A 79 year-old friend. Born 1905 — Died 1984
I no longer drive to work without looking for my friend. I catch glimpses here and there thru the trees of her quietly meandering her way through the woods, over ditches and creeks. The irony is that we travel together silently, our paths occasionally intersecting. Our destination is always the same: Marion.
I can't look at an old rusty rail without seeing into the past. Doesn't seem to matter where I am, that slight dip in the road which subtlely points to a nearly invisible pathway through the trees, or that old pair of tracks that disappear into the weeds and scrub. They all betray a time long since gone. A day when that rail was alive. Alive with the sounds of a steam engine lumbering down the track with its load of goods bound for somewhere. The steam and coal smoke angrily blowing out of that sweltering locomotive sounding like a pair of young oxen straining at a plow.
In the time I've spent researching the Newark and Marion I've come to get to know what that dash between the born and died dates represent. That dash represents a typical life of anyone that any of us may have come to know. Good times. Prosperous times. Troubled times. And a time when all good things must come to an end. I'll do my best to capture that here. Some of it my words, most of it others.
History of the Marion Railroad
About twenty-five years ago, as one traveled on what was commonly known as the backroad from Marion to Newark, a small freight train with a somewhat obsolete engine might have been seen running along on a lazy summer day. Actually it was running on the Newark and Marion railroad, which is nine miles long and probably one of the shortest, and in its heyday, one of the busiest short line railroads in the United States.
The agricultural background of Wayne County at the turn of the century led to the need for a railroad in Marion. Good railroad facilities furnishing rail connections to all markets of the nation are primary assets in any town from an industrial and business viewpoint. Marion is located in the center of one of the most fertile fruit and vegetable sections in America, although for many years this was not known since the farmers did not realize the value of their muck.
About 1900, these many acres of muck in the township were gradually developed and farmers keenly felt the need of a railroad. The nearest railroads lay six miles to the north and south at Williamson and Palmyra respectively, and produce in those times was carried by team and wagon or by sleds over dirt roads. Life was not easy for the farmer in either summer or winter. The people of Marion determined that the time had come for improved transportation facilities leading from Marion. In 1905, a railroad was built between Marion and Newark joining the old Northern Central Railroad, now part of the Pennsylvania system. This shortline railroad was called the Newark & Marion Railway, and on December 14th 1905, the first train entered Marion, to the great joy of the people.
The Newark & Marion Railway was the last of all the properties once controlled by the Beebe Syndicate, an organization that owned a group of at least 12 inter urban, high-speed electric train lines from Buffalo, through Rochester and Syracuse. The projectors of the electric road known as the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern, fearing they would not be given a franchise through Newark, first obtained a franchise for a road from Newark to Marion with the other road as an extension.
Organized on May 4th, 1900, by local interests, construction of the Newark & Marion was started on November 12, 1901. It was July 1905 before the line was graded and rail was laid for six miles.
During 1905, competition developed to build a railroad to Williamson and Pultneyville on Lake Ontario, as the Ontario and Wayne Traction Company, which had been chartered in 1901 as well as the Newark & Marion. They now sold more stock to build from Canandaigua via Palmyra to Pultneyville. This line was the Newark & Marion's line to Williamson, which died from lack of funding.
The Marion Enterprise
When the trolley line was assured, the promoters were ready to drop the Newark and Marion Railway. The superintendent of construction, W. A. Steckle, seeing the great advantage to Marion of having a railway, pleaded to have it kept, and was given permission to operate it for a certain length of time if he could show a profit.
Marion had the distinction of having more freight originated here than on any other road of similar length in the US.
The passenger service was a boon to Marion people and at first, round trips were made three times a day, stopping along the way to take on or discharge passengers. The passenger car was usually next to the engine with a string of freight cars following. It was usually a discard from some other railroad. One of the coaches, which had little heat and was lighted only by lanterns, was mysteriously burned. The whistle began blowing and citizens ran to the station only to find the coach on fire and beyond saving. But after that, somewhat better coaches were provided. The early engines too were often old and many stories were told about the train being stalled in the snow, and other service breakdowns.(October 17th 1930.)
From Marion to Newark, the running time varied between thirty-five and sixty minutes. The fair was thirty-five cents from either way. Being of the same general management as the Rochester, Syracuse, and Eastern, the Marion line shared in much of the larger roads advertising. Close connections were made at the Northern Central Station in Newark. RS&E tickets were on sale at the Marion station. Frequent excursions were run between Marion and points on the electric road.
