The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 14

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The old R. W. & O had stoutly fought these crossings; using one specious argument after another. The new management of the property said that the crossings could go down as soon as the street railway company could have them manufactured. It kept its word. The street railway went ahead--and thrived; and the steam railroad lost little by its slight compet.i.tion between Watertown and Brownville.

One other very popular form of grievance still remained--I shall take up the question of the freight and pa.s.senger rates at another time--the persistent refusal of the Parsons' administration to install through all-the-year sleeping-car service between Watertown and New York. The Vanderbilts installed that service, also one between Oswego and New York within three weeks of their acquisition of the road. These have remained ever since with the single exception of a short period during the Chicago World's Fair, when the extreme shortage of sleeping-cars induced the headquarters of the New York Central temporarily to withdraw the Watertown cars. A protest from the Northern New York metropolis brought them back--within seven days' time.

The new management did more. It inst.i.tuted Sunday trains upon the line; also as an all-the-year feature, a travel necessity for which the North Country had cried for years, vainly. It placed parlor-cars upon the princ.i.p.al trains. It shortened the running-time of all of these. It showed in almost every conceivable fashion a real desire to propitiate its public. And for that desire much of the Mohawk & St. Lawrence fiasco was eventually forgiven it.

One other problem--and a pa.s.sing large one--confronted it; the question of taking proper care of the official personnel of the Rome road. That is always a difficult and delicate question in a merger of large properties.... The Parsons family was taken care of--although in the entire transaction it had taken pretty good care of itself. Arrangements were made to carry its members upon the New York Central pay-rolls for a season, even though they were quickly off and into new enterprises--the New York & New England and South Carolina Railroad--but never again was there to be such a killing as they had had in the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh. Such an opportunity does not arise once in a lifetime; not once in a thousand lifetimes.

The rest of the official roster was to be continued, for the next two or three months at any rate. With great astuteness the Vanderbilts planned to upset the operation of the road, to the least possible degree. It was to keep its name and its individuality as far as was possible. As a matter of operating convenience it was arranged to abolish the auditing offices at Oswego and to have the R. W. & O. agents and conductors make their reports direct to the New York Central headquarters in the Grand Central Station, in New York City. Similarly orders went forth from those headquarters to drop the old name, "Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh" from the locomotive tenders and the sides of the pa.s.senger-cars. A rather bitter blow that was. With all of its hatred against the property at one time and another, the North Country cherished a real affection for the name. In deference, to which sentiment, the Vanderbilts still clung to it for a number of years; in their advertising and printed matter of every sort. It was necessary, in their opinion, to emblazon "New York Central" upon their newly acquired rolling-stock in order to permit a greater flexibility in its interchange with that they already held. They had not owned the R. W.

& O. a fortnight before its eternal shortage of motive-power had been relieved, by the a.s.signment to it of engines No. 316 and No. 414 of the N.

Y. C. & H. R. R. And it should not be forgotten that one large reason for all of these orders was the large affection of the Vanderbilt family for the name and the fame of the New York Central. Both have loomed large in their eyes.

The old Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, quickly reorganized in that March-time of 1891, had then as its chief officers the following men:

_President_, CHARLES PARSONS, New York _First Vice-President_, CLARENCE S. DAY, New York _Second Vice-President_, CHARLES PARSONS, JR., New York _Third Vice-President_, H. WALTER WEBB, New York _Secretary and Treasurer_, J. A. LAWYER, New York _Freight Traffic Manager_, L. A. EMERSON, New York _Gen. Pa.s.s. Agent_, THEODORE E. b.u.t.tERFIELD, Oswego _General Manager_, E. S. BOWEN, Oswego _Supt. of Transportation_, W. W. CURRIER, Oswego _Master Mechanic_, GEORGE H. HASELTON, Oswego


W. S. Jones, Watertown H. W. Hammond, Carthage I. H. McEwen, Oswego

Mr. Webb, who also was the Third Vice-President of the New York Central & Hudson River, was now, of course, the real guiding head of the property.

Well schooled in the Vanderbilt methods of railroad operation, it was his task to begin their introduction into the newly acquired railroad. How well he succeeded can easily be adjudged by the results that were attained. They need no comment by the historian.

