A Short History Of the Claryville Branch Of the New York Ontario & Western Railway

by Charles M. Breiner



The year 2005 was busy.  After many years of thinking about it in the spring Charlie suddenly decided to build a one gauge G-scale garden railroad.  Charlie has always loved trains since he was born on September 17, 1941.  He received his first Lionel train set at the tender age of 3 months on the morning of December 25, 1941.  It consisted of a 2-6-2 locomotive, Shell gas tank car, gondola and a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose with a figure 8 of track.  Charlie says that, “I came into this world playing with trains and I intend to go out of it the same way.”   It was almost immediately decided to model the railroad like the New York Ontario & Western Railway. 


As a child Charlie grew up with this railroad in Middletown.  His father would take him out on evenings to watch the trains.  Charlie remembers going with his father out on Highland Avenue Extension to the north end of the O&W yard.  There they would watch from the bridge over the railroad as the evening northbound freight was made up.  It was a thrilling experience to hear the diesel engine and smell the exhaust as the train started up and went under the bridge we were standing on. 


Charlie loved to go to the O&W station and watch the steam engines pulling milk trains stop and then pull out headed for Weehawken, NJ.  Once he got so excited he ran into a man carrying a pale of water.  He still has a scar on his chin from this encounter.  Charlie remembers steam engines being used and in 1948 watching these locomotives being cut up for scrap after the diesels came.  As a child he was in the roundhouse and erecting shop in the yards on Wisner Avenue in Middletown.  He remembers watching switching operations in the early spring when the frost was just going out of the ground and there was mud.  When the cars were being moved across Wisner Avenue water would squirt up from under the track every time the wheels of the freight cars passed over this one low spot.


Charlie’s uncle, Garrett Scoonmaker was an engineer on the O&W.  He once offered to take Charlie for a ride in the Middletown yard on his Class E 4-6-0, #225.  These locomotives were known as the “Teakettles” and perhaps the most handsome of all the O&W’s locomotives.  Charlie being only five or six years old was too afraid to get on board and now has always regretted it.  However a couple of years later his Uncle Gary offered him a ride in the cab of his EMD F3 diesel locomotive and this time he did not miss out and saw the Middletown North Yard from the railroaders perspective.


The O&W went from Middletown through Sullivan County with stations in Summitville, Mountaindale, South Fallsburg, Hurleyville, Ferndale, Liberty, Parksville, Livingston Manor and Roscoe.  Sadly the O&W went out of business on March 29, 1957.  So it is easy to see why Charlie’s and Iris’ garden railroad has to be the Claryville Branch of the New York Ontario & Western Railway.


The first step was to get information from the internet where they found out about and on April 23, 2005, subscribed to Garden Railways magazine and ordered their VCR, Building a Basic Garden Railroad. 


The first car, a G-scale P. Ballentine & Sons brewery refrigerator car was ordered and put on display in the Beer Garten.  A EMD F3 A and B unit was ordered custom painted in the New York Ontario and Western Railway colors by Jeff Damerst of the Shawmutt Car Shops, 307 North Michael Street, St. Marys, PA 15857.  This was followed by an EMD NW2, 3 O&W coal cars, caboose and Russell snow plow.  Mal Houck of Maynard, MA served as a color consultant providing paint chips color samples. Jeff also completed a Lehigh and New England Railroad coal car for the railroad.


Serious planning started on May 9th when Iris and Charlie measured the location, drove stakes in the ground and ran string around the perimeter and the location for a storage shed next to the layout was staked out.


            On May 16th a 10 X 16 foot Cabana shed to store the trains and other equipment was ordered from Gray’s and delivery, construction and completion of the shed was scheduled for June 23rd.  On the morning of May 18th Tom Matthews and Bob Irving built the foundation for the shed.  Iris painted the shed in the O&W’s original colors based on paint color samples provided by Mal Houck.  Joe Weise cut a sign in the shape of the winged O&W logo and Valerie Taggart panted the signs.  Joe also made a trout weathervane for the cupola.  Charlie placed a blue porcelain Pennsylvania Bell telephone sign on the shed that he liberated from the O&W Freight house at Scranton, PA in 1972.


