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Edition #13, September 1, 2005
The Wonders of Washington County
Photographer: Eric Augatis
Photo © 2005 by Eric Augatis
The Wonders of Washington County
In what was no more than a two-day getaway from pulling pins on my nocturnal assignment back in Pennsylvania, I went back home to visit my folks in the Empire State. The summer weather here was a bit cooler than dealing with the urban humidity back home, so I sucked it up and took a country drive through my teenage stomping grounds. This scenic, rural agricultural area of New York is half-home to the Batten Kill River, one of the most known trout streams in the Northeast. No, a fishing rod wasn't included in today's excursion, but a pair of cameras were. To rail enthusiasts, and short haul aficionados alike, this area is home to the valley's namesake rail carrier, The Batten Kill Railroad.
It's the first day of June 2005, and knowing well as a rule-of-thumb, the Batten Kill generally operates on a Wednesday to serve local customers. In driving south, as said rule would have it, this was a day I'd find their train tied down just to the south of Cambridge, New York. Not hearing a single peep on the radio all morning, I became suspect, but a glare down their bucolic mainline eased those suspicions in viewing the bright headlight of today's power. To my surprise I'd catch their longest train of the year at the time, a picturesque 15 cars.
From where I stood, I'd backtrack north in pursuit of the slow moving manifest, hustling along at a brisk ten miles-per-hour in charge of Alco RS3 #605, a Lehigh & Hudson River veteran still plying the rails. The Schenectady-built locomotive was about as close to home as any operating engine in the country. They charged along, with little reduction in their pace, nary even a lunch break. Upon arrival at Greenwich Junction, the focal point of Batten Kill operations, the crew switched out their train. General Manager, and 20-year Batten Kill veteran, William Tabor assisted the move. Within the hour, their consist was broken down to three-quarters of what they arrived with, and they proceeded west along the old Greenwich & Johnsonville thereafter.
Long time the main attraction for the Batten Kill's existence; their first stop would be the old Agway (now Cargill) elevator about a mile west of "the Junction". First thing first, the conductor spotted a quartet of log racks for a fairly new consignee for the Batten Kill. All attention then turned to Cargill, who had the BKRR Difco side-dump car on their lead, which made for some interesting in & out switching. One car in, two cars out...two in, three out...until they whittled their train down to the overflow. Then, after grabbing all but one car from the main, they spotted four cars in the mill, and left the balance outside (with the Difco, of course).
Now there's an interesting story behind the remaining car. It's a single boxcar destined for the Hollingsworth & Vose paper mill in Center Falls, one of only two consignees west of the Cargill plant. This isn't likely a location you'll find on the Rand McNally, and the 15-car freight we saw earlier is far from likely out on this end of the old G&J. Center Falls is just a locality along the shores of the Batten Kill River. Interesting enough, H&V is also the "other" consignee, with another paper mill at the far end of in-service trackage along the shores of the Batten Kill River in Trionda (Clarks Mills), NY. This single car, however, will go to the Center Falls "dock", and it's contents transported across the river in a truck to the mill. One load in, and one empty pulled, a simple switch to end the crew's day before heading back to Greenwich.
Likewise, the end to my day, a short drive around Washington County that turned into a six-hour affair with the boys of the Batten Kill Railroad. I paced them back into Greenwich, only 4 miles to the west. The overcast & summer haze was rolling in, and dinner was calling. I bid the crew adieu and headed north for the twenty-seven miles back to my parent's home.
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