hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News June 2024


On the rails, serving travelers with flair

Maury Thompson


He was as nimble as a circus acrobat, as gregarious as a politician and, at least in the estimation of one canine, as fashionable as a stage actor.

“That’s Conductor Frost, the best fellow that ever lived,” a railroad passenger told a reporter for The Mechanicville Era in 1883.

The popularity of Charles Frost, a train conductor who worked the rails north of Albany for five decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was evidenced by a series of area newspaper advertisements in which he endorsed a patent medicine known as Dr. Kennedy’s Favorite Remedy.

“Honestly, I think it’s the best medicine ever given by a man,” Frost attested in the ads, which appeared in papers from Albany to Glens Falls.

If Frost was even temporarily absent from the rails, it was news worth noting in the local papers.
“Conductor Frost and Engineer Downs of the morning and evening vestibule train are taking a well-earned two weeks’ vacation,” The Granville Sentinel reported on Sept. 25, 1896, adding that “Frost and Downs are supposedly to be studying up the money question.”

The previous year, Frost had been off for a longer span.
“Conductor Frost, who has been undergoing repairs to his physical health for the past month, appeared on duty Monday, smiling and as happy as a June morning,” the Sentinel reported on April 12, 1895. “He was congratulated by everyone on his improved appearance. Mr. Frost is one of the oldest and most popular conductors on the D&H,” the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, “and the southbound morning train without him on board has no romance or beauty associated with it.”
Frost was conductor for a time on the Mount McGregor Railroad, a narrow-gauge line that ran from Saratoga Springs to the Balmoral Hotel at the mountain’s peak.

“Tourists talk of Conductor Frost of the Mount McGregor Railroad as being the model of courtesy and gentlemanly attention to wayfarers,” The Mechanicville Mercury reported on Aug. 8, 1888.
He worked on the Mount McGregor line at the time when former President Ulysses S. Grant died at a cottage, now the Grant Cottage State Historic Site, near the hotel. Grant had been battling cancer and traveled by train to Mount McGregor to complete work on his memoirs.

“The Mount McGregor trains are well filled daily with pilgrims to Hotel Balmoral, and the genial Conductor Frost is kept very busy,” The Argus of Albany reported on Aug. 19, 1886.
Frost often was the focus of newspaper humor.

“The chestnut trees on the side of Mount McGregor are heavily laden with blossoms, but Conductor Frost gives advance notice that while he will halt his train to allow passengers to gather the nuts in September, he will not agree to climb the trees and aid his brother Jack in shaking them from the burrs,” The Argus reported on July 22, 1883.

In later decades, Frost regularly worked the trains of the Delaware & Hudson’s Washington branch, which threaded the border of Vermont and New York from Rutland and Castleton south through Granville, West Pawlet, Rupert, Salem and Cambridge to Eagle Bridge. There, travelers could connect to the main east-west route of the Boston & Maine Railroad between Boston and Troy.

Frost was reported to be popular with Salem Station Agent Stay’s dog.
“No train arrives … which he [the dog] does not board and call on the employees,” the Sentinel reported on Aug. 17, 1894. “He first jumps into the express car and shakes hands with Warner or Finch, then calls on the mail messenger and so on through the train. He has nothing to do with anyone but railroad men, and takes a great interest in Conductor Frost’s style of pants.”
Frost survived several train crashes over the years.

In one instance, torrential rain had washed out about 40 roads and bridges in the vicinity of White Creek and Cambridge. When the train that Frost was working on attempted to cross where a bridge was washed out, the train plunged 10 feet down into the rough waters below.

“How Conductor Frost, Engineer Ryan and Roadmaster Dorsey escaped serious injury, if not death, when their engine went over into the creek, is a mystery,” the Sentinel reported on Oct. 14, 1898. “But Frost is as supple on his feet as an antelope, and bounded into the air like a rocket, floated like a soap bubble and landed safe.”

His two colleagues were rescued from the water and did not sustain serious injuries.
Another time, Frost broke three ribs and punctured his liver when the train he was working on crashed between Salem and Shushan, about a mile west of a settlement known as Baxterville.
“The train was forty-five minutes late leaving Salem, and an attempt was being made to make up some of the time before reaching Eagle Bridge, where it connects with Troy,” the Argus reported on Jan. 24, 1888, adding that “the recovery of Conductor Frost is also very doubtful.”

“Conductor Frost was found white as a sheet, and for a time it was thought he was dead,” The People’s Journal of Greenwich wrote on Jan. 25, 1888, reporting on the same accident. “He tried to go on a hand car for assistance, but could not endure the jolting of the car and was obliged to remain at the wreck.”

Frost was soon back at work and continued to serve the region’s travelers for more than 25 years after that wreck before permanently leaving the rails.

“A familiar face has disappeared from one of the Delaware & Hudson trains,” The Greenwich Journal reported on Feb. 18, 1914. “After fifty years of faithful service, Conductor Frost has retired from duty. Mr. Frost retires on pension and will probably live in Troy. He will be greatly missed by patrons of the road.”

Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.