Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Railfanning... and my own Bermuda Triangle."

A trip to Bermuda was on tap for an end-of-summer respite from increasing personal demands. I expected a week of relaxation with little hope of any railroad-related diversions that would allow for my adjournment from the company of my wife and daughter and their pursuit of the ultimate tan.

But wait! Upon arrival I discovered that Bermuda has an abandoned railway line that has been converted to a hiking trail. I argued that I had a responsibility to all ten of my loyal followers for an in-depth OML investigative report.

The two were more than happy to agree so that their relaxation would not be interrupted with my incessant, "So exactly how long are we going to lay here?"

The 22 mile standard gauge Bermuda Railway ran from 1931 to 1948 bringing cruise ship passengers from St. George's and agricultural products from Somerset into the capital city of Hamilton. It was also Bermudan's main means of transit then since automobiles were prohibited on the island so as not to disturb the tranquility of affluent British and American tourists. Even then, tourism was the economic lifeline of the country.

Bermuda's rolling terrain posed a challenge for the railway and many wooden trestles spanned the modest valleys. I started my hike up some stairs on our hotel grounds in Southampton in the southwest part of the island. I was assured that rails and ties would be evident along the way. Maybe the steps are old railroad ties. Not too exciting.

This isn't quite what I was expecting, but this is only the first mile. The railway used gas powered engines due to the lack of available freshwater that steam would require. Neat!

This is looking more like it, now into mile two. But what's with all of the black cats? This is the fourth I've seen, along with a bunch of chickens and roosters. Where are the people?

Limestone cuts are frequent throughout the island and here is just one example that was required for the railway. Note my requisite water bottle in the 85 degree, 85 percent humidity. Still not finding much though. This isn't as much fun as I thought it would be.

Eureka! An old depot/freight house, now being used by a local charity. While the materials are purely Bermudan, the scale and proportions of the building are very traditional. 

Into mile three and the trail is getting jungle-like. Am I supposed to stop here? What does this signage mean? My water is getting low and still no rails! Jimmy is getting pissed.

A little further along I hit a pretty steep valley and decided that I was turning back... three more miles to go! The only sign of a rail was this channel for cyclists to presumably walk their bikes down the hill (You just know some yahoo has tried to ride down this, right?)

A few days later at a bookshop in the Dockyard area where cruise ships now arrive, I found an old photo of the remains of a trestle connecting the eastern end of the railway to the mainland. I saw the rebuilt version from our taxi heading back to the airport days later.

The Dockyard is my wife's dream spot with a myriad of crafts stores and artisan's workshops. I freed myself from a pottery studio and discovered this sign outside. Excellent, the local hobby shop must be right down the alley. Hello, diversion. Come to poppa!

Damn it!
BTW, I later found out that all rails have been removed for years and that my original source, our hotel concierge, relied on childhood memories. She is now a grandmother. I also found out that the eastern end of the railway trail is much more interesting and scenic. Well, I gave it a shot. Next time, I'll ride a bike.
All was not lost though. My knees and back actually spent most of the week enjoying the saltwater. Just don't ask about my tan. For more information about the railway and it's downfall, check out a neat website, The Bermuda Railway Pages by clicking here.

We'll get back to layout construction in our next post. See you in a bit.

Update: February 12, 2016
Railroad enthusiast Matt Picciotto has posted on the Model Railroad Hobbyist site his intentions to pursue the NMRA's MMR certification by replicating the Bermuda Railway in HO. His blog can be found here . He also has a Facebook page dedicated to the Railway here . Best of luck, Matt. We'll be following along.

Okay, do I really need to pose the obvious chicken question here?

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