NORTH CREEK The Upper Hudson River Railroad celebrates the tenth anniversary of its inaugural run this year on Saturday, Oct. 13. As those who reside in North Creek know, in the past ten years the little train station that is nearly synonymous with the history of the town has gone from a dormant bud to a thriving blossom, becoming one of the most unique and popular of tourist destinations in the area.
The North Creek depot and its trains have a rich history dating back to the late 1800s when the station was a significant point on the Adirondack portion of the D&H railroad, and has gained particular fame as a result of the fact that Teddy Roosevelt received word that President McKinley had deceased while at the station, thus ushering him into the presidency.
Where restoration of the depot itself had already been taking place for some years prior by a separate entity called the North Creek Railway Depot Preservation Association who worked both to improve the depot and develop a depot museum, train rides through the Upper Hudson River Railroad, a private excursion railway, became a possibility after Warren County purchased the track for the promotion of tourism and development in the area.
There had been a strong movement to acquire a train in North Creek. Town Supervisor Bill Thomas had hoped to see the train to fruition for some time, and there was a large group of people involved in bringing the dream of an active railway to life.
Although the station itself had already been purchased by the county, funds were needed to repair and maintain the freight house, engines and rails, and U.S. Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-Queensbury, became an integral part in acquiring these finances.
Those originally involved in the Upper Hudson River Railroad worked hard to procure success for the project. Tim Record, the general manager of The UHRR at the time of its conception, endeavored to transform the vision of a fully operational railway excursion into a reality. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable pilot crew complemented the operation, including Larry LaFarr, who had worked as an engineer for D&H for 44 years, conductors Gene Corsaoe and Ernie Nenning, engineers Bill and Al Cameron, Jerry Riegel and UHRR president John Riegel, who along with their company W.J Riegel and Sons, restored the 8 mile track from North Creek to Riparius. The Upper Hudson River Railroad, in contract with the county, was then able to provide the preliminary train trip from North Creek to Riverside Station in Riparius.
The process of rehabilitating the rails according to the countys requirements was a rigorous one. The primary stretch of railway was meticulously restored to a class two track, on which the train can reach speeds of 30 mph. Cosmetic work was done on the trains rolling stock, which was painted in 1998. Two diesel-electric engines are used by the UHRR, one that is leased and one owned by the organization, an original Alco engine built in 1947 in Schenectady. All parts of the engines, excepting one car, have recently been painted in fresh shades of red and green. The original Hudson line was the first line in the 1940s that turned to using only diesel fuel.
When the Upper Hudson River Railroad finally opened for business after the North Creek Depot stood stagnant for years, the response was astonishing. Business boomed, and visitors came from all over to experience the newly restored excursion. The popularity of the train rides is owed to several factors that made this experience unique.
Whats great about it is that its a restored line that hasnt been run in years. People really love that, said Susan Goodspeed, who is in charge of publicity for the UHRR and helps in organizing special events. The thing that sets this line apart is that its absolutely beautiful; it runs along the Hudson River, and the scenery is gorgeous all the way down. And not only do you have tourists who want to ride the old fashioned train, but you have the train buffs that go all over the country to ride these excursion trains. They know all about the restoration process, the signals, the engines.
There are lots of rail enthusiasts out there, agreed Cliff Welz, UHRR operations manager.
Apparently, there is quite an interest in the code-names, signals and lingo historically used by those in the industry.
In all railroad history, all employees have nicknames like, new-guy, mile- post, smokey, and stoker, Welz continued. The train crew must also be well versed in hand signals and radio contact up to ten cars away. And there are old signs along the railroad that were indicators to engineers, like mile-markers and whistle posts, or bridge and crossing indicators.
These days, the UHRR has been able to expand its available destinations and hosts a variety of events.
Initially, the county purchased the 8 miles that was the first phase, but there was always the intention to extend it further south. said Goodspeed.
The first 40 miler, a trip that runs from North Creek to Hadley, was launched in June of 2006 and has enjoyed success ever since. One of the highlights of this trip is going over a breathtaking 96 foot trestle that extends over the Sacandaga River. Notable events in the 10-year history of the UHRR have included the Race the Train event, the Train Robbery performances that have evolved over time and been known to draw enormous ticket sales, and the Thomas the Tank Engine events that have attracted thousands of children from all over. Hudson River Highballs where you can ride the train and hear live music from Adirondack performers are a hit, and the possibilities dont end there; you can take a canoe to 1000 acres in Hadley and back, or treat your children to a Teddy Bear Train. Weddings and Birthday parties have also been held on board. There are endless things to do on a train ride with UHRR and the ideas just keep on building.
The next step in expanding the railroad will include extending the line south to Saratoga. After Hadley, the line is owned by the town of Corinth, and further rehabilitation in this area is slated to be completed by Tartaglia Contracting.
We are very excited about eventual connections in Saratoga, commented Welz.
For now, the UHRR is enjoying the immense progress, success, and positive attitude of all those involved that has blessed the organization since its conception.
I love working here, said Steve Wildermuth, who has worked as an engineer for UHRR for two years, I have a very professional, knowledgeable crew. They even have a great sense of humor.
Its been terrific. said Dave Delorme, brakeman since 1998, I particularly enjoy meeting all the people. You meet people from all over the world, its fascinating.
Margaret Welz, daughter of Cliff Welz, who has been working in the freight house gift shop this summer, recognizes the relationship that the train station has had with the community and its historical significance.
You learn a lot more about history than if you lived somewhere else. Its not just me, but everyone here in North Creek. She commented. I think its great to see history reenacted, and to see people come from across the country to North Creek.
Whats in the future for the UHRR?
Its been a really positive first 10 years, said Goodspeed, Not many communities have something like this.
With more on the menu at every turn, the little railroad that could can surely expect a joyous journey. If you would like to purchase tickets for the Upper Hudson River Railroads commemorative 10th anniversary ride, you may reserve them by Oct. 6 for a special discount or check out www.uhrr.com for more information.