Passenger flag stops on the line reading from the Marion end were: Rich Siding, Manders, Jaggers, Fisher's Crossing, Beal's Crossing, Town Line Road, Sand Hill Siding, Welcher's Hill, Water Works, and North main Street, Newark. From the start, however, the Newark & Marion depended upon car load freight for its bread and butter. For that reason, it has been able to survive.
For the year ending June 30th, 1911, the revenue from freight was far ahead of the passenger revenue, $11,245 versus $5,305. While the mail bought in $460, they ended with a deficit of $3,000.
After several years of financial loss, the road went into the hands of receivers, and for a time, beginning April 6th 1917, the road was closed and grass grew between the rails. It was soon put up at auction and sold under foreclosure at the Lyons, NY courthouse.
A group of citizens planned to buy the road and operate it. Dr. Albert Halsted represented the people and the bid was $34,000 for the railroad. It had cost $170,000 to build. The only other bidder was a firm dealing in junk, which would have scrapped the road. Bonds were sold to residents of Marion.
Marion Railway Corp. Inc. acquired all the property of the Newark & Marion Railway on May 5th, 1917. The property consisted of 8.32 miles of main line and yards and sidings of 1.32 miles. The new franchise expires in 1999. Capitol stock was $10,000.00 and the passenger revenue for the last three months of 1917 was $1,664.00. This included the Christmas rush trade into Newark.
In December 1928, S. C. Comstock of Newark, who had large canning interests in Marion, bought the controlling interest in the railroad. He devoted a good deal of time to improving the railroad, more land was purchased and sidings were installed, making a greatly expanded yard for shifting and loading.
May 4th, 1930 was when the Pennsylvania Railroad paid $140,000 to acquire the railroad and the next year, on March 2nd, many officials from Williamsport and Philadelphia came to Marion to inspect the road.
It is said that in 1930, 875 cars of celery, 200 cars of carrots, 100 cars of onions, 150 cars of canned goods besides cars of lettuce, apples, pears, beans, cider, and vinegar were shipped on the road.
While researching the Newark & Marion I came across quite a few stories regarding the short line railroad. One of the elements that hold so much fascination for me in regards to history, is people. People make history come alive. The Newark & Marion is no exception and there is no shortage of stories relating to times past. The relationship between wood, iron, steel, and the people that shaped it into an operating railroad is the lifeblood of this historical narrative.
Our Memories of An Engineer
George liked children and every Saturday he would buy several dollars worth of candy bars. On the trip to Marion, all the kids would be waiting along the track. As George passed, he would throw off candy bars, one per child. This Saturday stunt was a regular thing.
On the 24th of each December, George would purchase a vast amount of peanut candy and candy bars and divide it equally in brown paper bags. Those he would put into the seat-box, sometimes filling it so full that he couldn't put the cushion down. From clean engine waste he would fashion a crude white beard, pull on a long red stocking cap and set off for Marion. The kids would be waiting and "Santa Claus" would toss off a bag for the various children along the line. This gave old George a great deal of happiness.
March 1952, the road came under the Susquehanna Division of the Pennsylvania RR with Superintendent Piper in charge. In 1954, Agent Marshall gave a Christmas party for all Marion children under 12 at the station at noon on Friday. Children rode the train and Santa Claus rode in the cab. Some one hundred were there. It was a success and continued on the last Friday before Christmas until 1958. About two hundred came to the last party.
Newark and Marion Railroad
On December 14th 1905, the track was laid to Palmyra Street in the village. The Christian Church held a three-day bazaar and a special train ran from Newark to Marion for this occasion. They rented a coach from the New York Central, and the work engine drew the special back and forth. If you lived in Newark, you could buy, for fifty cents, a round trip ticket to Marion and a roast pork supper. The bazaar was a big success and Marion, at last, had a railroad to connect it to the outside world.
With the completion of the road, the hamlet started to grow. Two cold storages were built, two coal yards, a lumber yard, a vinegar works, 20 new homes, and later, a bank. Some days, 20 carloads of produce would leave town. Sugar beets were grown here, and at times, two cars were loaded a day. Cattle would be shipped in to be fed by farmers during the winter and sold in the spring. It was known for shipping the most freight of any railroads of its length in the United States.
After one storm, no train could go up the Northern Central yards in Newark at night, so the passengers were let off at Willow Ave. or North Main Street as it is known, and all had to walk the mile over to town to the Opera House or ball game. With Curley Clarks, the Langdon house, and the Farmer's Hotel near by the train stop, some never did get over to town, and some never cared to.
