Moodna Gorge History

carpet factory with moodna in foreground

One of our favorite local runs is the Moodna in Cornwall as it holds, is fun at a wide range of levels, feels fairly remote in parts and, well, it’s local.

So the railroad that runs along the lower stretch of the Moodna is not the Newburgh Branch. The Newburgh Branch starts in… yeah, Newburgh further north and comes close to the line in topic but you have to understand back in the heyday of railroads there were quite a few railroads in the area all competing with each other. The Newburgh branch belonged to the Erie Railroad which is a different company than our railroad and bridge, though did pass fairly close to it however it split ways with one line heading to Goshen and the other connected to the Erie Mainline in Harriman, NY. We actually walked right alongside the old Newburgh Branch connector at the put in. it ran over the old bridge abutments right as you get on the water. The section below 32 where we boat is actually the beginning of the New York, Ontario and Western (or O&W). The O&W’s own trackage technically started at Cornwall Junction which was right by the takeout. At the traffic light by the red bridge on 9w you make a left and the road takes you to the Hudson river and that’s where Cornwall Junction was. From there the O&W connected to the West Shore Railroad (later the NYC) and had trackage rights to run over their rails to the docks and ferries in Weehawken, NJ. – They also had trackage rights to the north and across to reach the Maybrook Line in Beacon. (this is added for Sean as its his neighborhood which he posted a train video recently on)

The O&W was built in 1884 and once completed ran from Weehawken, NJ all the way to Lake Ontario in Oswego, NY. The line took a slightly more rural route and ended up having many many expensive bridges and tunnels and basically got it all completed and went bankrupt. However they were allowed to continue after being reformed/restructured with different backers. The line did just enough to get by through the years and later were surviving mostly by moving coal from northeastern Pennsylvania via a branch line they built to the Scranton area. A little side note on the West Shore Railroad which the O&W connected to in Cornwall. The line was built to be a competitor to the New York Central which was the big boy in the neighborhood owned by the Vanderbilt’s. Tom might know about the West Shore RR and I certainly do as their mainline ran a block or so from my childhood home in North Bergen. I spent many many days along the tracks exploring, learning and generally getting into mischief. The West Shore RR was formed with the intention of running a line from Weehawken/Jersey City to Albany and the New York half was the Rockland Central RR and the NJ portion was built by the Ridgefield Park RR. They merged and became the West Shore RR. Long story short the NYC bought the sections they needed to get to Albany blocking them out.

The NY Central would eventually get their hands on the West Shore RR in 1935 however the O&W retained their trackage rights over the line to Weehawken. The NYC didn’t exactly want the O&W but they were still competition and thus did what it could to stuff them out. This paired with the demand for coal lowering as oil heating was starting to replace coal for heating would eventually put the O&W into bankruptcy. The Pennsylvania RR was going to back/buy the O&W but ended up making a deal with the NYC to let the NYC buy out the O&W in exchange the NYC would not continue building it’s own railroad line into PA. That line would put them into the heart of Pennsy’s home turf which the Pennsy did not want. So they struck the deal. An interesting side note is that much of the rail line that the NYC built into Pennsylvania would later become the PA Turnpike. So the NYC kept the West Shore RR as it was a better route north for them. However they decided not to keep the O&W as they already had their own route that roughly paralleled the O&W but went through bigger cities where as earlier stated the O&W went through smaller rural towns. Thus O&W flags would fall in March of 1957 as they passed on into history. Once marked for abandonment many smaller sections of the line would later be reactivated by other lines to reach certain on line customers but to O&W as a whole was dissolved.

Now to the old mill and bridge we pass on Moodna river. The mill was originally started as a smaller cotton factory in 1867 and the area was then called Montana, In 1869 the Firth brothers from Scotland bought the property and started the Firth Carpet Company which slowly grew over time and eventually reaching 500 workers at the factory. Surrounding the mill the company built houses for the workers, a school for their children and an activities club house for the workers and families as well.

orrs mill railroad bridge
Orr’s Mill Trestle above pillar’s rapid

The area then became known as Firthcliffe. The site was perfect as they had water power and later on in 1883/84 the railroad would be built right past their front door and had a rather nice or odd looking churchlike station that was made there.  The Orrs Mills Trestle which is the road name on the other side of the route 32 side of the river. Built in 1883 and removed in 1962.

