Wayne and Betty Tucker always had an interest in history, but when their daughter, Jill Brockway, bought Charlie's Inn in Lake Clear, the Tuckers began a quest for knowledge regarding the Lake Clear Train Depot.
From a train aficionada in Tampa, Fla. to the Paul Smith's College archives, the Tuckers delved headfirst into finding out all they could about the train leading into Lake Clear.
"In 1891, Dr. William Seward Webb wanted to build a railroad through the Adirondacks," Wayne said, attempting to summarize the past. "He was the son-in-law of the Vanderbilt who owned New York Central. New York Central wasn't interested, so Webb acquired all the land needed for a right-of-way from Utica, Herkimer, Old Forge all the way to Malone on his own.
Wayne and Betty Tucker
(Photo — Diane Chase)
"He built the railroad, which ran right through here" - Wayne pauses for a moment to show the Lake Clear Train Depot at Charlie's Inn - "The local stops became Saranac Inn, Lake Clear Junction, Gabriels, Rainbow Lake, etc. on up to Malone. After a year in existence, New York Central bought Webb's railroad. In 1911 they built a new train depot for Lake Clear, and hence the Lake Clear Junction Centennial that we are celebrating in 2011.
"Charlie's Inn existed right from the 1891 construction date, but it was called the Junction House. Paul Smith owned all the land between Lake Clear and his hotel. At that time there were four railroads in the area, and Paul Smith would have stagecoaches meet all the different trains. Sixty horses and many stagecoaches and drivers had to be involved."
Paul Smith's Hotel was a mammoth place with 550 rooms. According to Wayne, Smith could not convince New York Central Railroad to build an electric railway utilizing his utility power company from Lake Clear to his hotel. Smith had first attempted to get an electric railway with a trolley from Gabriels to Paul Smiths, which was only 4 miles away but would encounter a hill called Easy Street that was too steep for an electric trolley.
"Smith was on a trolley kick because he owned a power utility company and he thought he could produce his own electricity," Wayne said. "He then hired a surveyor to mark out a 6-mile course that would eventually connect Lake Clear to his hotel. He was then able to coordinate all the train lines to meet here. Guests would cross the tracks upon arriving at Lake Clear and then go onto the trolley to get to his hotel."
Betty interjects by noting that Paul Smith was 81 years old when he decided to build the railway himself.. The trolley couldn't turn around, so it pushed any cars up to Paul Smiths and pulled them back to Lake Clear upon return. This was the time when the more affluent visitors would show up in private Pullman cars and Paul Smith would accommodate them by getting their private railroad cars to his hotel where they would stay for the summer. In season, the train took five trips a day but reduced that to twice a day in off seasons, although he used it for logging operations during the winter.
Bob Callaghan wrote the book, "Stop, Look and Listen," which the Tuckers used to help recreate a 1911 diorama of the Lake Clear Junction Train Depot that is currently on display as part of the Lake Clear Junction Train Depot Centennial.
"We had no clue when we first came here about the history," Betty said. "Wayne is an amateur historian and started looking into the area. We live on Clark Wardner Road in Rainbow Lake and had no idea that three houses away from us are the great granddaughters of James Wardner, the founder of Rainbow Lake. It makes it so interesting to tie all these things together."
From a Tampa, Fla. train show to overhearing oral stories, it was the historic aspect of trains in the Adirondacks that brought Wayne and Betty to research so meticulously the scaled model that represents the Lake Clear Junction.
The original Lake Clear Train Depot is situated along side the road leading to Charlie's Inn. It needed a bit of work, but the original interior wainscoting and woodwork remain in beautiful condition. The windows had been painted over, and Betty spent weeks scraping off the layers of paint and making the windows shine. The original train schedule bulletin board and train destination signs were found and now line the walls.
"We were at a senior luncheon at Paul Smith's and we met a woman that still had an original ticket for Paul Smith's trolley," Betty said. "I thought it was great."
Wayne interjects by stating that the ticket cost only 50 cents. It was a cancelled ticket from 1922.
Another discovery they made was at the archives of Paul Smith's College. While looking through various documents, they found a lifetime membership pass to the railroad, signed by William Seward Webb, made out to Apollo A. Smith and his spouse, dated 1891. It was Pass No. 2.
"That pass was handled by Paul Smith and signed by Dr. Webb and there I was holding it in my hand," Wayne said. I thought it was so unique."
Until this April, Betty and Wayne knew nothing about model trains. They were on vacation in Florida and attended a model train show with more than 200 vendors. Wayne and Betty laugh about how they now know so much more about model trains than they ever thought they would as they fluently discuss G-scale (garden scale) or HO scale. "Kit bashing" is when two model kits are merged to form a new model that more closely represents the desired outcome. The Tuckers even found an exact miniature replica of the Paul Smith's (College) trolley, but had to add an motor to it for their factual train diorama.
