Along The Line

by Wayne G. Levitt

    Many people remember both steam and diesel trains: Some know how the O&W railroad operated, succeeded and then failed. Some can tell detailed facts about events that occurred a long time ago. Yet I can relate to what I witnessed as a youngster; the hissing, puffing and whistling steam engines that were already being replaced by diesel locomotives. My Grandfather and many others have shared their experiences too, and I have included some of these in part. There is just something about the O&W railroad that haunts us. So many of us who lived 'Along the Line,' were saddened by her passing, yet we are thankful for the O&WRHS and all the people who have contributed to and are dedicated in preserving the history of our beloved Railway.

    Watching the action: There is no way of knowing how many young and old folks alike may have been watching the trains and counting the cars as they passed by on the O&W as my Grandfather and I did on many occasions. So as I recall the memories of more than forty years ago, please remember that its was as a child and young fellow. The O&W had a major impact on the lives of everyone living or working close to the tracks. Now I think back and realize, that in my years observing the O&W of which seemed a long time, it was actually only the final thirteen years of the 'Old and Weary.'

    The Sights, Sounds and Odors: The very first memory that comes into my minds eye is the affect that hot weather had on steel rails and cinder ballast and the air above. I would often stop in the middle of the railroad crossing and look up the tracks and the air would shimmer and my view of distant objects would be distorted, sort of like a mirage in the movies. Even the heavy engines at a distance appeared to shimmer. . . The sound of bells on the steam engines as well as the signals at the crossing reminded us that we must stop regardless of the time, even when we were late. The crossing guards stood solid and kept us from harms way. Then there came mechanized gates that replaced the crossing guards, this was the first example of automation that I ever knew of and how it terminated the jobs of several men who we all knew. Still for the sake of progress, the new gates guarded both sides of the crossing at the same time, never took any time off and worked all day and night. The diesel engines resonated sounds which were very different than the steam engines we were accustomed to. The diesels had bells too and I especially remember the switch engines of which the bells never seemed to stop. . . The pungent odor of creosote was all around and whenever the weather was very warm a tar like substance sometimes oozed from the ends or cracks in the railroad ties, then bubbles would form then harden again as the air cooled in the evening. I don't know why but I remember the 'S' shaped metal piece pressed in each end of the wooden ties which apparently provided additional support to keep them from splitting under the terrific loads carried by the trains above. Right: The Crossing Guards Shanty at Livingston Manor, NY

Livingston Manor, NY
Winter of 1938
Peter Rose - Crossing Guard
Can you identify this steam engine,
Roster number, class and type?

    Crossing Guards: I was told that the first crossing guard assigned to the Livingston Manor Crossing was Benjamin Sarles. Others remember Ben as part time engineer on the steam engine pusher that nudged the heavy trains up and over Young's Gap which was the highest elevation on the main line at 1799 feet. Only the Scranton division at Poyntelle, Pa., was higher at 2078 feet. . . The Crossing guards I remember best were, Pete Rose (pictured above). Pete would sit in the shanty and tie flies for trout fishing. I remember many men stopping to talk with Pete, I wish he was still there so I could listen in on the stories, I am sure there were many involving the big ones that got away. Louis Kannegiser was also one of the guards I remember well. When Lou was off work I would often see him in his vegetable garden or he would be exercising his beagles. I am not sure how many dogs Lou had but I remember seeing him on the railroad tracks and it seemed like it was all Lou could do to hold onto them. I can't remember any shotgun, just Lou and the Beagles. The third was George Neumann who lived across and down the street from us and what I remember best was seeing him standing and holding the wooden staff with the stop sign on the top, the only other thing I can remember is that as kids we were never allowed into his yard. My Great Uncle Ralph Reynolds, was a crossing guard at Hurleyville. Uncle Ralph would repair old wind up alarm clocks that people kept near their beds. Uncle Ralph and Aunt Mabel Reynolds raised two sons, Fred and Edward, but also an orphan named Francis Currey, who served in the Second World War and became the third Congressional Metal of Honor recipient from Sullivan County. The two previous Metal of Honor recipients both fought in the Civil War.

Crossing guard and steam train near freight station.Livingston Manor, NY
The passenger station was beyond this point.

