Tom’s Raritan River Railroad Page




Raritan River Railroad

FieldTrip #2

November 15, 2003



Questions? Comments?


To see Field Trip #3 – November 2004






Path of RRRR Field Trip #2



The day started out with cool temps and sunny skies.  Our team of five started at Country Lane Park in East Brunswick (just west of Milltown Road) and headed east towards South River.  The plan for the day was to explore the RRRR mainline from the park going east, visit the East Brunswick Branch, visit the remains of the Serviss Branch where it curves back into South River, continue to explore around the long lost South River stations, and eventually end with the defunct and very rusty South River Branch.



Here are some pictures to document the journey.



East Brunswick - RRRR Mainline




Harts Lane Crossing in East Brunswick (facing toward Milltown and New Brunswick)



Beginning of run around track for the East Brunswick Branch, looking EastHarts Lane is to my back.




Looking West towards Harts Lane (note flashers in background), you can see a non-active spur in East Brunswick off the RRRR mainline.  The EB Runaround track is on the left.





Facing East, end of run around track on right, meets East Brunswick Branch on left.

RT 18 Bridge in background.








East Brunswick Branch

(Serviss Branch part I)



Team heads north up the East Brunswick Branch.




Team explores the last connected, but in-active customer on the East Brunswick Branch.



In-active customer on the East Brunswick Branch



In-active customer on the East Brunswick Branch




(Surprisingly, this was the second old wreck we found along the EB Branch)  Joe contemplates restoring the old 56 Chevy found just off the East Brunswick spur.  (or selling it on E-Bay)



Nick and I discover another disconnected spur off of the East Brunswick Branch.



This is the absolute end of the East Brunswick Branch.  About 100 yards to the north is Tices lane.


At one time, cars of flour went just past this point to Wonder Bread? which was just off to the right (1980s).  All tracks have been removed at this point, but seem fairly intact.  Even the track over the few wash outs we came across were intact (albeit hanging in mid-air).  Looks like drainage and sewer systems have been installed.  Walking further north, Tices Lane was visible.  Off to the left, deep in the woods, the cut in the trees is all that was visible of the Serviss branch, which was ripped up in 1954.  (Serviss Branch was laid around 1901 and continued north over Tices Lane, crossed over RT18, and continued back into South River.  This branch from 1901 pre-dates the East Brunswick branch.  The Serviss Branch was abandoned in 1954 and tracks were removed at that time.  Sometime in the 70’s, the East Brunswick branch was re-laid over the abandoned Serviss branch as far as Tices lane, with some connections to warehouses on RT 18..


As we walked back down the East Brunswick Branch back toward the mainline we heard a deep, rumbling noise ahead of us.  Truck engine? No, it was much much bigger!  A bulldozer was on the right-of-way clearing some land (and some old track and ties with it).  Well…for the some of you out there who have been surprised by a train as you walk a set of active tracks, the site of this bulldozer caused some of our hearts to skip a beat (even though we knew it had been ages since a train passed on these tracks).


East Brunswick - RRRR Mainline

Part II



Back on the RRRR main line just east of the East Brunswick Branch switch.  Lou explains that many years ago a lumber company was on fire here somewhere and he saw it from IHOP on RT 18 a few miles away.



Lou found it!  There appeared another disconnected spur that ran beyond a fence, parallel to the main line.  The spur ran up to a wall, which looked like it was a loading dock of some type.  Just beyond the wall was a self storage facility.



Site of the old lumber yard spur.  No one on the team knew this was here!



Snapshot of wheel stopper at the end of the spur, beyond the fence, where the lumber company used to be.



RRRR mainline goes under RT18 Bridge, facing east towards South River.

Serviss Branch – Part II


Growing up in East Brunswick, my favorite part of the Raritan River Rail Road was its most obscure; The Serviss Branch.  A spur built in the early 1900, abandoned in 1954 just as steam was changing to diesel, only to be partially re-activated in the 1970s? as the East Brunswick Branch.  This fact alone has confused many RRRR hunters, many who believe that the two were separate.  The East Brunswick Branch ended right at Tices Lane with its car loads for Wonder Bread?  The Serviss Branch continued through East Brunswick and crossed over State Highway RT 18 just where Edgeboro Rd and Old-Bridge Turnpike all meet.  That must have made quite a site!



Old Road Map showing long abandoned Serviss Branch going from EB to SR.




Current Air-Photo Map showing Serviss Branch ROW in South River.

This map details where I found bricks and rails some 15 years earlier, long before I even knew what the RRRR was!  This whole area was redeveloped in the early 90’s, possibly losing all traces of the Clay and Sand pits, and the RRRR Serviss Branch.




Hard to believe, but this shot is of the Serviss Branch just past Brickplant Rd.  Although somewhat hard to see in this photo, the right-of-way could be discerned through the forest as a straight line of raised land.  The blue blob in the center is Don on the ROW.  Remember this part of the line was abandoned some 50 years earlier in 1954, but in reality, the last train here, if any, was probably a scrap train during World War 2 (early 1940s) picking any remaining metal and scrap left from the Sand and clay pits that shut down in the Depression (early 1930s).  These sand and clay pits were to also have had narrow gauge trains at the time, some reportedly abandoned and rusting away into the 1940’s.   There is a good chance any revenue train traffic stopped almost 80 years ago!  Hang tight, things get much better.



