A History Of The Saratoga & Schuylerville Railroad

By Mike D'Amico

The Saratoga & Schuylerville Railroad was Sam Pinsly's second
owned-line. Pinsly purchased the Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad
in Vermont and Massachusetts in 1938. Under Pinsly's ownership, the
HT&W made money for the first time in decades during the early 1940s
and the World War II years. Unfortunately, unlike the long-lived HT&W
(which finally succumbed in 1971), Pinsly's second line, the Saratoga
& Schuylerville only lasted for eleven years (1945-1956).
The Revolutionary War city of Saratoga Springs, New York was
the "headquarters" for the 26-mile S&S. While Saratoga Springs was
served by the mainline of the Delaware & Hudson Railway, it was also
served by a branch of the Boston & Maine that eventually became the
S&S. Unfortunately, the two lines did not connect in Saratoga.
The charter for the Saratoga & Schuylerville dated back to
April 1833 when there was a proposal to connect Boston and Buffalo,
NY with a railroad running across Northern Massachusetts, southern
Vermont and northern New York. The proposed routing would stretch
from Boston to Oswego, NY located on Lake Ontario. From there, the
line would then follow the lake westward to Buffalo. The opening of
the Hoosac Tunnel in northwestern Massachusetts in 1875 enabled the
Boston Hoosac Tunnel & Western Railroad (BHT&W) to reach
Mechanicville, New York, north of Albany in 1879.
The opening of the BHT&W sparked "railroad fever" in the
area. By 1881, the BHT&W was consolidated with several other paper
railroads in the Empire State, including one named the Hoosac Tunnel
& Saratoga Railroad. The 1833 charter of the old S&S was dusted off,
and the Hoosac Tunnel & Saratoga built a line from Stillwater
Junction (just north of Mechanicville) northward to Wayville, NY.
This company also built a line on roughly an east-west axis from
Saratoga Springs through Victory Mills to Schuylerville. Connecting
Wayville with the Saratoga-Schuylerville line at a creatively named
junction point known as Schuylerville Junction, was a wholly owned
subsidiary of the HT&S, named the Saratoga Lake Railway. When
completed the Stillwater Junction-Schuylerville Junction and Saratoga
Springs-Schuylerville line roughly resembled the letter "T" on a map,
and was 26 miles long. An interchange was established at Stillwater
Junction with the BHT&W and the Delaware & Hudson, and with the
Greenwich & Johnsonville Railway in Schuylerville. The HT&S (and
Saratoga Lake Railway) were owned by the BHT&W.
By 1887, control of the BHT&W and its subsidiaries rested
with the Fitchburg Railroad. The Fitchburg, in turn, was absorbed by
the rapidly expanding Boston & Maine Railroad in 1900.
The Boston-Mechanicville line (former BHT&W) of the B&M
became its mainline, whereas the former HT&S branches to Saratoga
Springs and Schuylerville were neglected outposts of the far-flung
B&M system. Service and traffic declined in the early years of the
twentieth century. The B&M's mainline expanded westward
from Mechanicville to Rotterdam Junction. Traffic on the former
HT&S branches primarily included agricultural traffic and milk, plus
inbound and outbound products destined for the large paper mill in
Victory Mills.

The B&M considered disposing of its former HT&S lines as
early as 1929. The line's eked through the Depression years, more and
more becoming isolated from the rest of the B&M system. During the
closing years of World War II, Samuel Pinsly became interested in
acquiring it. In April 1945, the B&M's stockholders approved the
sale. In May 1945, Pinsly formally incorporated the Saratoga &
Schuylerville Railroad. The S&S officially assumed ownership of the
former HT&S on January 1, 1946.
For $25,500, Pinsly got 26-miles of track (Stillwater
Junction-Schuylerville Junction and Saratoga Springs to
Schuylerville), and former B&M Mogul 2-6-0 Number 1489. This
locomotive was renumbered 7 following the sequence of the Hoosac
Tunnel & Wilmington's two steam locomotives at the time (5 and 6).
Pinsly also got a former B&M wooden caboose which he numbered
8 and a snowplow as part of the deal.
Traffic on the Saratoga & Schuylerville was mostly comprised
of sand (from two on-line sand pits), some petroleum and coal, wood
and paper products and agricultural traffic. All in all, the S&S
hauled 2100 carloads of freight in 1947. The only interchange was
with the Boston & Maine at Stillwater Junction, as the connection
with the Greenwich & Johnsonville at Schuylerville was severed in the
early 1930s, when the G&J abandoned its line into Schuylerville.
Traffic was heaviest in the summer due to the seasonal nature of the
sand traffic.

Pinsly had no intention of operating the S&S with steam
power, and to that end, a General Electric 70-Tonner was purchased in
November 1946 and numbered 11. At the beginning of 1947, a 5-year old
former Denver & Rio Grande Western 44-Tonner was purchased and
numbered 15. Maintenance on the diesel was performed by the HT&W's
shop forces who would drive over to the S&S from Readsboro, Vermont.
In 1954, the 70-Tonner was sent to Pinsy's startup Claremont &
Concord Railway in New Hampshire, and in its place came Number 12, a
70-Tonner purchased secondhand from the Grafton & Upton Railroad in

