More Trail Tales
For the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: What is your favorite part about rail-trail history?
Bruce Ardinger of Westerville, Ohio, writes:
Montour Valley Park, where I lived from ages 2 to 5 while my father served in World War II and where my younger brother was born, was then a privately owned recreational area located along Montour Run—near what is now Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. My father's
stepfather owned the park and ran a dude ranch. My grandmother managed the dance hall and refreshment stand.
Families would come down for a day to get out of the city or to rent one of the cottages. In the park they could play ball, hike, bicycle, go horseback riding or swim in the creek. Each spring, a swimming hole had to be dug out by hand so it was deep enough to dive from the shale rock cliff that ran along the south shore of the creek; the more adventuresome would drop into the creek from a rope swing. My parents met there as teenagers when my mother's family rented a cottage for the summer.
The park was bisected by the Montour Railroad, a line created to move coal from the Appalachian
mines to the thriving steel mills in Pittsburgh. After the war, the park was sold, fell into disrepair and eventually was abandoned for decades. Now, however, it again is a source of family recreation, as the old Montour Railroad has become the new MontourTrail.
The original Montour Valley Park location is between mile markers 3 and 4 of the trail, and my parents—Albert and Ruth Ardinger, both now 89—recently walked that section in celebration of their 70th wedding anniversary.
Gloria Ballard of Nashville, Tenn., writes:
For our 30th anniversary, my husband and I took a 200-mile bike trip along Missouri's Katy Trail State Park. This experience was new for us. We have been casual riders for years, but the idea of a long trip on bicycles, with nothing but the bare necessities for a five-day ride, was daunting.
We started training in February for the trip in May. We planned, we mapped and we rode hard to get in shape. We also began reading up on the history of the MKT and its St. Louis-to-Galveston train, the Katy Flyer. In the process, we discovered a point where rail history and family history intersect.
My grandparents, who died in the 1960s, left a treasure trove of things for their descendents to discover. I was rambling through a box of old junk one day and found a dusty, rusted two-inch pocketknife. On one side is an illustration of a woman wearing turn-of-the-20th-century traveling clothes; her arm is raised as if she is anticipating the arrival of a train, and a red shield above her head reads "MKT." On the other side of the knife are the words, "The Katy Flyer."
I can only speculate about my grandparents' Katy experience. They lived for a short time in Rolla, Mo., which is to the south of the MKT line. It's likely they rode The Katy Flyer and picked up this knife as a souvenir. I suppose we'll never know, but we took it as a good omen, and the little knife was one of the few unnecessary items we packed into our panniers for the ride. We considered it our good-luck charm, and it worked! We had a great ride, fine weather, no mishaps—a perfect trip, connected to the trail's history in the most meaningful way.
Dan Case of Dallas Center, Iowa, writes:
As a youngster growing up in the small farming community of Beaman, Iowa, I have faint memories of the last few freight trains that used to serve the local grain cooperative. It was quite a thrill to hear the train whistle and see the massive cars full of corn and soybeans as they transported grain to markets far away.
It wasn't long after this that the railroad was abandoned, the same fate experienced by thousands of miles of railroad tracks that once crisscrossed Iowa. What once was the lifeblood of many communities quickly disappeared as highway infrastructure improved. However, a new era was born on this former railroad right-of-way as it was converted into the Comet Trail in the 1980s, providing my hometown and neighboring communities with a perfect place to bicycle, run, walk and enjoy the native prairie remnants and wooded areas found along the trail.
As an adult, I still return to my hometown to bike the Comet Trail from time to time. While visiting the trail, it's fun to ponder what it must have been like to experience the first steam engine chugging up the Wolf Creek Valley into Beaman in 1880; when the railroad depot that once sat at the end of Main Street was the hub of activity in the tiny village; and what it must have been like to see the "Iowa-Dakota Express" rumble through town each day carrying passengers between Chicago and the great expanse of the Dakotas during the early 1900s.
Although those scenes have long faded away, they've been replaced with new memories of cycling adventures, nature discovery and the peacefulness of the Iowa countryside.
Daniel Peters of Independence, Ohio, writes:
Nearly 200 years of engineering history are revealed along the 31-mile section of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail stretching from Akron to Cleveland.
Starting out at the North Street trailhead, the Cascade locks demonstrate how canal boats were able to navigate the differences in elevation along the waterway. The canal, built from 1825 to 1832, was also used to power the mills that sprang up along its banks. A well-preserved race demonstrates the way water was channeled to create the force necessary to turn the massive wheels.
Continuing north along the trail, there are many fine examples of bridges that span the Cuyahoga River valley. The modern concrete structures that carry the turnpike and interstate dwarf the older but more aesthetically pleasing iron truss bridges that remain in place. Restored warehouses and taverns are now used as visitor centers at several locations along the way. The Old Harvard Road trailhead currently serves as the terminus.
Another five miles of path under construction will lead through the steel mills and factories of Cleveland's industrial heart to downtown. Delaying the completion of this last segment is Cleveland's link to the World War II-era's Manhattan Project. The Harshaw Chemical factory located just beyond the Old Harvard Road trailhead was a producer of the gas used in refining uranium for weapons during the 1940s. The now-abandoned site is being cleaned up of any potentially hazardous waste with the hope that the trail can be completed by 2014.