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The Original O&W Whistle Stop Tour
by Leroy Y. Beaujon
"How did our trips over the abandoned but not yet torn up O&W Lines evolve?" It all started with a small group of rail enthusiasts that lived in Northwestern Connecticut; namely Torrington (where our leader Truman Crowell and his pal, Robert Nimke lived) and Canaan (where I plus Eric Borg and Francis McCarthy were from).
Rock Tavern Station/Post Office with group member
Francis W. McCarthy (Canaan, Ct.) looking on.
Truman Crowell owned a ten to twelve year old Plymouth sedan that with a little modification here and there (such as extra wide wheels and tires plus a locked down steering wheel) was able to run on railroad tracks. His friend, Robert Nimke (last NYNH&H RR employee/agent/ in Winsted, Ct. and well-known author of several books on the Rutland, the Central Vermont and the Central New England Railway who now lives in Westmoreland, NH) owned two m-o-w style push cars plus a trailer to haul them around with.
Prior to our excursions (there were a total of three different trips) over the abandoned O&W lines, our small group of enthusiasts made a couple of trips over the soon to be abandoned Suncook Valley Railroad in New Hampshire (with permission of it's GM who also went along with us!) plus several trips over the former Central New England (then New Haven) stretch of track between Canaan and Lakeville. This latter piece of track had been petitioned for abandonment by the New Haven a couple of times and only saw service on weekdays two or three days per week. Our choice for travel (yes, without permission) on this line was always on a weekend where we were sure not to encounter any other traffic.
Truman Crowell was a salesman for a soda fountain drink machine company and his territory included Orange County, N. Y. The O&W had been abandoned but had not yet been torn up when he proposed our first trip in early 1959. It was Truman's intention to deliver "by rail" one of his company's drink machines to a customer in Middletown that would technically involve our trip with the "very last" movement of freight over the O&W. The date chosen was for Saturday, April 18th and we were to begin our venture at Cornwall, go through to Middletown and return back to Cornwall.
As I recall, we started from the Firthcliffe area of Cornwall and our first big thrill was in crossing the high trestle over Moodna Creek. From there, it was a pretty easy going and uneventful run to Rock Tavern where a small station (now being used as a postoffice) still existed. Our arrival there pretty much shook up the postmistress who had only seen traffic coming to that location by highway for over two years. She good-naturedly agreed to pose for photographs with our vehicle and crew and before long, we continued our way West. I don't recall specifically whether or not the L&H had removed the diamond over their tracks at Burnside by that time (I don't think so) but the Erie had definitely done so with their diamond at Campbell Hall. There we were forced to lug our heavy push cars over the existing tracks and reassemble our equipment on the other side. We did encounter a few strands of barbed wire strung up over the tracks in various places west of Campbell Hall but fortunately, we found them before they found us!
One serious problem we encountered was a short distance east of the Thruway overpass near Middletown where the roadbed was literally on fire from an accumulation of coal that must have been used for ballast purposes. Fortunately, we made it through this hotspot and soon arrived at the M&NJ station where a reporter from the Middletown Times-Herald was waiting with a camera to record the unusual event and the delivery of the soda fountain machine to Truman's customer.
The return trip to Cornwall was by then anticlimactic although our arrival there was not until after dark.
Our second trip over the O&W I am going to have to guess was made about two or three months later and this one began at Wurtsboro near the still existing station. On this trip we were joined by at least four other railfans from the New York/New Jersey area. One was William Whitehead who was one of the founders of the Black River and Western Railroad and another was Edward Lewis who is currently the GM at the Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad.
We first proceded down the line past Valley Junction to Port Jervis. The small yard in Port Jervis (as evidenced by the two photos taken there) was still being served by the Erie. On our return back up the line, we branched off at Valley Junction and began the climb up to Monticello. Our vehicle began to heat up and stops had to be made occasionally to get water for the car's radiator in nearby streams. Also, near Hartwood another piece of barbed wire over the track found us before we found it and one of our crew members who was riding on the forward push car received a gash in his hand.
At Monticello we found the existing turntable to still be operable so naturally, we took advantage of that opportunity which alleviated us from having to reassemble our equipment there for the return run to Wurtsboro. The balance of the trip was "all down hill" and no further problems were encountered except that we didn't complete our run until after dark again.
A third trip over O&W rails was made that Fall and was one that I was unable to go on. The small group of participants began this trip just outside of Kingston, ran down as far as Kerhonkson where they had to cut short due to the late hour and return to Kingston.
I have kicked myself ever since for not having gone on that "last" O&W trip but a family event must have prevented me from doing so. The following photos are from two of the three trips. Happy Railing! -Leroy Beaujon
Special Thanks to Pete Putman for his help in making this article possible.
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