Non-Traditional View

Posted by George Hamlin
on Monday, May 15, 2017

I’m surprised that I took this photo, at Suffern, New York, in June 1965.  Hardly a ‘traditional’ three-quarter shot of railroad equipment, that’s for certain; as well as the horror of the details obscured by the wires between me and the trains.  What possessed me to seek out this overhead view (or how, exactly, we got up there) is now lost to me.  The photo resulted from inducing the driver to stop at Suffern for me to see the rail facilities there while we were returning home after a family weekend-day’s hiking expedition in New York’s Harriman State Park, to the south of Bear Mountain.

We’re looking roughly southwest, at the Erie-Lackawanna’s yard facilities in Suffern, hard by the New Jersey border.  The E-L had been in existence the better part of five years by this time, but there will be no prizes awarded for guessing which of its two predecessors owned this territory.    There does seem to be a single Alco RS-3 that appears to have been repainted recently in the E-L’s handsome paint scheme (courtesy of the Lackawanna), but virtually every other piece of passenger equipment depicted here is still lettered “Erie”, in case you didn’t also notice the distinctive Stillwell coaches. 

Space is at a premium for the railroad here, both because it is wedged between Orange Avenue (location of the Chevron service station), the rocky outcrop to the east of the street (which is providing the perch for my photography), and the Ramapo River, located just west of the tracks.  And, as can be seen in the photo, this space has to be utilized not only for commuter-train storage, but also for what was a thriving local freight business. 

No road name extant here is still in use (although the breakup of Conrail did result in a modest renaissance in NYC and PRR reporting marks), and it looks like there still is a retail market served by individual carloads of coal in this part of the world as of the mid-1960s, although the Lehigh and New England boxcar is a reminder that the market for the Anthracite variety of this commodity has reached de minimus proportions, resulting in the L&NE’s exit from the scene as an independent operator in 1961. 

While it’s not really visible here, there is evidence, in the form of the water tower in the distance, of the large Ford Motor assembly plant, over the state line in Mahwah, New Jersey.  This entity produced considerable rail traffic, up through the early years of Conrail, albeit with facilities that were somewhat more capacious than the cramped one we’re looking at here.

Much has changed in the intervening five decades, of course.  Both the Comet I coaches and the General Electric U34CHs that replaced the RS-3s and Stillwells themselves are long gone; one of the U34CHs is now literally a museum piece.  The Ford plant closed in 1980 after 25 years of operation. 

And finally, while there’s lots to look at and enjoy from a rail perspective, perhaps the most interesting feature of this transportation  time capsule is the presence of but a single vehicle, an automobile, on the New York State Thruway beyond the rail yard, a far cry from today’s busy intersection of Interstate highways 87 (the Thruway) and 287.

While I’m still be surprised that I took this photo, fifty-plus years later, I’m now very glad that I did, and that I’ve managed to retain (and find!) it, and as a result, am able to share it here.  Enjoy the view!

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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