Stations and Old Stories

When my parents had to drop off a package at the Railway Express Agency at the now long-gone New Haven Railroad station in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that’s when I got hooked on trains. I was five years old then, but the sight of an express train roaring by toward New York City had me riveted. From that day through my childhood, I would beg my folks to stop by the station so I could stand where so many travelers to up and down the East Coast trod upon those old wooden platforms. The place reeked of cigarette and cigar smoke, diesel fumes from idling locomotives, the noise of baggage carts and porters moving across the platforms, and those great, green REA trucks coming and going from their part of the station.

But as I became an adult, it wasn’t just the old country depots and big city stations that fascinated me. It was and still is the stories and even history that moved through them.

McAdam Junction, New Brunswick station in a colorized postcard image from the Stu Nicholson collection. McAdam Jct was a major division point for trains crossing the border into the U.S.

I think of a young couple, just married, changing trains in the middle of a dark, Canadian night at remote McAdam Junction, New Brunswick. It was 1942 and almost every train then was a “troop train” and McAdam Junction was the place where you passed through Customs to enter the United States. The couple was headed for Boston, Massachusetts and then on to near Lowell to work at an egg farm that supplied food for the war effort. (Ask an ex-GI about “powdered eggs”.) The couple was expecting their first child . . . my sister. I would come along about eight years later.

“Big Four” Depot at Galion, Ohio. Galion was a division point for the New York Central and thus hosted division offices on the upper floors.

During that same World War II era, another young man stood on the platform at the “Big Four” depot at Galion, Ohio. I would meet him many years later when he was an old man with memories. He told me he went to work to earn extra money for his family as a courier for a local mortuary. It was his job to pick up caskets from the depot and bring them to the mortuary to be readied for funerals.

“Big Four” Depot at Galion, Ohio. The community is raising funds to complete the restoration of the depot and adjacent freight house.

What touches me to this day was when he said, “I was barely into my teens back then and I had to be ready to meet trains at any time of day or night. Of course, with the war on, many of the caskets came in on the trains and all were accompanied by an American flag and a soldier assigned to accompany the body.” He told me about how it struck him that many of these caskets contained the remains of “kids not much older than me.” Sometimes they were people he knew. Sometimes he would cart them from the Big Four depot over to the nearby Erie Railroad station for transfer to another train and on to another family waiting to grieve a returning son, brother or father.

Galion’s Erie station was torn down years ago, but the Big Four Depot still stands and is the subject of an on-going restoration.

Fostoria, Ohio Depot (Baltimore & Ohio Railroad). Now used as office for CSX Signal and MOW crews. It last saw Amtrak service in the mid 1990’s.

Fostoria, Ohio’s B&O depot shared some of that history and still stands, albeit as a local MOW facility for CSX. But in 1948, it hosted Harry Truman’s “whistle stop” campaign that helped him win a Presidential election that all of the experts predicted he’d lose.

Urbana, Ohio Depot (Pennsylvania Railroad) Restored, it houses a local coffee shop and  restaurant.

This photo is of the old Pennsylvania Railroad depot at Urbana, Ohio. It sits along the route that saw the funeral train of President Lincoln in 1865. Today, it hosts hundreds of joggers and bicyclists along an adjacent recreational trail and a local coffee shop/restaurant.

Find those people with stories to tell and gain an appreciation for what happened “down at the depot”.

Depot platform at Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 1975. The depot was built by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and changed hands to Penn Central. By 1975, it was owned by Amtrak.

And finally, back to my home state of Connecticut on a warm summer afternoon in the early 1970’s on the platform at Old Saybrook’s station along what is now Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but once was the New Haven Railroad’s Shoreline Route. Amtrak had just taken over, but a lot of old New Haven equipment could still be seen along a still jointed-rail mainline. The boiler-equipped “Geep” still sports its New Haven heritage, as do some of the cars it pulled from Boston to New York that day. What some would call “hippies” back then seemed more interested in rapping on a sunny day. They likely didn’t know or care that one of the passengers who often stepped off the train here was actress Katherine Hepburn, who lived nearby, or that the depot and its shoreline community survived the deadly and destructive Great Hurricane of 1938.

One wonders if my platform companions are now watching their grandchildren growing up, as I am. Wish I had gotten their story. I was too busy watching what was whizzing by on the tracks.

In following our love for trains, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s new that rolls by us. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that many of the same corridors that host the latest locomotive technology or “heritage” unit also once hosted history, however major or minor. Find those people with stories to tell and gain an appreciation for what happened “down at the depot”. And if the depot still stands, enjoy feeling the ghosts of those who stood on its platforms.