To this group of men was given the operation of 643 miles of busy single-track railroad. Prior to the acquisition of the R. W. & O., the New York Central & Hudson River, itself, had only contained some 1420 miles of line, including those which it held on leasehold. The Rome road then had given it upwards of two thousand miles of route line--not to be confused with mere miles of trackage, which would run to a far greater total. The capital stock of the R. W. & O. as shown on its balance-sheet for the year ending June 30, 1890, was $6,230,100, of which $238,243 was still in the company's treasury. Its funded debt came to $12,672,090 (this latter included income bonds, also in the company's treasury). In addition to which there was a profit and loss account of $762,298. Parsons had builded up a real railroad. Always himself short of ready cash he had acquired a habit of dealing in millions--in a day when a million dollars still represented a good deal of money.

The real problem of the new management of the Rome road lay, however, in an immediate readjustment of its rates; particularly its freight rates.

The hemlock fence around the Watertown depot, the persecution of the little street railway system of that community, the irritating defects of the pa.s.senger service, were in the eyes of the commercial factors of the North Country as nothing compared with the railroad freight tariffs that it was called upon to pay. Charles Parsons, as I have said already, had had no hesitation whatsoever in putting the burden of his income necessities upon his non-compet.i.tive territory in order that he might be in a position to slash rates right and left wherever and whenever he was forced to compete.

New York Central control promised a modification of this situation. To a certain extent it accomplished it. Some of the rates were slashed from twenty-five to fifty per cent, and Mr. Parsons lived long enough to see more equitable systems of freight-carrying charges established on the old line. It was only a short time after the New York Central had acquired the Rome road before the huge Solvay Process Company had located themselves on the western limits of Syracuse. Their location there was due primarily to the salt-beds but they also needed great quant.i.ties of limestone daily for their products. This the R. W. & O. furnished by means of an attractive low rate. And, after a little time, there was a solid train each day from Chaumont on the old Cape branch to Syracuse, laden exclusively with limestone rock. At other times there would be solid trains of paper, and in the season, of such rare specialties as strawberries from the Richland section and turkeys from St. Lawrence county for the New York City markets. And despite the well-famed superiority of the North Country in cheese making, its rich dairy areas were invaded by the milk-supply companies of the swift-growing metropolis.

All made business--and lots of it--for the new owners of the North Country's old road. They could afford to forget Parsons' dream of a through route along the northerly border of the country--single-track and filled with hard curvature and grades--to the seaboard docks of Portland, Maine. The intensive development of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh was their opportunity; and this opportunity they promptly seized. And accomplished. Even the once despised Lake Ontario Sh.o.r.e Railroad came at last into its own. Along its rails upgrew the greatest orchard industry in the United States. And even as powerful and as resourceful a railroad as the New York Central, at times, is hard put to find sufficient equipment for the proper handling of the vast quant.i.ties of apples, pears and peaches that to-day are grown upon the gentle south sh.o.r.e of Ontario.

The Vanderbilts paid a high price for the R. W. & O. And then it was a bargain. Not only was compet.i.tion practically forestalled forever in one of the richest industrial and agricultural areas in the entire United States--by an odd coincidence the actual acquisition of the R. W. & O. was followed a few months later by the enactment of a state law forbidding one railroad acquiring a parallel or competing line--but the menace of the powerful and strategic Canadian Pacific ever reaching the city of New York was practically removed. A high price, and yet a low one. Which marks the beginning and the end of railroad strategy.

For some time now we have lost track of Mr. Austin Corbin and his ambitious plan of the Camden, Watertown & Northern. Upon the explosion of the Mohawk & St. Lawrence bubble a good many keen Watertown men who were bent, heart and soul, upon providing their community with compet.i.tive railroad service turned earnestly toward the Corbin scheme. The most of the $60,000 that had been hastily subscribed in the town toward providing the Mohawk & St. Lawrence with a free right-of-way and depot grounds through it, was turned over to Mr. Corbin. Edward M. Gates, who was very active in the matter, went further. He wired Mr. H. Walter Webb, who, as Third Vice-President of the New York Central, and personal representative of the Vanderbilts, had made a personal subscription of $30,000 to the Watertown fund, if he, too, would agree to turning his subscription to the Camden, Watertown & Northern. There is no record of a reply from Mr. Webb on this proposition.

Gradually Corbin grew lukewarm upon his Camden, Watertown & Northern plan.

