The Otis Elevating Railway

Scientific American, Oct. 5, 1895

The eastern end of the Catskills range has been a favorite mountain resort for many years. Until within a short-time the hotels on top of the mountain were accessible only by a tedious stage ride up the face of the mountain, or by the rather circuitous route of the Stony Clove railway running from Phoenicia, on the Ulster and Delaware Railway, to the top of the mountain.

Recently an inclined railway has been built up the side of the mountain toward the valley of the Hudson, and extending from Otis Station, on the Catskill Mountain Railway, nearly to the top of the mountain. This railway is known as the Otis Elevating Railway, having received its name from the firm of Otis Brothers, the well-known manufacturers of elevator machinery.

View looking north from West Point

The road is 7,200 ft. long, with a rise of 1,600 ft. It runs in a straight course down the mountain without any lateral deviation, but is not a true inclined plane. It is made up of four curves two of which are circular while two are parabolic. This plan has been worked out by the engineer, Thomas E. Brown, to secure, as far as possible, the balance of the two cables used in moving the cars, the cables alone weighing ten ton each..


Map of the Catskill Aqueduct System




Section of "Cut-And-Cover" Aqueduct


The engines which operate the cables are located at the upper terminus of the railway, within about three hundred feet of the old Catskill Mountain House, which you see in the general view. The engines are of the Corliss type, built by the Hamilton Corliss Engine Works. They are seventy-five horsepower each at one-fourth cut-off, the diameter of the cylinders being twelve inches, the length of the stroke being thirty inches. The shaft, which is common to both engines, is provided with two brake wheels, which are each encircled by a brake strap. The shaft also carries a pinion which engages a spur wheel on a shaft of one of the cable drums. The driving cable drum has a loose rim provided with a grooved periphery which receives the cables, the rim being carried by friction. The other cable drum simply supports the cables. The cables, which are connected up parallel, are attached to one car, and passing twice around the drums extend out of the engine house around a sheave, thence to the other car.

The track, as will be seen by reference to the general view, has three rails, the center one being common to both cars, there been a separate outer rail for each car, except at the turn-out, shown in the general view, about half-way up the mountain. Here for a very short distance the track separate into separate and distinct two-rail tracks. With this arrangement, it will be seen that when 1 car goes up the other must necessarily go down, and, so far as the cars themselves are concerned, they balance each other.

The cars have a seating capacity of ninety passengers, a caboose being provided for a proportionate amount of baggage. The seats are like those used in the elevators of the Eiffel tower, being constructed on a curve which enables the passengers to easily adjust themselves to the different inclinations of the railway.


To the ties on each side of the central rail are secured heavy timbers which extend from one end of the railway to the other, and upon each car is firmly attached a clutch capable of of gripping this timber upon the top and sides. The clutch is under the control of a governor which rolls on the top of the timber. Any considerable increase in the speed of the governor releases the clutch and causes it to be thrown forcibly into the timber, thus instantly arresting the downward motion of the car. The two cables are also attached to a swivel plate upon each car, which is connected with the clutch mechanism, so that should one of the cables fail, the other will turn the swivel plate and cause the clutch to engage the timber. The clutch can also be operated by hand at the will of the conductor.

Upon the cable-driving drums is placed a strap break which, together with the brakes on the engine shaft, is operated by air pressure. The engines are provided with a link motion, and the shifting of the engine may be effected by means of an air cylinder in the tower above the engine room. In fact, all the controlling mechanism may be operated by simply turning air valves connected with the air brake system, and to insure the stopping of the cars at the ends of the road a lever is provided, which is moved by the car so as to throw into action the engine-controlling levers and brakes, to immediately stop the engine and to hold the cable securely in the position in which it is stopped.

In the tower in front of the controller is a governor driven by the engines below, which indicates the maximum speed by closing an electric circuit and ringing a bell. A wire extends from one end otf the road to the other for electric signaling, and a telephone system has been provided, by means of which telephonic communication maybe had between the cars and between the cars and the stations at the ends of the road. The passengers as they are carried up this road survey a magnificent scene which can never be adequately produced on canvas. For the details here presented we are indebted to C. F. Parker, assistant engineer.


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