May 24, 2005

The Gangly Country Cousin and Lehigh Valley Memories

As Daniel Armitage demonstrated last year, there's plenty of local interest in our old railroad history. Over the past few years, the DeWitt Historical Society (now the History Center) has published two excellent and very complementary books on the Lehigh Valley Railroad and its operations in this area. David Marcham's 1998 Lehigh Valley Memories looks closely at operations from 1941 to 1959 during the transition from steam to diesel, while Herbert Trice's 2004 The Gangly Country Cousin explores all of the many railroads that combined into the Lehigh Valley's Auburn Division, and what became of them.

Marcham's Lehigh Valley Memories combines an excellent set of photos with explanations written by an enthusiast who went on to work for the Lehigh Valley, the Chesapeake & Ohio, the New York Central, and then the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority. The pictures tell the story for much of the book, with detailed captions explaining exactly what's happening. While it doesn't focus on Dryden or Freeville, it shows a lot of what passed through here and gives an excellent explanation of how all of these intricate operations fit together.

Trice's The Gangly Country Cousin takes a very different approach, though it also has lots of photos and maps. It stays off the Lehigh Valley's main line entirely and looking at the many branch lines from Elmira to Geneva to Fair Haven to Canastota and Sayre. It starts by looking at the creation of each of the branches, including the Southern Central through Freeville and Dryden and the Elmira, Cortland & Northern's transit from East Ithaca through Varna, Etna, Freeville, and McLean on its way to Cortland.

After exploring the branches and their (often difficult) creation, debts of which often made them easy acquisitions for the Lehigh Valley, Trice takes a close look at particular kinds of cargo, including coal, milk, passengers, salt, ice, and grain. There's a chapter on train wrecks and a chapter on "The Men Who Did the Work," followed by a section on the decline and abandonment of many of these lines.

While Marcham focuses on the operations of a specific period, Trice takes a much broader view, starting with the Southern Central in 1865 and reaching the present. Trice's book spends much more time on business history, while Marcham's celebrates the trains of a particular era. The two books complement each other very nicely, though some readers may want just one or the other. (For a third, I'd recommend History of the Railroads of Tompkins County, by Hardy Campbell Lee and Winton Rossiter, also available from the History Center. Its map is especially helpful.)

There are two stops, one in each book, that I'd love to hear more about if anyone knows about them. The first is called Stevens Siding, and it appears in a map in Trice's book between East Ithaca and Varna. The second is Ludwig, listed in Marcham's book as somewhere between Varna and Etna, though closer to Varna.

I'm happy to recommend both of these books. If you'd like to order either book, the History Center gift shop can help.

Posted by simon at May 24, 2005 9:55 PM in
Note on photos