Bridge Too Far? A true story by A. H.
the northern end of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the
Finger Lakes, there stretches a railroad line that
connects the village of Cayuga on the lake's northeastern
shore with Seneca Falls and points west. Before the
opening of the "new and improved" Barge Canal in 1918,
that east-west rail line crossed a now-abandoned and
filled-in waterway leading from Cayuga Lake to Old
Lock 10 on the Cayuga portion of the Old Cayuga &
Seneca Canal which flowed north to the Erie Canal.
At that crossing a lift-bridge was built to raise
the railroad tracks up out of the way of boats passing
below. A bridge-tender was employed to manually crank
the lift-bridge into the proper position as on-coming
boat and rail traffic dictated.
The bridge-tender hired in the summer of 1915,
was something less than dedicated. He had been known,
on occasion, to slip away to a nearby tavern for "the
cup that cheers," leaving the bridge unattended. One
day, anticipating the arrival of a boat, he raised
the lift-bridge and repaired to his "club" with a
thirst that demanded immediate attention. Unfortunately,
what he forgot to anticipate was the arrival of the
train. It chugged through right on schedule and right
off the end of the open lift-bridge into the water
below! It took railroad crews over a week to rescue
the locomotive from its watery resting place, leaving
both the channel and the railroad blocked for the
must have had some very good connections, because
for some unknown reason, he retained his position
at the bridge. Later that summer, a great thirst again
descended upon him, and again he ambled up to the
tavern for a little restorative, leaving the bridge
in its elevated position to accommodate passing boats.
the same engineer, driving the same locomotive, again
approached the bridge. Unable to clearly see the position
of the lift-bridge from the cab of his engine, but
having no reason to suspect the same dereliction of
duty by the bridge-tender for a second time, he chugged
along with confidence -- and over the edge he went!
This time, handily enough, a barge happened to be
passing through the entrance to the old canal and
slowed the falling engine in its downward plunge.
one was seriously injured in either incident, but
it was believed that the bridge-tender "went south"
immediately after learning of the second mishap. He
was never seen or heard from again around Cayuga.
of Seneca Falls was a Vice President of Goulds Pump
Co. of Seneca Falls, NY and a well-known expert on
Seneca Falls history and the Erie Canal. He delighted
in telling the above story at gatherings of historical
societies, service clubs, etc. He passed away in the
early 1980s. Cayuga village historian
Pharis McIntosh records that there were a total of
four train wrecks at the bridge with all but one of
them occurring on Sunday! -Ed.