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Catskill Mountain Railroad

Sent the letter and forwarded a link to this post to friends that volunteered on the Livonia, Avon, and Lakeville RR while we were students at RIT in Rochester, NY.

Best of luck, Joe, and thank you for all the help you've offered to so many,

Letter sent Joe. Having grown up in the area, I can well imagine the kind of crooked bs youre fighting in the government. Forwarding your site to a few friends and family that are still local to the area, let those SOBs deal with a few angry taxpayers.

I also would like to thank you for the work youve done for this cause, the railroad really did build the area and deserves preservation. I dont care who you are, taking an afternoon ride on an antique train is just plain fun!

Is this effort to convert it to trails mostly for the benefit of the snowmobile rider's in NY?

OT: Catskill Mountain Railroad update

I want to thank everyone who responded to my posting about saving the Catskill Mountain Railroad. The battle to save our railroad is far from over, but we are still very much alive and stronger than ever. We had to make some bold (or ballsy) moves to survive and stay in the ring, and we did. Basically, we borrowed some money to pay advance fees to entertainment companies and to get more rolling stock. We then went on a breakneck campaign of refurbishing and overhauling and modifying rolling stock, while other gangs worked steadily to rebuild more track. We also got set up for online ticket sales and similar. The result was we put on "Thomas the Tank Engine" and had about 12,000 paying passengers and quite the additional revenue from the sale of "Thomas" branded merchandise. Our group did it all, renting large tents, organizing queues, crowd control, security. Thomas was a huge success and turned public opinion in our favor. It also pissed off the politicians, who had been solidly against us. Now, they were confronted with businesses and civic groups raising all kinds of hell as to why they would want to rip out the railroad.

We then did another event, "The Great Pumpkin". Hokey, but it brought in revenue.

Now, we are onto the "Polar Express". Over 14,000 tickets sold online. Trains are sold out. We added more rolling stock and got a back up locomotive on the property. It was quite a thing for me to be able to call United Rentals and rent two 35 Kva diesel gensets (at 1800 bucks a month apiece for 3 months) to wire up the passenger coaches for heat and lights. No digging in our pockets and scraping to pay our bills. On another note, our legal bills topped $330,000.00. We paid them in full and are still solvent and going at it.

Meanwhile, the Ulster County exec is losing support and is one very pissed off man. It reached the point, where, during the running of Thomas the Tank Engine, I was in the cab of Thomas for "point protection", watching the crossings and blowing Thomas' air whistle (two Lunkenheimer steam whistes), and radio'ing back to the diesel engine's crew at the rear of the train- they pushed the train out and pulled it back. I was having fun with the whistles, quilling them like crazy. My buddy, as engineer on the Alco RS-1 Diesel engine, was answering and quilling his locomotive's chime horns. The crowd was loving it. The secretary up on the executive floor of the county office building is a friend to the railroad. She opened every window on the exc floor so the sound of the train whistles blew in continually. She and others commented to the exec, when he'd come out of his office, as to how nice it was to hear the train whistles. Meanwhile, over at the CSX yard, it seems like every locomotive engineer is finding every excuse to blow their locomotive horns, not just for crossings.

We raced to open two road crossings, while the County exec vainly tried to persuade (and used threats) the local NYSDOT not to allow crossings to be reopened. When he got nowhere with the local DOT office, he went to the State capital, and got nowhere, either with DOT or with the Governor. The stuff that went on would fill a book. Attempts to block us from crossing a bridge we'd rebuilt and had inspected by an independent PE. Harassment at all levels from all sides.

We just kept working on our railroad while some of our group who are savvy in the worlds of business and politics handled the bigger picture. We found we had the support of the local and State law enforcement. They came to greet us in the yards- the first time it happened, as ranking officer of the railroad, I stepped up, expecting to be served with a "Cease and Desist" order or something like it, as that was the kind of stuff the County exec was capable of, and he'd get attorneys and local judges to go along with it. We blocked the county exec with an injunction, and when his attorneys tried to get the judge to lift the injunction, the judge threw their motions out. Still, we never knew what new angle the county exec would play, and who he could intimidate into doing his bidding. So, when the police showed up ( a sergeant, not less), I expected the worst. Instead, the sergeant shook my hand, and had come to tell us that the local police stood behind the railroad and had rousted homeless people off the right of way. Later, they rousted the key activist for the rail trail, and ultimately the Sheriff's office sent out a K-9 unit to get her out of the woods along the right of way (this nut loves to take photos of the stack on our RS-1 diesel, or anything else she figures she can use against the railroad). The State Police arrived in two cruisers, came up to us and told us they supported us, appreciated what we were doing, and asked if we needed any help. Yesterday, the Captain of the NY State Police at the Kingston substation was on a radio program, telling about the job our railroad has done, praising our efforts and how we handle traffic control at the crossings, and all else. He repeatedly used the word "crazy" when describing the county exec's idea of ripping up our track, as did the radio talk show host.

Yesterday, I got sent up to Colonie, NY. It was a sad detail, for sure. I smelled and felt something I had not smelled or felt in years- the smell and feel of a dead powerplant or similar as it is being picked over. This job was to go pick over two Alco diesel locomotives for parts we could use on our railroad. I got there, and it was a scene not to be believed. An ex NY Central streamlined stainless steel car had most of the stainless siding ripped off. The diesel locomotives were covered in graffiti, and every bit of glass and boarding-up was long gone. A crew from Charlotte Valley RR was taking the cylinder heads and injection pumps off the Alco 539 engine. I needed a traction motor cooling blower driveshaft, a whistle valve, and a fuel pump. The Charlotte Valley guys had beat me to the fuel pump, vandals had beat us both to the pump (DC motor drive = copper) on the other locomotive. I brought plenty of tools and old coveralls, so was prepared for my day. I got up in the cab of each engine, and was astounded at how thoroughly the vandals had stripped things. Apparently, the vandals are now coming with Sawzalls and grinders with cutoff wheels. I got the traction motor blower drive shaft, only after hacksawing thru a shop-made guard. As I crouched in the confines of the dead locomotive, the smells and cold of dead powerplants and dead ships awaiting the torch came back to me, as did the feelings. The shaft guard was welded into place. As I studied it, I saw welds run using oxyacetylene to fabricate a U channel out of plate, then stick welds to tie it to the locomotive. I realized this was probably a job some apprentice did to practice basic welding skills, judging by the processes and appearances of the welds. I hunkered down with a hacksaw and cut thru some 1 1/2" angle and some 2" x 1/4" flatbar. I was surrounded by the evidence of the vandals- the air compressor aftercooler had the copper cores sliced off at the top and bottom headers. All the copper contactors, buss bars and wiring was gone. I got the driveshaft, got the whistle valve, and got the fireman's seat box (a nicely fabricated steel locker). From another locomotive, I got a cab heater. The vandals had unbolted it and disconnected the piping, then left it. I removed every "railroad" cock ( a railroad type cock opens when the lever is across the line of flow, contrary to a regular cock or ball valve) I could. I scooped up handfuls of the old high-head nuts and bolts the vandals had dropped in the cab and elsewhere. All the while, I kept thinking of the Alco plant in Schenectady (long dead and now mostly demolished), imagining the locomotives when they rolled out of there. I noticed one headlight remaining on the nose of the locomotive. Vandals had smashed the glass, but the Pyle National headlight was still there, not messed up too badly, with a good reflector. I unbolted it. It did not want to come free as the gasket had bonded it to the locomotive's nose. I got the headlight and when I looked at the nose of the locomotive, minus its "eye" and looked at the bleak landscape (which included a shut down small steel mill and some abandoned warehouses), I found it even more depressing.

The fellow who was handling the disposition of the locomotives is part of the American Locomotive Historical Society. He told me they had been trying for 20 years to find a good home for the locomotives and cars, but finally, CP Rail- the successors to the old D & H RR- had told them: get the locomotives and rolling stock off the property. Between that ultimatum and 20 years of unrestricted vandalism, the only thing left was the scrappers. the vandals had even pulled the field poles out of the main generators on the locomotives and stripped the copper windings. I had to lift one field pole core off the blower driveshaft, and it was all I could do to move it. How the vandals handled the field poles with the copper on them speaks of a gang of vandals with some organization to them.

The scrappers will arrive on Monday. The fellow from the Alco Historical Society told me the scrappers can cut up a locomotive in about a day. I am behind the times, as I envisioned scrappers with demolition torches and air-arc gouges to cut the cast iron engine blocks and similar. I was told the new breed of scrapper sends out maybe two men with a hydraulic excavator with a demolition shear. Reportedly, the demolition shear already met its match on one locomotive from this lot that was scrapped previously. The word is the excavator operator had to "chew" and "gnaw" and really work the machine to cut thru the locomotive engine block and the heavy cast steel car frame. I think it is almost surreal to imagine an excavator with a demolition shear demolishing a locomotive. Kind of like a mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex devouring a member of its own kind. The visions of a mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex worrying an Alco 539's block and crankshaft were in my mind on the drive home.

It was a sad detail on a gray and gloomy day, and as I hunkered inside the carcass of the dead locomotive wrenching (slowly as cramped areas meant only little swings of the wrenches), I had plenty of time to reflect. The smells of used engine oil and diesel fuel, wet insulation, old paint and dust and debris are peculiar to this sort of thing. It took me back to when I used to handle the removals of turbines and stationary diesel engines for re-sale or re-use. I was glad to put the whole site of dead locomotives and a dead steel mill behind me. The other men who were stripping the engines were astounded to hear of the progress our railroad has made in terms of track rebuilt/reopened, and the fact we are still in the fight. The fellow from the Alco Historical Society said it was some solace to him to know that at least pieces of the locomotives he had dreamed of preserving and running would live on in sister engines.

It's a strange thing: our railroad was catapulted from a backwoodsy small time operation to the bigger leagues, yet I am still picking over dead locomotives for used parts. As I hacked away at the shaft guard to get the blower driveshaft, it hit me. With the money in our treasury and my shop, the truth is I should have just ordered in a piece of "Stressproof" shafting stock and machined it as needed in my own shop. But, going after the parts off the dead locomotives afforded me a time to reflect and to re-experience what I'd known 35 years ago when I'd been inside dead power plants.

Yesterday, I felt akin to a "Harpy" ( read: "Old Ironsides", and the reference to "...and the Harpies of the shore shall pluck the Eagle of the Seas"), a mythical scavenger bird which plucked the bodies of sailors. Yesterday may have been the obituary and final bell for those locomotives up in Colonie. Thankfully, it is not time to write the obituary for the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Thanks to everyone for their support.

Thanks for the update on CMRR, and congratulations to you and your group for your hard-won successes.

