The Handsomest Train in the World
The First Twenty-Five Years of the Black Diamond Express By Richard F. Palmer
The legendary Black Diamond Express brought as much fame and class to the Lehigh Valley Railroad as the Empire State Express did to the New York Central. Although the train existed for nearly 63 years, this book only covers the period between 1896 and 1920. These first 25 years may be considered the train's true glory days when it was a fashionable and fast-moving intercity express.
This story is the result of several years of research into original sources such as newspapers, annual reports, contemporary railroad trade periodicals, timetables, reminiscences, etc. Among those who assisted me in this effort were: Peter Allen, Bobb Losse Jr., William Caloroso, Michael Connor, John Drury, Michael Frantz, Ron Dukarm, George Elwood, Robert Gongleski, William T. Greenberg, Stephan Koenig, Shelden King, David Miller, Eric Neubauer, Bud Rindleisch, William T. Steinbrenner, Paul Templeton, A. Bruce Tracy, Herbert Trice, Jack Tuttle, Will Shultz and Paul Worboys. Also, resources at the Geneva Historical Society, Ithaca History Center, Sayre Historical Society; and Thomas Tryniski's exceptionally helpful website, Fultonhistory.com, and Newspaper Archive.com.
____ The Lehigh Valley Railroad recently served notice upon its competitors that it was going to do a little something in the way of fast trains itself, and with its Black Diamond Express it has set a pace that has been much talked about. The Black Diamond Express makes the run to Buffalo in nine hours and fifty-five minutes, and is in every way a magnificent train. - New York Tribune, January 30, 1897
The development of fast intercity express trains between New York and Buffalo is synonymous with the 1890s in which the Empire State Express of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad immediately comes to mind. But long before this train was even thought of, the Lehigh Valley had been operating fast-moving long distance overnight passenger trains with Pullmans on a variety of routes to Buffalo, with connections to the Midwest. These were in association with the Erie, New York Central, the Pennsylvania and the Reading. By the time its famous Black Diamond Express was conceived in 1896, the Lehigh Valley was well established in this burgeoning business and its trains were well patronized. Its peak year was 1893 when it carried 6,306,039 passengers. (1)
But backing up, a timetable dated August 1, 1870 shows two daily overnight trains between New York and Chicago in each direction. They ran over the Central Railroad of New Jersey to Easton, Pa.; the Lehigh Valley from there to East Penn Junction between Bethlehem and Allentown; then over the Philadelphia and Reading (North Pennsylvania Railroad) to Reading, and on to Harrisburg. There it was turned over to the Pennsylvania, which took it to Chicago. This changed when the Lehigh Valley finally opened its own line between Easton and Jersey City in June,1875. (2)
The same 1870 timetable advertised a "Fast Express Train" originated at the North Pennsylvania Railroad's Berks Street station in Philadelphia. The train included parlor and sleeping cars. This train ran to Bethlehem on the North Pennsylvania Railroad. From there it continued on to Waverly where through passengers detrained and boarded the Erie for the balance of the trip to Buffalo. This route developed when the Lehigh Valley's wholly owned subsidiary, the Pennsylvania & New York Canal Railroad, opened for business between Wilkes Barre, Pa. and Towanda on November 26, 1867 and to Waverly on September 20, 1869. For a brief period passengers had to change trains in Waverly due to the fact the Lehigh Valley was standard gauge and the Erie was six foot gauge. Soon, a third rail was laid between Waverly and Elmira to accommodate standard gauge trains - mostly anthracite coal runs which were turned over to the Northern Central at that point. It was made operational on November 10, 1870. This first 20 miles of the third rail, to Elmira, was laid under an arrangement between the two roads, by which the Lehigh Valley furnished the rails and took its pay by a certain percentage of its monthly trackage rights payments to the Erie for Lehigh Valley trains moving over the line. In return, the Erie gave the Lehigh Valley security with interest. The balance of the distance of 170 miles from Elmira to Buffalo, was railed by the Lehigh Valley under a similar arrangement with the Erie, costing about $1.2 million. Indicative of the Lehigh Valley's heavy traffic on this route the trackage rights payments to the Erie cancelled the debt in two years. (3) Laying of the third rail to Elmira did little to enhance the Lehigh Valley's through passenger service. In June, 1874 it added Pullman sleeping cars to this run. Patrons were inconvenienced by being awakened at 12:30 a.m. to change to an Erie train for Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Finally, the Lehigh Valley advanced funds to the Erie to extend the third rail 170 miles from Elmira to Buffalo which was opened on May 22, 1876 - just in time to take advantage of heavy passenger traffic to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Lehigh Valley advanced the Erie $1,200,000 for this project. The Lehigh Valley passenger train consists on this route included Pullman Palace cars, chair cars and sleepers. (4) Meanwhile, another through corridor route was being established. The Ithaca & Athens Railroad was opened on August 21, 1872. The Geneva & Ithaca Railroad was opened on November 10, 1873. These two lines were later merged and came quickly fell under Lehigh Valley control. By December 26, 1873, passenger trains on this line, known as the Ithaca branch, were running directly from Sayre to Geneva. There a car was turned over to the New York Central & Hudson River for the balance of the trip to Rochester and points west. Connections were made with New York trains at Sayre. A timetable dated June 1, 1874 shows two daily trains in each direction between Geneva and Sayre. Later an extra train was added in each direction between Geneva and Ithaca. Pullman service between New York and Geneva was first noted in the timetable of May 14, 1877. This routing changed slightly on November 10, 1878 when the trains were re-routed over the newly-completed Geneva & Lyons Railroad which was an entity of the NYC&HR. At Lyons they connected with New York Central mainline trains. (5) The Lyons connection as well as running rights over the Erie were terminated in 1892 with completion of the new mainline from VanEtten to Buffalo. In 1893, the Lehigh Valley carried a record 6,306,039 passengers that generated $2,606,025.28 in passenger revenue. The high volume of business that year was attributed to two factors. First was the heavy rail traffic to the World's Fair in Chicago - more commonly known as the Columbian Exposition. Secondly, there was was a substantial increase in through passenger business from New York to Buffalo, as well as a connection with improved service to Chicago, via the Grand Trunk. This allowed the railroad to introduce a popular high-grade, hotel-quality parlor and dining car service.(6) In spite of the excellent service being provided, it was not enough for the driving force of Charles S. Lee, General Passenger Agent of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Lee was to the Lehigh what George H. Daniels was to the New York Central & Hudson River - a top shelf promoter. Early in 1896 he conceived what was to become one of the most famous name trains in railroad history - the "Black Diamond Express." It would be a fast day train offering similar accommodations to rival in amenities to the "Empire State Express" between New York and Buffalo. Except for a brief period in 1908 the train existed for nearly 63 years. During that time it chalked up an enviable record of on-time performance and over the decades was very popular with the traveling public for decades. It was used as a backdrop in early silent motion pictures. It also became popularly known as the "Honeymoon Express" as countless newlyweds made the journey to Niagara Falls. In later years, the Lehigh Valley made a valiant effort to compete with neighboring railroads by modernizing its equipment, but for naught. Its passenger business was eroded by the automobile and air travel, particularly after World War II. The Black Diamond was discontinued on May 11, 1959, a week short of its 63rd birthday. It's passing was lamented by many, but nostalgia could not overcome economic reality.
Black Diamond introduced
The introduction of the Black Diamond Express was one of the most successful public relations coups of the late 19th century. In May, 1896, thousands of people were allowed to tour the train in major communities along the line when it was first introduced. The press touted it as a a "Palace on Wheels" and "A Sumptuous Mode of Travel" and agreed with the railroad's claim of it being "The Handsomest Train in the World." It was put on exhibition in Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva, Ithaca, Sayre, Towanda, Wilkes Barre and at other points. The railroad's top brass aboard the exhibition train included Col. Rollin H. Wilbur, general superintendent; division superintendents A. Mitchell and O. O. Easer; Assistant General Passenger Agent A. W. Nonnemacher; General Western Passenger Agent E. B. Hyington, located in Buffalo, and Superintendent of Dining Cars J.H. Seal.
