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Corinne Clark and the RVRR

Corinne Clark and the RVRR


Carl Nees, George Davis (Corinne's father), Paul Albright, Tom Mangini, and Frank Froat with Engine #15. Corinne's dad, and Frank Froat, would give her rides in the cabs of the steamers and the diesels. #15 was, and still is, Corinne's favorite engine.

For many years, Corinne Clark had a relationship with the Rahway Valley Railroad. Her father, George Davis, had started working for the line way back in 1925. By the time Corinne came along, her dad had already racked up quite a few years with the old RVRR.


In her youth, Corinne remembers her father working late nights, and even on weekends. When asking her mother where her dad was, she was usually given the answer "fixing the train." George became the railroad's Master Mechanic in 1948.


In those days, steam was still around and kicking on the RVRR.  Her father was always at the RVRR on Saturday doing what Master Mechanics do….”fixing the train”.  Quite often Corinne would tag along with her mother to bring coffee and a buttered roll to him on Saturday. Often sitting in the yard was one of the RVRR's steamers, just hissing and roaring away, a cloud of black smoke billowing from the stack.


On more than one occasion the crew would give Corinne a ride in steam engine #13 or 15 on their way to Summit, with Engineer Frank Froat at the throttle. "I still remember how it felt when the firebox was opened to shovel more coal into it.  A blast of heat rushed out onto my face.  Seeing the flames in the firebox was scary for a little girl on a moving train."


"When electric diesels came to the RVRR I rode in the cab with my father.  It was just daddy and me driving the train up the mountain."


"I love the sound of a steam engines whistle, the plume of smoke billowing from the smokestack. I often waited for the train at the SpringfieldStation after school hoping my father was running the train that day. Maybe I would get a ride.  Maybe he would give me a dime. On a good day it was a quarter. To see the engine coming up the track in Springfield, towards me, was always exciting. There is nothing like a steam engine and Engine #15 was, and still is my favorite steam locomotive.”


Taking a brief respite, Engine #15 simmers in Kenilworth. Perhaps before she departs, will #15 have another passenger?
Collection of Jeff Jargosch.


"If my mother knew that my father would be working very late she would tell me to get my wagon so that I could take a thermos of hot coffee and soup over to the Springfield Station. Our house wasn’t too far from the station but far enough to be uncomfortable walking and pulling a red wagon in cold weather, even snow, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see the train and my father. He never knew if I would be standing there."


Frank Froat is seen here, in the cab of #16, at the Kenilworth Yards

Corinne snapped this photo of #16 approaching the Springfield Station.


"When he saw me he stopped the train and came down to me and my wagon. I couldn’t get a ride at night so off he would go with hot coffee and soup.  As the train pulled away, I was happy that I did something to help my father while he was working.  From a kid’s point of view, I thought it was a big deal that my daddy was driving an engine up the mountain with a long train behind it."


Riding in the steam engine wasn't the only reason to hang around the Kenilworth Yards in those days. "I bet you didn't know that over behind the big water tower, on the left there was a little pond. My mother used to take my sister and me ice skating there after my father came home from work.  There wasn’t a light back there so we had to skate by the moonlight.  That raised a bit of caution because we had to be extra careful that we didn’t skate into a piece of junk that was thrown into the pond."


The Davis family lived in Springfield. A little over a mile's bike ride from the Davis home was the Rahway Valley's Springfield Station, frequented by Corinne and her sister. "We lived about [a mile] from the station.  My mother had good intuition for the train’s schedule and would say, “Daddy’s going to be in Springfield soon.” My sister and I rode our bikes over to the station. Before the train got there we put our ear on the track hoping we would hear it coming.  And what kid doesn’t put pennies on the track to see if the train would flatten them."


When the train would come up the tracks, into Springfield , and roll across Mountain Avenue , she recalls a grinning Frank Froat, waving down from the cab of one of the diesels.


Corinne's parents, George and Emilie Davis,
on the day of George's retirement party. 1972.
Photo taken by O. Winston Link. Collection of Corinne Clark.

