The following are excerpts of three letters of the late Joseph C. Boyd of Elmira, N.Y. to Richard F. Palmer of Syracuse, N.Y. Boyd hired out as a trainman on the Sodus Point line of the Pennsylvania Railroad out of Southport (Elmira) in 1941 and retired in 1976. He resided at 627 Decker Ave. in Elmira, and died March 29, 1985 at the age of 68.
Coal train passing through Bellona; Jim Shaughnessy photo.
Horseheads depot, NCRR.
Montour Falls depot, NCRR.
Train watching at Watkins Glen; Jim Shaughnessy photo.
Elmira, N.Y., March 1, 1973
Passenger service on the Sodus Bay Branch had been gone six years when I hired out in June 1941. Most of the old passenger stations were still standing, but are gone today with the exception of Sodus Point, Newark and Seneca Castle.* This also applies for the remainder of the Elmira Branch. With the exceptions of Troy and Columbia Cross Roads, Pa., all stations have vanished south of Elmira. Depots north of Elmira which stand today are at Horseheads and Watkins and Montour Falls, although the latte is closed down and boarded up.
I have always had a special fondness for the Sodus Bay Branch, commonly called the “Shine Line,” although no one has ever been able to enlighten me on the origin go the slang term.
Elmira, Canandaigua andSodus Point Branch map.
Himrod depot, NCRR.
Postcard views, Richard Palmer collection
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, September 28, 1943
Yards at Sodus Point, 1950s; Jim Shaughnessy photo.
(Joe Boyd Reminiscences continued)
I was sent to Sodus Point after I hired out on the PRR, the first trainman taken on since 1929! At the time no locomotive larger than an L1s (2-8-2) was permitted north of Elmira. These engines did not have the brakeman’s compartment (monkey-box, or dog-house) on the engine tender and the head brakeman shared the fireman’s seat-box. I liked the L1s more than any other PRR type, as it was a general all-around power plant. No matter in wha type of service it was used, it was good - and this includes passenger service! An L1s rode and tracked good, was strong and quick, and a good hauler. An L1s with square valves and hooked up produced the sweetest stack-talk of any locomotive.
In the very early part of spring 1943, the I1s (2-10-0) began running into Sodus Point. The turntable at that terminal was enlarged to accommodate these heavier engines. We always assumed that the railroad company painted the bridges on the line to make them strong enough to bear the additional weight. When we shoved six cars of coal onto the Sodus Point dock and came to a stop, the dock moved outward six to eight inches from the land, and stayed there until the brakes were released. The wharf would then settle back to its normal position.
The only time we ever had trouble with the L1s was on the sharp curve on Track 33. If the trailer-truck under the cab had not been well lubricated, the truck would fight the rails and usually derail. This usually happened when the engine was backing up.
The Sodus Bay Branch was the last hold out for staem on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Here, a coal train is shown headed north past the station in Newark for Sodus Point in 1957. Credit Cal's Classics.
In 1946 PRR sent three or four L1s to the Elmira Branch, primarily for use at Sodus Point as switch engines. They were all hand-fired. Of course, the fire-boys weren't very happy with them, especially when the engines were due for boiler-washes at Elmira. The company would not run them light over the road to and from Elmira, but hung cars onto them. The firemen protested with such vigor that PRR put two tallow-pots on the deck to “hand-bomb” them for the 92-mile run. Brakemen were not required to assist the fireman - and this included digging coal. If so ordered by the superintendent, they were paid an additional day’s pay.
I believe that the PRR had two L1s equipped with boosters, and one of these was used on the Elmira-Dewitt coal trains, but the boosters were rarely used. In time it became inoperative and was subsequently removed. If my memory is correct, I think this engine was #1556. Being used in the yard one afternoon, the cab was cornered by a drag of cars and the fireman was killed where he sat. It was necessary to cut the cab apart to remove him. The engine stood at Elmira for many, many months before being hauled away. I don’t know if it ever was used again.
The hardest tour of duty I ever put in was on the Sodus Bay Branch, and there were hundreds of them! A 16-hour day or night was common. In one 15-day pay period in 1942, I put in almost 225 hours on duty. I was a walking dead man, as I did not get a full eight-hour’s rest between tours of duty. “Laying-off” work for a day was impossible, as permission was absolutely refused. We had seven crews working at Sodus Point, on a first-in, first-out basis.
