Saturday, October 24, 2020

Portals into the Past: Railfanning the Batten Kill RR

What do you think about when you think about October?

The smell of wood smoke? The crisp nip in the air? The brilliant fall foliage? The shushing sounds your shoes make through the leaves after they've fallen to the ground?

What about ghosts? Sure, there's Halloween, but what about the ghosts of the past?

I've always thought of the month of October as the perfect time to see some ghosts. As the leaves reveal their true colors, right before they fall from the trees, and things begin to slow down a bit, we can start to recall - or sometimes we have to imagine - what life used to be like, before all the craziness of modern life.

And if you find yourself in just the right spot during the month of October, you might just think you've fallen through a portal into the past - and if you're truly lucky, you might just see some ghosts of 1950s railroading in upstate New York.

That's what happened to me on a recent Autumn day, exploring the Rod Serling countryside along the Batten Kill River. Follow along as I share some of the memories with you . . .

Evoking the old D&H, switching the feed mill near Greenwich Jct., NY

The main ghost, spotted - Former D&H RS-3, near the end of its life and fading, like so much of the foliage surrounding it, but still serving the same stretch of railroad it's run on for years - shot through the Rexleigh Covered Bridge.

And just off to the right, you can make out the ghost of an old mill along the river....

Southbound through Shushan, NY - only the modern vehicles spoil the specter of a mid-20th century meet between two freight trains in small-town America.

Two ghosts, divided by 100 years - Station built c. 1852, Locomotive built 1952

21st century digital zoom softens the colors and captures an echo of railroading from almost 70 years ago.

Our fading pumpkin of a locomotive makes its way over the railroad's namesake river and past a fading farm.

A little paint, a little polish, and a lot of elbow grease, and this ghost of a car might just live to chase another train on another day . . .

Grab shot tension

New meets Old

The gathering clouds and fading foliage provide the perfect metaphor for a farm which has seen better days.

Heading back north from Eagle Bridge, NY

Ghosts sometimes do cast a reflection...

Cornfield, barn, trees, engine - all fading, evocative, beautiful.

Only another unfortunately parked vehicle spoils the illusion of 1950s railroading, including one of the last (if not THE last) crossing sign of this type in the country.

Nature's Reclamation

Mirrored Streaks of Weathering - Heading back to the Junction, and finishing up for the day.

I hope you've enjoyed this little portal into the past - and that it's inspired you to keep your eyes open, especially during this time of year. You may find a few happy hauntings of your own. And if you do, I hope you'll share them here . . . I'm always looking for new opportunities for a little time travel . . .

* * * * *

Given the ephemeral nature of the BKRR, you really can never just "find yourself in 'just the right spot" when trying to capture it. You need a guide - someone who knows the place as well as the member of the family that it's become. My guide for this once-in-a-lifetime trip was Ken Karlewicz, who went out of his way - literally and figuratively - not only to give me the heads up that the BK was running the RS-3, but to make sure I was in every good location at every right moment all throughout the day. While "finding oneself in just the right spot" works well as a foil for telling a story of ghosts, the reality is that it doesn't actually happen that way, and never by accident. Thank you, Ken, for an amazing day and especially for sharing your love of the BKRR.

Technical Info: All original, unretouched, unfiltered photos shot with iPhone SE


  1. Chris, thanks for your efforts in getting all these photos and the research and thought that went into the text. How did you navigate and determine where to set up for the next shot? Were you already familiar with the line? How fast was the train moving? Is the caboose in Shushan a stationary display? Thanks, George

    1. Hey George - Just now seeing your comment, so apologies for the late reply. All very good questions - and almost all with the same answer: "I didn't/wasn't" - which is to say, I was not at ALL familiar with the area, nor where the good shots were. Everything that I got was all due to my friend Ken Karlewicz, who has been shooting the BK for over 30 years. Without his letting me know it was running, and for almost-literally hand-holding me all day with regard to locations and shot setup, there's NO way I would have been able to get any of these shots or have a story to tell. Given it's October, I chose the "ghost story" angle, but the story of Ken and my railfanning together could be a whole separate post. For your other questions, the train wasn't moving that fast (10-20?) and the caboose is just stationary on a siding. Thanks for the compliment on the text, but the rest of the thanks should really go to Ken.

  2. Great pictures. I was up there during the summer but didn't get great shots like you. Congrats!

    1. My very successful day and great shots were all due to my buddy KenK and his expert guidance. Glad you liked the photos!