The night Marion High played North Rose for the basketball championship in Newark, the Northern Central let the four carloads of fans up in the yards. The fans were on boxcars with crates with planks on them for seats, and a smoky lantern hooked to the roof for light. They had the school band and a goat with North Rose painted on its blanket. After North Rose won, it was nip and tuck whether the goat would get back to Marion, for with North Rose on his blanket, he belonged to them. However, Durf Young rounded up a gang of fellows and took the goat in tow. Marion lost the game, but not the goat, and what a sorry lot of fans steamed up the valley to Marion that night.
Few trains ever passed Jaggers without stopping, for school children got on there and the Jagger home was always an open house to young and old. There was never a place for a better time or better meal.
There was Mander's stop and Mander's cut. It seemed that all the snow in Wayne County piled up in that cut. If Mander's had some livestock in a lower pasture and wanted to take a water tub or pail of salt to them, he would flag the train with a jug of cider in one hand and the salt or tub in the other. We will never know which did the most good; the salt for the cattle, or the cider for the crew. No trains ran on Sunday, so Manders used the tracks for pasture every Sabbath. Gates crossed the tracks and a regular Monday morning job for the crew was opening the gates to let the train past.
Another famous memory is of skating parties at Jaggers woods. Young people would pay a dime for a ride from town to the woods. All would pile out at the stop, a scramble of skates, sweaters, tin dinner pails, and a basket of kindling. Supper would be cooked in an old stump on the ice. Later, the whistle of the train rounding the bend from Newark would send someone scurrying to the track with a burning newspaper torch, while the others tore off their skates and hurried for the baggage car.
Pheasant hunting season found armed men in the baggage car doors watching for birds. When one flew up, all took aim and shot. If one was bagged, the train stopped, backed up, and the lucky man retrieved his catch. Sometimes there was a question of who shot the bird but there was never any argument.
The Mander's cut could be the ruination of any railroad, as it would fill with snow eight feet deep for a quarter of a mile. One night in deep winter when they were bucking the banks, through that cut, a flue burst. Soon, water was killing the fire — no fire meant no steam or motion. Finally, Bud McGraw, the engineer, walked back into the coach and addressed the passengers, "We've got a bad flue, and water is killing the fire. If one of you girls can give me your petticoat, I can plug the hole and we can get into town." No sooner had he spoken than a petticoat was handed up to him. With the help of a poker, the hole was plugged and the train rolled into Marion.
John's narrative continues and stories abound of winter peril, makeshift snow plows, the old rickety coach mysteriously catching on fire, the gradual transition from rail freight to truck freight, corporate takeovers, and many memories of days gone by.
Ralph Martin's History Of The Marion Railroad goes on in a similar fashion but takes a bleaker tone as it describes the events as they transpired into the forties and fifties. His account seems to be written sometime in 1955 as all his references end that year. The decline of the railroad industry, the corporate influence as the railroad was considered as simply an asset rather than the lifeblood of a community, and the slow invasion of the trucking industry are all mentioned. It ends in 1955 on kind of a "who knows what's next" note. His report includes charts and graphs outlining the different goods/produce that was hauled via rail into and out of Marion. One particular banner year is credited with moving 1,882 car loads of freight. No small feat for such a short line railroad that was independently owned.
Construction of the Newark & Marion required that it pass over the New York Central rails, just north of Newark by twenty-one feet. The remains of the bridge can still be seen from Hydesville Road in the fall and winter when the leaves are off the trees. It stands in the woods like a stubborn sentinel honoring the once bustling railroad. However, it's slowly losing its battle with time.
The railroad saw numerous locomotive stock through its history. It seems all the motive power was secured from other railroads. Fortunately for rail fans, one of the Newark & Marion steam engines has been preserved for future generations to enjoy at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg, PA. The history of the other engines remains undiscovered. Likely, they fell victim to the scrap industry.
