January 29, 2011

The Ups & Downs of a Rural Line

I've already posted an 1885 train schedule and 1895 hamlet populations from David Marcham's The Ups & Downs of a Rural Line: Elmira, Cortland & Northern RR - 1867 to 1967 and On, but it's worth pausing a moment to look beyond those fragments.

The EC&N connected Elmira to Cortland to Canastota to Camden before getting absorbed into the Lehigh Valley railroad, where it was a branch line of the Auburn Division, chronicled in Herbert Trice's The Gangly Country Cousin. Marcham gives the EC&N line specifically more attention than Trice could in his broader work, and the result is delightful.

There's no specific focus on the Dryden area, though the line ran through Besemer to East Ithaca and then northeast through Varna, Etna, Freeville, and McLean on its way to Cortland. Given the depth of coverage, though, there's plenty of material even for a severely Dryden-centric reader like myself. (I know the area south of here, going toward Elmira, much better than the areas north of Cortland, so had something of a natural bias toward the parts of the book covering the southern end of the line.)

Marcham's prose is excellent, and he tells compelling stories. He's very comfortable pointing to prior work, including Trice's book and Elsie Gutchess' From Richford Rails to Freeville Stationmaster: Ken Rice Remembers. I really like his breakdowns of the maps, showing details about sidings, mileage, and towers, and not just the usual guide maps. I'll be using them to track down some lost locations this year, like a siding at "Ludwigs" between Varna and Etna.

There are plenty of pictures of trains, stations, and the people working them, along with stories of wrecks, near disasters (runaway circus train!), snow, and other adventures. Detailed station lists and timetables (even timetable graphs!) are great, and the bibliography and engine rosters are helpful as well.

Marcham's experience working for the Lehigh Valley, though only occasionally on this line, is extremely helpful. He manages to balance the voices of workers with the general business history of the lines, though both of those are fairly sad through the second half of the book as the line declines. He also does a great job navigating the tangled lines of corporate railroad scheming in the late 1800s.

If you have any interest in local railroads at all, I strongly recommend reading this excellent book.

Posted by simon at January 29, 2011 7:35 AM in
Note on photos