As the 1950s began, traffic on the Saratoga & Schuylerville
tailed off. After hauling 2100 carloads of freight in 1947, the
railroad was down to 1200 carloads in 1954. By 1952, the railroad
began to lose money. In 1954, the S&S reduced service from a once
daily freight to triweekly operation, usually on M-W-F. The line saw
virtually no maintenance on either the roadbed or the track after
1950. Deferred maintenance took its toll. By 1955, it was
calculated that the S&S would need an estimated $60,000 in repairs
including replacement of two trestles (one 400-feet long, the other
250-feet long). Additionally, the railroad needed 10,000 new ties
within five years. The S&S paralleled the eastern shore of
Saratoga Lake between Wayville and Schuylerville Junction. The
roadbed along this section was literally sinking into the swampy
ground next to the lake, due to a lack of maintenance. Estimated
salvage value of the 26-mile line was $239,395. Accordingly, Pinsly
petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the entire
Saratoga & Schuylerville Railroad on August 2, 1955.
Abandonment hearings were held in late 1955 and early 1956.
The hearings reflected just how much traffic was lost. It was noted
that coal traffic declined as businesses in the area switched to oil.
In turn, much of the petroleum traffic was lost to trucks and the
construction of a natural gas pipeline to Saratoga. Agricultural
products such as milk, hay and feed were lost to trucks. The large
United Board & Carton plant in Victory Mills had switched from
primarily using the railroad for inbound and outbound traffic to only
occasionally using the railroad when it could not get a competitive
truck rate.

Officially, the villages of Victory Mills, Wayville and
Schuylerville objected to the proposed abandonment of the S&S, along
with the city of Saratoga Springs, the New York State Public Service
Commission, several coal dealers, sand shippers and United Board &
Carton. The ICC found United Board's objections to abandonment to be
based more on fears that truck rates would be increased with the
abandonment of the railroad than with any concern over the loss of
railroad service to the town of Victory Mills. Similarly, the city of
Saratoga Springs raised only a token objection to the abandonment.
Probably the protest of the New York Public Service
Commission (NYPSC) over the abandonment of the S&S was the most
effective. NYPSC had alleged that Pinsly was bleeding the company dry
by commanding an exorbitant salary as company President. It alleged
that Pinsly and his associates had not been interested in operating
the line for the last several years- purposely downgrading service
and maintenance, which in turn drove shippers away. The Public
Service Commission alleged that Pinsly had deliberately mismanaged
the company in order to reap a cash windfall when it was abandoned.
The ICC noted that it did not have the power to regulate
salaries of railroad officials. It did recognize the line's long
history of deficits and the fact that the Boston & Maine had even
contemplated abandoning the lines which became the S&S as early as
1929. It concluded that the railroad simply wasn't needed any longer.
A last ditch effort was put before the ICC and the Pinsly
Company. Recognizing that the line between Stillwater Junction and
Schuylerville Junction was the most expensive to maintain (and the
least productive in terms of revenue), a proposal was made that the
S&S build a connection to the Delaware & Hudson main line in Saratoga
Springs. This would enable the company to abandon the Mechanicville-
Schuylerville Junction segment (and its connection with the B&M),
while preserving a rail link to Victory Mills and Schuylerville. The
proposal was dismissed by both the Pinsly Company and the D&H as too
expensive and impractical, as there was a large elevation change in
the terrain between the two lines. It is also likely that the D&H was
uninterested in helping out the S&S, as it had its own shortline
railroad in the area, the Greenwich & Johnsonville. The B&M gave the
Saratoga & Schuylerville a much more favorable division rate than the
D&H would.

The climate was ripe for abandonment. On August 6, 1956, the
ICC formally approved the little railroad's abandonment request. At
the time of the abandonment, the owner of a sand screening plant
south of Schuylerville Junction seemed interested in retaining the
link with the B&M at Mechanicville for operation as a private
carrier to service his sand pit. At the time of the abandonment,
Pinsly claimed he was interested in selling the railroad for
continued operation. Unfortunately, the deal fell through and
September 17, 1956 was targeted for the last day of operation.
The last day of operation for the little Saratoga &
Schuylerville Railroad did not come smoothly. One week before the
line was to cease operations, four hoppers full of sand and three
empty boxcars derailed just north of Stillwater Junction. Dilapidated
track was blamed for the derailment. (This incident seems very
similar to end of the Suncook Valley Railroad in New Hampshire in
December 1952. Just prior to Pinsly's abandonment of the SV, it too
experienced a major derailment due to bad track conditions). The
derailment on the S&S was cleared away quickly, and railroad service
to Wayville, Victory Mills and Schuylerville came to an end on
September 18, 1956. The railroad's caboose and snowplow were sent to
Claremont, NH for a new life on the Claremont & Concord Railway,
while 44-Tonner Number 15 was sent to Pinsly's Hoosac Tunnel and
Wilmington. Former G&U 70-Tonner Number 12 had already been
sent elsewhere by the end of operations. Scrappers began in
Schuylerville and Saratoga Springs, joined up at Schuylerville
Junction, and worked their way south toward Stillwater Junction.

By the middle of 1957, it was all over- the Saratoga &
Schuylerville was completely torn up and dismantled. Today, 45-years
after abandonment, it is hard to imagine that small run-down towns
such as Wayville, Victory Mills and Schuylerville once sustained a
railroad. Truth is, the railroad and its on-line communities were in
decline since the first years of the 1900s. By the mid-1950s, the
greatest asset of the railroad lay in its scrap value. In 1956, new
era was dawning, but unfortunately, the Saratoga & Schuylerville
Railroad did not belong to that era.

Return Home