Category Archives: Albany

OWNEY: Railway Mail Service Official Mascot

Owney, a stray terrier who eventually was named the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service. On this date in 2011, the Postal Service honored Owney with a commemorative stamp. Here, a quick look back at the dog who traveled around the world, became a national hero, and has been celebrated in poems, books and songs.

1.Owney, a border terrier, was found abandoned at the Albany post office in 1888 by a postal worker named Owen. The dog apparently wandered in the back door of the post office and went to sleep on a mailbag. When the pup’s mailroom presence was later discovered by the supervisor, fellow workers declared that he was “Owen’s dog,” and the name “Owney” stuck. The supervisor let the pup stay, against post office rules.

2.Owney didn’t like to be separated from his mailbags; when they moved, he moved. He would only allow uniformed postal workers to touch them. So he became the guardian of railroad mailbags, traveling with them from station to station along the New York Central railroad system, which went as far east as Boston, south to New York City, and west to Chicago and beyond. He’d disembark with the bags, visit at a station for a time, and then move on with another set of mailbags. He was considered good luck by the railroad, since no train he rode on was ever in a wreck.

3.In 1893 Owney briefly disappeared, and the Albany station workers feared he was dead. But he’d simply been in an accident in Canada and was soon back riding the rails. The disappearance made the workers nervous, though, so they bought him a collar and a tag that read, “Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York.” After that, clerks at various other stops added their own tags to Owney’s collection, until he “jingled like sleigh bells” when he moved.

4.The tag collection grew so large that John Wanamaker, in his role as Postmaster General, presented Owney with a coat on which to display them all, and also named him the Official Mascot of the Rail Mail Service. When too many tags accumulated, clerks would remove some and send them along to Albany or Washington, D.C., to be stored. According to one source, Owney eventually accumulated 1,017 medals and tags.

5.Once, in his travels, Owney reportedly saw a mail pouch fall out of his wagon while on a delivery route. When the driver returned to the post office, workers discovered that both the pouch and Owney were missing. They went looking, and found the dog lying on top of the missing mailbag in the road, guarding it until they returned.

6.At one point, Owney made it as far as Montreal, Canada; the postmaster there assigned him to a kennel and demanded that the Albany post office pay the $2.50 bill. It did. In 1895, a flurry of newspaper reports announced that Owney would travel around the world. He spent four months journeying with mailbags aboard trains and steamships from Tacoma, Washington, through Asia and Europe, across the Atlantic to New York City, and then back home to Albany. One news story said the Emperor of Japan had awarded him two passports and medals bearing the Japanese coat of arms.

7.Owney was celebrated in poems and songs, including one written by a mail clerk in Minnesota that contained the immortal lines, “On’y one Owney, and this is he/The dog is aloney, so let him be.”

8.As Owney grew older, like so many of us, he grew grumpier, until the manager of the Chicago Railway Mail Service referred to him as a “mongrel cur” and told employees not to let him ride the trains. (He’d booked more than 143,000 miles by that point.) Certain mail clerks in St. Louis defied the manager, and in the summer of 1897, Owney set off on one last ride. Alas, in Toledo, Ohio, he (allegedly) attacked a postal clerk and then a U.S. Marshal, who shot and killed him on orders of the local postmaster. The Chicago Tribune termed his death “an execution.”

9.Postal clerks devastated by this turn of events refused to bury Owney, instead demanding that he be taxidermied and sent to the Post Office’s Washington headquarters. So he was indeed preserved. In 1904, an effigy of him was exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, and Cleveland postal workers commissioned a commemorative silver spoon in his honor.

10.In 1911, Owney was sent to the Smithsonian Museum, where he still is featured in an exhibit. His remains suffered from deterioration over the years, and in 2011 he was given a makeover. He was by then approximately 124 years old.

11.On July 27, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Owney, rendered, according to artist Bill Bond, in “a spirited and lively presentation” inspired by the mounted remains.

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Editorial: Rauner must act on Amtrak buildout


U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos brought home the bacon, but Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner would rather watch it rot.