In the beginning
Prior to inaugurating the Black Diamond Express, an experimental run was made on February 27, 1896 to see if, indeed, it was possible to compete the Empire State Express between New York and Buffalo. The normal running time for regular passenger trains between the two cities over the Lehigh Valley was 12 hours. This experiment train consisted of a locomotive and four Pullman cars. It arrived in Buffalo a half hour ahead of schedule, making the actual running time eight hours and 44 minutes. Even so, the train was held for several minutes at a number of stations to kill time. The fastest time made was the 20 miles between Batavia and Depew, which was covered in less than 16 minutes. (7) In March, 1896 an offer of $25 in gold was made to the person suggesting a name for the trains which should be adopted. Mr. Lee and his staff at Bethlehem, Pa. headquarters burned the midnight oil going over some 35,000 or more names submitted in the contest. Lee selected the "Black Diamond" as being particularly appropriate. He sent the prize money to Charles M. Montgomery, a clerk at the Merchants Hotel in Toledo, Ohio. Lee said he chose "Black Diamond" because this was the symbol of the railroad's main freight business - the transportation of hard coal or "black diamonds" to market. Also, anthracite fueled the railroad's locomotives. (8) The consist of the original "Black Diamond Express" would be four wooden Pullman-built cars including a combination baggage and cafe car, two coaches and an observation car. Advertisements from the 1890s touted that "above all, it is the handsomest train in the world; it is fast; its equipment perfect; its dining car service, a la carte, is unexcelled." The named cars were owned by the Pullman Palace Car Co. The numbered cars were owned by the railroad. Wide vestibule cars were a fairly new feature when the Black Diamond was introduced and this was one of the state-of-the-art characteristics of the train. Earlier premium trains like the Royal Blue trains and the Pennsylvania Limited had narrow vestibules. (9) The west-bound train, designated as No. 9, would leave the New York (actually from the Pennsylvania Railroad terminal in Jersey City), daily except Sundays, at 12 noon and arrive in Buffalo at 10 p.m., taking 10 hours for the run. Eastbound Train No. 10 east-bound was to leave Buffalo also at 12 noon and arrive in New York at 10:03 p.m. This running time was more than hour and a half longer than that of the New York Central's Empire State Express. One car of each train would be run directly to and from Rochester, avoiding change at Rochester Junction. The length of the run was 447 miles, about seven miles longer than the New York Central; 39 miles longer than the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and 24 miles longer than the Erie. Scenery was its big selling point. The Empire State Express's running time between Buffalo and New York was 45 minutes faster than the Black Diamond. The Lehigh Valley requested the best rolling stock available from Pullman. The perfection of the car-builders' art was reflected in these cars. The Pullman Palace Car Company went out of its way to create something that would bring more than usual attention and credit to themselves. It was impossible for the non-carbuilding mind to imagine anything more elegant, more luxurious or more substantial than this train. Twelve cars to make up three train sets arrived at Niagara Falls, N.Y. from the Pullman shops in Chicago, via the Grand Trunk on May 6, 1896. The consist of each train was a combined baggage and cafe car, two day coaches and a parlor observation car. On the baggage portion of the combine was painted "Black Diamond Express" in aluminum leaf gilt letters with a green wreath and the well-known Lehigh Valley herald. The exterior of the train was painted according to the Lehigh Valley standard of the day, called "glossy coal." Inside was to be found not only repose for the body but all sorts of modern conveniences. One reporter wrote: "The eye Is pleased and the brain soothed by the most artistic combinations of colors and mural decorations, hanging and upholstery. There is not a trace of gaudiness to be seen; everything is rich and quiet, and therefore enduringly effective."
The first car on the train was the combination baggage and café car, 67 feet in length. It was described as surpassing in style and finish anything of the kind ever built up to that time. The forward part of the car had no platform. The baggage compartment was 19 feet long. To the rear was the combined café, library, writing and smoking room for gentlemen, "where the necessities and luxuries of life are served by trained servants – as rapidly and as exquisitely prepared as at any hotel or restaurant in the world; the kitchen is presided over by a corps of competent chefs, with every facility at hand for serving substantials and delicacies in a most appetizing fashion; the dining compartment is most complete in its appointments, and meals a la carte may be ordered at any time." At first these were defined as cafe-dining-baggage cars and later baggage-buffet-library cars. Pullman also referred to this car type as a "composite" as opposed to "combination." Similar cars were used on other roads. The Black Diamond was the Lehigh's first vestibule train.
The second and third cars are Pullman built coaches after the latest models, with ladies’ and gentlemen’s lavatories and large and comfortable smoking rooms. The fourth and last car on the train is a magnificent Pullman Palace car, with seating capacity for twenty-eight persons; it is an observation car with plate glass windows so arranged as to be placed at the pleasure of the passengers, so that a view may be had of the panoramic changes of scenery; there is no smoking room in this car, but in addition to the drawing room there is a retiring room for ladies, which is in charge of a careful and attentive ladies’ maid; this room contains lounges, writing tables and easy chairs and a library of current literature, including daily and weekly papers and magazines. Bringing up the rear were two Pullman observation cars and one spare, called the “Ganoga,” “Cayuga” and the “Seneca” – after three popular lake resorts along the line of the “picturesque route.” These particular cars, which seating for 28 persons, were the pride of the train. In addition to luxurious chairs and rich decorations, it has a plate-glass observation section, so that the beauties of the scenery along the route can be fully enjoyed. In this car Is the women's retiring-room referred to. It contains lounge, easy chairs, writing tables and a library. Connected with this room were the lavatories. (10)
On May 18, 1896, the train pulled out of Jersey City station on its westbound inaugural run. At the same time its counterpart left Buffalo. Both were heavily loaded with passengers. It was the intention of the officials to create a record over the Lehigh with the new train. General Passenger Agent Lee was in charge of the westbound train and several officials of the Transportation and Motive Power departments were also on board. Pulling the inaugural run were 4-4-0s No. 424, the James Donnolly, and No. 425, the Rollin H. Wilbur, both built at the railroad shops in South Easton in 1886 and 1887 respectively. The engines were named for Lehigh Valley superintendents of the day. Both had 69-inch driving wheels and were capable of high speeds. These locomotives could handle the "Black Diamond Express" at an average speed of 46 miles per hour on the New York-Buffalo run, not including the 10 intermediate stops that consumed about 30 minutes.
Preparations were made for a fast run and the whole train was minutely inspected to see that everything was in proper condition. Then the whirlwind trip through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York began. The run from Jersey City to Easton, a distance of 76 miles over a gently rising grade, was made in one hour and 33 minutes, arriving at 1:47 p.m. on scheduled time. A one-minute stop was made at Newark and another of two minutes at South Plainfield, where water was taken. Deducting these stops, the actual running time of the train was one hour and 30 minutes. The fastest time was made between Newark and Ashbrook, where a mile was run in 47 seconds, or an average of 75 miles per hour. At Easton engines were changed. After leaving there, the train ran on schedule time through to Buffalo. Stops were made at Bethlehem, Allentown, Mauch Chunk, Wilkes Barre, Sayre and Rochester Junction, from which place one of the day coaches was cut out and taken into Rochester. A Philadelphia connection was established with the Reading at Bethlehem.
The fastest continuous run of the trip was made between Laceyville and Sayre, over a stretch of 56 miles of road. The distance was covered in 50 minutes. No really phenomenal time was made. It was said it was not the intent of railroad officials to make a record breaking trip, but simply to test a rapid comfortable means of travel between New York and Buffalo. At 8:17 p.m. the train pulled into Manchester, the east end of the Buffalo division. Here Tom Farley and engine No. 613 were lying in wait for it. It did not take long to couple on the train and hook up the steam lines. Then with a toot of the whistle, Tom threw open the throttle and the train leaped along the home stretch. It was a distance of 88 miles and including two stops of five minutes each, it was made in one hour and 43 minutes.
The fastest continuous run of the trip was made between Laceyville and Sayre, over a stretch of 56 miles of road. The distance was covered in 50 minutes. No really phenomenal time was made. It was said it was not the intent of railroad officials to make a record breaking trip, but simply to test a rapid comfortable means of travel between New York and Buffalo. At 8:17 p.m. the train pulled into Manchester, the east end of the Buffalo division. Here Tom Farley and engine No. 613 were lying in wait for it. It did not take long to couple on the train and hook up the steam lines. Then with a toot of the whistle, Tom threw open the throttle and the train leaped along the home stretch. It was a distance of 88 miles and including two stops of five minutes each, it was made in one hour and 43 minutes.
The train that left New York City at 12 noon reached Buffalo exactly on time at 10 p.m. Deducting 14 minutes for crossing the ferry between New York and Jersey City and 38 minutes for stoppages, the total actual running time was nine hours and eight minutes, the time of the entire trip being 10 hours as per schedule.
The eastbound train made a remarkably fast run between Buffalo and Rochester Junction, arriving four minutes ahead of schedule. Engineer Farley also took the second run of the Black Diamond out of Buffalo. He took it as far as Manchester and then waited there until the west-bound train came. He said he had time to kill. In many places he maintained speed of a mile in 58 seconds. At Manchester, Farley climbed down to check out the engine, and found the running gear in perfect order.
