Saratoga & North Creek Railway General Superintendent Justin Gonyo at the North Creek Depot
Justin Gonyo is carrying on a family tradition. He’s a railroad man.
Hired in August as the Saratoga & North Creek (SNC) Railway’s general superintendent, Gonyo is following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, who all worked for the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Railway. In fact, Gonyo left a job at the D&H to take this job in his hometown of North Creek.
“Grandpa was the last station agent to work here,” said Gonyo, sitting on a bench in front of the North Creek Depot next to the Hudson River. “He’s the last one to lock the door for the D&H. He was a trainman and a conductor. He was on the ore trains that came out of Tahawus.”
Grandpa was Robert Gonyo (1930-2005), who retired in 1983 from the D&H. Born in the Clinton County town of Beekmantown, he began his railroad career as a telegrapher and ended it as a station agent, just like his father.
Great-grandpa was George Gonyo (1895-1963), who retired in 1952 from the D&H after 39 years. Born in the Clinton County hamlet of West Chazy, he ended his career as a station agent in Chazy, where he’d been for 22 years.
Dad is Tim Gonyo, who lives with his wife, Debby, in Queensbury. He was a trainman and conductor for the D&H, sometimes working on the freight line between North Creek and the Tahawus mine in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He mainly worked on the Third Subdivision for the D&H, Schenectady to Whitehall. When he first got hired, it was in Fort Edward, but North Creek was in the territory that the Third Subdivision covered.
Tim moved to North Creek with his family when his father, Robert, was transferred here in the late 1960s. They both introduced Justin to the railroading life. Justin remembers the last time his father brought him to work when he was 9 years old.
“That’s what Dad did; that’s what I wanted to do,” Justin said.
By the time Justin graduated from the Johnsburg Central School in 2003, he wasn’t thinking about a railroad career.
“I hadn’t really thought about the railroad since I was about 14 years old,” Justin said. “Up until I was 14, I knew I wanted to work for the railroad. That’s all I wanted to do, but then I kind of grew up and went off and did my own thing.”
After graduation, he eventually moved to Queensbury to work for Six Flags at The Great Escape. His tour of duty there lasted from 2005 to 2008. Then his father told him that the D&H was hiring. Those railroading tales from his family soon flooded back.
“I remember hearing stories from Grandpa when I was growing up, so it was kind of always around me,” said Justin, who recalled stories about stations in the D&H North End, places like Chazy, West Chazy, Plattsburgh, Lyon Mountain and Rouses Point.
Justin applied and got the position with the D&H, which is now a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway. During the time with CP, he traveled west to Waseca, Minn. and worked on the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, another subsidiary of CP. He spent almost nine months there.
Then he moved back to New York to work on the D&H again. A month later, he was promoted to the supervisor of operations for the D&H North End, covering the rail lines between Oneonta and Rouses Point. His office was in Albany at Kenwood Yard, a freight yard next to the Port of Albany on the Hudson River. He was 25 years old when he took the promotion, living in North Creek and commuting to Albany for work.
“I drove all over the place,” Justin said. “One year I put on 66,000 miles just driving between here, Binghamton and Rouses Point.”
One of the stations along the D&H North End is Saratoga Springs. As the supervisor of operations, he was in communication with the railroad’s clients and partners.
“That’s how I met these guys (Saratoga & North Creek Railway) because they operated in my territory,” Justin said. “I was their representative for CP.”
SNC General Manager Steve Torrico approached Justin about the general superintendent’s position, a job that would take him back to his hometown.
“And here I am now,” Justin said.
At age 28, Justin is hoping his future will keep him in North Creek, where he lives with his fiancee, Allison Braunius. And he would love to work here until he retires.
Justin’s duties for the railroad right now include managing the train engine service, onboard service, ticket clerks, mechanical, maintenance of way and overall operations.
Asked what memories stick out from growing up in a railroad family, Justin said, “Just all the times that I went to work with Dad, being in the locomotives, learning about them, how to run them. That more than anything I remember from the railroad. That and hearing the stories from Grandpa.”
And it was his years working for the D&H on the North End that really made the connection between the past and present.
“One of the really cool parts is when I finally became a conductor on the railroad, going to all these places that I used to hear all these stories about, seeing the stations that my grandfather and great-grandfather grew up in,” Justin said. “And certainly one of the biggest achievements is being on the first train up to Tahawus in 23 years just a few weeks ago.”
D&H in North Creek
The D&H has a long history in North Creek. The company bought the Adirondack Railway between here and Saratoga Springs in 1889, and it later became the D&H’s Adirondack Division. Regular passenger service ended along the 57-mile stretch in 1956, as the Public Service Commission accepted the D&H’s petition to discontinue passenger service in May 1957 (source: May 29, 1957 issue of the North Creek News Enterprise). In 1956, the railway was only running trains between late June and early September. Freight service ended on Nov. 17, 1989, when the last shipment of ore was transported out of the Tahawus mine. In 1991, the D&H sold its Adirondack Division to Canadian Pacific. In 1995, Warren County purchased the 40-mile right-of-way for the former Adirondack Branch of the D&H, extending from the town of Corinth in Saratoga County to North Creek. The Saratoga & North Creek Railway signed a lease agreement with Warren County for the right-of-way in 2011.