Welcome to Vintage Railroad Postcards!

Thank you for stopping by! This is the blog for the Russell P. Panecki Collection of vintage railroad-related postcards. The entire collection consists of nearly one thousand so far with images dating from circa 1904 to the 1950s. To leave a comment, ask a question, to contribute or correct historical information, a comment box is located to the left for your convenience.

Beginning in October, 2015, the blog was redesigned to include an index of individual postcards, both listed in alphabetical order and by categories. Each page, including this homepage, has the index located in the lower portion of the page. In addition to the index, posts were updated with historical information, new postcards added from storage files, while some posts were completely rewritten or edited for corrections. Three articles have been added and are worth reading. They include how vintage postcards were made, the history of Pennsylvania Station, and the history of Grand Central Terminal.

My apologies, but the postcards in my collection and on this blog are not available for sale, copying, or for contribution to projects. Please keep in mind that I reserve all rights to the images and content of this blog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Erie Railroad in History, Photographs, and Postcards


                                        

The Erie Railroad promoted itself as the railroad that "Serves New York, Binghamton, Elmira & Jamestown, Youngstown, Cleveland & Akron, Mansfield, Marion & Chicago - The Heart of Industrial America." The Erie was a middle-weight champion in the highly competitive Eastern and Mid-western markets.  It's tracks stretched from New Jersey, across New York, Ohio, and Indiana to Chicago. The railroad's history spanned over two centuries and was a target for scoundrels, went through scandals, takeover battles, and bankruptcies. The railroad also saw growth, innovations, and became an important freight line serving "The Heart of Industrial America."

Please note that postcards and ephemera items are from the author's own collection with additional images courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the Library of Congress.
The Early Years

The New York and Erie Railroad was chartered by the state of New York on April 24, 1832 to connect the towns of Piermont, New York on the Hudson River and near the New York-New Jersey state border with Dunkirk at the western end of the state on the shore of Lake Erie.  Originally, NY & E was restricted to operate strictly within New York state. Because of this restriction, the railroad went only as far as south as Piermont and, with no direct access to New York City, freight and passengers going to Manhattan had to be moved by steamboat.  Construction began in either 1836 or 1838 and the first train ran in 1841 from Piermont to Goshen, New York, a straight line distance of some thirty-three miles. Instead of the tracks having been constructed directly on the ground, they were built  on low trestles that were costly to build and maintain. American railroads were not all built using the same width between the rails known as "gauge". The Erie chose to build its tracks to 6' 0" "broad gauge" thinking that a wider foundation would accommodate larger locomotives and provide increased stability. It has been reported that some cars measuring eleven feet in width were in use during the broad gauge years. 

According to the study entitled "The Standardization of Track Gauge on North American Railways, 1830-1890" by English historian Douglas J. Puffert and published in 2000, United States track gauges were derived from careful assessments of English railroads.  “Many North American engineers visited the early British railways,  the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in particular, as representing the best practice of its day. These engineers and their proteges were responsible for a large majority of the U.S. route mileage constructed during the 1830s. As a result, they transferred virtually an entire technological 'package' to the United States, including the gauge." 

Further, "Three engineers from North America's first commercial railway, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, visited England in 1829 and increased their planned gauge from 4' 6" to 4' 8.5" in order to 'admit cars of the dimensions used upon the Liverpool and Manchester railway, to improve stability and equalize the bearing on the wheels, and to provide more space for the locomotive apparatus. Beginning in the mid-1830s, some British locomotive builders found their ability to develop powerful, easily maintained engines constrained by the 4'8.5" gauge, while certain civil engineers expected a broader gauge to promote improved stability, smoothness of ride, speed, and capacity. The 6' 0" gauge of the New York and Erie Railroad, whose route traversed the southern tier of counties in New York state from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, was proposed in 1836 by surveying engineer Edwin F. Johnson as a measure that would permit the greatest speed and accommodation at the least cost. In 1838 new chief engineer H.C. Seymour endorsed the gauge in deference to the expertise of English broad-gauge advocates, and the first section of track opened at that gauge in 1841."

Below is a circa 1870 stereoscopic photograph of a very early wood burning broad-gauge locomotive near Port Jervis, New York, close the state borders of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Note the tall smokestack needed for a better firebox draft and the angled piston cylinders. Wood burning locomotives created large, hot cinders requiring cinder-catching screens that covered the top of the stack to prevent fires along the right-of-way.



