Stories: …to Trails

As years went by, one service after another was abandoned. The milk car was taken off, the Railway Express was taken off. The kids went to school by school-bus and the women went to work in the needle trades by bus or in their own cars. The passenger car and the mail car disappeared. And the coal traffic ended when people started using oil heat in their homes. So a time came when the New York Central wanted to get rid of the railroad. They did everything they could, but the various communities on the line had pride in the railroad and didn’t want to see it go out of business. And the red-tape of the Interstate Commerce Commission forced New York Central to keep it going, but they didn’t do any work on the roadbed and it deteriorated. When Penn Central was formed they again tried to abandon the road and, by this time, community interest in the railroad had declined. But there was one manufacturer in Walden, about thirty miles south of here, who had a box factory. He made gift boxes for such department stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Altman’s. He needed one carload of raw material each week and he insisted on his right to the rail service. But finally Conrail (who had assumed control) convinced him that they could service him by dead-heading a car from the southern end of the line if he would permit them to abandon this northern part. They came to an agreement and the northern part went through abandonment proceedings. Two years ago this spring the railswere taken up.

Two young men with some sophisticated machinery took that railroad apart in no time at all. And, while they were doing it, I had to say to myself, “By golly, in 1878, when that railroad was completed, how many horses and mules, how many men had to do hard, back-breaking work to put that railroad together!” It was absolutely amazing. The rails were taken apart with a heavy piece of steel about ten feet long and three feet wide with a hole in the middle of it. They would jack up one end of the rail and slip it through this hole in the metal so the front part of the rail was underneath and the rear part of the rail was on top. Then they’d hook a small tractor to the piece of metal and pull it backwards. The heavy metal held the ties down but uprooted the rails. Spikes, fish-plates, and all in one fell swoop. They didn’t have to get in there with crowbars to pull the spikes up, this procedure did it all, and did it so fast that you’d have to walk quickly to keep up with it! When they had two or three miles of rail torn up, they’d go back and do the other rail. Then they’d edge the rails off to the side of the roadbed where they lay like great, big, long ribbons. They’d then take the same tractor and put long arms on the front of it and go underneath the ties, picking up a great “armfull” of ties, fifteen or twenty, and cast them off to the side.

The ties were then sorted into three grades. The top grade were steel-banded into bundles and could be sold for about $12.00 each. The second grade would sell for about $8.00 each. And the poorest grade were just left there with the hope that people would come by and take them because, under D.E.C. regulations, they couldn’t be burned or buried. And, sure enough, people did come and pick them up, using them for patios, and retaining walls. The rails were left in long pieces to prevent theft until the time when they could be cut and removed. They had an ingenious crane/boom on a flatbed truck which was preceded by an acetylene torch which burned off the bolts on the fish-plates holding the rails together. They pick up the rail, shake it get rid of the fish-plate, and load it on to the truck for shipment to Trenton, New Jersey, where it was re-cycled.