    Signal Maintenance Man: I knew the signal maintenance man Chris Lotterer. The Lotterer's lived across and up from our house on DuBois Street in Livingston Manor. Chris must have liked kids a lot because I remember how much fun it was being around him. Sitting on the flagstone steps in front of their home he always found ways to amuse us. Chris had the greatest trick I ever saw which he said was a mouse. He would sit with his hands clasped together and suddenly a lump would appear near his elbow and scramble up his arm, over his shoulder and down again. I would laugh and beg him to do it all over again. Once we saw Chris on what we called the putt- putt, a small motorized cart that carried workmen and small crews to and from their job assignments. This time Chris motioned to me and said, "want a ride?" I sure did. It wasn't a long ride and I knew Chris would never have taken a youngster a great distance from where they were supposed to be but I'11 never forget his wonderful gesture and I am glad I was there at the right time. There were all kinds of signals and electrical systems that needed regular maintenance. There were also many batteries consisting of square glass jars with lead or zinc plates, terminals and caustic acid. The batteries were in concrete structures with sloped covers. The acid needed to be replenished or replaced from time to time. These would usually provide enough power to the signals for six months or so. I thought Chris Lotterer had one of the most important jobs on the whole railroad. Chris and his family moved on and I was told he had taken a job with another railroad and had moved to Binghamton, NY. I had the pleasure of visiting with Chris Lotterer's replacement in April 1998. Charley Grant, told me that he had gone to work for the O&W as a Carpenter in 1946 working on a trestle. Later on, Charley replaced Chris as the signal maintenance man. I still remember seeing Charley along with many others of the local section gang out of Livingston Manor.

    Floating section crew: One summer a floating section crew moved into Livingston Manor There was a number of train cars including a kitchen and dining car combination, a sleeper and other cars which contained tools, equipment and other supplies. This arrangement was parked just east and across the yard from the Manor station. I was spending a lot of time around the Railroad Express Depot that summer and I saw a lot ofwhat was going on. I don't remember exactly what these men were doing but it seemed that it was a central point for their operation. My friend Bob Butler, was employed at the Railway Express that summer. I remember that we became friends with the floating crews' Cook, George Stevens. I took George to one of our local blueberry patches and together we picked enough berries to feed the crew pie for their desert. I had also learned how to bake by then so I made a cake for George's birthday.

    Struck by the train: Cold weather caused a slight accident one mornmg at about 8:20 am. A truck of which my Grandfather Ralph Quick, Lineman for NY State Electric and Gas Co., was struck by the south bound pickup engine on the New York, Ontario & Western Railway after it had stalled nearly on the tracks. Grandfather was driving the truck which was apparently slow to warm up that morning, and stalled just as it reached the tracks. Grandfather made desperate efforts to get it started but was unable to. The truck was damaged but he escaped injury.
were supposed to be.

    Derailment: One vivid memory I have was when Grandfather took me by the hand and we walked the tracks from our house for a mile east until we came upon the scene of a diesel engine, box cars and twisted rails among broken ties and torn up ballast cinders. There were many workers busy at the task of untangling the whole mess. What I remember in particular is looking up to the engineers position in the diesel locomotive and seeing someone in uniform with his head tilted to the rear. I was startled and sure he had gone to glory but it became apparent that this poor soul was actually trying to get a little shut eye and would have been home in his own bed if the derailment had not occurred. When your driving something this big and heavy and you're stuck in such a situation there is no where else to go.

    Putting it back together: There was a crane and other heavy equipment brought to the scene to lift, move and place the engine and cars back onto the rails, that is after major repairs were completed . The location was east of the Manor station and beyond the 'Y' (wye) that was used to turn the cars and or locomotives around. As the work proceeded the workmen labored using heavy pry bars and other tools to separate the rails and ties. Others used torches to cut through damaged rails and other hardware. Teams of four men would lift, carry and place the new steel rails on the carefully positioned tie plates and ties on new or re-leveled ballast. The fish plates were bolted to the rails and two or more men swinging sledge hammers took aim, striking spikes installed to hold it all in place. It was obvious that everyone knew his job well enough though there was always the section foreman who directed the progress.