Each day six crews worked the yard and the seventh crew went on the local freight to Stanley and back. This, too, was a 16-hour run. Most of the time when my crew would go to work, the only crew who could relieve us was working in the yard then and usually had been on duty five to seven hours. They had to finish their tour, take their rest, and then relieve us. I have seen as many as eight lake boats waiting in the bay to be loaded and two at the dock.
Most of the men you named in your letter, I have worked with. I saw one of them, J.K. Stoll, when he died. He just dropped to the ground. Two of the men are still living.
Depot at Seneca Castle
Pennsylvania Railroad depot at Orleans; John Stewart collection
Pennsylvania I1 2-10-2 at Sodus Point, 1956; Richard Palmer collection
Coal trestle at Sodus Point; credit Sodus Point Historian
The coal was running to Sodus Point hot and heavy in the early 1940s. At one time a coal train departed Elmira every four hours. Sodus Point yard couldn’t handle the flow and the crews were storing cars anywhere they could between Elmira and Sodus Point and Canandaigua. To me soft coal was soft coal, but there must have been at least 100 different classes. The local out of Sodus Point not only did the local freight work, but had to dig out a certain class of coal from the various sidings and spurs for a boat that was due. It was not uncommon to drag into Sodus Point behind an L1s with 100 cars of coal and “outlaw” under the 16-hour law before the train was yarded. Some trips ended before we reached Sodus Point and a fresh crew relieved us. It wasn’t an uncommon thing to spend six hours switching at Stanley, digging out a certain class of coal.
After 1946 I never worked in the Sodus Point yard again except one day, although I went in and out of that terminal hundreds of times.
Sodus Point is dead today and will never return as a busy railroad terminal. I don’t think there has been a train into that place in well over two years. The track is still there, but the village of Wallington is about as far as a train has gone in the past five years - and this is only about once in every three or four months.
No trains run any further north than Seneca Castle, and the line north of that point to Newark hasn’t seen a train in several years. It is up for abandonment as is the road north of Newark to Lake Ontario. Penn Central has also applied for permission to abandon the “Hojack” between Oswego and Williamson.
An organization south of Elmira has succeeded in getting an order which will prevent PC from doing any ripping up of the track between Elmira and Cedar Ledge, south of Canton, Pa. This means that there will be further hearings, but the remainder of the track to Williamsport will be ripped up. Oddly enough, PC has asked to be permitted to abandon the track between Horseheads and Watkins Glen. We can’t understand this, but then we can’t understand a lot about the Penn Central.
Great Lakes freighter loading coal at Sodus Point, 1950s; Richard Palmer collection
Pennsylvania Railroad depot at Sodus Center
The building behind the train is the Franklin House Hotel. This was in the "Macyville" area of Sodus Point.
Lakeshore Station at Sodus Point
Lakeshore Station at Sodus Point.
The railroad had an open-air station there where passengers could get on and off the trains. This is where all the excursion specials terminated and started out from. When I hired out in 1941, the track was in use only to the street just east of the malt house. Just once do I recall that we stored some coal over that highway crossing. Between that street and the village park there were the remains of old docks where the lake steamers stopped and freight boats loaded and unloaded. One dock was called the “Feldspar Dock.” When I hired out, it was just a few old rotting timbers standing just above the water level. When the lower, or water end, of the main track was discontinued is unknown to me, but I assume in the early 1930s, when the passenger trains on the Sodus Bay Branch were abandoned. That is about all there is of the history today. Even Sodus Point yard is gone. The only train running into that place is the switch engine from Newark with cars of grain for the malt house.
Sodus Bay Branch, 1924
|Mileposts from Stanley|
|Sodus Point Shop||33.2|
|Coal Trestle #||33.2|
|Judson Snyder #
A.H. Shufelt +
|Storage Track #||33.4|
|(AH. Fleld) +||33.8|
|Lake Shore Station *||34.0|
|(F.C. Wickham) +||34.3|
|(End of Track)|
|# Telegraph Office
+ Private Sidings
* No siding
Each trip she deposited 4, 500 tons of coal at the Niagara-Mohawk Corporation power plant just inside the west pier of the Oswego Harbor. The Fontana was a moderate-sized ship, about 400 feet in length, and could make a round trip to Oswego every 14 to 16 hours. She placed more than a million tons of soft coal in Oswego in a single season, making over 250 round trips in that time. The Fontana held the equivalent of from 80 to 90 hopper cars of coal when filled to capacity. So the season's delivery to the Oswego steam plant totaled more than 21,000 carloads. This amounted to a requirement for one 80 car train per day from the from the Pennsylvania coalfields to Sodus Point for the entire shipping season, just to fill the requirements of the Oswego station.