On February 16, 1841 the railroad was authorized to build into the northeast corner of Pennsylvania to access abundant coal supplies for its locomotives. The high cost of all of the the Erie's construction had ended up bankrupting the railroad soon after it opened and construction did not begin again for another five years. In 1848 the Erie completed the famous Starrucca Viaduct; it is a 1,040 feet long, 100 foot high stone railroad bridge near Lanesboro, Pennsylvania. Below is a 1971 aerial view of the double-tracked Starrucca Viaduct, after 123 years of constant service, it is still in use today.
                       

By 1851, the 440 mile line from Piermont to Dunkirk was completed. Steamboat service made further connections between Dunkirk and Detroit, Michigan. In August 1859,  the company went into bankruptcy again due to high construction costs. It was the first bankruptcy of a major trunk line railroad in the country up to that time and caused the New York & Erie to be reorganized.  In 1861,  the name was changed to the Erie Railway. The railroad still continued to have financial problems even after receiving loans from two of the biggest shipping and railroad tycoons of the time, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew. Drew's loan is reported to have been two million dollars.                        

                                                             The Erie War


In the 1860s, Daniel Drew formed a business alliance with Jay Gould, a railroad developer and speculator, along with James Fisk, a stock broker, who worked closely with Drew. Together the three began manipulating the railroad's stock on the New York exchange by issuing more stock than the railroad was worth. This created an artificial value for the railroad. Through this scheme of manufactured stock, the partners gained enough shares to win seats on the board of directors and started what was to become known as the "Erie War". Drew, who made a personal fortune through the stock manipulations, managed to take control of the company. Cornelius Vanderbilt had long recognized both the business and financial opportunities that could be realized in railroads and had his own plan to build a railroad empire. In 1866 he decided to acquire the one key addition to his plan and quietly went about buying up Erie stock, enough to then take control of the railroad company. Interestingly, Vanderbilt decided to keep Drew in his position with the company, as both a director and a treasurer. 

Although information is sketchy, Drew and Vanderbilt negotiated a truce. In 1868 both Drew and Vanderbilt finally lost control to Jay Gould who then became the president with Jim Fisk retaining his seat on the board of directors. In his 1899 book, "Between the Ocean and the Lakes, The Story of Erie" by Edward Harold Mott, the author wrote that in "July, 1868, that the settlement between Drew and Vanderbilt had been made, but beyond the fact that Drew had retired from the Erie management, and that John S. Eldridge had resigned as President and returned to Boston, his place being filled by the appointment of Jay Gould as President pro term." 

Below are the participants involved in the Erie War collusions and battles. On the top left is Jason "Jay" Gould, James Fisk, center, and Lord Gordon-Gordon to the right. On the bottom are Cornelius Vanderbilt, left, and Daniel Drew, right. 



In 1869 Jay Gould and his new business partner, James Fisk, started a new venture by buying up gold in an attempt to corner the nation's gold market; the end, however, turned out to be a complete financial disaster. Gould and Fisk thought that by increasing the price of gold, it would subsequently increase the price of wheat as well and encourage western farmers to sell their crops and reap a profit. This would, in turn, create a general increase in the amount of shipping of "bread stuffs" eastward and also increase the freight business for the Erie as well. Their hoarding of gold, however, soon back-fired and instead of increasing business for the railroad, it triggered the famous "Panic of Black Friday" and on September 24, 1869 the value of the U.S. Double Eagle twenty-dollar gold piece fell sharply. The stock market then plunged by 20 points, bankrupted or damaged some of Wall Street’s best known firms. and ruined thousands of traders. Farmers, though, were probably hit the hardest with the value of wheat and corn harvests dropping by 50 percent. Gould did realize a small profit, but lost it all to the lawsuits that followed.

Gould and Fisk were often pictured as greedy and bloated characters by the press of the time. In this Currier & Ives illustration, Jim Fisk is portrayed as a bull market contender being hit squarely in the face by a bear market slugger. Gould and Fisk's attempt to drive up gold prices and create a "bull market" buying frenzy utterly failed and, instead, created the "bear market" sell-off panic of 1869.




