Wednesday, March 31, 2010

1924 The Peanut Branch

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, April 6, 1924

Railroader Tells of Early Years on Peanut Branch

Brightly Painted Cars and Engines Used on
Roads Out of Batavia; Car Shops at LeRoy

By R. A. Murphy
(Below we print some reminiscences of some of the small
railroads around Batavia, N.Y. that are now incorporated into the New
York Central. The writer is a Rock Island pensioner and at one time
was superintendent at Minneapolis. He was born in Batavia and was one
of the pioneer railroad men of that section. His reminiscences were
contained in a letter to A.M. Clough, supervisor at Batavia, and were
evoked by a picture of the Batavia station that was printed in a
recent issue of the New York Central Lines Magazine.)

In looking through the New York Central Lines Magazine, I
noticed a photograph of the New York Central depot at Batavia, which
is one of the finest little cities in Western New York. The longer I
looked at it, the more I thought of Batavia, my boyhood home in the
days before the Civil War, and the railroads we had running into that

We had the old six-foot gauge Canandaigua & Niagara Falls
Railway. They had engines called the Niagara, Sam Brown, Ben Pringle,
Elmira and others, all inside connected engines. Today this old
railroad is the Peanut Branch of the New York Central Railroad.
I remember two brothers, Mike and Pat Dwyer, who ran engines on this
old road. I often rode down to LeRoy with them.

Car Shop at LeRoy
There was a car shop at LeRoy where they built cars for the New
York Central Railroad. They would load them on the broad gauge cars
and haul them to Batavia, place them on a turntable, let them down on
skids on a four-foot eight and a half inch track, on rails laid
between the rails of the six foot gauge and deliver them to the New
York Central Railroad. Your Tonawanda branch is part of this old six-
foot gauge railway.

Then we had another six-foot gauge road we called the Cohocton
Valley Railroad . This road ran from Avon to Batavia only, in those
days. They graded the right-of-way nearly to Buffalo, built a bridge
over the Tonawanda Creek, but never used it. They had a one-stall
roundhouse at Batavia and a small turntable. When they wanted to
turn the engine, they had to disconnect the tender from the engine
and turn them separately. The hostler's names were Pat Shea and Tom
Reardon. They were engineers afterward on the Erie, and Northern
Central Railroad, now the Pennsylvania Railroad. Often before putting
the engine in the roundhouse they would run her east of Batavia to
pump her up, and I would go with them and ring the bell. We had no
air bell ringers in those days on engines, or any injectors either.

This road was afterward built to Attica to connect with the old
Erie Railway at that point. They had quite a time crossing the New
York Central at Batavia. The New York Central had nearly 500 of the
finest men you could find - all from Erinís Green Isle - to keep the
old Cohocton from crossing, and you bet they didn't cross until the
New York Central allowed them to do so. The road into Batavia first
was the good old New York Central of today - the four track road of

Home-Switched Cars
Old Ep Powers pumped water for them with a tread mill and two
or three horses. He could not do this today. In those days old man
Clark would switch cars with an old gray horse and pull the little
red wheat cars down to Monell's and Gould's warehouses. Of course,
there were no elevators in those days. Charles Gould, the father of
the Gould coupler, was raised in Batavia. I remember him well as a boy.

Then when the Civil War started I went to work in the Western
Union Telegraph office of the New York Central for William McElron as
a messenger boy. Many a message I delivered in old Batavia, and many
a message I delivered to the home of Dean Richmond, who was President
of the New York Central Railroad. In my estimation, as a boy and
when I grew to be a young man and until he passed away, I thought
there was no other man like him. He was so good and kind to everyone,
and his good wife and family were the same.

In 1863 I ran away from home and went to New York and enlisted.
When I was discharged from the army in October, 1865, I came back
home, worked on the track a little while, and then went on as a
brakeman for Conductor Mose Cleveland on a mixed train between
Batavia and Canandaigua. I doubled the road of 50 miles each day,
wooded up about eight times, on the round trip, unloaded freight and
broke by hand - for $35 a month, and I was happy and contended.

Crime to Miss Coupling
I remember well the Creamer brake and the board that was
fastened by one bolt in one car in passenger trains to keep
passenger trains from falling off when going from one car to
another. There was considerable slack with the old pin and link
couplers. When an old time brakeman would miss making a coupling for
the first time, you would year the rest of the gang yell 'New Man.'
It was almost a crime to miss making a coupling in those days.