But wait!  Don was standing on an original railroad tie!  Laid at least some 80 to 100 years ago, this original Raritan River artifact was surprisingly old and visible among all the trees and leaves.



The ROW is getting more visible the deeper we get.



Here we are deeper in the woods.  Look at the size of that tree between the two ties!



More ties, more trees.  This is really the oldest part of the line that hasn’t been touched in over a half century.  The ties continue into the swamp in front of us.  Could this be all that’s left of the long abandoned Serviss Branch?



The Serviss Branch ROW on the other side of the swamp.  Don is in the blue coat.  Surprisingly, for a line that was clearly abandoned 50 years earlier, the ROW was clearly visable.




Jack Pot!  AT this point I almost had a heart attack!  About a dozen or more ties lay in front of us at this point.  This was the biggest group of ties clearly showing the original path of the Serviss Branch.  This was quite a find for me, I had no idea that anything of this magnitude would still be here.  I was quite surprised and pleased.  Remember, all revenue traffic probably ceased 80 years ago in the 1930’s.



This is all that’s left of the clay and sand companies that used to be here.  AMCLAY is noted as being here in Rails Up The Raritan.  Big mounds of clay and sand are all that’s left of The American Clay Company.



Many years ago, in the mid 1980’s, I found actual twisted rails in these parts.  I couldn’t find ANY metal or rails this time around, except the burnt out car.



Who knows what’s been buried under these piles all these years?   I’m sure many artifacts of the clay and sand operations lay buried under all these mounds.


Ultimately, Don was able to follow the old Serviss branch right-of-way from our starting point on Brickplant Road to within 100 feet or so of where it crossed William Street in South River (just shy of where Varga Park / Pacer’s Field is today).





South River



The old Handkerchief factory in South River.  No tour of South River would be complete without a shot of this ancient relic.



Detailed map of South River from “Rails Up The Raritan”.



South River facing west, showing Whitehead crossing and flashers in distance, old passenger station platform on right side, area on left used to be South River yard.  Many years ago in the mid 1980’s I remember seeing white covered hoppers in the yard that used to be here.




Another shot of what’s left of the loading platform in South River.





Close up of the old manual crank swing bridge.  The RRRR logo is still visible, although rusting away, on the South River swing bridge.  Watch for those RRRR logos, as time moves on, they may all disappear!


(Question for all:  How many RRRR logos/markers can you still find on the line today?)  (Tom: Other than the sign on the old freight station in Milltown, this is the only one know about.)



Close up of the guts of the South River swing Bridge.  It’s amazing that someone still needs to be here to crank the bridge everyday to let the train pass. It is my understanding, that this is one of the last few “Hand Crank” swing bridges still in use today.




WOW!!!!!    Old coal trestle buried in the woods heading south following the South River Branch.  The coal cars used to ride over the trestle and dump their load on trucks below.  Another truly amazing find!  Thank goodness Joe was with us to give us insight into what this was.  His local knowledge of this part of the line was of great help.  He also helped identify the remains of the South River Brick Company, plus led us to a few building remains where Lou lugged away a few prized enameled bricks.




South River Branch




Following the South River Branch south, rails and ties are visible at the end of
Serviss Street.  Surprisingly the rails were never taken up.



More rails and ties at the end of Serviss Street in South River.



Rails and trees gives a good indication the last time a train came by on the South River Branch, behind Levinson Ave.





Further south along the South River branch, behind an apartment complex, the rails are still visible, but hard to follow.  This part of the line has fallen into serious disrepair.  This part of the line hasn’t been used in almost 30 years, since the 1970s.


I suspect the RRRR never wanted to give up the valuable river front real estate, so they never abandoned the line.  Why didn’t Conrail rip up the tracks then?




Continuing South, the line at this point seemed most impassable.  We picked up and went to Bissetts Pond; a lake that has been remodeled with a playground.  Just to the back of the Pond, and past the Play ground, the South River Branch was once again visible.  At this point the line was severed to make way for the play ground, but rails and ties were intact on either side.



Just to the back of the Pond, and past the Play ground, the South River Branch was once again visible.  At this point the line was severed to make way for the play ground, but rails and ties were intact on either side.



Further north, heading back towards South River, the line continues until reaching Swamp.


Throughout the woods, between the tracks and the river, old relics and buildings remain.  The old and crumbling foundations of the once mighty brick companies litter the area.


It was next to impossible to try to follow the line any further south.  It was also about 8 hours after we started and the team was tired.  We called it a day.  This was the end of the

Raritan River Rail Road Field Trip #2 of November 15, 2003.  We had a very successful and adventurous day seeing many sites of the Old Ricky (including some we didn’t even know about).


We look forward to RRRR Field Trip #3 which we anticipate will start on the Sayreville side of the South River Swing Bridge.  Hopefully we’ll have enough time (and energy!) to explore the Gillespie Branch and then walk to and explore Sayreville Junction and the Sayreville Branch.  In fact, Don has already scouted out and found some of the tail end of the Sayreville Branch, including the right-of-way leading to the Sayre & Fisher Brick Company, the mythic “Sayreville Station”, and the old Jersey Central Power & Light plant.


The End.


Tom Everett Reynolds Sr.

with edits by Don Zrebiec


All commentary regarding the RRRR is welcomed.







To see Field Trip #3 – November 2004






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