HOW would you
like to coast down a mountain-side on a sled weighing fifteen
tons? You can do it not far from New York. You may be more frightened
than entertained on the first trip, but the entertainment grows
greater every time you slide down the mountain.
Of course the coasting is managed with much care and precision.
There will never be an accident, the chief coasters say. Certainly
none has happened yet, although the sliding down hill has been
going on daily for several months. Horses and carriages and ice
wagons and butcher carts all join in the sport. Indeed, Alice
never saw anything more remarkable in Wonderland.
Every well-informed person ought to know that the people of
the Oranges are life-long coasters. No matter whether born in
Orange, East Orange, South Orange, West Orange, or Brick Church,
the first thing a tiny Orangeman tries in life is to slide down
hill. Go to any Orange nursery, and you will find babies not old
enough to talk coasting down chutes made of pillows and such things.
I have been toldbut I shall believe as much of this story
as I choosethat a venerable Orange person asked as a last
request that on the day of his funeral he might be permitted to
glide gently down hill on his favorite toboggan. The fact remains
that to coast is as natural as to breathe among the Orange hills.
Some of the bills are veritable mountains green clad, but mountains
nevertheless. On such choice eminences as these the coaster reigns
supreme. In winter he rushes down the sides of his bill on toboggans
and bobsleds. In summer lie darts from his breezy heights on a
bicycle, his feet dangling over the bar, and his soul communing
with nature, while lie sails along at tile rate of forty in miles
all hour. A careful observer may at times see a pair of Orangese
coasting on a bicycle built for two.
"How shall we coast by wholesale?" is the question
that naturally grew in the minds of certain astute Orangemen a
'year ago. "It's hardly safe to let babies whirl down hill
alone in perambulators. Besides, there are instances on record
of over-ambitious horses having scattered their owners ludicrously
along the way-side while under the exhilarating influence of a
mad down-hill gallop. Come, bow shall we arrange this thing?"
Thus pondering, the citizens formed a company, consulted engineers,
bought cables and drums and engines and rails and cars. To-day
you may coast down one of the longest hills in this part of the
world, thanks to their efforts. Not only that, but you can coast
up hill too.
For years before the road was built the owners of a broad plateau
that overlooks New York and Newark bays were unable to do anything
profitable with it. They were permitted to pay taxes on it. They
also found it a pleasant spot whereon to breathe mountain air.
The cable railroad made the plateau available as a home site.
To begin with, the top of the plateau is 300 feet higher than
the nearest valley. The engineers dug and blasted a lane through
the crest of the hill. This they leveled and smoothed so cleverly
that a Norwegian on skis could skim its surface with his eyes
shut. This lane is about forty feet wide and fully 3700 feet long,
or about three-quarters of a mile. A big power-house was built
at the top of the lane. In it were placed two 150 horse-power
engines. With these as motive power, and two cables of one and
a half inches in diameter to hold the cars, you can easily guess
how the coasting is managed.
Why two cables, do you ask? There was a nervous old lady on
a train of the Switchback (zigzag) Railroad who asked the conductor
"where the passengers would go" if the engine should
break down, the brakes fail, and all the other safety appliances
"Madam," replied the conductor, "that depends
entirely upon the lives they have led."
So, to prevent undue haste in the descent, the managers of
the coasting company have two cables attached to each car. One
lowers it or hauls it up hill. The other stands by as a safeguard
in case the other should break.
The cars are forty-four feet long and sixteen feet wide. They
weigh fifteen tons each, and each can carry fifteen tons of passengers
and freight. The tracks they run on are eight feet wide. The cables
are attached to the car by what the engineers call the "forward
They are clamped fast here as well as at the rear of the car.
The most remarkable thing about tile cars is the way they would
kick up at one end if they stood on a level-ground track. Of course
the elevation of the lower part of the cars is necessary to keep
their platforms level on the steep grade.
Tile engine whirls or reverses tile driving-drums as it is
desired to lower or pull up the cars. There are safety-drums,
too, whose business it is to arrest the movement of the cars in
case of accident to the driving-drums. All of these great cylinders
are provided with air-brakes. In fact, everything that tends toward
safety has been not only provided, but made in duplicate.
A dainty little cabin of polished woods stands at one end of
each car. Here you may sit at ease while flying through tile air.
Or if you like you may stand at the front of the giant coaster
and gaze oil distant lands as you swiftly descend. Fifty passengers
are carried at once, to say nothing of the horses and wagons and
carriages that are packed in on one side of the car. Once in a
while some horse, with more imagination than self-control, takes
it into his silly fiddlehead to object to coasting. Such a fellow
has to be patted on tile Deck and held with a short grip at tile
bead. It is remarkable, though, that after a few trips horses
enjoy the coasting. Trust a horse to find out when lie is having
an easy time. The wheels of all vehicles are always securely blocked.
