All aboard for train talk at Bristol Historical Society

Published on Monday, 13 August 2018 22:10


BRISTOL - The Bristol Historical Society is presenting a program Thursday, during which Cortlandt Hull and Steve Vastola will talk trains.

“Full Steam Ahead” will feature numerous train models and information about the history of Bristol’s rail line.

The train program will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the air-conditioned event room at the Bristol Historical Society at 98 Summer St.

Vastola said that his portion of the program will begin when the rail line first came to Bristol in 1850 and cover the various companies that have owned it over the years.

“Boston and Maine had the shortest tenure of ownership, about 8 months,” said Vastola. “They purchased it from Conrail in 1982 and in 1983 it was purchased by Guilford Rail Systems. The longest owner was New Haven Railroad, who owned the rail from 1908 to 1968. Today the rail is owned by Pan Am Railways, who also owns the rail line in Plainville.”

Vastola said that his program will also cover the change from steam to diesel that occurred during the Great Depression, how the rail was affected by the Flood of 1955 and the advent of the automobile.

“The railroad might have seemed mighty, but it was always teetering on the edge,” said Vastola.

Vastola said that the program will also discuss the “underhanded tactics” that J.P. Morgan used to bankrupt the rail line so that he could purchase it for himself.

The display cases at the Bristol Historical Society will be filled with model trains built by Hull’s uncle, the late World War II veteran and model train enthusiast Louis Gagnon. The trains range from larger scale “O-gauge” trains to standard gauge trains from the 1930s. The display includes clockwork and electric trains, models made by popular companies such as Lionel and also trains which Gagnon hand-built using copper, brass and other metals.

“Uncle Lou had been collecting since he was a kid and after the war building these trains was calming for him,” said Hull. “He worked the night shift at Associated Spring, so sometimes I would hear him hammering metal into all hours of the night. It took him several weeks to make some of these trains from scratch and he did so with meticulous detail. He passed away at 92 in 2013 and I have his entire collection of several hundred trains from the 1930s to the present. What you’ll see here is just the tip of the iceberg. The most recent train I have is a Universal Monsters train he built for me in the early ’90s.”

The model trains will be on display for two weeks following the program.

Visitors are welcome to take photos of the display during Bristol Historical Society’s hours, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The society has also announced its 2018 Christmas ornament. The pewter ornament, created by Rick Fitzsimons, features the Wildcat roller coaster at Lake Compounce. Built in 1927, it is the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S.

The Christmas ornament will be available for a $12 donation to the Bristol Historical Society on Saturday at Rockwell Park at The Witch’s Dungeon’s booth.

Those wanting to purchase the ornament can also call Tom Dickau at 860-582-1537.

Admission to the train program is $5 or free for Bristol Historical Society members. Refreshments will be served.

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or

Posted in The Bristol Press, Arts, , Bristol on Monday, 13 August 2018 22:10. Updated: Monday, 13 August 2018 22:13.