Touring the Catskills, by BMW, by Foot—and by Biplane?

Driving through the Catskills Mountains in New York is always fun, with a great selection of interesting roads, unending beautiful scenery, and lots of history to explore. And my 2013 BMW 335i convertible is hugely enjoyable in these circumstances, with outstanding handling and power to spare. This car positively revels in taking me to unusual and enjoyable places.

This particular trip was well out of the ordinary, however. I somehow ended up hundreds of feet higher than the car’s location at least twice, and I also stayed overnight in Miss Kitty’s Saloon. And then there was the abduction of Trudy Truelove… But as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Greenwich Concours d’Élégance

I know, I know… Greenwich, Connecticut is not in the Catskills Mountains. But it was my first stop anyway and a real treat. There were many classic BMWs there, including this 2002 Z8 roadster.

Plus this 1937 BMW 328 roadster, which was being judged as I ambled by. I believe the judge on the left is Bill Warner of Amelia Island fame, while the one on the right is none other than David Hobbs, former racing driver, raconteur, and Formula 1 broadcast commentator for many years. I had talked with him a few times at racetracks over the years, and it was fun to renew our acquaintance at the concours.

This beautiful 1957 Ferrari 335 Sport Spider, with body by Scaglietti, ultimately won the International Best of Show, Sport award. It’s not for sale but, if it were, it would probably sell for at least $15 million.

Back in the late 1970s, I tried to buy a 1963 Ferrari 250GT Lusso like this one—for its advertised price of $8,000. It didn’t work out, unfortunately, since their value subsequently climbed to as high as $4 million…   Many people consider it to be the most beautiful Ferrari ever made.

A car show wouldn’t be a proper concours without at least one Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” coupe. This one was a beauty, Rudge knock-off wheels and all.

Speaking of beauties, Marlene Epstein entered her 1952 Bentley Mark VI drophead coupe, and both received substantial attention. And no, I’m not exactly sure how much of Marlene’s appearance is body art versus her dress!

Before Jaguar became Jaguar, they started out as “Swallow Sidecars,” initially building motorcycle sidecars. In 1931 they moved up to manufacturing automobiles, with the SS1 series being their first examples. I’ve always loved the low-slung SS1 sports sedans, such as this example, with their almost ridiculously long hoods—which typically cover a hopelessly underpowered 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine. During World War II, the initials “SS” took on a new and horrific connotation. As a result, Swallow Sidecars adopted the company name Jaguar in 1945.

The show had a good mixture of racing cars in addition to the classic sports cars and sedans. This 1975 March 75B Formula Atlantic was driven by the very talented and flamboyant Giles Villeneuve, who later became a Ferrari Formula One driver. Sadly, he died racing a Ferrari in 1982, but his son Jacques went on to become World Champion.

The Greenwich Concours also included a number of notable motorcycles, with this BMW R69S being one of my favorites. It’s a painstaking replica of the famous winning ISDT racing bikes that BMW entered in the 1961 International Six Days Trial. (The full story on this remarkable bike is available at BMW R69S ISDT: The First GS.)

You’ve all seen the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian,” right? (If not, stop reading this report and go watch the show!) This is New Zealander Burt Munro’s actual Bonneville Salt Flats streamliner that set three world land speed records for motorcycles under 1,000 cc—the last of which was set in 1967, when Munro was 68 years old, and which still stands today! Just as amazing, underneath the custom streamlined body is a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, which originally had a top speed of just 55 mph. Munro’s modifications enabled it to top 200 mph.

My favorite car in the show was the Fitch-Whitmore Special, which is a Jaguar XK-120 with custom, lightweight aluminum bodywork shaving 800 pounds off the car. It was built by my late acquaintance, John Fitch, in 1950 and raced very successfully in the U.S. (My lifelong love of sports cars and racing was inspired by reading John Fitch’s autobiography, Adventure on Wheels, when I was a teenager.)

Other concours judges included (from left to right), Dr. Paul Sable, antiques appraiser Leigh Keno (or his twin brother Leslie; it’s hard to tell), filmmaker Pamela Yates (widow of Brock Yates), and Dr. Fred Simeone. If you haven’t visited the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum outside of Philadelphia, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Briggs Cunningham was a well-to-do adventurer, Americas Cup winner, and racing driver. He bought his first race car in 1929 at the age of 22 and entered it in Indy Car races with Ralph DePalma driving.   He owned and raced the first Ferrari ever brought to the U.S. in 1949, and the following year he began building his own line of Cunningham racing cars and, later, a limited series of Cunningham sports coupes for the road. A total of 36 racing and street Cunninghams were built, 35 of which survive—and 33 of which were at this concours! Jay Leno’s own C-3 coupe is in the distance, on the left in this photo, with a few people standing around it.

