Early postcard (date unknown) of the Emporium Lumber Company's Grasse River Railroad. [RCHM Photo Collection]

Grasse River Railroad

"The first steam-operating railroad museum in the U.S.A."

Website owned and operated by the:
Rail City Historical Museum
162 Stanley Drive
Sandy Creek, NY 13145
Robert J Groman, Owner/Curator

The Grasse River Railroad was incorporated in 1915 as an Adirondack logging and passenger rail line of William L. Sykes and his Emporium Lumber Company located in Conifer, New York. The Emporium Lumber Company had its beginnings in Pennsylvania but after 25 prosperous years Sykes began buying land in the Adirondack Mountains of New York owing to the scarcity of hardwood left in Pennyslvania. The first sawmill opened in 1911 and the corporation name for the New York operation was changed a year later to the Emporium Forestry Corporation. The slate of officers for the new corporation consisted primarily of Sykes's three sons: President and General Superintendent - George W. Sykes, Vice President and General Counsel - E. J. Jones, Vice President and Sales Manager - Roy. O. Sykes, Treasurer - W. Clyde Sykes, and Secretary - Arthur L. Owen. The Emporium Forestry Company became the largest hardwood operation in the east with Adirondack land holdings peaking at 125,000 acres.

The Emporium Forestry Company would not be as profitable as the Pennsylvania operation owing to the higher costs in the Adirondacks. The company not only had the expenses of 100 employees but that of the houses, 'school' and other buildings in Conifer, NY. When the depression years came, Sykes was forced to sell half of his land holdings. William L. Sykes died in 1941 and in 1945 the last major forest land parcel was sold. Where the Sykes used to log their own timber, now the logs were brought in from the outside adding to the cost of the operation.

The GRR reached its peak of near 100 miles of track in 1937. But there was no need for the expenses of the railroad without the land that provided the hardwood timber. Therefore, most of the GRR was sold in 1945 except for about two miles of track from the village of Conifer to the New York Central Railroad station in Childwood. The remaining properties of the Sykes hardwood kingdom, consisting of the sawmill, village of Conifer and two miles of track, were sold to the furniture maker Heywood-Wakefied Company in 1949. The operation continued for eight more years under Heywood-Wakefield until November, 1957 when it closed for good.

"Perry's Pride" caboose #71 when seen by Dr. Groman on his visit to Conifer in July, 1953. Noted photographer and rail enthusiast, Norm Kistner, poses as Dr. Groman uses Kistner's camera to take the photograph. [Photograph compliments of Erwin Kistner]

The GRR amassed a total of 21 locomotives in Conifer of which nine came from the Pennsylvania operations. In the 1950's only a few of these remained in addition to a varied assortment of weathered wooden flat cars, box cars, coaches, caboose, and Sykes-made equipment like the Rolliam and the Speeder.
In July, 1953 Dr. Groman met with George Sykes, Loron E. Sillman, Raymond Zenger and Pat McKenney to view the Grasse River Railroad equipment and accessory parts. He purchased the following equipment from the Emporium Lumber Company (the Emporium Forestry Company had been dissolved a few years earlier):
(1) Flat Car No. 322 - weight 28,900 lbs., 36' L, 9'8" W, 4' H
(2) Flat Car No. 323 - weight 28, 900 lbs., 36' L, 9'8" W, 4' H
(3) Box Car No. 208 - weight 32,600 lbs., 37' L, 9' W, 12'1" H
(4) Passenger/Baggage Coach No. 12 - weight 40,500 lbs., 45' L, 8.5' W, 11'9" H
(5) Speeder No. 11 - built by Roy Sykes from a White Bus
(6) Rolliam - built by Roy Sykes from a Model 31 Thomas Flyer Automobile
(7) Caboose No. 71 - "Perry's Pride"
(8) Yellow Hand Car - from a building along Dead Creek Siding
(9) Three one-man patrol hand speeders
(10) An assortment of items - lanterns, whistles, jacks, railroad drill, etc.

GRR Speeder No. 11 (right) and the "Rolliam" (in front of the speeder) on display at Rail City Museum in 1956. Both of these vehicles were constructed via the creative genius of Roy L. Sykes. The Speeder was converted from a former White bus and the Rolliam was designed and built with a discarded 1906 Thomas Flyer Model 31 Automobile engine for power. The name "Rolliam" had the first two letters of Roy and "lliam" for the two Williams who founded the Emporium Lumber corporations (William Sykes and William Caflisch) . [Photo by Stanley Groman, RCHM Photo Collection]

George Sykes turns toward Dr. Groman as he snaps a photograph of his family heading toward the GRR equipment in July, 1953 at Conifer, NY. From left to right, Dr. Groman's wife, Doreen, George Sykes, Dr. Groman's son, Robert, daughter, Patricia and son, Stan Jr. [Photo by Stanley Groman, RCHM Photo Collection]

Dr. Groman attempted to move the equipment by rail from Childwood to Lacona but resorted to highway transport. The cost of transporting equipment to Rail City often exceeded the original purchase price.

Loading the body of Box Car No. 208 onto a flatbed truck in Conifer, NY for transport to Rail City. Each piece of equipment required two trips - one for the body and one for the two sets of trucks (wheels). Height and weight on the highways was a major concern. Special highway permits had to be acquired before moving the equipment. [Photo by Stanley Groman, RCHM Photo Collection]

An acknowledgement on the backside of the brochure for the "Final Steam Passenger Run from Syracuse, NY to Lacona, NY" on June 6, 1954 paid tribute to a select group of individuals whom Dr. Groman felt went out of their way to assist him in acquiring equipment, structures or other items of railroad antiquity for Rail City Museum. George and Clyde Sykes of the Grasse River Railroad in Conifer, New York were noted in that select group.
Special thanks and acknowledgment is also warranted today, 50 years later, from George W. Sykes (son of the George W. Sykes in the photograph above) for his assistance in researching information on the Emporium Lumber Company and its patriarch - William L. Sykes.