                                        The Famous Lord Gordon-Gordon Affair

Lord Gordon-Gordon came to this country and portrayed himself as a very wealthy Scottish landowner and the descendant of ancient kings in Scotland, although his real name was never really known. After an incident that cost the London jewelers Marshall & Son a reported 25,000 British pounds, Gordon decided it would be in his best interest to visit the United States and arranged for a stay in Minnesota. Once there, he played the role of a discrete, articulate gentleman in the important social circles of Minneapolis, and he was soon introduced to John Loomis, the Northern Pacific Railroad's executive in charge of the railroad's land. The Northern Pacific was known to be in the process of developing plans for further expansion out to the American West and, of course, was in the need of capital for the expansion. With this in mind, Gordon let Loomis know that he was rather interested in buying up parts of the railroad's huge tracts of land for the benevolent purpose of resettling tenants from his somewhat overcrowded estates back home in Scotland. This was great news, of course, for the railroad company's management who were then certainly willing to play host to him. They arranged a first-class tour of lands that might have been of interest to him in Minnesota and the Dakotas that also included an entourage of state and railroad officials, all at the railroad's expense. The railroad's cost for the tour is reported to have been $45,000. In January of 1872, Gordon left Minnesota and used the cover story that he needed to return back East in order to make arrangements for payment of the land that he had personally selected. The railroad also provided him with the all-important letters of introduction in order to help with the necessary financing. He never returned. Instead. he went directly to New York where he set up his office in a posh hotel. Once there he played the articulate businessman, of course, and began making contacts in New York's powerful social circles. 

Gordon was eventually introduced to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune newspaper and a candidate for the 1872 presidential election. Through some conversations with Greeley, Gordon became aware of an interesting bit of news: the Erie Railroad management was currently engaged in a well-known battle for its control and he began to put together a rather ingenious plan. In another conversation, he mentioned to Greeley that he personally held 60,000 shares of Erie stock and, along with his European associates, owned enough of the stock to make up a controlling majority in the railroad. Gordon further mentioned that, upon taking control, they planned to throw out the railroad's board of directors and replace them with managers of their own choosing who would then act in their best interests.

In March of 1872, Gordon was contacted by a somewhat panicked Jay Gould and a meeting was arranged. Gould could not possibly imagine losing control of the Erie to anyone be it to Cornelius Vanderbilt, Daniel Drew, or even to Gordon and the European investors that he represented. According to one account, Gould suggested that a deal be made that would be agreeable to all interested parties, perhaps one that would allow Gordon and his European colleagues to choose a board of directors to their liking, but with the stipulation that Gould remain in control of the company. In response to Gould's proposal, he then listened to an interesting counter-proposal from Gordon. If Gould was willing to put up a good-faith guarantee of cash and negotiable securities in order to motivate his associates in Europe, then they would have a deal. The gesture of a guarantee on the part of Gould, Gordon assured, would not be touched but only shown as a potential "pooling of interests". Gould carried out his end of the deal and made the transfer. Reported amounts vary, but it is generally held that Gould transferred a combined $500,000 worth of negotiable securities and cash to Gordon. Through stock exchange activity, however, Gould soon found out that some of the stock entrusted to his new associate had actually been sold and that he had been swindled.

Accounts as to what happened next vary from well-detailed but somewhat fictional to the more factual and but incomplete. Gould, it seems, sued Gordon and the case went to trial in March of 1873. Under questioning, Gordon calmly and rather convincingly explained who he was, his long and famous family history, and also mentioned the names of his business partners in Europe. While his credentials were being checked, Gordon took advantage of the time and boarded a night train to Canada. Gould eventually found out his whereabouts and formed a posse to have Gordon kidnapped, but the plan failed when the posse was stopped at the border on the Canadian side by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The posse members were arrested for kidnapping and denied bail, but Gordon was set free and claimed that Gould had made up the entire story.

Shortly afterwords, an interesting episode took place between the United States and Canadian authorities. According to one source, the big news of the kidnappers held without bail prompted governor Horace Austin of Minnesota to insist on the posse's return to the United States and then put the state's militia on alert resulting in thousands of citizens to volunteer for an invasion of Canada. After some negotiations, the Canadian authorities finally released the kidnappers and on bail. Unlike today, grand theft and embezzlement were not serious enough crimes at the time to warrant his extradition; Gordon must have thought that he had gotten away safely. The news concerning Gordon made its way Europe and to Marshall & Son, the London jewelers that he had robbed some years earlier. Marshall & Son sent a representative to Canada who identified Gordon as the man responsible for the London crime. The Canadian authorities then considered the charges as being serious enough to deport him back to the United States. Gordon, realizing that it was all over with, put a gun to his head and committed suicide on August 1, 1874. 

