Corning Branch, Syracuse Division, NYC
February 26, 2005
This happened on a warm summer day in 1965 on the Corning Branch of the Syracuse Division of the New York Central railroad. Corning was a crew change point and trains operated from Buffalo, New York, Syracuse, New York and Suspension Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York south to Corning. Upon arrival in Corning a new crew would take charge and forward the train to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At one time the New York Central between Corning and Williamsport was double track but one track was removed making the railroad single track with controlled sidings so trains could pass. The railroad operated through what is known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania running parallel to Pine Creek which was a beautiful fishing stream, a fisherman's heaven. The scenery was beautiful and the wildlife abundant, the crews would observe, white tail deer, turkey, bear on their runs through the canyon and had to be careful if required to walk the train to watch out for Copper Head Snakes and Rattlesnakes along the right of way. It was absolutely wild and beautiful country.
It was a beautiful Sunday and the train arrived Corning in the mid afternoon and the Corning crew took charge and departed at about 2:00pm. The first stop would be Lawrenceville to drop off the head brakeman and fireman. At that period in time New York State had a full crew law and trains must operate with a full crew which was an Engineer, Fireman, Head Brakeman, Flagman and Conductor between Corning and Lawrenceville on the state line. Pennsylvania did not require a full crew and trains could operate with an Engineer, Brakeman and Conductor. The train departed Lawrenceville after dropping the Fireman and Extra Brakeman and proceeded south toward Wellsboro Junction and then into the canyon.
Corning, NY Yard in 1915 - Large wide photo - 208k
I was at home in Corning with my family when the phone rang about two hours after the train left Corning. I was a Road Foreman of Engines headquartered at Corning and I along with a Trainmaster were responsible for the railroad in this area The Trainmaster was on another assignment and I was in charge. The station operator at CG (Corning) called me advising me that the southbound train had been involved in a derailment south of Wellsboro Jct. I immediately started for the scene of the derailment to ascertain the severity of the situation so I could report it to the Train Dispatcher who in turn would advise the Division Superintendent.
Upon arrival I questioned the Engineer and following is the story from the individual responsible for the situation. He had left home to drive to Pine Creek and do some fishing as he had done many times before. Arriving at the railroad crossing, he drove down the right of way where the old track used to be parallel to the operational main track. At his favorite fishing spot, he parked his car in the clear of the track as he had often done and proceeded to fish in Pine Creek enjoying the stream and the summer day. As indicated previously the day was beautiful, warm and the creek was running smooth. He had donned his hip boots waded in and fished. Sometime between 4pm and 5pm he decided to return home so he waded out of the creek and went to his car. Arriving, he put his fishing gear away, removed his boots and started the car. Backing up to leave, the rear of the car contacted the west rail of the railroad track, the rear bumper slid over the rail and became lodged; due to the rear wheels being slightly elevated he had insufficient traction to pull free. The wheels spun and with no help he was unable to lift on the rear while someone tried to pull ahead. Suddenly he heard a train whistle.
The crew on the southbound train was having an uneventful trip up to this point and the Engineer was blowing the engine whistle for a crossing further down the track. After passing the crossing they approached a reverse curve (S-curve). Coming around the curve they came into view of a man running barefoot toward them in the middle of the track waving his arms wildly. The man, upon hearing the whistle, exited his car and proceeded to run in the middle of the track toward the train. Remember now, he was barefoot, having removed his boots, but the ballast and ties seemed to have no effect on him. He was running as fast as he could and waving his arms to warn the train of his car foul of the railroad track.
The crew on the train rounding the curve saw the man in the middle of the track and his waving indicated to them an emergency situation. The Engineer in accordance with the rules placed the train in emergency. Because of the curves and slack action in the train approximately 14 cars close to the head end derailed and further back close to the rear end of the train approximately 17 cars derailed ahead of the caboose. Once the train stopped, the crew alighted and talked to the man as to what was wrong. He told them about his car being foul of the track, but not to worry as he had car insurance and would pay for what ever the clean up would cost. The Engineer was relieved to hear that no one was hurt. At that time he didn't know about the derailment on his train. When that became evident he told the brakeman to notify the Conductor and the Train Dispatcher. The crew notified the train dispatcher and that caused my involvement.
After a drive from Corning I arrived at the scene of the derailment and saw the 17 cars derailed at the rear and knew immediately we would need the steam wrecking crane from Dewitt Yards in Syracuse. I found out from the dispatcher that the Trainmaster from Newberry Jct was en route and had the steam wrecking crane from Newberry Jct en route to clear the cars derailed close to the head end. The wreck train and crew arrived from Syracuse about 4 am in the morning, started setting up flood lights and immediately started re railing the cars that could be salvaged. The Newberry crew was doing the same thing on the head end. Along about 6:30am - 7:00am the sun started up, remember we are in the canyon and it takes a while for the sun to come over the hills.
Work was progressing nicely and I decided to walk over toward my auto parked up the track aways, when I noticed a large black Buick drive in and I knew it was the General Manager of the Eastern Region, Mr. Ed Claypool. I walked towards him and he said "Hi Bob, how's it going?" I filled him in on the situation as best that I could and gave him an approximate time we expected the derailment on the rear end to be cleared up. We talked about various things and he thanked me and started for the scene of the derailment. I called to him and said, "Mr Claypool, be very careful walking around in this tall grass; there are a lot of rattlesnakes here in the canyon and with the sun warming things up they may be moving around". He stopped instantly and looked at me and said, "I have to make a phone call, I will be in my car, keep me advised as to the progress". I replied "Yes Sir" and watched him walk toward his car. Mr Claypool spent the next several hours in his car making phone calls. Many years later we met in Detroit, at that time he was a Vice President and I was a Director-Personnel. I told him the reason I had advised him of the rattlesnakes was the danger of rattlesnakes was a real situation in that area, that every year the locals had a big rattlesnake hunt. Ed Claypool was a good man, a good supervisor and we had a long laugh talking about the incident.
The railroad cars derailed were finally either rerailed, or put clear of the main track that morning. It was a tough night and day, but the main track was repaired by the MofW department and trains started to move the freight once again. I never found out what happened to the fisherman, the claim department handled the situation and I continued my job of making sure the trains operated and our customers were satisfied. On thinking back as I wrote this story I wonder what the man's insurance agent said when he was advised that the man had told our crew his insurance would take care of the cost.
Robert Stierwalt hired out 6/25/53 at Anderson . In the middle 60's became road foreman at Corning, NY-Trainmaster Bay City,Mich - Detroit as Rules Examiner and then Labor Relations in Detroit, Altoona, and Indianapolis Then back to Detroit until retirement in 1990. His father was the engine house foreman at Wabash. Now resides in New Mexico.