Location: [Home] [Train Travels] A Trip Through the Adirondacks
In July, my family had a week off and we stayed at a family cabin in the eastern Adirondacks. On an outing, we stopped somewhere and a flyer for the Adirondack Scenic Railway caught my eye. I thought it might make a nice activity for that vacation, but when I read it, I realized that it ran on precisely the opposite side of the mountains from where we were. So I didn't mention it.
After getting home, however, I showed it to my wife (mostly as a way of demonstrating that I am capable of letting sense enter into my fascination with trains). She appreciated the point, but also appreciated the idea of taking the trip during our August vacation, for which we'd made very few plans. Thus, three weeks later, we parked our car at the train station in Remsen for a ride to Old Forge.
Ordinarily the train runs from Utica, about thirty miles south of Remsen, but on the night of July 4 a violent rainstorm dumped eight inches of water on the area, and a large section of track washed out. So the railroad was running the excursion from the newly dedicated Remsen Station, which had been built by the Village of Remsen on the site and in the style of the vanished New York Central Railroad station. It is, in fact, a very lovely wood frame structure, complete with a longer wooden canopy over the platform area. It is a stop on the regular route.
We had stayed at a tiny motel nearby to be on time for the 9:15 am departure of the train. Before going to the station, we stopped at a small bakery in the village and sampled some of the best doughnuts made on the planet. I don't remember the name of the place, but it can't be missed: there's only one on the main street through the village, and that's it. It also has, wonder of wonders, actual penny candy which sells for -- can you believe it? -- a penny! My son bought some and I nearly collapsed in shock.
While at the bakery I fell into conversation with a man who is on the track crew for the railroad and had been working on the washout. We had a very nice conversation, and he told me some of the other problems it had caused: for one, about half of the road's equipment was south of the washout! They only had two locomotives and two trains' worth of passenger cars in Thendara, and they had to serve all the business. Even worse, the newer, more comfortable, more recently renovated cars generally used on this long run were nearly all in Utica! Only two, one coach and one baggage, were available for the service.
So the trainset that met our eyes was not a consistent one. Though all were originally from Canada's VIA rail, the last coach was a silver-painted commuter with six-wheeled trucks, while the other two were green with four-wheel trucks. The coach had very comfortable red plush seats, and it was coupled to a baggage car. Three of latters four doors were open and filled with a wood-and-chicken wire barrier so that passengers could get an excellent view.
The locomotive was an F7 painted for the Alaska Railroad. Later I heard its story from the conductor: it is owned by a private individual in Massachusetts who needed somewhere to keep it. Parking it on a railroad rapidly became expensive, so he and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad had come to an agreement: they could store it, maintain it and run it there, as long as he could operate it when he came to visit. It seemed an admirable solution to a tricky problem!
There was a big crowd for the train, as a tour bus (I think an Elderhostel tour) brought a large group. They got the comfortable coach, and the rest of us "small-party" passengers boarded the old commuter. It needed work: some of the walk-over seats were broken, and many of the floor tiles needed replacing. Modern speakers attached to the wall witnessed to an attempt to tie into the train's loudspeaker system, but the conductor came and told us that it wasn't working, so he stood in the aisle and described much of the points of interest to us.
Just north of Remsen the train came to Snow Junction, where it departed the rails of a short freight line and entered its own territory. The area was quite pretty, and many people have summer camps on the lakes and streams about. That meant a lot of small road grade crossings, and a lot of horn blowing. My impression is that the F7's horn is much louder than those on a modern F40 or Genesis! At two crossings, the conductor actually dismounted the train to flag cars on the road to a stop.
Despite a grey, drizzly day (which later became a heavier rain, much welcomed in the drought-blighted Northeast) the scenery was remarkable. The track crossed Kyuta (sp?) Lake on a long, high embankment, and later crossed the united Moose River over a long, low-sided trestle. Quite a few camps overlook the track in one place, and I was surprised to see a number of people sitting on their lawns waving as we went by, clearly out to see the train pass by! In other spots I spotted old stations from the New York Central days. Some were crumbling, a couple set to new uses, and one being slowly rebuilt by its owner.
The trip took about two and a half hours, and the conductors and guides were very helpful in answering questions and describing the sights. All, I gather, are volunteers; the senior conductor was a retired physician!
The Thendara/Old Forge station is very lovely, and a small yard about it holds various maintenance of way equipment. The tour group boarded a large motorcoach (the same one which had left them in Remsen) for the rest of their trip, while the rest of us boarded a yellow school bus which would take us into Old Forge. The bus driver, a very friendly woman, described the various sights to us and offered several places to drop us off. For our two haven't-had-a-real-chance-to-run-around-yet-today children, it was obvious: the playground. The park was about a mile off the main street, and the bus brought us right there.
Half an hour later, we decided it was time to head for lunch, at which point it started to rain. To our delight, the bus driver had noticed the rain and came back up to get us! She dropped us at a buffet restaurant, where we had quite a lot of enjoyable food. Buffets really do work well with young children.
We spent quite a lot of time in the Old Forge Hardware Store, which claims to have just about anything available. And in fact, it has books, records, hardware, furniture, linens, and a bunch of other stuff. Afterwards we wandered down the street looking at shops, and thinking that, in fact, there wasn't all that much to do with children in Old Forge on a rainy day.
The bus picked us up again and delivered us back to the Thendara station, where we boarded the same train for our trip south. This time the F7 was pushing, and one of the conductors stood in the doorway of the rearmost (now frontmost coach) -- this train did not have push-pull connections or an engineer's station for reversing, so the conductor had to give the engineer instructions by radio! The normal procedure is to run the engine around the train, but the available F7 cab unit only had vision in one direction, so they resorted to this method.
On this leg of the trip Brendan decided that he wanted to ride in the baggage car, and so we did -- all the way. Evelyn and Rebekah stayed in the long-distance coach, which was now available with the absence of the morning's tour group. The crew also had snacks available for sale at a small counter at one end of the car.
Brendan and I enjoyed the scenery -- getting damper by the minute! and the air, and talked with some of our fellow passengers. One woman had grown up in the area, and knew all the sights very well. We saw some deer being raised in an enclosure, and a quarry to which the Adirondack Scenic Railroad provides freight service. There are also a number of old stations along the line; some shacks, some more elaborate. One in particular is being slowly repaired by its owner.
We returned to Remsen about a half hour late (we hadn't left Thendara on time, for no reason I ever learned). We returned to our car and headed to dinner at Cafe Nero, a simply superb restaurant out in the farm fields outside of Remsen Village. I highly recommend it -- and don't forget the doughnut shop, either!
Locomotive: F7 in Alaska Railroad colors