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Along The Line
by Wayne G. Levitt
Many people remember both steam and diesel trains: Some know how the O&W railroad operated, succeeded and then failed. Some can tell detailed facts about events that occurred a long time ago. Yet I can relate to what I witnessed as a youngster; the hissing, puffing and whistling steam engines that were already being replaced by diesel locomotives.
My Grandfather and many others have shared their experiences too, and I have included some of these in part. There is just something about the O&W railroad that haunts us. So many of us who lived 'Along the Line,' were saddened by her passing, yet we are thankful for the O&WRHS and all the people who have contributed to and are dedicated in preserving the history of our beloved Railway.
Watching the action: There is no way of knowing how many young and old folks alike may have been watching the trains and counting the cars as they passed by on the O&W as my Grandfather and I did on many occasions. So as I recall the memories of more than forty years ago, please remember that its was as a child and young fellow. The O&W had a major impact on the lives of everyone living or working close to the tracks. Now I think back and realize, that in my years observing the O&W of which seemed a long time, it was actually only the final thirteen years of the 'Old and Weary.'
The Sights, Sounds and Odors: The very first memory that comes into my minds eye is the affect that hot weather had on steel rails and cinder ballast and the air above. I would often stop in the middle of the railroad crossing and look up the tracks and the air would shimmer and my view of distant objects would be distorted, sort of like a mirage in the movies. Even the heavy engines at a distance appeared to shimmer. . . The sound of bells on the steam engines as well as the signals at the crossing reminded us that we must stop regardless of the time, even when we were late. The crossing guards stood solid and kept us from harms way. Then there came mechanized gates that replaced the crossing guards, this was the first example of automation that I ever knew of and how it terminated the jobs of several men who we all knew. Still for the sake of progress, the new gates guarded both sides of the crossing at the same time, never took any time off and worked all day and night. The diesel engines resonated sounds which were very different than the steam engines we were accustomed to. The diesels had bells too and I especially remember the switch engines of which the bells never seemed to stop. . . The pungent odor of creosote was all around and whenever the weather was very warm a tar like substance sometimes oozed from the ends or cracks in the railroad ties, then bubbles would form then harden again as the air cooled in the evening. I don't know why but I remember the 'S' shaped metal piece pressed in each end of the wooden ties which apparently provided additional support to keep them from splitting under the terrific loads carried by the trains above. Right: The Crossing Guards Shanty at Livingston Manor, NY
Livingston Manor, NY
Winter of 1938
Peter Rose - Crossing Guard
Can you identify this steam engine,
Roster number, class and type?
Crossing Guards: I was told that the first crossing guard assigned to the Livingston Manor Crossing was Benjamin Sarles. Others remember Ben as part time engineer on the steam engine pusher that nudged the heavy trains up and over Young's Gap which was the highest elevation on the main line at 1799 feet. Only the Scranton division at Poyntelle, Pa., was higher at 2078 feet. . . The Crossing guards I remember best were, Pete Rose (pictured above). Pete would sit in the shanty and tie flies for trout fishing. I remember many men stopping to talk with Pete, I wish he was still there so I could listen in on the stories, I am sure there were many involving the big ones that got away. Louis Kannegiser was also one of the guards I remember well. When Lou was off work I would often see him in his vegetable garden or he would be exercising his beagles. I am not sure how many dogs Lou had but I remember seeing him on the railroad tracks and it seemed like it was all Lou could do to hold onto them. I can't remember any shotgun, just Lou and the Beagles. The third was George Neumann who lived across and down the street from us and what I remember best was seeing him standing and holding the wooden staff with the stop sign on the top, the only other thing I can remember is that as kids we were never allowed into his yard. My Great Uncle Ralph Reynolds, was a crossing guard at Hurleyville. Uncle Ralph would repair old wind up alarm clocks that people kept near their beds. Uncle Ralph and Aunt Mabel Reynolds raised two sons, Fred and Edward, but also an orphan named Francis Currey, who served in the Second World War and became the third Congressional Metal of Honor recipient from Sullivan County. The two previous Metal of Honor recipients both fought in the Civil War.