Under the system adopted by the railroad, one day an engineer would take the outgoing train through his division and bring back the other. Then he would take a day off and the other engineer assigned to that division would work. In the case of the Buffalo division, Farley alternated with his counterpart, Elijah Moody. It was the thrill of a lifetime when young Engineer Joseph Keller of Wilkes-Barre received word that he had been chosen to pilot the first eastbound train from Wilkes-Barre to Easton, a distance of 101 miles. Throughout his life he carefully preserved the despatch he received on May 14, 1896 from Trainmaster C.L. Bardo: "You have been selected as one of the enginemen who are to run the 'Black Diamond Express' over the Wyoming Division. "This Company has spared neither time, labor nor expense in making this train one of the finest in America with a view of drawing to our line business which we never enjoyed before. "In order to make the train a complete success it is necessary that it is handled properly with good judgement over the mountain, and around the curves, and I would therefore ask that each of you spare no pains to make the success of this train complete, exercising the very best judgement at all times and doing everything in your power to keep the train on time without annoyance to the passengers." Keller said on the first eastbound trip, engines and crews were changed at Sayre, Wilkes-Barre and Easton. His engine was No. 655, a 4-4-0 with 69-inch drivers, built at the Lehigh Valley's Hazleton shops in 1893. When interviewed in 1940, Keller, then 80 years of age, recalled: I'll never forget the ovation the new train was given on that trip. The depot here at Wilkes-Barre was jammed with thousands who came to look it over. Stations were crowded all along the line, and people even turned out at bridges and highway crossings. I don't know how many times I had to toot the whistle." (11)
The Elmira Telegram of May 23, 1896 commented: Joseph Keller of Wilkes-Barre, a responsible young man who resides on Brewery Hill, runs the flyer between Wilkes-Barre and Easton. The touch of Joe's hand on the switch of the air-brake is as soft as a child's. He is vigilant, and as placid in danger as an unruffled lake, fearless as a lion, and has nerves like steel.
The dining car menu
The original a la carte menu aboard the Black Diamond Express at that early period is what one would expect to find on luxury trains of the day, including fine cuts of steak, chicken, seafood, mutton chops, a variety of sandwiches, cream potatoes, vegetables and cheeses. Desserts included homemade pies, sliced and bandy peaches and cream, cantaloupe, raspberry preserves and baked apple dumpling. The most expensive item was a Porterhouse steak with potatoes for $1.50, and with mushrooms, $1.75. (12)
An early trip aboard the Black Diamond
Charles R. Mellen of Geneva penned an interesting comparison between the "Black Diamond Express" and the "Empire State Express" which was published as a letter to the editor in the Geneva Advertiser on June 26, 1896, headlined "The Two Fast Trains": A few days ago I had the occasion to go to New York, and as my time was limited I went to Syracuse and took the Empire State Express. It is a fine run from Syracuse and we reached the Grand Central precisely on time. Two days later I returned to Geneva by the famous Black Diamond Express on the Lehigh Valley leaving New York at twelve (noon) and arriving in Geneva at 7:54 p.m. I had heard this was the most beautiful train in the world, and I verily believe it is. The magnificently appointed cars are connected with vestibules surrounded by plate glass. The excellent meals, the absence of dust and cinders, the beautiful scenery, and the courteous attention of all employees (and I underscore the word all) with the quick time combine to make it a most attractive trip rather than a tedious journey. The observation platform at the rear of the last car was occupied almost constantly by a group of delighted travelers who were captivated by the charming views. I met an Englishman on the Empire State Express and was proud to have him know he was riding on the fastest train in the world; but I should have been prouder still could I have had him with me on the beautiful Pullman palace car "Seneca" (which by the way is in charge of our courteous friend S.M. Bently) and to have pointed out to him from the mountains old Wilkes Barre in the valley below, and near Burdett our own beautiful Seneca, nestled far below us, and which with the glorious sunset was even more beautiful to me than the Hudson. The run from Sayre to Geneva on this train, drawn by the mighty engine 659 with W.M. Owens at the throttle, made me almost sorry we had reached Geneva. The smoothness of the roadbed, the easy curves, and steady rush of the train were fascinating and as I sat in the observation vestibule and watched the mile posts flit by. I noticed we made several miles in 52 seconds each, and many were made in 55 and 58 seconds. It is a great thing for Geneva people to be able to say they can take the handsomest train in the world from their village at 2:09 p.m. and arrive in New York at 10 the same evening, but they need not be afraid to say it is for it is true, and I hope the Company has gone to the expense to make make this train what it is will find it is appreciated. [Locomotive #659 was a Camelback 4-4-0 built by Baldwin in 1895 and had 73-inch drivers].
The Lehigh Valley's annual report for 1896 noted: Attention is called to the continuing large increase in the passenger business. While this is partly due to the added volume obtained during the year through the acquirement of the Elmira, Cortland & Northern Railroad, yet a considerable part has been secured and developed by an active solicitation for business, and by the improvement of our train service.
The operation of the dining and cafe cars and restaurants has proved satisfactory. This department is now operating two dining cars, two cafe cars, and the station restaurants at Easton, Wilkes Barre, Sayre and Geneva. The running of the Black Diamond Express between New York and Buffalo, which was put on in May last, has proved to be more satisfactory in its results than we had any reason to anticipate. The train has become a very popular one with the traveling public. The receipts from the date of its inauguration have been more than sufficient to pay all expenses, while the reports show that our other through trains have also increased their earnings. During the year we have established a line of Postal cars for the carrying of the U.S. Mail between New York and Buffalo. These cars were built by our company for this service upon the application of the Post Office Department. In its report to the board of directors dated June 9, 1896, the Executive Committee was pleased to note:
The new fast train between New York and Buffalo, in each direction, known as the "Black Diamond Express," was started on Monday, May 18th, and has continued to be run satisfactorily both as to time and patronage. There is every indication that this train will prove remunerative without detracting from the business of other trains on the line.
In 1896, the Lehigh Valley carried 5,020,864 passengers compared to 4,798,837 in 1895. The railroad had 243 passenger cars, three dining cars, 69 combination cars, 33 baggage and mail cars and 38 express cars.
The Lehigh Valley had exceptionally well-maintained track in the 1890s which allowed for fast running. This article on one of the early fast runs appeared in the Geneva Daily Times on Sept. 26, 1896:
The Black Diamond - Breaking all Records-to-date - 43 miles in 32 minutes
The "Black Diamond Express" on the Lehigh Valley is becoming one of the most famous trains in the world. Up to yesterday it had already shared honors with the much advertised Empire State Express. The Black Diamond, although instituted by the Lehigh but a short time ago, has become one of the most popular trains of the day and its capacity is being taxed. It is the boast of the officials and the boast had the record to back it, that since its inauguration the train had arrived at its destination on time. This is a marvelous record. Naturally there have been many delays during a trip, but the time lost has always been made up. This was the case yesterday when the Black Diamond rolled into Sayre eighteen minutes late, and with the reputation of the train at stake it was necessary for the train to reach Buffalo when the clock was striking ten. In making up part of the lost time the engineer of the Black Diamond succeeded in smashing all railroad records in this part of the country. From Odessa to Geneva, on the main line, it is just forty-three miles, and timed accurately from Odessa to Geneva, the run of forty-three miles was made in thirty-two minutes! Where is the train that can claim a run that is its equal?
On January 7, 1897, a remarkable run between Jersey City and Easton. The actual running time for a distance of 66 miles was 67 minutes, including a three-minute stop. From South Plainfield to Easton, a distance of 51 miles, the run was made in 50 minutes; included in this distance Musconectcong Mountain, which the train was obliged to climb on an ascending grade of 47 feet to the mile. Scarcely a week passed but that good reports were heard of this remarkable train. No matter what delay occur on the road, the Black Diamond is always given the right of way, because the train has, since the day it was placed on the schedule, arrived at its destination on time. This record was jealously guarded by all those connected with the train from the general passenger agent down to the mechanic who taps the wheels.
On January 25, 1897 the Black Diamond was delayed some 50 minutes near Van Etten due to a mechanical problem with the locomotive. When the trouble was corrected the engineer knew there was a task before him to make up that 50 minutes, but did not shrink from it. The run from Cayuta to Sayre, a distance of 24 miles, was made in 20 minutes, and from Sayre to Wilkes Barre, 84 miles, the run was made in 78 minutes. The record of the train on the balance of the run to New York was such that it arrived on time in Jersey City. One day in February, 1897, the train covered the 46 miles between Sayre and North Hector in 39 minutes.
