Chasing "Susie Q"

NYS&W's GP18 #1802

If you have ever had a conversation with me or have seen any of my train web pages you already know that I got started at a very young age collecting model trains. My grandfather started my love affair with trains before I could walk and his influence has stayed with me all these many years. This is a story that is over 40 years in the making with its roots going all the way back to the 19th century.

Both of my grandfathers had worked for the railroad long before I was born. The town where I grew up, the same town where my father was born and raised, like many others was built up around the railroad. The towns grew out of necessity to support the railroad, many of the people in these towns worked for the railroad in some fashion or another.

The short line that was responsible for the birth and growth of our small town (Hawthorne, NJ) was the "New York Susquehanna & Western" railroad. The Susquehanna railroad has been around for a long time, the line has a great history throughout the steam days, running freight, passenger and commuter trains, and linking several important railroad locations together. The line stretched from the Hudson west across New Jersey to Stroudsburg, PA. and in 1962 the NYSW RR purchased three new EMD GP-18's #1800, #1802, and #1804.

A few years later I discovered trains...

This is were the story of "A little boy and his train" gets started, back in 1969 my grandfather had a friend working for the railroad that took me for a ride on the New York Susquehanna & Western GP-18 #1802 engine. This engine was one of many that would travel through the small town of Hawthorne. From a small yard at the north end of the town (North Hawthorne Rail Yard) the tracks would travel through the residential areas, right through the center of downtown, and out to several large rail road bridges over the Passaic river at the south end of town into Paterson, NJ.

My grandfathers friend took me on the ride of my life in that monster GP-18 when I was very young, it was over 30 years ago but I can still remember that day like it was just yesterday, and after my day spent rumbling through town in #1802 my grandfather snapped a few quick photos and took me off the train.

What a way to spend a summer afternoon.

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I was only four years old and from that day on I was convinced that #1802 was "MY" engine. I would always ask to go down to the railroad tracks, which were only a few blocks from our house, and watch my engine go by. The engineer, a friend of the family, would always wave to me and blown the horn. My mother said Mr. Detrick, the engineer, would blow the horn whenever he would pass by our neighborhood even when I was not there waving. She also said that I would go crazy every time.

Apparently the engine would pass through right after she would put me down for my nap!

I moved away in 1984, the Hawthorne rail yards are long gone, and I had forgotten all about my long lost engine #1802. My passion however for collecting model trains has continued all these years... Recently in the summer of 2002 I found out that back in the early 90's the company Life-Like made a model of the EMD GP-18 in the NYSW road. This information immediately rekindled my interest and I started searching for a model of "MY" engine. During my search of the internet trying to get one of these models of the NYS&W GP-18 for my HO scale train collection I found out that the actual engine was still in service!

You can see several of my model NYSW projects at this link NYSW Projects

Based of Binghamton, NY and Utica, NY she is still in active duty moving freight around in upstate New York. While traveling for my work I found myself in Albany, NY in January of 2003 and I decided that it was time to try and find #1802 so I could visit with "MY" engine again after all these years.

My wife, Sandy, who also shares my love of train collecting was very supportive during this grand adventure.

I started making a few calls looking for NYSW #1802 and was able to talk with one of the dispatchers on a Friday afternoon, I actually got to hear the dispatcher talking on the radio to the engineer in #1802. The engineer said that #1802 was lashed up with another engine and that they were on the way to Utica. He said that they would be stopping in a town somewhere south of Utica Friday night.When Sandy and I woke up Saturday morning we packed up the "Big Blue Beast" and started off on our hunt for #1802. It took about an 1 1/2 hours for us to get to Utica, NY which is where one of the NYSW railroad yards are located.

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We could see some of the black and yellow NYSW engines down in the yard from the highway but I kept on driving now heading south. The weather was really bad, snow flurries, very dark and gray, I had problems seeing between the blowing snow, road dirt & grime on the windshield, etc. There were a few times it got really scary not being able to see the on coming traffic, sliding on black ice and the drifting snow, and it seemed like we were in the middle of NO WHERE!

