The History of the Railroad in Indiana County Part III

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s 48-year monopoly of railroad traffic on its Indiana Branch was about to end.  In September 1902 BR and P officials gave a contract to Alexander Patton for the construction of a 15-mile section from McKee’s Mills (Ernest) to Black Lick.  About a year later in August 1903 it was revealed that, in consideration of a contract with Pittsburgh Coal and Gas Co. to carry its entire output, BR and P had agreed to build another 17-mile line from Ernest southwesterly to Iselin at a cost $677,000.  This branch was known as the “Ridge Line.”

The cost of building the Indiana-Punxsutawney line as of June 30, 1903 was $1,095,841.72.

At last the tunnel was completed, and the Gazette informed its readers that “the first BR and P train, hauled by Engine 84, had been run into Indiana.  On last Monday morning, February 8, 1904, “Squirrel” Repine, manager of the Union Transfer Company, loaded the first load of freight…Miss Daisy Conner of West Indiana, was the first woman to walk through the new tunnel.”

This tunnel is still in use today and may be seen by driving out North Ninth Street and turning toward Fulton Run.  The south end of the tunnel is seen as you cross the bridge over the B and O tracks.

On Monday May 2, the first passenger train arrived amid a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering people.  The train consisted of Engine 193 with Engineer William Murray at the controls, an express car, and two passenger cars loaded with about 80 passengers including many Punxsutawney officials.

The Indiana Station, 28 by 86 feet, had not yet been completed.  J.J. Archer was the first agent.  He sold the first passenger ticket to Edward Rowe.  The fare to Punxsutawney was $1.10, round trip, $2.  During the first week of operation Archer sold 426 tickets to points north of Indiana. 

Possibly the first fatality on the new railroad occurred May 7 – only five days after the arrival of the first passenger train in Indiana.  Sherman Thayer, a freight conductor, was killed between Engine 73, which was backing southward on the “Ridge Line” with a caboose in front, when it met a work train coming north at the curve near Creekside Station.  The caboose was smashed to kindling wood.

On July 18, 1904 the first passenger train on the BR and P Blacklick Branch arrived in Indiana, a combination passenger and baggage car attached to a train of coal cars.  It left Vintondale a few minutes before 7 a.m. and, through an arrangement with PRR, traveled on the PRR tracks to Black Lick, and from there to Indiana on its own tracks by way of Coral and Homer City, reaching Indiana at 8:45 a.m.

In September 1904 BR and P carried 1,400 passengers to Indiana in one day – Thursday of fair week.

For a few months in 1904, BR&P had a passenger service to Vintondale with the train traveling part of the way over Pennsylvania Railroad tracks by special arrangement, but it was discontinued on October 22, 1904.

Additional branch lines were built to mines at Fulton Run and Whiskey Run (1906); along Yellow Creek (1907); to Tide, Coy and Luciusvoro (1908); to Jacksonville, Aultman and Nesbit Run (1910); and to Guthrie and Tearing Run (1913).

In 1912, improvements were made to the tunnel near Indiana.  It was the height of the coal boom.  In May 1910, a BR&P motor car, “The Comet,” was exhibited in Indiana – an example of the coming demise of steam power.

Among other railroads planning extensions was the Pittsburgh & Eastern, which had a line to Glen Campbell by 1896 and announced ambitious plans in 1897-98 to construct a 70-mile railroad through Indiana County to West Newton on the Youghiogheny River. Nothing came of this, however, and in 1899 that railroad was sold to the New York Central.

In 1898, an item headed “At Work on a New Railroad” told of a private, standard-gauge railroad being built from the P&E at the forks of Cush Creek up the north branch of the creek past Gipsy and across Gorman Summit to a timber tract in Grant Township near Nashville.  This logging railroad built by Nathan L. Hoover was about seven or eight miles long.  On May 20, 1899, a Shay geared locomotive was purchased.  In December 1902, Hoover sold the line to the NYC for $68,500, and it was used thereafter to haul coal.

