Always loved trains. Crazy about them. A maniac about trains. Call me a train-iac. Yeah that’s it. A train-iac.
Had a Lionel modern train set in the basement when I was growing up. My father took the train from White Plains each day to work in Manhattan. Every once in awhile, he took me to work with him. When I got my driver’s license, my job was to pick up Dad on the 5:19…and be on time.
About 10 years ago, I rode the Hiawatha Trail, an abandoned part of the Milwaukee Road that snakes through the states of Montana and Idaho. It’s a 17-mile ride one-way, and features nine tunnels and at least seven trestle bridges. The first tunnel is nearly two miles long, and a headlamp or bike light is required.
Right now I’m living in a town called Hopewell Junction, New York, a quiet village that grew up around a railroad more than a century ago. There’s a depot in Hopewell Junction that was built in 1873 and is currently being restored. through some herculean volunteer efforts.
Hopewell was once home to a Borden’s creamery, which opened in 1901. Before trucks become a more efficient form of transportation, the trains would pick up the big 10-gallon tins of milk from farmers throughout the area, bottle it, and send it to the New York City. Refrigeration was blocks of ice cut from local ponds in the winter.
Other trains rumbled through Hopewell bringing goods — and troops during World War II – to New England before the tracks on the Poughkeespie Railroad Bridge (now the Walkway over the Hudson) burned in 1974. The last train from Poughkeepsie to Hopewell ran through the village 30 years ago.
Soon after the tracks were torn up. One of the lines remains, it’s runs right past my house. But it’s been years since it’s seen any traffic.
However, some of the old rail lines in the area have been converted into rail trails. They are wide, flat, paved surfaces that extend through woods, with remnants like old rail bridges, signals and telegraph poles still visible
No more trains
Trains no longer ride these trails, and haven’t for a long time. But people walk them and roller blade them and pedal them. Recently, I bought a new bicycle, a Giant hybrid. Felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Got that Woody Guthrie urge, wanted to ride the rails.
This weekend, I rode the trails. Took the Dutchess Rail Trail from Hopewell over the Hudson via the Walkway and up into Highland on the west side of the river on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. Out and back. There are still a couple of short gaps to be filled in on the Dutchess Rail Trail — the biggest chore is going to be spanning a creek and six lanes of Route 55 near Manchester.
On Sunday, rode the Harlem Valley Rail Trail from Wassaic station, the end of the Metro North Harlem line, to Millerton, a bit more than 93 miles north of Grand Central Station.
All told, that’s more than 70 miles of pedaling this weekend. And although the trains no longer travel these routes, if you listen closely you can still hear the lonely sound of a whistle
Way back in 1889, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge opened, spanning the Hudson River and linking New York and New England to an extensive railway network for both passengers and freight.
The bridge was considered an engineering marvel of the day, and at one time was the longest bridge in the world. It features seven main spans with a total length is 6,767 feet, including approaches, and the deck is 212 feet above water.
The bridge remained as the only Hudson River crossing south of Albany until the construction of the Bear Mountain Bridge in 1924. Throughout World War II, the Poughkeepsie bridge carried troops to be shipped overseas. At the zenith, 3,500 train cars crossed the bridge on a daily basis.
And now, after decades of inactivity following a fire in 1974, the bridge has been transformed into the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge and a New York State Historic Park. The Walkway provides access to the breathtaking Hudson River landscape for pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists.
And what an incredible view, more than 200 feet above the river. Vistas everywhere, from the Mid-Hudson Bridge and Poughkeepsie skyline to the south, to the bluffs of the Hudson and the Catskill Mountains to the north, shown below. Priceless.
The World in 1889
The world was a lot different in 1889, some 120 years ago, when the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge first opened. That year for instance, President Grover Cleveland signs a bill admitting North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington as U.S. states, before turning over the reins to Benjamin Harrison.
That same year, The South Fork Dam collapsed in western Pennsylvania, killing more than 2,200 people in the Johnstown Flood.
Meanwhile, the Coca-Cola Company was incorporated in Atlanta. The Wall Street Journal was established in 1889, and Herman Hollerith received a patent for his electric tabulating machine, an early precursor to the computer.
In the world of sports, there was no NFL and no Stanley Cup. And basketball was still just a gleam in the eye of James Naismith. The first Olympics, in Athens, was still seven years away.
In 1889, the New York Giants, leaders of the National League defeated the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association, 6 games to 3, in an exhibition series for the championship of baseball. Dan Brouthers of the Boston Beaneaters hit .373 to win the National League batting title, while Tommy Tucker of the Baltimore Orioles led the AA with a .372 average. John Clarkson of Boston and Bob Caruthers of Brooklyn won 40 games apiece to pace their respective leagues.
As trains rumbled over the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, shown above, Spokane won the Kentucky Derby, Willie Renshaw took the last of his seven Wimbledon crowns, and Willie Park Jr won British Open in a playoff.
And undefeated Princeton won 10 games to win the college football championship (there was no playoff system in 1889 either fans).