Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Scenic and Historic Railroads

Birth of the Railroad

By Bob Difley



The first primitive railroads in the 1820s had proven that goods could be moved from point A to Point B on rails. The newly designed flanged wheels would keep the engines and cars on the tracks and hundreds of tons of goods could be shipped on a single train. Next was to prove to farmers and manufacturers that their corn, beans, Sunday frocks and sturdy work boots could be shipped to far-flung cities and towns across the West faster, cheaper and safer than by horse and wagon, canal barge or steamship.
Entrepreneurs, many of whom would become railroad barons, wealthy beyond imagination, raced to lay the fastest track between major distribution hubs. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad completed a line between Baltimore and Frederick, Md., by 1831. Detractors decried the dangerously excessive speed of the lumbering trains and operators of canals and turnpikes fought for their economic survival.

By 1840, more than 3,000 miles of track laced through the eastern and southern states, nearly doubled the miles of track in all of Europe. In 1847, Daniel Webster declared that the railroad “towers above all other inventions of this or the preceding age.” By 1860, the national interconnected network of rails had exploded to 30,000 miles.

Government land grants allowed railroads to expand through areas that were yet to become states, and with new technological innovations and the changeover to heavier rails, larger and more powerful engines, larger freight cars and longer trains, freight rates plummeted so that everything from cattle to buttons could be shipped faster and cheaper.

Even though the depressions of 1873 and 1893 caused upheavals and slowdowns in the railroads’ growth, by 1916 a record high of 254,000 miles of track crisscrossed the country from coast to coast. Over decades to follow, even with the introduction as well as gradual acceptance of the more efficient diesel engines in 1941, development of safety equipment, and increased operating efficiency, the railroads could not overcome the result of years of corruption, restrictive government controls, and competition from airlines and interstate highways. By 1987, the railroads’ share of intercity freight traffic had slipped to only 36%, down from a high of 77%; and from a high of 98%, passenger service plummeted to a measly 3%. The once colorful stories extolling the glory days of railroads slipped quietly between yellow-edged pages of dusty archives.

The trains, however, had become more than just an outmoded method of shipping and traveling. Stories of railroaders and engineers grew and expanded into legends that became part of the train culture. The crash of Casey Jones’ engine 382 in Vaughn, Miss., on April 30, 1900, made Casey the most famous of the American train engineers. Staying with his train when an accident loomed inevitable, and slowing the train as best he could before the impact, saved numerous passengers lives. Casey was the only one killed in the wreck.

Legends grew up around the exploits of train robbers like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse James, and The Gentleman Robber, Bill Miner, reputed to be extremely polite to the train passengers he robbed. After his third prison term, Miner moved to Canada and, in 1904, pulled off that country’s first train robbery, becoming the subject of the 1983 Canadian film, The Grey Fox.

The rails also produced their share of ghosts. Typical is the legend of train conductor, Joe Baldwin, who was decapitated in a train wreck in Tennessee. His body was retrieved but his head was never found. Locals claimed that the Maco Lights, a strange electrical phenomenon along the stretch of track where Baldwin died, was the light from a lantern held by the ghost of Baldwin as he searched for his missing head. After the tracks were taken up, the lights were no longer seen.

The lure of railroads stuck like glue to those little boys who ran along the tracks, and to men, women and children who remembered the nostalgic cry of the steam whistle and the clickity clack of wheels passing in the night. Travelers who recalled the soothing rhythm of the cars as they whizzed through town and country would dream of those wonderful days. Hobbyists, ex-railroad men, and tourists with a taste for nostalgia proved that the dream of railroading was not yet dead, as they dusted off years of grime from the indestructible iron horses and diesel engines, polished the brass of old parlor cars, and soon had revived railroading with new schedules on tracks that had been destined for abandonment.

Today, a network of railroads again follows many of the same scenic and historic routes that thrilled a country of entrepreneurs, rail travelers, and romantics.

Scenic and Historic Railroads
The following scenic and historic railroads are waiting to whisk you away, so set your
Railroad cap at a jaunty angle and don your engineer’s overalls. You are about to set out on an exciting journey back into the glory days of railroading.

Railroads in Your Region


Delaware & Ulster Railroad – Arkville, N.Y.
The Delaware and Ulster is an excursion train that combines railroad nostalgia with scenic rides through Delaware County in New York’s legendary Catskill Mountains. Step back in time as you board the historic Delaware & Ulster’s journey through a landscape of quaint villages, rolling fields, majestic mountains and pastoral farms while you enjoy a leisurely ride along the pristine waters of the East Branch of the Delaware River.

The Arkville depot offers exhibits about the role the railroad played in the development of the region. Round-trip excursions from Arkville to Roxbury depart on weekends from the end of May through October, and on Thursday and Friday during July and August.
Website: www.durr.org
Phone: (800) 225-4132

Wilmington & Western Railroad – Wilmington, Del.
Climb aboard the Wilmington and Western Railroad, in its 41st year and Delaware’s oldest steam tourist railroad, for fun and exciting adventures through the historic
Red Clay Valley.

Journey with Wilmington & Western for family fun, romantic evenings, holiday celebrations and 120 years of living railroading history. Trains leave from the Greenbank Station, 2201 Newport Gap Pike (Route 41 North).
Website: www.wwrr.com
Phone: (302) 998-1930

Tioga Central Railroad – Wellsboro, Pa.<,/strong>
Tioga Central Railroad now operates excursion trains, dinner trains and charter trains on a 34-mile railroad extending north from Wellsboro, Pa., to a location about three miles south of Corning, N.Y.

The line was at one time part of the Fall Brook Railway and later part of the Pennsylvania Division of the New York Central System. The best way to see the spectacular scenery of Tioga County – the beautiful fields and forests, the sparkling waters of Crooked Creek, and the western shore of beautiful Hammond Lake – is riding in the Tioga Central’s open observation car. Be sure to bring your camera.
Website: www.tiogacentral.com
Phone: (570) 724-0990

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad – Cumberland, Md.
Restored, early 20th-century rolling stock steams through the mountains of Western Maryland on a stunning, nostalgic 32-mile round trip between Cumberland and Frostburg from May through December.

The trip covers a 1,300-foot change in elevation, and you’ll see tunnels and bridges and catch glimpses of scenery that was hidden for decades. A ribbon of steel ties together more than 300 years of American history, thrilling riders of all ages.
Web site: www.wmsr.com
Phone: (800) 872-4650

For More Information

To find more scenic and historic railroads in your area, go to the website: www.touristrailways.com/namerica,/a>.
For links to everything railroading, from dinner trains to restaurants with a railroad theme, from recreational rail/trails to the Orient Express, see
www.raillinks.com.