Other regular visitors to Sodus Point were the Bayfax, Coalfax, Midland Prince, Calcite and Stadocona. These ships accounted for the other 60 percent of coal tonnage shipped from the Sodus Point trestle. Coal shipments remained strong from the late 1950s through 1963, when the Erie-Lackawanna secured the coal delivery contract to Oswego. This change was accompanied by a significant decrease in the use of coal by the industries around the lake and their conversion to oil and other power fuels. In only four short years, coal shipments from Sodus Point were reduced to zero, and on December 11, 1967 the trestle was shut down by Penn-Central shut down with the loading of the last boat. This spelled doom for the Elmira branch of the Pennsylvania RR as well, effectively shutting it down. In only a few short years the tracks to Sodus Point lay unused and in disrepair. The lack of the racket from the trestle shakers remained the only pleasing factor to residents in the passing of this long and nostalgic part of 20th Century Sodus Bay history. After the trestle had remained unused for three years, a local businessman purchased the property with the idea of dismantling the structure and using the lower section as Marina with 125 slips for pleasure boats, The dismantling project progressed well for period of three weeks. Then, on a windy November 5, 1971, while men were working with acetylene torches near the outer end of the trestle, a red-hot bolt dropped onto a coal-dust covered timber below. It ignited a fire that virtually destroyed the trestle. Demolition work continued, however, and is presently the site of a marina.
The Sodus Point trestle burns, 1971; credit Sodus Point Historian.
Depot at Canandaigua.
Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads exchanged passengers in Canandaigua.
Joe Boyd continues, August 21, 1974:
I received your request of August 16 for data concerning PRR trackage in Canandaigua and Sodus Point, N.Y. During my career the spur track running from the Canandaigua Yard to the shore of Canandaigua Lake was simply known as the “Lake Branch.” I presume it was a title that was handed down from old railroaders. It was merely a yard track, and no authority was required to use it. I hired out in June 1941, and I don’t think I worked the Canandaigua end of the line until the spring or early summer of 1946 after my discharge from the army. I clearly recall the first time I passed over the Lake Branch.
We coupled onto a large auto-box with our H9s engine and pushed it ahead of us to the shore of the lake. We coupled onto a few other cars that stood on the spur and shoved them ahead of us. Near the shore there was a spur track onto which we shoved the cars, but hung onto the auto-box.
Men from a nearby boat dock opened the end doors of the car and lo and behold! there was a very large cabin cruiser. The men quickly loosened the braces and we pushed the car out into the lake waters. The track went under water on a very steep grade. It dropped out of sight like a rock! The water floated the boat out of the car! We pulled back, gathered up the cars we had found ahead of us and returned to Canandaigua Yard, re-spotting the cars.
Originally this spur was an independent railroad company known as the Canandaigua Lake Railroad, 1.6 miles in length, with 70 lb. rails. I do not know when it was chartered, but I guess between 1885 and 1887, and I assume it was merely a “paper” company. The real owner and builder was the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad, just another corporation of the Northern Central/Pennsylvania R.R.. The history of the railroad north of Elmira is one big mess. I’ve never been able to straighten it out.
The Canandaigua Lake Railroad was organized by articles of association that were filed on July 21, 1887, and the line was opened on September 1, 1887 under Northern Central management. I assume that it was built for the purpose of making connections with the Canandaigua lake steamboats. I read somewhere that a passenger train operated on this spur for that purpose. I don’t recall where I saw this data.
The Canandaigua Lake Railroad was authorized by law or charter to issue 200 shares of stock at a par value of $20,000; up to 1888 no stock had been issued, but $12,909.79 had been paid in on account. The number of stockholders entitled to stock that had not been issued was 13. Between September 30, 1887, and September 30, 1888, the company spent $6,400 on improvements, thus indicating the line had been laid down between 1885-1887.
The general offices were located at Elmira, with Spencer Meade serving as president. He was the NCR Superintendent between Williamsport and Canandaigua. George N. Diven was Secretary, and E.K. Tidd was Treasurer. There were 13 directors. I don’t think the company ever owned any rolling stock, but why should it if Northern Central built the line and its president was a Superintendent of the NCR? NCR equipment was used.