On stretches of level road speeds as high as 70 miles an hour were made, and even the Alleghany mountains were climbed at 60 miles an hour. The 56 miles between Laceyville and Sayre was covered with ease in 49 minutes. Another fast run was accomplished on July 2, 1897 when the Black Diamond literally flew over the main line from Alpine to Geneva Junction, 44 miles, in 31 minutes, at a speed of 85 miles per hour with #667, one of the high-drivered Atlantics, on the head end. Engineer Thomas Farley was at the throttle. On July 7, 1897 the "Diamond" covered the 39 miles between Odessa and Geneva in 29 minutes. Good time was made by the Black Diamond Express on Aug. 17, 1897 between Buffalo and Rochester Junction. The train was held in Buffalo five minutes on account of the lateness of the Grand Trunk connection. The first four miles out of Buffalo were run slowly, but after passing William street the throttle was pulled wide open. Mile after mile was reeled off at better than 57 seconds, and by the time Rochester Junction was reached, 68 miles out, only 67 minutes had been consumed. The average time per mile was 59 seconds. What made this run remarkable was the fact that between Buffalo and Stafford, a distance of 42 miles, on a slight upgrade.
The following article published in the Elmira Telegram on July 9, 1898 details heated competition: There is a steadily increasing rivalry between the New York Central and the Lehigh Valley in regard to the operation of popular fast trains - the Empire State Express of the former, and the Black Diamond Express of the latter. Recently the Central people made public some interesting figures, showing the punctuality with which their train was run last year. Thereupon the Lehigh Valley people were moved to look up the record of their train for the corresponding period - the 12 months ended December 31, 1897. It was found that west-bound the Black Diamond arrived at Buffalo within five minutes of the schedule time on 287 days of 313, or 92 percent, and that the east-bound train made a similar good record of 290 days, equal to 93 percent, of all the trips. The Black Diamond has a slower schedule than that of the Empire State Express, but, on the other hand, there are much steeper grades to contend with, the trains are usually heavier and there are more stops. The schedule of the Black Diamond westward is nine hours, 55 minutes, including the ferry between New York and Jersey City, and east-bound nine hours, 57 minutes. The distance is 447.53 miles, making the rate, including stops, but not the ferry, (one mile) , 46 and one-third miles per hour.
There are 10 stops, consuming about 30 minutes, and 19 minutes are allowed for the ferry. The east-bound train is scheduled at 63 miles an hour for 44 miles. On many occasions, when late, a speed of 80 miles an hour has been kept up for a distance of 20 miles or more, and on April 21, 1897, this rate was maintained for 44 miles, Alpine to Geneva Junction. These trains consist of five cars each, and as the cafe car, 86 feet long, weighs 108,500 pounds, and the day cars 75,000 pounds each, the whole train, exclusive of the engine and tender, must weight something over 419,000 pounds.
The locomotives which haul these cars weigh 140,900 pounds each. They have cylinders 19 by 26 inches and driving wheels 78 inches in diameter. They have Wooten fire boxes, burning hard coal, and the average consumption of coal per train mile is 88 pounds. The steepest grade encountered by the Black Diamond (east-bound) is 96 feet per mile for 10 miles. The train surmounts an altitude of 1,739 feet above the level of the sea.
Record-breaking fast time was made by a special train on Oct. 8, 1898 between Buffalo and Ithaca, The train was made up of Black Diamond equipment, and carried members of the Buffalo Railroad Association and their friends in the college city on their annual excursion. According to the Elmira Telegram of that day, the run from Buffalo to Rochester Junction, 69 miles, was made in 67 minutes. All told, the first 105 miles were covered in 102 minutes, including a five-minute stop at Rochester Junction. The run to Ithaca, 148 miles, was made in two hours and forty-six minutes, including one stop of five minutes, and another of seven minutes.
Manchester crew change eliminated
On August 8, 1897 the Lehigh Valley commenced running passenger trains from Buffalo to Sayre without changing crews and engines at Manchester. Train crews went along with the plan. In those days the greatest problem encountered on long runs was that the locomotive fire boxes became choked up. Trains stopped briefly at Manchester to clean them and then continued their journey. The distance from Buffalo to Sayre was 170 miles, and was run in about four hours. During that time the fireman handled from four to five tons of coal on an ordinary passenger engine. Those assigned to the Black Diamond Express did not not burn any more coal than the ordinary passenger engine, although they ran at breakneck speed. Formerly on this run the Lehigh Valley had but four crews to two engines, but now they would have three crews to each engine. This would seem to increase running expenses of the road, but officials claimed that under the new system they saved six engines and crews. The men now would have a lay over of 60 hours instead of 24 as formerly. They would now work only every third day, but would receive the same wages as previously. A considerable part of the difference was made up by the men being on the road instead of having to stop over at Manchester for four or five hours waiting for a return run. (13)
Locomotive ride on the Black Diamond Express
A New York Times reporter recounted his ride on the train in an article published in that newspaper on February 18, 1898:
I returned from Buffalo to New York by another famous train, the "Black Diamond Express" of the Lehigh Valley Company, one of the so-called "coaler" roads, which serves the anthracite regions of Pennsylvania. It was rather a shock to my English ideas to be presented by the conductor to the driver as "a man who has got leave to come on your engine." But the genial reception of the engineer, who, pulling off his gloves, shook me warmly by the hand and gave me his visiting card, and at once consoled me. In this case the time allowed was nine hours and thirty-five minutes, but the distance is seven and a half miles further than by the New York Central. There are 11 intermediate stops, as against four, and the line, instead of following the level valleys of the Hudson and Mohawk, has to climb over three summits of 924, 1,141, and 1,759 feet respectively. The weight of the train was 165 tons, except for about 100 miles, during which the addition of an extra Pullman car brought it well over 200 tons. We were five minutes late in starting, and before we had gone very far we were stopped by an axle-box on the Pullman car heating. The natural result was that we reached Geneva, about 100 miles from Buffalo, 12 minutes late. Thence to Sayre, 73 1/2 miles, we were timed to take 86 minutes, but we covered the distance in 74. and so came in exactly on time. I had timed 20 minutes in different places done at 72 to 80 miles an hour. But our misfortunes were not yet at an end. Soon after leaving Sayre we were bought up short by a broken-down freight train, two of whose cars had got off the track and blocked both lines. Evidently American railway men are experts in dealing with "wrecks." It was most interesting to see how quickly a rope was brought, one end of it fastened to the wrecked cars, then the other end run through a snatch-block, made fast to a conveniently adjacent tree, and thence carried to the locomotive. A gentle pull by the engine, and the cars fell over on their sides into the ditch, and our road was clear again; but we were 33 minutes late at our next stopping place. Then we set to work again to recover our lost ground, till finally we reached Jersey City only 15 minutes late. We had come in the last 77 miles from Easton in 79 minutes, as against 90 minutes allowed in the time book, and we had stopped at two important intermediate stations.
Fast trains such as the Lehigh Valley's Black Diamond Express and the New York Central's Empire State Express were seen by the railroads as expensive luxuries. Railroad men agreed that they did not pay, except to bring prestige to their respective roads. They were said to have been enormously expensive to maintain, and aside from the exclusive clientele they attracted by their speed, they merely cut into the patronage of other first class trains on the same roads. But the "Black Diamond" and the "Empire State Express" catered to the well-heeled traveler for generations. Ironically these high-iron expresses of the 1890s continued to survive long after many other name trains had fallen by the wayside. Nevertheless, the Lehigh Valley would always be known as "The Route of the Black Diamond," until it ceased to exist in 1976. (14)
'Black Diamond' set to music
In the fall of 1902, Harry A. Lyon, a young civil engineer working for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Sayre, wrote and published "The Black Diamond March and Two Step." Lyon, a native of Watertown, N.Y., attended Cornell University prior to joining the railroad. While there he wrote and published The "March Cornellian," and compiled a volume of Cornell University poems. The "Black Diamond March Two Step" was "respectfully dedicated to the officials of the Pennsylvania & New York Division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad." The refrain was:
Look out for the train boys,
for here comes the "Diamond,"
Pride of the "Valley"
and Queen of the Land,
She's swift and she's true,
Grace and Beauty Uniting,
Gliding along on
the shining steel band. (15)
Change of routing
For more than six years after its inception, until Feb. 7, 1903, the Black Diamond Express operated over the Seneca Lake, or mainline between Van Etten and Geneva. The distance from Van Etten Junction to Geneva Junction via the Ithaca branch was only 6.2 miles longer than the Seneca Lake bypass, or 62.5 miles. The running time from Sayre to Geneva via the Seneca Lake line was an hour and 15 minutes westbound and an hour and 24 minutes eastbound, and via Ithaca, two hours. The distance from Van Etten Junction to Geneva Junction on the Seneca Lake bypass was 56.3 miles and via the Ithaca branch, 62.5 miles. As state previously, the Seneca Lake line allowed for fast running of up to 70 to 80 miles per hour if the train was late. Although this doesn't seem to have made a dramatic difference in running time, the run from Sayre to Geneva was non-stop and passing through Ithaca added at least 30 minutes to the schedule. Also, Ithaca at the time appears to have been sufficiently served by about six other Lehigh Valley daily passenger trains in each direction. Connections with the Black Diamond could be made either at Sayre or Geneva. (16).