John Fitch won the 1953 Sebring 12-hour endurance race in this Cunningham C-4R. It was powered by a Chrysler 331 “hemi” engine, which provided exceptional power and reliability for the time. But the cars were heavy, and their drum brakes were inadequate; Fitch drove Cunninghams at Le Mans a number of times, but third was the best he could do. Briggs himself drove a C-4R to fourth place in the 1952 Le Mans contest, racing 20 of the 24 hours himself! In the background (at left) is Miles Collier, the Grand Marshal of the concours and head of the respected Revs Institute, which has amassed the world’s leading collection of automobile historical documents along with a world-class collection of significant cars (many of which are from the previous Briggs Cunningham collection).

Have I told you about the 1961 Aston Martin DB4 that I declined to purchase for $3,000 in the late 1970s? It didn’t look as good as this one, and needed paint, new brakes, and a new bumper—the consequence of the bad brakes. Yeah, I should have bought it anyway!

We’ve all seen lots of classic Porsche 356’s (and I even owned a beautiful-but-internally-rusty example), but how often have you seen one with prominent oil cooler tubes in the right-front wheelwell? They signify the Carrera 2 version of the 356B, with the much more powerful, 2-litre, 4-cam, flat four engine. They also septuple the price, relative to a regular OHV-engined 356.

The concours had a number of newer “classics,” including this 2018 Ford GT…

…a stunning 2018 Bugatti Chiron…

…and a 2018 Aston Martin V8 Vantage (the new, major update to my own 2007 V8 Vantage). I’m not sure I like the styling of the new V8V as much, but I must say it had the most glorious exhaust note that I’ve ever heard form a street automobile.

Aston specialist Lisa Anastas was on hand from Miller Motorcars, a preeminent Connecticut dealership selling Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentley, Bugatti, Rolls Royce, McLaren, and Maserati. She was anxious to see whether I fit better in the new Vantage or my older one (I’m 6’6”). It was a toss-up: the new car had significantly better legroom but a little less headroom. But oh, that exhaust note…

Finally, here’s a look at the 1986 March-BMW 86G GTP racing car, which, although plagued with reliability issues, finally won the end-of-season endurance race at Watkins Glen in the hands of John Andretti and Davy Jones. The 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged BMW engines put out 800 horsepower (and as much as 1400 in qualifying trim), but suffered from destructive vibrations. The March-BMW was displayed proudly at the show by BMW North America, which also had a new M5 and several other exceptional cars on hand.

Leaving the concours, it occurred to me… If I had bought the Lusso Ferrari and DB4, then the profits from selling them would have enabled me to buy the new M5, and the new 850i, and the new V8 Vantage—and, for good measure, that $3 million Bugatti Chiron!

In Search of Trudy Truelove, or “What Year Did You Say this Airplane Is??”

Eventually, I arrived in Rhinebeck, New York in the heart of the Catskills and made my way to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. They were having their first airshow of the year, for World War I vintage aircraft, and I decided to have a look. I was greeted by this charming mural.

I knew that the aerodrome offered biplane rides—a bucket list item for me—so I went directly to see if they had any seats left. They did, on the flight leaving in 5 minutes, and I was quickly given a briefing and fitted with a nifty cloth helmet and aviation goggles. I hadn’t seen the plane yet, which I figured would be something like a modern Stearman biplane (as used for crop dusting and other purposes). Once I clambered into the front cockpit and looked at the engine, however, I knew this was not even a remotely modern engine… The cylinders and rocker covers looked like something out of a museum.

The engine sounded strong, fortunately, and the pilot taxied up a small bank, turned around, and gave it full throttle for takeoff. Since this was a “tail-dragger,” with the nose pointed skyward, we couldn’t actually see where we were going, but we were soon safely in the air.

In an open cockpit, flying at about 70 knots, there was a huge amount of wind buffeting, engine noise, the sounds of wings, struts, and wires vibrating—and someone laughing hysterically, which turned out to be me, since it was all so much fun! We were soon flying over the Hudson River, enjoying the view from 1,200 feet.