Froat and Corinne's dad, George Davis, were nice guys and would sometimes give kids a ride in the cab of one of the diesels. And there were other times when her dad had to chase kids away when they were trying to jump the train as it was moving.  


On one of her many cab rides with her dad, Corinne vividly remembers the piercing squeals of air brakes, as her father masterfully used them coming down the grade from Summit. " The air brakes….oh my goodness.  The air brakes always put me back in my seat holding on for dear life until I got used to the sound."


Apparently, bringing her dad a thermos of hot coffee and soup was something always taken into consideration, especially on the days that her dad was at the scene of a derailment.


"Did you ever hear about the one when the bridge, where Jaegar Lumber is, was nearly knocked off the pillars?"


"A truck tried to squeeze under the bridge. I don't remember how long it was that the area of Morris Avenue couldn't be used. I do remember the cow on the billboard was very uncomfortable! The whole bridge shifted. My father was beside himself trying to jack boxcars back onto the track without them going over the bridge."


"The Union bridge wasn't the worst derailment.  There was another one in Summit, late at night, that was pretty bad. The engine and cars were all over the place. It was in the area of the Troy Hills apartments and the Jewish Temple.  I think they had to get cranes to get everything back on the tracks. My father was the master of jacking cars up and getting them back on the track, but this time they needed more then a jack. It was the first time I saw him worried if he could get the job done.  When this happened I was an adult living in Springfield by the Rte. 78 Bridge, which wasn’t far from the derailment.  I happened to call my parents that night.  My mother told me about the derailment and where it was. Well you can guess what my next step was.  Hot coffee and soup. My father was surprised to see me there but told me to leave the area because it was quite dangerous."


Corinne's husband, Bob Clark.

As fate would have it, it was through the railroad that Corinne met her husband, Bob Clark. Bob was George Clark's  only son. George had simultaneously been President, General Manager, Secretary, and Auditor of the Rahway Valley Railroad since 1932, taking over in the wake of his father's death, and it was every bit apparent that Bob Clark was being trained for the "top spot." Corinne said, “Bob and George's desks in the Kenilworth Station were back to back.  They could look and hear each other within the distance of a yardstick. Bob didn’t have to strain his ears to hear the growling of his father."


Bob and Corinne were married, and Corinne became a member of the Clark family. The rough and gruff railroad president, George Clark, was now her father-in-law. But as tough a man he was at the railroad, he was a much softer man at home with an apparently big appetite. The Clark family had a shore house in Bayville, NJ, where they would spend their weekends. Friday night was always the start of a weekend feast when they all got to the house around midnight.  At the shore house, George was always wondering at breakfast, what they were having for lunch, and at lunch, what they were having for dinner, and so on.


George Clark often sent “goodies” home with Bob for him and Corinne." The “goodies” continued in greater supply when he learned that we were expecting a child. He must have thought that I needed to eat more now that I was expecting a baby. I still remember what Bob walked in the door with one night after I came home from the hospital.  It was the largest tray of Italian cookies I have ever seen and they were all good.  My father-in-law loved to eat. He enjoyed sharing food with Bob, me and his newest grandchild, Patty." 


In 1969, George Clark died. His son, Bob, was devastated by his father's death.


Bob was asked to take the job as President and General Manager.  He wasn't sure if he wanted the pressure or if he could live up to his father's standards. "We talked about him taking the job and I knew from those discussions that he was hesitant to try to walk into his father’s footsteps.  I felt if he didn't do what he had been groomed for all those years he would always feel that he had disappointed his father and so I gave him a little nudge in that direction.  Finally one day he made the decision. He put a suit on and went to New York to tell them [Beekman & Bogue] he would do it."


Later on, Corinne started to work for the railroad because Bob was concerned that the hours she worked at her current job didn't allow for her to be home when their daughter came home from school.  " And that was how I became another generation to be working on the Rahway Valley Railroad."