Entering the 20th Century
One of the high-points of passenger use on the Lehigh came in 1901 when the Pan-American Exposition was held in Buffalo. At times the capacity of the railroad to handle the crowds was taxed to the limit. As a result the regular summertime excursion business was suspended that year. The Black Diamond and other trains ran in several sections for the duration of the Exposition. On Nov. 10, 1901 the railroad shifted three crack passenger trains over to the Ithaca branch. These were Trains 6, 7 and 8 - the Exposition Express, New York and Chicago Daily Express and the New York and Chicago Limited. This was the first time since the opening of the Seneca Lake line in 1892 Ithaca was afforded such excellent train service. For years, influence was brought to bear on the Lehigh Valley authorities to operate the fast trains through Ithaca. But owing to the at extra expense and loss of time, the company would never consent to the idea.(17)
On one occasion, the Black Diamond Express was discontinued for a short time due to heavy coal traffic. It was temporarily suspended west of Wilkes Barre on January 17, 1903. This measure did not affect the railroad's other long distance passenger service. Eventually the traffic congestion was cleared up and the Black Diamond was restored over the full route on February 8, via Ithaca. It now also ran on Sunday. It had been finally decided there was enough business in Ithaca to warrant this change.
In connection with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, a through Pullman sleeping car was established between New York, Buffalo, Cleveland and St. Louis on May 20, 1904. The sleeper continued west from Buffalo on the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern and Big Four railroads, being attached to the Knickerbocker Special and Southwestern Limited.
The train now ran through Ithaca in both directions. Westbound No. 9 arrived in Ithaca at 6:30 p.m. and eastbound No. 10, at 2:04 p.m. There was about a five minute stop for both trains. Then another change was made. On May 14, 1905, Train No. 9 was shifted back to the Seneca Lake line. No. 10 continued to stop at Ithaca. This arrangement, with minor time adjustments over the years, appears to have lasted until June 28, 1914, when No. 9 returned to Ithaca. Both trains 9 and 10 then continued to serve Ithaca uninterrupted for the next 45 years until discontinued in 1959. (18)
Train Removed for Awhile
Patrons of the Black Diamond Express were startled when they learned that the train would be discontinued on Feb. 9, 1908. This was done due to a combination of factors, including the 1907 financial panic that led to formation of the Federal Reserve System and the passage of a law by the State of Pennsylvania reducing the rates of fare that could be charged to a maximum of two cents per mile per passenger in that state. The railroad said there was not sufficient business to justify running the train. The Pennsylvania and Reading railroads also took similar action.
In its announcement of the discontinuance the railroad said: Recent legislation in the State of Pennsylvania with which the public is familiar, together with the legislation and administrative ruling of other states and the Federal government, has not only resulted in a considerable loss of revenue, but has, in affecting the management of train service generally, tended to increase the expense of operation. It is the hope of the company that the conditions will so change in the near future as to warrant reinstating the service. Only a few other minor schedule changes appear to have been made at that time. But the Waverly Free Press of Feb. 14, 1908 noted:
The taking off of the Black Diamond has turned the passengers crews around considerably, and some difficulty may be be experienced in getting things adjusted again. Four trainmen are affected by the change and three engine crews come in for a setback, and this is leading some confusion among the various crews. Those having good runs do not relish being set back to accommodate the crews thrown out, and those being thrown out being old men, have a first claim on some of the best remaining jobs. This was only temporary, however, and the train was put back in service on June 21, 1908 on a new running time schedule of nine hours and 55 minutes between New York and Buffalo. (19)
Catered to Foreign Travelers
Beginning in the 1890s the Lehigh Valley's passenger department focused on the trans-Atlantic business. Working with steamship companies, they took the hassle out of arranging trips overseas. Passenger representatives in New York City met all incoming passenger steamers. In connection with this business they did all the arranging for hotel accommodations, sleeping and parlor car tickets, checking of baggage, etc. Long remembered was Charles A. Foucart, the railroad's steamship passenger agent, who was always at the dock to see to the comfortable transfer of passengers between steamships and trains, and vice-versa. This catering left passengers in a cheery mood and won friends for the Lehigh Valley. (20)
During the 1890s, the on-rushing express train was the symbol of America on the move and the movie companies were there to record it. The Biograph Company had filmed The Empire State Express in September 1896, the fastest train of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. The Edison Company subsequently teamed up with the rival Lehigh Valley, which was competing for much of the same patronage.
On December 12, 1896, filmmakers James White and William Heise, working for Edison Company, showcased the Black Diamond Express in a brief 30-second clip. A contemporary Edison film company catalog states:
This scene presents the famous Lehigh Valley "flyer" emerging from a wood in the distance and approaching the camera under full head of steam. A section gang in the foreground, engaged in repairing track, wave their hats to the engineer, who is leaning out of the cab window. The snowy linen which the porters wave from the platform of the dining car adds to the effect produced. The "Black Diamond" is undoubtedly the handsomest and one of the fastest trains in America, and the subject is the only one in existence showing an express train making seventy miles an hour.
It is believed that the film clip was made at or near Wysox, Pa. The Lehigh Valley saw such films as essential promotional items and offered the Edison Company a special train and every courtesy that might facilitate the filmmaking efforts. This particular picture proved so popular that new negatives were made frequently over the next several years. A second movie of the same scene was filmed in May, 1900 near Towanda, Pa.
Between 1914 and 1919 a silent film production company called Wharton Studios existed in Ithaca, N.Y. On occasion the Lehigh Valley Railroad was used as a backdrop. In 1915 a comedy drama series called "The New Adventures of J. Rufus Wallingford" was filmed in Ithaca. The Whartons, who made motion pictures for Pathe, succeeded in securing a remarkable concession from the railroad. In filming the first episode of "Wallingford" it was necessary to show the private car in which that famous high financier dazzles the inhabitants of the little "tank" towns.
The Lehigh Valley not only permitted the Whartons to attach a big steel flatcar, properly equipped, to their best train, "The Black Diamond Express," but stopped it twice to allow for the taking of scenes. The special car had been sent from Buffalo for the purpose, and the railroad rigged it up according to the Whartons' instructions. One of the stars of the film was Oliver Hardy, years before he teamed up with Stan Laurel for the legendary Laurel & Hardy comedies. (21)
Some "Black Diamond" Adventures
During the summer and early fall of 1899 the attention of passengers aboard the Black Diamond was called to a hawk which daily flew alongside the train as it rushed through the Lehigh Gorge approaching Mauch Chunk. Bets were always being made as to which would reach a certain point first.
The hawk never won, but renewed the contest daily. As if acknowledging defeat, it would mount into the air and swirl around for the backward flight. One day it was flying alongside the train as usual when suddenly it halted and quivered, then fell to the ground. Later, it was discovered that it had been shot through the head by some wanton hunter. For a considerable period, both train crews and regular passengers mourned the loss of their old friend, the hawk. (22)
Even though he rode on the roof of a coach on the Black Diamond Express without purchasing a ticket, John Neumus, 16, paid dearly for his trip from Sayre to Pittston. He had been away from his home in North Scranton for some time and rumor had it that he had drowned. His parents mourned him as such and the story was published in the local newspapers. He had been wandering around the countryside.
But when he saw the story in a newspaper he became anxious and decided to return home as soon as possible. He had money with which to purchase a ticket. With this resolution he took the first train east and it happened to be the Black Diamond. Going to the far side of the train where he couldn't be seen, he climbed to the top of the coach and, throwing his arms around one of the ventilators, lay flat on his face and clung to it with all his strength. He did not realize his folly until the train was underway. Cinders cut his face, neck and hands, the wind nearly swept him away as the train sped down the line at 60 miles per hour.
At Towanda he could have left his perilous position, but he gritted his teeth and held on. At Tunkhannock he was almost exhausted, but he was only 20 miles from home. When the junction was reached he was so weak and cramped that for a time he was compelled to rest. He was uninjured. Then he tramped the five miles to his home where he was happily greeted by his parents. (23) On May 22, 1901, the westbound Black Diamond was pulling out of Sayre when the stationmaster noticed a boy riding on the steps a coach. Unable to catch him, the stationmaster sent a telegraph message to Geneva, the next stop, where he was nabbed and taken to the police station. The boy identified himself as Frederick Thomas. He said he had been visiting an ill sister in the east and was heading back to his home in Chicago. He had no money so he bummed a ride on the train.
