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May Day 2009

For the past several years I have been doing research to allow me to recreate, in HO scale, the Village of New Woodstock, in Madison County, New York, as it was in 1945. My motivation was the fact that as a 3-year-old I lived in the house by the tracks of the Cortland Branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and used to stand in the kitchen sink to look out and see the great steam trains of the late war era, passing only a few yards from our house.

An early picture of the  depot at New Woodstock, a train and our house.

We left that house in the Autumn of 1945, but the memory of those trains remained vivid and inspired me, in 2004, to attempt to model the area of that recollection, centered on the depot and from the perspective of my 1945 kitchen window.

lasttrainlayout.jpg That project has been completed, and the prototype area of about 1800 by 300 feet is now in my basement, somewhat reduced in size from the original!

(For the entire story of this project go to

In compiling the research documentation needed to recreate New Woodstock in 1945, where much had been lost or changed over the years, I copied a great many historic photographs from the New Woodstock Regional Historical Society's scrapbooks; primarily those that showed buildings that I had to now build from scratch. These albums were priceless as they, sometimes by purest chance, recorded the very details I needed and that could not otherwise have been recreated.

Since I was only interested in pre-1945 appearances, I did not bother with later, diesel era photographs, except for the one shown below. This was copied because it showed "my house" at an earlier date than 2004, as well as some trackside details, power poles, etc.


I gave this photo very little thought, other than to duplicate the battery boxes and relay cabinet for my layout, until I began exchanging emails with someone who was doing kitbashing and had a description of a project he had completed on the Web. I was going to kitbash a steam era locomotive, but saw a diesel he had done, and it jogged my memory about this photo. So just out of idle curiosity, I sent it to him as I thought it was the same type locomotive he had done. He responded that it looked like an Alco RS-2 or RS-3, and the LVRR had both types after around 1950. So the detective work began... I cannot resist a good detective story!

Certainly the dim outline of the locomotive matched an RS-3 configuration (below); the curved cab roof, the short hood behind and long hood ahead, the round fan grill on front and the square, transverse exhaust stack.

Photo above from the "North East Rails"  website,
LVRR Diesel Roster, photo by Ed McKernan.

But I was curious about a vague, box-like structure on the short hood. I thought it might even just be a box placed there temporarily, as nothing seemed to appear on pictures of RS-3 locomotives on the Web (above). Through emails with members of the Anthracite Railroads discussion list I was soon educated to the fact that this was a steam generator exhaust stack. Steam generators were installed on some diesels to supply heat to passenger cars.

lasttrainnwdetail2.jpg Once one sees an actual RS-3 with a steam generator stack on top of the short hood, it is "easy" to see that same structure in the (enhanced for contrast) New Woodstock photograph.

Image at left from New Woodstock Regional Historical Society Collections, photographer unknown..

Image at right from the "North East Rails"  website, LVRR Diesel Roster, photo by Clayton Langstaff.

My correspondent on kitbashing was not at first aware of what this structure was, but he was able to quickly determine that only two RS-3s delivered to the Lehigh Valley Railroad seemed to have them, engine # 215 and #216. With an estimated date of the late-1950s for the New Woodstock photograph, and a delivery date of these "sister" engines of 1950, things seemed to begin to fit.

Part of the reason I had settled on a later 1950s date for the New Woodstock photo was that I had made a copy for my research of another image (see below, left) that appeared to be the same type of film, same winter field conditions, and in the space right next to the one I am describing above. Although I copied this because of the depot, track, structures and power line details, I could now see it was a view of the RS-3 and caboose disappearing in the distance as it went on north past the depot. And when computer enhanced (below, right), it showed  several boxcars spotted on the team track (immediately right of the depot) and the spur to the feed store, which can be seen through the tree at the far right. The fact that the coal elevator (dark with white trim center background) was standing and business seemed to be ongoing at both it, and the feed store, I estimated a late 1950s or very early 1960s date for the image.

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Since I knew I would have passed by any "diesel" photos in the albums, unless they showed structural details for my layout research, I suggested to Sara Chevako, the Historical Society collections database archivist, that she look and see if there might be other images to go with these two, perhaps in proximity to them in the album. What she found was nothing less than a dramatic breakthrough that eliminated many of the guesses about this RS-3 locomotive (see below).

This image, clearly taken the same day as the other two, shows an RS-3 just north of
Main Street, New Woodstock, with the steeple of the Baptist Church behind, and the
Engine number 215 clearly evident on the cab.