Another logging railroad was the Black Lick & Yellow Creek, organized June 15, 1904.  Most of the lines were in Cambria County, with projections into Indiana County at Rexis in Buffington Township and Burns in Pine Township.  It was also standard gauge.

After the owner, Vinton Lumber Co., had completed timber operations, the coal interests eyed the railroad.  A Gazette item in October 1910 spoke of a preliminary survey for an “extension of the old Blacklick and Yellowcreek Railroad to Pine Flats” nearing completion for the NYC and J.H. Weaver Coal Co., who apparently had purchased it about that time or earlier.

On April 20, 1911, the name was changed to the Cambria & Indiana Railroad, and the extension to Malvern near Pine Flats opened for service on December 24, 1911.  At Possum Glory it connected with NYC, and at Rexis it connected with PRR. 

At first passenger service was steam-powered, but on June 16, 1912, a self-propelled storage battery car was put in service – an unusual feature.  The battery cars were replaced in October 1922 by gasoline cars.  Passenger service terminated in 1931.

NYC was interested in the coal deposits of Indiana County for use in its steam locomotives and had constructed the Beech Creek Railroad from Williamsport to Clearfield for this purpose.  By 1896 rumors were circulating that the Vanderbilts, owners of the NYC and the Beech Creek, were planning to extend the line to Pittsburgh.

In 1903 a possible ruinous competition with PRR was averted by an agreement reported in the Indiana County Gazette, May 20, 1903:

“It seems that both the PRR and New York Central will extend from Cherrytree to Fleming Summit at once, occupying the same right of way.”  This cooperative arrangement was known as the Cherry Tree & Dixonville RR.  By August 1903 the Beech Creek Railroad had reached Cherry Tree.

In September of that year, another Gazette story said the road to Fleming Summit was “almost completed” and was to be extended south along the north branch of Two Lick to Joe Hine’s place near Mitchell’s Mills (Diamondville), where it would branch, one branch going to the mouth of Dixon Run (in what became Clymer) and up that run about six miles to Dixonville.  The other branch went to Possum Glory near Heilwood.

Passenger trains operated by PRR were running by December 1904 from Cherry Tree to Hines, making stops at Fleming Summit, Purchase Line, Lovejoy, Shanktown and Possum Glory.

Before the line could reach Clymer, a deep cut through a hill had to be made, known as the “Diamondville Cut.”  The first train reached Clymer in November 1905.  In 1906 a station was erected there and the line was extended farther to Dixonville and Idamar.

Regular PRR passenger service from Cresson to Clymer began April 1, 1907.  For a time both PRR and NYC operated passenger trains over the same track.  In 1922, the line from Idamar was extended to a mine at LaRayne located at the southeast corner of East Mahoning Township.

In July 1903, it was reported that surveys and coal testing were underway in the area of Plumville and northwestern portions of Indiana County for the Buffalo & Susquehanna RR.  An agreement was made in February 1905 with the BR&P to use the BR&P tracks from Juneau to Stanley in Jefferson County two miles east of Sykesville.

From Juneau a new line was built 15 miles to Sagamore, Armstrong County, completed 1905-06.  In 1932, the railroad was sold to B&O.

While these and other lines were being built, PRR did not stand idle.  In 1888, the people of EAst Wheatfield Township were angered by the construction of a 10-mile PRR line on the old canal towpath between Johnstown and Cramer, destroying the only good road between these places.

PRR had a disastrous year in 1889.  The headquarters of the former West Penn RR (now W. Penn Division of PRR) was moved from Blairsville to Pittsburgh.  In January, a locomotive which had been repaired in Blairsville shops was being brought out when the cap blew off the dome.  Machinist Hugh Connoll was killed and fireman Scott and two others, were seriously injured, along with two others.

A coroner’s jury decided that the explosion of Engine 247 “was due to some imperfection in the iron cap, not possible to have been observed.”  In May the Johnstown Flood caused extensive damage to the lines and rolling stock of PRR.

In August the Indiana Branch passenger train operated by Engineer Delos Hetrick crashed into a freight locomotive in the lower part of the Blairsville Railroad Yard.  Engineer Shepard on the freight engine was en route to Bolivar Junction train heading toward him.  Putting the locomotive in reverse, he jumped out.  

