My First and Last Train Rides by Ann Eysaman Schuyler
This writing series article was first posted on the Little Falls Historical Society Museum website.
In 1944 I took my first train ride – all the way to Utica, NY. Having lived in Little Falls all my life, some of it on West Main Street at the foot of Glen Avenue, I knew about the railroad. The engineers would throw candy bars to children when trains were waiting to switch tracks or to let a troop train pass.
These trains were steam engines. I remember my mother’s chagrin after she spent hours cleaning our home only to have soot come through window screens onto clean floors in the summertime.
We moved in 1940 to the Eysaman homestead in the Town of Manheim. America entered WW II on December 7, 1941, and my aunt and her little boy lived with us while her husband served in the U.S. Army.
One Friday night in 1944, my mother announced that the next day she, my aunt, and I were going to Utica to shop, and we were going on the train. I had been to Utica a few times and I was always amazed by all the stores on Genesee Street.
I was so excited, I hardly slept at all. The Little Falls train station was a wonder in and off itself. The big heavy door and woodwork were to be admired.
Little did I know that the man I would marry would leave for the Navy from this station. We didn’t meet until 1949 and we married in 1953.
Back to the train ride. After our tickets were bought, we waited with a few passengers. Since we were still at war, gas was rationed, the trains were usually used when people wanted to travel.
While we waited a couple of trains went by. We had never been that close to them before. It seemed like they were coming right into the building.
Finally, our train arrived. The rail line was the New York Central – The Water Level Route.
After a slightly jerky start, off we went. It was interesting to see the backs of buildings and try to guess where we were. A stop at Herkimer allowed a few more passengers to come aboard.
When we arrived in Utica at beautiful Union Station, we took a city bus to Genesee Street. First stop was the Boston Store. There was so much to see. Further up the street was Doyle-Knower, Mom’s favorite, where she found something she “couldn’t live without.” The next stop was Woolworth’s, which we were familiar with, but not that size. Next was H.G. Wells Dept. Store, a little classier, where I bought a white eyelet peasant blouse and a skirt trimmed with eyelet.
We stopped at Kresge’s 5 & 10 because they had a lunch counter and we had worked up an appetite. I can even remember that I had fried green peppers and a roll and soda.
At Bank Place, we crossed the street and started back down Genesee Street.
Bank Place didn’t make an impression on me then, but in 1949, after I graduated from high school, I attended and graduated from the Utica School of Commerce located on Bank Place.
On the street again – I remember Dixie’s Hat Shop. We always wore hats to church. This was a “must stop.” We had a lot of fun trying on all styles but settled for conservative ones.
Along the way, my aunt bought many items, mostly for her little boy, so by now our arms were loaded. We spotted a city bus, got on, and headed for Union Station.
The train back to Little Falls was on time and I remember on the way home eating the best brownies I ever had with thick chocolate frosting that we bought at Woolworths’s.
Fast forward to 1998 – 44 years later.
I wanted to go to Branson, Missouri in the worst way! So, after some searching, I found an ad for a trip by rail to Branson. It turned out to really be “the worst way.”
My companion and I reserved a compartment. It had an upper and lower berth. Since my companion had a very sore rotator cuff, I had to climb into the upper berth. Not easy for a 67-year-old woman.
The train, a diesel, was very noisy and every time a freight train was due, we were sidetracked. This happened day and night.
I must admit, the food was first-class, and the drinks were generous.
When we arrived at Branson, we were met by a bus which took us to our hotel. Accommodations were lovely. Every night when we returned from a show, we were served hot fruit cobblers. One night they were cold because the bus driver got lost and drove around in circles. That was a late night.
I remember going to an Andy Williams show. Ann Margaret opened for him – she came on stage riding a motorcycle. The real “Moon River” was a little stream outside of the theater.
Having had a heart procedure before going to Branson, I had a persistent cough, so I had to leave a couple of shows because I didn’t want to annoy anyone. Once on the train, a lady offered me cough drops. It was so noisy I was surprised she could hear me. The floor under one seat we had was broken and we could see the tracks and hear the wheels on the rails as we sped along.
Approaching Utica, from where we departed, was the best feeling.
We had met a couple from Schenectady and all four of us agreed we would never take a long train trip again.
I know I never did and only traveled long distances by car, plane, or cruise ship.
Interested in how this got started? Ann became a pen-pal with a museum volunteer after she rejoined the LF Historical Society several years ago. In one of the exchanges, a commemorative stamp depicting train stations in the US was used. This commemorative series featured many historic train stations and the one on our envelope to Ann looked very much like the former Little Falls train station. It was noted in the letter and the question was asked to Ann if she had any memories of train travel. Ann is 91 years old, and the next letter arrived with her beautifully printed essay, accompanied by the note, “You asked for it!”
Thank you, Ann!
Ann Schuyler is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society and the Salisbury Historical Society, where she volunteered in years past. She has also written articles and was a volunteer for the Salisbury Historical Society newsletter.