Your account of the loss of more railroad historical artifacts, as well as their desecration reflects a reality that is all too prevalent in RR preservation. Just don't let the scavengers have a chance at CMRR's rolling stock. A couple of years ago the meth heads hit us at Orange Empire Railway Museum and we lost DC power cabling on two diesels in our operating fleet. In a separate incident a Nathan injector and power reverse lever & quadrant were stolen from the steam shop. We now keep our active locomotives in locked and alarmed barns. I know other museums have had the same problems, and other members of this Forum probably have their own horror stories.

Brian Smith

Thanks for the kind words. We keep our rolling stock in a locked yard. It is in a rough part of Kingston. Strangely, it is not the local inhabitants we have to worry so much about. It is the shyster attorneys, enviro-facist/trail advocates and similar. These people manage to work the rolling chain link gates to where they can slither (note the choice of word) into our railroad yard when none of us is there. They take pictures with the best camera angles of stuff they think is either an environmental hazard or junk or some other violation or cause for alarm. The shyster who slithered in past the locked gate last time took pictures of an oxy-propane cutting outfit on its buggy and sent them to the local newspaper with an explanation that CMRR has "dangerous bottled gas and other hazardous substances" all over the place. This same shyster took pictures of a steam locomotive undergoing restoration and called it a pile of rusting junk, and similar notations. First off, said shyster was trespassing. He is an attorney for a local governing body. No one took him to task for trespassing and illegal entry. As I said, we have more problem with those kinds of people than meth heads or crack heads.
Maybe there is some sort of understood truce. We take local kids who want to join with us and bring them along, teaching them trades and skills. We also have a number of retirees (myself included) who come and go from the yard at seemingly random times. We also have in our ranks some retirees from NYPD, one of whom is retired Captain who worked narcotics in Harlem and the South Bronx. Another is a retired NYFD captain. These guys are street wise, and they linked up with local law enforcement and first responders. Aside from that, a number of us have our pistol permits. A stainless frame Smith and Wesson loaded with hollow points is a very convincing reason to stay the hell off our railroad. It is also a good reassuring thing to have on one's hip when confronting druggies and vandals.

Recently enough, we had some old passenger coaches sitting some distance outside the City of Kingston on track running thru a cornfield. Two of our guys- a father and son- the son being freshly discharged after 2 hitches in USMC and his dad being an old farmboy/mechanic who never walked away from a good fistfight- saw cars parked along our right of way and surmised vandals were inside the old passenger coaches. They entered one coach and found a bunch of druggies, smoking up. The druggies threatened our two guys. My buddy, the dad, told them: "Get the f--k out of this car if you want to live." There were about ten of the druggies. The suddenly realized our two guys meant business. The young Marine vet had grown up around our railroad, and he had done hitches in Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home to our railroad, and he was with his dad. Neither of them were going to take s--t from anyone. The druggies scrammed. Unfortunately, they got away before our guys could get a plate number. The NYS Police are keeping an extra eye on our rolling stock and the "North Pole" set for Polar Express.

I've had a few run-ins with wise ass trespassers who claim since the county owns the right of way they have a right to go where they please, or "I didn't know it was posted". I've found trespassers on our equipment, climbing around when I caught them. I have a bad temper and tend to shout and cuss like I was back on a jobsite, seeing red and not thinking beyond the immediate. Cell phones do not work in our hills (thanks to the A number 1 activist/envirofacist/trail advocate). A solid and firm yell and the threat of bodily harm or worse and then turning the people over to the law seems to work. Mostly, these are idiots (often yuppie types) who do the stupidest things. We had a call from the county administration complaining we were allowing reckless activities on the railroad- turns out some dizzy dame into Yoga did a headstand on top of one of our coaches and had it posted on facebook as an ad for her Yoga instruction.

We've had minor vandalism, but have been fortunate. I think the fact we are local people, we are known as a bunch not to mess with, and we have friends in law enforcement helps a lot. Our biggest fear is railfans. They will steal artifacts even if they are bolted or welded fast.

Back in 1988, I was with another buddy of mine and we fired up an ALCO RS-1 in the Kingston Yard. It had been kept behind locked gates. My buddy pulled the valve for the air operated bell and got nothing. We went out on the engine, and there we discovered: someone had swiped the bell. The bell weighs somewhere around 100 lbs, and was secured via its center stud to a bracket off the top of the nose of the locomotive. My buddy, expecting the bell to be a juicy prize, had welded the nut holding the bell stud to its washer with a full fillet weld, then welded the washer to the bracket. When we took a close look, we saw how the thief did it. They took a hacksaw and cut the fillet welds on all six flats of the big hex nut, cutting the welds off flush with the washer. They then unscrewed that big hex nut and made off with the bell. No sign of forced entry into the yard, gates relocked after the heist. We concluded- since we use a "switch key" for the yard and switch locks- that some railfan had let himself in and gone after the bell. They had taken the time to disconnect the air line to the bell's ringer, and had left the rest of the locomotive alone. That, to us, spelled a railfan rather than a smash-and-cut vandal. Either way, they are thieves.

Since then, we weld anything that would tempt a railfan solidly in ways that would take a grinder and time to get loose. We took all the builder's plates off the locomotives and put cast aluminum replica plates on. So far, as I noted, it is not the meth and crack heads who are our biggest problem. It is the envirofacist/trails people who lurk wherever we are working or running trains to take photos of us doing something they hope they can use against us, and it is the shysters representing the local government (county executive's stooges) who slither past our locked gates.
The shit politicians and other hapless morons can come up with...mindboggling. We had similar crap, but most of it happened before i joined the museum staff.

