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by Robert McCue
Up until my high school years I had virtually in my back yard a railfan's paradise, a branch line with track , station, (with signboard still up!) it was almost everything a railfan could need. I say almost everything because the brush growing between the rails told of the one basic element that had been missing for some time.
Anyone who knows the area knows Weir's Ice cream parlor. The railroad bridge is right behind it. And I am sure many remember the railroad crossing in Salisbury Mills (Or more appropriately, your cars shocks do!) I have many happy memories of summers in that in that area. From the age of five I can recall a real long freight coming down the line, crossing at Vails Gate. Little did I know then that the days of such a grand site at that crossing were numbered.
Right around my senior year I sent a letter to The O&W society with my idea to make that railroad a tourist line. Somewhere in my "files" I have the answer "from the operating department". Imagine my surprise that following winter when I saw someone else in the Newspaper with the same thought in mind! I remember the figure exactly, revamping the railroad line costing $15,000 a mile! That was back when gas was what, a dollar fifty a gallon? What would that figure be now? We'll never know because that was just when Conrail was pulling up the rails. The freight house in Washingtonville was already gone.
Ten years of hiking the now empty right of way, Fotomat Disk camera in hand, would pass before venturing out the other end of the line to Greycourt. The seeds for Country Cousins were now planted...
When in my sunrise years, barely a teen
I had a friend in the Erie railroad when
her rails had their proud sheen
I heard her at sunrise, I heard her at night
I heard her amid storms and knew all as all right
I could run alongside the erie in the days before war
would leave my youth on some distant shore
My sunrise years have all passed, my health is now frail
what I knew as the Erie my grandchildren know as a trail
There is a place where the rails can still be seen
there in the bushes but without their proud sheen
Come my last sunrise I will take the Lord's hand
and I and the Erie will be young once again.
Dedicated to "EJ" Mclaughlin 111
Historian, Artist and friend to all.
It was spring of 1989 when I started out to record the entire Erie branch. Sadly, there is not much to record below Vails Gate. Past the former crossing for Route 94 and stone mile marker 13 the r.o.w. starts to become one of those high curved embankments than in steam days mast have made for some awesome pictures. Passing over the O&W right of way you stand on what was once a two track bridge. A reminder of this branch's glory days. Standing up there looking at the O&W straightaway one can just picture a train passing under. Digging into the grade with clouds of steam and smoke as to make a railroad fan smile. In a minute it's gone, just a whistle in the distance.
Back on the Erie here, a lot of curves and rock cuts give way to the farmland that reminds one that this was once a very rural railroad line. Over Jackson Avenue and under the Graham Line's fabled Moodna Viaduct. The People still ride their horses out in this stretch.
When out by the viaduct, take a very close look in the fall at the trestle pier to the right side of Orr's Mills Road. On the left concrete footing you can still make out some of the inscription the contractor for the viaduct left. It would not come out in a picture very well but it's there but fading fast. Ahead is Clove Road and Orr's Mills crossings and the site of the station. Over the road and over the first Moodna crossing. A second bridge, a girder one, is right behind Weir's Ice cream. For anyone hiking the ROW I strongly recommend a visit. Marker G9 sits right there at the bridge.
The bridge just below Washingtonville has the old pin construction. Now, Mr. McLaughlin told me on what side of the bridge the date plate was on. On the north end as I recall. What happened to it even he was not sure. McLaughlin ran an antique store of the old station for many years. Part of the reason it stayed so intact for so long. the picture I took of the inside was from passing the camera through a hole in the window boarding!
Before leaving Washingtonville, I have to first thank the Cornwall historian, Janet Dempsy, for advising me to get in touch with Edward McLaughlin. Second and most important, Mr. McLaughlin himself . Let me give you here a postscript that Mr. McLauglin wrote for Country Cousins. It gives an insight to the love he felt for the Erie and his love of history in general. Another of that generation that could say I grew up next to the------Railroad. No matter what railroad filled in the blank, the line was a badge of pride of a generation the likes of which we shall not see again.
December 26, 1947 an unusual snowstorm struck the east coast. By early afternoon the storm had reached blizzard strength. I was working at an advertising agency in midtown Manhattan when it became imperative that if I was able to return home, I should leave as soon as possible. Upon reaching Jersey City's Erie terminal via the old Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (Hudson tubes) I found a jam of commuters trying to reach their train or any train operating on the Erie. Slowly the Erie men were able to dispatch a train (from one track out of twelve) in the terminal to various branches and the main lines. Finally boarding a train at 7PM bound for Port Jervis, it was packed with standees and making every station stop. I arrived in Monroe about 9:30PM .Digging my car out of the drifting snow, I was able to follow a snow plow north on Rt. 208 to Washingtonville. The snow was about thirty inches deep on the level by that hour.
To its credit, the Erie Railroad and its dedicated workers were able to get all their passengers home that night. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Long Island, New York, New Haven and Hartford, Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads all closed down completely stranding passengers at terminals and even aboard trains stuck out in snow drifts out on the line. Erie men struggled to keep switch points from freezing, in the teeth of a howling blizzard, engineers and firemen urged on their old dependable steamers, conductors and brakemen helped their passengers safely off at all the many stations and the Erie Railroad stood proud that terrible night.
Edward J. McLaughlin 111 - Railroad Historian
I recall a part of an article written on the 25th anniversary of the closing of the NYOW railway that still rings true today, maybe even more so:
..When the oil wells go dry, will we find a replacement, will cars be practical with a dollar a gallon gas rationing? Look at the weed- strewn right of way where the O&W trains once ran-and think hard….
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