On December 31, 1888, the Canandaigua Lake Railroad was absorbed by the Elmira & Lake Ontario.
In 1949 I was working a regular work train at Canandaigua and spent my evenings in the museum studying the old newspapers, which are filled with railroad news. The librarian showed me an old photograph of a New York Central locomotive, which she said was the first engine to run over the spur line. This I questioned.
The following may be of interest:
Canandaigua Lake Branch, 1924
|Mileposts from Passenger Station
in Williamsport, PA
|Jct. of Elmira Division||143.3|
|(Zach T. Darrow) +||143.5|
|(Croucher & Packard)||143.6|
|(Canandaigua Kraut Co.) +||143.6|
|(Sinclair Oil Refining C60) +||143.7|
|(New York State Rwys. Powerhouse) +||144.5|
|(End of Track)|
|# Telegraph Office (Freight House)
+ Private Siding
The last I worked into Canandaigua was about 1968 or 1969, and we only went down the branch to about M.P.143.6, where we placed empty boxcars for a firm that makes boxes for Fanny Farmer Candies. Immediately north of this is a large junk yard and we served them just about every night. At about M.P.143.5 we placed empties for bean loading. Today that is the extent of the industries. From about 143.6 to the lake the track is history and most likely gone. It does not cross the new four-lane Route 20 anymore. About three years ago the track from Stanley to Canandaigua was closed down, and PRR crews go no further than Stanley today. The NYC local on the old Auburn Road serves the Canandaigua Branch and the old PRR yard - at extra pay. As usual, the PRR men lost - quite common since the merger.
As for the track at Sodus Point, which runs to the edge of Lake Ontario: It was the main track for the passenger trains 75 years ago. It terminated on the connecting channel between the lake and the bay. For many years the PRR secured its sand for its locomotives from the channel, using a “sand sucker.” Also in the winter months the company cut all the ice used by the system east of Pittsburgh, Pa. It was loaded into stock cars and sent all over. Crews worked regularly all winter hauling “ice” trains south. Near the end of the track on the bay, the PRR had what was called the “Company Cottage,” where high officials stayed on vacation. Their special trains ran right down to the cottage door! Near Route 14 in the village is a small village park.
August 23, 1977
I have been retired since October 1 of last year, and now know practically nothing about the railroad. There isn’t much left. To the best of my knowledge the line south of Elmira to Williamsport is today as the flood  left it several years ago. . .bridges in the creeks, rails hanging in the air, perhaps some rails stolen by local farmers. It will never be rebuilt. No trains in the Southport Yard, as the old PRR has ceased operations south of Montour Falls, N.Y. Conrail (Erie) crews service a building supply company at the south end of the yard several times a week. The old round-house and several out buildings have been razed, and all enginehouse territory tracks removed. The turntable was taken away and the round pit and ash-pits filled in.
A severe rainstorm two years ago put the finish to the track from Horseheads to Montour Falls. We had a 10 mph speed on Millport Hill after the flood, but now the track hangs in the air in several places. At the present time Watkins Glen is “it.” Two crews report there, one to switch the salt plants, the other to work the line from Montour Falls to Seneca Castle.
The latter crew, a local freight, goes as far north as the work warrants, but never beyond Bellona unless specific instructions are issued. Conrail did not take over the line north of Bellona and when the work demands, the crew goes beyond Bellona, but the cost is paid to Conrail by the State of New York. North of Bellona the line is classed as “Low Density Line,” and the crew serves it about once a week.
One engine serves both crews, the Watkins job reporting about 8 a.m. and the local crew reporting at 5 p.m. When I ceased work for the railroad about a year before I retired, we were running to Hall, Stanley and Seneca Castle two and three times a week. This was before Conrail took over, but last winter the crew went to Seneca Castle about three times. It wasn’t unusual for us to spot 20 cars a month at Hall and 10 to 12 at Stanley. When the wheat, barley and beans were moving we were going to Seneca Castle two and three times a week in the late autumn and early winter. We still have our crew at Newark (ex-PRR men), but they work under the thumb of Rochester, and run into Sodus Point when necessary. I imagine this isn’t more than once a month.
The line to Canandaigua has been abandoned for over five years and the last I knew the rails were still in place. I imagine the brush and trees are pretty thick on the track and right-of-way. It must be hell for the crew today to work north of Watkins, as the brush and weeds were thick and heavy when I took my departure two years ago.
