A narrow (three feet) gauge line opened in 1883, between Catskill Landing and Palenville. The length of the road was fifteen and three-quarter miles. From Catskill Village to near South Cairo, a distance of about eight miles, the road occupies the bed of the old Canajoharie and Catskill Railroad, which was abandoned about 1842, after being operated one or two years. From South Cairo, the road leaves the old roadbed and bears directly south to the village of Palenville, which lies at the foot of the mountains and about 2,000 feet below their summit.
At the village of Catskill, the line crosses the creek on an iron trapezoidal truss bridge, of four 100-foot spans, each resting upon first-class masonry abutments and/or piers. The east end of the bridge is approached by a very sharp curve, whose radius is 214 feet. A guard rail securely fastened to the inside rail of the curve extends well onto the bridge. All trains approach cautiously. The ties on the bridge are spaced two feet from centers. There are no additional guard rails.
About one-half mile west, Catskill Creek is crossed a second time with the same style truss bridge using two 100-foot spans on a tangent line. The approach at the east end is six bays of timber trestle, resting upon piles. Sound hemlock timber of twelve by twelve inch sections is used for this trestle. The west approach is an earth embankment. This bridge has the same style of flooring as the first structure.
Still further west about two miles and south from the village of Leeds, Catlike Creek is crossed the third time, by two spans in all respects the same as the previous two bridges. Both of these last two bridges rest on excellent masonry in complete order. The east end of the bridge is approached with a curve of 203 feet radius. An inside guard rail similar to that at Catskill bridge is used to approach the bridge. The ties on the bridge are spaced as before and there are no guard rails on the bridge trusses themselves.
At south Cairo over Valaties Creek, there is a plate girder deck of forty-foot span, on masonry abutments. The ties are widely spaced. There are no guard rails.
East of Mountain House Station there is a pile bridge over Kiskatom Creek of twenty-five spans. Trestle bents are thirteen feet between the centers. Caps and stringers are twelve by twelve inch cross section. Corbels on top of caps are all well braced and in good order. The floor system is the same as other structures.
Immediately at the west end of the platform at Catskill Landing there is a pile bridge of sufficient width to hold three tracks. The side track in which a turntable is located, is constructed on piles. the length of bridge is about 400 feet, all constructed of hemlock timber in caps and strings and spruce piles. It is new and in good order. The same deficiency of the floor timber exists.
There are six small open culverts and cattle-guards that have the rail directly on stringers. These, along with the other structures, should be provided with a closed system of ties and guard rails.
The line of the road is curved a full fifty percent, and many of the curves in the ravine of Catskill Creek as as sharp as a radius of 214 feet, frequently reversing, and yet the old roadbed is strictly followed. It will be remembered that the Canajoharie and Catskill Railroad was the usual wagon track gauge. It was laid with strap rail on longitudinal timbers. The grade up Catskill Creek averages sixty feet per mile, with a maximum of ninety feet for one and one-half miles. This is reached at the east of Mountain House Station.
The general width of roadway is sixty-six feet; much of the trees and shrubbery is allowed to remain within the fences. The road is fenced with four-strand barbed wire. All highway crossing signs are in space. These signs, however, are quite small, and stand at the side--not over--the highways. This plan of locating a sign at the side of the road crossings appears to be quite generally adopted by the railroads of the State and almost universally when new signs are placed.
The roadway is of ample width except on a few embankments of the newly-graded portion of the line, where the banks have settled and track has been lifted without widening the shoulders.
Ballast is mostly gravel, unevenly distributed. Some parts of the line had sufficient ballast while other portions have a meagre supply. Drainage is not sufficiently developed. As a consequence, the superstructure is not as perfect at all points, and yet there is no disregard for safety for the line and surface of superstructure is sufficiently ample. Chestnut and oak ties are six by six inch cross section and six feet in length. The rails are forty pound steel which is in good order. There are fish-plate fastenings, split switches, and rail crossing plates.
At the Point, or steamboat landing on the Hudson River, there is a good, well-arranged station, convenient for the transfer of passengers, baggage, and freight between the river and road. There are two large waiting rooms, one on each side of the station tracks and a covered shed through which to transfer passengers and baggage.
At the South Cairo and Mountain House Station are neatly covered platforms and a small waiting room at the end of both buildings. At Palenville there is a good station with one waiting room , and good platforms. There is also a turntable at the landing and at Palenville, but the company has no engine house. The equipment consists of two locomotives in good order, ten regular passenger and open excursion cars, four baggage, and twelve box and platform cars.
The passenger cars are very neat inside. A feature in the arrangement of seats deserves a mention. At each end of the closed passenger cars the seats for ten feet from the doors are placed lengthwise, with the remainder in the usual manner. For narrow-gauge cars this arrangement gives more space at the doors for the passing of passengers, and they are filled or emptied more readily. The outside of the passenger cars are quite dull, with the varnish and paint very worn and rapidly deteriorating. Vacuum brakes and Janney couplers are used.
The road was not operated for the past winter, business not being sufficient to remain open. There are three low over-head bridges. All boxcars have vacuum breaks. Train men have no occasion to ride on the decks of cars.
from The Rip Van Winkle Flyer, Winter, 1997, No. 29