Stu NicholsonPhotographs and text Copyright 2018


Last Run

The End of Mail Service on the Chesapeake & Ohio

Postal clerks busy sorting mail on the go. The RPO car is on one of the C&O passenger trains that ran between Washington, DC and Cincinnati, Ohio.
F. Douglas Bess, Jr. Collection

The Railway Post Office (RPO) was in existence for over 130 years and was an efficient way to move mail throughout the United States. Mail was sorted in-route for destinations to insure timely delivery. The RPO car was off-limits to passengers, and postal clerks were armed with pistols.

October 28, 1967, however, marked the end of through RPO mail service on Chesapeake & Ohio passenger trains between Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati, Ohio. Although some limited sorting of mail still existed, it was really the beginning of the Post Office Department’s move to handle mail on trucks and planes throughout the U.S. Read more


Poetics of Place

I grew up in a neighborhood in the Bronx (the only part of New York City, as I always love to point out, that’s on the North American mainland) that was adjacent to the mainline of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and its no longer active Van Ness yards. This was in the 1940s. As a little kid I’d take walks there with my father, and marvel at the trains, tracks, and rail-side and yard hardware—the signals, towers, cranes, etc.

Although our apartment was small by most anyone’s current standards, my parents managed to find room to somehow set up a small Lionel O -gauge layout for me and my brother. The engine had to be Santa Fe. Why? A little kid fixation I suppose. During the war my father’s business relocated him to Amarillo, Texas. He went ahead to get settled. My Mommy and I followed. We rode out on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (at least west out of Chicago) on the Super Chief. That catchy McGuire Sisters song was regularly on the radio too. These sorts of things stuck and sunk in. They still resonate to this day. For many of us who loved railroading from early on in life, those early experiences perpetuate some essential atoms of our childhood throughout the course of all our accumulated decades. Read more


Editor’s Notebook

In the Shenandoah Valley – January, 2018

The Trackside Photographer is entering its third year of publication (we launched on March 3, 2016) and I want to thank everyone who has followed along with us. I am most grateful for the many contributors who have been wonderfully generous to share their photography and stories with us, and who make this site possible.

One of the joys of my job as editor has been the opportunity to see hundreds of your photos from around the world. I have learned a lot, both about railroads and photography.  Looking at the work of others inspires and fuels our growth as photographers, and that is the simple idea that keeps us on track.  There is more to come in 2018.  Join us! Read more


Trackside Interview #4 
Steve Crise

Steve Crise is a professional still photographer and lighting designer based in Los Angeles, California. His love of trains led him into photography, and his work has been featured in Railfan & Railroad, Trains, CTC Board, Railroads Illustrated, Model Railroader’s four articles on Rod Stewart’s HO scale layout, and annual report work for the BNSF and Union Pacific. He teaches each February at the Nevada Northern Railway on the basics of night photography using his electronic strobe equipment. Steve is active in several organizations devoted to the preservation of railroad history and has traveled widely to document the remaining traces of our railroad heritage.

Edd Fuller, Editor, The Trackside Photographer – Steve, shortly after I started The Trackside Photographer, I wrote to you asking if you would be willing to write for us, and we subsequently published a great article by you called “Macro vs. Micro.” I want to thank you for that, and for taking the time to talk with us about your work. Although you are a professional photographer with clients in many different fields, the railroad seems to be at the heart of your work. How did your love of railroads come about?

Steve Crise – I’m not entirely sure how my interest in railroads came about but legend has it that I used to cry in my car seat at the Southern Pacific’s Fletcher Drive crossing when my mother would often get stuck at that crossing. Her accounting of the situation would have you believing that I hated those noisy trains, but I think it was more about not being able to see them well enough from three car lengths behind the gates. Whatever it was that lit the flame it has stuck with me all these years. And to add fuel to that fire, it seems as though just about every Christmas I received some sort of toy or model train as a gift. Wooden trains, plastic trains, Marx, American Flyer, Tyco—it goes on and on. Aside from the modeling, I used to draw and paint a lot when I was a kid. I always had some sort of project going on. The American Flyer was always set up around the Christmas tree and once we moved into a larger home, I was allowed to build a small HO layout. The layout added to my interest in real trains because naturally I wanted my layout to look as real as possible. Read more

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The Glenapp Boys

Keeping the Dream Alive

Two thirds of the Glenapp Boys: Dennis Sibson (left) and Rob Sibson stand outside the cabin at Glenapp that they hope to stabilize and restore. Alan Sibson was not present the day this photo was taken.d

Early on a typical grey, warm and humid January morning, I find myself driving down the rough road that runs alongside the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) crossing loop (siding) at Glenapp, near the border between the states of Queensland and New South Wales. The last time I was here was in 2007 to observe the electric staff working be replaced by the new Remote Control Signalling installations ARTC was putting in on the crossing loops at the north end of its North Coast line. Back then, the vehicle access down to the signal cabin was poor, and hemmed in by rampant vegetation of numerous weedy varieties, while the signal cabin itself looked to be on the verge of going the same way as the electric staff machines it housed. Now, as then, the place is quiet, with just some bird song and an odd low rustling sound in the background. Read more

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