On our way back to the grass airfield, the pilot banked steeply just for fun. There’s nothing like looking out the side of an open airplane—at the ground!

All too soon we made a perfect, two-point landing on the bumpy airfield and coasted to a stop. I realized that this plane was so old that it had no brakes whatsoever.

I soon learned that my conveyance was a 1925 DR25 “New Standard” aircraft. These planes were built for “barnstorming,” which included airshows, “wing walking,” and taking regular ol’ folks up for a ride. This particular DR25 appeared to be in perfect condition, and the pilot continued to give rides throughout the day.

With my biplane ride complete, it was time to look around the aerodrome. There were a surprising number of very old planes on hand, although some, including this 1917 DR-1 Fokker Triplane, are replicas.

Many of the pilots were seen working on their planes, skillfully no doubt (or they might not be around anymore). I believe this is Brian Coughlin and his 1918 Fokker D.VIII.

There were also a number of vintage cars and trucks on hand for the occasion.

Some of the old aircraft were obviously for display only, such as this 1910 French Hanriot. It featured a fuselage that looked suspiciously like a wooden racing scull, more appropriately seen on the Thames or perhaps the Charles River in Boston.

Elsewhere there were any number of other sights, including this old moving van and a pair of Indian motorcycles.

With the airshow about to begin, a vintage tractor was used to haul planes into position.

Elsewhere, Trudy Truelove happily presided over a fashion show, featuring young attendees who volunteered. They were rewarded with rides in the classic cars.

This fellow rode by at a good clip on a vintage “penny-farthing” bicycle. How he got started, I have no clue. More importantly, I don’t know how he stopped; these bikes have no brakes. As far as I know, he rode the entire length of the airfield and continued on uncontrollably into the woods.

With the first planes taking off, the show was on.

These aircraft were pretty fragile and unreliable when they were brand new. Now, over 100 years later, I expected that they would be flown cautiously and prudently. I was wrong!

In between aerial dogfights, we watched the Perils of Trudy Truelove unfold. Here she is in a 1919 Ford Model T Speedster with her gallant hero, Sir Percy Goodfellow.

And here she is, soon after, having been captured by the Evil Black Baron. It was a fun diversion while the next round of planes were firing up.

Remember the Hanriot, which I assumed was for display only? Well, this pilot is the bravest person I’ve ever seen. Note the complete absence of ailerons: this plane is banked with “wing warping,” as invented by the Wright Brothers and used on their original flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. I doff my cap.

Virtually all reciprocating aircraft engines use a stationary crankcase, with the pistons and connecting rods turning a crankshaft connected to the prop. The Lerhone engine in this 1914 French Caudron G.3 used the opposite approach: the crankshaft was stationary, and the entire engine rotated around it! It boggles the mind… However, such rotary engines were a common design through World War I. Did I mention that mosquitoes were not a problem at the airshow?

Here is the Caudron taking off. The pilot is the second-bravest person I’ve ever seen.

Okay, but what about poor Trudy Truelove? The good news is that Sir Percy (and his gallant-but-inept colleague, the French Colonel Loup de Loup) has rescued her from the evil Black Baron, and they are making their escape in this original 1917 Curtis JN-4H. The bad news is, Trudy has fallen out of the cockpit and is desperately hanging onto one of the struts.

Moments later, Ms. Truelove lost her grip and fell horrifically to the ground, landing behind a parked car on the opposite side of the airfield. Almost immediately, however, she jumped up from behind the car and shouted, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” All’s well that ends well.

Hidden Letters

After I was satisfied that Trudy Truelove was truly triving (uh, I meant “thriving”), I made a mad dash back through Rhinebeck to find the Wilderstein mansion. The 335i is exceptional, by the way, at mad dashing. It covered the 8 miles of back roads in just a few minutes without breaking a sweat. I arrived only 5 minutes late for the last tour of the day, but was able to join in thanks to the friendly guides.

Wilderstein was built in 1853 by Thomas Suckley and remodeled in 1888 by his son Robert. Margaret Lynch (“Daisy”) Suckley was born here 3 years later and died here just shy of her 100th birthday in 1991. By that time, Wilderstein had deteriorated significantly, both inside and out.

In her will, Daisy Suckley left Wilderstein to a preservation society. The estate has since been comprehensively renovated, preserving the oak, mahogany, and cherry wordwork, leaded glass panels, and Tiffany furnishings.