So it became clear that not only were these three similar black and white photographs, stuck into an album page at the Historical Society, actually a series of three pictures all shot of the same event (see schematic map left of New Woodstock showing estimated photo angles), but that the locomotive captured by this series of shots was Lehigh Valley RS-3 No. 215. So the guessing about which of the two sister engines was passing through New Woodstock on this day in the late 1950s or early 1960s could  now end and a precise identification had been made.

You will note that the LVRR RS-3 engine used above to illustrate the steam generator stack is also #215, and the complete image from which that detail was taken is shown here.


But with the new close-up black and white image, the collections database archivist also emailed another image of 215 she had found, and this one in color!  Although it was also a winter scene and could well have been taken about the same time as the black and white images, I made an assumption, based on my "theory" that the B&W images were late 1950s or perhaps early 1960s, that this color view, which is clearly dated "JAN  68" had no connection. But to have color, and showing the Cornell Red with black stripe color scheme I had to duplicate on my HO engine, I was thrilled.  Although by the time this image was being taken, we had been long gone from New Woodstock by over 20 years, and I was working on my Masters at SUNY Albany at the time, it felt like "being there"; because of the color, because of my father's church dimly showing through the trees at left (he was the minister there in '44-'45), and because of the little kids watching the train go by, as I did many years earlier.

This surprise image is a color photograph also showing #215, coming south with a string
 of boxcars, just south of Main Street, the depot in the background and also in winter.

I assumed at this point my work was done. All I had really wanted to know was which engine I was going to be recreating on my HO scale layout, and having determined it was an RS-3 and Engine No. 215, and having several good early photographs of Engine No. 215 from various web sources, I was ready to move on.

Then, as I often do, I picked up one of my Lehigh Valley railroad history books as bedtime reading.... or more correctly, bedtime thumbing, because I wanted to just flip through Herb Trice's "Gangly Country Cousin" (Dewitt Historical Society of Tomkins County, 2004) - a book full of pictures but mostly of early steam power on the Auburn Branch of the LVRR, which included what was later called the Cortland Branch, or the Cortland-Elmira Branch, running through New Woodstock. But I thought just maybe he stuck in a couple diesel photos at the end, and just maybe one of them might by a Lehigh Valley RS-3.

I was hungrily accumulating every LVRR RS-3 image I could find; partly to help with my HO modeling project, but also partly out of sheer lust! Now that I had discovered an RS-3 ran past "my" house, I had become somewhat obsessed with the locomotive. So it was not unusual for me to pick up an already over-read book and thumb through it again on the "off chance".

Near the end I DID see two photos of diesels, and BOTH were of RS-3s..... and then I saw BOTH were of RS-3 No. 215, and one almost duplicated the New Woodstock photo that had started this whole search, and in winter snows as well. Hmmmm. But it was the captions on these two photos (below) that opened my eyes wide!

lasttrainganglytwosmall.jpg "Crew and passengers on Engine 215, the last
Cortland-Canastota run on Dec. 30, 1967, include,
from left, local union chairman William McLane,
engineer Nick Fiske, fireman Bill Dries, conductor
George McFall. and trainmen Bill and Paul Morse.
Other passengers included Victor Cole, road foreman
of engines, and the author."

"Gangly Country Cousin", p. 141.
Herb Trice photo; used with his permission.

lasttrainganglyonesmall.jpg "Engine 215 returns from its its last Cortland  run,
crossing Pendelton St. near Cortland Jct. with caboose
95004 in tow."

"Gangly Country Cousin", p. 141.
In the collection of Herb Trice; used with his permission.

But the clincher was two pages back when I read the text that went with these photographs:

lasttrainbranchmap.jpg "On December 30, 1967, the Elmira & Cortland
Branch once again felt the chill of abandonment,
as RS-3 No. 215 cleared all rolling stock from the
branch between Canastota and Cortland, leaving the
empty rails to be gathered up by scrappers.”

"Gangly Country Cousin", p. 139

Map Note: At this time the branch only went as far north as Canastota.

The trip date of December 30th, 1967 certainly fits the print date of "JAN  68" on the color image of RS-3 215 at New Woodstock. But what tied the three black and white images to this same event? Well first of all one is struck by the similarity of the New Woodstock image of 215 with caboose in tow (below, right) and the Trice image of the same (below, left).

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But what wraps it up is a comparison not of these images, but of the other Trice image and the black and white New Woodstock images. In each of these, the man with the white coat and dark cap appears.

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The same man seen on the far left of the Trice photo of the December 30th run (center)
is seen on both the New Woodstock images (left and right).

