Scavengers and other curiosity seekers were a problem for state police when 33 cars of a New York Central freight train derailed two miles east of Fonda at 4 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, 1960.
Police said thousands of people curiously viewed the wreck.
The control tower operator over the passenger station in Fonda that early morning was Fort Plain native Charles Gehring. Gehring left railroading some time ago and today is director of the New Netherland Research Center sponsored by the New York State Library in Albany and co-editor of numerous collections of original documents from Dutch New Netherland.
Gehring wrote: “It was a major accident. I had just switched an eastbound freight to the jump over for the Selkirk yards when a wheel sheared off of one of the refrigerator cars. The switching complex was several miles east of me so I couldn’t see what happened but suddenly all of my lights went red on the panel. The engineer came on the intercom, asking me why I had stopped the train. I told him I hadn’t. He thought that I had signaled the caboose (there were still cabooses back then) to stop. Shortly after that the brakeman in the caboose asked me the same thing. I suggested that they check the train.”
Some refrigerator cars carrying boxes of frozen meat broke open close enough to Route 5 to attract scavengers. My father, Clarence Cudmore, once was early on at the scene of a train wreck — maybe this one — and took something small. My recollection is he took a comb. When he went to work at Mohawk Carpets lower mill he was ashamed of what he had done — he was a former Sunday School superintendent — and mentioned his transgression to a few people. He found out some of his coworkers had stolen lots of items from the wreck, much more than he had taken. Then he felt better.
All four tracks were blocked, so the railroad used the West Shore line that existed at that time on the south side of the river to reroute trains. No injuries were reported. The train had a crew of six, including engineer John Kuder of Schenectady and conductor William Maynard of Albany.
Gehring said: “Passenger trains were lined up for Chicago and New York City. I had freight with a load of pigs stopped just west of Nelliston. He kept coming on the intercom complaining about the lack of food. I told him that if he walked north a short distance he would find the Ideal Restaurant on Route 5 but he refused to leave his train. I suggested that he did have a lot of pork behind him if he was so inclined but not to bother me anymore.
“The first few days were very quiet because nothing was moving; however, I did have a lot of company in the tower with work crews looking for a place to eat their lunches.
“After about a day and a half one track was opened which meant we had to single-track. In order to do this I had to put an order from the dispatcher in Utica on the engine to allow him in the block. The order had to be hand written, rolled up, tied between the ends of a Y-shaped pole. I then had to run down to the tracks and hold it up for the engineer to grab. This went on for days.
“The prognosis was that a journal box on one of the freights had burned out all the grease as it passed the tower so that nothing was visible to the naked eye.”
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.