The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 8

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In those days Samuel Sloan was busy occupying himself with an extension of his beloved Lackawanna into Buffalo. That, in itself, was a real job. For years the D. L. & W. had terminated at Great Bend, a few miles east of Binghamton, and had used trackage rights upon the Erie from there West, not only into the Buffalo gateway, but also to reach its branch-line properties into Utica, Rome, Syracuse and Ithaca. Sloan finally had quarreled with the Erie--it was a way he ofttimes had. And, for once at least, had made a bold strategic move through to the far end of the Empire State.

To build so many miles of railroad one must have rail. And rail costs much money, unless one may borrow it from a friendly property. So Sloan went up into the North Country and "borrowed" rail. He "borrowed" so much that travel upon the R. W. & O. became fraught with many real dangers--and the life of his General Superintendent at Oswego, Van Horne, a nightmare. Some of the rails were, in his own words, not more than six feet long. Finally in desperation he appealed to his chief compet.i.tor in the North Country, the Utica & Black River, which rapidly was subst.i.tuting steel for iron upon its main line. In sheer pity, J. F. Maynard, General Superintendent of the Utica & Black River, sent his discarded iron to his paralyzed compet.i.tor.

There was little steel upon the Rome road in 1883--less than sixty miles of its 417 miles of main line track was so equipped. Neither were there sufficient locomotives; but fifty-two of them all-told, in addition to two or three that the Lackawanna had had the extreme kindness to "loan" the property--upon a perfectly adequate rental basis. Long since it had ceased to operate such frills as sleeping-cars or parlor-cars. It had only fifty-four pa.s.senger-coaches; not nearly enough to meet the needs of so far-flung a line. And many of these were in extreme disrepair. An elderly citizen of Ogdensburgh says that it was a nightly occasion for the R. W. & O. train to come in from DeKalb with more than half of its journals ablaze.

Yet, despite these bitter years, the road had managed to avoid receivership and in 1882 it succeeded in effecting a reorganization; under which it dropped the interest on its bonds to five per cent and a.s.sessed its stockholders ten dollars a share for a cash working fund to keep it alive. They were given income bonds for the amount so contributed by them.

There were a few grumbles at this arrangement, but not many. The huge potential possibilities of the property--or rather of the rich and still undeveloped territory that it served--were too generally recognized.

It began to be rumored that new outside interests were buying into the stock in Wall Street. These rumors were brought to Sloan's attention.

"Look out," he was warned, "some one will get that old heap of junk away from you yet."

He laughed. At the best you could tell Samuel Sloan but little. Gradually, he proceeded with his reorganization, and in 1883 we find the official roster of the reorganized R. W. & O. reading in this fashion:

_President_, SAMUEL SLOAN, New York _Secretary and Treasurer_, J. A. LAWYER, Watertown _General Superintendent_, E. A. VAN HORNE, Oswego _Master Mechanic_, G. H. HASELTON, Oswego _General Ticket Agent_, H. T. FRARY, Watertown _General Freight Agent_, E. M. MOORE, Oswego


Talcott H. Camp, Watertown S. D. Hungerford, Adams William M. White, Utica Theodore Irwin, Oswego William E. Dodge, New York Roswell G. Ralston, New York Charles Parsons, New York Clarence S. Day, New York Percy R. Pyne, New York John S. Barnes, New York John S. Farlow, Boston Gardner R. Colby, New York

The rumor-mongers were not without fact to support them, for a new name will be noticed upon this list; that of Charles Parsons, of New York, who had been carefully garnering in R. W. & O. stock, at from ten to fifteen cents on the dollar. Two names had disappeared, those of Marcellus Ma.s.sey and of J. W. Moak. But we focus our attention upon the name of Parsons, and then step forward in our narrative until the sixth day of June, 1883, when the Directors of the R. W. & O. held a meeting in the back room of the Jefferson County Bank in Watertown.

There was an unusually full attendance of the Board. Mr. Sloan, as was his prerogative through his office as President of the road, sat at the head of the long table. Near its foot sat Mr. Parsons, a cadaverous man, with prematurely white hair, given to much thought but little speech. The business of the meeting, the election of officers for the ensuing year, was perfunctory and quickly accomplished. The Secretary arose and announced that Mr. Parsons had been elected President of the R. W. & O.

Sloan flushed, and then prepared to spring a _coup d'etat_. He brought a packet of papers from out of an inside pocket.

"What do you propose to do with these?" he snarled.

"What are they?" asked Parsons.

"Notes of the road for $300,000 that I've advanced it, to keep it out of bankruptcy," was the reply.

