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

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Happy (early) Birthday, Chauncey Mitchell Depew

Every day when I ride the train down to White Plains, a crowd of folks hovers on the platform, waiting for the train to slow and then stop. They crowd around every door, masses of them, and a fight ensues. A fight of currents. The current of those disembarking clashes against those pushing themselves through and onto the train. If you don’t hold fast and push, you will be swept away before you can even place a foot on the yellow tactile stripping of the platform. And this, this is a daily ritual that I loathe. There is only one thing I hate even more than those that crowd around the doors attempting to get on the train: the people that hover in front of the doors, not to get on the train, but to accost each of the people disembarking with papers – usually some sort of politician’s propaganda. And while we’re being pretty honest here, I am not much of a fan of politicians, especially the ones that swarm train stations whenever an election looms. Some of you may remember back in the “olden days” when I first started this blog, every time a politician would forcibly hand me a piece of propaganda at a train station, I photoshopped it in some odd way and posted it. It was my own little way of rebelling. Though I may have stopped my photoshopping of politicians, the fact still remains: I don’t like politicians.

Politicians today are pretty weak. They don’t even write their own stuff, they get other people to do that. You think if they didn’t spend time writing it, the least they could do is memorize it. But no, they have to stoop to writing on their hands, using teleprompters, or just spewing complete bullshit that makes the rest of the world laugh at us – but hey, we elected them! It makes me want to go back to a time where politicians were badass… where they had duels to settle differences, and despite getting shot in the chest, still delivering their speeches. A time where the politicians could actually speak, a wonderful and eloquent stream of words – not any of this crap that dribbles like a man foaming at the mouth. Politics then would be a heck of a lot more interesting, and elections wouldn’t be a battle between the lesser of two evils.

I’m not sure if anyone really has a “favorite” historical politician. And if anyone does, it is probably a former president. I’m sure Abraham Lincoln’s name would probably come up. Maybe it is just a consequence of us looking back at history in retrospect. We learned his speeches in school, and heck, maybe even the fact that he was assassinated makes us look back and think, damn he was a good politician. But there was another man, not nearly as popular and most people today probably don’t even know his name, but I always seemed to think he was pretty cool. At minimum, he was a brilliant orator, the opposite side of the spectrum in terms of speeches today. But I must admit, perhaps I am a little biased about this fellow, as he was not only a politician, but he was also a railroad man.


Photographs of Chauncey Depew over the years

“Don’t be a damned fool!”
Usually when you’re looking to hire someone for a job, those are not the words you utter to the person you may potentially hire. But then again, most people aren’t the brusque Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt approached a Peekskill-born lawyer by the name of Chauncey Mitchell Depew, offering him a position as the attorney for the New York & Harlem Railroad – a position he was about ready to turn down. Depew had been offered a position as the US Minister to Japan. At that time the journey to Japan took a full six months, and thus the sending of any message took a full year. However, the monetary compensation was far higher than the railroad job – and Depew said as much to the Commodore. It was then that the Commodore fired back with the following: “Railroads are the career for a young man; there is nothing in politics. Don’t be a damned fool.” Depew took the railroad job.


1895 Harlem Division pass, signed by Chauncey Depew

Chauncey Mitchell Depew was born in Peekskill, New York on April 23, 1834. In his youth he spent significant amounts of time reading – his uncle was a postmaster, and at the time there was no mail delivery. Mail often sat a long while until the recipient came to pick it up, and in the interim a young Depew would peruse any newspaper or magazine that would arrive. As a young man Depew would attend Yale, and graduated from there in 1856. At that time there were no law schools in the country, and one would have to “read law” – a sort of apprenticeship – to become a lawyer. Depew “read law” with a lawyer in Peekskill and was accepted to the bar in 1858. Before being called by Vanderbilt, Depew worked as a lawyer in New York City, and served a brief stint as a member of the New York Assembly, and the Secretary of State for New York.


Photograph of Chauncey Depew, from the Library of Congress

All of that probably sounds just as boring as the pedigree of any politician, but there was something about Depew that intrigues me. He was quite the orator, and rubbed elbows with quite a few influential people that maybe you’ve heard of: Horace Greeley, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, and Teddy Roosevelt, just to name a few. Depew was described as having a “personal charm and a lovable disposition” – but for the most part he was remembered in his day as a brilliant speaker. You can in fact read many of his speeches, as well as his as his autobiography, for free online – and if you ever get a spare moment, I do find them rather interesting.