He boarded the train at Jersey City, made himself comfortable on the steps and fell asleep - totally unaware of the dangerous place where he was riding. But he survived the perilous ride through the mountains and around the sharp curves. When the train reached Sayre some boys saw him and threw stones at him. When he threw some back they went away. At the Geneva police station, Thomas was given his supper and lodging for the night. When his story got around town, local residents took up a collection to buy him a new suit of clothes and Pullman fare for the rest of his journey to Chicago. (24)
One night in August, 1902, the westbound Black Diamond had just passed Glen Summit and had started down the mountain towards Wilkes Barre when, suddenly, about half way down, the engineer saw a large spike lying across one rail. With a lightning jerk he threw the train into emergency and came to an abrupt stop. Pouring from the train, the passengers thronged to the front of the engine. The two front wheels of the pony truck under the forward end of the locomotive had been thrown from the track and had slid along beside the rails for some distance.
Under the drive wheel of the engine was found the spike which had nearly caused a fatal accident. It was carried along under the drive wheel from the point where it originally lay, a distance of about a hundred yards. The question of forcing the front truck back on the rails proved perplexing. Re-railing was unsuccessful. After about 15 minutes the conductor decided to walk to the Wilkes-Barre station, two miles off, to secure help. Suddenly there appeared a Chinaman from a lumber camp, offering to help. He jabbered for a few minutes, and then ran briskly into the nearby woods. Moments later he returned, clutching a sturdy round stick, three feet long, several inches in diameter and sharpened at the end. This was commonly known as a "canting stick," used by lumbermen in rolling heavy logs. The Chinaman inserted one end under the forward wheel and placed the other beside the track to serve for a rail, leading from the wheel diagonally back to the track. The engineer then backed the locomotive slowly and the wheels were rerailed.
The lumberman received an ovation from the passengers and they swarmed around him to offer their congratulations. Stylishly dressed women hastened up, eager to shake his hand. He said he once worked on a railroad. The passengers re-boarded the train and it continued on its journey. (25) Another story, dating back to 1906, concerns a Scotch collie dog who liked to watch the train go by at a crossing two miles east of Burdett, N.Y., near Watkins Glen. After it passed the dog returned home. One night the conductor said, "I'll try an experiment tomorrow night, and we'll slow down a little at the crossing and see what happens."
After the train pulled out of Wilkes Barre the following night the conductor made up a bundle of the latest editions of the New York afternoon papers. When the train approached the Burdett crossing the conductor went out on the platform of the observation car and threw the bundle toward the dog. The collie gave a quick, sharp bark, wagged his tail furiously and bounded toward the bundle, picked it up in his mouth and trotted away over the hills. Every night thereafter the dog got his bundle of papers. All of the regular passengers on the train as well as the crew wondered where the collie carried his burden, to whom he belonged and what his name was.
The conductor thought of a way of finding out. Into the bundle one evening he slipped his card, on which he wrote his address. Shortly, he received a letter from George M. Canfield, a prosperous farmer in Burdett, telling about his dog, "Rover." He'd been in the Canfield family since he was a puppy, was the chum of the children, drove the cows to and from the pasture, headed the sheep and did pretty generally the work of a hired man about the farm. Whatever gave him the notion to go down to the meet the train Mr. Canfield didn't know, other than he disappeared when the train was due after completing his chores.
Mr. Canfield said he was pleased by the fact that he was able to sit at his tea table and read the New York papers the same day they were printed 300 miles away. And somehow Rover had gotten the notion "all things come to him who waits.'"(26)
On several occasions, the Black Diamond Express was involved in train wrecks. Fortunately they were not of a serious nature. The worst in this era occurred on August 9, 1901 when the parlor and observation cars of the eastbound train derailed at North LeRoy, 10 miles east of Batavia. The parlor car remained upright and none of its occupants were injured. The observation car Seneca went over the embankment, landed on its side in the ditch and was destroyed. Eight passengers were slightly injured. Cause of the derailment was undetermined.
Fifteen passengers were injured, some seriously, when the Black Diamond, running at 40 miles an hour, dashed through an open switch and crashed into a Pennsylvania railroad locomotive on November 2, 1902. It so happened that the famous Kansas "saloon smasher," Carrie Nation, was a passenger that day. She received a head laceration. The passengers were treated at a local hospital. At Easton, an iron girder extending above the track saved at least two cars of westbound #9 from plunging into the Delaware River on February 12, 1907. The first of the derailed cars ran along the ties for a distance of about 25 yards. The others swerved to the right and ran to the very edge of the bridge. The women shrieked and the men rushed towards the doors. Some were prevented from jumping out. Several passengers were slightly injured by broken glass. (27)
Racing an automobile
The Black Diamond Express made national headlines during a neck-in-neck race with an automobile between Buffalo and Geneva, a distance of 107 miles, on November 7, 1915. A.E. Higgins of Buffalo drove his 1916-model "Coal Eight" touring car made the trip in an astonishing two hours and five minutes, beating the train by 14 minutes. His average speed was 86.8 miles per hour, including two stops and one delay necessitated by a detour.
The race had been announced several days in advance and residents of the towns along the route were out to watch the car pass through that day. Arrangements had been made to give the Cole Eight a complete right-of-way along the road. There was never a moment when the train could have been considered as a contender for the honors of the day.
The Cole Eight and the express train left Buffalo at the same time, passing the city limits neck and neck. Just as he crossed the starting line, Mr. Higgins stepped on the accelerator, and from then on, the Cole eight-cylinder car never once gave the train a chance to catch up with it. The course led from Buffalo to Clarence, Batavia, Leroy, Caledonia, Avon, Lima, Bloomfield, Canandaigua and Geneva. Only one passenger rode with Mr. Higgins, so that the car depended solely on is natural balance and roadability in sticking to the highway. This in itself was regarded as one of the most remarkable features of the trip.
There were some thrilling moments along the course. About 40 miles out a tire blew. A stop was necessary, but a new tire was in place in a little more than two minutes and the car was again on its way. The Cole Eight had acquired such a good lead on the speeding train, however, that even with this stop, the express could not begin to catch up with it.
Again at Avon, the race was threatened. Just as the limits of the town loomed up ahead, a switch engine, hauling a train of freight cars, lumbered on to the crossing and stopped. The brakes had to be applied to prevent a collision and a wait of several minutes was encountered before Higgins again secured the right of way. For a third time, the path of the car was crossed by an obstacle, when, on a little farther, it was found necessary to make a slx-mile detour to avoid a stretch of road under repair.
With all these hindrances, however, the Cole Eight made the first 89 miles of the journey in exactly 35 minutes, and completed the first 63 miles in just 67 minutes. With the necessary slx-mile detour, the Eight negotiated 107 miles in making the trip while the route taken by the express train between the two points was only 102 miles. Thus, the train in point of actual distance covered, had a five-mile advantage on the Cole Eight.(28)
The 'salad days'
As of May 22, 1910 the Black Diamond was made up exclusively of parlor cars and 30 minutes were cut from the schedule. Through aggressive advertising Lehigh Valley passenger trains were fairly well patronized. The peak year was 1918 when 7,629,888 passengers rode Lehigh Valley trains. After that it was a continuing decline except for World War II. From its earliest days the railroad had a very active passenger department. Advertisements promoting the Lehigh's flagship train, the Black Diamond Express, appeared in many of leading newspapers and magazines of the day, especially in the pre-World War I era. They were cleverly illustrated and laced with flowery prose, such as "The Train That Sets the High Mark of Travel Perfection" and "Where Comfort has the Right of Way." The railroad was touted as "The Lehighway to Buffalo." Also advertised was "Four o'clock Ta with the compliments of the railroad on the all steel Black Diamond Express." (29)
An important passenger service improvement was initiated July 23, 1916 when a through sleeping car was placed in operation between Philadelphia and Chicago in connection with the Michigan Central Railroad. The new car, which left Philadelphia on the Reading Railroad's Black Diamond connecting train was turned over to the Michigan Central at Buffalo, reaching Detroit at 12:49 a.m. and 8 a.m. the next morning in Chicago. Eastbound the car left Chicago daily on the crack "Wolverine" at 9:05 a.m.; left Detroit at 3:40 p.m., and arrived in Philadelphia on the New York-Philadelphia Express at 9:15 the next morning. At Buffalo it was turned over by the Lehigh Valley by the Michigan Central. A dining car was also added to the Philadelphia section. A railway post office mail car was added to the train on December 12, 1918. (30)
Another improvement announced in connection with this service was the addition of a dining car to Philadelphia. The new sleeping car service to Chicago in connection with the Michigan Central was in addition to the existing extensive sleeping car service already operated by the Lehigh Valley to Chicago in connection with the Grand Trunk. This interesting article marking the 20th anniversary of the "Black Diamond Express," appeared in the Elmira Telegram on May 21, 1916:
'Black Diamond' is Twenty Years Old
The Black Diamond, the Lehigh Valley railroad's daylight between New York and Buffalo, is twenty years old. The first Black Diamond left New York and Buffalo simultaneously on May 13, 1896. At its start it was hailed as one of the most luxurious trains ever put in service.