Here are a few images and resource links.

dismantling the bridge in 1962
dismantling the bridge in 1962

While looking up info on the Hudson Valley Heritage site in conjunction with NY Heritage digital collections i found this image with the train station in the back right and heading west towards the trestle. i was surprised by the number of tracks running through there in the image.

this link shows the station from the east side and the mill would be just out of the frame to the right.

This one shows a general store and post office that opened up the road from the mill and train station.

Ironically all three of these buildings are still standing today. (i absolutely love google maps and streetview).

The mill from the other side of the river

Along with the image i had on my computer which i now think is a colorized version of this original. the original looks like the river is roaring through there but the color version looks dry. Do note the huge boulder in the river. i wonder if that is still in the river as it’s not the type of thing people would move if they didn’t have to. Actually i think it might be the monster boulder we eddy out behind. It looked too far river right from the picture angle but viewing it in google maps i’m pretty sure it’s the huge one we eddy out behind.

Some additional reading was this article giving a a nice background into the station and another view of the bridge from the rt 32 side.


The mill has a facebook page with a lot of old local area images.

The O&W Historical Society has a Facebook page which i requested to join but had not been approved but i did find an amazing group covering the different railroads in Orange County which had tons of awesome photos pertaining to the topics spoken on.


and one more, a pintrest page with many good images from the O&W including Cornwall and the Firthcliffe stations

Well there you have it. a short look into the topics you brought up which happen to be some of the things i love in historical research into rivers, bridges, industries and especially trains!

Message from New President

Hey all.
I know last year was weird year what with covid and pool issues, but I had a great paddling year. Once we worked thru the details, paddling with it’s natural social distancing was a saving grace for me. All the cancelled releases in the spring were a bummer, but most were rescheduled to summer and early fall when paddling is a lot more pleasant. So thanks to the many people i paddled with and the few people i shuttled with.

I know hope everyone had as good a paddling season. I know some of you chose to paddle with your ‘pod’ or not do club trips to control the situation more. Hope we can get you back with the club!

I’m excited to be once again taking the reigns as President of KCCNY.

My goals for the coming year.

More Trips

Making it easier run a KCCNY trip.

To this end, the board has already approved that we will follow our insurance provider’s (the ACA’s) guidelines on helmets and life jackets, so helmets will no longer be required below class 2 (opening up easier river, lake and open water trips though leaders can and should require helmets) and allowing inflatable life jackets for below class 1. Hopefully more of us will post our more recreational trips.

Making it easier  to coordinate.

Accepting ACA online waivers (which will require that use of the same email address for us and the ACA).

Also: We’re working on bringing back training and pool sessions safely in what will hopefully be a post pandemic world.

Continue with a Zoom alternate for meetings even when we can meet in person again.

An additional thanks goes out to the generous charitable contributions of our members that has allowed KCCNY to donate to American Whitewater, the Mongaup EMTs, and the American Rivers this year. I’ve heard back from American Rivers where we are now an official River ambassador and soon to be added to .

Looking forward to seeing you on the river (or on Zoom) soon!