Crossing guard and steam train near freight station.Livingston Manor, NY
The passenger station was beyond this point.
Signal Maintenance Man: I knew the signal maintenance man Chris Lotterer. The Lotterer's lived across and up from our house on DuBois Street in Livingston Manor. Chris must have liked kids a lot because I remember how much fun it was being around him. Sitting on the flagstone steps in front of their home he always found ways to amuse us. Chris had the greatest trick I ever saw which he said was a mouse. He would sit with his hands clasped together and suddenly a lump would appear near his elbow and scramble up his arm, over his shoulder and down again. I would laugh and beg him to do it all over again. Once we saw Chris on what we called the putt- putt, a small motorized cart that carried workmen and small crews to and from their job assignments. This time Chris motioned to me and said, "want a ride?" I sure did. It wasn't a long ride and I knew Chris would never have taken a youngster a great distance from where they were supposed to be but I'11 never forget his wonderful gesture and I am glad I was there at the right time. There were all kinds of signals and electrical systems that needed regular maintenance. There were also many batteries consisting of square glass jars with lead or zinc plates, terminals and caustic acid. The batteries were in concrete structures with sloped covers. The acid needed to be replenished or replaced from time to time. These would usually provide enough power to the signals for six months or so. I thought Chris Lotterer had one of the most important jobs on the whole railroad. Chris and his family moved on and I was told he had taken a job with another railroad and had moved to Binghamton, NY. I had the pleasure of visiting with Chris Lotterer's replacement in April 1998. Charley Grant, told me that he had gone to work for the O&W as a Carpenter in 1946 working on a trestle. Later on, Charley replaced Chris as the signal maintenance man. I still remember seeing Charley along with many others of the local section gang out of Livingston Manor.
Floating section crew: One summer a floating section crew moved into Livingston Manor There was a number of train cars including a kitchen and dining car combination, a sleeper and other cars which contained tools, equipment and other supplies. This arrangement was parked just east and across the yard from the Manor station. I was spending a lot of time around the Railroad Express Depot that summer and I saw a lot ofwhat was going on. I don't remember exactly what these men were doing but it seemed that it was a central point for their operation. My friend Bob Butler, was employed at the Railway Express that summer. I remember that we became friends with the floating crews' Cook, George Stevens. I took George to one of our local blueberry patches and together we picked enough berries to feed the crew pie for their desert. I had also learned how to bake by then so I made a cake for George's birthday.
Struck by the train: Cold weather caused a slight accident one mornmg at about 8:20 am. A truck of which my Grandfather Ralph Quick, Lineman for NY State Electric and Gas Co., was struck by the south bound pickup engine on the New York, Ontario & Western Railway after it had stalled nearly on the tracks. Grandfather was driving the truck which was apparently slow to warm up that morning, and stalled just as it reached the tracks. Grandfather made desperate efforts to get it started but was unable to. The truck was damaged but he escaped injury.
Derailment: One vivid memory I have was when Grandfather took me by the hand and we walked the tracks from our house for a mile east until we came upon the scene of a diesel engine, box cars and twisted rails among broken ties and torn up ballast cinders. There were many workers busy at the task of untangling the whole mess. What I remember in particular is looking up to the engineers position in the diesel locomotive and seeing someone in uniform with his head tilted to the rear. I was startled and sure he had gone to glory but it became apparent that this poor soul was actually trying to get a little shut eye and would have been home in his own bed if the derailment had not occurred. When your driving something this big and heavy and you're stuck in such a situation there is no where else to go.
Putting it back together: There was a crane and other heavy equipment brought to the scene to lift, move and place the engine and cars back onto the rails, that is after major repairs were completed . The location was east of the Manor station and beyond the 'Y' (wye) that was used to turn the cars and or locomotives around. As the work proceeded the workmen labored using heavy pry bars and other tools to separate the rails and ties. Others used torches to cut through damaged rails and other hardware. Teams of four men would lift, carry and place the new steel rails on the carefully positioned tie plates and ties on new or re-leveled ballast. The fish plates were bolted to the rails and two or more men swinging sledge hammers took aim, striking spikes installed to hold it all in place. It was obvious that everyone knew his job well enough though there was always the section foreman who directed the progress.
Iron Frog: Another interesting observation I made as a result of repairs underway was the method used in getting the heavy locomotive and cars back up on the rails. I heard the workmen call the device "the frog." I even remember seeing this odd looking iron frog hanging on the side of the locomotive as though derailments might be expected. Now came the time to see the frog in use. As the diesel engine was winched into position close to the rails and the long iron frog shaped more like a ramp, was placed alongside at each set of drive wheels, power was applied and with the assistance of other equipment the locomotive was very slowly and carefully eased back onto the rails.
Hot Boxes: The bearing surfaces of the wheel axles on the train cars were lubricated inside a cast iron box with a heavy cover. These were clearly visible at the end of each set of wheels. Inside the metal box was a cotton like substance called waste. The waste was kept saturated with oil and if the waste dried up, heat would build up and a very smoky fire often resulted. In times past when train cars were constructed of wood, the hot box fires fanned by the moving train sometimes caused the fire to spread and cars, along with their contents, were often lost as a result. I remember there was what appeared to be the burned out remains of an old box car behind our house. Probably was cut loose and shoved off on the siding to protect the remaining train from further damage.
Different sounds: I guess there must have been a hundred or so different sounds that came from the railroad. As loud as some of these sounds tended to be, we seemed to get used to it and they sort of became a part of us. Strange as it may sound we really missed them when it was gone. It's like city folks coming to the country, they have trouble sleeping at first because the quiet is just too abnormal to them. Even after over forty years, I can clearly remember the sounds of the trains. For example as the train started to move, each coupling emitted its metal to metal creaking and snapping noises as the slack was taken up. I may have been asleep and partially awaken several times between the time a train arrived and finally departed. We became accustomed to it all. When it was all over and the rails were pulled up, we were like city folks trying to re-adjust to a deafening quiet. I'm sure I am not the only one who has had repeated dreams of trains coming into town after the O&W was all gone. In my dream I seem fully aware of the demise of the system but yet there is one train that keeps coming into view and it never stops and keeps on rolling by. When I received an email from Ron Vassallo, designer and keeper of the O&WRHS Web Page, it included an attachment (see photo below.) I don't know how Ron located my dream train but this is what I have seen over and over after the tracks were removed.
Photo courtesy of Ron Vassallo
First Train Ride: Early in my school years, perhaps the first or second grade, we were sitting ng on pew type benches in the O&W Station ticket office in Livingston Manor. This was going to be my first class trip and I remember while we waited that I held three nickels in the palm of my hand which was the price of a ticket to Roscoe. I don't quite remember who the ticket agent was that particular day but I know that Everard K. Homer held that position in the Manor for many years. The voices of my fellow classmates were full of excitement as we boarded and located a seat alongside a friend. I remember starting out and looking through the windows at the back and sides of the diesel locomotive 'F' unit as we proceeded around the curves and across several iron bridges crossing the Willowemoc trout stream. Roscoe was the next town and station westbound which by that time was probably the end of the line for passenger service, in any event it was for us that day. There was a school bus waiting at the station to bring us back to our school in the Manor. The trip was short but the memory of that wonderful day has been long. Not long after passenger service came to an end in our neck of the woods.
To New York City: As Cub Scouts, we traveled to New York City on tour of Grand Central Station. We traveled first to Middletown by car and boarded the passenger train as it was the closest point to our home where passenger service still remained available on the O&W . We arrived at Weehawken New Jersey, and transferred to a ferry boat to cross the Hudson River to Manhattan. I remember that we attended a large model train exhibition where it seemed every model gauge was on display. We especially enjoyed a tour through a very modern bright silver streamliner. I remember they lifted us each into the cabin of the diesel locomotive, it was so awesome with the tall seats where the engineer and the conductor or fireman sat. The controls were fewer than what I would have imagined but impressive and for just a moment I realized that this is where the heavy giant was controlled. We were then guided back through the compartment and passed the huge engine, generator and compressors. Wow! Onward through the parlor, Pullman, dining, observation and sleeper cars. I remember as we left the train that I noted the absence of a caboose but I know that type of train really didn't require one. The memories continued to form and I still have some of the literature I received that day, forty five years ago.
