like to know more about how they built the railroad here,” a reader writes. “I
remember hearing about people in my family who ‘worked on the section.’ They
were helping build or repair the railroad. It was the Pennsylvania Railroad, I
That does sound like an interesting era, and a fascinating part of our local history. Perhaps other readers out there have some information to share, about that.
My dad worked on the section at some point, before I was born. The railroad also figured in his education, after his graduation from grammar school at Wrights. He hopped a freight to get to Port Allegany, and walked from the tracks to the high school. I suppose he got back to Wrights the same way.
The train slowed at the Wrights crossing so sacks of outgoing mail could be dropped off and outgoing mail sacks could be grabbed, using a hook arrangement. There were stops to leave and collect freight, too, I believe.
I remember steam locomotives front and back, chugging northward and southward through the Portage Valley and leaving their earthbound contrails of dark smoke. I remember the sulfurous coal smoke scent. I remember their whistles, sometimes shrieking dramatically, sometimes hooting succinctly. Diesel locomotives never spoke that way.
Coal-fired locomotives were referred to as engines, as I recall, but the ones in back were called pushers. I remember the labored sound of long trains getting over Keating Summit. These sights, sounds and smells are part of my memories of the Wrights school.
Diesels were in use the year an army worm infestation destroyed forage and other crops at Valley View Dairy Farm. We took our cattle down to the Round Barn farm, also owned by our family. Until then we had used it for crop land, and hay and silage storage in the barn.
Hastily built fences created pasture on the hay fields, where after-growth could be grazed. Dad moved the vacuum pump and Surge milkers down and fitted out a milk house for temporary use.
The Round Barn stable had been designed for Will Sawyer’s Guernseys and Jerseys, not long-bodied Holsteins. The milking head adapted easily to their slots in the Round Barn’s arced stable, business ends far apart and heads stanchioned close together, easily fed their chop feed, ensilage and hay because of the proximity. But the back feet stood on the far side of the gutter! This made stable sanitation quite challenging.
We had not anticipated one aspect of the new range our cattle would occupy: their reaction to trains!
Mantz and Sawyer farms’ herds along Route 155 and the tracks were used to the trains. Across the Portage Kinney and Seyler and Stomberg cattle had grown up near the noisy railroad. But Valley View’s Holsteins had not seen trains, and had heard them only from a distance.
The first time our herd was in a field at the Round Barn place when a train came through, the cattle were terrified of the whistling, roaring, smoke belching dragon. They stampeded, running parallel to the track, as if trying to outrun the monster. The ran pell-mell through the fence, dragging part of it along.
Somehow the cattle were got into the barn and the fence was repaired. Even inside the barn, the cattle strained at the stanchions and trembled when trains went through. They were “off their feed” for a few days, and gave little milk.
Dad or I had to be with the cattle when trains went through, for maybe a week after the move. They clustered around, some with eyes rolling in fear, some with heads down as if in surrender, and we talked to them until train sounds had receded. When we were able to take the cattle back to Valley View, they seemed glad to be back home.
Later another owner used the Round Barn as a dairy barn. Probably the cattle became used to trains. And by then, there were far fewer trains.
Another reader wrote a few months ago that we need to “get back to having passenger trains” and that a lot of highway freight traffic could be diverted to rails. It seems those ideas are getting some traction in government circles.
To a couple of readers who had problems with the woodchuck column, sorry about the beverage getting spluttered all over your keyboard; and that loss of bladder control could happen to anyone.