Reader recalls 'special' railroad passenger trip through Penn Yan

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

To the Editor:

Perusing some recent back issues of The Chronicle-Express before sending them to recycling, there was an article in the Jan. 2, 2008 edition I had overlooked. It was by Gary Pinneo commemorating the end of passenger train service to Penn Yan on Jan. 2, 1956.

To his excellent article I would like to add one footnote.

Not quite one and one half years later there was one special passenger train that rolled through Penn Yan twice after the official train-off of scheduled service. It was during Spring Recess week of April 1957 and the occasion was the train carrying several high school senior classes on their trip to and from Washington, D.C. Among the school classes aboard the train was the senior class of 1957 from Clifton Springs Central School of which I was a member. (About 12 years later CSS merged with Phelps Central School to become Midlakes).

The trip began with classes bused from their respective schools and boarding the special early morning in Canandaigua. Each class was assigned their own coach. In those pre-merger days many upstate rural central school district senior classes numbered 50-75 students. Long distance passenger coaches often had 80 or 90 seats and could easily accommodate each class and its chaperones. The train was eight to 10 coaches long with an unassigned enclosed observation coach at the end. The observation coach served as social space where students could meet and mingle with those from other schools; it was popular space. There was no dining car so we packed lunches to eat on board while under way.

Leaving Canandaigua, we traveled southbound non-stop aboard the special on the Pennsylvania Railroad through Stanley, Hall, Penn Yan, Himrod, Glenora, Watkins Glen, Montour, Montour Falls, Elmira and on to Williamsport, PA. From there we went to Baltimore, Md. This was our only stop enroute, with everyone remaining on board. The reason was our two diesel engines were replaced with an electric locomotive which attached to the end of the train and pulled us ‘backward’ into Union Station in Washington, D.C. We arrived late afternoon.

We detrained and were met by the buses of our tour companies. They took us to our hotels and shuttled us to and from the sites we visited during our five day long stay, at the end of which they took us back to Union Station for the return trip. We boarded the northbound version of the special in the evening of our fifth day. We rode all night, again non-stop - except for the engine change in Baltimore - retracing our route back to Canandaigua through Penn Yan arriving early next morning.

These two versions of the special train from Canandaigua to Washington, D.C. - the southbound and the northbound - were perhaps the very last passenger trains to roll through Penn Yan. It would be indeed interesting if anyone reading this would recall other specials or excursions after April 1957 and respond to The Chronicle-Express to share their memories.

Fortunately, Penn Yan still has rail service and we may yet see passenger trains - at least for excursions - by Finger Lakes Railway which, as Mr. Pinneo states in his article, offers many popular versions along its lines. But to my knowledge, the specials of April 1957 were the very last.

Jack D. Brown