The automobile and the Depression took a heavy toll. In an effort to cut operating costs PRR had put a gasoline combination baggage-passenger car in service between Indiana and the Torrance intersection with the mainline. B&O put a similar car on the Punxsutawney-Indiana line. These were known as “hoodlebugs.”
In 1940, plans were underway by the U.S. Army Engineer Corps to build the Conemaugh flood control dam near Tunnelton. This would flood the PRR lines in many places and necessitate rebuilding them on higher ground. The railroad bridge between Blairsville and Torrance Junction was within the flood control area and had to be razed late in 1940, thus cutting Indiana County’s connection with the mainline.
Due to this and dwindling passenger use, PRR discontinued passenger service to Indiana. The last passenger train ran from Indiana to Blairsville on April 18, 1940. Ralph E. Forrester was the conductor and C.A. Taubler the engineer on this last run by gasoline car No. 4656.
While work proceeded on the Conemaugh Dam, the West Penn tracks were being re-routed in several places. Below the dam a high-level bridge replaced the old Bow Ridge tunnel and bridge. In Saltsburg, the entire line was abandoned.
The last passenger train passed through Saltsburg in 1947 and the last freight train in September 1951. The railroad had been built on the old canal towpath which is now known as the Saltsburg Canal Park. The Saltsburg station gradually deteriorated and was razed in October 1975.
Elsewhere PRR ended its passenger service from Clymer to Cresson. The last passenger train left Clymer on October 4, 1947. That left only one railroad in Indiana County offering passenger service – the B&O “hoodlebug” from Punxsutawney to Indiana.
Finally on June 10, 1950, the B&O gave up; gasoline engine No. 6040 made its last run operated by engineer M.S. Reams, and conducted by Thomas Baird, both of Punxsutawney.
The age of steam was also ending. On January 3, 1954, the last steam freight locomotive, a 124-foot J-1, left the Blairsville railroad yards enroute to Pitcairn and the scrap yards.
Over the years, many miles of railroad have been abandoned, some branch lines to coal mines and others trunk lines. The B&O from Juneau through Trade City and Plumville was abandoned and tracks torn up. In February 1975, the old Indiana Branch of PRR was abandoned and the tracks torn up in 1980.
Disaster befell the PRR and NYC. Both railroad giants were in financial trouble in the 1960s. A merger of the two was effected in 1968 and named Penn Central – the largest railroad in the U.S. Various economies were tried.
On May 29, 1967, PRR terminated all its operations at the Blairsville yards and moved them to Kiskiminetas Junction. In July 1969, all railroad structures in Blairsville except the station were torn down – the round house, a 100-foot turn table, coal tipple, sandhouse and repair shops. By 1975, Penn Central was bankrupt and a new corporation was formed with Federal government help – Conrail – to continue freight service.
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.”
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.
The manufacture of coke (from coal) began in Indiana County in 1886 and in November a railroad station named “Mikesell” for George A. Mikesell who erected the first coke ovens, was erected south of Homer City at what is now Graceton.
In 1866, a disastrous accident was narrowly averted in April when the “cow catcher” of a locomotive got caught in one of the boards of a narrow boardwalk on the railroad bridge over the Conemaugh River three miles west of Blairsville at a place called Social Hall.
The board walk was for the purpose of allowing railroad workers to cross the river. The locomotive and some of the cars were derailed, with some of them projecting out over the edge of the bridge – a 72-foot fall if they had gone over. There were 15 passengers aboard.
In 1867, another bridge over the river above Livermore was swept away in a flood a few days before Christmas.
Business was going well, J.M. Robinson reported that grain sent from the Saltsburg depot during the period of October 1, 1867, to January 31, 1868, was 49,376 bushels of wheat, oats, rye and ear corn, plus 232 bushels of clover seed.
In November 1870, the wooden bridge at Social Hall, with weather-boarded sids and sheet iron roof, 800 feet long, burned.
Beginning in 1881, WPRR began some major reconstruction of routes and building new ones. An 8-mile extension from Blairsville through the Pack Saddle Gap on the northern (Indiana County) side of the Conemaugh River to Bolivar was begun early in October 1881 by Campbell and Bush of Altoona, contractors, employing 200 Swedes.
The extension was completed in 1883 and at the same time a portion of the tracks west of Social Hall were realigned. Other sections of the line were rerouted so as to reduce the distance between Blairsville and Allegheny City by 18 miles.
This involved enlarging the railroad tunnel below the present Conemaugh Dam, and changing the route through Saltsburg by building new tracks on top of the old canal towpath, then continuing on the Indiana County side of the Kiskiminetas River to Coalport (Edri).
Here the railroad crossed the river on another bridge and continued to Salina through a 1,400-foot tunnel. Laying of rails on this new line began in Saltsburg in November 1882. A new station was erected in Saltsburg in 1884.
During this time the Foster Coal Co. built a narrow-gauge connecting line from a tipple along the WPRR tracks at Coalport to its mine about a mile away. This was the first narrow-gauge railroad in Indiana County.
An item in the Indiana Times February 28, 1883, told of fighting at Coalport between a gang of Italian workers and Mr. Weaver, contractor on the Foster Coal Co. Railroad. The dispute was over the deduction of railroad from Pittsburgh to the site from the wages paid to the Italians. A constable assisted by a posse of twenty men arrested five or six workers.
In January 1882, the Indiana Times quoted from the Pittsburgh Commercial an item regarding the proposed Clarion, Mahoning & Pittsburgh Railroad Co. which was planning a line from North Warren to Pittsburgh by way of Plumville, Elderton, West Lebanon, Clarksburg and “near Saltsburg.” This was no doubt very disturbing news to the Pennsylvania Railroad.
An editorial in the Indiana Times March 8, 1882, urged PRR to extend its lines from Indiana to Cherry Tree. By then some of the businessmen of Indiana may have had second thoughts about the desirability of the PRR branch line ending in Indiana.
In June 1882, a meeting of Indiana businessmen was held in the office of General Harry White to consider building a narrow gauge railroad. A.W. Wilson presided. On motion of White, it was unanimously “Resolved, that it is the desire of the business men of Indiana that a narrow gauge railroad be built from Indiana to Reynoldsville via Punxsutawney.”
In July another meeting was held at the St. Elmo Hotel, Punxsutawney. General White, G.W. Hood, and John W. Sutton spoke, “giving assurance that the business men of Indiana were in hearty sympathy with the project,” and letters to that effect were read from S.M. Clark, A.W. Taylor, A.W. Wilson, W.B. Hildebrand, W.B. Marshall, J.M. Thompson, and others.
J.R. Caldwell, a civil engineer, estimated the cost of construction at $7,000 per mile. Another meeting was held August 1 in Marion and solicitation of stock subscriptions began afterward. Some people, however, hung back, as reported in the Marion Independent December 23, 1882: “The majority of our citizens, as did many others…did not enter into the enterprise with much push, and this, no doubt, to a great extent led to the failure of the effort.”
Soon afterward (March 1883) the Independent reported that the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Railroad was surveying in Indiana County. In July 1883, the first R&P train entered Punxsutawney.
The entry of the R&P into Indiana County was delayed by financial problems. In 1885 the railroad was sold at sheriff’s sale to Adrian Iselin, a New York banker who held a mortgage. The sale was contested in court but the eventual decision favored Iselin. All R&P property was transferred to him in March 1887, and the company was reorganized as the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad.
The Indiana Times had earlier (March 1883) reported that surveys were under way of four different railroads through Indiana County and that they would leave “Indiana high and dry.” In June 1883, a charter was issued to the Central Pennsylvania Railroad for a line from Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland County, through Blairsville and east of Indiana to Punxsutawney, 70 miles.
In August a corps of engineers for the railroad were running lines from Dixonville by way of Decker’s Point, Nashville and Locust Lane to Punxsutawney, and the Times informed its readers “It is said that the Pennsylvania railroad company will try to keep the B&O company (Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, backers of the Central) from building this road.”
In 1886, the Pennsylvania & Northwestern Railroad was completed from McGee’s Mills to Punxsutawney, going through Sidney and Hillman in the extreme northwestern corner of Indiana Country. Regular service on this line began December 1, 1887. This was the first railroad not controlled by PRR to enter Indiana County.
The second independent line to enter the county was the Clearfield & Jefferson Railroad. By April 1889 there was a great activity along the route of the railroad from McGee’s Mills to Glen Campbell. The object of the railroad was to open up the coal fields around Glen Campbell, Indiana County’s first mining town. It was named for Cornelius Campbell, an Altoona railroad contractor, who built the railroad and was the first superintendent of the Glenwood Coal Co.
The first car of coal left Glen Campbell on October 21, 1889, to make the 9-mile trip to McGee’s Mills. By May 1892, two passenger trains a day were making the trip.