Twelve pallets of retaining blocks were used to build a 23 inch high roughly 23 X 40 foot horseshoe shaped raised platform for the layout.  Charlie, Tom Mathews and Eddie Bailey started construction on May 30th putting in the retaining block.  Five truck loads of dirt were delivered by George Dean of Crystal Farms on May 31st.  In all it took eleven truck loads of dirt to fill the area.  Tom Matthews, Eddie Bailey, Bob Irving and Charlie worked during June laying the blocks and filling in behind the blocks with crushed stone and dirt.  On June 30 Bob Quackenbush stated to help with our efforts.  The work on the raised platform for the railroad was completed by June 10th and the area around this construction was fertilized and planted with grass seed.


Numerous trips were made to Dee’s Train Shop in Delhi, NY to purchase track switches and other accessories. Neil who owns the store is a member of the Ontario and Western Railway Historical Society provided much needed expertise and advice.   


We also journeyed to Lantz’s Train Shop in Horseheads, NY.  On one of these trips on July 11, Elizabeth Morley joined us and gave some G-scale people including a tramp a bear and other scenic type accessories to the railroad.


It soon became apparent that Charlie and Iris had much to learn about their new hobby.  To learn more about this hobby they have started they to attend the 21st National Garden Railway Convention held July 26-31, 2005, at the Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles, IL.  Future conventions are scheduled for near San Francisco in 2006, then in Las Vegas, NV in 2007 and Phoenix, AZ in 2008.  The next practical garden railroad convention for them to attend will be in Denver, CO in 2009.  So they made their hotel reservations and registered for the convention in St. Charles’ IL on May 25th.  Just before they departed for the convention their daughters, Tina and Julie gave them a digital camera to record the events at the convention and the development of their railroad.


            They toured on the way out staying on the Canadian side in the Sheridan over looking Niagara Falls on Sunday, July 24th. The next day they drove 280 miles through Ontario and Port Huron to Frankenmuth, MI where they stayed at the Bavarian Inn.  After lunch in the Frankenmuth Brewery they spent the afternoon walking in the town which is built like a Bavarian Village.  The next day we drove to St. Charles, IL suffering a delay in traffic west of Chicago when a helicopter crashed on the highway.


The convention was a very busy time.  There were tours of garden railroads in the area around Chicago that left the hotel at 7:00 AM every day.  Some of the layouts were very large, some were about the size theirs and many were smaller.  Most had ponds and waterfalls within the layouts.  One of the largest railroads had a large tree house as well as a gazebo from which to observe the trains running.  The Saturday tour included a visit to the Illinois Live Steamers in Lemont, IL.  These trains were big enough to ride on.  The tours returned to the hotel about 1:00 PM.


Clinics were scheduled during the afternoons.  Charlie and Iris each attended different clinics so as to get as much information as possible.  Some of the clinics they attended were, Avoiding Problems in Your Layout, Care of your LBG Trains, Writing the Book on your Garden Railroad, Look What’s Growing in the Garden, Garden Railroad Design and Construction, Conifers for the Train Garden, Adding Water to Your Garden and Making It Look Good and Digital Camera, Digital Video and Large Scale Trains.


There was a huge show in the convention center with operating layouts and many venders.  Charlie and Iris purchased Santa Fe, Pennsylvania Railroad, Southern Pacific Fruit Express, A&P, New York, Newhaven and Hartford State of Maine Product and Railway Express Refrigeration cars for the symbol freights on the railroad.  Also purchased were Central Railroad of New Jersey, New York Central and Lehigh Valley box cars.  Gondolas from the New York Central & Hudson River and the Great Northern were purchased.  Buildings purchased included a brewery, crossing shanty, farm house and freight station.  


