Rail Road Hiking

Over the weekend, Monika and I went on two afternoon hikes.  In our haste, we forgot to charge our camera the first day, and the second day it was raining, so we have no photos of our excursions, which suits me just fine because the hikes were more about collecting the experience rather than a few photos.

It’s hard to explain why I am so enamored by old railroad tracks and trains because I’m not really sure myself.  I can be reasonably assured that trains have always been a fascination of little boys.  My nephew loves them and has a sizable collection, some of which I contributed.  Of course he watches Tommy.  I remember setting up train tracks in our basement every Christmas when I was a kid.  They were my fathers, and I still have them in my attic, although they haven’t been set up in years.  I don’t have a basement, but someday…

There were a lot of “right-of-ways” that ran close or through Atco.  Most of these were, in the beginning, for cutting down trees  in the Pine Barrens and bringing them to Philadelphia for the expanding city.  They also transported the glass that was made in several glass furnace factories located in the woods to the city for windows in the newly built buildings.

In later years, the destinations reversed, and trains instead hurried passengers from Philadelphia to Atlantic City in a trip that formerly took over a day to make.  In fact, nearby Berlin, formerly Long-a-Coming, was originally an overnight stop on that trip.  When the name of the local train station there began to confuse travelers, they changed the name from Stratford Station to Berlin, along with the name of the town itself.

There are two active lines that still run latitudinally through Atco.  One is right through the Center of town and has been there for as long as Atco has existed.  These days, it’s run by NJ Transit and can technically bring you from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia all the way to Atlantic city.  It connects with PATCO at Lindenwold and Amtrak at 30th Street.  There, you can catch the Northeast Corridor Line that will bring you from D.C. to Boston.

The other one is to the south of Atco and was part of the Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Line, originally called the Pennsylvania Atlantic City Rail Road Line.  I’m no expert yet, and I’m always reading more and more, but I think at one point it may have been absorbed into the Central Rail Road of New Jersey, and perhaps again reabsorbed into Conrail in the 1970’s.

This line still operates as well, but it is not a passenger line and I believe only transports freight.  It runs from Camden in the West to Atlantic City in the East and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of a train running on the tracks.  We’ve hiked on this line a bunch of times and I’ve never seen a train running on it.  This is the railway that runs through the center of Clementon right next to Harper’s Pub, and through downtown Haddon Heights, where the original station still stands and is maintained by the local Historical Society.

We parked on the corner of North grove Street and Norcross road, and hiked east on the rails.  We’ve never been on this particular stretch of tracks.  We always bring a backpack and plastic bag to hold anything of interest that we find.  Although it’s against a lot of hikers creeds, we sometimes bring back items that we may find.  We’ll never destroy parts of history, but some old trash, rocks, or rusty rail road spikes aren’t exactly a piece of history in general, and are just cool little collectibles that I like to decorate with.

We came across a horse farm that we never knew existed, and a woman in her forties was out back feeding the horses.  We said hello and asked if the half dozen horses that were there were all hers.  She said that she only owned one of them so I guess she was boarding the rest.  The horses came over to the fence to inspect the visitors (us) and we really wanted to pet them, but resisted.  Although the woman seemed nice enough, we were in the Pineys, and you just never know what kind of people you’re going to encounter.  There were a few men on the other side of the field that glanced our way, so I wasn’t about to invade anyone’s space.

There are old telegraph poles that run down this line, and I’m always looking for an intact insulator cap, which I have yet to find.  These lines have been hiked so many times over the years that a really good insulator cap is impossible to find.  I did find one that was in pretty good condition, but in two pieces.  There are always little shards and chunks that you can pick up, and I pondered whether or not my friend Eva, who is a glass blower, would be able to melt down this type of glass and make something with it.

Further down we ran into some people riding quads and they were nice enough.  A brief hello was all that was exchanged and that was fine with me.  Off the tracks a little bit, we found the remains of an old house of some kind.  There was a well that had been filled in, and a pretty good sized foundation.  around back was a few steps and a porch, and I wondered if this had been a station at some point.  It was made of concrete blocks that kids had clearly moved around and stacked up in various ways, and there was a pole nearby that must have provided telegraph, phone or electricity at some point.  Abandoned buildings are always a treasure to find.

I also found one really unique find.  It was a ceramic insulator cap that was still attached to the pole that had been downed.  I had to unscrew it and although it had a few chips on the rim I was amazed that no one else had come along and taken it before me.  Clearly the pole had been downed for some time and all the other caps had been taken.  I’m going to use it either as an ashtray or a candle holder.  We hiked probably a mile down and a mile back, and called it a day.

On Sunday, we wanted to look for signs of the old Williamstown Brach of the Pennsylvania Reading Line which, as far as I can find, had been torn up in the mid 60s.  It’s not hard to find where it ran and there are still signs of it on satellite images that I have looked up.   Plus, there’s still a section of town called Williamstown Junction with a little store called Junction Liquors, so that really narrows it down.

We’ve been back here before when geocaching. There’s an old weigh station of some sort that is along the path of the old rail line.  A little exploring turns up a ton of really cool, interesting remnants.  For some reason, when they tore up the rails of this line, they also tore up the ties, so there are huge piles of rotting rail lroad ties all along the right of way which you can recognize by the obviously artifically raised ground.  We found the concrete and wood remains of an old mile marker, the actual sign long gone.  There was another building back here as well that must have been some kind of station.  Huge sections of brick had been toppled, but it was at some point a sizable building.  At some point there was a lot of garbage being dumped back there, and that yielded some pretty interesting old bottles.

That day was raining, but it didn’t stop us from exploring.  We looked all around this patch of wood before stumbling into the back of a rock and sand supply yard nearby.  We hiked our way through the yard without incident and out onto New Brooklyn Road, which is loaded with curiosities.  All the houses on this street are from a different time, and one of them has a little farmer’s market out front.  We had to stop and take a look inside the barn that was there because it was just too damn interesting.  There was a barn cat inside that we did not disturb.  After poking around for a few minutes, a older gentleman, probably in his 70s, came out of the house to talk to us.  We bought a small bag of tomatoes from him for 2 dollars because they looked good and we needed them.  I forgot to ask the old man what the deal was with the sign on the barn that said “New Jersey Devil Scull.”  That alone warrants a return trip.

We hiked up the tracks back to our car parked at Williamstown Junction and headed home.  For our troubles we acquired:  1 cermaic insulator cap, 3 glass insulator caps, 5 interesting bottles, 9 iron screws, 2 iron bolts, 3 iron nuts, 1 piece of talc, 2 pieces of limestone, 1 flintstone, 15 glass marbles, 2 very heavy can-shaped weights, 6 assorted couplers, a pile or iron spikes, a pile of coal, and one bag of tomatoes.

Exploring places that are abandoned or are the remnants of a long ago reminds me how fleeting life is.  And just being there is proof to me that I’m not squandering what little time we all have.  It should be spent with people we love, doing the things that make us happy.  The rain and threat of crazy Piney’s wouldn’t stop us from going hiking this weekend, and it never will.  Tell us if you’d like to join us sometime for a hike and some exploring…and remember your camera.


One Response to “Rail Road Hiking”

  1. This blog was not only entertaining but educational! Thanks 🙂

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