"Let me see them," said its new President.... He glanced at the papers for a moment, then reached for his check-book and wrote his check to Sloan for a clean $300,000. He handed it across the table. The retiring President scrutinized it sharply, placed it within his wallet and left the room.

His connection with the road was terminated. At the best it was a sinister connection. There were few to regret his going.

With his hand firmly fixed upon its wheel, Parsons began the complete reorganization of his newly acquired property. He had his long-time a.s.sociate, Clarence S. Day, elected as its Vice-President, and within a very few weeks had brought to the operating headquarters in Oswego a fine upstanding man, the late H. M. Britton, as General Manager of the road, a newly created t.i.tle and office. Mr. Britton at once chose two operating lieutenants for himself; W. H. Chauncey, as a.s.sistant Superintendent of the Western Division (west of Richland) at Oswego, and the famous "Jud"

Remington, as a.s.sistant Superintendent of the Eastern Division, at Watertown.

Watertown had hoped that with the new management of the road--that railroad which it had been p.r.o.ne to call "its road"--would reestablish the operating headquarters of the property there, also new and enlarged shops.

In these hopes it was to be doomed to great disappointment. For not only was a Sloan policy to consolidate shop facilities at Oswego continued and enlarged--the shops both at Rome and at Watertown were reduced to facilities for emergency repairs only--but the corporate executive offices were removed from it to New York City, while the chief operating headquarters of the company remained at Oswego.

Yet Watertown might easily enough take hope. The service upon the road was improved--at once. In front of me I have a copy of the shortlived _Daily Republican_, which once was printed there. It is dated, July 24, 1885, and its rules are turned to black borders of mourning in tribute to General Grant, who died upon the preceding day. In the lower corner of one of its pages is an advertis.e.m.e.nt of the summer service upon the R. W. & O. It was a real service, indeed--five trains a day over the main line in each direction, and adequate schedules upon the branches. In that season of the year there was through sleeping-car service between Watertown and New York, upon the sleeping-cars that were operated in and out of Cape Vincent to serve the steadily, increasing, tourist trade upon the St. Lawrence.

The Parsons' management, however, like the Sloan, steadfastly refused to operate this sleeping-car service through the autumn, winter and spring months of the year. There was a through sleeping-car service, also, to the White Mountains, the car coming through from Niagara Falls, pa.s.sing Watertown at four o'clock in the morning and reaching Fabyan's, N. H., at twenty-eight minutes after four in the afternoon; Portland, Me., by direct connection, at 8:25 p. m. This advertis.e.m.e.nt is signed by W. F. Parsons, as General Pa.s.senger Agent, and by Mr. Britton, as General Manager of the line.

Britton was alert to suggestion and to complaint. To favored persons he was apt to make an occasional suggestion upon the company's stock.

"Buy it now," he urged. "Buy it--and hold it."

Most folk shook their heads negatively at that suggestion. Watertown had been burned once in a railroad experience. It now emulated the traditional wise child. "Buy the stock," whispered Britton to a Watertown manufacturer. It then was at twenty-five. The Watertownian demurred. A year later it was forty. "Buy it now," Britton still whispered to him. And still our cautious soul of the North Country hesitated. It touched fifty.

Britton still urged. Of course, the Watertown man would not buy it _then_.

He prided himself that he never bought anything at the top of the market.

Sixty, seventy, then R. W. & O. in the great market of Wall Street touched seventy-five.

"How about it now?" said Britton over the wire.

The Watertown man laughed. He had made a mistake--one of the few financial errors that he ever made--and he could afford to laugh at this one. Buy R.

W. & O. at seventy-five? Not he. Let the other man do it. Afterwards he did not laugh as hard. He lived long enough to see R. W. & O. reach par once again--and then cross it and keep upwards all the while. He saw it reach 105, then 110 and then on a certain memorable March day in 1891, 123.

But this antic.i.p.ates. We are riding too rapidly with our narrative. If old "Jud" Remington were traveling with us upon this special he would do, as sometimes was his wont, reach up and pull the bell-cord to slow the train.

He took no risks, did "Jud"--bless his fine, old heart.

We have antic.i.p.ated--and perhaps we have neglected. All these years, of which we have been writing, the R. W. & O. had a compet.i.tor--a very live compet.i.tor, we must have you understand. So live, that to gain a permanent position for itself, that compet.i.tor must needs be completely eliminated.

To that compet.i.tor--the Utica & Black River Railroad--we must now turn our attention.



The beginnings of the Utica & Black River Railroad go away back to 1852--the year of the real completion and opening of the Watertown & Rome.