A hugely important Amtrak expansion that would reinstate passenger service between the Quad-Cities and Chicago is suddenly in doubt due to years of state inaction. The federal funds are still available, in no small part to the two-term Democrat’s work on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. But Gov. Bruce Rauner’s freeze on state funds, amid the budgetary turmoil, could doom the project.

The economically significant rail expansion could be out $177 million in federal cash if the June 30 sunset comes and goes unless Illinois releases some of its $78 million share.

“As you know, the federal government has already provided an extension for the state to take advantage of the funds for this project,” Bustos, D-East Moline, wrote Wednesday in a blunt letter to the Republican governor. “… For the sake of our transportation system and economy, I hope you will not allow these funds to expire without bringing their benefit to bear in the state of Illinois.”

Rauner faces an immovable force among legislative leaders. Years of spineless neglect and massive budget deficits greeted him at the Governor’s mansion, and it’s easy for a Democratic federal official to take potshots at a freshman Republican governor.

But Rauner’s funding freeze lumps worthy projects — particularly the Quad-Cities passenger rail buildout — in with political gifts, like the proposed Illiana Expressway that was a politically motivated boondoggle. Former Gov. Pat Quinn was more concerned with shoring up support in central Illinois than good policy when he pushed that now-shelved interstate. Illinois taxpayers would have been on the hook for billions, funding a highway to nowhere that would most benefit Indiana.

The widely criticized Illiana project propelled Rauner’s freeze on “unnecessary” infrastructure funding. The Amtrak expansion appears an innocent bystander.

Bustos correctly notes that the Quad-Cities is an economic and transportation hub. That fact is woven into the fiber of the river-side region’s identity.

Transportation options are a quality-of-life issue, a standard metric when new business eyes a potential location.

Rauner’s staff says they’re reviewing the many shelved projects. They claim the passenger rail expansion hasn’t been forgotten. And, surely, the administration has grappled with more pressing issues, such as higher education funding. The state pension continues to milk cash from state coffers.

Quinn’s administration made promises it couldn’t keep. Rauner’s across-the-board freeze now threatens a rail project that could transform the Quad-Cities position within the greater Midwestern economy. At the very least, it could substantially improve accessibility to the region’s financial and cultural hub.

Federal officials have waited six years for the state to hold up its end. Moline and area developers, banking on promises made years ago, are dumping cash into a shiny new train station. And Illinois faces a deadline. The federal cash could easily go elsewhere.

Everyone else is holding up their end of the bargain. Illinois should, for once, honor its portion of the deal.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

Quad-City Times editorial board

Presidential Candidates in ALBANY, New York

Three of the five remaining presidential candidates were in Albany Monday, part of abnormally robust campaigns ahead of New York’s April 19 primary. Ohio Gov. John Kasich  huddled with GOP state legislators in the Capitol at noon, before heading to events in North Greenbush and Saratoga Springs. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will start his day in Binghamton, and then held a rally at the Washington Avenue Armory at 2 p.m. before hosting a third event in Buffalo. And Donald Trump met supporters at the Knickerbocker Arena (also called the Times Union Center)  at 7.

Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders ticked off reasons why he believes the U.S. economy is “rigged” at the Washington Avenue Armory and sharply criticized his rival in the primary, Hillary Clinton.

In front of a raucous Albany crowd, the Vermont U.S. senator implored supporters to turn out on April 19, when Sanders is taking on Clinton in her adopted home state of New York, where Clinton served as a U.S. senator.

 BernieSupportersChantOutsideArmoryBernie supporters outside the Washington AvenueArmory chanting “Feel The Bern” . One said:”Seeing Sen. Bernie Sanders, she said, “is, like, bigger than seeing Beyonce.”

“Let us next week have the highest voter turnout in the history of New York State,” Sanders said, noting that his campaign has been successful so far in high-turnout states.

More than 4,000 people packed into the Armory, and about 2,000 more tried to attend but were unable to get in.

“Let me apologize to the 2000 people outside who couldn’t get in, we appreciate it,” Sanders said.


Early Railroad History From 1843

February 6, 1843 Through service begins between Albany and Buffalo with a gap at Rochester. The journey over several rail lines takes two days, with an overnight stop at Syracuse eastbound and Auburn westbound to avoid night running in winter.