Opal's Diner: Behind the train station in Livingston Manor, stood a small building that housed Opal Griffin's Diner, Her place contained all the basic elements that made a great eatery. Of course there was a kitchen and grill where both regular meals or short orders were prepared. There was a place to hang your hat and coat, and as strange as it sounds, I remember the wooden doweled dish rack suspended over the sink where the washed diner plates, cups and saucers were placed and awaiting the next patrons. After the passenger service ended on the O&W, Opal moved her diner inside the station in the vacated ticket office on the west end of the station. After the railroad went out of business, Opal moved to another section of town. . .No matter where Opal's Diner moved there was one thing that attracted me right away.....the mornings wonderful aroma of bacon, eggs and toast! Her apple, cherry and blueberry pies were wonderful too and the aroma was noticed even outside the place. I made it a part of my weekday itinerary to pass by Opal's exhaust fan on my way to school just to take in those wonderful odors that were coming from her kitchen. I'm sure there wereand still are many people that stopped at the Diner between trains and still remember her home style cooking and establishment that provided the kind of nourishment and comfort people needed. I remember one other small diner much like Opel's that was also located near the O&W tracks and station at Cadosia, not far from Hancock, NY. I'm sure there were thousands of similar places to find a meal or just a cup of coffee in as many small towns nearby the tracks and stations of Americas many railroads.
The US Mail: Everyone knows the role that the railroads played with the movement and delivery of the US Mail. I'm not sure we all know to what extent it was involved. There was a time when the mail was actually being processed and sorted while on the train and moving. By the time the train arrived at the next village the mail was ready and bagged. These were highly efficient systems that carried on the daily business of the US Postal service. After the railroad, I remember that they tried something similar in a large bus type vehicle all painted up in red, white and blue Post Office colors. This apparently failed and disappeared in a matter of time.
Mail Cart: I can remember the mail as it was moved to and from the train. A two wheeled cart was used to transport it across and up Main Street. Joe Lacey was the man who pushed the cart and was often heard cussing every step of the way. He tended to be a little loud and sometimes offensive to tender ears. It may or may not have been true but as the story was told, Old Joe was often careless in the way he handled some of the parcels he was charged with delivering between the O&W station and the Post Office. He was alleged to have complained to the Postmaster about a Stove that he himself had ordered and had found broken. He must not have recognized the particular article as none other than his own! "What goes around, comes around!"
Railway Express Agency: One of my closest friends, Bob Butler, got a job with the Railway Express Agency located at the east end of the Manor O&W station. This turned out to be a most interesting summer for the both of us. Leonard W. Quinn, Express Agent, was one of the most kindly persons I can remember from my home town and he had to be especially tolerant, or surely he would have drowned me at the closest watering hole just for being constantly under foot. His way of getting rid of me was to hand me a quarter and sending me in the direction of the candy store. The things I remember best about his office besides the conductor and agent caps hanging on pegs behind the door was the counter with a pail of mucilage and brush they used to adhere the shipping tags to the boxes and steamer trunks. Shipments coming in consisted of all kinds of great stuff. The hotels, of which there were many in those years, were receiving equipment and supplies such as fresh seafood. Hoos Bakery was getting bags of flour, sugar, shortening and boxes of yeast. The summer campers were shipping military duffle bags and steamer trunks along with cardboard boxes of personal items. On one particular day it was hot and the incoming cargo was several carts full. Soon after the train pulled away, a strong odor became quite noticeable. This odor quickly became worse and then a priority! . . There was even some speculation that someone may have stashed a body in one of the many duffle bags. After a closer but difficult examination of the cargo, there were a number of cardboard boxes located and when opened the manifest divulged the biggest and most juicy night crawlers (Fish worms) I had ever seen. The problem was they were not crawling anymore. As hard as it was, I helped my friend cart them up the tracks away from the station where we put them back in the ground where we wished they had all remained. Our local bait supplier had to go without fish worms for a day or so.
