Big Chuck

With the world crashing in on us every day, closer and tighter, it is right and it is good to celebrate the small pleasures in life. Those little things that tug us back to a kinder, gentler and slower place in our life.

Things like the ubiquitous “pay you what will” farm stands in our area, a picnic lunch from Brooks House of BBQ or a night with the kids at the Unadilla Drive-In. They all pull us back and invite us to “sit a spell” in a time machine far from the world of Facebook and cell phones.

I wish I had written this column two months ago because I visited a wonderful slice of nostalgia last Sunday. Let me explain.

I was invited to put on a show last weekend at the Maywood Historical Group’s Ice Cream Social in Sidney Center. Yes, you heard me right. An ice cream social.

That evening, I pulled up to the little Maywood train depot, got out and stepped back in time. The railroad depot was built well over a century and a half ago, but you’d never know it. From the train depot parking lot you can look out and imagine the hamlet’s claim to fame.  It had the largest floating railroad trestle in the world here. In fact, two of them. The tracks glided well above the heads and hearths of the residents of Sidney Center below. 

The New York and Ontario Western Railroads built these marvels so trains wouldn’t have to struggle when coming out of the mountains and into the hollow where Sidney Center is situated. And then they had to clamber their way back up and out and down the track to the next stop in Youngs. The O&W trestles (torn down in the 1960s) made a giant, even horseshoe, turn 100 feet overhead and people came from all over the area to view this engineering feat.

I walked into the depot and was met by glistening oak walls, reflecting the afternoon sun. Gilded ticket cages shined like new. Hundreds of old photographs lined the walls; you know, those old sepia-toned photos that tell you they are really something extra-special. The display cases are filled to overflowing with Sidney Center memorabilia and railroadiana. One case holds a complete collection of old railroad glass lanterns, one in each color. The variety of colors would signal to the engineer what was ahead: another train, an accident, bad weather, etc. Think this odd group of lanterns is a silly collectible? Think again. Nobody has a complete collection of all colors of these things. Nobody. Except here at Maywood.

Inside the ticket room I was greeted with warm smiles and hearty handshakes from an army of volunteers all wearing “trestle T-shirts” or faux conductor hats. They were dishing out ice cream and serving up homemade cakes and pies to a long line of visitors attending the event.

In the back baggage room, long tables and chairs were set up under the wainscoted exposed beam ceilings. The old freight doors were swung wide open with the hope of catching an errant breeze floating up from Willow Brook or Carr’s Creek. A local entertainer, Jim Dorn, was playing a guitar and singing in that high, lonesome sound that seemed like a perfect fit here on a tall knoll overlooking the hamlet.

I gave my talk, was appreciatively cheered by the locals and spent almost an hour chatting with some of the folks. I looked at the walls, studied the architect’s trestle schematics, and admired the old railroad signs. I was humbled to see a display of what I call “The Seven Sons of Sidney Center.” These were seven local boys who died within a couple of months of each other in Vietnam a lifetime ago.

It was a warm, sentimental and nostalgic evening at the Maywood Station. Its organization is more than 200 members strong. Remarkable. I don’t think 200 families live in Sidney Center. Maywood is the heartbeat of this bucolic stopping-off point and it was my pleasure to visit it.

Oh, and the ice cream was delicious!

So, why do I wish I’d written this column two months ago? Because the summer Sunday Ice Cream Socials come to an end Labor Day weekend. If you can, go and enjoy one. If not, put it on your to-do list for next summer. An old-time ice cream social in a treasured railroad depot high above a little community that has a great story to tell.

That’s my kind of night!

I’ll catch you in two ...

“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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