GOWANDA — There’s only one place to be if you are looking for a Fall Foliage Train Ride in Cattaraugus County on Saturday.
The Gowanda-based New York & Lake Erie Railroad is offering its last fall foliage ride of the season Saturday at 1 p.m. starting from the Gowanda Depot at 650 Commercial Street. It will head south to South Dayton and its refurbished train depot.
Three cars will carry up to 180 leaf peepers, according to New York & Lake Erie Railroad president Robert O. Dingman Jr., who will be the train’s engineer on Saturday.
Dingman began offering rail excursions on the NY&LE Railroad between Salamanca and Cattaraugus in 1978. By 1980, the Buffalo Rail line between Cattaraugus and Dayton and Dayton to Gowanda had been rebuilt. The lines are owned by the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency and operated by the NY&LE Railroad.
“We started running excursions from Salamanca to the County Fair in Little Valley,” Dingman said in an interview Monday.
After the Salamanca to Cattaraugus line was torn up and the Pat McGee Trail established, Diingman focused on the Gowanda-area operations. At one time the NY&LE served several rail-dependent businesses by getting raw materials and finished products to and from Buffalo via a transfer at the Buffalo Southern Railway through Erie County to Buffalo.
The train excursions — including murder mystery dinner trains, Easter and Christmas Trains and fall foliage tours gradually stopped around 2001, Dingman explained.
Three or four years ago, former Gowanda Mayor Heather McKeever came to Dingman and suggested it was time to start offering a Christmas Santa Train. Dingman said it was well-received and the next spring offered an Easter Train complete with an Easter Bunny. The next rail holiday is Mother’s Day.
“Last fall we had two wine trains and they did very well,” Dingman said. “At Gowada’s Fall Fest last month we had Woodbury Winery for a wine tasting train and on Oct. 5, we had Willow Creek Winery down for a wine tasting train.”
Dingman said, “We’re creeping our way back into a full-time schedule.”
Saturday’s ride to South Dayton and back takes just over two hours. There will be on-board snacks available. The South Dayton depot has a new platform and modern restrooms. There’s also a farmer’s market on Saturday. Another popular attraction is Zollinger’s South Dayton Hotel where they serve cold beverages.
South Dayton Depot is an attraction as it took part in the Robert Redford movie, “The Natural,” in 1983. Then a few years later, the New York & Lake Erie’s locomotive, railcars, and the Dayton Depot had a part in the Steve Martin and John Candy movie, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
The railroad’s special event train, the Halloween Express will be held Oct. 26. This 2-1/2 hour trip will depart Gowanda at 1 p.m. for an afternoon of fun, treats, and surprises. Riders are encouraged to dress for the occasion. Fares are $18 for adults, $12 for children 4-12, and under 3 years-old are free.
Saturday night, after the Fall Foliage Train ride, Dingman said a “Brew Chew Choo” will pull out of the depot at 6 o’clock. Ellicottville’s Steelbound Brewery and Distillery is offering a beer tasting train and snacks — chicken wings. The cost is $30 each and 21 and over only.
For reservations, contact Becky at 241-7165. Walk-ins will be accepted on Saturday. The cost is $18 for adults and $12 for kids 12 and under. Under age 3 is free with purchase of an adult ticket.