Munnsville in the Forgotten Years

by John Canfield


    Most of you have seen either in person or in pictures the beautiful job that John Taibi has done on the complete restoration of the Munnsville Depot. You have probably also seen shots of the station during the glory years of its operation along with the woebegone photo of the station, receivership document flapping on the door, that brought an ignominious end to William Helmer's book on O&W. But in addition to all of these, I thought you might be interested in seeing some rare shots that fell somewhere between the death and rebirth of the old girl.

    Back in 1970, my new wife and I were living in Herkimer, NY, midway between her teaching job in Little Falls and my job as a management trainee (remember them?) with Sperry Univac in Utica. I had recently read Bill Helmer's book and was fascinated with the O&W, although never having actually seen it as I grew up along the 4 track mainline of the NY Central in Canajoharie, NY. So one boring cloudy muggy Saturday in July, I decided that hey, maybe the old Munnsville station was still standing (1957 wasn't THAT long ago), Oneida County wasn't so far away, and it was sure worth a drive to find out. My wife (who was never partial to digging around decaying old buildings) politely refused my invitation to join me so off I went in our VW Beetle convertible, complete with an ancient Argus C-3 camera, in search of history.

    As it turned out, Oneida County wasn't all that close, Munnsville wasn't really that easy to find, and the station proved to be even more elusive. Eventually, somebody or other pointed me in the right direction and up the hill I went, finally emerging at the end of a gravel road and THERE IT WAS!! Although weatherbeaten, overgrown, and certainly creaking with age, I thought it was absolutely gorgeous. I can't tell you how excited I was at the prospect of getting lots of pictures and perhaps modeling it. I had recently renewed my interest in HO, long dormant since the age of 9 when I earned a Tyco diecast sidetank 0-4-0 with three cars by selling All Occasion Greeting Cards from the JUNIOR SALES CLUB OF AMERICA on the back page of Boy's Life. That train, of course, went by the wayside when football and girls came along.

    As I walked up to the station, Argus at the ready, I noticed that on the windowsills inside was an odd collection of bottles, jars, and bric-a- brac. I peered in one of the windows and although I couldn't see any evidence of life, it was very quiet and I feared an old reclusive country coot may at any moment emerge with a shotgun and tell me to git. I looked around and saw a house not too far away and, believing discretion was the better part of valor, decided to knock on the door and find out if they knew anything about the station or any denizens that may be camping out there.

    A very nice older lady answered the door and told me that yes, she and her husband owned the station and that she had placed those items in the window to discourage scavengers and prowlers by giving them the impression someone was living there. She did not speak kindly of some earlier visitors who had apparently made off with some pieces of the building and was not eager for that to be repeated. She told me I was certainly welcome to take pictures, measurements, and look around as long as I didn't take anything. I assured her I would not, and much later through John�s articles, I came to learn that this lady was probably the Mrs. Bishop from whom he bought the station in the late 80's.

    You can see from the attached pictures the condition of the station that day 35 years ago. Although the windows and doors were all intact, the building was rapidly returning to nature, being heavily overgrown with trees, shrubs, and weeds. In the far end of the station, someone had apparently cut an opening an installed a door for some kind of vehicle or other. Across the right-of-way sat the creamery, boarded up but still in fairly good shape in the original gray and white color scheme. (Having seen this photo, John has told me that the old creamery is now seedier than even then based on someone's ill-advised attempt to turn the building into cheap low-income housing).

    I took tons of measurements and lots of pictures and later drew up a set of plans for the building in 1/8" scale, not having the luxury of a scale rule and not frankly, not being able to figure out how to convert HO's 3.5 mm into some kind of inches, but I figured 1/8�was close enough to 3.5mm so if I built one, who would notice the difference.

    At that time, there was a hobby shop in Utica on some long-forgotten side street uptown where I was able to find some Northeastern board-and-batten siding, some Floquil paints, and some stripwood, but not much else. Undaunted, I proceeded to build the Munns station in perfect 1/8" scale, making the window frames from wire, the shingles from paper, the roof flashing from aluminum foil, and weathered it with cigar ashes. It wasn't long after that I discovered the error of my off-scale ways and the 1/8� inch scale Munns station went by the wayside in favor of more precisely accurate structures.

    But since then, that little building has survived five moves and I recently came across it in a box in attic. Some doors were missing, the cupola has vanished, and the floors have fallen out, but the old girl still looks pretty good (if a little puny in size). With all the sophistication available today from Grandt Line and hundreds of other parts manufacturers, I�m actually proud of myself that 35 years ago I managed put this thing together from almost no commercial parts but lots if imagination. From now on it will always sit proudly on my display shelf.

    I also found an interesting letter in that attic box. Back in 1977, I had written to the Society about whether anybody would be interested in an article about this station. I received a marvelous four page ( four page! ) typed response from Ed Crist giving me all the ins and outs of article preparation, how he had discussed the possibility of such an article with Tony Koester at RMC and Bob Mohowski, and suggesting if I had done something unique in the construction, maybe RMC could use it. Was I ever impressed that someone would take the time to be so nice to a complete stranger and that he actually knew all these big names in the model railroad field.

    I hope you get a kick out of these pictures which show even better how much work John had to do in restoring this marvelous old building. After forays through HO, Hon3, S, Sn3, and On30, I have finally returned to the O&WRHS and HO and it's good to be back and to share these interesting old photos with you all.

As a final thought, don't ever give up on discovering old railroad treasures. I later lived in Elmira and have marvelous pictures of the old southside Elmira roundhouse and coaling tower from the mid 70's when the skeletal remains provided some gloriously ghostly photos, I'm sure it's all gone now.

    And having moved to Virginia in the late 70's, several years later, in the mid 80's my son and I spent a wonderful snowy winter afternoon tracing the route of the old Norfolk and Western "Virginia Creeper", the daily mixed train that wended its way from Abingdon, Virginia into the hills of North Carolina up until the late 50's. (What is ironic is that in the issue of Trains from 1957 that chronicled the sad demise of the O&W, the very next article featured the very same �Creeper� still puttering along daily under steam!) That day we found numerous sections of old roadbeds, bridges, and even some remarkably undisturbed little country stations still standing in the middle of what were by then empty fields. Peeking in the windows of these wonderful old structures never fails to make you curious about who waited there for a returning soldier, or grandma "coming up" for a visit, or a wonderful Sears mail-order coming on the baggage car. Discovering real history and who we used to be never stops being a thrill.

John Canfield

Virginia Beach, VA

February, 2005

Old Munns Photo Gallery

Photo 2 - Photo 3 - Photo 4 - Photo 4 - Photo 6 - Photo 7 - Photo 8

Webmaster's Note: I just had to include this photo to show what this station looks like since being fully restored.