[ Home | What's New | Articles ]
Several years back, right after I moved to Middletown, CT, I immediately began to look for abandoned railroad tracks. In Connecticut we're rather spoiled, since the Historical Society published a book titled "Connecticut Railroads" which lists every railroad that ever existed in the state, along with somewhat detailed maps of the routes they took. Some photos even reveal the poles and which insulators were used. Well, all I could gleam about Middletown area lines was that the one to Berlin was threadless era, and the other Meriden line was interurban. Fortunately for me, the two lines intersected about 1/2 mile down the street from my apartment. The Meriden line had been abandoned north of the intersection in the 1920s, and the other three lines were used for the New Haven's experimental third rail trolley operations in the 1930s and 1940s. Basically I knew the looking would be good!
I managed to trace the Meriden line through the maze of apartment complexes in the area, across I91, and through the Middletown Industrial Park. Being a mountain biker, I rode in along the sewer line ROW that paralleled one stretch of right of way around the industrial park one afternoon. I spotted a small fill in off in the woods, so I walked in to investigate. Almost immediately I began finding artifacts. There was a ton of rusted guy wire, the remains of a number of wood guy strains, and a large chunk of an M&E (no 3 size) cable in the bank of the ROW! One complete ear of the M&E was missing; otherwise it was complete. My futile digging with a stick proved fruitless, so I continued on. Several Brookfield ponies were found, along with a blue aqua B beehive. I couldn't believe the amount of stuff left lying around - my normal experiences involved searching for crumbs around rocks on lines that had been picked continuously for 40+ years. I reached a fence and decided to call it quits for the day. I returned home and called friend Greg Burke and my brother. We set up a more formal hunt for that Saturday.
Saturday finally arrived and we drove to the section of line, tools in hand. We walked in and dug around for more stuff on the section I had searched. No more of the M&E cable was located. We got to the fence and went over. My brother, who is a wanderer, walked up ahead somewhere while Greg and I dug each pole in order. The line crossed a power line ROW, so we walked across it and found the torn up remains of the railroad line on the other side. Once we got our bearings again, we found more pole locations, more guy wire, and more pieces. Three or four poles in though, we got a surprise. A piece of a strange insulator surfaced. If had one major wire groove, then a series of serrations above it. "Do you think it could be a corkscrew?" I asked. "Nah, we don't have that kinda luck." Greg commented. We pushed on. Several poles later, the ROW approached a backyard. We scratched around quietly, and suddenly Greg yelled. He picked up the perfect half of a 110.5 corkscrew! "No way!" I replied and we furiously continued digging and scratching under every thorn bush around. I dug in the remains of the ditch next to the railbed, and out popped a large piece of an early Hemingray, but nothing else. Another beehive was located in the brush. (Contrary to logic, I've had more luck in well traveled areas than in the middle of nowhere! Is everyone afraid of being seen and getting caught?) Then my brother returned. He had worked his way into the people's backyard and returned holding two beautiful mint yellow-green Brookfield ponies. We showed him the corkscrew half and he helped us dig some more. Unfortunately nothing else was found that day. We were determined to find a mint corkscrew if it took all year! Several other searches revealed a number of other halves of corkscrews. Seems to give evidence that the linemen did like to smash the tops of the insulators to remove them from the pin more quickly.
One section of the line gave me trouble. North of the intersection of the two lines, abandoned early, the ROW disappeared without a trace. The only evidence left was a small fill in by the river where the line had crossed. The rest could not be found from the later-abandoned railbeds. I pondered this quite a while before launching an expedition to locate the missing railbed. I had this mental picture of finding a mint corkscrew right at the end of the small fill in section by the river.
One Saturday afternoon I hopped on my bike and headed for the intersection. I walked into the woods a bit and left my bike. I searched around until I located a small swampy stream. I followed it towards the river, and after 100 yards or so, a slight railbed emerged, overgrown a bit. "Finally!" I said. I walked along it, searching for stumps, anchors, insulators, etc. Almost immediately I spotted something green and round in the brook (which ran where the pole line should be). I picked up an old aqua Brookfield pony from the water. I then spotted another a few feet away. Then I turned to the bank of the stream. I spotted another half of a corkscrew, and a CD 104 W Brookfield with the very top of the dome popped off. That was the first time I had found one of those! No missing pieces were recovered, so I moved down to the next pole. More ponies were retrieved from the water. The next pole was at the end of the fill in just before it reached the river. "Last chance for a corkscrew." I thought. While I walked down the stream, I spotted another round shape in the water. I ran over and got another pony insulator. I circled around and saw a round open shape sticking out of the water. I picked it up and it was a corkscrew! I couldn't believe my luck! There was a shallow base chip, a small chip in the wire groove, and some general roughness from rolling around in the stream for all those years. Otherwise, it was fine! I slipped it into my pocket and looked around some more, without any other success. I grabbed some of the nicer ponies, and returned home with my finds.
Call it psychic or luck of the draw, I've been trusting my instincts ever since and I've turned up quite a few things overlooked by other diggers. Just goes to show there are still spots out there that haven't been looked over carefully, so "when in doubt, check it out!"
Return to the Hunting for Insulators page
Last updated Sunday, April 7, 1996