Give em hell !

Btw. i have noted the same thing. Hosting events which are not primarily tech education is a big thing. Not just for the money but because it draws all sorts of new visitors and attention.

Since we finished our 3rd building and now have space for that sort of stuff we have done everything from renting the place for birthday and company celebrations to a Steampunk exhibition ( i know how ..... unwelcome.... this genre is to many PM members, but i can assure you that artists who gut fine engineering to make useless Art would not get an invitation from us, all of it was somehow functional and used only very little and usually only damaged historic originals).

And i have been seeing lots of new faces every month since. It used to be that we had a few hundred people you'd see several times a year. Now there are those plus tons and tons of new visitors. Lovely.

Like every cult, you got to sucker em in :D

And yeah, that smell. I'm not nearly as experienced as you are, Joe Michaels, but yeah, that smell.
But look at the bright side.
You got to see the greatest age of industry. My generation, and particularly for me, where I live, it's all but lost. I'd wish there was so much as ruins left, but those have been demolished long ago.

Thanks for the great post. I like to say I came in at the sunset of an era. Yesterday, taking parts of dead locomotives next to a dead steel mill, I felt a bit old, realizing those locomotives had rolled out of the works during my era, thinking of the passage of the years. But, as I said to my wife, I am 64 years of age, and if I can crawl into the tight places in a locomotive and wrestle with parts and work with the tools all day and come away with no bruises or strains.... I am not old.

I often realize I span two eras, and the difference or distance between those two eras only seems to get ever greater with time.

A buddy of mine, an old locomotive engineer, summed up the running of a historic or tourist railroad. He said: "the era of nostalgia is over.... we are all in the entertainment business." Meaning that the people who grew up with railroads as an active part of the economy, or who had family members working on the railroads is over. The people who visit our railroad now are people whose only experience on a train might well be the NY City Subways or a commuter train. On the other hand, as you note, we are attracting new visitors from an unexpected area. People from South Asia- India, Pakistan- come to visit our railroad. They bring their children and grandchildren. They tell us they love our trains and it reminds them of what they knew in India or Pakistan, and how they want for their kids or grandchildren to see and experience it. So, we are laid back enough that we take kids up in the engine cabs, show interested kids whatever they want to see. I found myself flipping open the cover on a journal box to show a little boy how the axle journals run in the "brasses", and showed him the "mop" to carry the oil up from the "cellar" to the journal. He was an inquisitive kid, and when we get a respectful, inquisitive youngster, we go all out. They are our future.

Yeah, the shit the county exec pulled was not to be believed. The county exec had one of his henchmen award a 20 grand contract without any formal bid process to a consulting firm in Boston, MA. The consulting firm's new VP was the ex NYC Commissioner of Environmental Protection. This COmmissioner had put forth a 2.5 million dollar rail trail deal to our county exec, to rip up our tracks and build a trail around the Ashokan Reservoir. In exchange for this, it became apparent the county exec got "hush money" to stop protesting the NYC Watersheds activities which might have resulted in flooding downstream and high turbidity levels in the creeks. The VP's consulting firm sent out someone who was not a Professional Engineer, and had no heavy construction experience. This person, along with the exec's number 1 gerbil, produced a report condemning most of the track and one three span steel bridge in particular. We had rebuilt that bridge and had it evaluated by an independent PE who sits on committees which write the inspection criteria and manuals used for railroad bridge design. The county exec's "expert" never climbed the steel and sounded a single rivet on the bridge, nor did he probe the masonry on the bridge piers. Just condemned the bridge as unsafe.

The county then blocked the bridge and hit us with a "cease and desist order" from a judge. We fought it hard, and it went to the NYS Department of Transportation- who turned out to be using the railroad bridge management program I had put in place for our railroad as a model for other railroads. We got an independent PE. By then, we were up to the fourth independent PE. We had some of the most respected names in the field of railroad bridge engineering in the USA in our corner. Despite that, the county exec, via the county attorney, said they would not accept any report from any engineers other than ones they selected.

By this point we were less than two weeks from running "Thomas the Tank Engine" and we needed to run trains over that bridge. On the morning the independent PE showed up, so did an engineer from the county. I was there with a climbing harness on. The county PE was a reasonable man, and he brought a surveyor's level and rod with him. The county exec's order had barred us from running trains over that bridge. We wanted to do a real load and deflection test, and settle the matter once and for all, going beyond load calculations with a physical test. The county engineer agreed- we already had an RS-1 locomotive sitting on the track near the bridge, idling. I set up the county engineer's level and the independent PE took a shot with the rod on a crossmember of the bridge at midspan. We ran the locomotive out and took another shot with the level. The bridge deflection was 0.02 feet, or about 1/4" in a span of 75 feet. This on a riveted truss span made in the 1890's on stone masonry piers. We had jacked up the bridge spans, set them on new bearings, and realigned the spans.

