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  Railroads of Madison County
Jim Peters
Tales of the Rails

The Pioneer Spirit
By Jim Peters

Jan 14, 2003
Sally and I were married in Cassadaga on May 4th, 1948. We honeymooned in California, taking the Santa Fe to L.A. and S.P. to San Francisco, returning via the same route. The first year we rented a house uptown in Sinclairville, then bought a small house trailer. The Company leased us a space on the Sinclairville depot grounds to set it up on. I dug a 20-foot trench, then a Jacuzzi electric pump and pressure tank was purchased from Hugh Maloy. He removed the hand pump and capped the well pipe. The water line was connected to the well pipe and a check valve installed. I built an insulated box to contain the pump and tank. Next I set up a simple septic tank.

Box cars loaded with grain needed something to prevent the cargo from leaking out through their loose doors. Two layers of flat boards were nailed together, overlapping. These were called grain doors, and were nailed across the car's doorways, one atop another to the top level of the grain, then the doors were closed. When the grain was unloaded the grain doors were usually left in the car. Each grain door measured roughly two feet by eight feet by two inches thick.

I put in an order to the crew on the Falconer Turn and just about every day on their way north they threw off several grain doors for me. I fitted them around the trailer's perimeter, to keep the cold wind from underneath. Before shutting off the supply I built a shed from them, which served as a storage area and storm protection for the entrance. The job was finished just as the first snow fell. We were now snug in our little "cabin," and I felt a kinship with the early settlers.

Jim Peters

Change of Scenery
By Jim Peters

Jan 15, 2003
In the fall of 1952 one of the Clerk-0perators' jobs at Falconer was abolished, and Howard Pritchard bumped me. I was No. 68 seniority-wise, 42 from the bottom. My only option in the Agent category was to bump Dick Prusha at Wickliffe, OH. The job and the living had been very good in Sinclairville and we hated to leave. The Valley Branch was like a separate Company and the people working there were like a family. Instead of hiring someone to move the trailer we bought a larger new one and had the dealer in Dunkirk move it.

The nearest location with available space was a park in North Madison, OH. It was 30 miles from my new work location. We packed the car, tied the oil drum on the back, and Mama, Papa and nine-month old child headed West. After six weeks of driving back and forth, I landed a spot in a very nice park, located on Euclid Ave. (Rte 20), between Wickliffe and Willoughby. We were set for our first winter here, and there was less than a ten-minute commute to work, not bad at all.

The Cleveland Trust Co. was the largest bank in Cleveland. The RR Agents remitted Company funds via Express Messenger to its main office at E. 9th & Euclid. It had branches in most suburbs and surrounding towns. When Sally and I went to the Willoughby office to open a checking account, I noticed a guy watching us who seemed vaguely familiar. I assumed he was the manager. As we were leaving he was still staring. Then it hit me. He was the Mayor in 1943, the guy I was supposed to have insulted that night after I was arrested.

Business at Wickliffe was very heavy for a one-man station. Total carloads per month exceeded 300, and much LCL passed through the little depot. A tramp had burned down the outhouse and the Agent had to use the facilities at the coal yard office. There was no toilet or water supply, but I got the Company to install an enclosed toilet and wash basin. This involved laying water and sewer lines out to the street, but I figured they could well afford it, considering the amount of revenue this place produced. The biggest customers were Lubrizol and Cleveland Crane. Finally, a BRC Clerk position was put on, but then it was abolished after a few short months, and it was back to the grind all by myself.

The Company was indifferent to losing valuable business through poor service. Lubrizol was shipping four tank cars a week to Niagara Falls, NY. The service was so slow that sometimes all four cars were on the road, with none available for the next loading. I wrote this up to Company officials, but finally truck facilities were installed at each end. Another NYC line haul was to Wood River, IL, near St. Louis. Same result. I reported this to the ORT, stating that this amount of lost revenue would pay the wages of 20 Clerks, but the Union didn't care, either.

Another child was born in 1958, bringing the total to four, so we sold the trailer and moved into an apartment in Euclid. Then Sally suffered a near-fatal miscarriage the next year and I moved the family to Dunkirk, to be nearer my folks, in case there was another emergency. I was fed up with the situation at Wickliffe, but now there was the long weekend commute. I requested to work any TVs on the East End, but with summer gone, just about all vacations were over. I did get three weeks at Warren and a week at Angola, plus one day at Falconer.

The Operators' ranks were decimated by the elimination of nine towers: NA Angola, X Dunkirk, WX Westfield, WV Wesleyville, DJ Dock Jct., GJ Girard Jct., OX Madison, AF Painesville and SW Willoughby. The four main tracks were reduced to two, with intermittent passing sidings. The functions of the former towers were handled remotely from Erie by a Traffic Control System, on other roads known as CTC. The Government allowed the elimination of LCL service, resulting in the closing of thousands of stations throughout the Country. 1959 was the beginning of the end for Agents and Operators. Like my dad in '33 I was fortunate to have enough "whiskers" to keep working steady.

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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