Daisy was a close confidante of her sixth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Just how close is not known, although a suitcase with many personal letters between the two was found among Daisy’s possessions after her death in 1991. At the President’s instructions, she had burned other of their letters. Roosevelt’s “Top Cottage” retreat was built on their favorite location, which they had discovered together and called “Our Hill,” with apparent plans to someday live there together. She served as an archivist for the FDR Presidential Library and was with him when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945.

With a last look at Daisy’s view of the Hudson River, it was time to move on.

Miss Kitty’s Saloon

In this part of New York, there are beautiful sights almost everywhere you turn. The mammoth brakes on the 335i got a good workout everytime I spotted something interesting. This is the 1859 Riverside Methodist Episcopal Church near Rhinecliff, NY. Although it looks unchanged, it became a private residence in 1973.

I’m not sure what this structure is, but I suspect it’s a very elaborate gatehouse for what must be an astonishingly elaborate mansion somewhere else on the property. Or perhaps it’s just a whimsical stone house. Regardless, it’s fascinating.

Just for my staunch Baptist friends Cathy and Kim, here is the Olive & Hurley Old School Baptist Meeting House in Shokan, NY. It was built in 1857, although the ministry dates back to 1799. (In 1830, “Old School” or “Primitive” Baptists broke away from the main church over such new ideas as Sunday School for children, paying ministers, and using musical instruments in services.)

This enclosed waterway looks sort of like a pond, but its waters are actually flowing at a rapid pace. It turned out to be the exit of the 18-mile-long Shandaken Water Tunnel. The tunnel starts at the Schoharie Reservoir and exits here into Esopus Creek, where it continues its journey to New York City. The system provides up to 200 million gallons of water to the city daily.

Before the Shandaken Water Tunnel opened in 1924, inspectors drove several Ford roadsters the length of the tunnel. At the end, they used chains to lift the cars vertically, swivel them around in the opposite direction, and then drive back to the reservoir! Seems like every place has an unusual story… (Historical photos courtesy of NYC Water on flickr.)

Pine Hill, NY thrived as a tourist destination when the Ulster & Delaware Railroad arrived in 1872. With the advent of automobiles and highways, however, it’s slowly becoming lost to history. Nonetheless, it’s a charming little village. Its unique library was donated by Dr. Henry Morton who, with 2 other members of the Philomathean Society, made the first complete English translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1858. He went on to become a respected professor of chemistry and physics.

After a lot of digging (and obtaining permission to use the New York State Cultural Resources Information System!), I finally learned that this building used to be the Ulster House Hotel in Pine Hill. I should have just asked one of the good ol’ boys who were sitting on the front porch while I was there. It was built in 1882 and had either 40 or 152 rooms, depending on which source you believe. The Statue of Liberty was probably a later addition… Its main competitor, the Colonial Hotel, is right across the street and is still in business.

As chronicled in The Catskills Mountains “Borscht Belt”: Here and Gone, Part 1 and Part 2, there used to be thousands of resort hotels, inns, and boarding houses in this area. Today, the vast majority of them are closed, abandoned, burned, or just plain missing. But you see remnants of this once-huge industry everywhere you go.

I finally arrived at The Roxbury Motel, my destination for the night. I was greeted by a friendly staff member, who informed me that the room I’d reserved wasn’t available, but that they would put me in Miss Kitty’s Saloon instead, at no extra charge. The Roxbury is a “theme” motel, with quite a diverse collection of rooms featuring such attractions as The Wizard’s Emeralds, Angel Hair, or Maryann’s Coconut Cream Pie. The suites are even grander, with themes such as the Genie’s Bottle, the Noir Boudoir, or Amadeus’ Bride (complete with mirror-encircled spiral staircase to the second floor).

I’d planned to stay in the Angel Hair room, as in Charlie’s Angels, complete with Bond-movie-like painted silhouettes and a 3-D sculpture of Farah Fawcett’s hair. (No, I’m not making this up!)

Instead, I ended up in Miss Kitty’s Saloon, with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a posh sitting room. It was quite a trip, with more red velvet and sparkling red tiles than I’d collectively seen in my whole life. Even the night light was out of the ordinary. Here is a small sampling…

No sign of Miss Kitty herself, however, but that was probably just as well!

