1961 West Side Drive, Rochester, New York
At intervals I have had occasion to 'ride the cushions' on the New York Central Railroad between New York City and Rochester, New York. The ride is a beautiful one any time of year. The scenery is most enjoyable when leaving New York early in the day for then, as the train progresses up the east bank of the Hudson, the sun shines fully on the river and lights up the west bank. The Palisades then stand out boldly and beautifully and are mirrored in the water. (The flood water from the melting of the ancient continental glacier certainly gouged a big bed now occupied by the relatively small Hudson River.)
Near Albany the tracks cross to the west side and, north of Albany, they climb the bank and proceed westerly along the gently meandering Mohawk River.
It has been a hobby of mine, merely as a rider, to compare the performances of the various types of locomotives when climbing the steep gradient to pull the trains up out of the valley. I recall one exceptionally smooth start at Harmon made by a Hudson locomotive, a 4-6-4 equipped with booster, and a trip uneventful as far as Albany. In climbing the bank there the speed ground lower and lower; the head-end barked louder and louder. Still the speed fell off. I began to be concernedunless we were pretty well un we weren't going to make it. The train was just too heavy. It was war time and all locomotives were traveling with full loads. The need fell off still more I could trot that fast. Something had to give the engine was just being worked too hard. And it did. The blast pipe let loose a roar as the drivers slipped and rev'd up. Cinders began to rain down and I had visions of the fire dancing on the grates. The throttle was 'eased -off'-too much I thought for the exhaust was now mild, but the engineer knew what he was doing and we kept slowly moving. After what seemed a long time we began to almost imperceptibly gain speed, and eventually were running merrily a-long the Mohawk River towards the setting sun.
Another time, at Harmon we were awaiting the exchange of the electric locomotive for a steam mainliner when we were all pressed forcibly against the backs of the seats. Just as I recovered my balance I was again pressed against the back of the seat and then it dawned on me. Boy, oh, boy WOW we had a Niagara, a 4-8-4 operating without booster, for a head-end, to my mind the finest power that ever crossed the continent. The periodic thrusts in starting were caused by the ripples in the torque curve as the cranks on the drivers came 'round.
The big Niagara proved to be soft-spoken, energetic and fast. Only a slight slackening of speed was noticeable as we climbed the bank at Albany. From there on the exhausts were not separately distinguishable but made an almost-continuous purr as drivers and rods spun and churned as the mighty Niagara snaked the train up the valley of the Mohawk.
Still later, I came up behind a Diesel. The train was on time. It was tight-coupled and the start was velvet smooth. The speed never faltered at 'the bank.' It was, in short, a perfect trip. Yet to an old steam fan, the glamour was gone with the era. My next trip was by plane.