Two "Tons" of Fun: Scranton & Kingston
August 22-25, 2001
Michael and I took a trip by car to both Scranton, PA and Kingston, NY. The goals of this trip were:
Wednesday, August 22nd
We got to Scranton on Wednesday evening, August 22nd, and swam in our motel's pool before dinner. Tired from the trip, we had pizza delivered to the motel room.
Thursday, August 23rd
Steamtown National Historic Site
We first went to Steamtown National Historic Site, and bought the combined museum/excursion tickets. I had called the previous day to reserve our trip on the excursion. We had about an hour to spend at the museum before the 10:30 boarding time for the excursion.
For those who have not yet been to Steamtown, the museum is located in a series of buildings situated around a large turntable. We watched as the CN steam locomotive that would be used on our excursion was taken out, turned, and run to the mainline track.
Many of these buildings are still used to store and repair locomotives. In between the buildings are tracks leading between the turntable and yard tracks outside the buildings. The whole property is located adjacent to the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) mainline tracks, which at one time ran from Hoboken to Buffalo. While much of the DL&W trackage was absorbed in the Erie-Lackawanna merger and later became part of Conrail, this section is owned today by Lackawanna County. Steamtown is located where the DL&W had their major yard facility.
One does not have to pay admission to see steam locomotives. There are several situated around the parking area, including the Union Pacific RR's "Big Boy" engine 4012. There are also some non-steam engines around Steamtown. There are many informative exhibits, showing photos of the DL&W and other area railroads in their heyday. There is also a display (complete with old recorded boarding announcements) which depicts what ticket windows and waiting rooms looked like back when there was actually a choice of railroads to take to the same destination.
There is a special boarding platform at Steamtown along the ex-DL&W mainline. The train was already at the platform when we got there. It's consist was:
3254 CN Steam locomotive 335 DL&W coach 334 DL&W coach 1152 CRRofNJ coach 303 CRRofNJ coach 330 DL&W coach 589 DL&W coach
There was a good crowd aboard this train. All 6 coaches had most of their seats filled. Each coach had their own National Park ranger to narrate the trip. We were also handed out a brochure which contained a map to go along with the narration. We were warned that due to the age of the equipment, the only way to cool ourselves was to open the heavy windows, which could possibly close on somebody's fingers. And we were warned that because the windows were open and that we were behind a steam engine, we would likely be getting soot on our clothes. The rangers carry a first aid kit in the event a passenger gets a cinder in his or her eyes.
The excursion left promptly at 11 AM, and wound south for 13 miles. After passing by the former Lackawanna Station (now a Radisson Hotel), we started to climb up a mountains and passed through the Nay Aug Tunnel. This was once a twin tunnel, but one side was damaged by floods from a 1972 hurricane. We passed under three interstate highway bridges, I-81, I-84/380, and I-84 again. We also crossed a few times underneath the former Erie line that was abandoned with the Erie-Lackawanna merger. Only its bridges and some abutments remain; the tracks have long since been pulled up.
We passed the town of Elmhurst, where there was once another station, and where there still exists a reservoir, which supplies drinking water for Scranton. We finally came to Moscow, where there still stands both the DL&W's freight station and their passenger station. Both were built in 1904. At Moscow, railroadiana vendors were awaiting our arrival. There were also soft drinks and snacks for sale. We were invited to detrain here while the steam engine was run around the train to be able to pull us back to Scranton. We learned that it is only assumed that this Moscow was named after the one in Russia; formal documents confirming this have never been found.
On our trip back we got more history of the region. Our ranger also walked through the coach to answer any questions.
Steamtown's Moscow excursion is one of the best steam excursions in the country, and it should not be missed if you are in the area.
Afternoon & evening activities
Upon returning to Steamtown, we finished up the one building we had missed before the excursion, and then went to lunch. One of the highlights of Steamtown is a long ramp leading to a bridge over the DL&W mainline. This bridge leads right into the food court of an adjacent shopping mall, The Mall At Steamtown. While in the mall, the weather turned nasty and it began to pour. While we were eating, 2 PM came, time for the second and final Moscow excursion of the day. Like we had done three hours earlier, the train passed under the pedestrian bridge with its steam whistle blowing, and of course spewing soot. I ran out onto the bridge in the pouring rain to get some photographs of the train passing underneath. The rain rendered the soot harmless to my clothes.