Do as I say, not as I do

Last week at the board meeting we discussed paddling within your abilities during the covid situation since you don’t want to force someone to have to get close to rescue you nor do you want to have to end up in a possibly overtaxed local ER.
So when the Lehigh got dumped on I convinced a few unfortunates to join me for the 20 miles from Whitehaven to Glen Onoko. The army core of engineers (ACE) said they’d be releasing 5000 cfs until they got dam back to the maximum they are supposed to keep it at. I’d done 4000 cfs a few years ago and knew to be cautious…as the water’s flowing in the trees we had the longest swim I’ve ever that day (though the swimmer came out with a ‘that was fun’. But still, it’s the Lehigh, the first real whitewater we often take folks out on. So what could go wrong?
As we were loading boats someone mentioned they weren’t bringing a rope as “can’t imagine a scenario where we’d need a throw rope.” So opted for more food and clothes.
Of course with covid and personal stuff the last time I paddled whitewater was early January.
Since I recently sold my playboat and now only have a short creeker I decided to try one something longer and squirtier. Chris D. hauled a Dagger Redline out  from KCCNY loaner boats,  9 feet of pointy kayak which was state of the art from the end of the last century. After all, it’s only the Lehigh, so what could go wrong?
Boat fit great though with the gear I needed for all day on the river it was a little back heavy. Bit squirrelly starting out and still feeling ok as we got going. Easy enough to roll so what could go wrong.
Approaching triple drop everyone reminded us to stay right…but I could have sworn it was nothing but huge waves when I ran it at 4k years ago…so to add some excitement floated in dead center.
Came over a pretty big wave and there’s a hard line and a big foam pile.
Been it’s been a while since i paddled maybe I was a little off my game…so instead of accelerating like I should have to break thru I  floated down a long straight hole…didn’t even come close to making it thru the foam pile.
Easy enough side surf…tried pushing myself backwards toward the right but sure didn’t seem like I was making any progress.
Tried flipping to grab some green water on the bottom to see if i could pull myself out. Nearly lost the paddle.
At least rolling back up was easy.
But paddle all I could didn’t seem like i was moving at all. And I haven’t gotten as far as cartwheeling so didn’t know how to get myself pointed in the other direction.
As i was getting out of breath with the effort of side surfing I finally decided to flip and pull. And of course came up stuck in the hole and recalled the conversation as we’d been packing of  “can’t imagine a scenario where we’d need a throw rope.” After all 95% of the river is 100 yards plus wide.
At least my head was out and I was getting air most of the time as I bounced around in the hole.
Ducked down into the solid water below the foam pile again and stayed down for awhile…again nearly lost the paddle as I angled it to pull me downstream …but came up finally and was at least moving downstream. At least I’d stayed in the hole long enough for folks to get in position to catch my boat.
So yeah…the moral.
Do as I say, not as I do. Now’s a good time to be cautious.
After that I avoided the biggest of holes like Amy’s and we ran the rest of the river. Blue sky and as I got used to the boat so much fun working the rapids and talking. After Rockport we saw no other paddlers – such a difference from normal summer Lehigh of trying to stay spaced between rafting flotillas. So all in all an amazing day on the river with 30 seconds that were way too scary.

Bike Shuttling and locking equipment

In this new normal many of us our self-isolating enough that we don’t want to get in a car with others even for a head hanging out the window shuttle…so the obvious solution is a bike (or hike) shuttle.
I’ve also seemed way too many Facebook posts about missing gear – more during this special situation but also during the old normal. So investing in a few locks and using them seems like a pretty good idea.

The basics of bike shuttling are pretty obvious. Drop a bike at one end or a boat at the other.

Less obvious things about bike shuttling.

Continue reading “Bike Shuttling and locking equipment”

Moodna with ice and sun

One of those days you expect to be nice and are pleasantly surprised. It had rained heavily nearly a week ago and then gotten cold, so as the river came down it coated logs and rocks with ice and icicles.  And unlike our friends who went skiing, no crowds on the Moodna.
Sun was out, wind was non existent. Saying the Moodna was at a good level is sort of moot as the Moodna’s fun from very low to crazy high…but at a lower level it was a lot dryer which is certainly nice with 32 degree water.
In the easy class 1-2 warm up we saw a wood duck and a pileated woodpecker. Though a little low the upper section and in fact the whole river had plenty of water 6 days after the last heavy rain. Though it doesn’t have a  gauge, the Moodna holds well and is fun at so many levels. There were a number of holes that looked liked they’d be fun to surf in or be surfed by…and with the water at 32 degrees neither of us were interested in exploring.

Tom Pushing across the ice to get back to the river.
Pushing across ice to get back to river.

I elected to portage around the first dam as I was feeling poor and good about my boat…this dam’s an easy slide down what feels like a cheese grater. Getting out required breaking the ice at river’s edge until I could get my boat parallel and then delicately climbing out onto a shelf of ice. Getting back in required pushing across 10′ of ice.
At lower water there was no eddy at the final drop on the first real rapid, lumber yard.
20191222_0145-pillarsFor the pillars -the hardest rapid – we ran left to right above the entrance rapid and eddied out just above the main drop and boat scouted close enough to be pretty sure the main drop was clean…with the low flow it was a pretty straightforward ferry and line up to get a straight drop clear of the pillars and then hang on thru the drop.
tom running the second damThe pond above the second dam had ice at its edges making both getting out and getting close enough to boat scout difficult…
Most interesting challenge came near the end when I got off line and thought I had a line between one partly submerged boulder and one ice covered boulder. The ice as more like a mushroom cap and the left side of my boat slid down and i found myself stuck between the 2 rocks, cockpit out of the water. Pushing of the ice was way too cold without gloves (I prefer pogies for the solid grip and adjustability)…so in the middle of the rapid, water flowing over the boat I pulled the skirt, pulled out my gloves from the drybag and was then able to lift myself free.
The Moodna holds well and is fun at a wide range of levels. With the exception of the pillars it’s similar in difficulty to the Mongaup. More on the Moodna on AW.