When I first made the descent I was tempted to close my eyes
and hold on with a death grip. The ascent after dinner on the
evening before was very simple. 'Darkness veiled every appearance
of danger. We sat up and studied logarithms all night. Then we
went to the verge of the plateau and saw the sun rise. Our host
said that a little coasting would give us an appetite for breakfast.
(An Orange person would prescribe coasting for cholera or a broken
heart.) We all hastened to the bow of the coasting-car, and breathed
the thin mountain air with keen delight. Far to the eastward we
saw the lazy sun, a smoky ball of copper, glowering through the
mists upon the sleeping metropolis.
Isn't it glorious?" exclaimed McDougall.
At that moment the engineer in the power-house pulled a lever,
and down we sped. Tile earth came rolling up under our feet. Where
would we stop? Certainly hot this side of the Milky Way! Without
a jar or a tremor we leaped into space. We must surely be dashed
to pieces. Imperceptibly our speed diminished. We weren't going
to fly from the earth, after all. Another breath and we were at
the end of the route. The ponderous machine ceased moving as gently
as a wandering bit of thistledown caught on a wayside brier. McDougall
laughed when I spoke of my fears at the breakfast table.
"The engineer in the power-house watched us all the way,"
he said. "One touch on the lever of the air-brake would have
arrested us in a moment. It's safer to coast than to walk home.
You can't even sprain an ankle."
More Information by Frank Carey:
From Pierson's History of the Oranges to 1921, Volume II, p.
Orange Mountain Land Co. was incorporated 1887 to develop
the mountain top. Same investors then organized the Orange Mountain
Cable Co. A hotel was built on the mountaintop and ground was
broken for the cable car on October 3, 1887. Was completed in
April 1893. Lost $1000 the first year, was in hands of a receiver
in Sep 1894 and in October of 1895 was sold under foreclosure
sale but operations apparently continued.
Announcement was made in Oct 1896 that the road would continue
operations for a month ot two.
The lower terminus was on Valley Rd at the intersection of Wheatland
Ave - a very narrow and seemingly private driveway that is a dead
end. Wheatland Ave, is between Forest Hill Rd and Orange Heights
Ave. If you go up Wheatland you'll see the beginning of a rather
shallow cut that has low stone walls on each side. This passes
behind the houses on Forest Hill Rd. The tracks crossed Gregory
Ave just west of Forest Hill Rd., crossing property occupied by
a large victorian house that is the 3rd or 4th house in from Forest
Hill Rd. None of the right of way is then discernible until you
get above the area where Collamore Terrace is. There is a noticeable
raised earthen bank that kept the line above grade in the area
that is roughly behind house numbers 162-166 Forest Hill Rd. Part
of this embankment is on the property of 61 Winding Way. The tracks
crossed Essex Terrace just before the point where this street
dead-ends. In the backyards of the Essex Terrace homes begins
the cut mentioned in the article. The cut ends at the upper terminus
which was at a spot now occupied by Rock Spring Rd. This spot
was roughly opposite the tennis courts of Rock Spring Country
Club and was adjacent to a rather large and castle-like private
residence that I understand is now either abandoned or for sale
(or both). There was an iron bridge across
this cut that was a footbridge and which had railway-type signals
on it. The country club did not exist at the time the cable road
operated. In the days the road was operating there was a business
at the top known as "Highland Park". I believe it was
a picnic grove that included Cable Lake (named after the road).
I believe it was the park owners/investors who built the cable
road to provide access to their park. This lake is now part of
Rock Spring Country Club.
About ten years after the cable road closed, it was revived as
a trolley. They actually thought they could run up the incline
using trolleys with a "patent brake". The relaid rails
and raised wire, opening day came, the first car went up as far
as the rock cut... and then the car lost its grip, and the patent
brakes failed, and it rolled or slid all the way to the bottom
and careened across the dirt to the far side of Valley Road. I
wonder if one of your postcards is the one I've seen of the smashed
car being hauled into Valley Street? The passengers had jumped
for it and no one was killed.
The trolley was rebuilt right away using a different route
avoiding the first block of Wheatland Ave and using three switchbacks
up on the hill, not the path of Winding Way, but intersecting
it a few times in a way that has left no trace I could find. It
came to the top south of that big castle-like house (which was
not there yet) and passed right in front of the top of the rock
cut. It then continued west to Northfield Ave and along the side
(?) of the road to the Rock Spring. The new lower section ran
across Valley Road a half block south of Orange Heights Ave and
ran to the Swamp Line for a more convenient change. The only part
used by both the cable and electric was the mid section around
Gregory Road. This trolley version operated until 1914. It was
never run by Public Service, and the right of way was not kept
The main point of both the cable and electric roads was to
promote real estate development on the mountain. It didn't work.
Some of the land was later used (1920's) for the Rock Spring Country
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