Earlier Motive Power

The following early photographs, originally taken in the early 1870s as stereoscopic views, gives us an idea of what the Erie's locomotives looked like during this period. In the first photograph we see a typical Atlantic-type locomotive with a 4-4-0 wheel arrangement as it posed for the camera near Port Jervis, New York. 


In this scene at the roundhouse in Hornellsville (now Hornell) New York, a locomotive is seen coming out from the roundhouse. Note the landscaping, rough-cut telegraph poles, and the water tank on the left. 

    

This beautiful sepia tone portrait is of the graceful and ornate locomotive above.



The Erie Railroad Years

The historical growth of the Erie, like many other railroad lines, was made by buying or leasing other railroads. This allowed the Erie to connect with the larger cities of New York State and enlarge its routes. Earlier in its history, the line was restricted to operations within New York and kept it from accessing large industrial manufacturing and shipping centers in the other adjacent states. The Erie's charter limitation was eventually lifted through changes and favorable legislation, but the railroad still struggled to become profitable. After another bankruptcy, it was sold in 1878 and renamed the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad. The NYLE&W, too, went bankrupt in 1893 leading to the reorganization of 1895 with the final name of the Erie Railroad. 

Below is an advertising poster for special Erie trains running to the New York state fair in Elmira. The poster points out that New York's governor Grover Cleveland, who would later become president, would be in attendance at the fair




Freight & Passenger Service

Between the late 1870s and 1880, the Erie and other broad-gauge railroads began to convert to the 4' 8 1/2" gauge track that was being adopted by larger regional railroads while others made the transition by installing an additional third rail to its tracks in order to accommodate both standard gauge and broad gauge locomotives and freight cars. This allowed all railroads to pass freight cars on to one another in order to reach their final destination without having to be unloaded from standard-gauge freight cars and then reloaded onto broad-gauge cars. The standard rail gauge eventually became a national railroad practice and eliminated this costly process saving time, labor and speeded up freight traffic resulting in a very positive effect on the future of the railroad.

In his 1988 book "The Erie Railroad Story", author Paul Carlton noted that by not having built along a route connecting with the large freight revenue-generating centers in the east, a former disadvantage, was eventually turned into an operating advantage. "Once Erie's management restored this Chicago-through-the-woods-to-New York to relative health," Carlton wrote, "one fact became clear: once the track was in good condition, with no Philadelphia, Altoona, Pittsburgh, or for that matter, no Albany or Buffalo areas of congestion to slow down the freight for days or even weeks, why a reefer of perishables or you name it could get from Chicago to New York mighty fast on our subject road". The Erie had by then become known as the fast freight route of choice between the two markets.

Camelback Locomotives


A type of steam engine was developed for use in the American Northeast known as the 'camelback', 'center cab', or 'mother hubbard'. These locomotives had huge fireboxes for the hard chunk, slow-burning anthracite coal that was in plentiful supply in the Pennsylvania coal fields. Because the firebox (known as a "Wootton" firebox and named after its inventor) and grate had to be large enough for the hard coal to be spread out in order to burn, the fire box was placed at the end of the locomotive with the cab in the center. The circa 1910 postcard below shows a camelback locomotive crossing the long Starrucca Viaduct in Lanesboro, Pennsylvania. Note the canopy covering the fireman's platform on the rear of the engine and the refrigerator car with the old-style Erie herald right behind the tender. In the second circa 1906 card are three camelbacks in pusher service behind a freight train helping it to move over the viaduct and steeper grades. The Erie was not only a burner of anthracite coal, but one of the anthracite coal carriers known as the "anthracite roads".






This is circa 1909 postcard shows the interior of the Erie shops in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania with some camelbacks and other engines in for work. The locomotive in the foreground gives us a good view of the fireman's platform roof sporting an odd pile of wood while another one appears to be jacked up in the distance.




These three circa 1910 postcards show #2600, one of the three enormous L-1 class 0-8-8-0 articulated camelbacks built for the Erie by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, New York, and were the only locomotives of their type ever erected. Numbered 2006, 2601 and 2602, they were described as "the largest locomotives in the world". Used in pusher service over the Allegheny Mountains, the L-1s were rebuilt as conventional end-cab 2-8-8-2 locomotives in 1921 and were retired in 1930.






This is the reverse side of the card above. Note the technical information in the message section and the personal note, "It took a very large engine to pull me over the Erie."



