My first Vermonter-ferry-Adirondack trip - Long with many photos

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Service Attendant
Jul 29, 2019
The timing of this trip was somewhat inadvertent, as the ferry schedule only went through September 3 and I didn't realize they considered the next two weeks of September as not part of the Summer. Based on tour reports and other comments I've seen, most folks seem to do this loop clockwise, but perhaps there's a benefit when coming from NYC or points south. Starting in Boston, I thought it worked better counter-clockwise, giving me only a half-hour wait at Port Kent for the Adirondack - but it meant making the ultimate sacrifice of taking a bus to Springfield. As discussed elsewhere, in Amtrak's infinite wisdom it makes sense to them for the northbound Vermonter to pass through seven minutes before the westbound LSL.

Even though I was conscious of it being built in 1995 and had cycled and driven by it, I was never inside the South Station Bus Terminal, and was pleasantly surprised. Two escalators bring you to the actual bus level, the second in a wide round and brightly lit atrium, complete with food court on the third floor, and not looking dissimilar to a contemporary mall. Think of it as a union station for busses, with multiple stations and Chinatown curbside pickup (for NYC) replaced by this large and well-planned facility. While now a quarter century old, to my eyes it didn't seem aged, although the bus loading waiting areas are not as brightly lit or as pleasant looking.

The view from the bus of the backside of South Station and the trainshed (of sorts) from the ramp spiraling down made me think I should return with my camera and more time to photograph. I read and slept during the ride and we made good time to Springfield, despite a slow moving backup on the Mass Pike for a goodly number of miles.

Before entering the Springfield station building I took a walk around the block and a bit beyond, thinking that like many cities with a manufacturing past, much of it was quite sad even though there was a concentrated modern business district. As Wikipedia says, " Springfield endured a protracted decline, accelerated by the decommission of the Springfield Armory in 1969. Springfield became increasingly like the declining, second tier Northeastern U.S. cities from which it had long been set apart."

My only previous encounter with Amtrak here was when the station consisted of a smallish ticket office and waiting room off Lyman Street and under track level. In June 2017 Union Station was fully restored as a regional intermodal transit hub. While not a particularly handsome waiting room, it is much more spacious and welcoming than the previous facility, and I was able to buy a sandwich for my journey.

The schedule board listed Track 8 for the Vermonter, so I joined perhaps a couple dozen other passengers there. However, some 15 minutes before the listed departure time we saw a suspiciously similar train pull in from the west on track 4 - which is why I have no arrival photo of the Vermonter. After a few minutes of confusion, a member of the Amtrak station personnel escorted us across the intervening tracks continuously looking in both directions for any train activity. As this is a crew change point, I asked one of the boarding conductors standing nearby what had happened, and he responded "someone screwed up".

I hadn't been on the Vermonter for some two decades, when it still had a baggage car and another fellow and I led an annual bicycle tour using it to bring the group from B-boro to St. Albans for our ride back over four days. The first year we stayed in Burlington, Montpelier (via App Gap!) and WRJ, but a number of the riders found the longish last day too challenging. In later years we moved the start to WRJ and everyone had a free day in Burlington, with many choosing to take the ferry across the lake for some scenic Adirondack riding.

I generally enjoy Vermont landscape, but had forgotten how much of the route along the Connecticut was in a tunnel of trees, with only a few teasing openings. It might be attractive in late November, as I did a Northeast Kingdom scouting trip over Thanksgiving weekend once, and enjoyed the views of the White Mountains I had while driving along the Connecticut north of St. Johnsbury - without any intervening leaves.

After passing the Green Mountain RR facilities and crossing their main in Bellows Falls,

the track crosses the river on a three span truss bridge just below a dam, with a rocky riverbed below, to Walpole, NH. The brief stretch in NH features perhaps the smoothest track of the sections I rode, with corresponding high speeds. While never in view, there are occasional glimpses of the sun glinting off the river through the trees.