Truth to tell, he had lost his largest opportunity on the day that Charles Parsons had landed the Vanderbilts with the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh.

They had needed that road. They had never thought that they needed the Elmira, Cortland & Northern, not even at the time that Corbin offered it to them at the a.s.sumption of its mortgage-bonds and its fixed charges.

Eventually he succeeded in getting the Lehigh Valley, which at just that time was cherishing a fond idea that it might succeed in seriously cutting into the New York Central's traffic between the seaboard and Central and Northern New York, to buy the E. C. & N. Thereafter the Corbin project disappeared. From time to time it has been revived, as a possible extension of the Lehigh Valley, north from its present unsatisfactory terminal at Camden to Watertown or even beyond. It is hardly likely now that that extension will ever be builded. For one thing, the day of building competing railroads is over, and for another, the E. C. & N. is far too unsatisfactory a railroad dog to which to tie an efficient tail.

The Ontario & Western would have been a far more advantageous opportunity.

Out of all the tumult and excitement of that strenuous winter of 1890-91 the net result then to Northern New York was no new railroads. No, permit me to correct that statement. One new railroad was builded, and an important enterprise it was. A brother of H. Walter Webb's, Dr. Seward Webb, who had married into the Vanderbilt family, was instrumental in acquiring from Henry S. Ives, of New York, and some of his a.s.sociates, the little narrow-gauge Herkimer, Newport & Poland Railroad, stretching some twenty miles northward from Herkimer in the Mohawk valley and upon the main line of the New York Central. With the road renamed, the Mohawk & Malone, Dr. Webb conceived the idea of building it through the North Woods to the Canada line. Where the long ago promoters of the Sackett's Harbor & Saratoga had failed, he succeeded after a fashion. He moved the contractors' duffle from the terminal of the nascent Mohawk & St.

Lawrence, at Utica, down to Herkimer, and began by first changing the H.

N. & P. into a standard-gauge railroad. This done he proceeded with its extension, up the valley of the Canada Creek to Remsen, where it touched the Utica line of the R. W. & O. (the main line of the former Utica & Black River).

This done, and arrangements made for handling the through trains of the Mohawk & Malone over the R. W. & O. for the twenty-two miles between Utica and Remsen, Dr. Webb struck his new road off through the depths of the untrodden forests for nearly 150 miles. At first it was said that it was his aim to meet and terminate his line at Tupper Lake, which had been reached by the one-time Northern Adirondack from Moira, on the Ogdensburgh & Lake Champlain. Dr. Webb did meet this line, also the tenuous branch of the Delaware & Hudson, extending westward from Plattsburg, and then down to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. But he pa.s.sed by all of these. His scheme was a far more ambitious one. He had determined to build a railroad from Utica to Montreal, and build a railroad from Utica to Montreal he did.

Before he was done the New York Central had its own rails from its main line almost into the very heart of the Canadian metropolis. And while this route was a little longer in mileage between New York City and Montreal than the direct routes along both sh.o.r.es of Lake Champlain, it possessed large strategic value for the western end of the New York Central & Hudson River. And it was entirely a Vanderbilt line. As such it probably was worth all it cost; and it was not a cheap road to build.

This line was then the one tangible result of the most agitated railroad experience that the people of New York state ever faced--with the possible exception of the West Sh.o.r.e fiasco. The other plans--you still can find them by the dozens carefully filed in the clerk's office of the Northern New York counties--all came to nought. The folk of the North Country ceased their dreamings; settled down to the intensive development of their rarely rich territory. And sought to make its existing transport facilities equal to their every need.



For six or seven years after it had secured possession of the property, the New York Central continued the operation of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh as a separate railroad, to a very large degree, at least.

Gradually, however, the individual executive officers of the leased road ceased to exist; in some cases berths with the parent road were found for them; in others, they were glad to retire to a life of comfortable ease.

The separate corporate existence of the R. W. & O. as well as that of the Utica & Black River and the Carthage, Watertown & Sackett's Harbor, was continued, however, until 1914, when the Vanderbilts made a single corporation under the t.i.tle of the New York Central Railroad of some of their most important properties; the New York Central & Hudson River, the Lake Sh.o.r.e & Michigan Southern and the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, chief amongst them. That step taken, the R. W. & O. had ceased to exist--legally as well as technically. Yet the work that it had done in the development of a huge community of communities could never die. It was to live after it; for many years to come.

