Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season, and because it's Halloween, I hereby repost this from last October. I think you'll agree it's especially fitting this time of year...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley Line is to keep alive the memory of the men & women who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat to a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered almost exclusively by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, your historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that it's Halloween, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or goulish wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? What were their dreams and plans? Were they anything like us? While dead people don't actually haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...

Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back when I used to ride my bike to work, but only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the right-of-way. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.


  1. One night on my way home, I took a road that parallels a rails to trails path. It was about this time of the year with the bushes and trees having lost most of their foliage. As my mind wandered to past rail traffic on this line, there was a blinking red light on the path. Not a bouncing blinking light that would have indicated a jogger or walker, this light stayed level. A "FRED" flashing 30 years after the rails were removed?? As I finally caught up to the light, the jogger finally came into view. His stride and the timing of the flashing red light were in perfect sync! My "ghost train" was revealed and I continued home a little sadder for it.

    1. Hey Tim - yeah, it's really easy with these old roadbeds to let your imagination take over. Not hard to envision the ghosts of trains past - especially this time of year! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and tell us this story!

  2. I never saw a train on the line Middletown to East Berlin, but in the mid-1960s on drives with my father I did see the rails. They were torn up about the time Interstate 91 severed the line. But the trains hadn't been gone for long. You can still walk to the larger, now tieless steel-girder bridge just east of I-91.

    1. Hey George! Thanks for leaving a comment! Yeah - my first memory of this line - WAY before I knew anything about it - was seeing it from I-91 north just south of Cromwell, going off to the right. Certainly helped there was a couple inches of snow on the ground. ACTUALLY, now that I think about it, the line I saw was actually the old Meriden Waterbury & Cromwell which actually crossed the Berlin Branch at grade in Cromwell. Very cool. The bridge you're talking about can be seen just a little further north, off on the right as well. But you really have to wait until all the leave are down to have a chance of seeing it. Thanks again for posting and Happy Friday!