Around the Country in Railroad Art

As the weather starts to warm up, perhaps you’ve been thinking about vacation. There are plenty of cool spots that one can visit, all by train. As we’ve certainly covered on the blog before, America’s railroads had in their employ both painters and illustrators to create works to entice travelers. Leslie Ragan is certainly one of my favorites – he worked for the New York Central as well as the Budd Company – and about this time last year we were posting some of his spring-like imagery.

This time I thought it would be fun to take a tour of the country through railroad art. There are countless examples of awesome posters and ads, but these are some of my favorites. Perhaps it will even give you some ideas on places to travel this year.

Maybe a nice shorter trip will be in order? Cape Cod, New England, Atlantic City and even Washington DC are all possibilities. Artist Sascha Maurer designed for both the New Haven and the Pennsylvania Railroads. The New England and the Atlantic City art below was designed by Maurer. Ben Nason also designed an array of posters for the New Haven Railroad, including the Cape Cod poster below.

  
  

Maybe you’d like to travel to a different city, a litter further away? Maybe you should visit Cincinnati!

Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the Pennsy, you it is impossible to not love this poster by Mitchell Markovitz.

Chicago is always a lovely place to visit!
  

Did I say tour the country? I lied. Maybe a visit to Canada is in order?
 

Now who doesn’t love a nice trip to America’s National Parks, the Pacific Northwest, or even California? Maurice Logan, William and Kenneth Willmarth designed some of these lovely views of the western United States.
   
  
  

Maybe a nice jaunt to the southwest? Artists Don Perceval and Oscar Bryn created these lovely posters for the Santa Fe.
   

Are mountains more your thing? Austrian artist Gustav Krollmann worked on these lovely designs…
 

Oh forget it, let’s just go everywhere! The awesome Amtrak posters designed by illustrator David Klein in 1973 make me want to see the entire country. Klein has a large body of work that is travel-themed, stretched over his entire career. His most known works were for Trans World Airlines, but he also produced work for Holland America Cruises and travel website Orbitz. Klein’s undeniably gorgeous work made railroads once again appear glamorous, just as they were in yesteryear.

 
  

Now that we’ve traveled around the country through railroad art, are you planning to take a vacation to some interesting locale? Are you going to go by train? Let us know in the comments!

Read More

The opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail, and the Hopewell Junction Depot

Last Saturday marked the official opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail, and festivities were held in Hopewell Junction to celebrate this newly completed “linear park.” Though the event focused on the dedication of the rail trail to former County Executive William R. Steinhaus, it is impossible to miss the newly-restored depot just steps away. After many years of lying vacant, and even being burned by arsonists, the depot was eventually restored to greatness. The depot lies at the east end of the trail, and will serve as a welcome center for visitors.

Hopewell has a long history of railroading – the first railroad to arrive was the Dutchess and Columbia in 1871. It was followed by the New York & New England’s line in 1881. The first railroad crossing over the Hudson River south of Albany opened in Poughkeepsie in 1888, leading to additional traffic through Hopewell. That link formed the “Maybrook Line,” which is now the Dutchess Rail Trail.

 
  
 
  

Historical views of Hopewell Junction depot. All photos via the Hopewell Junction Restoration Corp.

Saturday’s festivities also marked an unofficial event for the Depot – the first opening of what I call the “museum room.” Over the past few months, I worked with other volunteers to design four interpretive panels highlighting the history of local railroading through Hopewell, and its impact on the community. All four panels were completed, printed, and hung for the rail trail event.

Hopewell Junction interpretive panels
Hopewell Junction interpretive panels
These are the interpretive panels now on display at Hopewell Junction

 
  
  
 
  
The restored Hopewell Junction Depot and the new interpretive panels on display.

In all, the Dutchess Rail Trail opening was a lovely event, and heavily attended. Hopewell Junction is now connected by trail to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is an attractive journey.

   
   
  
   
   
  

Photos from the opening of the Dutchess Rail Trail

While some of the most die-hard railfans are sometimes against the conversion of rail lines into rail trails, I am generally in support of rail trails due to the fact that they preserve the history of abandoned rail lines. The original concept behind rail trails was railbanking – essentially preserving the railroad’s right of way in case there would be reactivation in the future. In practice, however, railbanking by converting to trails is at best a scam, and at worst an acceptable to way to grab land, or a method to support the trucking industry by ensuring that competition by rail freight will never be restored. Once the right of way is converted to a trail, turning it back into a rail line is almost impossible, or as Metro-North President Howard Permut said regarding reactivating the Harlem Line up to Millerton, “how do you de-map a rail trail?” Although the Rails to Trails Conservancy admits its origins in the concept of railbanking, they have little regard for railroads. In fact their 2011 annual report celebrates a victory in preventing a rail line from reactivating service – and we’re talking about a rail line that still had tracks on the ground, and had not been turned into a trail.