We then returned to our motel room, where we took a short nap before our dinner activities. Then we returned downtown and went to an area landmark restaurant called Cooper's Seafood House, where we were to meet a friend I have known for 24 years and with whom I somehow kept in contact all these years. She also brought a good friend of hers who lives in Scranton. The restaurant obviously has a maritime theme, but there are plenty of other things to eat. There was a G-scale track encircling the room where we ate, but the waitress said the train was broken. :( We all had a good time. As always Michael makes a favorable impression on everyone he meets and he leaves them smiling. After saying our goodbyes, we went back to our motel once again.
Friday, August 24th
This ended up being a busy day, although not much had originally been planned. The day began with a planned return to the Steamtown area once more, this time to visit the new Electric City Trolley Museum.
Electric City Trolley Museum
Originally conceived as the Lackawanna Trolley Museum, the Electric City Trolley Museum (ECTM) got most of its equipment from a much larger city in the southeastern part of the state. When the Buckingham Trolley Association ceased operation of streetcar service along Delaware Avenue in the Penn's Landing section of Philadelphia, the equipment sat in a yard in North Philadelphia for years collecting dust. They were later donated to this museum in Scranton. The museum is housed inside an old mill building. When we were last at Steamtown about 3 years ago, a sign outside the mill told of the future trolley museum.
There is a 50-seat movie theater inside the museum, where a history of the extensive interurban trolley network around the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area is shown. There is a mock-up of a trolley that actually glides on a suspended track, which can be driven by all visitors. There is a trolley restoration shop where one can tour the ongoing restorations of trolleys.
Scranton trolley excursion
We bought tickets for the 9:30 AM excursion, and then planned to come back and finish the museum. The trolley excursions leave from across the same platform as the Steamtown excursions. While the trolleys are powered by overhead catenary, I was curious why there was no catenary between the ECTM and the station. It turns out that Steamtown would not let the trolley museum run wires over its tracks, which would have to be crossed to access the station. So the trolleys in service for the excursions have their own barn located halfway through the trip.
Michael and I were the only passengers aboard this run of the trolley. The conductor sat near us and explained the line and its history. The run departs southward from the station (same direction as the steam train), and then curves southwest onto what was once the Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley RR right-of-way, also known as the Laurel Line. It runs along Roaring Brook, and goes as far as the portal of one of the longest interurban tunnels ever built, the Crown Avenue Tunnel. Unfortunately, because of trackwork the trolley had to reverse a little short of the tunnel. Future plans call for the trolleys to pass through the tunnel and continue on the other side for a bit.
Totally unexpected when we boarded was an intermediate stop at another Scranton attraction, the Iron Furnaces. So we had our own private tour of that, complete with a 5-minute video, while the trolley crew awaited us. Then we returned to the Steamtown platform. In order to enter and leave the Iron Furnaces area, the conductor had to leave the trolley and thrown a switch. In all, the motorman had to change ends three times during our journey. We were back at the Steamtown platform about 45 minutes after we left. The trolley on which we had ridden was of Buckingham heritage, but its destination signs said "69th Street Terminal" and "Sharon Hill". Another touch of Philadelphia.
Former Lackawanna Station
We completed our walking through the ECTM, and then left about 10:30 PM. It was about time to leave Scranton and proceed to the New York State portion of our vacation. But first, I decided to make a stop at the Radisson Hotel, to see what they had done with the station to transform it into a hotel. Now the Radisson, it is an impressive landmark which one must pass when entering the city on the main highway. It was built in 1908. 93 years later the mosaic tile floor has been restored, as has the Tiffany stained glass ceiling. There are marble walls and some interesting murals around the Grand Lobby.
While we were examining the track side of the hotel, which is now separated from the mainline by a small parking lot, I noticed that it was 11 AM. A very important time in Scranton, for it was time for the now familiar departure of the first Moscow steam trip of the day. Sure enough, at 11:03, the same CN engine came puffing by with its cloud of steam and soot blowing right onto us in the hotel's lot. We got our final dose of ashes on our skin, and waved to the passengers as their coaches passed us. We were glad to have been in those same seats yesterday.