Tobacco: We frequently found red and white Prince Albert tobacco cans along the O&W right away. These were the flat metal ones with the hinged cover. There were also other brands in the same type of can such as Half n' Half. These were perfect for fish worms or even marbles because they fit in a shirt or hip pocket. Between the Acts little cigars came in a metal tin and also had a hinged cover but these were not as good as the others. I watched the section gang workers that smoked cigarettes especially those that rolled their own as that was the way it was done if you were a real railroad man. I was impressed by the way they would hold the paper between two extended fingers and pour just the right amount of their choice of tobacco. Then bringing the masterpiece within reach of their tongue they would moisten the very edge and then twist one end while tamping the other, it was now ready for a light. Of course there were pipe smokers too and they also used tobacco from a can but I don't remember too many of them. It was hard to swing a sledge hammer or do any serious railroad maintenance work with a pipe jammed between your teeth. One would really have to sit down to smoke a pipe. I once had a friend say, "Pipe smoking is an occupation all in itself!" . . Ooooh Yes! . . There was at least one fellow in every crew who could hold the cigarette paper, pour tobacco, lick, twist and tamp with just one hand and never drop
one speck of the stuff, all while striking a kitchen match on the seat of his overalls with the other hand. . . Now, is it any wonder why we all wanted to smoke? . . There was as much talent demonstrated through all of this as there would have been with a tight rope walker in a circus!
'Prince Albert' - in a can
The subject of a great smoke and many a Joke
(Telephone call to tobacco shop) "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?"
(Store keeper answers) "Why yes we do!"
(Caller replies)"Well you better let him out cause he's gonna suffocate!"
The Telegrapher: There were many who served this role in Livingston Manor from the beginning of the railroad with names such as Andrew "Bunk" Yonker, Leonard W. Quinn, Harry W. Wright, and Ralph E. Wright. Joe Griffin also worked as a relief telegrapher, but I remember Harold Simpson as telegrapher during my time. I admired his skill and the ability to determine which of the constant messages on the wire were incoming. I now realize that there were station call letters used and this is what his ear was always tuned for. I would get as close to the telegraph devise as possible and would watch the sparks between the points as the devise chattered away. Harold would suddenly move to his chair and take the form and transcribe a message. Once I saw him take a message, fold it in such a way, fasten it on a 'Y' shaped pole and as the oncoming train came into view, Harold stood along side the tracks where a trainman's outstretched arm ever so precisely took it from the pole as the train that hardly slowed down and passed by. I wondered what was in that message? . . Perhaps a warning, "Cow on the tracks at Parksville!" Or, maybe a message from the Engineer's Wife, "Bring home a quart of milk for the baby!"
