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Ghost Ride from Branchville

(excerpt)

Submitted for your approval: On July 10, 1966 the last passenger train traveled to Branchville and return on the Sussex Branch of the Erie Lackawanna. Who wouldn't have liked to have been on that trip? For one Passenger on this train, the next station will be in the Twilight Zone.


by David E. Rutan

Copyright © 2006 David E. Rutan


Eddy breathed a sigh of relief. For hours he had waited for the conductor to return to the train that would take them back home. Now that the return time was imminent, the passengers that had accompanied them on the trip up, as well as interested local citizens, were gathering at Branchville's ancient wooden depot.

The boarded up windows and peeling greenish-blue paint were hardly complimentary to the weeds growing along the base of the building. The freight platform, obviously a later addition, blocked one of the doors and a paper notice, stapled to the siding decried today as the last day of service to Branchville.

Several automobiles arrived, carrying a few who would join the passengers headed towards Netcong at the foot of the Lackawanna Railroad's Sussex Branch. A woman stood on the rear vestibule of the coach and waved her handkerchief in a dramatic farewell as her husband filmed her with a wind-up movie camera. Then he climbed the steps of the dark green coach and joined her inside for the trip.

Mounting the steps, Eddy glanced at the station one more time. As he turned his head away, he thought he saw a similar image in the corner of his eye on the opposite side of the tracks. Glancing back to check, the abandoned, brick, Sussex Milk & Cream Company building was the only thing he saw.

Open windows and small electric fans were the sole ventilation in the coach. It must have dated from the '20's, he thought. The seat that Eddy sat in was covered in rattan, a few rips allowed the stuffing to poke out. Perhaps he would venture forward to the other, more modern car during the trip. Through his window, he saw only the wall of the creamery on one side and the station on the other.

The air horn on the engine tooted and the train slowly began moving. Eddy rose and walked to the rear of the car to look out the open door. Several other men were standing there, looking down at the track as they departed. He reached out to take hold of the grab iron when the car lurched and he knocked his head against the door jam.
He righted himself, but The station he had previously seen was on the opposite side of the tracks, where the creamery had been, and it was painted barn red. Eddy shook his head, but the view was the same when he looked back.

"What the... Do you see that?"

"What?"

"The station..." Eddy turned to the man to continue, but he instead found himself facing the conductor.

"I don't see anything but the end of the line," he said sadly. Then he walked away down the aisle.

Eddy looked out the back of the car again, but he only saw the faded green station hundreds of feet back, just like it had been when he boarded the train. They rumbled past a row of buildings. He recalled from his explorations during the hours-long wait for the train that they had served lumber and building dealers.

He returned to his seat and watched the countryside of Sussex County roll by. In the distance, he watched as a horse drawn hay wagon topped the hill on a dirt farm road. Horse drawn? he thought. They were using tractors on the trip up only a few hours before.

While his mind was whirling about the farm wagon, the whistle blew for a crossing. The diesel engine was but a single car ahead of him on this two car train, and many of the windows were open on this July afternoon. The whistle was distinctly a steam whistle.

This has got to be a gimmick for the last trip, he thought. Eddy rose from his seat and made his way to the empty open rear door. What he saw shook him. The rails running out behind them were obscured by a mist in the distance despite a sunny and clear sky.
He turned to find the head of the train, The passengers in the seats of his coach were now oddly dressed. Previously he'd barely noticed the typically dressed men and women, mostly locals, but many fans of the railroad like himself. Now however, the coach was filled to overflowing with people dressed in period costumes.
Women in long dresses many of them with children beside them held onto baskets or bags. The men, mostly farmers and laborers stood where necessary from the crowding. He could see a few on the open vestibule smoking cigars. Not knowing what to think, he waded through them to make his way to the front of the train.

(end of excerpt)


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