Syracuse and Utica Railroad
Rome Daily Sentinel March 19, 1889
Forty-Three Years Ago
"Sam" Purdy's First Run From Utica To Syracuse.
The Veteran Railroad Engineer Tells Some Of His Experience -
A Freight "Train" Of One Car - Two Days On The Road -
Light Engines And Heavy Tolls.
On March 19, 1846, Williston C. Purdy, familiarly know As "Sam" Purdy, the veteran locomotive engineer of this city, ran his first engine from Utica To Syracuse. The Syracuse & Utica Road began operation on July 4, 1839 and Mr. Purdy had been firing on an engine for eight months before he was Promoted to be an engineer. He was born in the village of Oriskany 72 years ago last December and lived there, within forty rods of his birthplace, till he was 22 years old. He learned the machinist's trade and then went to work for the railroad company.
He ran on the Syracuse & Utica Road, afterward the New York Central and then enter the employ of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad, and was in active service until January, 1884, since which time he has taken life easy. A Sentinel Reporter who called on Mr. Purdy at his present home at 215 West Dominick Street, found him the same hale and hearty man that he has always been. He said he felt just as well as he ever did in his life except that he was troubled more or less by rheumatism.
"Yes, it is 43 years ago today since I ran my first engine over the Syracuse & Utica Road," said Mr. Purdy. "It was a freight train and a very primitive one at that. The train consisted of one freight car. You see there wasn't much freight to carry by rail then. The canal was used for freight business. Why, when the road was started it was not allowed to carry any freight at all, as it was considered that the canal would be ruined if the railroad came into competition with it.
"After awhile the railroad was allowed to run freight trains by paying the canal tolls to the state and they had to pay these tolls winter and summer, too. The first year of freight business one car constituted a freight train, but after awhile the railroads won the day. Fare for passengers was five cents a mile and freights were just what the company chose to charge and they were heavy enough, I tell you. They had to charge heavily, for they had canal tolls to pay, you know.
"The first trip that I made from Utica to Syracuse took me two days, and only one car, too. And only one car, too. That was slow work, wasn't it? Well, the engine was small and light, and it was difficult to keep steam up. We sometimes had to stand still an hour to get up enough steam to draw the one car. The engine weighed 13 to 15 tons, and the tender held 300 to 500 gallons of water. In these days freight engines weigh engines weigh 50 to 55 tons, and tenders hold 2,000 gallons of Water. Only small packages were sent by freight in those days. It was a kind of an express business."
"Talking about the express business, I remember when the old man Wells, who afterward became the head of the great express firm of Wells, Fargo & Co., began business. He began in a very humble way, too. It was in1840 that Wells began business, and he ran from Syracuse to Albany and back. He carried all his packages in a hand satchel and rode in a regular coach. I recollect him as well as though it were yesterday. He used to occupy two seats and open his bag and sort out hi s packages as he went along. Of course, he carried nothing heavy; mostly packages and other valuables. These he used to hand to the agents at the stations and they would send them to the persons to whom they were addressed. Wells was on the road all the time, and there were several years that I don't think he spent a night in bed. He got what sleep he could on the cars and kept pegging away. He did all his own business, and had to keep pretty busy.
"But, to return to the freight business. I often think about the freight and passenger traffic in those days. Rates were high and service poor, as compared with the present day, and people seemed well satisfied. Freight cars were much smaller than now. They carried only six to eight tons and now they carry 25 tons."