Alas, this is the reality of the United States, where the car reigns supreme, and few realize the true benefits of railroads. Many railfans tend to believe in the fairy tale that all former rail lines could be reborn, but that will never happen. In instances where a revival of train service will probably never happen, I support turning these lines into trails to preserve their history. Considering that the actual rails where the Dutchess Rail Trail now sits were gone even before I was born, an entire generation grew up with almost no clue that a railroad had been there. The line remained abandoned and forgotten for decades before being developed into a trail. At least the rail trail preserves its memory. The Dutchess Rail Trail and the recently restored Hopewell Junction depot, serving as the east trailhead for it, are like a match made in heaven. In tandem, the depot (and its new museum room, with historical interpretive panels) and the trail will ensure that generations to come remember the history of this once proud rail line, and its service as a gateway to New England. It is the perfect embodiment of the pure rails to trails concept: “protecting and converting America’s unused rail corridors for multi-use trails.”

Unfortunately, the once-laudable concept of preservation by saving abandoned rail corridors has been perverted. Instead of saving abandoned corridors, trail proponents have set their sights on driving out existing railroads and claim the right of way for themselves (the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s how-to Acquiring Rail Corridors guides would-be vultures to circle existing railroads until they die). Two New York Rail lines – the Catskill Mountain Railroad, and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad – are both under fire from politicians and an extremely vocal group of trail proponents that want them gone by any means (including committing felonies and vandalism). The most serious case is the Catskill Mountain Railroad – a successful all-volunteer operation that attracts visitors from around the state and beyond to ride its scenic trains. While I credit former Dutchess County Executive Steinhaus for his role in preserving history on both the Dutchess and Harlem Rail Trails, it seems that Ulster County Executive Mike Hein is green with jealousy, and foaming at the mouth to get his own rail trail, even if it means taking down an active railroad in the process. Mr. Hein, I think you miss the point, we’re supposed to be preserving history, not demolishing it.

Adirondack Scenic Railway
Advocates for rail trails seek to shut down the Catskill Mountain Railroad and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (pictured above) and turn them into trails.

Hein has promoted tourism to Ulster County (conveniently, the agency engaged in this promotion is a financial donor to Mr. Hein), yet seeks to take down a railroad that does in fact attract tourists, all of which is run by volunteers with no cost to the county. Rail trails are certainly in vogue these days and popping up everywhere – so why would any tourists travel to Ulster just for a trail, when they could visit one closer to home? An economic impact analysis of the rail trail plan, with grossly inflated numbers, compares the proposed trail with the Walkway over the Hudson. No offense, Mr. Hein, but that is apples to oranges – the Walkway is a unique creation, and undoubtedly draws tourists for that exhilarating experience of walking across the mighty Hudson. A trail in the Catskills wouldn’t attract anywhere close to the visitors that the Walkway receives.

If any of you out there like the Dutchess or other rail trails, and you support the actual preservation of history, go lend a hand to the Catskill Mountain Railroad, which desperately needs financial support. They support rails WITH trails – a no brainer solution.

Why demolish an active rail line when the county could easily create a trail alongside it? Because a rail with trail “decreases the usefulness” of a trail, will lead to safety issues for the railroad, and will increase costs? That is grasping at straws. Why should anyone trust anything the county has to say in their report, especially when cited public estimations of fixing a bridge on the line were more than $850,000 dollars, yet the railroad repaired it with volunteers for under $30,000? As for safety, the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2000 study, as cited by the US Department of Transportation, found that Rails with Trails “are compatible with active railroads” and “are just as safe as other trails.” So really, why does Hein refuse to consider a rail and trail? Is it an ego thing, or has another company or PAC that donates money to Mr. Hein yet again greased the wheels?

Volunteers repair the C9 Bridge
Hein & Friends like to depict the Catskill Mountain Railroad as a failure by showing photos of Hurricane Irene damage. Even established railroads like Metro-North were heavily damaged by this storm. In reality, volunteers repaired the storm damage and more without the FEMA funding earmarked for it, as Mike Hein refuses to disburse it.

Support rails with trails, and preservation of our history. That would make a real world-class tourist attraction.

Save the Rails

Read More

Get your butt over to the RMNE this weekend!

Last Sunday I had a very enjoyable time taking photos at the Railroad Museum of New England, and figured I would share some of the photos from the day. Last weekend the museum played host to Flagg Coal 75, affectionately nicknamed Hank. The weather wasn’t the best last weekend, especially on Saturday, but this weekend’s weather is supposed to be a lot better. And that is perfect for you – as Hank will be visiting for a second and final weekend. You still have a chance to see steam on the Naugy this season!

The RMNE has a fancy-pants website (not some circa-1998 design abomination) and it allows you to purchase tickets online. So if you ask me, you should be on that site right now buying a ticket for a ride this weekend. Tickets are still available for Friday’s rides at 2 and 4, and rides on Saturday and Sunday at 10, 12, 2, and 4. You’ll have a lot of fun. Trust me.

