Walking along Broadway in the village of Woodridge in Sullivan County, New York, perhaps on your way to a restaurant or to the market, you will find an amazing, 100-foot-long mural dedicated to the history of the New York, Ontario and Western Railway (N.Y. O. & W.).
The mural, located on the side of Slater’s Garage building, was completed in the early 1990s. The vibrant scene is set with powerful engine #405 chugging away, a full passenger train, the postcard-worthy Woodridge train station complete with the American flag flying high and an active freight dock at the station warehouse. William Panos, grandfather of Joan Collins, former mayor of Woodridge, is depicted as an O. & W. flagman.
Engine #405, depicted in the mural, was constructed in 1923 by American Locomotive Works (Alco) in Schenectady, New York. It was a class Y, wheels 4-8-2 type train. It was designed to lead the company’s passenger train, referred to as the Mountaineer. In 1938 O. & W. undertook a major effort to upgrade its passenger trains, including engine no. 405. The project was led by industrial designer Otto Kuhler.
“Working closely with the Middletown shop forces, Kuhler transformed a fifteen-year-old veteran, engine No. 405, into a dramatic and colorful steam locomotive. He mixed brilliant hues of orange and maroon paint with which to garnish the boiler, drivers, cab and tender. With stainless steel and chromium plate, he emphasized the handrails, the bell, and by the addition of two narrow stainless steel bands around it, the stack. Sheet metal skirts were run along the running boards and a large panel placed between the pilot braces. On this panel the age-old Ontario and Western symbol appeared with the added flair of orange wings.” (Helmer, William F. O. & W. The Long Life and Slow Death of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway. Berkley, California: Howell-North Press, 1959. p. 140.)
As for the no. 405 parlor cars, these were also upgraded, or “streamstyled,” in 1938.
“Turning to necessary car renovations, Kuhler carried through the maroon color scheme with a horizontal stripe of light orange just below the windows, to suggest speed and motion. The interior appearance of the coaches was not only antiquated but shabby. To hide the soiled and worn seat cushions, tan slip-covers were made, with the railroad’s monogram applied in a cool green. The walls were brightened with brushstrokes of gray and ivory paint, trim of black and maroon. Then, taking one of the steel parlor cars (the Ulster) of vintage 1913, the renovators laid new gray linoleum, threw out the old wicker armchairs, brought in inexpensive maple armchairs and wisely kept the rich mahogany paneling. The sister parlor-observation car, the Orange, received similar treatment and soon the train stood in the Middletown yard, gleaming in the sunlight.” (pp. 140-141.)
The mural was created by well-known artist Robert “Bob” Longo (1921-2019). After graduating from Hazleton High School in 1939, Longo attended Kutztown State College. His college education was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Air Corps for 4 years as an aerial engineer on B-26 bombers in Del Rio, Texas. One of the notable projects he worked on during the war was the creation of a supersonic radio map of Osaka, Japan, which was to be the third atomic bomb drop if Japan did not surrender after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings.
After the war, Longo completed his Art Education degree at Kutztown and went on to attend Columbia University, where he earned a Master’s degree for teaching. He moved to Woodridge, New York where he became a respected art teacher at the Fallsburg Central School District. He retired in 1984 after 35 years of teaching.
Longo’s artwork for the 1970 movie “The Molly Maguires,” starring Sean Connery, were used to promote the film. The watercolors depicted the movie sets used in the Hazleton, Eckley and Jim Thorpe areas of Pennsylvania. Several of the scenes were reproduced as postcards.
In addition to this work, Longo also created over 55 different postal cancellations for the United States Postal Service (USPS), including stamps that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America and two stamp designs to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. Other designs included the International Space Station and the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The Woodridge Kiwanis Club awarded Longo its Everyday Hero award for his work on the O&W Railroad mural. In 2010 the Lions Club of Fallsburg awarded Longo its highest honor, the Melvin Jones Fellows award. Longo was a member of the Lions Club for over 65 years, and had previously served as its president. In 2017, he was inducted into the Fallsburg Central School District Hall of Fame. Robert passed away in 2019 at his son’s home in Colorado, and was survived by his wife Irma, and his sons Robert, Alan and Joseph.
The New York, Ontario and Western Railway (N.Y. O. & W.) was a regional railroad that operated from 1868 to 1957. The railroad ran from Weehawken, New Jersey to Cornwall on the Hudson River and then on to Oswego on Lake Ontario, with branches to Kingston, Port Jervis, Monticello, Delhi, Utica, Rome and Scranton. The railroad entered bankruptcy in 1937 due to lower passenger traffic (largely due to improved automobile roads), declining coal shipments and outdated equipment. The railroad never emerged from that bankruptcy, and was liquidated in 1957, becoming the first US Class I railroad to be abandoned.
Today, the route of the former O. & W. railroad through Sullivan County, New York has been developed into a popular rail trail, although only available in several disconnected sections. Currently developed sections include Parksville (1.3 miles), Liberty (2.7 miles), Hurleyville (5.4 miles), Woodridge (1.7 miles) and Mountain Dale (2.6 miles). It is hoped to complete a continuous 25-mile section through Sullivan County from Summitville to the village of Liberty.