The Tuckers finish each other's sentences with the comfortable attitude of a long-married couple.
"We started asking questions. We were told if you are going to build a diorama it would be easier to start something from scratch, which we were. Everyone was so helpful."
With all the research into building a model replica of the Lake Clear Junction track layout with buildings, Wayne has pulled together copious amounts of information regarding the Adirondack trains. Recently Wayne was the guest speaker as part of the Philosopher's Pub Lecture Series at Hohmeyer's Lake Clear Lodge. The topic was "The Future of Railroading."
"Basically, the topic was whether we should just bottle up history, put it on a shelf or in a museum, tear up the tracks and make a bike route," Wayne said. " That is what happens in other towns that have already torn up the tracks for scrap. That is the right thing to do for those towns because the tracks are already gone. That makes sense."
Wayne feels differently about the tracks around the Tri-Lakes that are still in place. He wants to remind people of the historic aspect of the train and not get rid of something but, to search for different ways to preserve, not replace. With preserving the train depot, the Brockways and Tuckers have found items in it dating back to 1901, as well as telegrams that had slipped behind a cabinet over one hundred years ago, reinforcing their love of history.
The train is not the only part of history that Wayne collects. Wayne's link to all things historic is through his antique postcard collection. As a deltiologist, he has been collecting postcards for over 35 years. He owns over 500 antique postcards of just the Adirondacks, specifically Lake Clear, Paul Smiths and Rainbow Lake. That does not include the more than 3,500 antique postcards that is currently willed to the Schenectady Historical Society. He began collecting when he found an old fold-out postcard representing Schenectady.
Betty laughs, "We were looking at the postcard and asking ourselves 'Where's that bank now? Where's that train station?'
"It showed the Erie Canal going right through Schenectady," Wayne said. "It was right where I worked. Now it's Erie Boulevard. They have filled in the canal. We never would have known if we hadn't seen that postcard."
Wayne retired and sold his computer company in Schenectady. They were spending most of their time in Rainbow Lake and wanted to make the move permanent. Though being retired, Wayne specifies that they are "99.9 percent" living here," as they both like to travel.
"We are active people," Betty said. "We were active when we were young and now we have even more time to be active."
For the sixth year in a row, they have attended the Empire State Senior Games and taken the gold. They are champion Pickleball players. The Tuckers helped start a league in the area that plays at the Lake Placid Elementary School.
"We also help start a league in Schenectady with 10 people and it has grown to over 500," Wayne said. " We travel the country and compete in the 70 to 74 age bracket. We have gone to seven different states and taken gold in all those states in our age group."
They are trying to build a pickleball court at Charlie's Inn, but at the very least they will continue to do outdoor demonstrations. The game is considered one of the "lifetime sports," Betty explains. She knows from experience that it's a sport that anyone can continue to do at any age.
Pickleball started in Seattle, Wash., using a plastic wiffle ball, wide solid paddles and half a tennis court. The original game was named after the owner's dog named Pickle, who would run after the ball whenever it was out of bounds. The game eventually becoming "Pickle's ball." The game is ideal for, as Wayne points out, someone who can't play on a full court due to knee surgery. He is quick to point out that you still use all your racquet skills.
"It is a really fun game. I had played racquet sports for over 30 years, but couldn't continue because of my knees so I really took to it. I was really surprised how quickly Betty took it up," Wayne said. "Let me know if you want to know anything about pickleball. I drive around with four paddles and a net in my car."
Betty encourages anyone to try pickleball. She admits that she didn't play racquet sports and this really helps with her eye-hand coordination. She was able to try something new and now is very successful.
The Tuckers also tandem bike ride.
"We volunteer to help out the organization that recently held a tandem group. We hope to help to bring different things to the area."
Their son-in-law John Brockway is currently building their home in Rainbow Lake.
"Besides owning Charlie's Inn, John is a builder, and his business is called Adirondack Style Homes. He is building our house," Betty said. " We call it the living cottage because it has taken on a life of its own. It keeps changing. "We changed different things and added an apartment loft. We have five children and the family just keeps growing," Betty says proudly. "We wanted to have a place for visiting family."
They are also very involved in helping out at Charlie's Inn. Betty's forte is helping with the management and advertising while Wayne does the books. In their mid-'70s, Wayne and Betty continue to search for ways to keep active by either exploring through history, volunteering or helping out their family. It is all part of their routine for staying young.