 
  
 
   
 
 
 

Read More

Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Naugatuck

As a member of a younger generation in the US, trains for me are merely a method of transportation – a means for me to get to work, or to get into the city. I do know, however, that trains were not always for people, but for moving goods (of course there still are freight trains, but they are not nearly as abundant as they once were). Many local areas have identities based upon either the rail, or the items that were once produced there… though in most cases the rail is no longer there, or the items are no longer produced there. Canaan, for example, was known as a railroad town, at the junction of the Housatonic Railroad and the Central New England Railway. Despite the fact that rail service there ended long ago, and even after the historic station was partially destroyed by fire, Canaan still fiercely holds on to that identity.

Other towns hold onto their old identities as nicknames – Waterbury is the Brass City and Danbury is the Hat City. This week we’re hopping back to the Waterbury Branch, to take a look at Naugatuck. Naugatuck’s identity was based upon the rubber industry that operated there, and the railroad used for transporting it. The railroad arrived in Naugatuck in 1849, and much of the town’s success was based upon it, and the rubber. One of the last vestiges of that industry may be some old factory buildings, and the appropriately named street, Rubber Avenue, located not far from the railroad station.

Metro-North’s station in Naugatuck, located 82.5 miles from Grand Central, is the same small variety seen in the other stations we’ve been to on the Waterbury Branch. There is a small bus-style shelter, and there are no ticket machines. Platforms are low-level and accommodate one train car’s door for entering and exiting. Located alongside the station is the original Naugatuck station, which is now occupied by the Naugatuck Historical Society. The station was built in a Spanish Colonial Revival style and designed by architect Henry Bacon. Work on the station began in 1908, and it was completed in 1910. It remains in good condition, and is quite attractive. There is a museum inside, but I never got a chance to check it out while I was there.

 
  
   
 
  
 
   
 
  
 
   

Read More

History of my Hometown: The Railroad in Southbury

Despite the fact that I’ve been a Harlem Line rider for most of my life, I didn’t actually live in New York until two years ago (sorry regular readers, I’ve probably said that a million times). I grew up in a small farm town in Connecticut called Southbury. The place would be miserably boring, except for the fact that Interstate 84 bisects the town, making it easier to get to the more populated areas of Waterbury and Danbury. Southbury is just about equally distant from those two, with Danbury to the west and Waterbury to the east. But Danbury and Waterbury branch trains were hardly as frequent and reliable as those on the Harlem Line, so we always took a ride to either Brewster or Southeast and boarded the train from there.

Southbury isn’t much of a farmtown anymore, however. Many of the farms have been sold for commercial purposes. The place where I used to pick pumpkins as a child is now a strip mall, complete with grocery and office supply stores. A once-grassy hill is now home to a chain pharmacy. After the place had been constructed, a few finishing details were added to the outside of the building: one of which was the address. 14 Depot Hill. Apparently the construction workers were hardly typographers, and didn’t place the ‘p’ on the proper baseline, making it look like ‘DePot.’ It prompted an editorial in the local newspaper, reminding the town of why exactly the road was called Depot Hill – it was once the location of a long-gone railroad depot.

I had known there was a railroad past in the town. In school it was briefly discussed – including the head-on collision between two trains that supposedly was the end of the railroad. After reading much on the subject of rail history, I seriously doubted this. Railroading wasn’t the safest occupation, and accidents happened frequently. I hardly believed an accident would cause the line to be shut down. But on December 10, 1892 two trains did collide – and the engineer and conductor on one were thrown in jail for apparently forgetting they were scheduled to wait on a siding for an oncoming train to pass. It didn’t mark the end of the rail line, though.

 

Southbury’s station was part of the New York and New England Railroad, which operated from 1849 to 1898. In 1898 the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad leased the line. Service to Southbury continued until 1948. Today there is hardly any evidence that a railroad ran through the town, except for Depot Hill, and a few remaining portions of the railroad trestle bridge that spanned Lake Zoar. Some of the former rail bed has been converted into the Larkin State Bridle Trail. Below are some photos of the railroad around my old town that I found in a few books and such. Most of them aren’t the best quality.

   
  
 
   
 
 
 

I am not 100% sure that the railroad bridge shown in the last historical picture corresponds with the remaining trestles that are there today (two bottom photos). The geography doesn’t quite match… though it is possible that the photo was taken before the Stevenson Dam was erected, which presumably altered that area, creating Lake Zoar. If anybody knows more about this, or actually has a photo that is definitely of that railroad bridge, leave me a comment!

Read More

Fall Roadtrip Day 2: Mountain Views & White River Junction

After day 1’s crappy weather, the sun on day 2 was quite pleasant. I won’t lie though, in the mountains it was pretty damn cold. My hands were seriously like cold icicles from holding the camera and taking pictures. I had a date with the alpine slide and a crazy zip line down the mountain, before heading to the summit for photos…

 
   
 
 

I also visited the train station at White River Junction for a few photos, before heading to some antiques place my dad was interested in seeing. There is a museum at the station, the New England Transportation Museum, but I knew it would be closed. They did have a restored engine outside that I was able to see. There was also a scenic train ride, but it didn’t really fit into our schedule.

 
  
   
  

Best part of the day? Vermont cheese samples everywhere. Cheese, om nom nom.

Read More