Most people today, however, will remember Depew as a railroad man (even though he served as a senator later in life as well). He accepted Vanderbilt’s offer of a position in 1866, a time when Vanderbilt’s roads consisted of a little over two-hundred-and-fifty miles. In the early 1900’s, that number had ballooned to over twenty-thousand miles in the system. By 1874 Depew had ascended to the position of Director of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and by 1882 was the Vice-President for the New York Central. In 1885 he was elected to the presidency, and in 1898 chairman of the board. He served as chairman until his death in 1928, working for the railroad for a total of 62 years.


The cover of New York Central Lines magazine, after the death of Chauncey Depew

Upon his death, Grand Central was draped in mourning. If one questioned the influence of Depew, one needs only look to the list of pallbearers for his funeral, consisting of Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. His wife received condolences from American presidents and European royalty. Though the man is long gone and many have forgotten him, you will still occasionally see references to him: Depew Park in Peekskill, various Depew Streets located around train stations, and the village of Depew, New York, located upstate. And then, of course, there are the words he left behind…

If your construction of success was honestly analyzed, it would probably mean to most minds the getting of money. The desire to acquire property is the most potent force in the activities of our people. It is the mainspring of of our marvelous development, and the incentive and reward of intelligent industry. It is alike the cause of the noblest efforts and the most revolting crimes.

We are at present sailing upon tranquil seas, with no clouds above the horizon and no warnings from the barometer. It is at such times that the prudent and experienced navigator hopes for the best and prepares for the worst.

Keep the roads paved and free from obstructions by which the industrious, the honest, and the capable, with no additional capital but character, can rise from any condition to the highest honors of the Republic, and the largest rewards of business.

Give to all men and women their full opportunities to work on their own destinies, and provide the incentives to efforts and ambitions which promote the enterprises and develop the resources of the country, and enrich and invigorate its intellectual life.

The indestructible union of liberty and law has given character and perpetuity in American institutions. It produced those perfect conditions, of freedom, protection, and equality, which peoples have sought for ages through bloody revolutions, and never before found. It has attracted to our shores fourteen millions of emigrants, against the superior advantages of soil and climate in Mexico and South America, or equal material opportunities in Canada. Most of this vast population have fled from the oppression of laws made for classes and working injustice and wrong to the masses. They have been of incalculable benefit to the country, and without them onr development and resources would be fifty years behind their present state. They have brought with them industry, integrity, and an intense desire to better their lives and improve the condition of their children.

Steam and electricity have made us one people, and for commercial pnrposes unified the world.

Trust and confidence are the foundation of success. Without them it is useless to begin and impossible to advance.

While we’re continuing our celebration of Harlem Railroad Month, I figured profiling a man who got his start on the New York & Harlem Railroad would be appropriate. Conveniently, Depew’s birthday would be tomorrow – so we’ll wish the two of them Happy Birthday on this day!

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Conductorlessness, Politician Love, & the Cat Girl Returns

So my morning train so far this week has been conductorless. Not to say he isn’t there, but I just haven’t seen him. Guy got switched to another job, and whoever took his place, well, I don’t know if this guy actually collects tickets. Considering this is a morning peak train going to Grand Central, I would think that tickets would sort of be, I don’t know, important? Really it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, I have a monthly anyways. But there are a bunch of people that I know don’t, who just happened to get two free rides so far.

Even the school kids that ride the train were like, “Where’s Guy?” I guess he never told them he was leaving. They always liked him though. One morning they had an amusing conversation
Kid: Is your name really Guy?
Guy: Yeah…
Kid: Wow…
Guy: When I was first born, my parents didn’t know what to name me. So back then they called me Boy. Now they call me Guy. And after fifty they’ll be calling me Man.

Oh well. Tomorrow I have to go to the city for a meeting, so I’ll be taking a different train than normal. I won’t see if we go a third day in a row conductorless.

I suppose it is getting rather close to elections, and because politicians apparently adore White Plains, they’ve frequently been hanging around the station. And everybody knows how much I love politicians. Or rather, how I love to draw on their brochures. Last week folks were passing out stuff for Andy Spano. I couldn’t do anything too terrible to his face, because he looks a lot like my now deceased grandfather. I was amused by the fact that along with the brochure, they gave out antibacterial hand gel. What kind of political message does that get across? That we are dirty, dirty people? They totally missed the chance at cheesy marketing: Andy Spano, cleaning up Westchester one person at a time!
spano
spano1
I left this on the ground at White Plains, in case one of the crazy people needed it.