No one was seriously hurt, but both locomotives were badly smashed and a baggage car was slightly damaged.

The freight locomotive went by itself for about five miles and passed a gang of workers who put a hand car on the rails and gave chase.  About two miles further they caught and stopped the runaway.

In July 1889 the Indiana Times mentioned that the Indiana Branch passenger train consisted of an engine, three coaches and a baggage and express car.  “It is only a few years,” said the Times, “since an engine, one coach and baggage and passenger car was sufficient.”

In 1892 a new bridge at the west end of the Bow Ridge tunnel (W. Penn Division) was built, and in 1895 a new bridge was erected over the Conemaugh at Social Hall.

In 1898, the stock yards and the locomotive turntable at the Indiana Station were removed and a “Y” for turning constructed on a more than 10-acre tract purchased from Wilson, Sutton & Clark at the southwest corner of the old Experimental Farm.

In July 1900 PRR contracted with H.S. Kerbaugh for a 4-½ mile extension from Vintondale down Black Lick Creek to Buffington.  By September 1902 the line was being pushed down the creek from Dilltown to Social Hall.  Farmers were paid $4 a day for a team and labor. “Foreigners” got $1.35 a day and were housed in shanties at Buena Vista.

In 1902, PRR acquired the Pennsylvania & Northwestern RR, one line of which ran from McGee’s Mills through the northeastern corner of Indiana County to Punxsutawney.

In 1906 nine miles of the West Penn line was double-tracked from Blairsville to Tunnelton and a new 600-foot tunnel bored through Bow Ridge.  Six new masonry bridges were erected over the Conemaugh at various points.

A scandal surfaced in March 1907 when a PRR agent was arrested in Johnstown for attempting to bribe Blairsville Councilman David Miller.  It was alleged he offered Miller $1,000 “and a mileage book in return for a promise to fight any attempt to repeal the street-vacating ordinance.”

At last in May 1911, after considerable delay, a new passenger station was constructed in Indiana.  W.R. Artley was the contractor for the 40-by-90 structure, which enclosed the walls of the old freight depot in a buff brick casing.  The interior was finished with cement and plaster.

An old engine house at the corner of Eighth and Water streets was torn down.  The new passenger station was 60 feet back from Philadelphia Street.  “This will enable the loading and unloading of trains without blocking the street, as has been the custom ever since the railroad was built.”

PRR Train at the train station in Indiana at 8th and Philadelphia Streets (1949)

Excursions from Indiana to Atlantic City were offered in 1916 at $10 and $14, round trip.

About 1900, the automobile began to be seen occasionally on the muddy or dusty roads of Indiana County.  At first the railroads were uncensored about the newcoming transportation, and many railroaders no doubt laughed at the flimsy “putt-putters.”

As time moved on, more and more automobiles were seen and great strides were made in improving their performance and comfort, as well as the public roads on which they traveled.  The railroad people felt this was unfair competition because they had to maintain their tracks at private expense, as well as pay taxes; whereas automobiles, trucks and buses did not have to maintain their roadbeds.

For some time and in some parts of Indiana County, from 1907-1933, the railroads also had competition from streetcars.  Then the Great Depression occurred, which killed the streetcars; it did little to nothing to help the railroads.  Passenger volume declined, as well as coal hauling – so much so that the Iselins and other coal magnates of the R&P Coal Corp. sold their railroad to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1932.

In 1931, the Cambria and Indiana Railroad terminated passenger service, followed by the New York Central in 1933 which ended its passenger service to Clymer.  The PRR continued service to Clymer.

In 1928, just prior to the 1929 stock market crash, an experimental section of concrete ties were laid on the West Penn Division near Tunnelton, replacing the standard wood ties.

One November 25, 1938, Santa Claus made a trip on the B&O to Indiana where he was welcomed by a large crowd and afterward went to Troutman’s Store.

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hgsic

Through a broad range of activities, The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County seeks to promote a greater appreciation of the Indiana community's rich heritage and a better understanding of life today.

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