Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Bill Aldrich

Image from Kalmbach/MR digital access

In our lives, we all meet a small number of people who seem to do everything well, always send handwritten thank you notes, and charm every person who crosses paths with them through their grace. Bill Aldrich was such a person. Like many, I had my introduction to Bill through the September, 1980 issue of Model Railroader. At the time, I was thirteen and while ignorant of much, I was smitten with the New Haven and knew that I wanted to achieve the fidelity to detail that Bill did on much of his layout. I read and re-read that issue of MR and still have the well-worn copy on my shelves, even after digitizing my magazine collection. Sadly, I learned of Bill's passing in September, 2022, via the NHRHTA's most recent Shoreliner.

A scratchbuilt I-1 Pacific in Shoreline service on Bill's final layout

For those who aren't familiar with Bill, here are a few details, courtesy of my own experiences and information as well as Don Valentine's writing in the Shoreliner. Bill was born in 1929 in Cranston, Rhode Island. During college, he actually commuted to MIT on the New Haven! He continued his studies, earning a PhD in metallurgy in Germany. His career started with positions for both the New York Central and a stint with the New Haven. He moved on to Warnaco (a source of comradery for us as I was also an employee of Warnaco for a spell) where among other things, he worked on incorporating Lycra into clothing, as well as seeing its benefits as a way to simulate lineside wires that would stretch, but not break if accidentally pulled.

He also ended up as a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves and taught at the War College. Upon his full retirement, he was a docent at Gettysburg, where he lived the final years of his life. I visited several times and was treated to some one-on-one ops sessions on his last layout (another MR cover story, January 2001) as well as visits to the Gettysburg battlefield infused with Bill's expert commentary, plus entertaining dinners at local establishments. I always thanked Bill for these visits as well as his input on New Haven steam projects I was consulting on by sending some of the resin freight car kits I produced under the Speedwitch banner. It was gratifying to receive a letter from Bill a few weeks after sending these kits with photos of the completed models in service on his layout.

Bill was perhaps known best for his exceptionally detailed steam locomotives and passenger cars, including full interiors. Below are photos of a few of his fine steamers. Rest in peace

Reworked AHM model to replicate the New Haven's three-cylinder Y-4 class 0-8-0 switchers

Scratchbuilt model of one of the New Haven's R-2a Mountains

Another scratchbuilt gem, an I-4 class New Haven Pacific

Bill reworked a Bachmann 2-8-0 to replicate one of the New Haven's ex-Central New England "Bull Moose" Consolidations

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