Lake, New York
in the scenic Finger Lakes region of central New York State trace their
origins to a variety of predecessor companies. There were several small, now
almost forgotten operations that created a spider web of rail operations
between the several lakes and the major trunk line railroads to the north and
south. Gradually many of these lines were absorbed into the larger Class 1
railroads such as the Lehigh Valley, New York Central, and Erie Railroad. On
the Finger Lakes themselves, quaint steamboats plied the waters during the
warmer months, offering travelers a choice of venues. Various resort towns
offered summer accommodations to an increasingly mobile and wealthy 19th
Lehigh Valley Railroad was both a main line and extensive branch operator of
several routes in the area, including the bucolic Auburn Branch.
Starting at the division headquarters of Sayre, Pa., the Auburn branch
ran up the beautiful Berkshire valley through Owego. This line traces its
roots to the Southern Central. The tangled array of companies and operating
agreements were finally sorted out in the late 1890’s as the Lehigh began to
dominate railroads in the Finger Lakes region. At Freeville, NY the Auburn
branch crossed the Elmira, Cortland & Northern, which the Lehigh had
acquired in 1896. Between Freeville and Auburn, stations existed in Peruton,
Groton, Locke, Moravia, Mead, Cascade, Ensenore, Owasco Lake, and Pauls. In
Auburn the line continued north to Lake Ontario at North Fair Haven, NY.
of this classic era is the depot at Owasco Lake. Situated on the west side of
the lake, the tracks followed the shore line south from Auburn to around
Cascade where they again headed inland. In the 1940’s the branch hosted a
north and a south bound milk train with all the appropriate trappings such an
operation should have: steam power, a few wooden refrigerator and express cars
and a rider coach or two. Typically hauled by one of the Valley’s K-4 class,
4-6-2 steam locomotives, the
north bound No. 283 (timetable west) was carded out of Sayre at 3.25 PM,
daily. It’s south bound counterpart No. 282 (timetable east) would leave
Auburn at 9:45 AM. It was scheduled to arrive in Sayre at 2:45 pm.
timetable footnote “No. 282 and 283 available for passengers” said it all.
Here was a milk train accommodation in the true sense of the word. What a
great ride it must have been! The lovely rural area and small farming
communities along the lakes and among the hills and valleys made for a
wonderful ride. These remote stations came alive each day at train time when
the whistle of the approaching mixed sounded along the lake or echoed in the
valley. If the schedule was leisurely, then all the better it was so as to be
able to enjoy the ride. At the small town stations the clank of milk cans
being loaded into the refrigerator cars, and LCL freight being exchanged as
the locomotive gently simmered on the head end was a daily ritual. Local
residents no doubt made it a habit to visit the depot at train time to catch
up on any news or gossip with the agent. Their link to the greater world
outside depended on these daily mixed trains.
Lehigh Valley abandoned the Owasco Lake depot and much of the Auburn branch
trackage in the 1950’s. The sounds of steam had vanished from the line some
years earlier when the railroad went all diesel shortly after World War II.
Remarkably, the Owasco Lake station survived. Even more remarkable, it still
stands today, looking very much as it did in the late 1940’s. Now in private
ownership, the Owasco Lake station still commands a view of it’s namesake
lake. On a recent visit all was quiet along the now abandoned right of way.
Yet, if you listen carefully enough, the click of a telegraph key and the
sounder can be heard while spring songbirds chirp in the budding foliage. In
the distance a few farm animals can be heard bellowing in the fields. Best of
all, if you use some imagination, the lonely steam locomotive whistle of the
afternoon mixed train can be discerned, working its way along the shoreline to
Valley Railroad’s neat two story station at Owasco Lake, NY. We surmise that
the operator may have lived upstairs at this depot, located a few miles south
of Auburn NY on the branch line. Photo May 2001, John C. Dahl.