Port Jervis, NYAfter the hotel stop we headed for I-84. Our ultimate destination would be New Paltz, NY, where we would be staying overnight before heading up to Kingston on Saturday morning. When we left Scranton we again encountered the excursion train as it was passing underneath I-81. It smoke was visible next to the highway as the locomotive had just passed under it.
We were soon hungry for lunch, but there were not many places to stop as we crossed the Poconos. I knew very well of a place where we could eat once we got to Port Jervis. Port Jervis is in New York State, but it sits right at a point where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all meet. We wanted to have Burger King, but it did not show on the signs at the freeway exit. But I knew that there was one in town. Port Jervis is the destination of the combined NJ TRANSIT/Metro North service out of Hoboken, and those who have taken the excursion know of the Burger King next to the station.
As we were leaving the restaurant, as if on cue, we saw a train all in NJ TRANSIT colors departing for its 2-1/2 hour journey to Hoboken. This was NJT/MN Train #60.
I saw a sign for the Historic Erie Railroad Turntable near the restaurant, and decided to go take a look. It's located adjacent to the parking lot for a shopping center behind the Burger King. The turnable is still operable, but it was last used in 1998 when the Iron Horse Rambles last ran their Hoboken-Port Jervis excursions behind the ex-C&O 614 locomotive. It still says "Erie Railroad" on it. Reading the interpretive signs next to the turntable, I found out that the former Erie RR depot was not far away. The commuter trains serving Port Jervis today run right past it to the small platform and bus shelters they use today. The Erie Depot was a few blocks east of the Burger King and current station, however we found it locked. A sign said that it is only open for a few hours on Saturdays.
It was time to leave Port Jervis and continue east.
An unexpected ride in the Hudson Valley
As we drove east towards Newburgh, where we would then have to turn north a bit for New Paltz, I realized that we were running quite early, and that simply going to the motel would be wasteful of the day. I got to thinking, and decided that it might be possible to go across the Hudson River to one of the stops served by AMTRAK's Empire Service, and take that long-awaited ride on the Turboliner. It something I've done twice in my life, but it's always eluded us when Michael has been with me. I knew that on Fridays, the Turbo runs earlier than normal on Train 257, so I figured we could take it in one direction, and then either Metro North or another AMTRAK train the other way.
I drove over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge on I-84, and then up a quite unfamiliar portion of our old familiar US 9 up to Poughkeepsie. I found some metered parking in Poughkeepsie about 2 blocks southwest of the station. We took a Metro North train south to Croton-Harmon, and then would await AMTRAK 257 to return from there to Poughkeepsie. What I had totally forgotten was that AMTRAK trains are restricted in Metro North territory; one cannot go between Yonkers, Croton-Harmon, or Poughkeepsie on AMTRAK. I did not realize this until we were already on our way to Croton-Harmon on the Metro-North train. When we got to Croton-Harmon, I went to the lone AMTRAK ticket machine. There are no AMTRAK agents along this line, so AMTRAK tickets must be purchased from the Quick-Trak machines or on board. When I used the machine, it did give me an option for Poughkeepsie, so I decided to try it. But when I got the tickets, it said on the ticket that they were not for use in local service, but only if transferring to or from another AMTRAK train. So now I had two useless tickets in my hand. One week later I received credit back for them at an AMTRAK window. So I purchased the cheapest permissible northward tickets, which were for Rhinecliff. I knew I would just "disappear" off the train at Poughkeepsie after paying for Rhinecliff.
When 257 came, it was in fact the Turboliner. History was made as Michael got his first ride on it. He was very happy after we had seen it both in New York and Albany on our LAKE SHORE trip to Cleveland one week earlier. The conductor was collecting tickets on the platform, and he was very diligent in enforcing that restriction for Poughkeepsie. One man in front of us wanted to travel to Poughkeepsie, and the argument between him and several members of the crew resulted in the train being held up a few minutes. With our Rhinecliff tickets we got right on, with me eating the $15 difference in fares.
