Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Canby Park and Walking the Tracks

One of the things parents always tell their children is stay off the train tracks and to never go into abandoned buildings. One of the things growing up in Canby Park was the train tracks went right through the woods and they were just a natural corridor. You could walk the train tracks and get yourself right into the city. I know I mentioned walking train tracks in other posts but this time I'm just going to talk about walking down to the riverfront. The tracks it went through Canby Park we're called the Market Street branch of the B&O Railroad. The Market Street branch connected the big railroad yard by the General Motors Factory to Wilmington and the businesses in the city. Those tracks are still there but there and used once in awhile to transfer cars from one railroad to another but there are no longer any businesses in the city that get rail service.

We would walk down the street into Canby Park woods and then down to the tracks, once on the tracks we head down toward the city. Next we would cross Maryland Avenue, then walked behind Alban Park and around Robinson's Bend and you would be at a place called West Yard. At West yard you'd have to be careful because that's where the tracks connected with Amtrak. Those trains went faster and they were patrolled by the police.

Once we got to West yard there was a lot of things we could get into. There was a place that had been a scale house for weighing rail cars. The scale house was gone but the scale mechanism was still in the ground and there was a manhole hatch that opened allowing access to climb down

underground and around inside the scale mechanism. It was dark, smelly, dirty, and greasy but it was a neat place to crawl around when you were a kid. We could go under the Amtrak elevated railroad and in the other side between Amtrak and the Christian and River there was an industrial park that used to be the old Dravo Shipyard. One part of the shipyard was used by a company called Trans Car Services that repaired tank cars, mostly for the Dupont company. I remember in the summer after 8th grade I had to go to summer school and there was a girl that rode the bus with my named Judy Dombrowski, her dad worked there. Sometime 2000 Raymond and I were walking around in the closed down facility and I picked up a piece of paperwork that was blowing around in the breeze and her dad’s name was one it. It's amazing that the name has stuck with me but sometimes we just remember peculiar things.

The switcher from Trans Car Services is now
on display at the Delaware Children's Museum. 
The big attraction was walking around the shipyard, going through the abandoned buildings, and climbing up into the cranes. The abandoned buildings are all mostly knocked down now and the few that remain from the shipyard days have been repurposed. Inside some of the warehouses there were large overhead cranes, you could climb up the ladder and get up in the control box of the crane and pretend you were driving the crane. I clearly remember all that smelling like pigeon poop. It was a heck of a lot of fun for a little kid. Some of the big free-standing cranes are still standing in the shipyard shops area. I've been inside every one of those. I also remember going into the boiler room and climbing up on the boilers and walking around on the catwalks inside the boiler room. One of the things I remember about those old buildings were there were still World War 2 era posters hanging up, you know the type that warned “loose lips sink ships.”
The former Wilson Line steamer State of Pennsylvania
Another attraction was sunk in the mud in the Christiana River, a steamship from the old Wilson Line. I'm not old enough to ever remember the Wilson line but I remember people always talking about it. The ship was called the State of Pennsylvania and it got stuck in the mud when it was on its way to either be stored or scrapped at the old shipyard. In the 1970s there were cables attached to shore that went out to the ship and us kids always talked about crawling out on the cables and getting out to the ship but we were never brave enough to do it. Probably a good thing because by then the ship was probably so rotted if we walked around we would have fallen through the floor and gotten ourselves into a world of trouble.
If mom only knew the places we used to go. The view was great! 
So when I became apparent that when my own kids were old enough to wander I had to keep in mind these things I had done. I went on the train tracks and I went in abandoned buildings. In fact if there was a train ran rumbling down the tracks going to Wilmington we would wait for the locomotive to get around the curve so they would not see us and then we'd hop on the freight cars and ride down into the city and also we'd ride back if we could catch one going the other way. If my parents only knew all the places we went and things we did when we would be off wandering for the afternoon.


  1. Recently I was stopped and told I would pay $500.00 if I was caught crossing tracks to elsmere again. I told the csx cop I been crossing these tracks since I was a kid. They don't care

  2. Spent many a summer in Canby park and explored those tracks but in the opposite direction towrds Elsmere. We did figure out how to lower the gates àt Maryland Ave by connecting two terminals that were on the ground with copper wire.Geeze glad we never got caught!

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