Walter Rich's enthusiasm for the rails was inspiring
- 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
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.