Later, the train crosses the Connecticut for the last time at Windsor, VT just below what had long been the longest covered bridge in the US - until 2008, when a rather ugly affair with concrete piers was built in Ashtabula, OH. The longest covered bridge in the world is located some four hundred miles to the northeast, over the Saint John River in Hartland, New Brunswick. For those with access to a car in this area, nearby across the river is the Saint-Gaudens NHS - well worth half a day. Woodstock, VT, and Hanover , NH -Dartmouth, are nearby if you might wish to make it a weekend trip or interruption of a rail journey; WRJ has a couple of rental agencies.

After passing through downtown WRJ and just before the high I-91 bridge, you pass the New England Central RR yard on the left and might spot the repurposed roundhouse, while the turntable pit has long been filled in. The next stop is Randolph, which has a few older distinctive buildings, including the brick depot, in its otherwise rather ordinary downtown.

We arrived at Essex Junction on the advertised and I waited with perhaps a dozen others for the Blue Line CCTA bus scheduled to arrive some 15 minutes later. After getting off at the Downtown Transportation Center a bumpy half hour later, I altered my planned walking route to go to the Farmhouse Tap & Grill for a very light supper.

I had been attracted to the Cheddar Ale soup on their online menu, but it turned out to be so gravy-like and dense that I found it inedible, so asked the manager if I could replace it with the gazpacho and he agreed. It was a tad better, but a lazy man's version with everything pulverized in a blender, while I prefer mine chunky. I was seated in the rear outdoor area, and this place and the whole city were really hopping with the UVM students back in town.

Due to three criteria I had booked a lower bunk at the unofficial but friendly and well run hostel, conveniently situated at the foot of Main Street.

- Only in town ~15 hours

- Couldn't see any justification for spending several hundred dollars to get fancier digs

- Easy walk from the DTC, and a block plus from the ferry pier

As with most hostels, the bunks consisted of a rather thin but sturdy mattress mounted on lateral zigzig coils, which don't protrude but do tend to sag - some hostels lay a piece of plywood on top of them to prevent this. It was OK for a night.

I got up early (for me) and headed around the corner to August First - a month late. However, this well-reviewed spot is also obviously extraordinarily popular, and after the line hadn't moved in a minute or so decided to exit.

I'm fine with walking, but have little tolerance for standing still - especially in a line. However, an excellent alternative was only blocks away, the century old, far less hip, and largely traditional Henry's Diner.

While the original railroad car is long gone, this institution is now owned by a couple with a Greek heritage, and they had an additional menu with Labor Day Weekend specials. While I sort of had an omelet in mind, the Plaka Skillet of home fries, feta, lamb gyro, fresh spinach, kalamata olives and onions got my attention. One of the bread choices was a sesame Greek bread, which was delightfully airy so less dense than any other bread I've previously eaten. This turned out to be an excellent choice and so filling that I was never tempted by the thought of lunch this day.

Deciding I needed to walk off this meal, I headed west and somewhat uphill to Battery Park, which has a break in the trees for a view of the lake and the Adirondacks across it - which were still in profile at this hour.

For those with no knowledge of its history, Lake Champlain and the entire St. Lawrence River valley were once part of the ocean. A whale skeleton was discovered near Burlington in 1849 during railway construction. Chazy Reef, the world's oldest, is found on Isle la Motte in the Lake Champlain Islands:


Service Attendant
Jul 29, 2019
Walking down the hill, I passed Union Station - topic of some recent debate here and elsewhere as a possible terminus for the extended Ethan Allen. Info and additional photos of the roof creature here:

I returned to the hostel and rested until a quarter before 11, when they closed for stripping bunks, cleaning, and setting things up for Sunday night. However, I had pants and a pair of long-sleeve shirts on, expecting wind on the ferry and the usual Amtrak refrigeration. However, the lack of clouds meant that it was already quite hot when I hit the street, so went back upstairs quickly and changed to shorts and a T-shirt, keeping one long-sleeve shirt at the top of my pack.