Another 1,000 Feet into the Air

After an excellent night’s rest, I enjoyed the most extensive continental breakfast ever, with muffins, breads, cold cuts, fruit, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, and (for good measure) fresh cinnamon rolls. Near the motel I discovered what appeared to be an abandoned locomotive workshop, which isn’t something you see every day. The place was mammoth. I later learned that it was part of an Ulster & Delaware Railroad Depot and Mill.

As I walked back to the 335i, I realized that it was time to put the top down—the weather was perfect.

Also nearby was this beautiful old abandoned church. It used to be the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel and is still completely intact—if rather, uh, patinated. It was built in 1925, closed in 2011, and has been for sale from time to time ever since, complete with stained glass windows, pews, and all furnishings. (Where are Ray, Alice, and Arlo when you need them?)

In the back of my mind, I was aware that I needed to be in Cape Cod by early evening, so I pressed on to my first scheduled site. Of course, I admired the scenery along the way.

In 1824, Zadock Pratt (1790-1871) built what was at the time the largest tannery in the world. Located in the Catskills, Prattsville housed the workers and provided stores, a bank, and other services. Zadock’s only son, George, became a Colonel in the U.S. Army during the Civil War but was killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Among many other accomplishments, Zadock Pratt also served as a member of Congress, founded the National Bureau of Statistics, and helped plan the first transcontinental railroad.

As the story goes, an unemployed stonecutter stopped at Pratt’s house in 1843 and asked for a handout. Instead, Pratt gave him a job—to carve his life story into the nearby cliffs overlooking Schoharie Creek. Many years later, when the stonecutter had finished, the cliffs featured a portrait of Zadock, another of his son George, plus carvings of a horse, a hemlock tree (the bark of which is used in tanning), an arm and hammer, and a mausoleum intended for Zadock’s burial. (It couldn’t be used, since rainwater leaked heavily through the ceiling.) All this was 85 years before anyone thought of Mount Rushmore, and I was determined to hike up the mountain and find the carvings.

Did I mention that, as a result of work pressures, my trip through New York was thrown together rather hastily? I had enough time to learn where the mountain path started and that it was a steep, quarter-mile hike, but not enough time to read much else about how to find the carvings. The beginning of the climb was easy enough, and I passed by this large burial mound. Zadock Pratt buried six of his favorite horses and dogs here. (His five wives, thankfully, are buried in the Prattsville Cemetery…)

Soon after, the trail became far steeper. There were no signs or markers indicating where the carvings were, but the path was fairly easy to distinguish. Up and up I continued, panting a bit (okay, a lot) as I went.

Fortunately, the stonecutter had carved an occasional bench into the surrounding rocks. (I’m always amazed when a tree manages to grow out of a rock outcropping, as shown here.)

After about a quarter mile of hiking—at a less-than-impressive average of 1.1 MPH—I still hadn’t seen any sign of Pratt’s Rocks, and moreover I’d reached a crossroads. The better-marked trail continued northwestward, while a narrow, steeper, and overgrown path went northeast. I guessed that the steeper option was a shortcut, and I opted for the easier, better-marked choice.

Even the easier trail was so steep in places that I was scrabbling for traction and using every tree trunk, root, and branch I could find to help haul myself ever upward. After what seemed like 1½ miles of hiking (but which later proved to be only ½ mile), I passed the other end of the “shortcut’ trail and found these impressive cliffs. Then I knew I had finally reached Pratt’s Rocks. But a careful look around showed no signs of the carvings.

At least the view of Schoharie Creek and the surrounding countryside made the effort worthwhile. But where were those blasted carvings? I continued onward and mostly upward, with my average speed dropping in many places to only half a mile per hour. After considerably more panting, I finally reached another long rock outcropping that was clearly where the carvings would be. But they weren’t. And the path alongside and around the carvings was narrow, covered with loose shale, off camber, and bordered on a long drop. I gave it a try for 3 or 4 feet before deciding that discretion was the better part of valor. Although I hated to miss such an oddball historical site, I turned around and started the arduous hike back down the mountain.

I was tempted to take the shortcut on the way back, but it was even steeper and rockier than the way I’d come, and there were even fewer branches and other handholds. So I went the long way. Still no carvings. Days later, I learned that they are located along the shortcut… So I was within 100 feet or so of the carvings twice without realizing it! Dang, now I’ve got to go back and try again! This is what my path looked like, in case any of you want to give it a try. (The dotted line is roughly where the shortcut is, with the carvings.) All told, my round trip was only 1.1 miles, but it took an hour and ten minutes. The elevation change measured by my GPS was only 380 feet, but a hiking website puts it at over 900.

