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Rail Line a Labor of Love

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The governor announced this week that state will spend $40 million on upgrading rail lines. A third of that money will go to the North Country--some for short connector lines. One of those is the Batten Kill, in Washington County. The Batten Kill will receive $1 million for track rehabilitation. When Ronald Crowd took over the Batten Kill 20 years ago, it was nearly dead. Now he and his six employees run 40,000 tons of feed, fertilizer and logs along the 35 miles of track. The Batten Kill still hasn't turned a profit. And it's not just the business that's a challenge. Ron Crowd contracted polio when he was two. He uses a wheelchair. As he told Gregory Warner, that's where owning his own train comes in very handy.

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RON CROWD: "See running my own railroad it made it a lot simpler because I could dictate where I parked the locomotive. So I could always park the locomotive where I was able to get off and get to a vehicle or what have you but many times when you're out on the road sometimes you don't finish your run and you end up having to stop running in the middle of a farmer's pasture some place but there'd be an access road where I could get down and get to a car."

GREG WARNER: "Tell me about that love of trains. It's something that seems to hit early and hit hard. If you can describe it."

RON CROWD: Well it's very hard to describe. Number one, railroads have always been romantic. You looked at the track and you know that they go somewhere. You know as a child for instance you see this giant train go by you know it's going someplace that you haven't been and there's also the lore of the equipment. You see a locomotive that weighs several hundred tons going by at eighty miles an hour. That does something to you. It gets in your blood and you just love it and you really don't want to get away from it."

GREG WARNER: "You know there's a rail line that goes right by my house. It actually goes right behind my backyard in Potsdam and I work in Canton. And I know that the train goes to Canton. Of course, it's a goods train. It doesn't stop there. Is there some way I can you know figure out how to hitch a ride or is that just ridiculous."

RON CROWD: "Well first of all it's illegal. You know we romanticize the hobo. Modern hobos are those that are doing it just for fun. And many of them are New York City executives."

GREG WARNER: "Wait New York City executes are jumping on trains?"

RON CROWD: "Yeah, they drive, they ride Harley Davidsons. These guys do it for fun. And in recent years a number of them ended up either frozen to death or crushed to death or severely injured. And the reason being that modern trains travel a lot faster. It's not unusual for it to be traveling sixty miles an hour."

GREG WARNER: "Have you ever had someone try to hop your train?"

RON CROWD: "Um. Actually we have. But we only operate at ten miles an hour right now."

GREG WARNER: "Ron, this has been a fascinating conversation and I really appreciate talking to you."

RON CROWD: "It is the one thing I'd like to say is that we haven't made a profit here. It's been a struggle. But it's been a worthwhile struggle. Because of the in-runs and this is what I tell my employees. No matter what happens we've done something that the big corporations couldn't do. We've successfully taken over a railroad that had pretty much died and we've brought it back to life and we've operated service here for twenty-two years and we've served the community in that process. We save each farm in this area about two thousand dollars a year. Every farm that buys from the feed mill. And that's a substantial savings."


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