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Nostalgia for the Adirondacks’ railroad days

August 12, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , The Leader Herald

Back in the Adirondack railroad building days, there were several schemes to build rail lines through the Adirondack wilderness. Many of these proposals were to join with navigation projects to connect the lakes and rivers into continuous transportation routes. Many ideas were formulated and promoted, money was lost, and a few made it to fruition.

In the 1830s, proposals for rail lines included a span from Little Falls to Piseco Lake and Raquette Lake along the East Canada Creek, and another railroad from Ogdensburg to Lake Champlain. In the 1880s, a rail line was proposed from Palatine Bridge to Piseco Lake and from Fort Plain to Arietta, with a branch through Ephratah, Rockwood, Newkirk's, Caroga, Canada Lake, Wheelerville and Arietta. Another line was proposed from Port Kent to Boonville, but nothing happened with most of these early "dreams."

In my estimation, it would have been possible to jump a train anywhere in the Adirondacks if all of the proposals got off paper, and the Adirondacks would have become much like Europe.

There is another Adirondack railroad that, although it is not a bump in the road like the Tahawus line, had its "fifteen minutes of fame" in Adirondack history. The tracks were on a roadbed of three-quarters of a mile, and it was the shortest standard-gauge railroad carrier in the whole world. And, the record shows, it had the wealthiest board of directors in the nation, with some of the names of America's richest families listed.

The steam locomotive, Old No. 2, purchased from the HK Porter Company of Pittsburgh in 1901, to replace a smaller oil-burning locomotive from Schenectady's American Locomotive Works and a too-heavy New York Central rented steamer, ran for some 29 years. An old newspaper editorial from the 1950s could be repeated today, depending upon which side of the reinstating original rail lines the newspaper might fall:?"If it had fire in its belly and ran today, railroad buffs would jump for joy. Movie films and camera sales would leap to astronomical heights in the Blue Mountain Lake area. And despite the fact that as an invention, history bluntly states it is 'extinct,' it would probably be a major money maker in the Adirondacks. Such is the power of nostalgia; such is the importance of things today that once were commonplace, but, having vanished, suddenly, inexorably attain rightful perspective in the public mind!"

(Wow! Those newspaper writers know how to say it.)

Today, that Old No. 2 has been rescued from a rusting Adirondack grave, splendidly restored, and "put out to pasture" at the Adirondack Museum.

William West Durant, an Adirondack developer, conceived the Marion River Carry Railroad to provide transportation from New York City to Blue Mountain Lake. In 1899, he had also deepened the river for steamboats and therefore built the tiny rail line to cover the the short portage.

The railroad seated 125 passengers and carried some 8,000 to 10,000 people per year until modern automobiles and highways put it out of business. Restoration of the once-popular railroad line has risen up in recent years and - who knows? - someday, passengers might once again experience the old steam engine with its boiling water pushing steam into its pistons and its wheels churning until they grasp the tracks, as it snorts its way through the woods. The clanging of the bell and the sound of the whistle could bring back memories and history from our Adirondack roots.



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