Churches, Resorts, and Kaya Chaos, Here and Gone

 With aching feet, I left Prattsville and followed Schoharie Creek southwest through Catskill Park Forest Preserve. The Lexington House resort hotel has graced the banks of the creek since July 4, 1883. It was built by John P. Van Valkenburgh during the first wave of Catskills popularity and could serve 100 guests, with a ballroom, theatre, ice skating rink, and fireworks displays. It closed in the 1950s, reopened briefly as a performing arts center in the 1970s, and has been vacant ever since.

I particularly liked the hotels eclectic collection of little balconies, which are still hanging on by a nail or two.

I think the building in the background was the Lexington House’s River Theatre. In between shows, it also served as additional space for socializing.

Across the creek was a cheaper alternative, called the Lexington Hotel and Restaurant. It, too, was popular for a time. Despite several floods, the building is still standing. It most recently served as a vegan restaurant and burlesque theatre, operated by none other than Kaya Chaos of the punk rock band Deviant Behavior. Probably not the expectation of its original owners in 1878! (Photos courtesy of Google Maps and Kaya Chaos on Facebook, respectively.)

New York Highway 23A continued to follow Schoharie Creek, on the right, and in this photo it appears to run right into Hunter Mountain, complete with its numerous ski trails and zipline routes.

I was looking for Saint Mary’s of the Mountains Church, near the town of Hunter. It was built in 1839 to minister to the many Irish and German immigrants who were working in the tanning industry. I found Saint Mary without difficulty.

The entire church, however, save for its front steps, was gone. It had closed in 2002 and the building sold to the town of Hunter. An effort was made to raise funds for its renovation, but they failed and the building was demolished in 2017. Quite a shame, since (i) it was a beautiful little chapel, and (ii) it was the oldest Catholic church in the Catskills.

At least the remaining front steps offered a nice view of Hunter Mountain. But it seemed like I was striking out on some of the places I most wanted to visit.

My luck improved with the gothic revival All Souls Church, north of Tannersville. Despite some scaffolding at the front, this 1894 edifice was strikingly beautiful. (Interior photo courtesy of Louis Dallara on Wikipedia.)

There were some beautiful mansions along CR-25 on Deer Mountain. But this tower really threw me—was it a fire tower? An unusually elaborate playhouse? I eventually learned that it is known as “Mrs. Ferry’s Water Tower.” Apparently water towers are not uncommon in Onteora Park.

Over the course of a million years, Kaaterskill Creek carved a deep gorge through the Catskill Mountains, running from today’s village of Haines Falls to Palenville at the eastern end.

During the heydays of the Catskills, there were roughly 50 hotels, inns, and boarding houses in this immediate area, with the largest being the Catskill Mountain House, Laurel House, and Haines Falls House. (William Henry Bartlett painting of Catskill Mountain House and vintage photograph of Haines Falls House courtesy of Vintage Catskills. Postcard of Laurel House courtesy of Catskill Mountaineer.)

All three of those establishments are long gone, but this small resort hotel still stands—barely—outside of Haines Falls.

Kaaterskill Falls

My path through Catskill Park eventually led to Kaaterskill Falls, one of the best-known sights in the Catskills, and, at 260 feet in height, one of the tallest waterfalls in New York. Washington Irving mentioned the falls in his tale Rip Van Winkle, prompting painter Thomas Cole to travel to the Catskills to see them himself. (He stayed at the Catskill Mountain House.) That visit in turn prompted Cole to start the artistic movement that became known as the Hudson River School.

You don’t realize just how high the waterfall is until you look down and see tiny people at the bottom. And this is only the 175-foot upper falls. There are another 85 feet to go in the lower falls.

Unlike the ill-fated St. Mary’s of the Mountains Church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Haines Falls is still going strong.

Back in the day, travellers heading to the Catskill Mountain House would disembark from the Ulster & Delaware Railroad trains at this station—and then take an arduous, 4-hour stagecoach or carriage ride to the top of the mountain. (Postcard courtesy of The History Girl.)

In 1892, the need for an arduous stagecoach ride to the Catskill Mountain House was finally eliminated by the Otis Elevating Railroad. To balance the load, there were two passenger cars, one of which would run downhill while the other ran uphill. How would this work on the single railroad track shown? The designers thoughtfully included a short, two-track section in the middle of the one-third mile vertical climb. Although the railroad closed in 1918, amazingly the two passenger cars are still in use at the Lookout Mountain Incline Railroad in Tennessee.

