• Ghost Trains (NYC)

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Roger Hensley
In my daily drive to work, I ran parallel to a Conrail (ex-NYC) double track main in several places so that I occasionally get to see a freight going one way or the other during my morning and evening drives. As part of my routine, I watch for the evening westbound to determine the route that I use going home in order to avoid the stopped traffic.

It was late into the dusky twilight as I rolled westward toward Anderson, caught up in the usual drive time traffic. Clearing the buildings of the small town of Daleville, the highway once again lined up with the Conrail tracks. The track signal ahead was showing green, so I glanced in my left-hand rear view mirror to see if there was anything in sight. The bright glare of a locomotive headlight reflected back at me. It was fairly close and was moving along quickly. I turned my attention back to the cars in front of me and yet, something about that headlight was different, almost compelling. Looking again, I found the light nearer still and the shape of the loco and its consist was becoming more discernable in the growing darkness. It seemed out of place, but I knew that I should recognize it; I had seen this before...

My heart leaped. It was a New York Central Mohawk complete with Elephant Ears (smoke deflectors)! The frontal silhouette was unmistakable! The dark shape of the loco framed the headlight as it raced through the gathering darkness pulling its consist of freight cars. THIS SIMPLY COULD NOT BE! My gaze moved to the road ahead and back to the mirror and back to the road and back to the mirror as I tried to see more clearly. I knew that this wasn't possible. It had to be a trick of the failing light and the deepening shadows and yet...

The locomotive was catching up with me and, now, there was something else about it. I could swear that I could almost see through it. The consist no longer looked right and the size of the cars were a little too big. I watched as the smaller 1950s cars faded to be replaced by something larger. And then the Mohawk had shifted, blurred and faded and became two... two Conrail Blue GE units pulling westward with its train of modern freight cars.

As the track curved away from the highway, the train and I separated, but it didn't matter. For what I had seen was not a part of what was there. For a moment, for just one beautiful and all too brief moment, in my minds eye at least, the NYC Niagaras and Mohawks that used to rule this Main Line had lived again. I knew the look. I had seen them before. I used to race with them in my mind when my family would take trips south out of Anderson. We would parallel NYC trackage and the Niagaras, Mikes, Mohawks and Hudsons would race by us on their way to far off places. For just a moment, after nearly 40 years, that time had lived again. The ghosts of my mind had escaped and by using the tricks of light and shadow had given me a glimpse of what had once been. They had shown me a memory long lost, but, obviously, not forgotten.

Is this, then, what drives us to create (or re-create) with our model railroads? Do our 'ghosts' express themselves in the miniature steel rails that pave the way for our 'scale' locomotives and consists that continue to deliver the 'mail', the 'passengers' and the 'freight' that makes our scale worlds go? We think that our buildings, people, farms, industry, cars and trains are the worlds that we want them to be, the worlds that we make. But are they or is it the ghosts of Rails Past that drive us?

As for me, for just one moment, the Interlocking Towers were manned and the cabooses followed their freights as sure as night follows day while crossing guards protected their grade crossings and 'name' passenger trains still raced each other against the schedule and the clock. For just a moment, for one wonderful moment, the world was young.

Roger Hensley
Copyright 1994 - rph
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  by BR&P
Yep, I heard they're legalizing that stuff all over the country these days. :wink: