The Catskills Revisited

Catskill Mountain Railroad

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108 Garfield Ave. Madison, New Jersey 07940

Number 1 on the Catskill Mountain Railroad is one of twenty three locomotives in the 35 ton class built by Davenport-Besler for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It has been re-engined and given the affectionate name of The Duck, note the appropriate hood ornament.

From my vantage point in the fireman's seat I could see my granddaughter helping with the loading of inflated inner tubes, kyacks, rubber boats and all the clutter that goes with rafting on the Esopus, Across the cab, the engineer, my son Stephen, said, 'The conductor is coming to your side, watch for his highball.' His voice above the rhythmic beat of the idling diesel engine broke into my reverie for here was to be found three generations of Lathrops doing their railroad volunteering. With that I pulled out my late father's gold, 21 jewel, Illinois watch to check departure time only to realize, that the fourth generation was represented, for that was the watch that had not been used in train service since his days on the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway.

Following the conductor's signal, relayed across the cab, came the gentle nudge to the drawbars as the fully restored, Classic, 35 ton Davenport diesel-mechanical locomotive took charge of our train. We were away, on time, for the run from Mt. Pleasant in the Catskill Mountains of New York State to Phoenicia with the updated version of the 'Tubers Special'.

As we rumbled along the tracks of the former Ulster & Delaware RR that follow the Esopus Creek, now a conduit for New York City's water supply, I got to remembering how it was in the summer of 1983 when I was running those simple, restored, gasoline engined track cars hauling personnel carriers in a service to those who vacation here and float down the Creek. It was described in 'The Catskill Mountain Caper' (Gas Engine Magazine, Sept/Oct., 1983).

At that time, the lightweight track cars and their trailers were more like an amusement park ride compared with today's full scale railroad equipment. Now, the Cummins powered Davenport hauling two former U. S. Navy flat cars converted to open air passenger service along with a restored 1926 vintage Delaware & Hudson RR caboose made up our train on the CMRR, a tourist line manned almost 100% by volunteers. It is the volunteers who love the work of restoring, repairing and make to run again antique equipment that makes for a viable yet precarious museum type operation for there is a symbiotic relationship between the Empire State Railway Museum and the CMRR.

When the 1942 Davenport was purchased from an Illinois museum it was in sad shape. Its 8-cylinder LeRoi gasoline engine ran on only 6 cylinders and much of the interior was a bedraggled mess. The first step was to remove the old engine and to replace it with a rebuilt 250 horsepower Cummins diesel engine. A rebuilt two cylinder compound air compressor was installed and is driven by V-belts from the Cummins. After many hours of labor there was a light at the end of the tunnel. A deep blue paint scheme completed the effect of having motive power capable of handling most any train that the CMRR could put together.

With the exception of Earl Pardini, an exceptional CONRAIL engineer and the CMRR training instructor, the equipment is operated by amateurs. These are people similar in nature and persuasion to the ones that restore hit-and-miss engines, tractors, buzz saws and all the rest of the things that we see at reunions and shows in the summertime. They come from all walks of life but with one thing in common: a love for making old machinery run again.

'Clear!', called Steve to bring me back from musing so as to look along my side of the engine to the Sleepy Hollow crossing and flag stop station and confirm, 'Clear!'. Soon, we were humming along a section of track that had been upgraded by replacing many of the old ties. As one wag said of the rotting ties, 'You can't drive a spike into compost.' However, we had received a Form 19 train order advising us that down the track a ways there would be a crew working and reduced speed was required. Then I heard that unmistakable sound of compressed air escaping from the automatic air brake controller in measured blows as an initial 10 pound reduction was made to the 90 pound brake pipe knowing full well that it would be some 20 seconds until the brakes would begin to retard us, so slow is their reaction.

We are a mixture of things for our train is made up of a locomotive designed for industrial plant switching but now hauling freight equipment in passenger service with all of the inherent slack to bedevil the engineer conscious of passenger's whiplash complaints. As an engineer-in-training, my instructor told me, 'Now, when you start, don't shake up the fat lady in the last car.'