Meanwhile, still parked at the Haines Falls Station, the mighty 335i suddenly seems to have grown considerably.

While looking for good photo op’s along the Kaaterskill Clove, I managed to get lost. (How you can get lost in a narrow valley, surrounded by steep cliff sides is an issue better left to another day…) Fortunately, anyplace in the Catskills is scenic enough for a photo.

I did eventually find a spot where I could photograph Kaaterskill Creek. In most of the Clove, there wasn’t anyplace to pull over. (Next time I’ll hike the trail.) “Kaaterskill Creek” is redundant, by the way, since “Kill” is old Dutch for “creek” or “riverbed.”

The Case of the Missing Steeple

 You can’t tour the Catskills without visiting the town of Catskill, right? Here, Kaaterskill Creek flows into Catskill Creek, which in turn joins the Hudson River about 3 miles downstream. The earliest tourist travel to the Catskills was by steamboat, such as the Escort shown here.

In Catskill I found the stately William Lampman House, built in the Second Empire style in about 1890. It’s since been converted into apartments, but the resident I talked with was very aware (and appreciative) of the building’s historical significance.

Although the day was drawing on, and I still had to travel the 243 miles to Cape Cod, I lingered long enough in Catskill to admire the ivied Dutch Reformed Church and its matching parsonage (built in 1852 and 1870, respectively)…

…the nearby Greene County Courthouse…

…and the delightfully gothic, former First Baptist Church. Its towering north spire was lost recently, but it’s still an impressive sight. I could find no mention of what happened to the taller steeple. Sadly, the church closed a number of years ago and is now (of all things) a physical therapy center. (Photo with full spire courtesy of flickr.)

From Catskill, I headed north along the Hudson River—in part to reach the New York State Thruway, but more importantly to fit in just a little more historical touring on the way to the Cape. Once again, you could stop just about anywhere and find something old and interesting—in this case, a stately home on Old Washington Street in Athens, NY.

I also found the Pieter Bronck House. The first part of the house was built in 1663 (on the left in the photo) making it the oldest surviving building in Upstate New York. The brick section on the right was added by Pieter’s grandson, Leender, in 1738. The Bronx borough of New York City is named for a relative of Pieter’s, as it happens.

Over the years, I’ve seen round barns, octagonal barns, and hexagonal barns, but this is the first time I’ve encountered a thirteen-sided barn. The 1830 structure is part of the Bronck Museum and Barns.

One of my favorite spots during the entire trip came at the very end: this view of the Hudson River. Although lighthouses are not common on American rivers, the Hudson has a number of them. This one is the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, from 1874. It is still in active use.

Once on the Thruway, it was time to open the throttle and get on with the journey to Cape Cod. I suppose this fellow was headed there, too.

Looking back, that was a lot of touring and adventure packed into a relatively short time. All of it was enjoyable—even if I didn’t find the Pratt Rocks!—and additional trips to the Catskills are in order. Once again, the BMW 335i performed faultlessly, always egging me on to find new roads and new sights to see, preferably as fast as possible. It’s a great car.

Rick F.

PS: I have to add that, on my way home from Cape Cod, I started noticing a “thrumming” sound as I drove along the bumpy New England interstate highways. It turned out to be a failing left-rear wheel bearing, which I had replaced at my local dealer.

Fortunately, I had bought a BMW factory extended warranty when my original 4-year warranty was expiring this past spring, so my cost for the repair was only $50. But now I’m torn: do I want more failures, so that I’ll get my money’s worth from the extended warranty and end up with a bunch of new parts? Or do I want the car to be 100% dependable and reliable, as it had been up to this point?

Ah, the quandaries of modern life!

PPS: As always, unless otherwise noted, vintage photos and paintings are courtesy of the Library of Congress or Wikipedia. [/SIZE][/FONT]



Written by Rick


  1. David Lynch

    Beautiful story. Beautiful photos.

    Your car has served you well. Your Z4 did too.

    I’m going to read this again! I enjoyed it that much!

  2. David Lynch

    I’ve flown in small helicopters, tail draggers and occasionally Cessna 172. And a glider…passenger in all. My friends 172 suffered one day with a spider inside his airspeed sensor. We landed at blistering speed with fire trucks ready. Suggest that the issue is preflight check ( he had done one) and pilot skill.
    Yes these were “bravest men”. Your flight sounds like great fun!
    I like your new venu. I hope it works well for you.