"The Official Guide of the Railways and Steam Navigation Lines of the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and Cuba" of September 1910 lists the Erie as running twelve east and west bound name trains. Among them were the Day Express between New York and Buffalo, and the Cleveland, Oil City, and Buffalo Express between New York and Cleveland. The Erie also ran two daily east and west bound deluxe long-distance trains, the Pacific Express and the Atlantic Express serving Chicago and New York via the Marion & Hocking Valley Railway between Columbus, Ohio and Chicago. They were listed as having "Pullman Drawing-room Sleeping Car'' service with day coaches and dining cars serving al la carte meals. The Atlantic Express left Chicago's Dearborn Station at 5:30 pm and arrived at the Erie's Jersey City Pavonia Terminal at 5:55 pm the next day. The Pacific Express left Jersey City at 5:00 pm and arrived in Chicago at 5:54 the next day.
 Trackside Views

In this colorful 1909 postcard view, an Erie passenger train breaks through the hush of a winter's day along the Canisteo River in New York.


This 1908 postcard view is of the Ridgewood, New Jersey station. Note the early crossing gate between the end of the station and the operator's shed on the right. In later years the station would be replaced.



This 1914 card shows the Nyack, New York station complete with advertising posters that were common on regional stations of the time.





The Erie's Jersey City Terminal

The Erie passenger facility in Jersey City was named Pavonia Terminal. Opened in 1887, it seems to be the least photographed terminal of any of the large railroads of the eastern states. It served as a transportation hub that also hosted the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad's passenger trains, provided connections with streetcars, and the Erie's own ferry service. In 1907 the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad system under the Hudson River to New York City began service and included a stop at the terminal. 


This 1906 photograph gives a wide view of the Erie's Croxton yard in Jersey City. Note the roundhouse in the distance behind the switch tower.



This 1910 photograph is of a local train stopped at the Pearl River, New York station, a town adjacent to the New Jersey state border. Note the large headlight mounted on the front of the smoke box.


The Erie Railroad had a number of facilities in Ohio including the one in Kent as seen in this card postmarked 1914.



This circa 1908 view gives us a good "down-track" look at the large Erie Railroad yards in Binghamton, New York. The city was served by the Erie and its competitor, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. Note the interesting signal tower and posing staff in the foreground.





In this circa 1910 postcard view of the Hornell, New York yards is a period all-wood box car on the left. Note the cabooses and coach on the right.



Pavonia Terminal's Ferry "Susquehanna"

In the January 4th, 1907 edition of the railroad industry weekly journal, "The Railway Age", an article was written concerning the redesign of the Erie's ferry Susquehanna. At this time, prior to the widespread use of the automobile, horse-drawn vehicles were ubiquitous and the horse teams crossing by ferry were apparently creating a serious odor problem because of the manure. The Erie responded to the numerous complaints by outfitting the boat strictly for passenger use during rush hour. 

"ERIE FERRY BOAT EXCLUSIVELY FOR PASSENGERS"

"The Erie Railroad has tried the experiment of remodeling one of its ferry boats, the Susquehanna, so as to devote it exclusively to the accommodation of passengers. This gives the Erie the only ferry boat in the east which does not carry both passengers and teams. The presence of teams on ferry boats has been a matter of dissatisfaction to many of the thousands of New York “commuters” who cross the Hudson and East rivers by means of the ferries, because it is impossible to prevent the disagreeable odors resulting from the constant use of the central driveways by teams. On the other hand, to segregate entirely the passenger and team traffic on ferry lines would of necessity involve the maintenance of separate slips and separate lines of boats for these classes of traffic and the consequent increase of terminal space. The use of ferry boats designed exclusively for passengers, with the present slip facilities, would mean delay to the teaming traffic whenever one of these exclusive passenger boats was occupying a slip, and the use of such boats could hardly be justified except possibly during the worst of the morning and evening rush. The Susquehanna is being used during the rush hours as an extra boat. The Susquehanna is a single deck boat and bears a name which has been familiar on the Hudson river for a good many years, but the boat was given a new hull and a new boiler a few years ago and is a trustworthy craft. The bulkhead and coaming opposite the wheel battery on each side have been removed and the space heretofore used by teams has been fitted up for the accommodation of passengers. the central space being enclosed by partitions at each end, each having two entrances. On one side the bulkhead and coaming opposite the wheel battery has been replaced by sliding doors to shut off the smoking compartment. The original seating capacity of the boat was 226 and this has been increased to give seating accommodation for 505 people, and the boat will probably carry 1,500 passengers during the rush hours. The company has added 1,138 life preservers to the boat‘s emergency equipment."

In the two undated period photographs below are exterior and interior views of the Susquehanna. Referred to as "skeleton walking beam" ferries, these coal-fired steam engines used side-mounted paddle wheels for propulsion. In the photograph below, the walking beam mechanism can be seen between the two wheelhouses. 



Below is a rare, small ticket for the Pavonia Terminal ferry from the author's collection. Note the illustration of a ferry in the center.



The Underwood  and Van Sweringen Years


By 1913 the powerful banking firm of J.P. Morgan & Company either organized or underwrote the stock for forty-two of the nation's corporations including the Erie and other railroads. In 1910 George Perkins, a senior partner in the Morgan firm, offered Frederick Underwood, then the vice president and general manager of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the position of president. Underwood accepted and, leading the Erie for twenty-five years, was instrumental in the Erie's transformation into a first-class freight carrier. 



Shown below is a 1926 Erie timetable from the author's collection. The Erie always promoted its long-distance passenger service as The Scenic Route.


                                             


In the mid-1920s two railroad and real estate tycoon brothers, Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, gained financial control of the Erie. Their railroad portfolio also included the Pere Marquette Railway, the Hocking Valley Railway, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. All were managed through a complex system of holding companies and seats on the board of directors of various railroads under their control. 


John Bernet was president of the Erie during the Van Sweringen years from 1927 to May 1929 and then went on to become the president of the Van Sweringen-controlled Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. During his Erie tenure, Bernet introduced cost-cutting measures that included the replacement of outdated rolling stock and added new, more efficient motive power that included the famous Erie's Berkshire type 2-8-4 wheel arrangement locomotives; the Erie operated more Berkshire-type locomotives than any other railroad during the time. The locomotive's builders were the largest erecting shops in the country: the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, New York, the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, and the Lima Locomotive Works of Lima Ohio. It was the Erie's Berkshire locomotives that helped it to become known for its fast-freight operations. In this 1947 photograph we see one of the Erie's Berkshires taking up the entire length of the turntable at the Salamanca, New York roundhouse.



Below are freight waybills from the author's collection. The documents were issued by railroads that contained information and instructions regarding the shipment of freight. They show the names of the consignor and consignee, the contents of the freight shipment, the shipping point of origin, the destination, the number of the car carrying the freight, weight of the shipment, route, and the final destination. The waybill on the left for flour is dated September 6, 1898 and the date of the one for cotton on the right is September 1, 1933. The waybill on the left is a printed-form card while the waybill on the right was printed on thin paper and was known as a "flimsy". The paper is so thin that printing on the reverse side is visible and can be seen showing through to the front in the lower portion of this aptly named flimsy. The thirty-five year difference shows the evolution of this everyday paperwork.





The scenery along this section of right-of-way near Port Jervis, New York, provided the Erie's official photographer, John Long of Cleveland, with an opportunity to take this posed photograph of the Erie Limited in this 1930s.  The photograph is from the author's collection. 




Below is an official Erie postcard based on the photograph. 



The reverse side of this card is shown below assuring passengers of "one charming vista after another." 






The Erie managed to hold off bankruptcy during the Great Depression until January 1938, was reorganized again in 1941, emerged in a stronger financial position, and was able to pay dividends to its shareholders. Robert E. Woodruff was president of the Erie at the time and held the office from 1939 to 1949. The railroad hit its highest traffic peak in 1944 when all of the nation's railroads were moving large amounts of war equipment and supplies. Woodruff was enthusiastic and forward-looking during the post-war years and, with the reorganization behind it, the railroad established new credit and a solid financial base. In light of this turnaround, the Erie started to scrap all of its steam engines replacing them with diesel locomotives. Woodruff was quite correct in his assessment that diesel power was the future for the railroad. 


Early Non-Steam Motive Power

Internal-combustion engines were not a new innovation to the Erie, but were proven performers from the railroad's earlier experiences. Prior to the adoption of the diesel locomotive, the Erie had been using gasoline-powered, self-propelled equipment as early as 1906. The purpose was for use on branch line service eliminating the need for a steam-powered locomotive just to pull a one or two passenger car train. The McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska built internal-combustion rail motor cars between 1905–1917. McKeen cars were characterized by their "wind-splitter" fronts, rounded ends, porthole windows, and lowered center doors; the Erie owned three of McKeen's famous passenger units. In this circa 1920 postcard we see one of the McKeen motor cars in service with a large mail and express compartment in front of  the center door.





