THE CATSKILL MOUNTAIN CAPER


| September/October 1983



Stephen Lathrop aboard his Fairmont M-9

108 Garfield Ave., Madison, N. J. 07940

'How much does it cost to ride the train, Mister?' Turning around I saw a boy standing before me clutching a large inflated inner-tube. He was dripping wet and shivering just a bit in the cool autumn breeze. Thinking to add some humor to my reply, I said, 'It's a dollar and a half one way or two dollars round trip for adults, but for kids it's a dollar one way, both ways or any way.' He listened without any sign of emotion other than to blink when the dollar was mentioned. Sensing an impending moment of financial embarrassment I quickly added, 'See Dave, the conductor, over there. He might be able to arrange a loan if you are willing to let us keep your inner-tube for a while.'

With that I strode off to climb aboard the engine. It took a while to coax the ancient Ford industrial gas engine to run again. But, glancing back I noticed the conductor tossing the tube into our baggage car knowing that a deal had been made as the Catskill Mountain Railroad 'Tubers Special' began another scheduled run to Phoenicia along the banks of the Ashokan River on the tracks of what once had been the Ulster & Delaware Railroad.

In the summer of 1916 the U&D scheduled three passenger trains each way between Kingston (New York State) and Oneonta to handle the influx of summer visitors to the hotels and lodges in the surrounding mountains. But all of that is gone now. For a while the line was operated by the West Shore Division of the New York Central following pressure from the ICC to keep the line open. With the advent of Con-rail, it became a part of that effort to maintain train service in the northeast. But by 1976 even this subsidized venture came to a halt and the road was closed down seemingly forever. In fact, passenger service survived only until 1954.

The tracks from the Oneonta end back to Arkville had been torn up by the summer of 1981. And for a while it looked as if the end was approaching for the remainder of the track back to Kingston. This too wavered and the future hung by a thread until finally the Ulster County officials under the urging of area citizens interested in the tourist based economy finally purchased about 40 miles of the remaining trackage. There was a momentary flurry of activity while an impact statement and other evaluation efforts were produced in the hope that an entrepreneur would take up the torch and run a tourist operation out of Kingston. But, that too failed.

With Ulster County owning the property this established a base from which two groups would put together their respective programs for instituting service again over the old U&D. We shall examine the first of these to go into operation, the one headed by Kent Reeves of Cold Brook through whose property the tracks run.