"In the field" railroad history adventures...

Friday, August 31, 2018

Bushwhacking to the Fallen Railroad Bridge

On Friday, my friend Michael Adams joined me for a trek into the woods at West Hurley, NY to look for the fallen railroad bridge. It was a gray and cloudy day but fortunately we only had to deal with a bit of drizzle.

The railroad bridge was destroyed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene but its ruins are visible from a Google aerial.

Following the Stream bed

There's no road or path that leads to the bridge but I determined from aerial views that if one follows the stream bed from the nearest road, you will eventually come to the ROW. So we bushwhacked in and had to cross the rocky stream quite a few times.


Eventually we came across an old house foundation...
 ... and abutments to a long gone small carriage road bridge.
A 1905 topo map indicated there were houses in the area. As I was hoping to see some old foundation ruins, it was pretty exciting to discover them.

The Right-of-Way (ROW)

Of course, as I anticipated, the railroad ROW was nearby but I was somewhat disappointed to discover all the ties and rails were gone. I had read about the controversy of the county's alleged effort to stymie the operations of the Catskill Mountain Railroad--who were running tourist trains on the track before the bridge was destroyed. There was a concerted effort to turn it into a rail trail instead. Much as I love rail trails, I was hoping to discover tracks still here not just a gravel bed. Oh well--I guess I will have to mountain bike it next time...
 We walked eastward for a bit and came across occasional tie plates and...
 ...Mike picked up a piece of a railroad tie.
It was kinda cool to find a mile marker - I believe that signifies 21 miles from Kingston (where the line originated).
I was hoping to locate where the prior route of the ROW branched off (blue line) but after decades of nature's regrowth I never found it (see About the Railroad below for further details).

Once we got to the causeway section and saw water on both sides, we turned back and..
...made our way to the fallen bridge.

At The Bridge Ruins

It was interesting that the trees were cut down here..
Compare the view above to this photo that I pulled from a railroad video few years back:
As mentioned above, this bridge was destroyed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene.
Close up
Photo Courtesy of Michael Adams
Sections of the bridge were scattered about...
Close up
Photo Courtesy of Michael Adams
Close up
Photo Courtesy of Michael Adams
 In the water below us, rails snaked thru the river like wet spahgetti!
Super Short Video
After documenting the tragic wreckage, we headed back....

Ascending the Stream bed

As we made or way back up the stream bed, we came across a pile of birch bark (the photo only shows one small bit). It easy to see how this was used as paper manuscript long ago...  Birch bark manuscript (Wikipedia)
It was hard to discern but along the stream bed it seemed there were remnants of a carriage road here and there...
Lastly one of our coolest discoveries was this sign nailed to a tree. "Man Dry?" We both thought (simultaneously!) the full sign at one time read: "Woman Laundry" as the stream bed at this location had a nice big flat rock and a narrows where water rushed thru. It would be a perfect safe spot to sit and wash your clothes by hand! Perhaps this is where the family that were living in the foundation ruins we saw, washed their clothes....

About The Railroad

The Ulster and Delaware Railroad (U&D) was chartered in 1866 as the Rondout & Oswego, and reorganized in 1872 as the New York, Kingston & Syracuse, it became the Ulster & Delaware in 1875, and was completed to Oneonta in 1900. Called the “Up & Down” by locals... stiff grades, horseshoe curves and babbling mountain brooks made the railroad a picturesque scenic ride and key to the development of much of the Catskill economy.

The railroad thrived into the World War I era, especially on tourist passenger traffic, milk, and coal, and began to fade with the coming of the automobile and the truck in the 1920s. The line later become the Catskill Mountain Branch of the New York Central and was finally abandoned in 1976.
[Credits: Trainweb and U&D Railroad Historical Society - see links below]

Between 1908 and 1912, the railroad carried supplies for the construction of the Ashokan Reservoir, part of the system of reservoirs feeding New York City. When the reservoir was completed, nearly 12 and a half miles of the U&D were relocated to compensate for the old route that was soon flooded out.
Source: ITO Historic railroad map

Further Info

Esopus Creek Bridge (a.k.a. Boiceville Trestle)

Videos Rail Rides Askokan Reservoir

Rail Trail Controversy

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail

The heat finally subsided and it was a beautiful day for a ride!

Slingerlands to Albany

I started the ride in Slingerlands and rode down to the end of the trail. The nicest part is of course the stretch in the gorge by the Normanskill Falls/Rapids.

