I stood on the old wooden planks, waiting for a train that would never arrive. The trains don’t come this way anymore. They haven’t come this way in decades.
But I continued to stand there, the river flowing behind me with a wind at my back.
Looking out toward the grass plot with its several sleeping trees and the parking lot beyond, I envisioned the past with the water tank still standing and the train tracks running the length of the river. The water tank (as well as the restroom next to the station) was removed in 1925. I thought about what this single-story rail station must’ve been like when it was all a hustle and bustle.
The small brick building with its twin chimneys continued to stand proudly. When it was first constructed in 1834, the builders used local bricks and lumber (which were made in Niskayuna). The green doors and rimed windows to match displayed chipping paint. There were also places around the windowsill where pieces of wood had splintered. Some might say it was in need of maintenance, but I say it has character. Nothing, no building or human, that had withstood time this long would come out the other side looking perfect. There would be some bumps and scratches, some pealing paint and splintering wood. If only the building could talk it could tell stories we can’t possibly imagine.
I walked across the planks, imagining all the footsteps that had fallen here long before mine. They belonged to people waiting for a train, to people waiting for family members or loved one. Their stories are etched into the grains of the wood with ever step.
Slowly, I made my way down the small paved path, as if preparing to board the train. (The railroad station was originally built by the Troy and Schenectady Railroad, but later became part of the New York State Central Railroad.) I look in both directions. One way went out to Buffalo, the other way led to Albany.
I turned right and began making my way along the path. There was no way I was going to walk its entire length, as it ran parallel to the river, and as far. That’s a long way. So, I walked a considerable distance, looking through the gaps in the trees to the river. A flock of ducks flew by and landed in the water. They swam around in a part near land that wasn’t frozen. The river seemed to be flowing in the opposite direction. With some close listening, I could hear it babbling. Through a clearing several more ducks, or geese, (they were too far away to tell) flew by, circled around and landed on the water. Across the river, further down, a large white bird took flight. It could’ve been a crane, but once again, it was too far away to tell.
When I walked as far as I thought I should, I turned and retraced my steps. I was curious what was on the other side of the station and wanted a chance to find out.
At this point tiny snowflakes began to fall from the sky. Temperatures had been steadily dropping all afternoon, but snow wasn’t in the forecast. It was a pleasant, beautiful, surprise.
I passed the train station and continued in that direction, as the path went on for miles that way too. After a few steps, I turned and proceeded down a muddy road that led to the river. In the summer, this road, this sodden patch of land was probably a boat launch. The edge of the water lapped at the land. It was surrounded by cattails and from where I stood, I could see the back of the rail station. Its red brick walls appeared to almost blend into its surroundings as it overlooked the river.
After a moment, I climbed up the muddy road and made my way toward the station. I walked back up the small, paved path, as if stepping off a train that just pulled into the station. The wooden planks registered my footsteps as I walked to the back of the building to look out over the river. A wind blew. It was colder than it had been a few hours before. My cheeks and nose were beginning to feel the change in the air, but I wasn’t done. I went back to the front of the building and stood there, scanning the pavement that ran parallel to the river, the one I spent a couple hours walking. It was a path that had been built on the original railroad bed. That meant this was a route trains and so many others took on the way to their destinations.
The property is now owned by the town. This old rail station and old rail bed (now a biking/hiking trail) is part of the park. It might look different today, but that doesn’t change history. No matter how the landscape transforms, the history of its places and its people are never truly erased.
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