I’m a commercial photographic artist and rail trail rider…
My name is James T Callahan. You can call me “James T,” which is what my friends and associates call me. In my earlier days it was “JT,” or “TJ”, as my best bud, Tommy Herran, used to call me. I live in Hillsborough, New Jersey and have a life-long love of cycling that is now dedicated to exclusive rail-trail riding. My passion for riding rail trails comes from a love of history and interest in old and abandoned railroads, which I photograph for my rail trail adventure photojournalism and personal photography projects.
I’ve now combined my cycling, photography, historic interests and writing to explore, research and post about all the rail trails I can find here in New Jersey (and some in Eastern Pennsylvania). My intent is to ride others around the country, too, but my niche here on this blog is the many great ‘Out and Back’ rides here in the Garden State.
Until 2018 I hadn’t biked in 10 years, with marriage, a stepson and graduate school consuming my time. But that spring I finally got back to it, returning to the mountain biking trails in Monmouth County where I grew up, lived and have been riding on and off for many years. In early 2019 I began riding the Henry Hudson Trail (also in Monmouth) again regularly. It follows the path of the former Freehold Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and is the first rail trail I ever rode back in 2006. It wasn’t long before I got two beautiful new Cannondale bikes and began riding rail trails all over New Jersey.
A Personal Journey
One of the major influences that finally got me back on a bike was reading drummer and author Neil Peart’s personal saga, “Ghost Rider.” In it, he talks about an idea that an artist friend had related to him about the painting process: “…to build a world from the ground up, you start with what was there first.” This bit of wisdom helped Neil to reconstruct his life after catastrophic losses in his immediate family. How he interpreted that in terms of his own life was to start doing the things he used to love doing, things that were there first, “to see if it was still good.” Consequently, he reconnected with those things and it helped him to rebuild.
“To build a world, you start with what was there first.”
I realized there were things in my own life that had been missing for many years. I felt a sense of loss for the way things had been before, so I applied the same thinking to my own circumstances. Bicycling was the first activity readily available to me so I started riding…and really, the desire to start again had always been there. It wasn’t long before I was riding several times a week. Now, with my rail trail excursions, and fueled by my long-term interests in history and old railroads, I ride almost every day!
I still have other things I need to bring back, like sailing, but cycling rail trails has had a very positive affect on my life and well-being.
My photographic work and passion for 19th century architecture has also led me in recent years to get involved with historic preservation. I want to use that experience in connection with my photography and writing to do similar work in helping to save old rail corridors for conversion to multi-use trails. There’s one old railroad corridor right near me that I’m starting to work on…you can read about it in my recent post HERE.
My Current ‘Rail Trail To-Ride’ List
- Sussex Branch Trial -Byram Township to Branchville, NJ – Originally a narrow-gauge mule-drawn railroad that hauled iron ore, it later became part of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. It then merged with the Erie Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in 1960. Operations ceased in 1966 and the State of New Jersey acquired it for trail use. There’s some nice scenery up there in the North Central part of the state that I want to bike through. The trail goes all the way up into Kittatinny Mountain near Stokes State Forest and Delaware Water Gap. I would like to ride there as well but reports of bears on the trail have kept me away thus far.
- Paulinskill Valley Trial -UPDATE OCT. 1st 2020: In September I made the ride from the trail access parking lot in Blairstown at Footbridge Park (site of the former Blairstown Station) to the trail head in Hainesburg 6 miles away. From the Sussex Branch Trail you can also ride this former railroad from the Delaware Water Gap area through Blairstown down to Hainsesburg near Route 94 and the Delaware River. I once played a gig at the old Hainesburg Inn back in early 1982 (can it really be almost 40 years ago??). It was in a huge old Victorian mansion that’s now an animal hospital…there’s a trail head just south at Station Road off of Route 94…you can ride it from there but you need a permit to park.
- Ironton Rail Trail Another old iron ore hauling line, this former railroad is on the west side of the Lehigh River from Catasauqua, PA. It’s about 20 minutes north of Bethlehem. From all the info on this trail it appears to be very well-maintained with lots of historic architectural ruins of the railroad and cement industry that the rail road served. Historic architecture is an important element of my personal project photography.
- Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail (Northern section of the Delaware & Lehigh Trail in Pennsylvania) – The section I want to ride is between Jim Thorpe, PA and White Haven PA. There is also a section that runs along the Lehigh River in Bethlehem east to Easton, PA, and then you can ride south along the Delaware River to Bristol, PA on the edge of Northeast Philadelphia. The trail is 142 miles total and judging by the photos I’ve seen the scenery is incredible.
Be like the Sun…and what is in you will warm the Earth.Taoist wisdom –
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams…LIVE the life you have imagined.Henry David Thoreau
It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than ourAlbus Dumbledore