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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

Railroading: Ya gotta love it!
By Jim Peters

Jan 3, 2003
The Main Line of the NYC's Erie Division extended 170 miles from Bay View, NY (8 miles west of Buffalo Central Terminal) to BR Tower, the entrance to Collinwood Yard (Cleveland), and it was four-tracked all the way. The tracks were designated and numbered from the south as follows: #4 Eastbound Freight, #2 Eastbound Passenger, #1 Westbound Passenger, #3 Westbound Freight. The Valley Branch was single track running 90 miles from Dunkirk, NY to Titusville, PA. Operation on the branch was manual block, timetable and train orders. The Erie Division also included the J&F Branch from Ashtabula Harbor to East Youngstown, plus the Oil City and Sutton branches.

Angola station was on the south side of the tracks. When #60 stopped there that day to let me off the depot was blocked by an eastbound freight on Track 4. Its engine had cut off and moved down to the water plug the other side of Main St. I had to get off beyond the platform and cross 4 around the head car. Which was bad enough except I was weighed down with a heavy brown mackinaw. I had a suitcase in my right hand and a cardboard box of foodstuffs under the left arm. Worse yet, I stepped into two feet of snow. My struggles to reach the cleared area of the platform must have been quite a spectacle.

Since there was no place to eat or stay in Derby, Ken said I could probably take his room in Angola. It was in the home of Clarence Baker, who had 2nd Trick at NA Tower in Angola. The alarm clock jangled me awake at 5:30 AM. Going out I gasped at the first breath of bitter cold air, and started for Main St. After breakfast I stayed in the diner as long as possible before going across the street to wait for the bus. I stood for what seemed a long time in the sub-zero weather, stamping my feet and wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into.

I had put the box of food up on top of a cabinet, but this first morning on the job it was riddled and contaminated by mice. From the well next to the building I pumped a pan of water to make some tea. When it boiled there was a thick layer of scum on top. So much for lunch. Every morning I had to light a fusee to fire up the coal stove. For kindling I chopped up parts of the waiting-room benches. One morning the Section Foreman came in during this ritual and said,"Boy, you're going to freeze to death if you don't bank the fire before leaving!" He showed me how to do it, and life became a bit easier. No path had been cleared in the deep snow to the outhouse, a good 40 feet west of the depot. To effect a bowel movement in the morning I waited until there was a roaring fire going. In the freight room several newspapers were spread on the floor next to a wall. They were then balled up and neatly disposed of in the stove.

One day I missed the bus back to Angola and was treated to a wild ride in some guy's Chevy, slipping and sliding around corners, trying to catch up to the bus. I said I was sorry for his trouble and he said, "That's OK, I enjoyed it!" That first weekend I called Archie Davis, the Agent at Angola, to check on #52, so I could catch #9, a M&E train, back to Erie. He said she was an hour and a half late. So I took my time leaving Baker's and when I got near, the train was in the depot! I scrambled down the embankment and just made it to the platform when she started pulling out. The next Greyhound to Erie got me home around 11 that night. Then it was up at 3 Monday morning, take a taxi to the station, and catch #18, with a special stop to land me at Angola and start all over again.

The following Saturday I was able to grab #52 at Angola. When we got to BCT #9 was on Track 14, way down at the end of the concourse. When I got downstairs to the platform it was pulling out. If I missed it I'd be stuck several hours for the next one, #5. I started running towards the rear of the train. When the last car got close I saw that the rear door was open but the trap was down. I landed on the bottom step but could not climb up over the trap lest I fall off, and by now we were moving at a good clip. I yelled, "Open up!" the brakeman came out to the vestibule, eyes agape, and raised the trap. The crew car was called a "stove rider." It was an ancient coach with most of the windows blanked out, and a coal stove for heat. I told the Conductor I was the Agent at Derby, and he said, "You pull any more stunts like that and you won't be Agent anywhere!"

I told my folks I needed their '37 Ford to get back and forth on weekends. I managed to obtain a "B" gasoline ration allotment, which you were supposed to be restricted to work-related driving, but hey, I was 18 years old! Derby was finally up for bid as a permanent vacancy and was awarded to Marshall Rice, incumbent of the Clerk-Telegrapher position in Willoughby, OH. That job was now up for bid and Art Hyder encouraged me to go for it. I told him I couldn't telegraph and he said it didn't matter. Lo and behold, I was the only bidder. I now had a regular position after only 30 days on the Extra Board.
(Continued on Bars - In Front Of and Behind)

Jim Peters


Jim Peters "Tales of the Rails" stories are Copyrighted by Jim Peters Ja76peters@aol.com and may not be used without his express permission.
"My Dad, Al Peters, was a Trainman and Conductor, starting with the NYC in 1916. Retired in 1968. I started in 1942 as Agent-Operator, and worked on the Erie Division until retiring on disability in 1981. Some of the positions I worked were Freight Agent, Ticket Agent, Teletype Operator, Dispatcher Report Clerk and Train Dispatcher in the Cleveland Union Terminal, when the Erie Division and Cleveland Divisions were consolidated in 1963. Altogether I worked at 20+ stations and offices in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Main Line and Valley Branch. - Jim Peters

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