On the Peanut Division we had Engineers Al Lyons, George
McFagan, Mr. Perkins, Mr. Boyington, Charlie Martin and Hat Hamlin.
The conductors were Mr. Peak, Al Richmond (Dean's son), Hank Agar and
Mose Cleveland and a man by the name of Smith who ran extra on the
Tonawanda line. Mr. Marsh was also a conductor. I have forgotten the
engineer's name. John DeWolf fired for him. Mr. Northam, who was
later yard master at Buffalo, was the extra conductor. Conductors on
the Peanut in those days wore plug hats.

On the Attica Branch they had an old dome boiler engine, with
Harvey Backus as engineer. McMahon was his fireman and J.D. Terrell
was the conductor. The engine was named after him. The train
consisted of two cars. Old Man Chase was the baggageman and ran as an
extra conductor. On the man line we had the engines Racer, North
Star, Dean Richmond, Byron, Bergen, Pembroke, Churchville and others.
Some of the engines were inside connected with a ìVî hook, and were
called Hinkleys. Some of the engineers I can recall were Lin Ham,
Nick Kehoe, Dick Hart, Hank Carter and brother, Matt Earhart and
brother. Matt was called the 'Flying Dutchman'; John and Hank Day,
brothers, then Mat Sanford and Ed Woods. 'Old Boy' Houghtail was a
passenger conductor.

A man by the name of Coddington would take charge of three
stock trains from Buffalo to Rochester. They had no large packing
houses in the West in those days. The stock of all went through to
New York City. Another old conductor was L. Wood.

Partly Single Tracked
I made many a trip between Buffalo and Rochester, and stood at
the end of the track at Byron and Bergen waiting for a train to come
before we could pull out, as Byron was the first end of double track,
and then Bergen. They had a one-armed operator at Byron who was a
noble fellow, and would give us all the information he could about
trains while we were wooding up the engine. So, you can see, kind
acts are never forgotten, and I have never forgotten. He was a good man.

Those were the days when an engine went into Dave Upton's shop.
They did not squirt the black paint onto her and send her out in a
day or two, as they do now. The engine's wheels were painted and
varnished a beautiful red, and landscapes were painted on the sides
of the tenders, such as Niagara Falls, Genesee Falls and other
beautiful scenes. Also the sides of the headlights had pictures
painted on them. In wooding up, should a fellow strike the side of
the tank with a stock of wood he would have to get the gloves as with
the fireman. I know I would have been thumped one day had I not been
the better man of the two for having a stick of wood accidentally
strike the side of the tender. But as a rule, the boys were very
careful in wooding up.

Wooden Brake Shoes
Our cars in those days had the old wooden brake shoes. You had
to watch them to keep them from burning up going down old Byron
grade. Loaded freight cars in those days were not allowed to go off
the line. All cars had the contents transferred at all junction
points. No car accountants in those days as now! They had what they
called 'car chasers' who rode over connecting lines looking for cars
that were lost.

I remember one time after I had left the New York Central, in
the forepart of 1868, and gone to work on the Northern Central
Railroad out of Canandaigua, now the Pennsylvania Railroad, of a car
coming to our line loaded with beer from McKechine's brewery for
Elmira, N.Y., and which should have been transferred at Canandaigua.
Agent William Burgett asked me if I would haul the car without its
contents being transferred. I told him 'Sure.' I took it to Elmira.
Then after being unloaded at Elmira, the car was used locally between
Elmira and Williamsport.

In about ten days, along came a car chaser. I was on this run
as an extra conductor. Along came the car chaser and asked me if I
ever saw it before. I told him 'No,' and that I thought they might
have loaded it by mistake. You know railroad men never told a fib in
those days, neither do they now. At least I never heard of them
telling any, and I have been a trainmaster and an assistant
trainmaster on the B.C.R.N. and the good Rock Island Railroad for 35
years after coming West in 1880. As I am only a kid now - 78 years of
age - the good old Rock Island Railroad pensioned me off nearly eight
years ago.

Well, did you know that the New York Central had a continuous
rail in 1865 and 1866 on part of the Buffalo division? The rails were
split in two, lengthwise, and bolted together so they made a
continuous rail. The joints were not opposite each other. If Andy
McVully's father were living or old John Fredly, supervisor, they
could tell you about those days and rails. Good men they were. I hope
they are happy in heaven, where the tamping of ties, laying of steel,
lining up track, shoveling snow or shimming up old chair iron does
not bother them now. Good bless them and others who worked with them
in those days, and helped pump an old hand-car to and from work for
six or eight miles each morning and evening.

Submitted by Dick Palmer

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