N.Y., Ontario and Western Caboose, Published 26 March 1945I looked up suddenly, and there was Utica, staring me light in the face. Since this is one of the termini of the New York. Ontario and Western Railway, I quickly got in touch with F. B. Littlefair, the agent, and arranged to ride the freight from Clinton in to the Canal Yards at Utica. Thus did I contrive to travel on my 87th railway. (Those 18 in Europe don't count.)
The New York, Ontario and Western Railway has a total length of 568 miles, from Weehawken to Oswego. Actually, their own iron starts only at Cornwall, farther up the Hudson, since they sold the lower end to the West Shore, a subsidiary of the New York Central. However, the N.Y.O. & W. sends its own power down to Weehawken, which is opposite New York on the Jersey side, to handle the passenger and commuter business. The passenger business dies out however, at Walton, and from then on, it is an all-freight line. There was a day, long ago, when old No. 5 of the O. & W., as it is familiarly known, used to run in as many as five sections, hauling immigrants up to Oswego, at which point Ogdensburg, Rome and Western, or some such combination, took the colonists on to Buffalo. In those far off halcyon days, the O. & W. even had diners. They still have parlor cars. Incidentally, they had 50 slick new coaches which Uncle Sam grabbed for the pooling arrangement, and the railway hasn't got over that loss yet.
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What I was about to do was to go out to Clinton, and ride the freight, downbound from Rome, into Utica. This was to be my second attempt to ride the New York, Ontario and Western. Over in Oswego in 1943, one lovely September day, I tried to ride a train. Not only did they not have one in town, but even the Diesel switcher was down at the waterfront, so I had to leave Oswego without riding the railway. The Oswego Chamber of Commerce felt pretty cut up about that.
Agent Littlefair was all set to take me out to Clinton, to meet Extra 315, when a Pennsylvania Railroad coal car got a gazelle complex, and leaped lightly from the rails. Last report on that was that experts from Norwich were coming up to decide whether they could work the Pennsy car back on the track with local talent, or whether they'd have to send for the hook. The upshot of all this was that Mr. Littlcfalr's family took me out to Clinton, scene of Hamilton College. I asked a student where the station was. Typical of the average college student, he said he did not know the town had a station. Had he turned round, he could have seen it, 200 feet away. Then I asked a nice old lady where the station was. She said: "It used to be down there, but there are no trains anymore." I couldn't argue with her that Extra No. 315 was due any second, so rushed down to where she said the station "used to be." As it turned out, it still was there. Seeing a caboose, I jumped in. Wrong number! That was Extra 319 outbound to Norwich. Thus, one short block away were two people who denied the existence of a station, a station you could see, a station where a train was puffing, and a station which a minute later, when the board went down, re-echoed to a terrific toot from 319.
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My train wasn't in so I chinned with Edmond Covell, the despatcher, till it got there. Mr. Covell likes the fishing in Canada, and went into paeans about the Laurentide Park in Quebec. I put in a plug for Timagami, I who haven't tied a worm around a bobber nor sunk a fly into a creel in 20 years. (On The Citizen, our Mr. Bower writes about fish, and I write about freights.)
When the extra 315 rolled in. I handed Conductor F. E. Shaver my authorization to ride, and settled down to find out about the railway. It turned out that the boys weren't any too well posted about the south end, and I tied them in knots when I tried to find out what the power was like.
"Look." I said to Conductor Shaver. I'll get cross examined by Deputy Clerk of the Commons Boyce for half an hour about this trip, and the power you have. Now try to tell me what kind of engines they have at the south end."
Conductor Shaver, a perfect gentleman, felt that if he minded his business, that was all he could handle in this life, and admitted he never went into motive power much. When I started talking about Pacifies. Hudsons, and such, he floundered, but when I got round to 2-8-2's, to 4-6-2's. to 0-10-0's, and the like, he gave up.
"Well sir, you got me," he confessed.
Best I could learn was that they had some 30 year old 4-6-2's running passenger north from Weehawken, of the lower 400 class. The higher 400's were presumably 2-8-2's. That, Mr. Boyce, is as far as I could get.
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But most curious engine I glimpsed was old 52 in the yards. She was a camel back, with cab in the middle. Built in 1911 to burn hard coal, she had a sort of elongated fire box that baffled me. Converted later to soft coal, she had a separate place for the fireman. Thus neither could see the other without looking out the windows. Sounds absurd, but old 52's not a bad yard goat at that.
The trip itself was pleasant. I rode in the cupola, I discussed shoe and meat rationing with Conductor Shaver, and I sighted a Lackawanna local go by. The trip was slow, but I could have wished a longer ride. What I saw of the O. & W. I liked.
I bow politely in the direction of George Zabriskie, New York City, livewire freight traffic manager of the railway, who when, he heard I could not ride his railway's plush, co-operated in seeing that I rode caboose 8310. The New York. Ontario and Western was a friendly railway all down the line. My 87th railway was one of my pleasantest.
Crest of the line is a "W" inside the letter "O."