New President Chris Shih

I hope everyone had a great paddling season this year! Last weekend we had our annual KCCNY meeting and dinner, and I continue to be incredibly grateful for our paddling community – it was a pleasure meeting a number of legacy members, and welcoming a few new members to the club as well.
2019_2020 Pool Session Post
Furthermore, I’m excited to be taking the reigns as President of KCCNY.
An additional thanks goes out to the generous charitable contributions of our members that has allowed KCCNY to donate to American Whitewater, the Mongaup EMTs, and the Passaic River Coalition this year.
Looking forward to seeing you on the river (or in the pool) soon!

The Rhododendron Roll – River Bank clutter, a Safety Consideration

Following the latest Duck Boat tragedy, I thought about the end of a recent boat chase and the potential entrapment in strainers. Between a group of us, a swamped kayak was bullied to shore, in amongst Rhodendron shrubs clogging the bank. This location appeared reasonable to us to get the boat and paddle onto a rather steep bank. 
I had hold of the swimmer’s paddle in addition to mine; quite a handful. For the purpose of trying to ensure the boat did not overpower the paddlers pushing it into the bank, I snuck in immediately downstream and nosed my bow in to provide support, while another paddler positioned just below me, with a bush between us.  Quite a confined space now occupied by boats and shrubs.
As one of the paddlers was pushed back, I wound up in the shrubs. Both paddles were ripped from my grip, before I could throw the swimmers’s paddle to shore, and I flipped. Now, I was upside down in a space likely occupied by roots, branches, and so on. Fortunately, I hand rolled up and stabilized on the rhododendron branches – or maybe I also used the clutter underwater to aid my roll! Success! I eased my way out of the shrub clutter, into the stream. However, a better use of my effort would have been to position for possible aid for the paddlers already in contact with the swamped boat, had they got into trouble!
Success, but at a the potential for yet another swimmer, or worse. The paddler bullying the swamped boat noted after about wondering how to help me if needed. If the roots and branches were larger and stronger, the outcome would have been different. The swimmer was on shore, and the paddles retrieved.
The lessons I take away are:

  1. Not to get too eager to ‘help’ a boat without considering the immediate scene and potential for entrapment, or compromising the effort.
  2. Overeagerness and the desire to help can produce unintended results.
  3. If in doubt, leave the boat.
  4. If the swamped boat is too hard to handle, let it go.
  5. Let it go into a more quiet and safer area.
  6. Possibly the most important in this or similar instances, don’t push into a tight space without consideration of exits for oneself and the others, even if it appears benign.
  7. Familiarity breeds ‘contempt’.
  8. Take another swift water rescue class and discuss rescues and retrievals, whatever that entailed.

Allan Wood

What I learned the hard way about paddling

Or beginning whitewater paddling…
As far as safety, I don’t need to tell any of you that strainers and cold water are your big enemy, not rocks, flipping or swimming.

  1. Part of pulling off a combat roll is being comfortable under water….and a big part of being comfortable underwater is not freaking out when you’re not getting air. So practice it and see how long you can last.
  2. As for not freaking out when your helmet is bouncing off rocks, well, that takes a certain amount of just getting used to it and believing that the safest place to be is tucked forward.
  3. That being said, Combat rolls are incredibly cool.
  4. Got to keep fed and hydrated because my own judgment is off when I’m not. Note to self…most whitewater paddlers don’t stop and rest and eat as much as I like to so and I need to remember this and bring snacks.
  5. Make sure even the good guys have cleared the hard spot /drop before you go in. If there’s only one line you want it clear. Ask Andy Frey.
  6. Tie stuff down…this means to your boat if you’re in your boat and tying your boat down when you’re not in your boat.
  7. Bracing (and rolling) on the back deck with my head in the water. Thanks Eric Jackson.

Things I didn’t learn the hard way only because Jeff Bowan gave such a great presentation at my first hrckc meeting. Cold water is really dangerous…actually, come to think of it, I did nearly learn that the hard way, but not when I was boating. Diving into Lake Superior on a hot September day when the lake looked like everyone’s vision of the Caribbean  but was probably in the low 40s.
And some things I’ve yet to learn…paddling alone may be dangerous, just as hiking along and mountain biking and swimming alone are. But I like them.
So you may see me on the mighty Hackensack or Delaware alone and holding a beverage…but you won’t see me on something that challenges me alone.
Did I mention how much fun whitewater is?