Just a ‘train-iac’ riding the rail trails


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 IMG_0103a 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.

Milk trains
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, IMG_0099paved 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


What Goes Around, Comes Around

Heard from an old college buddy the other day. Jeff turned me on to a few things during our days on the hill in the early way back when, including a certain rock artist from New Jersey, name of Springsteen.

Anyway, Jeff, who was never much of a sports fan, e-mailed me the other day and said I should get into cycling, especially the Tour de France.

“Absolutely compelling,” wrote Jeff. “Think of it, not a game of 2 hours duration
with substitutes going in. We’re talking 21 stages,, 2500 miles,
almost everyday, with the winner coming in often seconds ahead after
3 weeks of racing. The drama, the old school rules, the mano a mano
duels and the crashes, the scenery, are the stuff of legend. These
are the best athletes in the world.”

Well, I have ridden a bike. And I did cover cycling in the 1970s, when I was writing for the Fitchburg-Leominster Sentinel and Enterprise in central Massachusetts. Each year, around the Fourth of July, hundreds of cyclists race breakneck through the streets of the old, industrial city of Fitchburg in the Arthur Longsjo Memorial Race. Today the race is known as the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, the self-proclaimed largest pro/am cycling competition in North America.

The race began in 1960 in memory of Art Longsjo, a Fitchburg resident, who competed in both the 1956 Winter Olympics as a speed skater and the Summer Olympics as a cyclist. Two years later, Longsjo was killed in an automobile accident while returning home from a cycling victory in Quebec.

Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven straight times from 1999-2005, won the Longsjo race in 1992. Tyler Hamilton won the race in 1996; in the 2004 Olympics in Athens he captured a gold medal in the individual time trial.

Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France in 1986 and a three-time champion, raced in Fitchburg as a junior. Sheila Young, who won three speed skating medals (a medal of each metal) in the 1976 Winter Olympics, competed in the 1976 Longsjo.