The old Tioga Division of the Erie is a thing of the past, also. The big flood [Hurricane Agnes, 1972] wrecked it and the new dam at Tioga removed what the waters didn’t. Likewise, the LV Branch from Elmira to Horseheads (old Canal Railroad) is done. The track got so bad that the Federal authorities took it out of service. For a short time the LV crew was using the Erie and PRR to get to Horseheads, but that didn’t last very long. Now the Erie (Conrail) serves Horseheads.
The city and towns have blacktopped over the rails at the road and street crossings. That is the railroad picture from down this way.
The Erie Tioga Division is also history. Some of the track is gone at this writing - some by the recent flood and some taken up by the flood dam project at Tioga, Pa. Before the flood, the Erie had asked to abandon the line and then the high waters of the Tioga River came along and did the job for them.
Pennsylvania Railroad coal trestle at Sodus Point with a self-unloading ship being loaded.
The Sodus Bay Branch ran from Stanley, near Geneva, to Sodus Point. It passed through Flint, Seneca Castle, Orleans, Phelps Junction, Newark, Sodus Center, and Wallington. A branch split off from the north side of Newark to the village of Marion. Passing sidings were located in Stanley and "New," which was north (timetable west) of Newark.
The main purpose of the line was carrying coal to the large coal dock at Sodus Point. A Niagara Hudson power plant was opened at Oswego in 1940. This plant burned large quantities of coal, which were carried by rail to Sodus Point and then by boat to Oswego. The line also carried general freight. Until the 1930's ice was harvested in Sodus Bay and shipped south.
Agricultural products were a major source of traffic into the middle 1950's. A quarry in Wallington, which opened in the early 1950's, generated hundreds of carloads of stone and gravel for road construction. The Genessee Brewing Company had a large malt house in Sodus Point which received several carloads of grain every five or six weeks. It still stands unused.
Jackson and Perkins shipped rose bushes from their facility in Newark until the early 1950's. During the coal shipping season, local switching was performed by coal trains. In the winter, a local ran as needed from Sodus Point to Stanley and back.
Passenger trains ran along the branch until 1934--first steam trains and then a gas electric car. A mixed train operated until November 15, 1935.
There was also a maritime component to the Sodus Bay Branch. PRR harbor tug Cornelia operated at Sodus Point, helping the lake boats dock and sometimes pushing barges of coal to Oswego.
The Sodus Bay and Southern Railroad opened in 1873 as a standard gauge railroad connecting Sodus Point, the largest protected harbor on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, with the Elmira, Jefferson & Canandaigua Railway at Stanley.
By 1873, the EJ&C was controlled by the Northern Central. The SB&S failed twice before being purchased as the first railroad venture of E. H. Harriman, who later became famous as the president of the Union Pacific. Harriman bought the line with hopes of selling it to either the Erie or the Northern Central. The Northern Central purchased it in 1884 and immediately built a coal trestle at Sodus Point. In 1886, the SB&S, the EJ&C, and the Chemung Railway were consolidated as the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad. The coal pier was enlarged in 1894.
In 1913, the Pennsylvania Railroad signed a 99 year lease on the Northern Central, and folded it into its system. The line was upgraded during the 1920's, with stone ballast and 130 pound rail. A new coal pier was built at Sodus Point during 1927-28, and the yard there was expanded.
The Pennsylvania purchased the Newark & Marion Railway, which ran between its namesake towns, on May 4, 1930. This line was originally to be a trolley line but never did. This eight-mile line became the Marion Branch. Its last operator was the Ontario Midland between 1979 and 1984 and then it was abandoned.
The opening of a Niagara Hudson power plant at Oswego in 1940, increased the amount of coal being loaded into lake boats at Sodus Point. This traffic was the mainstay of the line until 1963 when the Erie Lackawanna discontinued operating coal trains to Oswego.
Coal trains to Sodus Point were discontinued in December, 1967. On November 5, 1971, while the coal trestle at Sodus Point was being dismantled, it caught fire and was severely damaged.
The Seneca Castle - Newark portion of the line closed in 1973. Track from Newark to Sodus Point was scheduled for abandonment in early 1978, but the governments of Wayne County and the State of New York purchased the line. The Ontario Midland Railway became the designated operator. The line from Wallington to Sodus Point was subsequently abandoned.