Old Railroad Days
This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in June 1979.
The Paterson and Ramapo Railroad ran its first train through Ramsey from Paterson to Suffern in 1848. Then you could get a horse and wagon to take you to the Suffern Erie station where the Branch Line runs over to Piermont. The Paterson and Hudson R.R. would take you from Paterson to Jersey City where you could take a ferry to New York. All this took about a quarter of the time it took to run from Piermont on the Hudson down to New York by boat.
In those days there was a Ho-Ho-Kus station where the road runs west from the Turnpike to the old factories along the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. Here is where Ridgewood people had to come if they wanted to take the train to Paterson or New York. Where the present Ho-Ho-Kus station is was called Undercliff when it was built some 10 years later. About 1852 the Erie R.R. leased both of the short roads and thus came to New York. The only problem was the Erie tracks were 5′ 2” gauge, and the other roads were standard or 4′ 8 1/2″. There is a picture of this in the Old Mahwah station.
In the beginning, Ramsey had only a shed by the tracks just north of Main St. which was then called Dater Ave. The present station was built in 1862, and the room in Its south end was used for express and freight. Also, by the crossing and the open passenger shed was a small building called the “flag shanty”. Here there was a railroad man who came out and waved a white flag on the crossing when a train was coming.
This lasted until about 1900 when a “gate tower” was built there and pneumatic gates were installed either side of the track. The operator had to push one arm to work one gate and another to work the other. Then in 1903 the four tracks were put through from Suffern to south of Glen Rock where the main line went to Paterson and the Bergen Co. Short Cut ran through Warren Point and Fairlawn to Rutherford with 4 tracks to Jersey City. Old timers said that in the early days trains crossing the meadows often derailed or the tracks sunk. Then there was the trip through the old tunnel In Bergen Hill when a trainman came through to light the gas lights in each car.
There was not much electricity around in the early 1900’s. Rockland Electric had just secured their franchise through Mr. Elmer Snow of Mahwah. About 1908 the crossing gates were made electrical, and they were operated from the old gate tower. There was also a tower east of the tracks down where the parking lot is. Here there were big levers to operate the switches from one track to another and also levers to operate the block signals. This was before they had electric block signals or switch motors. Lon Hagerman of Mahwah ran this tower for years, and we kids used to go visit him and help pull the levers.
In the old days when it was a pleasure to travel across country there were express trains through Ramsey. There was the Chicago Express, the Erie Limited, the Southern Tier and the Tuxedo Express for the big shots in Tuxedo Park. There was also a Wells Fargo train which carried money, and guards would get out, armed with rifles, and patrol the train. Another feature was the figure 4 devices near the east and west bound tracks on which mail bags were hung. The mall cars had arms which picked up these bags, thus insuring fast service.