Thursday, December 30, 2010

World's Oldest 'New Butcher'

                            Depot at Carthage, N.Y.

(From Railroad Magazine, September, 1950)

The World’s Oldest Newsbutcher
              by Watson B.  Berry
Up  in Carthage, N.Y., where a branch of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg from Watertown connects with the Carthage & Adirondack and the line that runs from Utica to Ogdensburg, known formerly as the Utica & Black River - all now and for many years a part of the New York Central system - lives the world’s oldest newsbutcher.
He is Theodore J. Valley, 89 years old and still going strong in that town where so many railroad men have lived ever since that part of the north country was opened up and made accessible from the outside world one hundred years ago, in 1851, to be exact,  Valley runs his own business, a tobacco shop and lunch parlor much frequented by railroad men. The enterprise was started on the savings of the young newsbutcher 71 years ago. Mr. Valley wrote to me last fall about one of my articles in Railroad Magazine. This letter and many others published in the Watertown Daily Times prompted me to make some inquiries about this lively and intelligent oldtimer.
When the Union News Company advertised for a newsboy to make the daily run from Watertown to Utica and return in the spring of 1875 a lot of Watertown boys applied for the job. Theodore Valley landed it. He was not quite fifteen years old at the time. Many boys who started their careers in the early days of railroading rose to be successful businessmen, the top one, of course, being Thomas A. Edison. Theodore Valley has been content to run a successful small business and at the same time develop into an intelligent and respected commentator on current events. He has contributed four hundred letters over the years to the popular Watertown Daily times feature, “Letters from the the People.” His offerings have dealt intelligently and acutely with every subject of popular interest.
Here is the old veteran’s story in his own words:
“I worked on 20 percent commission, and would average sales of $15 a day. So my earnings were three dollars a day, which was mighty good for a fifteen-year-old boy then, when that was as much as a first-class carpenter got. Part of my job was to carry a red tea kettle filled with icewater through the train and give drinks to the passengers. Some boys got tips for this service, but I refused tips and found it paid, because most 
passengers would buy candy, fruit, newspapers or books. I took the opportunity to get acquainted with them without getting too fresh.
“The top-selling newspaper on my runs was the Utica Observer, with the Watertown Times and the New York papers in second and third place. I worked first for two years on the Utica & Black river road, working all the trains and covering about 400 miles a day. One day I was called into the manager’s office and he (P.93) told me they were giving me a run on the RW&O, from Ogdensburg to Rome and return. That was Conductor Pangborn’s train. He was extremely nice to me and helpful in many ways. We had some pretty tough winters then, enormous snow  drifts and cars heated only with wood stoves making travel uncomfortable.
“In the winter of ‘79, just 71 years ago, we left Ogdensburg one Monday morning and were not able to return for a solid week. We started our return trip from Rome on time and soon were stuck in snow drift and finally only finished that short run from Rome to Richland the next day. We got stuck there too, and at Sandy Creek we were again snowbound for a day and a half. We literally fought our way to Adams and laid up at the depot three days. We had 70 passengers, including Holmon’s Opera Company, billed for a week’s engagement at Watertown.
“Snowplows were stuck all along the line and all cuts were filled right to the top. The railroad’s  snowplows couldn’t do much. The snow was too heavy and high winds from Lake Ontario filled up the cuts as fast as the shoveling made dents in them. We had hard work carrying wood from the railroad  wood shed to keep  the passengers warm and keep the engine from freezing. I sure did a land office business on that trip. I sold everything I had. I even dragged myself through the snow to the village stores and bought everything they had to eat. The passengers cleaned me out. There was a baby on the train and I managed to get milk for the tiny little fellow. Passengers could not  get farther from the train than the station. We finally got to Watertown and 24 hours later reached Ogdensburg, just a week late.
“That was worse than the blizzard of 1888, at least from a railroad standpoint. It’s when you strike a tough spot that character comes out. There are always some grouches, but our little group of 70 human beings was cheered by that opera troupe. Their singing and jokes made those uncomfortable days and nights endurable. There were no dining car on the RW&O or the U&BR 70 yeas ago. On the run from Utica to Ogdensburg all passenger trains stopped at Lowville for meals. A three-course meal was served at the station restaurant for 50 cents. the food was good and there was plenty of it.
“I had a pretty good deal on the side, for I gave to every passenger  card advertising the Woodruff House at Watertown and for this I got my room and meals there. That hotel was later for many years run by Charles Hungerford, father of Ed Hungerford, who wrote books on railroads and was as well posted on railroads as anyone I ever knew.
“The only train wreck I was ever in was enough for a lifetime. It happened on October 11, 1877. Between Lyons Falls and Glendale (now Glenfield) our train ran over a horse. The engine, baggage car and one coach of the five-car train left the track and plunged down a 116-foot embankment into a creek. The engine broke away from the tender and the tender getting stuck in the sand held up the baggage car and coach. of the seven persons hurt my case was the most serious. I was laid up four months before I could return to work.  I was reported killed nd my father came up on the special relief train. The doctors had me all bandaged up nd my dad was much relieved when he found me sitting on the top of my trunk smoking a big cigar.
“Well, I worked as a newsbutcher for four years till I was nineteen, which was almost the retiring age then. I had saved my money and was able to establish a business and be my own boss. there were a fine lot of men railroading 70-odd years ago. I made many friends among them and have always considered myself a railroader.”
Unlike many men who have reached a great age, Mr. Valley does not live in the past. It was an effort to get him to tell his story. He’s as alert today as when he earned three dollars a day as newsbutcher and saved enough to go into business for himself.