Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Manchester as a Railroad Town - Richard F. Palmer

        The coming of the Lehigh Valley Railroad brought great change to the village of Manchester in Ontario County  when it was built in 1891-92 from Sayre to Buffalo. The railroad company, which for many years had gained access to Buffalo via the Erie, decided it was time to extend its mainline northwesterly to Geneva and straight west to Buffalo.The first passenger train stopped here on September 1, 1892. Since 1840 the only local rail service was provided by what became  the New York Central's Auburn branch which veered south west of Manchester, passed through the village of Shortsville and on to Canandaigua. This was the last major railroad to be built through this region. 
       Manchester quickly became a division point on the Lehigh Valley as traditionally engine crews only ran 100 miles. This place was about half way between Sayre and Buffalo. During the peak years more than 900 men worked in and from the Manchester yards; a full force of engineers, conductors, firemen, brakemen, switchmen, hostlers, helpers, pipe fitters, blacksmiths, electricians, machinists and tower men. Swift and Company had a large facility  here  to ice cars carrying perishables.
        Trucks started making inroads as early as 1913 and the "Lehigh Transfer" was considered to be one the largest transfer operations in the world. During both world wars the Lehigh Valley carried servicemen. Local people learned to recognize the whistles of troop trains as they entered the yards. The Red Cross would be at the station to hand out lunches to the servicemen. 
      Cutbacks at Manchester yard began in earnest in the mid 1960s. By the end of 1972 it was a thing of the past as far as Manchester was concerned. It officially ended on October 30 as part of a seemingly endless series of economy moves. Train crews would no longer stop here as had been done for generations. The days of layover were now a thing of the past. The old bunkhouse in Manchester, which has been the home away from home for thousands of railroad men also ceased operation. It was soon closed and eventually demolished. Next to the bunk house was the "Lehigh Restaurant" which served meals to Lehigh employees at all hours. The food was good and the restaurant was clean. 
     For many years the Main Street railroad crossing proved to be a problem. A train consisting of 100 cars could clear Connelly crossing but it was impossible  to break the train at the Main Street crossing, particularly during the winter. This served as a great inconvenience, especially in emergencies. Finally an underpass was constructed in 1932 which a few years ago was eliminated and returned to being a grade crossing.
    Just to the right and south of the crossing stood Gilligan's Store which supplied railroad men with overalls and frocks. Th store also carried leather gloves the men wore. About all that remains of the Lehigh Valley in Manchester today is the derelict round house.
      The worst wreck ever to occur here was on August 25, 1911 in which 27 passengers were killed. Train No. 4, the Chicago, New York and Washington Express, was due at Manchester at 12:02 p.m. The train was running late and reached the bridge 50 feet over over the Canandaigua Outlet at 12:48 p.m. when it struck a broken rail. The train consisted of 14 cars. As the sixth car, a diner, passed over, the train derailed. The car rolled down the embankment and lodged against a telegraph pole. The seventh car, the Philadelphia coach, left the bridge, crashing into the stream, coming to rest on one side. Most of the dead were taken from this car. The eighth car, a Pullman sleeping car, plunged into the stream. It remained upright, the rear end resting on the bridge. Eleven of the injured were rushed to Clifton Springs Sanitarium, nine to Canandaigua Hospital and 45 to Rochester. It was nearly a week before all the dead were identified.    
     The yard office which has stood since time immemorial and had been witness to the rapid disintegration of a once vast railroad system, was closed. All communication would now be directed to the crew dispatcher in Buffalo for the one local run which worked five days a week from Manchester to the Rochester area. The trainmaster in Geneva now had jurisdiction of the very few Manchester crewmen and maintenance men left in the area.
   Several months earlier,  men with seniority rights had to leave here and work out of Buffalo. Those with fewer years on the railroad had to try and find work elsewhere.