Being a fixed consist, it is not possible to add coaches to this train as demand might warrant. Almost every seat was taken. Michael and I had to sit diagonally across from one another across the aisle, and we both were facing backwards. It was not a comfortable trip, but most importantly we got our ride despite the fact that it was nowhere in either of our minds when we woke up that morning in Scranton. The train had arrived in Croton-Harmon on time, but because of the argument, which the passenger eventually lost when he finally elected not to board the train rather than face the police, we were down about 7 minutes into Poughkeepsie.
After our Turboliner ride, we drove across the Mid-Hudson Bridge out of Poughkeepsie, and we were at our motel in New Paltz before long. We had time to swim in the pool before it got dark, and then ended up having dinner at a very expensive diner a few blocks from the motel.
With all our activity on Friday, we slept very well that night.
Saturday, August 25th
Saturday, the final day of our mini-vacation, would feature a visit to the Trolley Museum of New York, in Kingston. We drove up US 9W to Kingston, and had to drive around to kill some time because the museum does not open until 12 noon.
Trolley Museum of New York
We pulled into the gravel lot of the Trolley Museum of New York. What struck the eye immediately was the variety of equipment sitting on the property. The collection of trolleys is impressive, as there are a few there from Europe. But in the yard are also some old New York City subway cars, complete with roll signs saying things like "SS Shuttle" and "QJ Jamaica".
Indeed, this museum had its origin in the New York City area, and in fact could not find a home for its collection for many years. The desire was to maintain, display, and run the equipment in Brooklyn. The equipment was stored in various places in Staten Island, and even in New Jersey, but repeated bad luck prevented them from being restored to operating condition and running on the streets.
In Kingston, the museum is housed in a wooden building, part of which is two stories. The gift shop and displays are on the upper story, with a window looking down on the restoration shop which takes up the entire ground level. One can board several of the trolleys which are housed inside. But outside the building are the old New York City subway cars that are in terrible shape, and even 3 old green MBTA PCC cars.
At 12:30 PM we were allowed to board the excursion trolley. TMNY does not have catenary, although they say they are in the process of getting it. For now, the trolley excursions use motorized equipment.
Just like in Scranton, Michael and I were the only ones taking this particular excursion. We rode in the 358 car, which originally ran in Johnstown, PA. It has a sister car that belongs to the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, CT. But I found it strange that despite its heritage from Johnstown, it had advertisements one would have found in New York City in the same time period.
The boarding location is in the parking lot of the museum, near the front gate. The trolley track runs through the same gate, and then westbound on the side of East Strand Street. It almost immediately stops at another attraction in this area, the Maritime Museum. It is part of the Rondout District of Kingston, which has parks, shops and other stores which attract families on a sunny summer Saturday. The track ends in front of a small park, underneath a bridge which carries US 9W over an adjacent creek. Passengers are allowed to board these excursions at this location as well, while the motorman changes ends.
The trolley then runs east, back towards the TMNY, but passes through its property without stopping. It then runs behind a very smelly sewerage treatment plant, which was built on the grounds of the former Ulster & Delaware RR's Milepost One. The museum's trolley barn is the one remaining structure from the U&D that is still standing.
The trolley continues eastward and crosses East Strand Street once more. At both crossings, the conductor gets off and flags traffic to stop, but in no case were there any cars that had to stop for us. The tracks are seriously overgrown here, but we continued through it anyhow. We proceeded onto a small peninsula which juts into the Hudson River. And in another similarity to the Scranton trip, we had to cut our trip short because of trackwork ahead. What we missed was a riverside picnic area. Under optimal operation with a number of passengers, one can bring a picnic lunch, be dropped off by the trolley at the picnic area, and return to town on a later trip. We were close enough to the river that we could see the Rhinecliff AMTRAK station directly across the way. The conductor did point this out to us.
Our motorman changed ends once more, and we now headed westbound again, returning to the museum grounds. This nice leisurely run had encompassed just 1-1/2 miles of track but it took about an hour. Once back at the parking area, we departed the museum and headed for home.
Our trip was enjoyable. Steamtown was by far the highlight. The very private trolley excursions we took in both Scranton and Kingston were educational but were both cut short before where they should have ended. Our time in Port Jervis and the 82-mile round trip along the Hudson on scheduled trains were some unexpected bonuses.