Everyday, Corinne would begin her day by parking her car behind the station.

Before the fire, Corinne worked in the Kenilworth Station. Her desk was on the second floor, near the window, second from the right, seen in this photo from 1973.



Corinne took these two photographs of
#16 out working along the line.

"My job at the railroad was low key. I did a little bookkeeping to keep track of the cars and typed letters that Bob wrote. It was just a way to give me an income." Bob also had her memorize the Reporting Marks on the sides of freight cars and jot down the car numbers as they rolled past the Kenilworth Station, for all the paperwork that needed to be filled out. She remembers saying to Bob, "The train is going too fast. I can’t watch the train and write the numbers fast enough. He laughed."


After my father retired from the RVRR he wasn’t content being away from the railroad.  Railroad employees by law aren’t allowed to work for a railroad under their own name so he formed a company so that he could work there under the company’s name. It was like he never retired.  He would get a phone call that they needed help and he was out the door and on his way to Kenilworth.  The Rahway Valley was in his blood. It was his life.


My father and I were both working for the railroad.  No longer was he giving me a ride in the engine or a dime when I stood at the Springfield station.  The tradition continued of Clark and Davis working for the RVRR.


On the day of the fire he was filling in for the engineer. As the train came into the Kenilworth Station he saw the fire engines. As I told him about the fire he hung his head down so I couldn’t see his eyes.  I knew they were filled with tears.


Corinne was there, working, the day that the fire broke out in the Kenilworth Station.


After the fire, they couldn’t work in the building so Bob had Corinne secure them an office trailer where, she, Bob, and Charlie Hunter (the Freight Agent) could work. The trailer was parked behind the station. "In the trailer I was doing the same work that I did for Bob in the office but it wasn’t the same atmosphere.  How do you compare a trailer to a wooden building that had years of railroad history behind it.  Charlie worked at the end of the trailer facing the station, doing his agent work, but he couldn’t read the numbers on the cars as the train rolled through the Kenilworth station.  He had to physically go outside, regardless of the weather, to be able to see the car numbers."


By this time Bob Clark's health had been declining, and not long after the fire he took a leave of absence from the railroad. "Bob left the railroad [not long] after the fire. I was worried about Bob and also worried about who was going to do the job of the President.  The train crew wouldn't be happy if they didn't get their paychecks. 


At the helm of #17, Frank Froat eases a train through Kenilworth and past the station, where Corinne is busily jotting down the numbers off the sides of the cars. Bob must be laughing by now as she says the train is moving to fast.

"In 1975 there wasn’t a computer at the RVRR to prepare the payroll. I had to figure out how to prepare the paychecks the old fashioned way, the way Bob did it, by using a calculator, tax schedules, paper and pen. The day of the fire I tried to get up the stairs to get the payroll book but a fireman caught me and wouldn’t let me go up. The next day I trudged up the old rickety wooden stairs to the office and got the payroll book and the calculator. It was important to keep the workers happy so that the train could go on as it usually did everyday.  I saw Bob doing reports for the Railroad Retirement Board and other entities.  No doubt about it, the reports had to be done.  It was another thing I had to figure out how to do so that we didn’t get in trouble with the government."


"Charlie and I salvaged as much as possible from the station to put in the trailer so we could work. The train still had to go out. I was in touch with Bob on how to do things but eventually [his health] got so bad that he couldn’t help me anymore."


Bob Clark sadly passed away on June 14, 1975 a day Corinne and Patty will never forget. Corinne notified Beekman & Bogue about his death and they arranged for Bernie Cahill to become the new head of the RVRR. Not long after Cahill's arrival on the scene, Corinne ended her employment.  She fondly recalls the times she spent with the engines and her father at the Rahway Valley Railroad.


"Evidently, trains are still important to me. They remind me of a time in my life when as a little girl my father came home after midnight because he was 'fixing the train.'"


Corinne's father, George Davis, and her father-in-law, George Clark. Collection of Corinne Clark.



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