In other news, the Cat Girl has returned. There are many people that ride the trains, passengers as well as conductors, that know me merely by the name Cat Girl. All because of my cat hat.
peace
Since the temperature has begun to get colder, I’ve taken out the hat and have been wearing it for the past week or so. I always say that the cat hat spreads joy wherever it goes. Something quite so silly and minor, does in fact make people smile. An elderly disabled war veteran in White Plains. A woman whom I’ve nicknamed Ginger, who told me that every morning she sees me wearing the hat, it makes her smile. A rather effeminate young man was curious to know where one could purchase a hat similar. And you, passenger, I saw that little tug at the side of your lips, a barely-there smile, when I got on the train.

Since I’ve been asked far too many times, the hat was made by the wonderful Susan over at Boshi-Basiik. They make some incredibly cute hand made hats there, so do take a look.

Oh, and if you do happen to see a Cat Girl on the train, be sure to say hello :D

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A Symphony of Sniffles, Bickering Twins, and More Politicians

You know what I seemed to forget this whole summer? Kids that ride the train to school. It was so wonderfully quiet without them… but now they’re back! Around White Plains I tend to see quite a few students from *unnamed school*… and when they aren’t discussing how they use cell phones, text messages, and all the other current technologies to cheat on their exams, they focus on getting the rest of the train passengers sick with what is probably swine flu. If I was a little bit nicer, perhaps I would have brought a box of tissues with me and given it to the whole lot of them. The other day the train really was filled with a symphony of sniffles. They all piped in at one point or another, but one kid, well, he was the metronome. He kept the beat of the slow-paced song with his every-five-second sniffles. Several people boarded the train and sat rather close to these kids, but within a few moments of hearing their song, they quickly got up and left. But hey, if you feel like sitting by yourself on the train, you can also use this tactic. Just start a terrible round of fake hacking coughs when people are boarding the train… Eighty, if not more, percent of the time, everyone will keep their distance from you, the sickie.

The other day I had to double check that I didn’t have any vision problems when I saw two identical twins on the platform. The amusing thing is that they must have gotten into a fight or something, because they were each pretending like the other wasn’t there. They were standing about twenty feet from each other, and I stood right in the middle, looking from one side of the platform to another. Really, I thought I was crazy, or my eyes were playing tricks. Too bad I missed the fight, must have happened shortly before I arrived at the station. That might have been interesting. I wonder though, who the hell do you root for when two identical twins get in a fistfight?

In other news, politicians are again hanging out at the train station, oh joy! Politicians are always my favorite. Last week there was a man passing out papers about Rob Astorino. I always love to see what is going on, so I went to grab one. But the man didn’t hand one to me right away, instead he squinted his eyes and stared at me. And then he mumbled, “are you even OLD ENOUGH to vote?!” That is sort of like when I go to restaurants and the waitress asks if I want a kids’ menu. Or at work when someone asks me if I am visiting my mommy or daddy… dammit, don’t you just hate when that happens?!

Back to politicians though, is there any amusing term that one uses for a person that is constantly following around a politician? Groupie? Or perhaps fanboy? Mr. Astorino apparently needs to find some better fanboys to pass out papers, ones that don’t mumble and you can actually understand. Like Dan Schorr’s friend with the large moustache. He is very loud and you certainly can understand him, other than the fact that you wonder where the sound is coming from because his facial hair is so large you don’t see his lips move.

This week, Mr. Astorino himself was in White Plains. Sort of just standing there smiling. As everyone rushed by. But hey, I noticed something… the little brochure that was being handed out, it looked a lot like another politician I know! I can’t believe the resemblance! Even the design of the brochure is the same… can you believe it?

putin_astorino

Alright, alright. Perhaps that was a bit much. But I mean, it isn’t like anyone ever photoshops pictures of politicians!
robbiebikini

Actually, this whole thing was amusing, because I had the brochure sitting on my desk here at work, and my supervisor came in and said, “Oh my god, that is Robbie Astorino! I was in third grade with him!” If only she knew about Robbie and his american flag bikini. I think Sarah Palin has one just like it too! Hmm…

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