We had put a lot of volunteer work into that bridge, and the county's "expert" and the exec's pet gerbil ( a political flunky, kept on as a "planner" at a salary of $125 K a year) condemned the bridge without even climbing the steel and sounding the rivets or poking around the masonry. We all knew it was total BS. The county engineer and the independent PE both knew my own Professional Engineer's license number is good deal lower than theirs. They told me they respected my work and years of practice. Honor amongst engineers, but the politicians were running the show, as we all agreed. The county engineer shook our hands, said our railroad bridge was a good bridge, had less deflection than a lot of newer bridges. He said he was powerless to lift the "cease and desist order" as that was in the hands of the county exec and county attorney. We did a complete bridge inspection, climbing the iron, sounding rivets with hammers, probing the masonry, and on it went. The independent PE pronounced our bridge sound. Still no word from the county exec and the county attorney who had conveniently absented themselves. Thomas the Tank Engine arrived, we got our train made up, and on the Friday morning when Thomas was to roll on the first runs, we still had no word. One of our guys called the county offices, and ultimately, after some buck-passing in the offices, we were told: "Do what you think is right". We ran trains over the bridge. We belatedly got a letter lifting the cease and desist order. Truth to tell, we were prepared to run trains over that bridge with or without any lifting of the order, ready to go to court and line up the PE's to refute the BS report the county had used to block us from running trains over that bridge. We were primed and ready for a fight, whether bare knuckle or in a courtroom or somewhere in between.

We had to jump on the "theme train" bandwagon to survive. So, Thomas the Tank Engine, Snoopy, and Polar Express have put us in the big leagues and saved our railroad. The money we spent on legal fees could have fully restored our steam locomotive or bought another diesel locomotive and rolling stock easily, or rebuilt miles of track. We dropped $330 grand on legal fees. The county has over $500,000 in legal fees trying to get rid of us. The legislature finally woke up and told the county exec he can no longer use high priced legal firms (the county attorney is hardly a sharp lawyer). The county exec had gotten "discretionary spending limits" of $50,000.00 per purchase order. He had free rein to spend up to 50 grand at a time without review nor bid process. So, when our railroad pushed back with a solid legal team and solid engineering, he got himself a law firm from Westchester. High buck lawyers. He was writing purchase requisitions for specific tasks, but all were for the same purpose- to get rid of our railroad. The legislature woke up and told him the buck stopped, and he'd have to use the county attorney if he wanted to fight our railroad. The county attorney is losing rounds in court to us. She is so outgunned she did not show up for the depositions of some our people- depositions she had ordered. She sent interns to take the depositions. The interns were clueless.

Meanwhile, we keep moving in more rolling stock, overhauling it, and running trains. The word is we are now moving 1000 people a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on our Polar Express. The first running of the Polar Express, we were short of actors to play the hoboes. I was in my ratty, filthy old Carhartts and had been crawling under and around the passenger coaches getting things working. We had been pulling 12 to 14 hour days. I hadn't shaved in over a week. I hustled off and borrowed a rubber chicken and put some potatoes in my pockets. They wanted a hobo, they got one. I had worked with men who'd ridden the rods during the Depression. I heard tales of being a hobo, some pretty grim if the truth be known. So, when they needed a hobo, I came into the passenger coaches with the rubber chicken peeking out of my coveralls. The kids loved it. I told them we were making Mulligan Stew in the caboose on the stove. Kids asked about Mulligan. I told them it is a thick stew made with whatever a hobo can "come by", whether by asking, diving in dumpsters, or any other means (I could not say "go steal or bum some food" around the kids). The kids asked questions about it, and I told them we stirred the stew with a crowbar (had to explain what that was to the kids), and if the stew got too thick, we thinned it with diesel fuel. Right then, the conductor- shorter than me- decided to chase me off the train. I called him a pesky brass hat with a little authority and told him if he wanted to get me off his train, he had better "bring a dozen or so 'bulls' as he was not the man to throw me off his train..." We were ad libbing, and before it was over, I was whacking the conductor with the rubber chicken as he and I tussled our way down the car. Yeah, I worked with men who'd hobo'd for real, and I've eaten some good stews cooked in old ham tins supported on rebar over a fire made of scrap lumber on the overseas jobs. I am old enough to have worked with men who were born in the 1890's or early 1900's, so worked with men who'd shipped out and hobo'd during hard times. These were men who taught me stuff no book or school could have. I learned heavy rigging and all sorts of things about the jobs and life from them. So, if the railroad needed a hobo, I was disreputable looking enough and knew enough about it to step into the role.

This act went on for a few days until the guys who were the "real hobos" and knew the script showed up. I handed them the rubber chicken and the potatoes and had to give them a briefing in hobo life. I went back to the real business of railroading. We all figured it was a good thing as I might corrupt the kids or get some parents pissed off with tales of raiding a hen house, dumpster diving, and thinning a stew with diesel fuel. The truth is, we were all so relieved that Polar Express was happening, and that our position with the public and the politicians and media seems to have shifted towards our favor, that we were all pretty uproarious.

When I make my next trip east I'll have to stop by the CMRR and check it out. Going from a marginally successful tourist train to one with those kind of numbers is a real success story.

What do you make of this article? This would appear to represent change of heart by the county executive, or are there sinister plans lurking under this olive branch?
Tourist train service can continue in Kingston area, Ulster County Exec Hein says
I had worked with men who'd ridden the rods during the Depression. I heard tales of being a hobo, some pretty grim if the truth be known.

Joe -

Glad to hear of the success of CMRR - you should be proud of all the work your group has done.