On the 20th of May, 1891, within three months after the leasing of the Rome road, its headquarters were moved back to the place where originally they had been located, and from which they never should have been removed--Watertown. The entire property was then consolidated into a single division, and Mr. McEwen brought over from Oswego to become its Superintendent, with Mr. Jones his a.s.sistant at Oswego and Mr. Hammond in a similar capacity at Watertown. Mr. P. E. Crowley was, also, promoted at this time to the position of Chief Despatcher of the division. This arrangement did not long continue, however. Charles Parsons already was interesting himself in the New York & New England, and presently he called to that property, as superintendents, Mr. Bowen and Mr. Jones, who established their offices at Hartford, Conn. Soon afterwards Mr. Hammond followed them. There had come a real change in _regime_.

The R. W. & O. division of the New York Central & Hudson River, as the old property then became known, stretched all the way from Suspension Bridge to Ma.s.sena Springs and was, I believe, with its 643 miles of route mileage, the longest single railroad division in the United States at that time. To run that division was a man's job, and only a real man could survive it.

Yet into that grimy old station at Watertown there came, one by one, a succession of as brilliant railroaders as this country has ever known--Van Etten, Russell, Moon, Hustis, Christie. These were men tested and tried before they were sent up into the North Country--it was no place for novices up there. Once there they made good, by both their wits and their energies. Success on that division called for almost superhuman energy.

And when once it had been won; when down in the Grand Central they could say that "X--had been to Watertown and made good there," it meant that X--had taken, successfully, the thirty-third degree in modern railroading.

There were a few men between these five, who did not make good--but somehow that was never charged against them. Other jobs were found for them; headquarters felt that perhaps the mistake in some way should rightly be charged against it.

After seventeen years of operation of the R. W. & O. as a single division it was recognized at headquarters that the test was not a fair one; and the famous old road was divided into two divisions, with Watertown Junction as the dividing point and the divisions named, the St. Lawrence and Ontario, with Watertown and Oswego as their respective division headquarters. Just why the system was divided in that way no one seems to know. It would have been more logical to have made the former Rome road, east of Oswego, a single division with headquarters at Watertown, and have split the old Lake Ontario Sh.o.r.e into the main line divisions of the western part of the state. Yet this is history, and not a criticism. The men who have run the New York Central have generally known their business pretty well.

Edgar Van Etten came to the railroad game by way of the historic Erie. He is a native of Port Jervis, New York, a famous old Erie town, and it was just as natural as b.u.t.tering bread for him to go to work upon that road, rising in quick successive steps, freight conductor, to-day, trainmaster to-morrow--oddly enough there was a little time when he was Superintendent of the Ontario division of the R. W. & O., in the days of the Parsons'

control. Then we see him as Superintendent of the Erie at Buffalo, finally General Manager of the Western New York Car a.s.sociation, in that same busy railroad center. From that task the Vanderbilts picked him for an even greater one--taking that newly merged, single-track 643-mile-division of the R. W. & O., and putting it upon their operating methods and discipline.

Only an Edgar Van Etten could have done the trick. A lion of a man he was in those Watertown days, relentless, indomitable, fearless--yet possessing in his varied nature keen qualities of humor and of human understanding that were tremendous factors in the winning of his success. It was but natural that so keen a talent should have been recognized in his promotion from Watertown to the vastly responsible post of General Superintendent of the New York Central at the Grand Central Station. In those days the position of Operating Vice-President of the property had not been created.

Nor was there even a General Manager. The General Superintendent was the big boss who moved the trains and moved them well. If he could not, the Vanderbilts discovered it before they ever made him a big boss.

Mr. Van Etten's final promotion came in his advancement to the post of Vice-President and General Manager of their important Boston & Albany property; a position on that road corresponding to the presidency of almost any other one. Here he remained until 1907, when ill-health caused his retirement from railroading. He moved across the continent to California, where he is to-day an enthusiastic resident of Los Angeles.

E. G. Russell was cast in a somewhat gentler mold than Van Etten. Thorough railroader he was at that, a man of large vision and seeking every opportunity for the advancement of the property that he headed. For remember that in all these years at Watertown these men were virtual General Managers of a goodly property, in everything but actual t.i.tle.

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The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 14 summary

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