I went to the corner and sat in a chair next to the propped open door of the August First bakery room and read for a while, prepared to relocate if a staff member desired the seat. I walked down to the dock, paid my one-way pedestrian fare, and walked to the designated location. There were perhaps a dozen people there when I arrived, including these two - separate but equal, a Sunday NY Times couple.

By now it was only 20 minutes before the scheduled sailing and I was nervous that no dock staff had arrived. However, I must have gotten immersed in my novel, as 10 minutes later there was sudden movement and I got up just in time to take this shot. How appropriate - I'll take the Adirondack to the Adirondack.

We left the dock about five minutes late and I became a bit concerned when I saw there was a SW wind. I asked a crew member about it, but he said he expected they'd dock at Port Kent on schedule, which would give me exactly half an hour to walk up the road and wait for the train. Some five minutes after sailing there was a dramatic headland to the right (Lone Rock Point as I later discovered) and I could make out some walkers on the cantilevered point and two kayaks (one tandem?) below. I needed to use digital zoom in framing it to my satisfaction, so there is some pixilation. In retrospect, I should have stayed with optical and just cropped.

I remembered it being an incline leaving the lake, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I had recalled it. There was some discussion a month ago if it was preferable to wait for the ferry at the station or in a waiting room on the landing. I'd have to say that the station is preferable unless it's a blazingly hot day, as the view is glorious, you're exposed to cooling winds/breezes vs. a closed room, and you'll have a distant view of the ferry slowly approaching so you can time your five-minute walk down the slope.

The ferry stayed at the dock for quite I while and I had hopes that it might be in the background as the train arrived, but it finally sailed and the Adirondack was maybe ten minutes late.

I planned how I wanted to frame the arriving Adirondack, with the crossing gate down and some of the lake in view. The station had clearly been upgraded over the past decade, with a new concrete platform, station signs, and reinforcing collars at the base of the wooden posts supporting the roof.

I tried to have my camera ready as much as I could without exhausting the battery, but as those who've taken this train know, there are only a few longer stretches with unobstructed lake views. The rest of the time sub-second response is required, as any openings between the trees only last a second or two. It was a perfect day for sailing on the lake and many were taking advantage of it.

For those of you who've seen the dramatic images of the Adirondack on a ledge over a steep cliff, or perhaps gliding through a rock cut, don't for a second think that is anything close to what it looks like from the train. You can tell when you're passing a rock face, but it's nothing to look at or photograph.

There are a few places where there are longer shoreline views showing where the train is going or where it has been, but don't expect to see the track beyond the immediate scene. I've now been on it once in each direction, and suspect that it'll take at least a couple more trips to have anything approaching any knowledge of where the best locations are.

==>> BTW - does anyone know if there are any online guides suggesting where (by mileage) there are interesting views on either side of any of the Amtrak routes?

This next one isn't much of a photograph, but it shows what is ostensibly an unreasonably short train of the defunct Lake Champlain and Moriah. There had been a large iron ore vein in the hills above Port Henry, and for most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th ore was brought down to the lake by wagon and later by train. An 1822 blast furnace was among the first in the young country. Initial transshipment was by water, but later shifted to rail when the Delaware and Hudson came through.

For anyone driving through town, there is a small but excellent Mining Center Museum, housed in the shuttered brick building behind the ore car. Note the restricted open hours and suggestion of confirming in advance. I've been there and particularly enjoyed the complex diorama.

There's something else related to this, but more of interest to historians and model railroaders vs. strictly Amtrak passenger types. The Rensselaer Model Railroad Society is a student club at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and has built the most carefully researched and prototypically implemented model railroad in the history of the hobby. I had the pleasure of visiting it sometime before the turn of the millennium, and see that they have now eliminated any public viewing. However, purchasing membership will give you access to all of their research and layout visitation rights, and there are YouTube videos and probably many photos online. This is a link with a few photos to give you an idea of the quality of work they do, but is not official:

While this is for their Port Henry page:

NOTE that you need to be a member to see full size photos.

