Memories, in Brick and Mortar

Posted by George Hamlin
on Friday, September 01, 2017

In this case, for real, and not the “Misty water-colored memories of the way we were” in Barbara Streisand’s evocative song, although mist was certainly apparent on the morning of August 14, 2016 as I was passing through Delaware, Ohio, returning from attending Summerail in Marion. 

While I hadn’t been there in many years, in earlier times I’d passed through this Ohio town many times, both on U.S. route 42, and also on New York Central passenger trains.  Re the latter, I’d also passed nearby this location without stopping, since the station in Delaware is on a short branch to the west of the former Big Four (now CSX, after passing through both Penn Central and Conrail in the interim) main line; most trains, including the “Ohio State Limited”, didn’t deign to stop in the seat of Delaware County on a regular basis.

As of the spring of 1961, however, Delaware was served in both directions on the NYC’s Cleveland-Cincinnati line.  Eastbound, train 322, the “State Special” stopped there at 12:47 PM; about two hours later, train 323, the “Cleveland-Cincinnati Special” was scheduled to make its stop.

I was on my way to spend Easter weekend with my Grandmother, in Cleveland, and was excited about the journey, both because it was my first solo trip, and, let’s be honest, because it was a train ride, and on my favorite railroad, the NYC.  I’d ridden the route a number of times previously, and looked forward to seeing some of the places that I was familiar with, including Delaware.

In late March 1961, rail passenger service was well into its postwar decline, but still quite a distance from its nadir a decade later, when Amtrak was formed.  The timetable clearly indicated that there was supposed to be a “Parlor Buffet Lounge Car” serving “Beverages and Light Meals”.   However, only three two-tone gray 2600-series smooth-side coaches were present on the Cincinnati Union Terminal platform assigned to 322, in addition to the baggage, mail and express cars up front. 

A one-page notice placed on the blue reclining seats in my coach stating that this service had been discontinued recently solved this mystery, and I settled in to my window seat on the right side of the car for the trip.  My sustenance wasn’t an issue, since I’d been provided with a lunch from home, and would be in Cleveland by dinner.  As for beverages, there was the ice water in each coach, to be dispensed into paper cups also provided by the railroad.

The familiar stops were soon passing by: Winton Place (where the train was still on the B&O, until reaching Ivorydale Junction a short distance north); Middletown; Dayton; Springfield (where I can recall seeing myself reflected in the window of a storefront as we passed through the stretch of street running west of the station); the flagstop at London, and Columbus Union Station, which gave the impression of being ancient compared with the pair of “CUTs” at the train’s origin and destination, built in the late 1920s and early 1930s, respectively.

Thirty-nine minutes after leaving Columbus, the last real “city” on the trip prior to Cleveland, we were scheduled to arrive at Delaware.  The station is on the west side of a curve to the east, which gave me a good view of the pair of E units providing our motive power, while what probably was a considerable volume of head-end traffic was worked, out of view on the other side of the train.  Following the unexpectedly long stop, we were off back to the main line, and then, to paralleling U.S. 42, bringing back a memory of pacing this train a number of years earlier in this area that was pulled by a pair of Geeps in lightning-stripe livery ahead of a mix of heavyweight and streamlined equipment.  

The rest of the trip featured a number of other familiar places, and culminated in a ride up an escalator to the concourse of Cleveland Union Terminal, which at that time was the tallest building west of New York City. 

Today, of course, only Cincinnati Union Terminal, of the stations on this route, has passenger service (Cleveland’s Amtrak stop is on the lakefront line used in 1961 only by freight trains and the “Twentieth Century Limited”, bypassing Union Terminal); Dayton Union Station and the Columbus Union Depot are gone entirely, as are both the street running and the station in Springfield.  But, for some reason, maybe to conjure up pleasant memories, the station building in Delaware is still there.

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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