Friday, December 12, 2008

Woodburners on Auburn Railroad

From Richard Palmer

Auburn Citizen, June 17, 1928

Retired Engineman Tells of Early Days of Old Wood Burners on Auburn Road

Recounting stories of railroading in days of old on the Auburn road,
John R. Burke, native Auburnian now residing in Newark, tells an
interesting tale in the New York Central Magazine.

Mr. Burke, who began his career 51 years ago, starting with the New
York Central 11 years later came unharmed through the early days of
primitive equipment and was retired as engineman on the Syracuse
Division early this year. His reminiscences follow:

Born December 11, 1857, at Auburn, N.Y., and brought up there, I
entered the service of the New York Central Railroad in November,
1872, on the old Auburn work train.

There was a gang of 20 to 25 men on the train. I did the same work as
the other men, and received the same wages - $1.50 for 12 hours;
work. I was not yet 15 years old, and I never was a water boy. I
flanged the track in winter with wooden shovels before there was any
such thing as a flanger car. I picked and shoveled gravel in Half-Way
Gravel Pit before there was any steam shovel, and more than one day I
had to sit in a snow bank and eat frozen food when noon-time came.

Dan Shapcott was the engineer and was also the conductor who hired
and discharged the men, kept the time of the men and supervised all
the work. His engine was the 206. Our working territory was from
Syracuse to Geneva. Hank Hall was road maser and he had two brothers
- "Ed," section foreman at Cayuga, and "O.J.," conductor of the
Canandaigua work train. Commodore Vanderbilt was president and
William H. Vanderbilt, his son, was vice president then. James
Tillinghast was general superintendent with offices at Syracuse, and
from Syracuse to Rochester was a division of on both the main line
and the Auburn road.

Twenty-five to 30 cars (with not more than 10 tons of freight in each
car) comprised a train in those days, DeWitt freight yard was not yet
thought of at that time. Henry Ward was station agent at Auburn in
those days, and I succeeded his son, Kilbourne Ward, as yardmaster at
Auburn, when he went to the M.D. T. people at Syracuse.(1)
Coupling Cars at Auburn.

In the spring of 1873 I went coupling cars in Auburn yard with the
pin and link, crooked link and chain link, and dead blocks, the most
dangerous cars that ever were built. At this time thee were passenger
car shops in Auburn for building and repairing passenger cars and
painting and varnishing them. The foreman's name was William Johnson.
There also was a blacksmith shop for mending rails, as the ends of
the rails would get battered down, and then would have to be taken
out and repaired. No steel rails in those days.

Tom Munsell was boss blacksmith. William B. Munsell, a son, was
pensioned two months ago in Buffalo as an engineman. These shops
stood where the freight house now stands, from Seymour Street to
Chapel Street, and they were built by the old Auburn & Syracuse
Railroad when John H. Chedell of Auburn was president. Afterwards
consolidation took place and the line was called the New York Central.

Early Passenger Engines.

Who is there now that remembers those passenger engineers of the
several entities that ran over the Auburn road in the days when I
worked with them? There was Hank Case on engine 194, John Kinney,
fireman; Charley Simonds, engine 26; Ed. Morriott, fireman; Bill Pike
and Dave Campbell, engines 102 and 535; R. Peters, fireman; Jack
Baker, engine 104; Charley Chapman, fireman, and Mace Gibson, engine
68; Tommy Crummy, fireman, who got killed going down around the
"Alps" one night. His engine struck a big stone that rolled onto the
track, and he got caught in the gang-way when engine and tender came

Then there was Engineer Belty, engine 154, who went down in a washout
coming into Geneva one Saturday night, going west in March, 1873.
Belty and his fireman got killed. I worked at the wreck the next day.

Some Old-Time Enginemen.

I remember Engineer Shafer on engine 327; Charley Thomas, engine 112;
Leander Wright, engine 103; Frank Dana, fireman, and Mike Lynn, extra
passenger engineer of Rochester.

Some of the freight engineers that I knew in those days and worked
with: Charley Hogan (of 999 fame) then running engine 410; Joe Lipe
and John Thompson, engine 493; Bob Shannon, 404; Emps Belden, 405;
Tom Baker, 409; Ed McGrale, (Stone Wall) 411; Lute Eldridge, 413;
Bill Cone, 415; Jimmy Gould, 330; Johnny Coffee, 323; Dick Pyles,
299; Cale Cherry, 398; Dick Bishop, 121; Harry Watkeys, 331; Jack
Mack, fireman; Ben Balbou, 357; Connie Murphy, 184; Billy Pellynze,
302; Al Pugsley, 353; Billy Owens, 377; Johnnie Cool, 363; Curley
Simpson, 344; Billy Emels, 324; Engineer Bradley, 225.

The first engine that I coupled cars after was number 107, a wood
burner. Billy Godwin was engineer. Afterwards I worked on engines 56,
37 and 130. The road at this time was going from wood to coal in the
engines, and wood was being burned in passenger coach stoves.