The idea of the train was conceived Charles S. Lee, then general passenger agent, later passenger traffic manager and now retired. A premium of $25 in gold was awarded to Charles M. Montgomery, then a clerk in the Merchant's Hotel in Toledo, Ohio, for suggesting the name adopted. A nation-wide contest was conducted on the subject and Mr. Montgomery's suggestion was selected from more than 35,000.
The train as originally constituted, aside from the engine was made up of four cars. All of these were of wood construction and the longest, a cafe car, was 67 feet in length. This car was also the heaviest, weighing 119,000 pounds. It was the only one with six-wheel trucks. Aside from the cafe car, part of which was used for baggage, the other cars included two coaches and an observation parlor car.
The original circular announced that each car on the train was "finished in polished Mexican mahogany, with figured mahogany panels and inlaid beveled French-plate mirrors. The ceilings are of the new style Empire-dome pattern, finished in white and gold." Special emphasis was laid on the fact that the train would be lighted throughout, including the vestibules, by Pintsch gas, and running water was to be had in the lavatories. Five engines were used during the progress of the train between New York and Buffalo. The total weight of the largest was 115,300 pounds.
For a week before the inauguration of the service, the new train was open to inspection. It stopped at all stations and visitors were welcomed by the crew acting as a reception committee. The engineers originally assigned to the Black Diamond were John L. Turner, Dennis McGuire, Thomas McHale and Thomas Farley, all of whom are still active as engineers; Joseph Keller, who is now general fuel inspector of the line; John Pickley, now an examiner of firemen, seeking promotion to be engineers; Rudolph Searfoss, Alfred E. Mason, William Owens, John McChesney and Elijah Moody, all of whom have since died or are no longer in the service.
Mr. Farley is still running the Diamond and has not missed a trip since the train was first inaugurated, except in one or two instances when he was held at the terminal on company business.
The three conductors first assigned to the Black Diamond will be found on that train today. They are Richard Mack, Thomas E. O'Donnell and O.D. France, each one of whom has come to be part of the Diamond itself.
An interesting contrast may be made between the Diamond of 20 years ago and today. Now the train is made up of seven cars, most of which are 72 feet in length; the diner is 72 and 6/10 feet in length. Practically all of them have six-wheel trucks and the dining and parlor cars each weigh 151,000 pounds.
Of course, the entire train is now of solid steel construction. But three engines are now used in the trip from New York to Buffalo, but the weight of these engines, hauling the heavier train, is more than doubled. The heaviest weighs 262,326 pounds.
Enter Penn Station
One of the most significant improvements made during World War I was the decision to run through trains including the Black Diamond Express into Pennsylvania Station as of September 19, 1918, instead of terminating at Communipaw Terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. This gave the Lehigh Valley a distinct advantage over rivals Erie and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western. Commuter trains continued to use the Pennsylvania Railroad's Jersey City station.
One of the improvements that occurred during the period when U.S. railroads were nationalized during World War I was the move to run directly into Penn Station in New York City. This eliminated the ferry trip and proved to be a great convenience to through passengers. It came as a directive from General William G. McAdoo Jr., director the U.S. Railroad Administration which was a federal agency. McAdoo was the son-in-law of President Woodrow Wilson. This agency controlled the operation of railroads in the U.S. from March 21, 1918 to and ended on March 1, 1920. (31)
Soon things returned to normal on the Lehigh Valley. Observation cars, considered an unnecessary frill during the war, were restored to the Black Diamond Express on April 1, 1920.The Niagara Falls Gazette of April 21, 1920 noted: The familiar green folder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, so widely read before the railroads were taken over by the government, has come with the springtime with a new lease on life. The road is back under private control, and the folder is looking as bright as ever.
In addition to the complete schedules of train service Interesting features calling attention to tho Lehigh Valley's use of the Pennsylvania station in New York; the restoration of another pre-war services - observation cars on the Black Diamond; the invitation extended passengers to offer suggestions for the Improvement of the other service; the special service offered steamship passengers at the port of New York: the service offered manufacturers by the Industrial Department and the newly opened offices for the assistance of shippers and receivers of freight. During the 1920s ridership began to slump, although the Black Diamond Express continued to be the Lehigh Valley's premier train. Otherwise as the years passed trains were consolidated or discontinued. Mainline ridership increased during World War II. But even during the peak year of 1943 when 1,129,771 passengers rode Lehigh trains, it paled in comparison to World War I ridership. In 1960, the last full year of passenger service, ridership had dwindled to 232,210. (32)
The original equipment for the Black Diamond was ordered from Pullman in February, 1896 and included five coaches, 232-236; three passenger-cafe-baggage cars, 416-418; and three observation-parlor cars, Ganoga, Lehigh, and Seneca. All were completed by May, 1896. Since the initial trains included four cars, there was a spare of each type. The named cars were owned by Pullman, who presumably staffed them as well. The cars had wide vestibules which was a recent improvement over the narrow vestibule.
Two additional coaches, 237-238, were built by Pullman in April, 1897 and may have been used to augment the original cars on the Black Diamond. A second No. 416 was built by Pullman in August, 1899. Disposition of the first No. 416 is unknown. The first Seneca, destroyed in the 1901 wreck at North LeRoy, was replaced by another car by the same name in February, 1902.
Pullman also built six coaches, 239-244, in May, 1900, and ten more, 273-282, in May, 1903. Barney & Smith built six coaches, 260-265, in August, 1905. In July, 1907, older equipment on the Black Diamond was replaced by six new coaches 290-295 and two combination baggage and buffet cars numbered 421-422 (a third car, 423, was built in 10-07). All 1907 cars were built by Wason. The problem with most later cars is knowing which were intended for the Black Diamond. There appears to be a period from about 1907-1912 when the new Wason equipment was used on the Black Diamond with the original Pullman observation cars. Pullman production records reveal parlor observation cars Emilissa and Gretchen built at Buffalo in April, 1907. Whether these were used on the LV is unknown.
The original observation cars were long gone by that time, suggesting there was an intermediate generation of observation cars on the Black Diamond. Two steel observation cars, Valma and Venus, were built by Pullman in November, 1912, along with nine named parlor cars. These were all apparently assigned to the LV and possibly this is when the Black Diamond was changed to all steel equipment.
There was already ample steel equipment on the roster after Pullman had delivered 40 coaches, 818-857 and two library-buffet-library cars, 1000-1001, in 1911. Thirty more coaches, 858-887, were delivered in 1912, and three library-buffet-library cars, 1002-1004, in 1913. Numbered cars were owned by the railroad; named cars were owned and staffed by Pullman. Pullman also operated sleeping cars over the Lehigh Valley, some of which probably came from Philadelphia via the Reading. (33)
When they first put the Black Diamond on, they had camelbacks with the big high wheels. They ran like a scared cat. They had a two-door firebox. When you put coal in the right door, you shoveled right-handed. When you put it in the other one, you had to shovel it left-handed. You had to be as good with left as with right." - From an interview with Lehigh Valley locomotive engineer Clyde Redfield of Farmington, N.Y.
Having adequate motive power to maintain the fast schedule of the Black Diamond Express was an important factor. A variety of locomotives assigned to the train - mostly 4-4-0s, appear in early photos. These were soon replaced by a fleet of larger and more powerful 4-4-2 Atlantic-type engines, of the "Camelback" design. Due to the wide firebox required to burn anthracite or hard coal, there was a cab in the middle for the engineer and not as an elaborate shelter at the rear for the fireman.
The firebox, which extended out over the frames and driving wheels, was designed by John E. Wooten, Superintendent of Motive Power of the Philadelphia & Reading, and was used extensively by the railroads that used anthracite coal as locomotive fuel.
Between 1896 and 1911 the Lehigh Valley purchased 34 Atlantics from Baldwin Locomotive Works and American Locomotive Company, and built five of its own at Sayre shops in 1910 and 1911. It is not within the scope of this book to discuss locomotive development on the Lehigh Valley. That topic has been covered in done in several previous publications.