They got a lot of information and ideas from tours to garden railroads in the Chicago area and returned from the convention with a full trunk load of stuff for the railroad.


On July 22nd Gene and Fran Fuller the O&W enthusiasts, members of the Ontario & Western Railway Historical Society and the electricians from Grahamsville came and did an analysis of the whirring to bring electricity to the railroad and the shed..  Electrical conduit had already been placed under the raised layout area to facilitate an electrical line that had to be run from the garage to the railroad and shed.  Gene and Iris who is a fairly good electrician in her own right spent many hours in August doing the electrical work.  On August Gene Fuller, Tom Matthews, Bob Irving, Bob Quackenbush, Charlie and Iris all worked at digging trenching for the electrical wire and snaking the wire through the conduit under the layout to the shed.


            Next came the laying and wiring of the track and we decided to use 10 feet diameter track on the curves to avoid derailment problems. Charlie, Tom Matthews, Eddie Bailey and Bob Quackenbush began track laying operations on August 11th and 12th.  Crushed stone was used as the base and chicken grit was used for ballast.  An oval of track with a passing siding and a car siding were completed in September.


On October 5, 2005 Bob Quackenbush and Charlie wired the track while Mike and Margaret Schiffer ballasted the track with chicken grit.  Their efforts led to operation that afternoon of the first train to run on the Claryville Branch of the New York Ontario & Western Railway.  From the minute the first train ran our cats, Lucy and Trixie have enjoyed watching them as much if not more than we have.


On November 9th Mike Schiffer picked up Charlie with his pick up truck and they went to an old abandoned quarry on the Shawangunk Mountain above Westbrookville and gathered a truck load of rocks for the railroad.  These are special rocks in that they are odd shaped and many of them contain fossils.  After this they went to look for coal along the O&W roadbed.  They had a very exciting ride for 3.22 miles on the old O&W from Mamakating down the mountain to Summitville, however by this time there was a hard rain and they were unable to find any coal...  Following their adventure they enjoyed an outstanding luncheon and refreshments at Danny’s in Wurtsboro.  Charlie used these rocks to build a rock cut and bear cave on the railroad.  Eight miniature Alberta Spruce trees and miniature Iris were planted on the railroad.


On November 12, 2005, Charlie and Iris displayed their O&W locomotives and rolling stock at the Ontario & Western Railway Historical Society’s O&W Fair at the Orange County Community College.  While there were many HO scale, some O Gauge and some N gauge on display, they had the only G scale at the Fair.


In the first year about one-third of the track has been laid and put in operation and some landscaping has been started.


            When Christmas came Charlie said he was just like a little kid again getting trains for Christmas.  Their neighbors, Tom and Connie Matthews presented a beautiful station clock for the cabana shed.  Iris gave Charlie three flat cars with World War II army equipment, one car each with jeeps, tanks and halftracks on them.  She also gave him a Cities services tank car and a New Haven flat car with a GE cable reel on it.  He received a diner and fire tower for the top of the mountain.         


            During January of 2006 Charlie started working on this history and Iris built a brewery complex and a diner.  A fleet of six O&W passenger cars arrived from the Shawmut Car Shops.  These include a Railway Post Office Car (RPO), combination car, a coach named Willowemoc, a Pullman car named Esopus and an observation car named the Orange.  Although the proto type New York Ontario and Western Railway did not have any dining cars the Claryville Branch has a dining car named appropriately enough, the Claryville.  Each of the dining tables in the car has a lamp on it that actually lights.


            During the winter Iris built a brewery complex, diner, barber shop, gazebo, dry goods and clothing stores.  In February Iris and Charlie joined the Southern Tier Garden Railway Society.




May 2008 Photos



Claryville Gets a New Railroad Storage Shed in 2008

Early Stages of the Claryville Layout