    1. Rick

      Hi Dave!

      The “spider in the airspeed sensor” incident sounds rather fraught!

      Air travel can be very interesting and entertaining, although it turns downright scary when something unexpected happens. I remember coming into Logan Airport in Boston on a commercial jet and noticing that we seemed way too high at the beginning of the runway. (Logan has a water approach and a relatively short runway.) I doubted we could touch down and stop in time and, sure enough, about halfway down the runway the pilot poured on the gas, climbed steeply, and banked way over to abort the landing and go around for another try. The second try worked fine, but it was not a reassuring process.

      I’ve never flown in a helicopter or glider. Maybe one of these days. It probably won’t be a 1929 helicopter, however!


  3. David Lynch

    We flew up to Sonora from Vancouver at 1,500 ft in a large helicopter owned by London Drugs. Amazing. Flew back same elevation. Absolutely beautiful. 8 passengers. Business trip. Great way to travel. But noisy. I have a bunch of photos of Sonora!
    What’s on your list of new cars?

  4. Rick


    Just flying over Vancouver in a helicopter, and seeing its beautiful gardens, would be quite a treat.

    As for potential new cars, I have this continuing dilemma: Should I have one, all-purpose car or should I have two cars, i.e., a practical one plus a fun road-trip one?

    This dilemma started in 1973, when I bought my first new car, a Mazda RX-2 coupe, and realized that it didn’t need any work or tinkering. So I got a heavily used 1963 Porsche 356B for $1,500 as the fun car. A few years later, I decided I’d rather have just one, fun car that was “practical enough.” That led me to a 1-year-old Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider (which immediately proved itself to be anything but practical enough; its reliability was “less than epsilon, for any epsilon no matter how small”). Anyway, I’ve been back and forth ever since.

    I like my current combination of the 2013 BMW 335i convertible and the 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage coupe, but I’m not driving the Aston nearly enough to justify owning it. The 335i continues to be a “more than practical enough” car, although its M-Sports suspension is pretty harsh on our poor U.S. roads. If I switched back to a single car, a Porsche 911 or Cayman might be practical enough. So, too, the new BMW 850i–with its design borrowing heavily from the Aston Martin Vantage, I might add!

    I’ll stick with the current stable for another year or two, and then we’ll see what happens!


  5. David Lynch

    One of our favourite cars was a BMW 850i with manual transmission. We bought it used, it treated us well.
    That car had real personality. It had been chipped and converted to CSI specs by its previous owner. 325 rear wheel horsepower.
    Paul Michael Brown ran a group of owners out of Washington DC. I wonder what they all drive now.

  6. Bob Helms

    Hi Rick,
    Enjoyed your latest trip report, especially the photos of cars and old airplanes. I did enough flying in my undergrad years (1958-62) to get a private license, but with army duty, grad school, and a young family, I never got back into flying. So, I will have to add your by-plane ride to my bucket list.
    If you are at all interested in soaring, let me recommend the national soaring Museum in Elmira, NY I took a ride in a soaring plane about 30 years ago and then finally went back summer before last (2017) for another ride. Flying without an engine is certainly different. I think you will enjoy it, but be warned that getting you into one of these small gliders is going to be a challenge.
    I took some iPhone photos and videos during my flight but don’t see a way to attach them. I may send a couple to you by email.
    Sharon and I are looking forward to your next report.

  7. Rick

    Hi Bob,

    The biplane ride was just fantastic. It was kind of like riding a motorcycle–up into the sky!–with all the wind, noise, vibration, etc. Really enjoyable.

    I remember the late John Fitch showing me his designs for a glider that had a small engine, just enough to enable the glider to take off on its own, without needing a tow. Once you reached the right altitude, you would shut off the engine and glide for the rest of the flight, including back to the runway. I don’t know if his invention ever went into production or not, but it was one of those designs that “looked right.” John’s best-known invention was the Fitch Inertial Barrier, i.e., those yellow barrels you see on roads and highways that are filled with sand or water, and which safely slow errant cars down.

    When John wasn’t inventing things, he was one of the country’s best sports car racers from the late 1940s through about 1970. See my Vintage Cars, Vintage Memories trip report for more about John.

    I’ll look forward to getting together with you and the gang sometime soon!


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