The fact that not only could that line be built successfully, but that there would come to it immediately a fine flow of traffic was not without its effect upon the staunch old city of Utica, which had felt rather bitterly about the loss, to its smaller neighbor, Rome, of the prestige of being the gateway city to the North Country. From the beginning Utica had been that gateway. Long ago we read of the fine records that were made on the old post-road from Utica through Martinsburgh and Watertown to Sackett's Harbor. The Black River valley was the logical pathway to the Northern Tier. The people who dwelt there felt that G.o.d had made it so.

And now the infamy had come to pa.s.s that a new man-built highway had ignored it completely; had pa.s.sed far to the west of it.

Spurred by such feelings, stung by a new-found feeling of isolation, the people of Lewis County held a ma.s.s meeting on a December evening in 1852, at Lowville, to which their county-seat had already been moved from Martinsburgh, but two miles distant. They set the fire to a popular feeling that already demanded a railroad through the natural easy gradients of the valley of the Black River. The blaze of indignation spread. Within a fortnight similar meetings were held at Boonville and at Theresa. And within a few months the Black River Railroad Company was organized at the first of these towns with a capital of $1,200,000 and Herkimer, in the valley of the Mohawk, was designated as its probably southern terminal.

Once again Utica writhed in civic anguish. But in three days gave answer to this proposed, second blow to her prestige by the organization of the Black River & Utica Railroad, with a capital of $1,000,000--a tentative figure of course. As an evidence of her good faith she raised a cash fund for the employment of Daniel C. Jenney to survey a route for her own railroad, north and straight through to French Creek (about to become the present village of Clayton) one hundred miles distant.

To this move Rome replied. Having acquired a new and exclusive prestige, she was quite unwilling that it should be lost, or even dimmed. She called attention to the fact that she was, in her own eyes, of course, the logical gateway to the Black River country, as well as to the eastern sh.o.r.e of Lake Ontario, to which the Watertown & Rome already led. There was a natural pa.s.s that rested just behind her that led to Boonville and the upper waters of the Black River. Had not this natural route been recognized some years before by the builders of the Black River Ca.n.a.l, who readily had chosen it for the waterway, which to this day remains in operation through it?

Rome felt that her argument was quite irrefutable. To support it, however, she pledged herself to furnish terminal grounds for the new line at $250 an acre, in addition to subscribing $450,000 to the stock and bonds of the company. Money talks. Utica came back with an offer of terminal lands at $200 an acre and proffered a subscription of $650,000 to the securities of the Black River & Utica. A meeting was held. The mooted question of a southern terminal was put to vote. Rome and Utica tied with twenty-two votes each; Herkimer, despite her suggestion of the valley of Canada Creek as a natural pathway for the new line north to the watershed of the Black River, had but two votes. She promptly withdrew from the contest.

Money does talk. Eventually Utica had the terminal of the Black River road, even though the n.o.ble Romans, retiring to their camp in a blue funk for a time threatened a rival line straight north from their town to Boonville and beyond. They went so far as to incorporate this company; as the Ogdensburgh, Clayton & Rome. The promoters of the Black River & Utica having planned to locate their line in the low levels of the flats of the river, the Rome group said that they would build _their_ road upon the higher level, rather closely paralleling the ancient state highway and so making especial appeal to the towns along it, which felt miffed at the indifference of the Utica group to them.

In the long run, as we all know, the road was built along the low level of the Black River valley, and many of the once thriving towns along the State Road left stranded high and dry. The road from Rome became a memory.

From time to time the suggestion has been revived, however--in my boyhood days we had the fine cla.s.sical suggestion of the Rome & Carthage Railroad all ready for incorporation--but there is little prospect now that such a road will ever be built. The times are not propitious now for that sort of enterprise.

Ground was broken at Utica for the new Black River line on August 27, 1853. There was a deal of ceremony to the occasion; no less a personage than the distinguished Governor Horatio Seymour, being designated to make remarks appropriate to it. And, as was the custom in those days for such an event, there was a parade, music by the bands and other appropriate festivities. Construction, in the hands of Contractor J. S. T. Stranahan, of Brooklyn, went ahead with great briskness. Within two years the line had been builded over the hard rolling country of the upper Canada Creek--it included the crossing of a deep gully near Trenton Falls by a high trestle (subsequently replaced by a huge embankment)--to Boonville, thirty-five miles distant from Utica.

This much done, the Black River & Utica subsided and became apparently a semi-dormant enterprise--for a number of long years. The promises which its promoters had made to have the line completed to Clayton by the first of July, 1855, apparently were forgotten. These had been made at a ma.s.s meeting of the enthusiastic proponents of the Ogdensburgh, Clayton & Rome, held at Constableville on the evening of Monday, August 22, 1853. They were definite, and the Rome crowd under them badly worsted. But promises were as easily made in those days as in these. As easily accepted ... and as easily broken.

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The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 8 summary

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