Your comment strikes a cord with me. My Mom was born in 1917, and had 4 older brothers and 3 younger (no sisters) - my Grandfather was a coal miner and they had a small farm - SE Ohio. The second oldest, who got out of high school just as the Depression started, left home and rode the rods as a hobo. Some sad tales there. He came walking down the dirt road to the farm when my youngest Uncle was probably 4 or 5, around 1935 - my guess is he had never seen this brother. My Grandmother was worried who this bum was and did not recognize her own son returning home until he got right up to her and called her Mom. Those were tough times. I'm glad you might have touched a few folks on how tough it was because, like everything else, the memory fades and nothing is remembered by society at large.

Keep fighting those damn politicians.

Joe, you are a man after my own heart !. I'm saddened to hear of all the pointless obstacles in your way to help preserve the nations industrial past. If those politicians had actually done a days work (unlikely) similar to the navvies who slaved away building the railway (road) in the first place, they might think differently. Same as this side of the pond, I held the belief that polititians were elected to serve the will of the people, not the other way round. Useless basta**s.
Could you post some pictures of the locos., buildings, repair shops etc please. :)
Keep up with your posts, always very interesting. Thank you.
I like bike trails. I think in most cases they are a very good use of old rail beds. But I can see that yours is a special case.

I think it's very nice to have so much public support and have the rail being used as such a unique and historical attraction.

I suppose the exec just had a different vision and clung to it like people tend to do.

Great job. I cannot imagine such a big fight. Your story of winning over community support is really inspiring.
I want to thank everyone who has been responding to this thread for your support, compliments, and words of encouragement. I think that being an all-volunteer group, some of us with over 30 years invested in our railroad, there is a different and stronger energy than many people imagined. We are a tight knit group, and we have come up, literally, from times of scavenging junk to rebuild and using picks and shovels to rebuild the track. The result is everything about our railroad is hard-won, has a story of people and struggles and improvising, and then some. The result is the county exec got himself a fight he did not reckon on. People defending their life's work and passion, and people who found a home on our railroad are not going down without a hell of a fight.

What seems to have happened to get the county exec to embrace trails is politics and money. The trails advocates are well funded with money from liberal groups and funds, with such names as Rockefeller and Kennedy in the mix. There were campaign promises, campaign contributions, and all sorts of back room deals and manipulations. One of the masterminds of this is a lady whom I will refer to here as "Dr. X." Dr. X has made it her avowed purpose in life to get rid of our railroad to create a "world class network of hiking and biking trails" in our region. Dr. X graduated cum laude from Yale, specialized in pediatrics, did all kinds of impressive residencies, and practiced in some prestigious hospitals. She abandoned the practice of medicine and went back to college, getting a "Masters in Legal Studies"- not working through to get the "J.D>" (doctoris jurisprudence, or degree as an attorney). She then dropped out of conventional employment and began living a hand-to-mouth existence while embracing all kinds of causes and fixated on this rail trail. She is brilliant, gifted, and persuasive and got a lot of powerful groups lined up to get rid of our railroad. Dr. X, in the company of a few others like her, took on General Electric in the matter of PCB's in the sediment at the bottom of the Hudson River. She and her cohorts pushed the matter along until G.E. agreed to settle and dredge the Hudson River. She and her cohorts then took on a planned multi-million dollar resort hotel in our region (which is almost an economic desert with little regular employment and an a minimal tax base as so much of the lands are part of the NYC Watersheds). Dr. X succeeded in stalling the resort for well over ten years, and as a result of her challenges and briefs she filed, the resort developers produced the (literally) heaviest environmental impact statement in the history of NY State. The resort will happen, scaled down, but it will happen. That set Dr. X on the trail of killing our railroad. She became convinced we were not living up to our lease agreement for the track and right of way (county owned). Meanwhile, our county went to a charter form of government, and we got our first county exec. He took as much power as he could, and he and Dr. X are quite tight. She apparently lined up support for the exec. A few of the cronies from the days of fighting G.E. needed jobs. At least one is a "Planner" on the county payroll- political payback to a US Senator. Political whores and greasy gerbils.

We were described by the County Exec, in the press, as "A bunch of slack jawed, fedora wearing yokels". Dr. X. apparently told the exec that we were a group of weekend warriors, dreamers, and not capable of rebuilding and running a railroad beyond a few miles of track and limited train operations. The county exec had some kind of strangle hold on the legislature and the press and media as not even letter to the editor favorable to our railroad were printed. One of our members got to the bottom of that, and it was true: the county exec was controlling the local press and media.

The County Exec knew we were the lease holder on the railroad property, yet he deigned to contact us about his ideas. We used to get blindsided when he and his ideas would show up on the front page of the morning papers. He claimed he "did not know" who the Catskill Mountain Railroad was or who we were. He got Senator Chuck Schumer (another negative quantity best consigned to the PCB laden sludge disposal pits) to help him in his fight to get rid of us. He had the governor on his side for awhile as well. We kept pushing back.

Meanwhile, the trails people are talkers and writers. They are not "doers" and have no conception of the work we put into our railroad. They are quick to condemn us, quick to find ways to try to get rid of us, wanting to march into a right of way that is there only by virtue of our efforts to save it and maintain it over the past 30 + years.

We got blindsided by the County Exec when we were served with a notice that we had failed to abide by the terms of our lease with the county. I had appeared in an unrelated court case as an expert witness on a structural matter, and the attorney was a sharp lady from an Albany, NY law firm that handled environmental and commercial litigation. I called this attorney at her home and told her our railroad was in deep s--t and about to be annihilated by the county exec, Dr X and the trails zealots. She put me in touch with the head of her firm, and they are heavy duty attorneys. I knew if I tried to get an attorney from within our home county to go up against the county exec and the mayor of Kingston, NY (who was serving us with BS code violations and notices to cease and desist- from the wording we knew DR X had drafted most of it), we'd get nowhere. No local attorneys have the balls to go against the local machine. I got the Albany firm, and they cut our railroad a break. They got an injunction to block the county exec.

