Monday, August 21, 2006

Delaware & Hudson

The images for this section appear in Photologues. Use the link at left.

The Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley operates on a former branch line of the Delaware & Hudson between the D&H main line at Cooperstown Junction, New York, to the home town of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Operated by the Leatherstocking Railway Historical Society, the C&CV has put on a railfan weekend for each of the past several years, with a photo freight and night photo session highlighting the event. This year's railfan weekend was held on August 5-6, enticing me to D&H-land.

August 5, 2006
Heading north along the Delaware River in southern New York State, evidence of the major floods that struck the region were quite evident. Roadside ditches had turned into raging rivers during the storm, and asphalt had been eroded almost everywhere. The floods had taken out Interstate 88 near Unadilla, New York, but it appeared that New York Route 17 was almost lost as well, as a pier appeared to be nearly undermined at Deposit. Swinging away from the Delaware and heading northeast along Canadian Pacific's former Delaware & Hudson line, the destruction left by the storm was even worse -- in Bainbridge, many houses had mobile homes parked in front while homeowners repaired their dwellings. Between Sidney and Unadilla, traffic diverted off I-88 at the washout slowed passage along usually-quiet Route 7.

Approaching Otego, nearly where I'd leave the D&H and head north to the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley, the scanner picked up a transmission from a westbound (southbound) CPR/D&H train. Almost every town has access between parallel Route 7 and I-88, and almost all those access points cross the D&H on a bridge. I used one of those access points to shoot the D&H train, led by an SD40-2 in the paint scheme of of the short-lived CPR subsidiary St. Lawrence & Hudson. I headed back west with the train and snapped off another shot at Wells Bridge before resuming my trek to the C&CV. Somehow, a second southbound snuck past me between Otego and Oneonta, where the tracks are within sight of the highway for most of that stretch.

Heading north from Cooperstown Junction, I soon encountered the south end of the C&CV's passenger trackage at Milford (the southernmost eight miles is only used for equipment moves). The regular passenger train was being assembled using C&CV's Alco S4 No.3051wearing a black paint scheme inspired by the D&H. The photo freight would get S4 No.3052 in a battered blue paint scheme -- despite the rough paint, the Alco still sounded good. The photo freight followed the passenger train northward to Cooperstown, then once the passenger train headed back south the freight made frequent photo stops. Among the highlights were a stop at a through-truss bridge over the Susquehanna River, the Dreams Park station (Dreams Park is home to several baseball diamonds where 120 youth teams per week come to play and train) and the obligatory stop passing the light house behind Pop's snack stand.

That evening the Cooperstown Blues Express made its run between Milford and Cooperstown, with a live band playing in the gondola and pizza and beer available in the dining car. It was a pleasant evening under the stars. Upon return to Milford, black No.3051 was commandeered for the photo freight, which then headed back north (at 11:00 p.m.!) for more photography at the pond behind Pop's (yours truly and Jeff Smith provided the flash lighting). The night photo session concluded with the train's well-past-midnight arrival back in Milford. I then headed off to a D&H caboose to get some sleep.

August 6, 2006
A very short night in the caboose ended when the bed & breakfast next to the railroad came alive way too early. I rose and bid farewell to the folks at the C&CV (especially Society President Bruce Hodges) and headed back to the D&H. Crossing the main line at Cooperstown Junction I noted that the signal was lit for a northbound move (the signal is always lit, and I presumed the green aspect meant the next move the dispatcher knew about would be a northbound). Good. One of my objectives for the day was to get a morning northbound passing the old D&H Coal Company silos at Cobleskill. I decided to work back against the northbound and pick him up somewhere south of Oneonta.

Getting to the sout side of Oneonta, I checked the signal at the south end of the siding at the old D&H yard. It was lit green (I thought this signal was constantly lit as well -- that would prove to be a mistake). Based on the green signal, I was now pretty sure that the next move would be a northbound. Heading back to Otego, the southbound signal was red -- that makes sense. But the northbound signal was dark -- hmmm. Still assuming that the signal at the south end of Oneonta was always lit, I decided the train hadn't made Otego yet, so I headed further south, finally stopping at Unadilla (going farther south might complicate a northbound chase due to the I-88 detour traffic). I made my stand at Unadilla and waited.

And waited.

After almost two hours of waiting, the northbound had yet to arrive. With the sun now swinging around to favor a southbound chase, I headed back north hoping for an afternoon southbound. Crossing the tracks at the south end of Oneonta, I noticed the signal was -- out. That meant when I had seen the signal lit green earlier, the northbound train was mere minutes away from where I was, and I had somehow missed the train between Otego and Oneonta as I drove south -- the same stretch where I had missed the second southbound train the day before.

New stragtegy -- I drove to Cobleskill, arriving there at about 1:00 p.m. The plan was to wait until 3:30 for a southbound. If no southbound appeared before then, I'd return home via Kingston. But if a southbound appeared, I would be set for a very nice chase in good afternoon light. I found a good photo location and promptly fell asleep, hoping the scanner would wake me up before a train arrived.

I woke up to the sound of a southbound train passing my location at 3:05. I opened my eyes in time to see a Canadian Pacific AC4400 leading a pair of Soo Line SD60s (one red, one white). I missed the first photo opportunity, but the chase was on!

It wasn't long before I heard the engineer reporting to the dispatcher that one engine was dead and another was missing one set of traction motors. This sufficiently slowed the train down on Richmondville Hill that I was able to catch the train a couple of times. A switch thrown against the train at the south end of Richmondville Siding further slowed the train's progress. But once on the downhill side of Richmondville Hill, the train provided a spirited chase. A number of the classic spots were hit, including the D&H signal gantry at Afton. Harpursville Trestle was lit on the north side (a side I hadn't shot before) and the chase ended with sweet light at Belden Tunnel, just ten miles shy of Binghamton. Niced chase!

As I headed back towards Route 17 via Harpursville I spotted another southbound in the valley. A brief thought was made of chasing this train, but I decided that by the time it got to Belden Tunnel the light would be shot. It was time to end the trip on a happy note. The only highlight of an uneventful ride back home along the Delaware River was hearing a train on the scanner working the ex-Erie line somewhere near Coshecton in the dark (I can never find a train on that line in daylight!).

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