Find out more about the Original New York Central Railroad

Delaware & Hudson Passenger Train Demise

Albany-Binghamton died in 1962 or 63, the commuter trains to Altamont and Saratoga went just about that same time.To be more exact: Trains 250/208 Binghamton – Albany & return came off in January 1963. My September 1930 Susquehanna Division Employes’ Time Table shows no dedicated Altamont commuter service, and no convenient times to and from Albany for commuters on Binghamton trains. Saratoga commuter trains 5 and 40 came off ca. 1960.

The D&H was down to two Montreal trains when 205 and 208 were discontinued in 1963. There had been discussion of substituting Budd RDCs for the Laurentian in that time period also, but I’ve never heard a reliable source on how far that got, or what that would have meant for the night train. (discontinuance, presumably?)

John Hiltz proposed to the NYPSC to substitute Budd RDC’s for conventional equipment on 34 and 35, The Laurentian, ca 1964 but the PSC objected and the issue was not pushed. I don’t recall the night trains, 9 and 10, being an issue at the time.

A little background. Passenger traffic soared in the summer of 1967 during Expo 67 in Montreal. No. 9, the Montreal Limited, had three units (RS-2’s) and 23 cars on Friday night, July 1, 1967. Most were NYC sleepers. The D&H leased coaches from EL and Reading to handle the load, but only used the same passenger RS-2’s. In the middle of that, No. 9 ran into the side of RO-2 at BM Cabin, and the 4024 and 4025 were destroyed. And Buck Dumaine became President of The D&H.

Buck first restored dining cars to 34 & 35, leasing two from the New Haven. He wanted to upgrade the service and grow the business. It was a fairly economical move, because the D&H dining service employees were protected by their labor agreement, and were working various jobs in the Headquarters building, including elevator operators, etc.

With the 4024 and 4025 gone, and most of the existing passenger car fleet in need of serious overhaul, it was a wise decision to upgrade the fleet with some good used locomotives and cars. That took the form of the four PA’s from the Santa Fe, and the 12 cars from the Rio Grande. I was told by good authority that the four PA’s cost $135,000 for the lot, and the Rio Grande cars totaled $120,000. That was almost certainly less money than an overhaul of the car fleet, and it took care of replacing the 4024 and 4025.

I can remember several months early in 1967 when both Montreal trains were covered by two RS-2’s, the 4005 and 4009. One went north on 35 and returned the same night on 10, and other went north on 9 and returned on 34. The only time they missed a turn was for their monthly inspections at Colonie. Two other passenger units were assigned as yard engines at Whitehall and Rouses Point to protect the passenger service.

The PA’s went into D&H service at the end of 1967, after Expo was done.. The first unit, I forget which, arrived at Plattsburgh on the Sunday night after Christmas, I believe. The major problem with the PA’s came up later in the winter, when we learned the hard way that one PA could not heat six cars on No. 9 when the temperature reached minus 20 F.

On the north end, the passenger locals (common reference: “Milk Trains” ) came off in 1963,


Crossing The Northway (by Train!)

The branch line of the New York Central Railroad (referred to as the Troy & Schenectady) did something almost unheard of. It crossed an Interstate Highway at grade!

Now, the full facts on this highly  unusual event can be found from Gino DiCarlo.

The former Troy & Schenectady line was still operating when the Northway (I-87) was built (1960’s) and there still was a grade crossing on the Northway a short distance south of the “Twin Bridges” over the Mohawk River (this was probably one of only a very few grade crossings on an Interstate Highway in the United States). It wasn’t there long, as the line was cut back within a couple of years to an industrial site just east of Route 9. You can still see where the line passed under Route 9 perhaps a mile north of Boght Corners.

During the period that the line crossed Interstate 87 (ETT has a typo “89”) at Dunsbach Ferry, the following instruction appeared in the Employee Time Table under “special instruction 103 public crossings at grade: Manually controlled traffic signals:” “Trains or engine must stop in rear of stop sign and a member of crew must operate pushbuttons in manual control box. After traffic signals have been operating for at least twenty seconds train or engine may proceed over crossing, signals must be restored to normal position after movement over highway has been completed.”

See some photos from Google Earth of the crossing location.