On Chicago & North Western.

In 1879 I went to the Chicago & North Western as fireman on the
Wisconsin Division out of Chicago, running between Chicago and
Milwaukee, Fondu Lac, Oshkosh, Harvard Junction and Janesville. I was
firing three years and in the Spring of 1882 I was promoted to
engineer, and the first engine I ran was the 284 Mogul road engine.
On December 30, 1884, I came to the New York, West Shore & Buffalo as
engineer, running between Buffalo and Syracuse on through freight. In
the Spring of 1885 I as put on through freight between Newark and
Frankfort, a 109-mile run.

In the Summer of 1885, I was ordered to take the pusher engine at
Oneida Castle, and remained thee about 18 months. I then went drawing
through freight between DeWitt and Coeymans Junction on the Mohawk
Division. My next run was on a pick-up train between Newark and
Syracuse, and after some time I went drawing fast freight and extra
passenger between Buffalo and Syracuse. When I left this run I took
the yard job at Newark, with passenger relief work, and in 1892 was
given a regular passenger train out of Buffalo, but did not take it,
as I did not want to live in Buffalo.

Two Sons Also in Service.

In 1914 I was transferred to Lyons where I remained until I was
pensioned on Jan. 1. I was railroading 55 years and one month, 45
years as locomotive engineman. My father and three brothers besides
myself have worked for the New York Central, and I have two boys who
are enginemen at the present time - Earl and Harold Burke, running
out of DeWitt and the Syracuse Division. My father worked for the New
York Central 35 years, starting in 1848.

Engines Named and Numbered.

In my early days on the Auburn branch of the New York Central quite a
number of the engines retained their names as well as their number. I
remember the John Wilkinson was no. 100. The General Gould was the
101. The Young America was 53, and the John H. Chedell, 54. The C.C.
Dennis was the 26 and the Daniel Drew was No. 11.
I also knew Bill Gould who ran engine 125, and Jim Wood who ran
engine 110 on the main line. What two beautiful looking engines they
were! The clappers in their bells were "case-hardened" and when the
bells were ringing you would be delighted to listen to them. I would
like to hear such bells again.

Jim Wood was about the nerviest engineer in his day on the New York
Central. It was he who always drew Commodore Vanderbilt and his son,
William H. Vanderbilt, when they came over the road on the Western
Division. He made the run from Syracuse to Rochester, 81 miles, in 82
minutes one time before the days of air brakes. Nowadays it is
consoling to the engineman to know that he has a powerful and quick-
acting air brake at his left hand.

The smallest engine I ever saw on the New York Central was No. 12 at
Auburn. She was a wood-burner and had only one driving wheel on a
side, and she could only handle four or five cars at a time with only
10 tons of freight in each car. Billy Goodwin was the engineer and he
had to do his own firing. (2)

And now I come to the half-way posts on the Auburn road of the New
York Central. In my early days there were posts erected near the side
of the track halfway between stations and they were called the half-
way posts with signs on them reading "Half-Way."

The time-card rule in those days said that eastbound trains had the
right of road over westbound trains until they were 15 minutes late.
Then if a westbound train did not see the eastbound coming, it would
pull out against the other without any orders whatever, and the train
that got to the half-way post first was the best man.

The other train had to back up to the next station. Of course if the
eastbound engineer was running late he would expect the westbound
pulling against him, and I have seen the time where both engineers
would see the other one coming, but would still keep moving toward
the post, and I have seen where one would beat the other by the
length of his pilot. I have seen the engineer of the westbound send a
brakeman out on the front end of the engine, and hold a coat over the
headlight, so that the other engineer would not see him coming until
he got near the post. There were no air brakes in those days, all
hand brakes, and in a movement of this kind every man was at his
post, and I never heard of any accident happening.

Every Man to His Own Engine.

Telegraph offices in those days were not as close as at the present
time, and it would be from some station where there was no telegraph
office that such movements would take place. In the daytime the
engineer would watch for the smoke of the other fellow, and for his
headlight at night. Back in those days Skaneateles Junction, Auburn,
Cayuga, Geneva and Canandaigua were wood stations brought there by
wood contractors.

Back in those days every engineer had a regular engine, and no one
ran her but the regular assigned engineer. There were no injectors in
those days that you could depend on. Every engine had two pumps, one
on each side, to put water in the boiler when the engine was moving.
Engineers had to pack their own pistons, valve stems and pumps, also
all cocks in the cab, and take care of the headlight.

(1) Merchants Dispatch Transportation Company specialized in the
transport of refrigerated perishable goods in refrigerator cars. It
was organized in 1871 and essentially was a subsidiary of the New
York Central Railroad.

(2) This was a 4-2-0, the "Providence," built for the Auburn &
Rochester Railroad by Norris Locomotive Works of Philadelphia in
1842. Later New York Central #180. Cylinders 10" x 20" 48' drivers,
weight, 20,000 lbs.

No comments: