Monday, April 11, 2011

The Old "Midland" Railroad



This photo, taken in 1872, shows the recently completed Auburn Branch of the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad through DeRuyter. The line was in operation only seven years. Courtesy DeRuyter Historical Society/Bruce Tracy.

By Richard Palmer
   Wandering over hill and dale for 28 1/2 miles between DeRuyter and Norwich, N.Y. is the old roadbed of the so-called "Auburn Branch" of the New York & Oswego Midland, which originally ran about another 60 miles to Scipio Center, south of Auburn. From DeRuyter west ultimately was sold to the Lehigh Valley.
   But the portion from DeRuyter east has always held a fascination for railroad historians because of its many trestles and steep grades. The following article about this line appeared in the Cortland Democrat on March 7, 1924


Many Wooden Trestles and Much Snow
Forced Midland to Quit 45 Years Ago
   Announcement was made in the Cortland Democrat on Dec. 20, 1878, that the New York and Oswego Midland railroad would abandon its line from Norwich to DeRuyter on Jan. 1, 1879, unless it was snowed in sooner. Mention is made in January of shipments made at DeRuyter by Otselic businessmen and farmers "since the Midland quit running", but some of the oldtimers connected with the road recall that the Midland continued in business until February, and that trains ran until the road was snowed in. The Midland was in financial difficulty and was reorganize as the New York, Ontario & Western.

   Driving from DeRuyter over Crumb Hill and through the town of Otselic, one would hardly think it ever was a railroad route. In summer it is not difficult to keep in view the embankments and cuts of the former railroad as one drives along the highway. In such weather as this section has had in the past two weeks, the prospector would encounter some of the difficulties that discouraged the managers of the old Midland in the winter of 1879, snow and much of it.

   Snow, however, was not the greatest perplexity of the railroad company. Between DeRuyter and Norwich there were 14 or 15 wooden trestles, long and high, that were costly to maintain. It was only by building such trestle that a railroad could be possible. Ira Goodsell of South Otselic told The Democrat of a picture of the trestle at Otselic Center, and the one from which the accompanying cut was made was found in the possession of Truman Duncan, who was willing to lend it. Mr. Duncan's house stands not far from the spot where the railroad bank ended and this trestle began. As a young fellow he cut stakes when the structure was put up, and remembers it's beginnings, its nearly 10 years of use, and then its abandonment, and how it was taken down and the timbers removed.

                         Trestle 700 Feet Long
   The trestle was 43 feet high and 700 feet long and the picture shows how it curved between the two sides of the valley crossing. Not far from Mr. Duncan's house, near the west end of the trestle, was the Otselic Center railroad depot, where M.E. Tallett, now of DeRuyter, began his career as station agent in 1873. The freight house was an immense structure and Mr. Tallett did a bug business for himself as a side line, amounting to $25,000 a year. In the old days the railroad agents usually were the coal and feed dealers of the small towns.

   Mr. Tallett can tell many interesting stories of his experiences as station agent at Otselic Center. The Auburn branch of the Midland ran from Norwich to DeRuyter and thence through Cortland and Freeville to Scipio in Cayuga county. There were two trains each way daily, and in summer there were many excursions from Norwich to Scipio. It was 29 miles by rail from DeRuyter to Norwich, and at Otselic he sold tickets to DeRuyter for 33 cents and to Norwich for 55 cents, at three cents a mile.

   Mr. Tallett had been teaching school when a young man and one day was approached by the supervisor of Otselic, Sprague Barber, with the suggestion that he take the job as station agent. He had no knowledge of telegraphy but the company sent him Silas Blanchard, of DeRuyter as operator, and from him he learned the art. Mr. and Mrs. Tallett were married in 1874 and in two weeks Mrs. Tallett had learned telegraphy and in four weeks was appointed operator.

              Fuel for Wood Burners
   One of Mr. Tallett's duties as agent was to procure the railroad¹s supply of fuel for its locomotives, which were the old wood-burners. Choppers worked throughout the week on Crumb Hill, cutting the wood. Saturday afternoon a string of flat cars would be hauled to the hill for loading on Sunday when no trains were running. Mr. Tallett superintendent this job and had the loaded cars run by gravity down the grade onto the switch at his station. He recalls how a carload of sand got away on the Crumb Hill summit one day and went down the grade into DeRuyter and as far as Cuyler before it stopped. Dick Lewis made the wild ride in the car.

   W.C. Hartigan was operator at Norwich while Mr. Tallett was at Otselic. Mr. Hartigan continued with the Midland on its main line after the Auburn branch was abandoned. He was superintendent of the Northern division thirty years, until he retired Nov. 1, 1923, after 55 years of railroading with one company. In December a party of thirty O.&W. employees went to Mr. Hartigan's home in Norwich and presented him a purse of $750 in gold.

   When the Midland gave up the struggle with the deep snow and high trestles in 1879, Mr. Tallett went to DeRuyter and got himself a job as operator and later agent with the Utica, Ithaca & Elmira, running from Canastota to Elmira. The road from Cazenovia to DeRuyter had been built quite recently making the connecting link that completed what is now the E.&C. branch of the Lehigh Valley.

   Mr. Tallett, speaking of the daily milk trains on today's railroads, told how dairy products used to be shipped, the butter and cheese of the farms and factories. When he began his work at the DeRuyter station, Mondays and Thursdays were the butter and cheese days, and there was from one to five carloads each shipping day.

   The Auburn branch of the Midland was one of the few roads built among the many that were projected and for which towns were bonded. In the early seventies the trestles were built of 12 by 12 hemlock, cut from the hills nearby and only the pine had to be shipped in. Today, concrete and iron would be used, but the cost would be so great that not even the men who had the nerve to bond towns and run railroads on wooden trestles would dare venture to raise the money.

                Cortland Railroad Men
   There are men around Cortland today who had a hand in opening that part of the railroad that runs between Cortland and DeRuyter. Dr. C. H. Webster was located at East Homer when the road was built and the contractors had their horses shod and their wagons repaired in his shop. Henry Bliss was an employee of the contractors of the railroad, and R.D. Buckingham, now running the Buckingham Hotel north of Homer, is another who worked on the road while it was being built and for it after it got started.

   The stations on the abandoned road between DeRuyter and Norwich were Crumb Hill, Otselic, Beaver Meadow, Lower Beaver Meadow, Plymouth and Frinkville. The first and last named were flag stations; the others regular railroad towns. Stage lines were started again when the railroad quit and in the Democrat files of the weeks following are announcements that William Graham was operating a stage every other day between DeRuyter and Norwich. J. Crandall's stage made trips from Norwich to Beaver Meadow, and Simeon Crumb carried passengers, mail and freight from Beaver Meadow to South Otselic.