Though the automatic brake handle follows the usual quadrant, our rebuilt controller is a mixture of parts from types D-6 and H-6. There is a part missing so that the 'hold' position is inactive and the automatic and the independent engine brake control must both be operated for total train braking. That, together with double clutching the 4-speed gear box with its separate forward-neutral-reverse shifter, creates an empathy for a one arm paper-hanger.

For those familiar with such things it may be 'old hat' but for those who only get so near as to hear the lonesome sound of a train whistle in the night it may be of interest to learn more of the operating details. For example, the air brakes on a railroad train are applied by reducing the pressure, not by increasing it. Under normal circumstances, the entire train including the two air tanks (service and emergency bolted together) on each car have been pumped up to 90 pounds pressure in freight service or 110 for passenger equipment. The brakes are applied by having the engineer reduce the 90 pound pressure in the brake pipe interconnecting the cars in steps ranging from 5 to 7 pounds each up to as much as, say, 25. A pressure operated valve on each car senses this reduction and connects the brake cylinder with the service air tank pressure to supply force to the brake shoes on the wheels in proportion to the reduction.

To release the brakes, the brake pipe pressure is restored to 90 and this triple valve opens the cylinder to the atmosphere and connects the brake pipe to the air tanks for recharging. A sudden release to zero on the brake pipe will bring the emergency reservoir into action to stop each car at maximum braking eff or tan emergency application.

As we rolled out onto the section under repair the automatic was swung into run position and those type AB valves back under each car were doing their job to release the brakes and get us set up for the next application.

The amount of power to move a train is amazingly small. That day, our total tonnage was about 115 tons. At milepost 26 there is a short section of 2% grade and a fairly tight curve to challenge the little diesel that knows it can for it has many times. A 5,000 pound pull at the rail is enough to put us over the top at a 15 mph speed. Our 250 horsepower Cummins is ample for it can develop about 14,000 pounds tractive effort at a slower speed.

These technical details are not the whole story by any stretch of the imagination. The real heart of this operation, as with so many similar ventures into the world of antique equipment, is in the vision of the volunteers who make the pieces all finally fit together, for between them there is a comaraderie born of mutual interest the mucilage that holds it all together for I'd say that the Cats-kill Mountain runs on 10% money and 90% love.

The operating day starts with 'prepping' the loco motive fuel, water, lubeing everything that moves checking in great detail each carbrake operation, pins, cotters and couplersin preparation for the day's schedule of runs. By the end of a day of jolting down the track while working aboard this moving museum, one's kidney stones are well polished. That is when the crew migrates to the local beanerie as train crews have done for generations. The day's events, some humorous and some that made the adrenalin pump, are rehashed with appropriate nicknames applied. There is 'stretch' for the engineer that didn't get the air on in time approaching the terminal and stretched the crowd control rope. Or, 'shove' for the one that got it on too soon and had to open the throttle and push against the brakes to align the cars with the loading ramp. All in fun. Later, each will sleep deeply the sleep of the carefree and very tired.

When last I wrote of this group of hard working volunteers in their effort to restore and operate equipment that many people can no longer relate to in our technical heritage it was mentioned that the present operation with diesel power and full scale equipment was their goal. Having reached this there is yet another goal now partially realized and that is to power the trains with a steam engine. The engine has been purchased and the details of an own-lease-operate arrangement are being worked out. In the near future, one will be able to hear that haunting melody of six-chime steam whistle echoing through the Catskill Mountains reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle's legendary ten-pin bowlers. But, that will require another quite different skill that today resides only in old-timers and in those that follow steam power as an avocation and not necessarily as a vocation.

Railroading is not typical of subject matter covered in GEM, but we thought our readers would enjoy Carl's follow up on the CMRR. Carl is a frequent contributor to GEM