Rahway Valley Railroad Is Short But in the Black
Runs from Summit to Roselle Park
BY HARRY GILROY
KENILWORTH - The Rahway Valley Railroad rarely comes to public attention except when a flagman waves down automobile traffic on Route 29, Union Township, and a freight train grinds across the highway. Probably none of the motorists, composing their little valentines about the delay, are aware the railroad is connected with such swanky institutions as the Baltusrol Golf Club and The Social Register.
The Rahway Valley, meandering between Roselle Park and Summit, has 14.97 miles of track, five stations, junctions with the Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Lackawanna, several fine views of golf courses and is owned independently of any other rail system.
Its connection with the Social Register is through ownership. Louis Keller, late publisher of the guide to social standing, left a controlling interest in the road to his heirs. As a founder of Baltusrol, Keller found that many New Yorkers considered the golf club too long a bicycle ride from the Hoboken ferries and none too convenient in a horse-drawn hack from the Summit station of the Lackawanna. So he built the railroad to provide a direct train route to Baltusrol.
New Orange Four Junction R.R.
This was in 1906 and the railroad was then called the New Orange Four Junction R.R. Designed to boom Kenilworth real estate, it connected with the Lehigh at Roselle Park and the Central at Aldene. Keller had a spur run from Kenilworth to Summit, with a Baltusrol station a few hundred yards from the golf club.
The road got a junction with the Lackawanna in 1930 and although the importance to Baltusrol of direct train service from New York had decreased by then, the junction saved the railroad by bringing new business in the lean years that followed.
Operations of the road center within the knotty pine walls of George A. Clark's office in the Kenilworth station. Clark is president and general manager, wears a lumberjack shirt and corduroy pants supports by galluses, and turns out the fires and runs an engine when snow plowing gets too much for others on the force.
Clark left a job in a lumber camp in 1920 to start work with the Rahway Valley when his father, the late R.A. Clark, was called to manage the line. The older Clark who had made a career of operating short lines, died in 1932 and the son was made head of the road.
Mystery in Name
Where the Rahway Valley line got its name, Clark doesn't know, but he suggests it comes from the road's single crossing of the Rahway River in Springfield. Some people have been confused by the name and gone looking for the line in Rahway, which it doesn't touch.
There also used to be confusion because the road had a station at Union and another at the Maplewood border. Freight for Union City or Maplewood on the Lackawanna would be routed to the Rahway Valley, so the Union station became Unionbury and the Maplewood one, Newark Heights.
The road's other active stations are Kenilworth, Aldene, and Roselle Park, which names have been found free of complications. The Baltusrol station is on the abandoned list, but it has continued in use as the almost unknown Baltusrol Post Office.
Master Mechanic Nees
To inform a reporter of the road's "most interesting history," Clark pushed a button which brought the from the engine shed the line's master mechanic, Carl Nees. Nees, it developed, is known as "Cadillac" because he will use his driving skill on none but certain autos, although not insisting on the latest vintages.
Nees told of the days when Movie companies used to make Wild West epics on the Rahway Valley, replete with rain robbers, ties piled on the tracks, and fights atop the cars. The regular railroaders usually got a $5 bill each for their picture work, he said, plus kegs of beer and the pleasant society of the early movie queens. One movie company dynamited a prop post office at Kenilworth with much vigor that all windows were blown from the railroad station at the same time and three actors were sent to a hospital.
Successful management of a short line, according to Clark, is very much a matter of trimming expenses and getting the whole force to work together. The force numbers 19. In more expansive days, Clark said, financiers used to buy short lines just so they could have a president's private car and tour the big roads, but no short line can stand such a financial drain now.
Only Car a Caboose
The only car owned by the Rahway Valley is a caboose. The line has four engines ready for service, but mostly uses only one. An engine on duty burns about eight tons of bituminous coal a day, at delivered price slightly above $5 a ton.
Working with the engine will be an engineer, fireman, conductor, and one or two brakeman. Six men are employed year round to work on the road bed and keep the 70-pound rails in shape.
The roadbed is adequate to handle standard freight cars of other lines, which weigh up to 169,000 pounds with contents. The Rahway Valley's engines weigh 150,000 pounds. Clark said he wouldn't want to see one of the 200-ton engines of the major lines try out his tracks, but he has handled a circus train and passenger excursions from other roads. The excursions have run to Miller's Grove in Kenilworth and to another park favored by Polish societies of Hudson County.
Aside from excursionists, the Rahway Valley hasn't carried any passengers since the World War, when trains were run to an industrial plant working on war orders. The road's freight business is 95 per cent inbound and 5 per cent outbound and slightly above half its business is in anthracite coal.Pays Rent on Cars
Having no cars of its own, the line pays $1 a day to other roads for each car on its tracks. In October and April the road will have as many as 100 cars a day on the line; in Midsummer there may be 40 cars.
The Rahway Valley has been in the black the last five years. Adding to its revenues each year, although not exactly swelling them, are payments of $1 annually from the Jersey Central railroad and the Western Union. The Central pays because one foot of its station rests on Rahway Valley property at Aldene; Western Union runs telegraph lines along part of the road's right of way.
Engine No.14 and a caboose went by the station as Clark was finishing this explanation of short line problems. A wooden packing case was being carried on the engine's cowcatcher.
"Not worth running a whole car to Aldene to deliver that one package," Clark said. "That's how you run a short line."
Head Back to the Station!