Newark & Marion locomotives were listed in the 1906-1931 "Travelectric" (c1961) as follows:
#1: 0-4-4 T Baldwin 1872 Ex Chicago & South Sede El, drivers 42
#2: 0-4-0 ex 56, N.Y. Central at E. Buffalo
#3: 0-4-0 ex 74, N.Y. Central at E. Buffalo in 1889 16 x22; 54,900
#5: 2-6-2 Vulcan, shipped October 7, 1922; 3254, 16x24; 100,000; sold to Md. and Del. Seacoast RR at Denton, Md. November 9, 1932
#6: 2-6-2 Vulcan, shipped April 13th, 1925; 3525, 16x24; 100,000; sold to Md. and Del. Seacoast RR at Denton, Md. December 15th, 1932;
#4050: 2-8-0 Altoona, 1895; H-3 b; cn 1939; 20x24; 127,000; scrapped
#4105: 4-4-0 Altoona, 1897; D-13c; cn 2018; 18-1/2x24; 114,500; scrapped
#778: 2-8-0 Baldwin, 1906; H6sb; cn 28922; 23x28; 204,800; scrapped
#2846: 2-8-0 Baldwin, 1905; H6sb; cn 26744; 23x28; 204,800 scrapped
#3110: 2-8-0 Baldwin, 1906; H6sb; cn 28285; 23x28; 204,800; scrapped at Northumberland
#2910: 2-8-0 Baldwin, 23x28
The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the Newark & Marion on May 4, 1930. A year later, the N&M was merged into the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad, a non-operating subsidiary of the Pennsy. The branch provided significant carloads of fruit and produce from Marion. Due to weight restrictions dictated by light rail and a lighter bridge over the NYC main, nothing heavier than a H6s-b 2-8-0 was ever used. One of the regular 2-8-0's assigned to the N&M, #2846, was set aside to be preserved by the Railroad Museum of
Pennsylvania when the route was fully dieselized in 1955. In 1956, the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad was merged into the Northern Central Railway, another Pennsy non-operating subsidiary holding company.
The Peanut Train
This train seems to have always been a part of my life. I grew up along side this small train track for all of my childhood. On Murray Street in Newark it crossed the street right in front of our house. Every day it seemed to run between the farms and orchards of Marion and the canning factory at the end of Murray Street there in Newark. It was a slow noisy thing with only one SW-1 diesel engine (a little yard engine) and five or six box cars with a caboose on the end. But it was the grandest thing to watch it every day. My grandfather Lloyd Obine worked as a brakeman on that train and I would run out to see it every time it passed to see if I could see him. Every where my family moved to when I was a child that train was there passing by our house. When we moved to West Pearl Street that train was there passing right by the house along the side of the street. I remember getting rides on that train in the caboose between Newark and Marion with Gramps a couple of times and it was one of the most fantastic things I had ever done. Even when we finally settled down to live on the MacLaren family property on Hydesville road that little train was there. It seemed as if it was a part of my life and it was a factor in how I was raised from the very beginning.
Out on Hydesville road those tracks ran right through the middle of the family property and were the dividing line between the yards, gardens, barns and barn yards around the house and the swamps, woods and fields that took up the rest of the farm. The tracks from that train were my guide and a way for me to travel during my wanderings. That small set of tracks was with me for a whole world of adventures and travels. I followed them East to the ice cream shop and my grandparents home and West to play at my friend's farm when we lived on Pearl Street. Those same tracks were my direct line to other friend's homes and the places beyond when I lived on Hydesville road. A whole world of adventures was found along those tracks. Battles were won and lost on the trestle and bridges of those tracks and many nights those same tracks were my guide home after a day or afternoon of fishing, playing games, hunting, snowmobiling, biking, or just exploring along, on, or around those tracks. The trestle over the main NYC lines was a second home during the summer months. we had even built a fort at the base of one of the trestle supports and spent a couple of summers planning how we would camp out there and use those tracks to get into Newark or back to my home when we need to restock on snacks and supplies. I seem to have spent the best summers of my life some where close to that small train's tracks.
Marion had two cold storage facilities and Newark boasted several canneries and produce warehouses. Apples, beets, onions, potatoes and spinach were all grown locally and shipped out in blocks of reefers. Gradually the region's rich agricultural bounty turned away from the railroads. Carloads from Marion steadily dropped from 1,500 cars in 1930, to 1,100 cars in 1943 to 643 cars by 1953.
The eight-mile branch passed to successor Penn Central in 1968, which continued limited freight operations. The line was not to be included in the 1976 Conrail reorganization, however New York State subsidized service until a new operator could be found.
The Marion branch was operated by the new Ontario Midland (OMID) after 1979, which took over several area branchline operations cast off by Conrail. The last train over the old Newark & Marion was July 1984, with privately owned ex-Buffalo Rochester & Pittsburgh caboose #C2621 the last thing to leave town. By this time, track conditions in Marion were terrible, and Ontario Midland had to pay a fee ($100.00) to Conrail for each trip across their mainline to access the Marion Branch. The cost to maintain the operation could not be justified and the remaining local businesses turned elsewhere. The seventy-nine year life of the Newark & Marion had come to an end.