Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mystery Train, Solved


A month ago I wrote about a mysterious train on the New York and New England Railroad in 1893, a daily limited-stop express between Boston and ... Hopewell Junction, Dutchess County, New York. It seemed to make no sense at all. I observed that its arrival and departure at Hopewell Junction appeared to be coordinated with the Boston and Philadelphia express trains at Poughkeepsie Bridge. A connection would merely require running the 13 miles between Hopewell Junction and Poughkeepsie in a half hour&mash; a leisurely 30 miles per hour would do it. The catch is that the little Dutchess County Railroad showed no such trains in its timetable. Additionally the Dutchess County showed an astoundingly slow time of 65 minutes for its fastest train on the 13 mile route.

I speculated that the New York and New England express could be a mail train, and that the Dutchess County Railroad segment could have been only for mail cars and thus not shown in the public timetable.

And now, while researching for the New Jersey Terminals project, I came across the solution. It was not a mail train, but a train for express, which was the term for shipments of packages, the kind of service provided today by companies like United Parcel or Federal Express. The name of the latter still works if you think "express" means "fast".

One of the most unbelievable trains imaginable operated over the Morris and Essex during the period about 1892-1896. This was the "Boston Flyer", which, with the unusual Train Number 7½ left Hoboken about 8:30 p m and via the Boonton Branch arrived at Waterloo at 10:00 p m, where the engine was turned on the turntable, put on the other end of the train, and proceeded up the Sussex Road to Franklin Junction. There the train was turned over to the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad for the trip to Maybrook, New York. Here the train was delivered to the Philadelphia, Reading and New England for the run over the Poughkeepsie Bridge to Hopewell Junction. At that point the New York and New England operated the train through Danbury, Waterbury, Hartford, and Willimantic, Conn, and on via Blackstone to Boston, where as Train No 32 it was scheduled to arrive at 8:20 a m.

— Thomas Townsend Taber, The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad in the Nineteenth Century, Steamtown Volunteer Association, 1977.

Taber includes a sample timetable he dates as 1892, showing the train.

I was going to include here timetable images from Mystery Train and add the Lackawanna table, but I see Blogger has changed the way it shows images in a way that makes them too small to read. Instead of wrestling with that, I'll type it out here. Unknown timings are shown with a question mark.


BOSTON                    1800   0820
Franklin                  1842   0733
Putnam                    1940   0639
Willimantic               2025   0555
Hartford                  2120   0500

Hartford                  2130   0450
New Britain               2145   0435
Plainville                2155   0422
Bristol                   2207   0415
Waterbury                 2245   0345
Danbury                   2340   0235
Hopewell Junction         0030   0130


Hopewell Junction         ?      ?   
Poughkeepsie              ?      ?   


Poughkeepsie              0101   0054
Maybrook                  0150   0003


Maybrook                  0200   2353
Greycourt                 0218   2337
Warwick                   0240   2315
Franklin Junction         0310   2240


Franklin Junction         0445   ?   
Newton                    ?      ?   
Waterloo                  0515   ?   

Waterloo                  ?      2200
Dover                     ?      2136
Boonton                   ?      2120
Paterson                  ?      2055
Lyndhurst                 ?      2044
HOBOKEN                   0656   2030


The above is from the June 1893 Official Guide and from the 1892 eastbound Lackawanna table in Taber's book. There are small differences, but the 0820 arrival in Boston matches Taber's text, and the Poughkeepsie to Franklin times match a February 1893 table in Carlton Mabee's Bridging the Hudson (Purple Mountain Press, 2001). The greatest difference is the southbound timing at Franklin Junction, but Taber has the whole southbound run about an hour later, as follows.

The return trip left Boston at 7:00 p m as Train No 91, reaching Franklin, New Jersey at 4:45 a m, and Waterloo 5:15. After turning the engine, and putting it on the other end, the train proceeded to Hoboken as No 8½, due there at 6:56 a m.

In June 1893, the Lackawanna segment was probably as much as 90 minutes earlier than shown above, but I have entered the times from Taber anyway.

Railfan Dave Rutan, who has researched the Sussex Branch for years, has confirmed that the train ran until 1896, and he explained why the train did not exchange between the Lackawanna and the Lehigh and Hudson River at Andover.

The Boston Flyer was discontinued in 1896. The connection at Andover Junction was not created until 1905. The Boston Flyer ran up the Sussex Branch through Newton to Franklin where it got on the L&HR. The train even made station stops in Newton.

Based on this I added Newton as a stop in the table above. See Rutan's page Remember the Sussex Branch for more, including maps that may clarify point about Andover and Franklin Junction. He also has a plan showing that a cutoff was finally opened in 1901 allowing direct running into the Sussex Branch without the reverse at Waterloo, where the junction faced west. The reason for both the Waterloo and Andover improvements was to facilitate freight trains running to the Poughkeepsie Bridge route. So the "unbelievable" passenger trains were just a short-term addition to a more permanent freight routing connecting the Lackawanna and New Haven systems without carfloat at New York.

Neither of the half-number trains is shown in the June 1893 Official Guide. However, for many years the Lackawanna was cheap about buying pages in the Guide. In the condensed schedules they could cram into two pages, smaller stations are omitted, and some trains shown only as 'additional trains' in footnotes squeezed into margins. Other railroads would have taken at least four pages for the number of trains the Lackawanna operated. It's not clear that all trains were shown even as notes, and perhaps especially not two trains run mainly for express packages.

The peculiar train numbers seem to have been unique on the Lackawanna judging by Taber's comment in his thorough three-volume company history, namely "Why this train was numbered with a ½ has never been explained". Trains 7 and 8 without the ½ were "solid vestibule trains", overnight services with good accommodations between Hoboken and Buffalo. 7½ left 45 minutes after train 7, and 8½ arrived 90 minutes before train 8 (or 3 hours before— see above).

The elder Thomas Taber actually spoke with a Lackawanna engineer who ran the train.

This rather implausible operation was not intended for through passenger service, but was primarily to transport shipments of the United States Express Company (which operated on the D L & W) between New York and Boston, as a rival express company had the franchise on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. For several years, Morris and Essex locomotive No 87, named "John J Phelps", was assigned to handle the trains between Hoboken and Franklin. The redoubtable John Draney, later to achieve great renown as a teller of tall tales, and star of a radio show "Life Begins at 80", was the engineer, and he told the author that when running at night through the dairy farming area of Sussex County, the greatest hazard was cows on the track. Said John, "I killed eight one night in Drake's Cut, and when I told Superintendent Reasoner about it when I got to Hoboken, he asked if there were any more cows around. I said there was one more, and he said 'Well why didn't you get that one too?'"

An elderly Miss Emma Warbasse told a writer for the Susquehanna Reflector in April 1956 (also from Dave Rutan's site):

Back in the early nineties, the Lackawanna's famous Boston Flyer would roll through Sussex County each evening, its beautiful chime whistle reverberating through the pastoral valleys and wooded hills, its many brightly-lit windows giving forth an enticing glow and the lure of distant horizons.

The word "famous" certainly overstates the case— or maybe not, for longterm Sussex County residents.


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