    The shut down had been talked about for months before it became fact. Some time before, on July 1, 1970, yard jobs at Manchester were eliminated. Manchester at first gradually and then very abruptly became nothing except a lay-over stop and now that was coming to an end. At one time, Manchester was the largest freight and transfer depot in the world with more than 900 men working in and from Manchester yards. Now, the entire west bound yard tracks were gone. For a time 22 east bound tracks  were left to rust and weeds within the immediate yard; only three tracks remaining  in use.  The yards became ghosts of the past that only the older men remembered. 
    The only job left here was the Rochester local, which picked up cars at Manchester and at Rochester Junction left left by main line trains. There they were sorted out, some going to the Lima branch and some to Henrietta and Rochester. There were seven crewmen on this job and they did both yard and road work, switching in Manchester and at all other points. They serviced the gas works in Manchester and then went on to Victor Lumber Co. and  serve Mendon Farm Machinery Co. Also, since the New York Central had recently closed its Holcomb branch line, Agway used the Lehigh in Victor.
    The Rochester local also serviced Ryan Homes in East Victor and a few customers to the west of Victor. TThese included Iron City on the way to Rochester. In Henrietta, the Lehigh serviced Matthews and Fields Lumber Co. and also one oil and one tallow company; then on to Mt. Hope Avenue where coal was delivered to the University of Rochester. A connection with the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad was  made in Rochester.
    For some time, the Lehigh Valley yards in Rochester had been up for sale to make way for urban renewal and when sold. When that occurred it knocked out the remaining four tracks in Rochester completely. These were soon removed.
    In Geneva, the Lehigh yard still had two jobs - one which serviced industry there - and then on to Rushville on the rickety Naples branch during the day. A spur from the main line served the Seneca Army Depot. The other branch job (or local) went from Geneva to Auburn, called the Auburn Branch Connection.
    In Manchester, one could see many old derelict box cars and low sided gondolas sitting on the sidings.These are known as bad order cars. They were eventually sold to a firm in Indiana which rehabilitated them and then they were leased back to the railroad.
  Back in 1959 the Less Than Carload (LCL) facility, said to have been one of the largest in the world, closed.. Westbound side of the yard tracks removed about 1973-1974. Yard lights remained illuminated well into the early 1970s. About 1,500 bad order cars were stored on the eastbound side as the 1970s progressed. These were all removed before Conrail. Some were in too rough a shape to move over the road and were scrapped at the former LCL docks. Last train of bad order cars were pulled east on March 21, 1976 and the Lehigh closed down completely on April 1. 
    Long in bankruptcy, the end of the Lehigh Valley Railroad took place at midnight April 1, 1976. The last two Lehigh trains passed through Manchester on the evening of March 31. The last west bound train, with Engineer Pat Pettrone of Manchester, passed through at 8 p.m. The last train through Manchester was an east bound train passing through at 11  p.m., with George Dressler, engineer and Fred "Soot" Record of Manchester as  fireman. Deferring to his local roots,  Record was allowed to operate the last Lehigh Valley train  Manchester. Conrail was formed to organize and revitalize the bankrupt rail line, but except for short segments the mainline was dismantled between Van Etten and Buffalo over the next several years. Much of the right of way is now a bike/hiking trail.
   Passenger trains no longer stopped at Manchester after February 2, 1835. Thereafter, the stop for Manchester was Clifton Springs. The last passenger train, the Maple Leaf, passed through Manchester on a snowy February 3, 1961. The crack Black Diamond  which was inaugurated on May 18, 1896, made its last run on May 11, 1959. The only remnant of this once busy railroad facility is the derelict 30-stall engine house.
    A portion of the mainline was kept intact between Geneva and Victor for about two years when a new connection was built with the Auburn Road just east of Manchester. Then the mainline was dismantled between there and Geneva. Conrail continued to operate this line until it was taken over by Finger Lakes Railway in 1995.  Today Finger Lakes Railway operates 167 miles of former Lehigh Valley and New York Central trackage and serves about 90 customs in six counties. 
      In 1979 the Ontario Central  took over operation of 13 miles of the former Lehigh Valley mainline between Manchester and Victor to serve Victor Insulator Co. Finger Lakes Railway. OC, owned by the Livonia, Avon & Lakeville Railroad, was sold to the Finger Lakes Railway in 2007. 


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