allowed more equipment to be restored.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 21, 2014
 Finally, a permanent home was found for the collection when NJ Transit donated its unused rail yard in Boonton. The equipment that hadn't been leased out was gathered and moved to the new site. A restoration shop, cleverly built out of storage containers, was constructed. Money from donations and grants was still coming in, and equipment began to enter the shop and come out at least cosmetically restored. A few luxury passenger cars had been put back into service, fully certified to run on Amtrak, to generate additional revenue. The crown jewel of the fleet is the Hickory Creek, an observation car that ran on the New York Central's 20th Century Limited.

All this brings us back to dioramas. The facility at Boonton is a restoration yard, not a museum site. Nonetheless, each year the URHS holds an open house at the facility. The space is limited, but for photographers there are a couple of "dioramas" set up. The effect is especially effective after dark when night photography comes into play.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 27, 2014
For the open house, one end of the shop complex held a New York Central scene. The Hickory Creek was posed next to E8 passenger diesel No. 4083. No. 4083 wears a love-it-or-hate-it experimental scheme of jade green the NYC tested in the 1960s -- No. 4083 was one of six units to receive the scheme, and is the only survivor. Perhaps this scene could represent the eastbound and westbound 20th Century Limiteds meeting somewhere in the dark, or perhaps the engine change at the Harmon Shops in Croton, N.Y., where electric locomotives that led the train out of Grand Central Terminal were swapped for diesels for the rest of the run to Chicago.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 27, 2014
The other end of the shop featured units that operated for New Jersey Transit on its New York & Long Branch service from Hoboken and New York City to Bay Head, serving the northern towns of the Jersey shore. In the early 1980s NJT trains left Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan behind GG1 electric locomotives that had served the Pennsylvania Railroad since the 1930s and 1940s. At South Amboy the massive motors were swapped out for E8 passenger diesels, classics in their own right, to continue on to Bay Head.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 27, 2014
 This scene was a slight mismatch of eras, however. By the time NJT got ahold of GG1s for service, they had lost their attractive Brunswick green paint and gold striping, replaced by solid black from when they worked for Penn Central. Thus, in real life the good-looking blue and silver NJT diesels would not have ever appeared with Pennsy-painted GG1s. Nonetheless, the locomotives did work together at South Amboy at one time.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 27, 2014
The URHS has done a remarkable job in the cosmetic restoration of these two GG1s. No. 4877 has received the five-stripe whiskers scheme, while No. 4879 has the single large stripe with a larger Pennsy keystone on the side. Both look really good.
United Railroad Historical Society; Boonton, N.J.; September 27, 2014
So there you have some full-size modeling. Perhaps someday the state will finally establish the transportation museum and the equipment will be more readily available to the public. In the meantime, watch for the URHS open house each September. For more information check out the URHS website.  For more daytime photos of the equipment at Boonton you can click here. For more night photos from Boonton you can click here and scroll to the second page.

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