Unexpected Surprise: Stumbling on to one of New York’s Rarest Railway Operations

Follow up to Brian’s Blue Diesel Distraction.

It was one of those days where I was following my instincts.

As profiled yesterday, we’d started out after the New England Central; diverted to Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield yard, then focused on the westward freight EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction).

More than 30 years ago, I’d travel to East Deerfield in search of antique locomotives in regular service. My friends and I would delight in finding old EMD switchers, plus GP7s, GP9s, and the rare GP18s at work.

Better were run through freights with Delaware & Hudson Alco diesels. If we found an interesting consist on a westward freight, we’d follow it up toward the Hoosac Tunnel and beyond into Vermont. A good chase would bring us clear to the Hudson River Valley at Mechanicville.

The catch phrase ‘to the River!’ has come mean a day-long chase to the Hudson.

Pan Am Railway's EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction freight) disappears into the bowels of Hoosac Mountain. It was the last we saw of this train.
Pan Am Railway’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction freight) disappears into the bowels of Hoosac Mountain..

So when Paul Goewey and I started west after the EDRJ on Tuesday February 9, 2016, it was my hope to re-live and re-create one of those great 1980s chases. And, after all this train essentially had a 1970s era lash-up of engines and was well suited to the spirit of the exercise.

After photographing EDRJ at the East Portal of Hoosac Tunnel, we followed the narrow switchback road up the mountain to Route 2, and then drove west from North Adams. We’d heard on the radio that EDRJ was to work at Hoosick Junction and meet the eastward intermodal train symbol 22K.

‘We’ll drive directly to Eaglebridge (New York) and intercept the 22K there.’

Good plan.

When we crested a hill near Eaglebridge, I pointed out the little used tracks of the Battenkill Railroad. Paul said, ‘looks like something has been over the line recently’

And then I saw a wisp of blue smoke (not Merle Travis).

“It’s an Alco!”

Blue smoke at Eaglebridge on February 9, 2016. Fuji film X-T1 photo.
Blue smoke at Eaglebridge on February 9, 2016. Fuji film X-T1 photo.

Indeed it was. We’d stumbled on to the Battenkill local working with a pure former Delaware & Hudson RS-3.

I’d photographed the Battenkill on various occasions over the years, but always with elaborate planning and careful arrangements. Since neither of us had been to Eaglebridge in many years (at least four for me), to arrive in time to catch this elusive operation was a true find.

This antique Alco RS-3 is still lettered for Battenkill precursor Greenwich & Johnsonville. FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
This antique Alco RS-3 is still lettered for Battenkill precursor Greenwich & Johnsonville. FujiFilm X-T1 digital photo.
Alco RS-3 in the sun at Eaglebridge. How many RS-3s are serviceable in the United States? And of those how many work revenue freights? This once common locomotive is now among the most elusive.
Alco RS-3 in the sun at Eaglebridge. How many RS-3s are serviceable in the United States? And of those how many work revenue freights? This once common locomotive is now among the most elusive.

The caveat: if we’d stayed with EDRJ we’d missed the Battenkill.

Soon we were ambling up the Hoosic Valley making photographs of one of New York State’s more obscure railways.

Crossing the Hoosic River at Eaglebridge. By the way 'Hoosic', 'Hoosick' and 'Hoosac' are all correct derivatives of the same name.
Crossing the Hoosic River at Eaglebridge. By the way ‘Hoosic’, ‘Hoosick’ and ‘Hoosac’ are all correct derivatives of the same name. (And yes, I made a color slide here too!).

MORE TOMORROW!

 

 

4 thoughts on “Unexpected Surprise: Stumbling on to one of New York’s Rarest Railway Operations”

  1. The pics of the Battenkill RS are trophies !! They are all beautiful. When I saw the shot on the bridge over the Hoosic, I thought of the Rutland RS units over the Wallomsac Bridge (albeit combination deck and girder constuction )taken by Jim Shaughnessy perhaps 60 years earlier. You seemed to capture that same magic !! Well done

  2. In my 1932 Official Guide, the Battenkill line from Eaglebridge was part of the Delaware & Hudson, with two passenger services daily, including Sundays, from Eaglebridge to Rutland. Even then, the line westwards, at the North end of the Battenkill, seemed to have no passenger service.

    That picture on the river bridge is superb!

    1. Historically the Battenkill’s line, when it was part of the D&H network, would have been an important a milk route. It served Dairy producing areas from Rutland Vermont south, and trains would have probably forwarded milk for consumption in New York City.

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