Now back to your regularly scheduled train - sorry for the extended sidetrack time.


Service Attendant
Jul 29, 2019
Although the northern areas of the lake are far more dramatic, I've decided I prefer the more "approachable" lower end between Ti and Whitehall. In the southern part of this section the lake becomes quite narrow - almost looking like an extension of the canal, due to aquatic plant growth on both shores, although this may be less true earlier in the year. As a result of this environment, you can spot many water birds here. The stealthy cormorants and egrets don't move at the sound or possible air changes created by the train, while the lake-gulls and great blue herons do take to the sky, although no doubt they've experienced the train hundreds of times previously.

The sky had darkened significantly by now. I was staying in Schenectady for the second time in a month, but this time it wouldn't be in the central downtown area. Walking there I passed a very retro Kodak storefront which still appeared to be a functioning business, but when I tried calling their number to learn the date it was erected I got a message that it wasn't a working number. I was particularly attracted by the pseudo Art Deco font of the sign, and would be pressed to believe that it was put there after the 50's. I've gotten really curious and may have to contact Kodak. From the appearance and breakage, the cladding material has the new plastic look of that era, but I love the color.

I also passed the Schenectady Civic Players on the way, housed in what appears to be a former Masonic temple.

Another two blocks and I reached the Stockage Inn, with much of the structure going back to 1818. The neighborhood is known as the Stockade District, with all older houses and frequent slate sidewalks.

Being the Sunday before Labor Day, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that my first two choices for dinner were closed. I ended up at a trendy (for Schenectady) Asian fusion place called Zen. The hot and sour soup was quite decent, while the Pad Thai was a huge portion but not even close to the Vietnamese version.

I did some more exploration in the morning and came across this unusual building. Across from the finished side is the elongated oval Crescent Park, which explains the less than 90* corner. The ground level was being prepared for a possible tenant - I thought if I lived in Schenectady and had something of small volume I wanted to sell then I could be interested. I wondered what it was like inside the second floor apartment with the fan-shaped upper windows.

About an hour and a half before train time I wandered over to the station after picking up a sandwich at the Subway which was surprisingly open on Labor Day. The station was only activated less than a year ago, and apparently a driving force behind the funding was the recent opening of a casino in town.

The interior is functional and comfortable, with twin large screen displays running a continuous slide show of Schenectady's rich history - some 200-300 images over about 15 minutes. I selected the image that I thought would be of most interest to train people and then waited for it to cycle around again. I haven't seen this before, but the train info displays updated in real time, showing the LSL as running twenty minutes late.

I went up to trackside early and greatly enjoyed this view at the western edge of the platform, showing the divergent routes of the LSL and Adirondack. I was tempted to stay and photo the LSL engines just popping out of the truss bridge, but the likely loading points were some ways back - maybe in October. It made me think of Frost's "two paths diverged".

I wasn't as conscious of it a month ago, but noticed how much more massive a train the LSL was before the Albany split. I'm so used to seeing the Boston Section and smaller trains like the Vermonter and Adirondack, that I'd forgotten just how impressive a really long passenger train was.

Boarding, I found no window seats in the two Boston coaches, so continued into the cafe car. I was surprised by how much a better view you get without the tall seat backs, and it's much easier to alternate sides - visually if not physically. The crew said they were closing the car for cleaning at Albany, but I asked if I could wait until then before moving back so I could try for a shot on the curve coming off the Hudson River bridge. It was a really dreary day at the time and I caught lots of reflection off the glass, so it's far from a clean shot, but I'll try again on a sunny day from a coach. I tried going back to the cafe after Albany, but a large and somewhat obnoxious crew had pretty much taken it all over so I returned to my coach seat.

In mid-October I'm testing out my Vermonter to WRJ - bus - Ethan Allen off-season Vermont loop idea. I'll hope for good color and clear weather all three days.