Railroads & Trolleys

July 06, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Railroads & Trolleys

         This section of the country enjoyed tremendous natural resources in the way of lumber, coal, oil, clay and natural gas, but it was not until the 1860s that we had any way to export our wealth to outside markets.

        The era of the stage coach and conestoga wagon was fast nearing an end and there were cries of “give us railroads,” but no way had yet been devised to cross the Continental Eastern Divide, (directly east of DuBois) by rail.

        There was only one way of getting lumber out of the region and that was by small creeks during early spring floods, and that was a slow process.

      Vast wealth in the way of coal and clay were to remain in the ground, untouched for many years.

      The elevation of the Divide, just beyond Sabula to the East, lies at a level of 1,400 feet above sea level and for years it had been considered almost an insurmountable task to break through the mountain with a tunnel, a distance of over 1,900 feet.

      The nearest railroad to the north was known as the Philadelphia, and to the south was the main line of the P. R. R., with none of the branches extending over the Divide.

      From the Allegheny River eastward to the summit, and from the Bennetts Valley to Driftwood, was a distance of over 100 miles, and it was within this area that such a vast field of natural resources lay.

      It was in 1862 that Reuben Winslow, a pioneer of the Bennetts Valley decided to build a railroad of his own, after having seen the great advantage his competitors had gained through the rise of the Philadelphia & Erie R. R.

      He had invested in a vast acreage of coal and timber lands, but had been unable to get his products to the eastern markets.

      Having secured a special charter from the Pennsylvania Legislature giving him the right to operate mines and build a railroad from the Philadelphia and Erie R. R. into Elk, Clearfield and Jefferson counties, he went to work on the huge project.

      His railroad was laid out west of the summit of Sandy Lick Creek and Bennetts Branch.  He started operation by grading part of his line excavating the tunnel at Sabula.

      In 1869, by a special act of the State Legislature, the Allegheny Valley Railroad was authorized to issue bonds in the amounts of ten million dollars to construct a railroad through the same territory.

      Construction continued on both railroads, with one line (later the P. & S.-Buffalo and Susquehanna) crossing diagonally through the mountains above the other.

      In later years, the three largest railroad corporations in the east fought for exclusive possession of this pass.

      As related in his, “The City of DuBois,” the late W. C. Pentz continued with these interesting paragraphs:

      “When the first construction train made its way up over this road and the natives heard the whistle of the train, two experienced hunters gathered up their rifles and started into the woods to shoot what they supposed was a panther, but was no more than the whistle of the construction train laying trace on the new railroad.

      ”Mr. G. L. Reed related that when the construction train was operating between Falls Creek and DuBois, he and another boy were gathering blackberries some distance above the railroad.  They had their buckets well filled when they heard the whistle of the construction train and they were sure it was a panther.

      “The boys ran toward the railroad and on the way spilled most of their berries.  When they came to the construction crew and in their excited condition, related to the crew what they had heard, the men laughed at them and told them that it was the whistle of the train.

      “They then found the engineer had placed a block in his whistle which made the singular sound that the boys and hunters had taken for the scream of a panther.  Mr. Reed said they were glad to give the remainder of their blackberries to the train crew and return home with empty buckets.”

Category: Articles