It was the beginning of a prolonged legal fight. The county exec, aided and abetted by his pet gerbil (the political whore/planner), and Dr. X and the county attorney all kept dreaming up ways to kill us off. They even called the US Department of Labor on us, citing the fact we are a for-profit corporation but run with all volunteers. Every volunteer is a stockholder, and we pay our Workman's Comp for our volunteers. The US Dept of Labor dismissed the complaint against. They called out the US Federal RR Administration. That went nowhere, we were commended by the US FRA. They've called out every agency they can think of, filing complaints against us.

We were going into a deep, black vortex with people in our group putting up their personal money and securing loans to keep the legal fight going. That is when we got the idea of the bold move, kind of like when a person holds no good cards, is technically busted, but stays in the game by bluff. We did it. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We got set up for online ticket sales and advertising, and booked "name" rail events. We were doing it with money we did not have, based on equipment we did not have, on track our guys were still rebuilding. We bought two passenger coaches and moved them to our yard. Our guys got busy on the coaches.

To give an idea, about four weeks before we were set to run Thomas the Tank Engine, we knew we needed another flatcar set up for passengers. The nearest available flatcar was an ex US Army flatcar, with the stripped carframe sitting upside down in the woods for the past 27 years, and the trucks for it off in the weeds. A buddy ran the old locomotive crane, and we swapped scrap steel to a junk hauler who had a low boy. I did the rigging. We sent the trucks down to Kingston, NY one evening on the low boy. The next week, we went after the car frame. I estimated its weight at about 25 tons. We got it with the locomotive crane, flipped it rightside up, and landed it on the lowboy on blocking. It hung off the tail of the lowboy by a good 10 feet or so. We hung flashers and flags on it. The trucker set off down the road during the supper hour when we figured we'd be least likely to meet any law enforcement. No permits, no official escort vehicle, just me in my pickup with an amber beacon and flashers on. Some SOB in traffic as I was flagging to get the lowboy on the road opened up a mouth to me, and took out his cell phone. I told him what he could go and do with both his ideas and his cell phone and told him to stay in his car if he knew what was healthy. We roared down to Kingston at easily 10 over the speed limit. We got the flat car frame into the railroad yard. Now the problem was the old crane there could only pick 15 tons. We lifted one end of that railroad car frame on the lowboy and built a crib pile at the estimated balance point. We then took two sheets of scrap plywood, greased them and drove a nail thru the center of the plywood and into the crib pile. This made a "turntable". We turned the car frame 90 degrees to the low boy. We then built another crib pile under the far end of the frame and raised the near end with the crane. The lowboy drove out from under.

We scaled off, painted, repiped and redecked that flatcar. I went to a local sawmill and got them to saw out a bunch of white oak planks. We took planks cut from green logs and decked the car with them, bolting the planks fast to the car frame. We built fenced sides, benches and a canopy. We scraped in the brasses and polished the axle journals. We had our flatcar to accomodate the swelling numbers of people. We were working on our train- the soundman and his crew slept in one passenger coach- and we finished the flatcar after dark on a Thursday night. Thomas the Tank Engine rolled the next morning. We resolved the bridge fight that first morning we ran Thomas.

When we ran Thomas, that is when public opinion and awareness shifted markedly to our side. So did the press and media. Lately, with running the Polar Express, the press had been strangely avoiding us. We knew something was up at the County Seat. One of our members who excels at politicking and diplomacy handled it. The result is the County Exec came out in support of a segmented railroad, even over the portion he wanted to rip up. It's a start. We have friends in the county legislature, and the entire local business community- including businesses which were buddies of the county exec- are hollering at him to save the Catskill Mountain Railroad. There are other issues with the railroad running on lands that are privately owned with "railroad use only easements" in place. Rip up the rails and the easements become null and void. The exec and Doctor X and that whole gang conveniently overlooked that fact, thinking their combined might would crush any landowner who took back the easement. A recent US Supreme Court Case found in favor of landowners in cases where railroad easements are given up, and public entities attempt to build rail trails.

I prefer working on the locomotives and rolling stock, or doing engineering work on the bridges and right of way to all this political fighting. All of us do. When the s--t hit the fan, and it seemed like we were continually being hit with complaints from all sides and all kinds of agencies, our group hunkered down and dug in for a long fight. I stood up in a meeting, having hear another formal letter from the exec's office against us, and hollered: "That SOB has another guess coming. He would do well to remember Admiral Yamamoto, Otto von Bismarck, and Rip van Winkel (we are in the Catskills, home of Rip). That --------- has awakened a sleeping giant, and what he fails to realize is we are a railroad built on our own blood and iron. We fight to the last possible manuever, and if that ------ plays dirty, we fight back in kind. Someone do a "follow the money" on the county exec. Let's see what skeletons we unearth on Dr. X. Let's start a s--tstorm so bad they wish they never started up with us." Our president is a former civil engineer and Harvard MBA. A brilliant and ballsy tactician. He took it from there and we have people in our ranks who can and do "get around". We built up a new cadre of people who are adept at political infighting and diplomacy as well as really good at advertising, public relations, and they have saved the day.