Other Goods by Rail: The history of the O&W Railroad reflects much of the prosperity of the system and our area coming from not only moving people and their personal belongings, but the continuous shipments of milk, dairy and farm products. Of course there were many dairy farmers in our home area, of which there are very few today in comparison. Hoags farm in Livingston Manor grew great quantities of cauliflower. There were workers hired not only to cultivate the product but they were also needed as the cauliflower had to be tied at a certain point in its growth. Most if not all our local businesses depended more or less on the O&W for timely deliveries and shipments of the products they purchased or sold. The advent of electricity and LP gas almost completely wiped out the ice industry where men harvested blocks of ice from mountain ponds and lakes to fill local ice houses at the boarding houses as well as pack train cars destined for New York City. Even saw dust had important purposes in those times, as it was used to insulate the ice from the warmer outside air. Other shipments being made to and from our area every day and night were many. These included lumber and wood products, building supplies such wall insulation board, asphalt shingles, roofing felt, cement. Metal products including cast iron goods, pipe, fittings, and valves. There were also flue linings for masonry chimneys. Electrical supplies consisting of wire, switches, lamps transformers and transformer oil. Food stuff such as pot cheese corn, oats, scratch feed, flour, coffee and tea, and even ammunition for , hunting and target practice. And the list goes on; glass, mineral rock wool, fire hydrants, electric pumps and adjustable posts. Jacks, burlap bags, burial cases, drug store supplies, clothes lines, pulleys and clothes pins, and children's carts, Blue Chestnut coal, fuel oil and kerosene, wood products, industrial supplies and materials. Through the years more and more affordable motor cars were being built and thus became available for the masses then ever before. Some came in several sections (see image to the right.) Ford made the Model 'T' so that part of the actual shipping crate was designed to fit into the floor board of the finished assembly. The Model 'T' came frame, wheels, motor and gas tank assembled. The rest was done at the dealer. This was perhaps the first real dealer prep!. . .Farm tractors came in by rail also and I can remember very clearly watching the new Ford 'N' model farm tractors as they were being unloaded from a box car behind our house and then driven across town and through Main street to the Liberty Tractor Co. Above left: Model "T" Fords at Sturdevants Garage, Livingston Manor, NY around 1913.
Bowling pins, ball bats and table legs: Livingston Manor was just one of the many towns or villages that was greatly involved in the wood chemical industry. This was one of the leading sources of employment in the area for many years before, during and after the O&W. G.H Treyz & Company whose offices were in Binghamton NY owned acid factories in Livingston Manor as well as several others in the surrounding area. Treyz manufactured acetate of lime, wood alcohol, charcoal, etc. There was a large oil tank located nearby the tracks that Treyz & Co owned and after the oil was delivered by the railroad it was stored in the tank and transported to the factory more than a quarter mile by other means. After Treyz & Company closed its Manor factory the oil tank became the property of a fuel vendor in the Manor.
Another great industry which caused impact on the area were the tanneries. These also proceeded the O&W but were responsible for harvesting most of the hemlock trees which were the source of the bark which produced tannic acid which was vital in the tanning process. In DeBruce, near Livingston Manor, was the tannery built and operated by Stoddard Hammond and a partner. This was one of, if not the largest, producing tanneries in the country. Records show that hides were imported from Argentina and processed at DeBruce. In one year alone 60,000 hides were processed and this factory along with others in the area were responsible for tanning the greater amount of foot leather for the Union Army Soldiers who fought in theCivil War. This was all prior to the O&W, however, but the railway did in fact move great amounts of wood products thereafter. At one point there was even consideration to build a siding off the main line at Livingston Manor to the Treyz & Company factory but this never developed. The O&W tracks did in fact run next to the acid factory located at Hazel, which was between Livingston Manor and Roscoe and this acid factory was still in operation after the end of World War II. I remember very clearly the charcoal plant near the O&W tracks in Cooks Falls further west of Roscoe.
One of the greatest construction projects of all time in this area was the building of the New York City aqueduct and water supply system. There was a cement storage silo located behind our house and across the tracks in the Manor. The cement would be delivered in train cars and the workmen would use a creeper bar to move each car into position as the dry cement was transferred into the silo. Later it was loaded onto tractor trailers and taken to the shaft sites of which there were quite a few nearby. Elevator shafts, of which I was familiar, ran 700 to 1100 feet straight down. Lots of major machinery and equipment, supplies and materials were being delivered via the O&W to support these water projects. As I was growing up, I would hear the sounds of Sherwood's Mill. The Sherwood family name was long established in the wood turning and finishing industry. In the companies early years furniture legs were produced and for a time Spalding Ball Bats were manufactured in Livingston Manor. The Original plant owned by John (Jack) Sherwood which was located on Sherwood's Island burned. Sherwood relocated and built a new plant and it was here that ten pins, for bowling, were produced. There were various accountings of the numbers of pins produced but it was always in the thousands per day. The familiar tall smoke stack that towered over the mill was painted with a bright red crown the same as on top of the bowling pins made there.
Finished and un-finished Ten-pins from Sherwood's Mill at Livingston Manor.