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The Grade Up the Watchung Mountains

The RV's Horseshoe Curve

Map of the grade up the mountain. 1923.

#15, with Caboose 102 in tow, runs along the strait away between Springfield Station and Baltusrol Station, and approaches the grade up to Summt. January 31, 1952. Collection of Jeffrey J. Jargosch.

Grade Up the Watchung Mountains
(a.k.a. Baltusrol Mountain)


#13 charges up the grade, bound for Summit (?)

Click here to see a film clip of #14 working up grade
towards Summit. c. 1950's. Sound dubbed.
Collection  of Jeff Jargosch.

The most challenging part of the Rahway Valley's route was the grueling grade up the mountain to Summit, which varied between 2 and 5%. This grade was a constant hassle for crews during the life of this little railroad.

This grade, coupled with the RV's light track and bridges, made the Rahway Valley Railroad look for very specific locomotives. They had to be not only light weight, but have a high amount of tractive effort to make the grade. Some engines, like #12 for example, were too heavy to make it up the mountain.

"The mountain" was a long stretch of track in the shape of a horseshoe that the railroad used to make a gradual ascent up the Watchung Mountains to Summit. This stretch of track was carefully engineered with cuts and embankments, and a bridge over Shunpike Road.

In the days of steam, a locomotive could handle about eight fully loaded cars going up the mountain. Trains that were any longer had to be cut into two sections at either Springfield or Baltusrol Station. The engine would then take part of the train up the grade and have to travel back down to retrieve the rest. This process was very time consuming.

After the diesels (#16 & 17) arrived on the scene in the 1950's, a push-pull arrangement was sometimes used to get longer trains up the hill, and brake them down the hill. Corinne Clark remembers, "When they took a long line of cars up to Summit, they used one engine to pull up the mountain and another engine on the end of the cars to push up the mountain. I think it wasn't as much to push up the mountain as it was to hold the cars from running away coming down the mountain. As you know they took cars up to be delivered but would also bring cars down that were full. In the winter that was pretty scary. I only know of it being done in the days of diesels. I would imagine it had to be done with steam engines too because in those days the railroad was doing a substantial business."

In the days of diesels George Clark was especially critical of how the new machines were handled on the grade, as evidenced in his March 31, 1951 letter to George Davis (Page 1, Page 2), "A set of brake shoes are supposed to last one full year but the way we are going they will be worn out in two months . . . on Tuesday, March 27th, our diesel pulled into Springfield from Summit with all brakes smoking . . . On March 29th our diesel had a train of four cars . . .and I heard the wheel slip buzzer every foot of the way . . . On March 30th we had to cut our train at Baltusrol in order to make the mountain on account of no traction due to slipping."

The "mountain" as it was called was always a challenge to the little Rahway Valley.


#15 is in Summit and has just topped the steep 2-5% grade. Some of the crew catch a summer breeze on the front pilot.

Head Back to the Station!