The "follow the money" led to findings that the County Exec had promised construction contracts to firms, supplying materials and building the trail, in exchange for heavy campaign contributions. He also had some heavy contributions from the pro trails advocacy groups down in NYC. There is also the matter of the County Exec witholding 3 million dollars in FEMA grants to rebuild portions of the railroad destroyed during Hurricane Irene (and then using the condition of those portions of the line to make the case against us for failure to maintain the tracks !). It's all coming home to roost.

That's the story of the fight to save our railroad. The COunty Exec has started to "come around". He has been an absolute tyrant and bully in how he handled other matters in our county, and our railroad is literally the ONLY entity that stood up to him and went the distance and survived. He is talking about a new lease to a new railroad group when our lease is up. Fine by me. If some other group can preserve and operate the railroad, that is all most of us care about. The reality is no sane railroad short line operator would want to take over our tracks. It's been a long fight, for sure. It is not over, but there is some light and positive signs.

As for "Dr. X", she and I were at a local town board meeting. A resolution by our town in support of the railroad was on the table. The COunty Exec was doing his level best, thru the Democratic Party, to kill the resolution. Dr. X was at the meeting to speak in the "public be heard" portion, as was I and a bunch of pro railroad people in the community. Dr. X, before the meeting began, got right in my face and started carrying on, accusing me of spreading lies, misrepresentation, and said our railroad was delusional, and she (Dr. X) was "trying to save the CMRR". She was quite red in the face and demanded to know why I would ever say the things I'd said about her. I looked her in the eye, and bit my tongue to avoid cursing her out or wishing the worst to befall her. Instead, I firmly said: "As far as we on the railroad are concerned, you are Shiva". Dr X had been kicked out of the local Buddhist monastery ( a first, getting the Buddhists to kick anyone out), and she had studied eastern religions and philosophies. Her eyes got big and she turned even redder and her neck swelled. She asked me what I meant. "You are the Goddess of Destruction, intent on ripping out our railroad. You and the county exec are tighter than tight and you spend an inordinate amount of time in his office behind closed doors. Something stinks, and we are going to get to the bottom of it. You and your hanky-panky politics and your trails people are up to no good and as low as they come." My wife and maybe 15 guys off the railroad, along with a crop of local people were all watching this go down. I could see the nods and s--t eating grins.

I had promised my wife before going to the meeting that I would not curse, or offer to take anyone out behind the town hall, and I would not tell Dr. X she was crazy (which seems to set her off like an air raid siren when anyone tells her that). The railroad crowd all was kind of hoping Doctor X would take a poke at me. Her overall demeanor was that of a spooked horse, and I knew I had her on the edge of a full blown meltdown. It was only with great restraint that I did not push her over the edge. It was tempting. I told my wife we were saving that for a meeting at the county seat when the TV stations would cover it. This is who we are dealing with, a brilliant but misdirected person leading a group of ecofacists, counseling the county exec, and political favors and money.

We joke that we haven't done too badly for a group of "slack jawed fedora wearing yokels". The County Exec ran into a Harvard MBA, a few pro bono attorneys, CPA's, a PE, and a bunch of savvy, well spoken, experienced and dedicated people and a heavy duty law firm from the State Capital, instead of what he thought he was going to be dealing with. We joke that it is also a good time to buy stock in Maalox, given what the county exec must be experiencing. He's had to change his position on our railroad, and that must be eating him alive. We refer to him as "Little Adolf", or "der Fuhrer", and those are the polite names we have for him. Come to find plenty more people far beyond our railroad have hung the same monikers on the county exec.

Thanks again to everyone for the words of encouragement and the support.
Holy sh*t.
Politics in our state (Germany has states just like the US, they do not have as much legislative power though, a lot, but not as much as in the US of A) have been dodgy for the past decade. Lots and lots of skandals and stupidity, worst of all a conservative party official dating a 16 year old girl and numerous social democrat folks doing stuff less immoral but equally stupid and outrageous.

But making mistakes and being stupid is just that.

Politics have actually shown great respect for our museum as of late, our founder was decorated with a federal cross of civilian merit and our organization has and is now receiving money from government agencies. Not nearly as much as city owned museums, but we make up for it with an Efficiency 10 times greater.

Malevolence is a whole new level of bad.
Uncle Adolf seems good at that game.
The effort some people seem to put into fighting and ruining private effort and initiative is mindboggling.
Words cannot describe the amount of stupid.
As i said previously: Give em hell !

Wish i was there to help.
And all the best of luck......

If i manage to visit the US in the near future, i will make it a point to visit your Railroad, not too intrested in the hotter regions anyways, NY climate is already hot by our standards.
If you had a coal burner you could sell tickets as "assistant fire tender",,,,, making em scoop coal the whole ride would be a lot healthier for them than a leisurely bicycle ride....... who knows, they may even appreciate those who did it all day long.

They want to do the bicycle/ walking trails around here on old right of ways too, bu they want to keep atv's and motorcycles off of them for the "green" and "healthy lifetsyle factors.... problem is that there are no funded groups to maintain them after they are made and the ones that have been done ( with taxpayer money) have been pretty much miserable failures.

Keep up the good fight..... There's a lot of us pulling for you.
Just reading this for the first time. Holy cow, what a mess. A big congrats to the CMRR for not giving in. I wish you guys the absolute best, and if I ever get up that way I will make it a point to stop in for a ride.

This is an unfortunate example of what money in politics does. Not gonna go beyond that, but I think most people realize its just not a good idea.