Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Riding the Rails at the Whippany Railway Museum

Riding the Rails at the Whippany Railway Museum
Written by NJ Historian

Along Route 10 in Whippany, New Jersey are numerous sets of train tracks, locomotives, cabooses, railcars, and associated railroad buildings. These time capsules of the past stand silent, some restored, some awaiting restoration. But every weekend in the spring and summer, this outdoor museum site comes alive with the sounds of warning bells, trains, and families. The Whippany Railway Museum is not your typical museum. Mostly outdoors, children and adults alike can climb aboard numerous railcars, watch model trains race around a track, and explore the structures that the railroad depended upon to function smoothly. Despite the technological innovations in rail travel, visitors yearn for a time when a steam locomotive would come barreling down the tracks carrying passengers to and fro. It is this romanticism and curiosity with the rails that keep visitors coming back time and time again to explore this very dependable and economical transportation method.

The Morristown & Erie Railway
The Whippany Railroad Museum sits alongside the Morristown & Erie Railway. Originally chartered in 1895 as the Whippany River Railroad, the modern Morristown & Erie Railway is a short line railroad based in Morristown. It operates freight rail service in Morris County and surrounding areas. Within one year of its founding, the Whippany Railroad defaulted on their bonds and paper mill owner Robert W. McEwan purchased the line. Due to the proximity to numerous mills and willing customers along the line, the railroad continued successfully.

In 1902, seeking to expand, McEwan chartered the Whippany & Passaic River Railroad and built a new line from Whippany to Essex Fells. On August 28, 1903, the Whippany River Railroad and the Whippany & Passaic River Railroad were combined into the new Morristown & Erie Railroad. The railroad stayed in the family until 1943. By 1978, the railroad filed for bankruptcy, as most of the railroads in the northeast were in decline. In 1982, a group of businessmen led by Benjamin J. Friedland purchased the railroad and renamed it the Morristown & Erie Railway. The railroad reestablished itself in a short span of time and once again became a profitable enterprise. Today, it owns the main line between Morristown and Roseland and maintains and operates three other lines in Morris County (Dover & Rockaway Branch, Chester Branch, and High Bridge Branch).

Whippany Railway Museum
The buildings and trains at the Whippany Railway Museum span a generation of railroading in America. In 1965, Whippany was home to the Morris County Central, a steam tourist railroad founded by Earle Richard Henriquez-Gil. He recognized the potential that steam locomotive excursion trains could bring to New Jersey, as the golden age of railroading was quickly fading. The Morris County Central Railroad was the first standard gauge, historic preservation railroad in New Jersey and was also one of the earliest operations of its kind in the United States. In 1967, the excursion railroad funded the relocation of the original 1904 Morristown & Erie Freight House from next to the Whippany Passenger Station to the other side of the tracks. The move was made to save this historic structure from being demolished and to make way for a new commercial building and parking lot complex. Originally measuring 18 by 60 foot, the freight house had been shortened by about twenty feet in the 1950s when the Morristown & Erie Railroad desired more outdoor loading dock space. At its height, excursion trains operated seven days per week during the summer months. At the end of the 1973 season, after disagreements with the Morristown & Erie management, the Morris County Central moved its excursion operations and museum collection to a new location in Newfoundland, New Jersey.

Whippany Railway Museum
At Newfoundland, a ten mile section of unused New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad trackage running between Newfoundland and Beaver Lake, New Jersey was leased. On July 4, 1973, the Morris County Central Railroad reopened. The museum reopened as the Pequannock Valley Transportation Museum and was based out of a converted railroad refrigerator car. The railroad remained successful for a number of years. However, on December 14, 1980 the last two runs from Newfoundland left the station and returned. The closure was caused by a decline in visitors in the late 1970s, mostly due to national economic declines and the gas shortage, in addition to increasing costs and major repairs necessary to keep the steam locomotives operating.

The Pequannock Valley Transportation Museum members remained and by 1983 were considering a move to a more permanent location, preferably a railroad structure. The original museum building at Whippany was considered, but was in poor condition. It had been vandalized, overgrown, and became a local eyesore. It was scheduled to be demolished. The members approached the Morristown & Erie Railway and received permission to rebuild the structure. The building underwent a massive restoration, including a new foundation. In about one year, the museum collection was moved from Newfoundland back to Whippany. The Museum was reorganized as the Whippany Railway Museum and on October 26, 1985 the Whippany Railway Museum opened to the public. 

In addition to the freight house, the grounds of the Whippany Railway Museum contain numerous historic and replica railroad structures. In the center of the yard is a large water tank, which was used to facilitate the addition of water into steam engines. The water tank was originally constructed in September or October 1904 with a wooden base and cedar shake tank. The original tank, ordered from the G. Wollford Wood Tank Manufacturing Co. of Darby, Pennsylvania, cost $210.00. The tank was sixteen feet tall and held 16,000 gallons. In 1917, the timber frame was replaced by the current, existing brick and concrete base. Once completed, the original 1904 wood tank was set upon the new base. The tank was replaced in 1922 and 1948, both times reusing the original 1904 water level indicator.

1904 water tank at the Whippany Railway Museum.
The water tank has been refurbished numerous times since the 1980s, including a new roof, spout, and brick repointing. Today, the green-painted tank and its brick base, await yet another restoration to return it to usable condition as a functional artifact of the railroading industry. It was listed on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places in 2006.

