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The Railroad That Golf Built

The Railroad That Golf Built
By Richard J. King (c) 2013

A railroad, any railroad really, is built to fulfill some sort of purpose. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads were built to bridge the continent, the Reading Railroad was built to haul coal, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was built to link Philadelphia with Pittsburgh. Being expensive and labor intensive endeavors, usually the purpose of building the railroad outweighs the cost of building and maintaining one.

 

Ed Furgol, sinking his final putt and winning the National Open at Baltusrol. The Club House looms in the background.

The Rahway Valley Railroad on the other hand was not built to transport vast quantities of a single commodity and it was certainly not built to bridge any continents. The main driving force behind the formation and construction of the Rahway Valley Railroad was perhaps a unique, if not peculiar, reason for building a railroad. The Rahway Valley Railroad was built for golf.

No, the idea wasnít to transport gondolas and boxcars filled with putters and golf tees (ironically, The Kroydon Company located in Maplewood was a manufacturer of golf clubs, and a customer of the RVRR). Rather, the idea was to build a railroad to transport people to and from the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ.

It was no coincidence that the main backer and promoter of the Rahway Valley Railroad was Louis Keller, the man who founded the Baltusrol Golf Club in 1895. Two years after the clubs founding, the New York & New Orange Railroad (NY&NO) was chartered to, eventually, bridge the gap between Summit and Roselle Park. To Keller this must have sounded great, a railroad coming within spitting distance of his first putting green.

But the NY&NO, and its successor the New Orange Four Junction Railroad (NOFJ), never made it to the "eighteenth hole," so to speak. The eighteenth hole was Summit and a connection with the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. The NOFJ rather ended up stuck in a sand trap somewhere on the back nine. Frustrated, Keller became determined to take matters into his own hands.

Keller discovered that the promoters of the NOFJ, like he, were greatly interested in extending the line to Summit. Together they formed the Cross-Country Railroad in 1902 to accomplish the feat, but their backers soon disappeared. Missing their first putt, they took a breath and tried again. They formed the Rahway Valley Railroad in 1904 and, as it turned out, ended up getting a "hole in one," well, as far as Keller was concerned.

Engine #7 shuttles a single combine (top photo) to the Baltusrol Station so the Golfers aboard may make their way to the Baltusrol Golf Club (bottom photo) for a day of golf.

William W. Cole and Horatio F. Dankel, of the old NOFJ faction, saw the extension to Summit, and a connection with the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad, as a great opportunity to haul freight as a "bridge line" between the latter road and the Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley. Keller on the other hand was, more than likely, quite content when Ďhisí railroad reached Baltusrol in the summer of 1905.

Louis Keller

Teeing off at Baltusrol

Caddies at Baltusrol

A station was built to serve the golf club, about half a mile down the road from the Club House, and almost immediately passenger train service was begun to that point. Trains usually consisted of a locomotive and a single coach. Mr. Kellerís wealthy friends could now travel to the club in relative comfort, being able to cut out the "tortuous" ride over Baltusrol Mountain from the Lackawanna station in Summit. The tortuous ride was little more than a one and a half mile long journey down what is now Shunpike Road.

When the Rahway Valley Railroad was denied a connection with the Lackawanna in Summit, Mr. Keller must have been relatively unperturbed. What Cole and Dankel must have seen as a devastating blow to the railroad, as they soon had Elmer L. McKirgan instituting suits against the Lackawanna, Mr. Keller must have seen as a minor annoyance.

The lack of a connection to the Lackawanna did not inhibit passenger service to the golf club, as connecting service from New York City was offered at connections made with the Jersey Central and Lehigh Valley at the southern end of the railroad. At one point the Lehigh Valley even offered through train service between New York and Newark to Baltusrol on Saturdays and Sundays.

Train service to the Baltusrol Golf Club was never seen as a necessity, but more as a matter of convenience. The rails had hardly just been laid when it was seen that the train service to the golf club was already being replaced. An article published in 1907 heralded the railroad as solving the "transportation problem" that existed in getting to the golf course. In the next sentence the article made mention of the great convenience of taking an automobile to the club, barely a year after train service had been instituted.

All through its early years, until World War I, the Rahway Valley Railroad ran as a deficit operation. More or less the railroad was Kellerís "plaything" that brought his friends to his golf course. Keller undoubtedly kept the line going by pumping his own money into the railroad year after year. It became apparent, to the other stockholders at least, that shuttling golfers would not keep the railroad alive.  

  Ironically the reason the railroad was built, to serve the golf club, did nothing to prolong its existence. Contrary to Kellerís reasons for building the railroad, what kept the railroad alive was the freight business that established itself along the line during and after World War I.

Passenger service to the golf club was all but gone by 1922, Keller had died, and any need for continuing the service had been eroded with the coming of the automobile.

The railroad that "golf built" would continue on for another seventy years, having completely lost all ties with the institution that had caused the railroadís construction in the first place. Not until 1980, when the US Open was held at the Baltusrol Golf Club, would another passenger train travel to Baltusrol. For one week the Rahway Valley Railroad and Baltusrol Golf Club were briefly reunited. Feelings of nostalgia were present as passengers rode the railroad that golf built.

A map showing the distance from the station to the Club House.

Baltusrol Station

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