The Atlantics were efficient enough to allow the railroad to commence running the eastbound Black Diamond from Sayre to Mauch Chunk without changing engines at Wilkes Barre, on Oct. 14, 1897. This first run was with #666. Engineer Miles Ellis was at the throttle with Joseph Kellar as pilot. In 1905 and 1906, eight 4-6-2 Camelbacks were built by Baldwin. The Lehigh Valley had the distinction of being the only railroad ever to have Pacific Camelbacks. After 1912, the new Pacifics assigned to Lehigh passenger trains were of the conventional design. (34)
The Major Terminals
It appears that the Lehigh Valley never had its own passenger terminal in Jersey City. Most of the time it utilized either the Pennsylvania Railroad terminal or the Central Railroad of New Jersey's massive Communipaw Terminal. The Lehigh Valley used Pennsylvania Station at Jersey City between May 28, 1875 and December 16, 1888, gaining access through trackage rights over the Pennsylvania Railroad between Metuchen and Jersey City. Between December 17, 1888 and February 15, 1891, to get to that terminal, access was via trackage rights over Jersey Central between Roselle and Jersey City.
From February 16, 1891, to April 30, 1913, access to the Pennsylvania Railroad's Jersey City terminal was via trackage rights over Pennsylvania Railroad from West Newark Junction to Jersey City. Then, from May 1, 1913 to September 14, 1918 the Lehigh Valley used the CNJ's Communipaw Terminal of the Jersey Central via trackage rights over the Jersey Central, via Oak Island Junction to Jersey City. Through trains reached the PRR Station-New York City, accessed via trackage rights from West Newark Junction to Manhattan (crew and power change at Manhattan Transfer) between September 15, 1918, and Feb 4, 1961, when passenger service was discontinued. Also, between September 15, 1918 and 1930 local Lehigh Valley trains arrived and departed from the Pennsylvania Railroad station at Jersey City. Access was over the P.R.R. from West Newark Junction to Jersey City. But then, between 1930 and May 1948 the Lehigh Valley commuter trains accessed a new makeshift station on a Lehigh Valley track adjacent to Communipaw Terminal. When the Lehigh local trains were evicted from the Pennsylvania Railroad's Jersey City terminal, it built its own station on this parallel track. Passengers would detrain and then walk to the CNJ station to catch a ferry to Manhattan. (35)
The Lehigh Valley commenced operating over the New York, Lake Erie & Western between Waverly and Buffalo after the laying of a third rail was completed between those two points. Lehigh Valley passenger trains used the Erie station at Michigan Avenue near Seneca Street from May 22, 1876 until August 31, 1892 when the Lehigh opened its own terminal at Washington and Scott streets on September 1, 1892. The Lehigh Valley's lease to operate over the Erie had expired on May 1, 1892. A new and more attractive and commodious terminal was opened at Main and Scott streets on August 29, 1916. The Lehigh's last station at Dingens and Ogden streets was opened on August 11, 1955 and remained in use until passenger service was discontinued on February 4, 1961. (36)
There is no doubt that the Black Diamond Express was one of the finest and most fabled American intercity passenger trains, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when rail travel was at its zenith. It was created for an exclusive clientele who traveled in luxury between New York and Buffalo and its dining car menu rivaled the best high class restaurants in New York and Philadelphia. The scenery on the Lehigh Valley Railroad was unsurpassed and the daylight run was enjoyed by countless thousands of people over the more than six decades it existed. The early Black Diamond Express marked up an incredible record of on-time and accident-free performance during its first 25 years which is a tribute to the pride and professionalism of railroaders of that day. It is hoped this book will serve as a reminder of the days when when the Black Diamond Express graced the rails in regal splendor.
1. Annual Report of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, 18932. Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, 1880, P. 237. The Easton & Amboy was built under a separate charter, but was owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad. As of December 31, 1879 it was double-track for its entire length of 56 miles from Easton to Perth Amboy and had 42 miles of sidings, with 56 and 60-pound per yard rail.
3. P. 258, History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania. L.H. Everts & Co., Philadelphia, 1878; Annual Report of the Pennsylvania & New York and Lehigh Valley Railroads, 1871; Palmer, Richard F., "The Waverly Connection," P. 10, Vol. 11, No. 2, Issue 41, "Flags, Diamonds and Statues.: Publication of the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society.
4. Lehigh Valley timetable dated June 14, 1874; Hornellsville Tribune, Friday, May 26, 1876; pp 129-130 Engineering and Mining Journal, Aug. 19, 1876; On May 22, 1876 the Erie announced that the laying of a third rail between Buffalo and Elmira had been completed the previous day. It stated: "The completion of the third rail will enable the Erie to run narrow gauge cars between all points of the West and Philadelphia without change." Syracuse Morning Standard, May 23, 1876.
5. New York Tribune, May 18, 1874 detailing formation of Geneva, Ithaca & Sayre Railroad; "Geneva-Ithaca Railroad Finished Sept. 13, 1873," Geneva Times, Feb. 22, 1957; Poor's Manual of the Railroads, op. cit.; GI&S timetables June 15, 1874, April 16, 1876, May 14, 1877, Nov. 10, 1878, June 8, 1879.
6. Annual Report of the Lehigh Valley Railroad for 1893.
7. Batavia Daily News and Geneva Times, Feb. 28, 1896.
8. Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, May 9, 1896.
9. Ithaca Daily Journal, May 16, 1896; Buffalo Express, May 17, 1896.
10. Geneva Gazette, May 10, 1896; Ithaca Daily Journal, May 14, 1896.
11. Buffalo Express, May 17 and 19, 1896; Boston Herald, May 19, 1896.
12. Original Black Diamond Express dining car menu at Rochester Public Library.
13. New York Times, Jan.12, 1897; Elmira Gazette & Free Press, Jan. 29, 1897; Union Springs (N.Y.) Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1897 Elmira Telegram, Aug. 15, 1897; Proceedings of the Traveling Engineers' Association, Buffalo, Sept. 13-16, 1898, Review Printing Co., Elkhart, Ind., 1898, pp 152-155.
14. Elmira Telegram, Sept. 11, 1898.
15. Geneva Times, Oct. 27, 1902; Sheet music.
16. Timetables for this period published in the Ovid Gazette state the Black Diamond Express ran "via Seneca Lake Line."
17. Ithaca Journal, Nov. 5, 1901.
18. Lehigh Valley public timetable, May 14, 1905; New York Tribune, June 27, 1914.
19. Evening Times (Trenton, N.J.) Feb. 4, 1908; Waverly Free Press, Feb. 14, and May 22,1908; Railroad Gazette, May 29, 1908.
20. Various Lehigh Valley public timetables in the early 1900s.
21. New York Evening Telegram, Dec. 23, 1896; Watertown (N.Y.) Oct. 9, 1915.
22. Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 21, 1900.
23. Elmira Daily Gazette & Free Press, July 31, 1900.
24. Geneva Times, May 23, 1901; Elmira Gazette, May 24, 1901.
25. Buffalo Morning Press, Aug. 21, 1902.
26. Union Springs Advertiser, Sept. 21, 1905; New York Sun, Aug. 12, 1906.
27. Annual Report of the New York State Railroad Commissioners, dated Jan. 13, 1902; New York Times, Aug. 10, 1901; New York Evening Telegram, Nov. 2, 1902; New York Times, Feb. 13, 1907
28. Binghamton Press, Nov. 20, 1915.
29. Advertisements in Brooklyn Eagle, Brunswick Times, New York Sun, New York Times, New York Tribune, New York Sun, Rochester Democrat, 1907-1915.
30. Elmira Telegram, July 23, 1916; Ovid Gazette, Dec. 12, 1918.
31. New York Times, Sept. 10, 1918; New York Sun, Sept. 12, 1918.
32. Annual reports of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, 1890-1961.
33. Correspondence with Eric Neubauer, authority on Lehigh Valley rolling stock.
34. Railway and Locomotive Engineering, May, 1911; Lehigh Valley locomotive roster compiled by C.T. Andrews (typescript); Elmira Telegram, Oct. 14, 1897 and July 9, 1898; Bulletin No. 126, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Lehigh Valley Issue, April 1972; Ludy, Llewellyn V., Locomotive Engines and Boilers, American Technical Society, Chicago, 1920, P. 36.
35. Lehigh Valley timetable, March 29, 1913; Chronology of Lehigh Valley Railroad Passenger Facilities at Jersey City. Compiled by Michael J. Connor.
36. Information furnished by Michael J. Connor and Ron Dukarm.
Stops of the Black Diamond Express Between 1896 and 1920 (Over the years some stops were added while others were eliminated as ridership demand dictated)
Bethlehem (Philadelphia connection)
Glen Summit Springs
Rochester Junction (connection to Rochester)