The Morristown & Erie Railroad provided passenger service between 1905 and 1928. On January 7, 1905, a passenger station and general offices for the Morristown & Erie Railroad at Whippany opened to the public. Constructed of fieldstone with a cedar-shake hipped roof, this station provided many modern amenities to travelers. The ground floor contained a spacious waiting room, express and baggage rooms, a store room, large office, and restroom. The interior of the station was fashioned in wood with a natural finish and a rustic stone mantle graced the waiting room. A porte cochere was constructed on the street side and a sweeping overhang protected travelers from the elements trackside. The cedar roof was replaced with slate in the mid-1920s. In 1972, the Morristown & Erie Railroad relocated their general office to Morristown. Since it closed, the station has been rented for commercial interests. Today, it sits vacant, awaiting a future use.

To help foster a better understanding of the types of structures once common along railroads, the grounds  of the Whippany Railway Museum include three replica structures, based off of period blueprints:
  • Replica circa 1905 Pennsylvania Railroad standard scale house, which would house the instruments and controls for weighing freight cars on the scale at the tracks.
  • Replica circa 1911 Pennsylvania Railroad standard watch box or "crossing shanty." Before automatic electric crossing gates, crossing watchmen operated manual crossing gates at grade crossings and used a stop sign to control traffic.
  • Replica circa 1909 Pennsylvania Railroad standard telephone booth. Telephone booths or boxes, were placed wherever there was a need for a locomotive engineer or conductor to talk to the dispatcher or block controller.
Whippany Passenger Station, constructed 1904.
Numerous rail cars, cabooses, engines, and locomotives fill up the yard and sidings at the Whippany Railway Museum. Some are being stored there for private owners, but a good majority of the cars are in the possession of the museum. Most notable among their stock is the 1927 Central New Jersey club car named 'Jersey Coast'. The car was built by Bethlehem Shipbuilding and numbered 1201, one of the last of its kind produced (1204 was the final car). Traveling by train was to be a luxurious affair, and for those who could afford it, purchased a subscription to the club car. The car contained mahogany woodwork, card tables, plush armchair seating, and best of all, subscription holders were guaranteed a reserved seat everyday on one of the car's seventy-two seats. A small kitchen was installed at the rear and beverages were served by a porter. This exclusive car was used until 1972, when it was retired and purchased by Morris County businessman who converted it into a private residence. He altered one end of the car by installing an open observation platform, which resembled the ones found on the Jersey Central's 1930s era "Blue Comet" express train which transported passengers from Jersey City to Atlantic City. It was later placed in storage and fell victim to disuse. In 1994, the deteriorated car was acquired by the Whippany Railway Museum and work to stabilize it began immediately. The restoration continued for about ten years and in September of 2010, the 'Jersey Coast' officially opened to the public.

A favorite among children are the cabooses. The museum has many, which are sometimes used for excursion trains. The oldest caboose in the collection is the 1899 four-wheel "Bobber" constructed by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad in Keyser Valley, Pennsylvania. The caboose was leased until 1937 by the Morristown & Erie. On April 26, 1937, it was purchased from the Lackawanna for $100.00 and ran until its retirement in 1952. In 1960, the caboose was sold to a private owner who was a founder of the Black River & Western Railroad, where it was displayed for over twenty-five years. In the mid-1990s, the title was conveyed to the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey and in 1998, an agreement was struck that would return the caboose to its home in Whippany, where it was restored. Other cabooses on-site include a Delaware & Hudson Railroad caboose built in 1913, a Delaware & Hudson Railway bay-window caboose built in 1968, a New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad caboose built in 1948, and a steel bay-window caboose built in 1970 for the Erie Lackawanna Railway.

Locomotive No. 385, built in 1907.
Two iconic steam locomotives call the grounds home. Steam locomotives No. 385 and No. 4039 are popular attractions. Locomotive No. 385 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in 1907. It was built for the Southern Railway, which operated between 1894 and 1990 in the southern United States. The locomotive served well, pulling freight for the Southern Railway until 1952 when it was sold to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. In 1963, the old engine was about to be scrapped but was saved by Earle H. Gil, Sr., founder of the Morris County Central Railroad and a charter member of the Whippany Railway Museum. After the dissolution of the Morris County Central Railroad, the locomotive sat disused until 1990 when it was donated to the Bergen County Vocational & Technical High School as part of its steam course. It never was restored and almost scrapped a second time before it was saved in 1999 by the late Joseph Supor, Jr., founder of J. Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging Company. Once again, the locomotive sat unused in Harrison, New Jersey, awaiting restoration. In 2005, Earle Gil rediscovered the old engine and struck a deal to have it returned to the Whippany Railway Museum in 2007, where its exterior has been refurbished. However, it will be very costly to restore the locomotive to working order.

Steam Locomotive No. 4039 was built in November, 1942 for the U.S. War Department by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, New York. On February 17, 1947, the War Assets Administration sold No. 4039 as war surplus to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, where it was used in freight service until the early 1960s. In 1965, No. 4039 was sold to the Morris County Central Railroad where it operated until 1980. In October 1991, the locomotive was acquired by a private collector and moved to Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where the new owner planned to restore the engine. The restoration never took place and on May 7, 1994, the Whippany Railway Museum acquired the locomotive. In 2001, the locomotive was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. The museum is currently restoring the locomotive and hope to have it one day riding the rails at Whippany.

Additional photos of my trip to the Whippany Railway Museum on Pinterest

Whippany Railway Museum Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

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E njoyed the article very much. I was an M&E engineer that ran countless trips for the museum, until my disability forced me to retire. I have high regards for Steve, and he has a great bunch of volunteers helping. Thanks for promoting a great place that keeps on growing. I just wish I was still there running the trips for Steve. I had so much fun doing it.

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