The only interlocking on the T&S was NYCRR Signal Station 8 at Schenectady, which governed the junction of the T&S and the Mohawk Division Main Line, and the T&S crossing of the Delaware and Hudson. At Green Island, a signal governing movements on the switch that joined the T&S with the D&H Green Island Branch was controlled by Troy Union Railroad Tower 3 on River Street in Troy.
From Gordon Davids

Once we “designed” a fantasy model railroad. The highway crossing remained. we can only cross Interstate 87, the Northway, between the hours of 2 am to 5 am.

Could Amtrak Extend Services in Saratoga and Schenectady in the Future?

What's New in Saratoga

and Schenectady in the Future?

Being only a short train ride away from New York City is one of the many reasons why living around the Capital Region is great. The only downside is you may have noticed that it’s a rarity for Amtrak to have more than a few trains scheduled from Saratoga or Schenectady on a given day.  However, there could be potential plans for this to change in the future.

A second track between Albany and Schenectady would help break up the congestion that commonly happens. The service will be financed by New York State, which will have to decide whether it’s worth the expense of extending train service beyond Rensselaer.

The trains that do stop in Schenectady and Saratoga are often at inconvenient times for those who wish to commute to New York City. Oftentimes, passengers will have to drive to Rensselaer and catch an early departure from there.
Both the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the Empire State Passengers Association have expressed interest in additional service in Saratoga Springs. The Times Union reported that Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber said, “Rail service for us is a huge opportunity.
For now, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope that additional services are extended to Saratoga!
What do you think about Amtrak services extending more trains to Saratoga County?

Norfolk Southern plans improvements to ex-D&H line

Norfolk Southern is doing more with its property than just talk about mergers with Canadian Pacific.

The Albany Times-Union has been covering this recently. Norfolk Southern has been working on the former Delaware & Hudson line from Albany to Sunbury, Pa., that it purchased in 2015 from Canadian Pacific Railway.

NS has been inspecting the tracks and bridges, and plans to replace thousands of wood ties and “resurface” at least 40 miles of track and possibly as may as 80 in 2016.

NS also is actively seeking to build freight business along the line. The acquisition has eliminated interchanges with CP, enabling it to offer shippers faster service.

The former D&H line also brings NS trains closer to the Mechanicville intermodal yard, which the railroad operates as a joint venture with Pan Am Railways. Pan Am Southern, as the venture is called, operates east to Ayer, Mass., outside Boston.

The $217 million D&H purchase puts NS in direct competition with CSX between Albany and Chicago. The line crosses NS’ Southern Tier line at Binghamton, which connects the Midwest and the New York City metropolitan area.

CP will likely keep the line from Montreal to Albany, over which it moves crude oil and ethanol to the Port of Albany. That line has thrived, moving fracked oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota to the port.


The Tobin Packing Company of Albany (Makers of First Prize Hot Dogs)


The Albany Times Union recently had a feature article on long-gone Tobin Packing of Albany.

They had quite a collection of pictures. The old First Prize Truck at the top is courtesy of Hanks Truck Pictures

The plant lasted from 1924 to 1981 and the ruins are still for sale.

As well as First Prize, meat processing was once a big industry in Albany. The Swift meat packing company was first founded in 1855 by 16 year old Gustavus Franklin Swift in Eastham, Massachusetts. It’s early origins on Cape Cod, led to later Brighton, MA, Albany, NY and Buffalo, NY locations, It was finally in Chicago. Gustavus Swift also championed the refrigerated railroad car.

Slump in oil-by-rail shipments boosts car storage business

New tank car safety standards coupled with a slump in oil-by-rail shipments are causing headaches for many in the railroad business, but for a struggling scenic railroad in the Adirondacks and other short-line operators, they may bring salvation.

Ed Ellis, president of Saratoga and North Creek Railway, said he plans to store up to 500 empty tank cars for a year or more on seldom-used tracks near the High Peaks Wilderness region of the Adirondacks. He estimated storage fees could add up to “seven figures,” ensuring the future of the cash-strapped tourist train.

“Developing the revenue stream from the storage is very helpful for making the railroad viable,” Ellis said of the Saratoga line, which he noted several months ago was operating in the red.

Tracks to Tahawus
Tracks to Tahawus