One can also match the clothes of the man second from the left (above, center picture), identified as the engineer, with the clothes the engineer is wearing in the New Woodstock image (above, right). The man in white is identified in the Trice book as "local union chairman William McLane", a man who did take pictures and movie film along the route often. The man in the white coat does seem to be taking pictures, and the connection put me in touch with Bill McLane who has made a DVD of his railroading films, including this trip. He confirmed that on this trip he was standing at the railing of RS-3 215 as it made its way north on that final journey.

newlasttraincalendar.jpg The late Walter and Laura Mann were long-time residents of New Woodstock and keen observers of the Lehigh Valley Railroad as it passed north and south through the village. Having now attached the date of December 30th, 1967 to the photographs, it was recalled that a December 1967 calendar page of theirs had been donated to the Historical Society collections. The day block for 12/30/67 is shown at left, confirming the times of the last northbound and southbound LVRR trains on the Cortland Branch, and the identification of the engine that headed up that train.

Thanks to the generosity of Gary Stuebben, we can see perhaps the best detailed image of RS-3 No. 215 (below). Although in black and white, one can see that it has its Cornell Red with black stripe paint scheme; the same it wore when leaving New Woodstock for the last time (see color photo dated "JAN   68" earlier on this webpage).

Photograph of Engine No. 215 in Cornell Red with black stripe scheme; Photo by David Nyce, Collection of Gary Stuebben

Trice's photo caption states that No. 215 returned from its journey on 12/30/67 "...with caboose 95004 in tow." According to the Anthracite Railroad Historical Society website, this was one of a series of slightly modified Phase 1 LVRR cabooses, and differed mainly in having a "second rectangular rear window set to the extreme left."  Yet the New Woodstock photo clearly shows two square rear windows; one right and one left. One of the photographs the ARHS website includes to illustrate this type of caboose appears almost identical to the one shown in the New Woodstock photo.

If we compare these two winter photos, of Caboose No. 95004 at New Woodstock (left) and Caboose No. 95119 (right, ARHS website), we can see they are virtually identical. Although hard to see in the New Woodstock photo (left) the painted safety sign just behind the forward window can be made out as a square of lighter grey. lasttraincaboosesignfinal.jpg
The image right: 95119, Mark Nolan collection; the detail above: 95126, Mark Nolan collection - both from the ARHS website

This color photograph of  an LVRR caboose just two numbers from the one in the New
Woodstock image, gives an impression of what it might have looked like.
"A95006 (12/73):Szachacz/Phillips/Elwood"

Now that you have seen how a handful of snapshots, hidden away in an album, combined
with a couple of history books, some facts from experts, personal recollections and a webpage
 or two can tell an interesting story that otherwise might have slipped away, I hope that those
reading this who may also have a few snapshots, or some personal recollections, will contact us
and add a new dimension to this effort.
We would like to add your pictures and words in our scrapbook below.
The pages are waiting to be filled.

Email me, Phil Lord, at or email Sara Chevako,
New Woodstock Regional Historical Society, at

Credits and Sources

New Woodstock Regional Historical Society: Except where otherwise noted, all photographs are in the collections of the Historical Society. The Historical Society webpage can be found at

Anthracite Railroads Historical Society: This organization has a wealth of data on the Lehigh Valley Railroad, including rosters of all the equipment on that line. For more information see their website at

North East Rails: This website has photographs of most of the equipment run on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Photographs used from here have been cited by photographer. This website can be found at

DeWitt Historical Society of Tompkins County: They published "Gangly Country Cousin" by Herb Trice.Their webpage can be found at

Anthracite Railroad Discussion Group: The members were extremely helpful on all levels. If you would like to join this discussion group, go to and look for the group "anthraciterr".

Scot Lawrence: His webpage got me started on this project, and he was very helpful along the way, particularly in narrowing the search to just two LVRR RS-3s, No. 215 and No. 216. His webpage can be found at

Bill McLane: His gracious cooperation and insight into the last trip on the Cortland Branch allowed us to connect some of the loose ends and confirm once and for all the historic association of the New Woodstock photos .

The Scrapbook


“Yes, I did ride the last trip and took movies. Yes this is me on both pic's. The pic of me on 215 with crew on engine was taken at Canastota after turning engine on the turntable for the last time. The other pic at New Woodstock is also me. I’m out of cab and will film Conductor George McFall going into mill to see if cars are unloaded so we can pick-up and proceed to Cortland. I know I did not get off engine at New Woodstock that day. Any pic's I took there was taken from ON the engine. Sorry I haven't any idea how many cars we picked up that day at New Woodstock. It was a sorry day for all of us.”

 Bill McLane, Auburn

(The picture at left shows the engine on the Canastota turntable, about to head south for the last time. Bill McLane is the man in the white coat at the left of the line.)

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