    Iron Frog: Another interesting observation I made as a result of repairs underway was the method used in getting the heavy locomotive and cars back up on the rails. I heard the workmen call the device "the frog." I even remember seeing this odd looking iron frog hanging on the side of the locomotive as though derailments might be expected. Now came the time to see the frog in use. As the diesel engine was winched into position close to the rails and the long iron frog shaped more like a ramp, was placed alongside at each set of drive wheels, power was applied and with the assistance of other equipment the locomotive was very slowly and carefully eased back onto the rails.

    Hot Boxes: The bearing surfaces of the wheel axles on the train cars were lubricated inside a cast iron box with a heavy cover. These were clearly visible at the end of each set of wheels. Inside the metal box was a cotton like substance called waste. The waste was kept saturated with oil and if the waste dried up, heat would build up and a very smoky fire often resulted. In times past when train cars were constructed of wood, the hot box fires fanned by the moving train sometimes caused the fire to spread and cars, along with their contents, were often lost as a result. I remember there was what appeared to be the burned out remains of an old box car behind our house. Probably was cut loose and shoved off on the siding to protect the remaining train from further damage.

    Different sounds: I guess there must have been a hundred or so different sounds that came from the railroad. As loud as some of these sounds tended to be, we seemed to get used to it and they sort of became a part of us. Strange as it may sound we really missed them when it was gone. It's like city folks coming to the country, they have trouble sleeping at first because the quiet is just too abnormal to them. Even after over forty years, I can clearly remember the sounds of the trains. For example as the train started to move, each coupling emitted its metal to metal creaking and snapping noises as the slack was taken up. I may have been asleep and partially awaken several times between the time a train arrived and finally departed. We became accustomed to it all. When it was all over and the rails were pulled up, we were like city folks trying to re-adjust to a deafening quiet. I'm sure I am not the only one who has had repeated dreams of trains coming into town after the O&W was all gone. In my dream I seem fully aware of the demise of the system but yet there is one train that keeps coming into view and it never stops and keeps on rolling by. When I received an email from Ron Vassallo, designer and keeper of the O&WRHS Web Page, it included an attachment (see photo below.) I don't know how Ron located my dream train but this is what I have seen over and over after the tracks were removed.

'Ghost train'

Photo courtesy of Ron Vassallo

    First Train Ride: Early in my school years, perhaps the first or second grade, we were sitting ng on pew type benches in the O&W Station ticket office in Livingston Manor. This was going to be my first class trip and I remember while we waited that I held three nickels in the palm of my hand which was the price of a ticket to Roscoe. I don't quite remember who the ticket agent was that particular day but I know that Everard K. Homer held that position in the Manor for many years. The voices of my fellow classmates were full of excitement as we boarded and located a seat alongside a friend. I remember starting out and looking through the windows at the back and sides of the diesel locomotive 'F' unit as we proceeded around the curves and across several iron bridges crossing the Willowemoc trout stream. Roscoe was the next town and station westbound which by that time was probably the end of the line for passenger service, in any event it was for us that day. There was a school bus waiting at the station to bring us back to our school in the Manor. The trip was short but the memory of that wonderful day has been long. Not long after passenger service came to an end in our neck of the woods.

    To New York City: As Cub Scouts, we traveled to New York City on tour of Grand Central Station. We traveled first to Middletown by car and boarded the passenger train as it was the closest point to our home where passenger service still remained available on the O&W . We arrived at Weehawken New Jersey, and transferred to a ferry boat to cross the Hudson River to Manhattan. I remember that we attended a large model train exhibition where it seemed every model gauge was on display. We especially enjoyed a tour through a very modern bright silver streamliner. I remember they lifted us each into the cabin of the diesel locomotive, it was so awesome with the tall seats where the engineer and the conductor or fireman sat. The controls were fewer than what I would have imagined but impressive and for just a moment I realized that this is where the heavy giant was controlled. We were then guided back through the compartment and passed the huge engine, generator and compressors. Wow! Onward through the parlor, Pullman, dining, observation and sleeper cars. I remember as we left the train that I noted the absence of a caboose but I know that type of train really didn't require one. The memories continued to form and I still have some of the literature I received that day, forty five years ago.



Along the Line

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