Trains, Planes and Roller Coasters ó

Itís Been a Great Ride

By Jeff Martin

Iíve done and seen a lot of unique things as a reporter during the last 12 years.

Lying on my back, I traveled nearly two miles into the earth at an Ohio coal mine, scurrying on all fours and witnessing what has to be the hardest job on earth. I got to ride world famous roller coasters weeks before the general public got the chance. Iíve accompanied police on drug busts and got to ride in an armored vehicle. I was nearly involved in a police ambush of a man who, an hour earlier, shot and killed his brother.

I got to shoot an antique machine gun. I interviewed BB King for a half hour. I got to fly in a restored B-17 over Kansas City on a beautifully blue summer day.

Thereís more, to be sure, but I want to talk about my recent train trip from Gowanda to South Dayton on the New York and Lake Erie Railroad. The approximate 20-mile round trip was part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the filming of ìThe Naturalî in South Dayton.

So suffice it to say, a ride like that doesnít happen often. What made it more unique is the fact that the climb out of Gowanda is, as Don Rogers from the NY & LE Railroad said, the steepest east of the Mississippi. Itís a 3 percent grade, give or take, which takes riders through some of the most beautiful forest and farmland in eastern America.

So on a recent Saturday I got to ride the train out of Gowanda. Rising above and running parallel to U.S. Route 62, the sunny day turned dark as the canopy of pine and oak swallowed the massive engine, one of two types still operating in America, according to Rogers.

Leveling out into farmland and what appeared to be marshes, the trip attracted a fair amount of onlookers, mostly guys who parked their cars and snapped some photos from the weeds. Without warning, the train passed through a small tunnel built in the 1860s, the quarry stones coming impossibly close to the cars.

Children howled and the cars kept rocking as we steered into South Dayton.

I wandered a bit around the festival before heading back to the depot. No longer in operation, there was a time when the depot was a regular stopping point for people traveling through Western New York. One of the guys there, whose name I didnít catch, took me back into the rear of the building. Written on the walls were names and dates from as far back as 1881 when the town was named Pine Valley.

An original safe, made in Buffalo, was parked in the corner. A ticket booth built for the film ìThe Naturalî was there, too, and I was delighted to discover that the booth was also used in the film, ìPlanes, Trains and Automobiles,î which was filmed in the area in 1985.

ìWeíre doing what we can to restore it, but itís a slow process,î the man said. ìItís our hope to turn it into a museum.î

That reminded me of a civic effort in Blue Springs, where leaders saved an abandoned depot, a Chicago and Alton Train Depot, from the wrecking ball. They moved it a quarter mile to a safe spot. To this day, the donations keep pouring in.

Itís my hope that the people of South Dayton preserve the depot ó and the history that surrounds it.