After about 20 minutes driving south from Utica I started getting nervous, we pulled over which was very hard to do, there was 6 to 10 feet of snow EVERYWHERE along the sides of the roads. We were in out in farmland with a house every 1/4 mile and a traffic light every 10 miles. Anyway I did find a relatively safe spot to pull over and make another phone call to the dispatcher. He was able to confirmed for me that #1802 she was still south of Utica sitting on a "Run-Around" which is a siding of track along the main line that allows trains to pass each other when then meet going in opposite directions. The dispatcher said that she should be there the rest of the day heading back to Utica Monday morning.

So we continued on the twisting, winding, snow covered, hilly roads with me white knuckled clutching the steering wheel and Sandy trying to follow our progress on the map. A lot of good the map was, apparently in this part of rural upstate NY you navigate but counting chickens, cows, corn furrows, and scare crows, which are NOT on the Rand McNally road atlas that I had in my truck...

Finally we found the little town and drove around finding a set of rail road tracks, there was a run around with four really cool "BAR" engines sitting on the siding but no NYSW #1802. I was crushed and thought that we had found the right place but that the engine had left. Sandy didn't give up as easily and had me keep driving up and down the side streets in town looking for more rail road tracks.

We did find some more tracks and could see rows of trains lined up in a yard behind some buildings. After turning around several time we were finally able to figure out how to get back behind the buildings and got into the rail yards with all the trains. There were a few dozen fright cars of various types but no engine. I got out and talked to one of the truck drivers working in the yard and he suggested that we look across the road "way in the back"...

I had to put the Beast into four wheel drive before we could go any further, we were going off road now or so it seemed, and the snow was deep. I could not really see where any of the roads were as I carefully worked my way up and down the different areas trying to make sure that I did not get the truck stuck in any of the very high snow drifts. Finally way in the back of the yard, with the truck buried in snow and unable to go any further I saw her!

There was #1802 sitting on a siding about 100 yards away from me, it had been a very long time since I had seen her and it was a very emotional experience.

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Sandy headed out on foot towards the engine while I went around to the back of the truck to collect my digital camera. I could hear the low rumble of #1802 idling smoothly as I started off on the long walk through the deep snow. I was so excited that I really did not even notice that Sandy was no where insight, at least not until I heard the faint "Hellooooo" coming from a big snow drift.

Apparently the snow was much deeper than Sandy expected and when she got close to the engine she tried to jump over a mount of snow and ended up breaking through the crust on the top of the snow drift sinking down a good four feet or more.I waded through the deep snow right past Sandy and continued on another 50 feet or so reaching the engine. I stopped and looked back to see Sandy covered in snow from from head to toe! She was a big snowy mess and it was VERY cold out. I am not sure but it had to be in the single digits and the wind was howling which made it even colder.

I took a few photos of the engine from all the different angles and then hurried back to find Sandy still covered in snow.

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Sandy was able to take a few photos of me with the engine before we quickly marched back the 100 yards to the truck. I used the large snow brush to knock off as much of the snow covering Sandy and we got her into the beast which was still warm and toasty. Luckily we had all of our stuff neatly packed in the truck so I was able to find dry socks, pants, etc. for Sandy to change into.

Afterwards we headed back to Utica stopping at the NYSW rail yard before heading home. We enjoyed looking at all the of cool trains that were parked there. I found GP #1800 which is one of the sisters to #1802. Both #1802 and #1804 are still in active service but #1800 has been damaged in an accident and sits in the Utica yard waiting for repairs.

I was able to drive the beast right up next to #1800 and the engine made my big truck look like a child's toy.

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There were so many engines to see, I was excited to see some Providence & Worcester units along with Bangor & Arrostock, Burlington Northern, and others. We will have to plan a trip back to upstate NY when the weather is warmer so we can take our time and enjoy all the wonderful trains.

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NYSW #1802 was built in 1962 before I was born, when I took my first ride her back in 1969 when she was seven years old and I was only four. This time when I found her in 2003 she was forty one years old and still in service. It took me 33 years to climb back onboard "MY" engine and it was a wonderful adventure! I can not wait until the NEXT time that I go chasing #1802 and keep chasing "Susie-Q"

This page was last updated on 05/21/07

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Copyright 1995-2007 Steven M Hodell