It's an easy ride with a barely noticeable grade.
Near my starting point was the old freight station - how cool!
I was very impressed with the occasional signs that detailed the former railroad history and its train stations.
At the bottom of the trail there are even CityBikes available!
The Falls/Rapids

Slingerlands to Voorheesville

From my online research I expected the trail from Slingerlands to Voorheesville to be rough gravel and/or grass but it has been fully paved and was a breeze to ride!
Note Picnic Pavilion Roof made to look like the old train station
The former West Shore Mainline (now CSX) is where the rail trail ended
looking northwest
looking southeast

Short Video of the Ride

About the Railroad

The Albany and Susquehanna Railroad (A&S) was a 6 ft (1,829 mm) broad gauge railroad from Albany to Binghamton, New York, operating 1851 to 1870.  Construction began on April 19, 1851, from Albany to Schoharie Junction, New York, a 35-mile (56 km) stretch that required 12 years to complete.

In 1864, one could purchase a 20 cent ticket and hop on the train in Adamsville (now Delmar) at 8:45 AM and arrive 15 minutes later in Albany. After business, shopping, and  lunch, the train left Albany at 2 PM. for the return trip―all without hitching up the horses and braving the roads.

By December 31, 1868, the line’s 142 miles to Binghamton were completed.The line was built with 60-pound iron, and a six foot gauge enabling it to connect freely with the Erie Railroad in Binghamton.

In the summer of 1869 there was a Railroad War for control of this important line. Read about it in either the Wikipedia link or the Susan Leath link below.

On February 24, 1870, the weary board of the A&S leased the line in perpetuity to the Delaware & Hudson. Passenger service on this section of the D&H line ended in the 1930s. Freight service continued through the 1990s with the actual rails being removed in 2004.

Source: The Rail in the Trail” by Susan Leath (See excellent link below)

Further Info

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Retracing Sections of the Ulster & Delaware

My plans were to head down to Stamford NY and spend the day riding the Catskill Rail Trail, but... it was hotter than hell! With temperatures in the mid 90s and lots of humidity it was a heat advisory day!

Freight Trains

Interestingly, on the way, I had to wait for two long freight trains at a crossing. What I observed epitomizes the changes in freight trains since I was growing up. Rather than seeing a mixed consist of boxcars, flatcars and tankers, etc. the first train was entirely containers and the second train was entirely automobile cars. The second train seemed to last forever and must have had 150 trains cars or so...Wow!

The Trip

  • Stamford - Checked out the train station and the "overly sunny" ROW.
  • Drove to Arkvile - observed lots of nice grass-covered ROW paralleling the road to the east.
  • Arkvile - Checked out the Delaware & Ulster Railroad station and yard
  • Drove to Big Indian via Lasser Road to check out the RR Crossing
  • Drove south via Reservoir Road to view the Ashokan Reservoir 

 Stamford, NY

Once I got Stamford--before finding the train station--I checked out the ROW going east and saw that it was primarily wide open... thru farm fields with little shade. Once I found the station and stepped out for a short walk, I decided not to ride. It was hotter than hell - I am crazy but not suicidal!
Stamford Train Station
ROW looking east
ROW looking west
I drove on to Grand Gorge and headed south to Arkville. Along the road I did see the ROW and in may places it looked like it could be a shady, pleasant ride although its grass not gravel.


Arkville is home to of course the Delaware & Ulster Railroad - a scenic tourist train that embraces 26 miles of the former Ulster & Delaware ROW. They only run on weekends but I sauntered about the yard and was impressed - it looks like a successful business!
Never seen a "Boxcar Bathroom"!

Lasser Road Overpass - Big Indian

My last stop was a rewarding one. I even climbed up to the embankment to observe the rails still in place!
Looking west
Looking east - note blockage before the crossing

About The Railroad

The Ulster and Delaware Railroad (U&D) was chartered in 1866 as the Rondout & Oswego, and reorganized in 1872 as the New York, Kingston & Syracuse, it became the Ulster & Delaware in 1875, and was completed to Oneonta in 1900. Called the “Up & Down” by locals... stiff grades, horseshoe curves and babbling mountain brooks made the railroad a picturesque scenic ride and key to the development of much of the Catskill economy.

The railroad thrived into the World War I era, especially on tourist passenger traffic, milk, and coal, and began to fade with the coming of the automobile and the truck in the 1920s. The line later become the Catskill Mountain Branch of the New York Central and was finally abandoned in 1976.

U&D's peak passenger year was 1913, with 675,000 passengers carried. The last regularly scheduled passenger train over the former Ulster & Delaware Railroad (U&D) tracks was operated between Kingston and Oneonta by the New York Central Railroad on March 31, 1954. The tracks were then cut back to Bloomville in 1965 to make way for construction of Interstate 88 near Oneonta. The Hubbell Corners-Bloomville segment was abandoned and the railbed was later converted for use as the Catskill Scenic Rail Trail. [Credits: Trainweb and U&D Railroad Historical Society]

Further Info