In 1926 the Erie purchased its first diesel locomotive built through a partnership between the American Locomotive Company (Alco), General Electric, and Ingersol-Rand corporation and were the first commercially successful diesel locomotives to be produced. Known as oil-electric boxcab locomotives, the units were fueled by diesel oil engines that, in turn, ran a generator producing electrical power for the sets of motors connected to each of the two trucks (wheel assemblies). Alco built the bodies, frames, hardware, and trucks, General Electric built the generators, electric motors and control components, and Ingersol-Rand built the diesel engines. The Baltimore & Ohio, Long Island, Chicago & Northwestern, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Erie were among the first railroads to purchase the new oil-electrics for either road or switching service. The Erie's #20 was a three-hundred horse power unit that was put into switching duties in its New York City yard and added another in 1928. They proved to be so successful at this type of work that three more were added to the yard. In 1931 three units were purchased for use in the yards in Akron, Ohio. The diesels proved to be efficient, powerful, and clean burning, a must for cities with smoke abatement laws. Below is a photograph of one of the early units in use on the Central Railroad of New Jersey.







The Last of Erie Steam in New Jersey

In this 1949 postcard view, we see Erie commuter steam a variety of smokebox door details. These engines are laying over between Jersey City commuter runs in the Waldwick, New Jersey yard. The locomotive on the far right differs from the others by having a water heater mounted above the smoke box door and the bell attached right below, the type of engine used on the Erie Limited trains.




This 1953  photochrome card, taken in Spring Valley, New York, gives us a view of the late steam-era motive power used on the commuter runs into Jersey City. Note the Vanderbilt-style tender. Time was finally coming to an end for Erie steam and, in another year, this would be the last stop for coal-fired locomotives.



The Modern Diesel Era

There was never a question of the value of diesel engines on the Erie. The railroad bought its first modern diesel locomotives as they slowly became available. The first order placed was for six new "FT" freight engines from the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in 1944. Passenger trains were dieselized in 1947 for use on the Jersey City to Chicago service. The railroad had invested a reported thirty-six million dollars in improvements, upgrades, and new equipment. In 1951, there was an estimated 339 diesel units in operation. The Erie bought diesel equipment from all of the builders of the time: Alco, EMD, Baldwin, and Lima-Hamilton with Alco and EMD units hauling the fast-freight trains and long-distance passenger runs. The last year of steam operations for freight operations was in 1952; the final year for the commuter trains running out of Jersey City was 1954 when all passenger service was shifted over to the Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey. Coaling facilities, water tanks, steam locomotive repair and maintenance shops were torn down or rebuilt as diesel facilities thus marking the end of the steam era on the Erie. 

In this 1950s photochrome postcard, an EMD F-7 lash-up consisting of two "A" cab units and two "B "auxiliary power units in the center pull what must have been a very long freight to require the power shown up at the head end.



In this 1950s photochrome scene, we see the original delivery paint scheme on the new EMD E-8 diesels used for passenger service on trains such as the Erie Limited and the Lake Cities between Jersey City and Chicago. Note the signal tower on the right and the proximity of the house and tracks to the left.



This railroad-issued postcard of the period shows the "Modern Four Horsemen". From left to right we see an EMD passenger E-8, two Alco FA freight units, and an EMD  F3 freight lash-up outside of the Hornell, New York shops. Over time, the Alco FAs would see passenger service as well. The second view is of the reverse side of the card. 





The final paint scheme seen in this official Erie card replaced the original scheme of the EMD E-8s. In this the beautiful 1950s postcard view seen below, a pair of the passenger diesels  head up the Erie Limited as it crosses the Starrucca Viaduct near Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Note the number of head-end express, baggage, and mail cars behind the locomotives. The second view is the reverse side of the card. 





This circa 1950s view shows one of the ubiquitous Alco RS-3s road diesels, complete with the typical high-mounted marker lights, pulling a commuter run consisting of a long string of the famous Stillwell-designed coaches over the Passaic Park Bridge in New Jersey. Stillwells were the standard coaches for commuter runs coming in and out Jersey City. The coaches were originally designed with arched windows and were later "modernized" by blanking out the arched portions with a sheet of steel. The floors were made of polished poured concrete and were heated by steam supplied by the RS3's steam boiler. Note the "wagon wheel" VHF radio antenna mounted on the top of the engine. The Erie was an innovative company and was the first large railroad in the country to install two-way radio telephone equipment on its mainline that allowed locomotive crews, caboose crews, and dispatchers to communicate with each other.




