Saturday, December 11, 2010

Romance of a Railroad Recalled by George Townsend

Interlaken (N.Y.)  Review
February 16, 1961

   By Herb deLyser
     "I recall it must've been in 1905 when I bought my first round trip excursion ticket to Niagara Falls for one dollar."  So said Mr. George Townsend in recounting the earlier years in our town when the railroad played a vital and important role in the changing American scene.
     George Townsend, a native Interlakenite, will be 74 years old next March 4th. History will record that he and his generation were witness to the heyday of the railroad era when that great industry took the giant step to help to unite these United States.
     No American industry was ever more fascinating or has ever stirred the blood and the imagination of the individual more than he who has heard the far distant shrill of a steam locomotive's whistle in the night or witnessed a train's thunderous passing at the village depot.
     George T. recalls the early 1900's s the time when railroad traffic on the Lehigh Valley line was of considerable consequence. Fifty years ago the several hay and grain dealers of our town loaded and shipped ten cars of hay per day, says George. He also related that the railway station in Seneca Falls loaded more hay for shipment than any other railroad in the United States. Trumansburg had the distinction of being second in the same respect.
     In those early days, apples were another commodity shipped via the railroad's facilities. Two large cold storages located here, the Holton and the Weagers, processed and shipped many thousands of barrels of apples, plus many more that were fancy wrapped for export. Three dry houses also added to the busy fruit shipping business.
     "There wasn't much else to do then but to go down to the depot and watch the trains come in," said George. It was quite something to see the through train such as the Black Diamond coming from New York, make a stop here to let off 30 or more passengers at a time to spend their vacations on Cayuga Lake's famous resort hotels. *
    Another common every day sight was to see the Goodman House bus (horse and coach) go to the station to meet each train as it came in and to deliver and pick up the mail for the post office. The Robinson House also had a rig that met every train.
    George recollects there were six trains making regular stops here, plus about seven through trains that would stop on signal. It was a great convenience of the times to be able to by railroad to either Geneva or Ithaca to shop in the A.M. and return by noontime.
     "The old wooden coaches were favored for riding quality," said George, "and I liked the red plush cushions and the fancy wood paneling on the inside. Chandelier lights hung from the ceiling and for heat, there was a round pot-bellied stove in one corner. "I'll never forget the drinking fountain in those cars, either - everybody drank out of the same big mug."
     Excursion rides were common occurrences in those days. Several railroads would participate in the same event and as George T. said it, "Niagara Falls was pretty crowded."
     The last excursion ride by rail to the Falls for George was in 1923 when he took a dozen boys with him for company. The important fact of the matter was that George, a bachelor, was popular with the younger generation. He was well liked by the young people and he has never been known to be without a tale of adventure to tell his young charges. George had more time to notice all the little things that happened that made for telling of good stories, complete in every detail.
     George was a bachelor until 1953 when he married Mrs. Alice Mason. The Townsends resides on Seneca Street in Interlaken.
      The Townsends agree that the Lehigh Valley added immensely to the pride and pleasures of those living here in the early 1900's. Riding the pleasure boats on the lakes was also a part of the changing scene.
     With the discontinuance of passenger service of the Lehigh Valley Railroad these times are all but gone. 
      The days of the Black Diamond, the fast express trains, the noisy little milk trains, the smoky steamers, with exception of the powerful diesels, are at an end. And somehow - for all their noise - the smoke and the whistles that split the night, we are sorry to see them go.
     We shall remember and admire them for the tremendous tasks they performed and how they helped link village and city and east with west and of the good will they dispatched at every stop between.
     It is the fervent hope of many that the railroad industry can and will overcome its ills and that it may ever serve the giant economy of our American way, which it helped to build.

    *Black Diamond did not stop at Interlaken. 

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