Snowmobilers, hunters, fishermen, and lost hikers who have spent much time on the Tug Hill have surely visited or at least heard of such exotic locations as Montague, Osceola, Monteola, Page, Michigan Mills, Hooker, and Tabolt Corners. Many snowmobilers who have traveled past these locations probably never knew that they were visiting the site of Tug Hill’s short-lived Glenfield & Western Railroad, fondly known as the “Old Gee Whiz”.
I recently came across a delightful little book covering the history of this line, written by Brian D. Mumford, a Tug Hill native, and Frederick J. Schneider. Since most people will probably never see this book, which had a limited private publication, I will share with you some of the highlights.
The G&W came into being in 1900, when lumber companies like Page & Fairchild and Gould Paper decided they needed a better way than horses and sleighs to transport the seemingly endless supply of virgin logs and lumber from The Tug. The only waterway large enough for driving logs was too far south, others were either too small or ended in large gulfs where they left the plateau. The railroad was built from Glenfield, where it met the NY Central Railroad, up the steep sides of the plateau to Page, Michigan Mills, and other locations, eventually reaching 32 miles of tracks. The railroad used at least 3 different engines in hauling, each a bit larger than the previous version. These logging camps and sawmills were thriving communities for a while, with as many as 500 workers in the woods and hauling logs.
Many hardships hampered the railroad, with derailments, breakdowns, and especially, as you may imagine, the severe Tug Hill winters. It was a major task to keep the tracks cleared, and in later years, hauling was suspended from January to March. But the Gee Whiz hauled millions of board feet from The Tug. In later years, a second railroad, called, not surprisingly, The Glenfield & Eastern, was built into the Adirondacks near Brantingham Lake, with the idea of supplying the mills during winter.
The G&W, like many companies, faltered and died during the First Great Depression of 1929, and ended in bankruptcy. The engines, rails, and other equipment were sold and the route abandoned. Not much remains today except for bridge abutments, gradings, a few ties, and the right-of-way, which is now used mostly by snowmobilers and hunting camps. I rode the “railroad” a few times back in the early snowmobiling days of the ’60s and ’70s. A group of us once ran out of fuel on the railroad, after trying to snowmobile cross-country from Rector, and spent a long evening around a bonfire while one of our group rode to Houseville for fuel. It is remote. Anyway, next time you ride the railroad from Page to Tabolt Corners by sled, slow down for a few moments and contemplate the history of that beautiful area, and think of The Ol’ Gee Whiz running thru the snowy night.