According to the circa 1919 book, "The Story of Electricity" by Thomas Martin and Stephen Coles, Lewis B. Stillwell (1863-1941) was an electrical engineer who began his career with the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. He resigned in order to oversee construction of large electrical power plants for use on elevated railroads using third-rails as the source of electrical power for the engines. With his partner, Frank M. Brinckerhoff, they invented "a system of framing steel passenger cars, which makes each complete side of the car from underframe to deck a truss girder, and of the anti-telescoping bulkhead construction in which the upper or compression member of the truss is utilized for longitudinal support of the upper end of a steel bulkhead at each end of the car." This system had proven itself to be very crash-resistant in several accidents that would have crushed the ends of lesser-designed passenger cars.


In addition to new motive power, the railroad purchased fleets of new freight cars and rebuilt older, serviceable ones in its Dunmore, Pennsylvania, car shop. Passenger service equipment also needed to be upgraded as well and by 1951 new sleeping cars and baggage, express, and mail cars were brought on-line. The huge capital outlay on diesel equipment, especially for its more profitable freight operation, meant that all-new passenger cars had to be left out of the purchasing. Instead, the Erie decided to completely modernize existing coaches and diners at the Dunmore Shops for use on its long-distance passenger trains. The two period postcards below show the modern amenities to be enjoyed by passengers at the time such as air conditioning and "seats that rotate and recline".






The following official Erie photos were taken during the 1950s by photographer John Long and are from the author's collection. At the Marion, Ohio engine facility we see an EMD F3 diesel lash-up getting serviced and having its sand compartment topped off.



In the photograph below, an engineer and train conductor posed for the age-old process of checking their pocket watches for the accurate time. 



Erie Marine Operations


New York harbor always saw constant action with ferries, tugs with barges, and ships all moving  in, out, and around its waters. A number of railroads owned tugs for use in the harbor including the Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, New York Central, New Haven, B&O, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lackawanna, and the Erie. The use of diesel tugs by the Erie went as far back as the 1930s. Below are a series of official railroad-issued photochrome postcards of the period. The first card shows the Akron, built in 1953, maneuvering a railroad car barge or "float". According to the card's reverse side inscription, the Erie had an estimated fleet of 240 vessels for a variety of tasks. 





This view of the harbor shows the New York pushing two heated covered barges designed to keep perishable and liquid cargo from freezing. Note the car float being moved by another Erie tug a short distance away on the left.






In the photograph below taken by the author circa 1970, are the post-merger Erie tugboats Akron and Elmira moored at the Lackawanna Terminal's adjacent wharf.






The Final Years

By the mid-1950s, the heavy capital costs of running the railroad began to outpace revenues. The once-bright outlook projected by Erie management and its spending on capital improvements could not hold back the effects of competing transportation modes. Faster air cargo services, point-to-point truck shipping, the automobile as a convenient way for people to travel for business, out-of-town visits, and vacations all were competing with the railroads. By the late 1950s, the Northeastern railroads were competing with each other for a share of an ever-shrinking market for freight service and passenger service was either cut back or completely eliminated. Instead of the American railroads being at the center of the economy as in early years of the Twentieth Century, they were pushed off to the margins and became the casualties of a new transportation economy. Railroads not only lost their key freight revenue sources they also lost their relevance as travelers, businesses, and industries began to choose other options that were now available on a national scale for the first time. 

As a way to economize, the Erie and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western agreed to operate jointly out of the Lackawanna's Hoboken, New Jersey terminal starting in 1956. The Erie's 1957 income turned out to be half of what it was in 1956; in 1958 a short but deep business recession took its toll on the railroad and, between that year and the next, the Erie was loosing money. In a cooperative effort, both railroads began to abandon duplicate routes so as not to parallel each other. These consolidations for each other's benefit finally lead to merger discussions between the two companies. On October 17, 1960, the two railroads merged to create the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. With histories reaching far back into the Nineteenth Century, both railroads lost their famous identities and the Erie, the line that served "The Heart of Industrial America" and the Lackawanna, "The Route of Phoebe Snow", were gone forever.


















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