Come Along and Ride This Train
“I heard a story that I’d like to share with you; I know a valley that I’d like to take you through; I will show you things that I’m sure you’d like to see; come along and go with me.” ~ from “Come Along and Ride This Train” by Johnny Cash
Imagine doing a title search for a railroad. The actual road part is different from the rail/ties part, and the train part is different still. Around here, names such as Fall Brook Railroad, Blossburg and Corning Railroad, New York Central, Norfolk and Southern, and, more recently, the Myles Group, RailAmerica, and Genesee and Wyoming are all somewhat familiar, but keeping “track” or who owned what and when they owned it can be complicated.
But here is one simple fact: this year the Tioga Central Railroad commemorates its twenty-fifth year of operating excursion rides on the rail line Growth Resources of Wellsboro owns. While changes in the “rolling stock” in just this past quarter century are numerous, and while staff, volunteers, engineers, and brakemen, have come and gone, what hasn’t changed, really, is the love and enthusiasm those involved, then and now, have for all things railroad.
“It has been a collection of people who wanted to see this work,” says Grant “Skip” Cavanaugh, a Stokesdale resident with a “family history of railroad.”
Ferlin Patrick, GROW director since 2015, has assumed the Tioga Central’s promotional responsibilities, and notes that since bringing the passenger base of operations “into town,” ridership has increased, and the line has a new engine.
“It’s a big deal that it’s here,” concurs Skip, “here” being at the old Charleston Street depot in Wellsboro. “Revenue is up, passenger numbers are up, and it’s great what Chris [Kozuhowski] is doing.”
More on that in a minute. First, tracking a bit of that complicated history.
Sections of the right-of-way on which the Tioga Central operates today date back to the 1840s. Everybody was after coal in those days. The Fall Brook Railroad had brought a line to Wellsboro in order to transport coal from Antrim. There were connectors between Blossburg and the Chemung Canal in Corning. There were mergers between lines and operators, leasings and reorganizations, new lines and old lines, freight and passengers, and, sadly, abandonments. In 1988, Conrail, which had been created after a merger between the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads, ceased operation on the line from Jersey Shore to the Wellsboro Junction. The abandonment of that line ultimately led to the creation of the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Then, in 1992, Conrail eliminated service between Wellsboro and Gang Mills.
That left a few businesses along that nearly forty-mile stretch in something of a bind. Skip recalls that he helped with a study on the impact of truck traffic if all the freight to and from what was then GTE (AKA Corning Glass Works and, later, Osram-Sylvania) had to come through the borough by road instead of by rail. It was not a good scenario for residents or the roads.
So, GROW purchased the thirty-nine miles of rail line, thereby maintaining rail freight service to GTE, to what was then the Dresser facility in Stokesdale, and to a number of smaller businesses along the route. And in 1994, Tioga Central, which had been based in the Tioga County, New York, city of Owego, began operating scenic rides over the Wellsboro and Corning line. Rich Stoving, a railroad man who had been a volunteer in Owego, and who had moved to Wellsboro in 1991, served as president of the Tioga Central for five years after that move, and was the brakeman on the Tioga Central’s first run to Wellsboro.
For years the passenger train and the freight business used the Stokesdale/Wellsboro Junction depot area as a base. A caboose was repurposed as a gift shop and the place to purchase tickets for the famously scenic round trip ride from the Junction to Hammond Lake/Ives Run. But as serious talk began about extending the northern point of the trail portion of the rail trail (it currently ends at Route 287 adjacent to Pag Omar Farm Market) into the borough, serious talk also began about bringing the passenger train operations into the borough as well. The trail, or greenway, Skip says, has already been fifteen years in the planning stages, and while he acknowledges “you don’t see anything happening,” there is progress. He estimates it will be another three years before it’s completed.
“It is a choreography of dance steps, of things in the three to five year range,” he says.
In the interim, Chris Kozuhoski, owner of the Wellsboro House restaurant on Charleston Street, not only caters the Friday and Saturday night dinner trains, but purchased the former Wellsboro Depot across the street. He’s using most of the historic building—it’s 105 this year—as a micro brewery, but a section of it, complete with one of those old-fashioned barred windows the ticket-seller works behind, is now the Tioga Central ticket office (tickets are also available at the Wellsboro Area Chamber of Commerce). The section of track from the Junction to Charleston Street has been certified for passenger use, so the former depot is, officially, a depot again.
And there’s more. Across the tracks, though certainly not on the wrong side, is a building, owned by Bob and Dianne DeCamp, which had been used as, among other things, offices for Patterson Lumber. A portion of the original building was built in 1872; numerous sections have been added since then. The county, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, that is, is buying the building. It will be torn down and, in its place, a new, multi-purpose building (see architect’s rendition above), to crown what will be known as the Patterson Trail Head, will be constructed. The new building, the repurposed depot, the accompanying parking areas, and who-knows-what-else-the-future-holds, will be known collectively as the Charleston Commons.
“It’s an economic driver,” says Skip of the train and the greenway. “This is our next industry.”
For the latest on the Tioga Central, visit tiogacentral.com or call (570) 724-0990.