Surveys and plans for other railroads continued. In September 1889, engineers were said to be surveying between Plumville and Marion for a railroad heading east from Butler. In August 1890, a charter was issued at Harrisburg to the Saltsburg & West Lebanon Railroad, whose directors were all from Philadelphia. In April 1894, lines were being surveyed in Young Township in the interest of the Beech Creek Railroad. In September, the Indiana County Gazette spoke of a “battle royal” being fought between the projectors of the new Pittsburgh & Eastern Railroad and the PRR.
The PRR for its part had decided by 1890 that it could not ignore the threat from new lines. The Cherrytree Record reported that a local wagon factory had received an order to build 500 wheelbarrows, and that the Cherry Tree Foundry had an order for 2,000 picks to be used in building a railroad to Cherry Tree. The railroad was an extension of the PRR from Cresson through Spangler.
In March 1892, a heavy blast during construction threw rocks all over Cherry Tree. One struck a young son of Vincent Tonkin, knocking out several teeth. Another broke a horse’s leg and the animal had to be shot.
The first PRR passenger train entered Cherry Tree on April 25, 1893.
The PRR also eyed the old abandoned and partially graded line of the defunct Homer, Cherry Tree and Susquehanna Railroad. In May 1890, J.M. Guthrie organized the Homer & Susquehanna Railroad, with the backing of PRR. In December 1891, PRR engineers surveyed the route from Homer City to Two Lick Creek. In March 1892, the Indiana Times announced that PRR would lay rails along the old right-of-way in the spring. However, the work was delayed for some reason until January 1893 when tracks were laid for five or six miles to a coal operation.
From time to time plans also were made to extend PRR from Black Lick up Blacklick Creek. Laying of tracks finally began in April 1894, but the line was not finished to Ebensburg until some time later.
By 1895, another PRR was being built from Robinson north of the Conemaugh River through Centerville to Johnstown following the tow path of the old canal. Indiana County was on the verge of a major railroad boom and the PRR was soon to see some real competition.
In July 1896, rumors were afloat that the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad would construct a line into Indiana County. By March 7, 1898 a contract for construction of a branch line from Punxsutawney to Indiana had been signed and BR and P was paying the landowners for rights-of-way.
At the same time, a subsidiary railway, the Allegheny and Western, had been organized (Jan. 22, 1898), and construction began on a line from Walston Junction near Punxsutawney southwest and west to Butler. This railroad traversed the northwestern corner of Indiana County through West Mahoning Creek on a high steel bridge.
Passenger service began October 16, 1899. In January 1900, a delegation of citizens from Smicksburg went to Butler to see railroad officials about a passenger station at Goodville.
During the last week of September 1900, a group of officials of the BR and P and of the Rochester and Pittsburgh Coal and Iron Co. visited Indiana, according to the Indiana County Gazette. Afterward they went to Pittsburgh and awarded Carnegie Steel Co. a contract for 2,500 tons of 80-pound steel rails at $26 a ton.
On February 21, 1901, the Gazette triumphantly announced “That Railroad is Surely Coming.” The accompanying story stated the railroad would be built from Valier through Marion Center and that “Prominent members of the Board of Trade have very, good assurances…”
Construction began in 1902. One of the major engineering projects was the boring of a tunnel through a hill in White Township just outside the Indiana Borough limits. This work began on December 1, 1902.
By early April 1903 tracks were laid as far as Marion Center, and by April 15 the track-laying crew of 300 men and a patent Holman tracklayer reached Home, PA. In May, a regular passenger schedule was announced between Punxsutawney and Ernest:
Before the railroad could reach Indiana, however, problems developed at the tunnel. Charles S. Streele, a civil engineer in charge of tunnel construction, suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle on July 10, 1903 when his foot was caught between two rails being dragged by a mule team. Two days later about 10 feet of tunnel caved in. Since it was a Sunday, no one was injured.
In August it was announced that the trains would run as far as the north end of the tunnel during Indiana County Fair Week, and from there a line of hacks would take passengers to the fair.
On September 2, the Gazette rejoiced that “The Tunnel Is Through The Hill” and “Today a mule can pass through from end to end of the tunnel.” The Italian work gangs celebrated by coming to town parading and yelling. “They may have drunk some beer, too. At any rate, they were very hilarious.”
It was hoped that “1903 will yet see trains running to Indiana over the BR and P” and that this would “connect the two sections of railroad that is almost complete from Blacklick to Punxsutawney.”
The celebration was premature. Later in September there was another cave-in, and in October still another. The Gazette noted that the hill contained no solid rock formations. The tunnel would have to be arched with concrete.