It's morning on Saturday October second in Riverdale, New Jersey, and the set on is already in full progress. About twenty-two cars and their operators jockey around to set their speeders on the rails and prepare for the next two days on them. Many have attended the NORAC class the night before, have passed the test, and now can run on NYSW trackage for the next three years. It is fall, the temperature in the mid-fifties with a light breeze, which is a bit chilly for some as we prepare to go out on a beautiful, clear day. The set-on is going well due to the large, paved area of side-by-side tracks, which makes easy work of lining up and unloading. Most are on in less than an hour’s time. Inspection is going on as various types of cars are checked over, and paperwork is filled and examined as we prepare for the day. The safety meeting is next, as the excursion coordinators Chris Vitz and KC Smith go over the various safety items, track conditions, and operating procedures for the day’s run. Our pilot for the day’s trip follows them: NYS&W engineer Steve Weiss. He delivers a report on track conditions, grade crossings and Form D receipt for the trackage we will be running. Shortly after, there is the familiar crack of the poppers firing up, along with the wonderful smell of the two cycle exhaust wafting through the air. The other four-cycle engines then begin to fill the air with their own hum as they start up as well.
The flaggers are in place, the gates drop across Hamburg Turnpike, and the order is given to move out. The hydraulic motor whines as I nudge the throttle forward, and Beavercar CN 146-45 moves out. The consist crosses the diamond at Pompton Junction, backs through the switches, and heads west. As we pass through the quarry and industrial area, the view rapidly becomes much more rural. We are maintaining restricted speed as we wind our way through Butler, passing the old Hardco rubber plant and the yard for the NYSW, then starting up the grade under Route 23 on our way west. There is some fall color in the trees as we pass the crossing for Smoke Rise and hit the 2.5% grade headed for Echo Lake Crossing. We all make it up the grade, go through the crossing, and continue through Green Pond, Oak Ridge, Stockholm, riding at times high above Route 23, and other times below it as we pass scenic reservoirs, and old farms and homes along the way. We continue our trek, now hitting the grade that will bring us to the highest point on the rails in New Jersey at 1013 feet above sea level in Stockholm, New Jersey. We then pause on Hamburg Mountain, overlooking the beautiful valley below us, and High Point in the far distance. Next, we pass the remains of the famous Beaver Lake Station, and continue through Sparta and the Limecrest industrial (for the lime formerly mined there), through the beautiful Lake Grinnell area and to the site of the former Zinc mine in Franklin. We pass through Vernon on our way to Baird's Farm, enjoying the scenery all the way. We arrive at the historic Baird's Farm crossing, where we make our turn, and then back up to the end of the line at Pelton Road, where the NYS&W meets Norfolk Southern’s territory. After enjoying the beauty of Baird's Farm for a while, we head back, stopping at The George Inn in Vernon for lunch and rest, and of course, the never-ending rail stories that are a part of our enjoyment. The ride back is non-eventful, though scenic. We drop my wife Shirley and several others off at the Smoke Rise crossing to go back and prepare for the Hobo Party, and we arrive back at Riverdale soon thereafter. In preparation for tomorrows ride, we tie the cars down for the night in the secure facility where we set on. I set the Beavercar off and take it home, to swap it out with my MT19 Adirondack Scenic Railway car for tomorrow’s run. Then home, and time for the Annual Hobo Party there, where a good time is had by all. Also enjoyed by all are the hobo stew, chili, beef stew, and other treats prepared by my wife, myself, and several generous participants. My homemade soda fountain keeps us all refreshed (no alcohol here), and then dessert! We all go home full and tired, anticipating tomorrow’s run. Sunday arrives, I set my MT19 on, with another cool-but-beautiful day in front of us. We have our safety meeting and pilot's report, and we head out again. This time instead of the countryside, we are going urban. We pass through some country areas going through Oakland, Franklin Lakes, Wyckoff and Midland Park, but then as we approach Hawthorne, it starts to change. We make a stop at the Historic Railroad Station at Hawthorne for a break, and get to admire the work the VRA has done to preserve this landmark – the latest having been the movement of the entire station seventy-five feet to get it off the corner, where it was hit several times by turning trucks. Moving out again, we pass over the Passaic River Bridge and into historic Paterson (the first industrial city in the U.S.), where we see many varied sights as we pass through this great city of past railroad works such as Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works and Union Iron Works. We pass silk mills, the Colt Gun Mill, and others. Thankfully all goes well as we go through and we proceed on through the towns of Elmwood Park and Rochelle Park and then Lodi Junction, finally arriving at Maywood Station where we stop and have lunch. Next is Hackensack, where I give a big wave to my brother firefighters at the main firehouse as we go by, then pass over the Hackensack River (home of the historic USS Ling WWII submarine on display there), and on to the NYSW engine facility at Ridgefield Park. We stop there and see several CSX trains go by as we rest, several loaded with futuristic looking military armaments on board. We then head across Overpeck Creek to Little Ferry yard, where we turn our cars on the historic turntable in preparation for the run home. We observe several large snapping turtles in the water under the turntable (wouldn't want to fall in there) while the turntable creaks and groans as it reverses our direction of travel. Sad to say, it is now time to head back. As we arrive back at Riverdale, it is unanimously agreed by all, it was another great day with the VRA! We have traveled approximately 140 miles in the two days on some of the best track and scenery anywhere. Thanks to our teams of flaggers that make this amount of mileage possible, speeding us across many crossings in this area, we couldn't do it without you! I certainly hope that you enjoyed vicariously riding the rails with us, and hope you can come and do it for real in the near future!