With bell clanging defiantly for right of way at grad crossings - over the motor traffic that spelled its doom - the last Lackawanna Railroad train departed Ithaca at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday.
It was only a freight but a symbolic train nevertheless; made up of a caboose, three gondolas of scrap and three box cars bearing the battered and time worn equipment from the Lackawanna's Ithaca freighthouse office and sheds.
A cold, raw wind swept through the open doors of the freighthouse, chilling a little group of nostalgic witnesses as the freight rolled gently past in final view.
Desolate yards, a long unused passenger station and a freighthouse constructed of heavy wooden beams attesting its age were left behind by the shabby freight. The sole contraction to this scene of surrender to progressiveness was Diesel Engine 409 that powered the Ithaca-Owego Branch of the D.L.& W. R.R. into oblivion. It was a very little diesel, though.
Veteran employees had little to say Tuesday afternoon as they prepared for final surrender of a railhead on Cayuga Lake established well over a century ago. They appeared lost in their own thoughts and memories. Some may have even wondered what in the world the company expected to do with the battered desks being salvaged. It could be they had a sentimental value but no one mentioned that fact.
The equipment spoke for itself. It too reflected long contemplated abandonment finally authorized in an Interstate Commerce Commission decision some weeks ago. What ultimate fate awaits the Lackawanna landmarks rests with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Co. which took possession of the branch remains in Ithaca at 10:01 a.m. today. The Lehigh will operate on the Lackawanna tracks east to Hudson street in order to service the Morse Chain Co. and downtown to accommodate those with sidings on the D.L. & W.
Operation by the Lehigh to the Lackawanna's older siding customers is no innovation. They will recall it being done in World War I days.
Ithaca was in the romper state when the Ithaca and Owego Railroad started operating with horse drawn cars in 1834. It was the second railroad chartered in New York State and at the time its future was a rosy one. This was the overland link between the canals, Cayuga Lake and the Susquehanna River with its outlet to the sea.
Despite the inclined planes that necessitated the use of a windlass to raise and lower the cars from South Hill to the valley floor, hopes were high and money plentiful for investments in this hungry enterprise. Eventually the state sank $300,000 into the Ithaca and Owego Railroad before it was sold under default.
Reorganized in 1843 and aptly named the Cayuga and Susquehanna Railroad, the line prospered and was sold to New York interests which leased it for 99 years to the D.L. & W. Railroad on Jan. 1, 1855. Now both the lease and the branch line have expired.
In rolling out of Ithaca Tuesday night, the sad little freight traversed the South Hill switchback - an operation just about as extinct as the dodo - and crossed the only railroad bridge built on a curve.
It would have been a more fitting farewell if the Lackawanna resurrected a steam locomotive for the occasion. Who can forget the mournful wail of a departing train, a memory treasured by the older generations - to which this branch belonged. Note: A photo shows employees standing on the steps to the freighthouse, including Frank Connors, Ithaca passenger and freight agent since 1941; Edward Troupe of Scranton who was filling in while Connors was on leave; W.B. Osmun, chief clerk and cashier for the last 18 years. Paul J.Ludgate, a 40-year veteran who had spent his last 16 years as freighthouseman; Louis Stevens, retired baggageman; and Lawrence H. Scogtt, a freight hauler.
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Editor: D G Rossiter