A Steamboat Whistle for the Doran Memorial Train

by Bill McKelvey

Early in 2014 the writer ordered a replica steamboat whistle from Mike Dougherty in Fairmont, WV.  The completed whistle finally arrived in mid-October.  Coincidentally, the Bill Doran Memorial train was scheduled on the Delaware River Railroad Excursion train on the Belvidere Delaware River Railroad at Phillipsburg on Saturday 25 October - the last weekend of steam operations for the season.  McKelvey made arrangements to have his whistle installed on the train for that special day.

Arriving at the Baer quarry engine house shortly after 7am, Chief Mechanical Officer, Gary Mathews quickly concluded that the three-chime steamboat whistle would fit the bowl / valve of the whistle currently on the 2-8-2 steamer No. 142 as it’s owner, Don Chaudruc, had also purchased his replica Norfolk Western 4-8-4 “J” Class whistle from Mike Dougherty.  The steamboat whistle is very similar, but has a “bell” (the whistle sound chamber) over an inch taller, making for a deeper steamboat chime sound.  The changeover was quickly completed by Gary - removing the threaded rod securing the “J” whistle to the bowl / valve and replacing it with the steamboat whistle.  It was test blown a few times at the quarry and the sound was everything that was hoped for - outstanding!

McKelvey departed for breakfast and some maintenance work at the Pump House.  Later, on the way to Lehigh Junction a stop was made at the Phillipsburg Railroad Historians museum site as they had their Centerville & Southwestern Railroad operating, museum open, etc.  The C&S has now been extended from the Friends of the NJ Transportation Heritage Center rail storage lot all the way to east to Stockton Street - a good long ride!  Unfortunately, the Public Service trolley #2651 was not operating.

The 2pm train on the Bel Del was carrying a good passenger load.  Riding in the first car behind the steam loco provided the best opportunity to listen to the steamboat whistle.  Volunteer car hosts were friendly Jasmine Berger, in her spiffy railroad uniform, and Chuck Hoering - always a hit with the youngsters - he loves his job!  Chuck was obviously preparing to be Santa on the Polar Express trains as he was cultivating his white beard and trying to increase his girth...  Each train goes south to the end of restored track - nearing Riegelsville.  They then back up to the Mine and Corn Maze for drop offs and pick ups.  Next, the Mine the train makes a special stop at the historic Lime Kilns - the largest complex of its type in NJ.  Here the families get off and pick up a free pumpkin for each child - hundreds per day are consumed!

The 3:30 train was the Special Bill Doran Memorial Train.  William Francis Doran, 1942 - 2012, of Green Brook, was a good / frequent volunteer and friend of the Delaware River Railroad Excursions as well as a friend of the writer.  Before he passed away, after a long battle with cancer, he made his wishes known to Chris Cotty and other leaders of the NYS&W T&HS.  Bill wanted Frank Capalbo to be engineer (engine driver); Gary Mathews to be Fireman; and Jim Stevens to be Conductor of his memorial train.  As per Bill’s wishes, these individuals were the crew of the 3:30 train.  

Frank Capalbo grew up in Nutley, on the Newark Branch of the Erie Railroad and helped run the family business  - Capalbo’s Fruit Baskets.  Frank is now retired and lives in New York City, but has not forgotten his Erie roots.  He proudly wears his Erie watch fob on the front of his engineers bib overalls.  With his red bandanna and red polka-dot Carhart cap he looks the part of an engineer back in the day.  When the 142 stops at Lehigh Junction, Frank climbs down from the cab with his oil can and cigar and makes the rounds of “his” locomotive.  This coincides with the gathering of passengers by the 142 for photographs.  So, Frank is surely the most photographed member of the train crew, and deservedly so.  He is also a seasoned Locomotive Engineer and does a wonderful job of handling the whistle cord with flamboyance.

Gary Mathews is a Marine Steam Engineer as well as a Certified Steam Locomotive Engineer and is in charge of all repairs to No. 142.  He is also a tugboat enthusiast and actually owns the 1881 former steam tug ELISE ANN CONNERS.  It should be no surprise that his partner, Ann, is a licensed tugboat Captain on the Hudson River.  Ann is presently in Cleveland, OH supervising the restoration of the 2,500 passenger steamboat COLUMBIA, which is to come to NY Harbor.

Jim Stevens is a long-time volunteer who began on the Black River & Western Railroad and shifted to the Bel Del.  He worked his way up to the position of Conductor and was also a good and long-time friend of Bill’s.

Bill Doran’s father was Edward Donald Doran, Marine Superintendent of the Lackawanna Railroad, later the Erie-Lackawanna, at Hoboken / NY Harbor.  In his youth, Bill had many rides in the pilot houses of DL&W Railroad ferries and tugboats.  So, having a steamboat whistle on Bill’s Memorial Train was most appropriate.

In the cab for the special run with the crew were Bill’s widow, Ilene; Bill’s sister, Beth and her husband.  At the appropriate time Bill’s ashes were placed on the shovel and eased into the firebox - as per Bill’s wishes!  We are sure he was smiling...

It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and all windows were open on the coaches and surely were on homes along the route as well.  The Delaware River valley is perfectly situated for whistle echoes within the confines of the route.  From the time the 3:30 train departed Lehigh Junction on it’s southbound run there was a steady progression of two longs, one short and a final long whistle blasts as if there were grade crossings every quarter mile of the line.  It was music to the writer’s ears!  Well done, Frank...

At the end of the day there was the traditional barbecue at the “Susquehanna Mine” and Corn Maze site for the Mine, Corn Maze, Pumpkin, and Wine trains on the Bel Del.  This is conducted by “Chef” Chris Cotty, who is also VP of the NY, Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society as well as General Manager of the Bel Del excursion trains.  Chris’s profession is the family entertainment business and he has applied his skills to the “attractions” (Thomas the Tank Engine; Dinosaur; Polar Express; Easter Bunny; and other theme trains) on the Bel Del.

At the Mine a large barbeque pit was ingeniously cobbled together by Gary Mathews.  It began life as a 500 gallon oil tank.  The ends were left on but the top half of the tank was cut off.  Used boiler tubes from the No. 142 secure the “tank” and the grates, which are used stainless steel screens from the quarry.  Used cast iron shaker grate sections from No. 142 make up the bottom of the pit.  Chris gets a big wood (there is always a ready wood supply from clearing trees along the railroad right-of-way) bonfire going and then begins the meal preparations.  Chef Chris’s menu chosen for the evening was: large cheddar cheese burgers; chicken stroganoff; big, hot Italian sausages with peppers and onions; seasoned rice; and asparagus.  There were also chips and dips beforehand, a wide selection of drinks, and dinner was followed by a variety of desert pastries.  What an enticing and welcome reward for the volunteer staff!  No wonder the NYS&W T&HS is able to attract an adequate number of workers for their trains...