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12882Walter Rich's enthusiasm for the rails was inspiring

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  • Gino's Railpage
    Sep 23, 2007
      Walter Rich's enthusiasm for the rails was inspiring

      Copyright 1998 The Binghamton Pr

      By Henry F. Sommers
      Reading the obituary for Walter Rich recently, I noticed that while
      his accomplishments and accolades are listed, his passion for what he
      did was not there. To put it bluntly, he loved trains and railroading.

      In the mid-1960s, he and a handful of other rail buffs secured the
      former New York Central railroad station in Oneonta, a little over a
      mile of track heading into the Catskills, a small steam locomotive and
      a couple of cars. With it they operated a small tourist train on a
      railroad they called the Delaware and Otsego or DO Line. The
      construction of I-88 cut their right of way too short to be of any
      value. However, the state and others were instrumental in securing the
      Cooperstown branch of the Delaware and Hudson. With the need for
      freight service the railroad was no longer just a tourist railroad.

      Within a few years Walter Rich and company were operating short-line
      railroads like the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville, the former
      Lackawanna branch from Cassville to Richfield Springs, and the
      Lackawaxen and Stourbridge in Pennsylvania. When the NJ short-line New
      York, Susquehanna and Western was searching for a new owner, the
      Delaware Otsego System (as the DO Line had become incorporated) was
      able to take control of that. When Conrail wanted to get rid of the
      Lackawanna lines in New York from Binghamton to Syracuse and Utica,
      the DO Line became the operator. With trackage rights between
      Binghamton and New Jersey, a new railroad emerged.

      Having lived in and near Otsego and Chenango counties, Walter had had
      an interest in the former New York, Ontario and Western Railroad which
      he had almost recreated with these lines!

      On paper, all this is dry and boring business, but to Walter Rich it
      was something quite different: he relished the work with a passion. In
      the 1980s Walter Rich and the New York Susquehanna and Western not
      only had accumulated miles of track but also passenger train equipment
      and thus Marathon Maple Festival and New York State Fair trains and
      just plain "daisy picker" specials into the countryside.

      I had to make arrangements for some special trains from Syracuse to
      Binghamton and Binghamton to Utica when the Board of Directors of the
      National Railway Historical Society chose Binghamton as their site for
      a spring convention.

      When I sat down with Walter in his office full of railroad memorabilia
      from the railroads he had under his wing and his favorite New York,
      Ontario and Western, all he wanted was to talk like a rail fan. In
      fact, I had to steer him into talking business! And when we did get to
      business, he offered arrangements that only rail fans could appreciate
      and understand.

      Still later Walter purchased a newly built steam locomotive from China
      to appease his lust for railroads. When the ship carrying the engine
      sank off the east coast of Africa, Walter undauntedly made
      arrangements to purchase a sister locomotive from the Essex Valley
      Railroad in Connecticut and used that with his passenger equipment for
      all to enjoy.

      In the early 1990s, I was working with a few friends seeking ways to
      return rail passenger service from Binghamton. I talked with Walter
      and he exclaimed how his managers would never allow a passenger train
      to interrupt freight operations east of Binghamton. In the next breath
      he was telling me how great an idea it was if we could get it to work!

      Walter's accomplishments in the business side of railroading should be
      applauded. But his passion in making it happen must be recognized to
      fully appreciate those accomplishments.

      Sommers is a Vestal resident.