Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven Railroad
BY EARL J. HEYDINGER
RLHS Bulletin Vol 107, Pages 28 - 32
Most active of the operators mining and shipping coal for the opening, on December 3rd, 1824, of the Schuylkill Canal was the New York and Schuylkill Coal Co., with extensive land holdings on the West Branch Schuylkill River. While the act incorporating the M. H. & S. H. Railroad was in the Legislature, the Pottsville Miners Journal, on April 7th, 1827, reported that this company was running levels for a railroad along the West Branch and, on November 3rd, 1827, that the coal company planned to let contracts for railroad construction within six to eight weeks. The preliminary work by that company may account for the speed with which the Schuylkill Haven road developed after its incorporation on March 24th, 1828.
The railroad organized on May 21st, 1828, with Burd Patterson among its managers, and Samuel H. Kneass, who visited England with Strickland, as Engineer. By April, 1831, the heavy down track carried coal ten miles, from above Mine Hill Gap to Schuylkill Haven on the canal. The light return track was progressing. During the remainder of 1831, the line carried 17,559 tons of anthracite to the canal. Predictions then made of 100,000 tons annually received ridicule. The road carried over 1,500,000 tons in 1859.
In 1832, George Smith reported the track as being 4" x 7" rails with 12" x 2" strap iron, on 10" x 8" sleepers, notched for rail and placed on four-foot centers. R. A. Wilder, engineer of the railroad company said that the track was of 3" x 7" oak, with 15-foot strap rail 12" x a", consisting of 15 miles of main and 5 miles of branches.
On October 10th, 1832, the N. Y. and S. Coal Company, a New York corporation legislated out of existence by Pennsylvania, sold at auction 45 tracts (17,500 acres) of coal land purchased in 1823, 13 landings at Schuylkill Haven, and 400 shares, worth $20,000 par, in the M. H. & S. H. Railroad. Traffic for the second year, 65,420 tons, paid a seven percent dividend and enabled the managers to convert loans into stock. Lateral construction to near Deep Run and Mine Hill soon covered 60 to 70 square miles of productive coal lands. Strap rail came out and double-weight bar, allowing 22 ton loads, went down. Later, a pear-shaped rail, similar to that used on the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was laid. The company graded the 22-mile Muddy Run Branch in 1836, laid rail on it in 1837, and purchased the Wolf Creek branch from mine owners during 1838. On March 29th, 1836, the Legislature authorized a $400,000-capitalization and the use of locomotives. Despite this permission, animal power drew all coal until 1847.
When the Reading crossed the M. H. & S. H. at Mine Hill Crossing, in 1842, Gideon Best, on March 3rd, sent 18 cars of coal from his Wolf Creek mine for transfer to Philadelphia. On May 17, 1842, when the P. & R. Port Richmond docks opened, Best furnished 150 tons of coal in 50 cars for the train which left Schuylkill Haven at 4:00 A. M. This coal was enroute to a coastal port that same evening. however, financial stringencies of the early 1840's prevented reconstruction of the Mine Hill road as soon as desired.
T-rail, 60 pounds to the yard, made by Reeves, Buck and Co., at Phoenixville, enabled the Swatra extension to Trenton, built in 1845-47, to handle heavy traffic. On March 9th, 1847, legislative permission renewed the right to employ locomotives. Reconstruction followed. R. A. Wilder, resident engineer at the time of reconstruction, told that the old grade, following the sinuous West Branch Valley as near grade as possible, was a succession of small radii, simple and compound curves, with few connecting tangents. Frequent bridges were untrussed stringers only four or five feet above the water. Track and bridge reconstruction to accommodate the wider and heavier cars finally required suspension of all operation for a week, during July, 1847. Fearful teamsters, hauling all coal for sixteen years, demanded higher pay contracts through the remainder of the year, threatening to remove all horses on August 14th. These demands were met by placing locomotives in operation before scheduled. The three Baldwins and three Norris 15- to 18-ton engines on order had not been received by the deadline, but engines loaned by the P. & R. enabled the Mine Hill to handle its traffic. Subsequently, the company bought heavier locomotives for use on the Tremont Branch. Use of locomotives naturally decreased the number of "trains," and caused the town of Cressona to be laid out with engine houses, shops, and stores for railroad material. This town, just above Schuylkill Haven, remained an important railroad point until 1929.
The first passenger traffic originated in 1848, when two trains ran each way between Schuylkill Haven and Minersville, and one train daily to and from Tremont. Stage connections extended and fed each route.
Prior to and during 1848, coal land owners in the Mahanoy Valley proposed that the Mine Hill R. R. cross Broad Mountain to tap the Second Coal Region of Pennsylvania. At the same time local interests also requested that extensions be built into Dauphin County. The Forest Improvement Co., coal land owners, applied for legislative sanction authorizing the extension to the Mahanoy Valley. Legislature granted the request in March, 1848. Solomon W. Roberts, with R. A. Wilder as assistant, laid out the new extension. Because costs were too high for the capitalization allowed, the Company refused the enabling legislation. Wilder opened the Swatara Branch in 1850, and the Muddy Creek Branch in 1853.
The Legislature, in 1852, allowed a half-million dollar increase in capitalization for the extension to the junction of Big Mine Run, with Mahanoy Creek (at the eastern edge of today's Ashland) and five-mile laterals. In April, engineer Edward F. Gay began a survey, but, in his desire to reduce the distance to the summit of the Roberts-Wilder survey, he increased grades for empty car movement to 93 feet per mile. This decrease in distance not only raised the grade, but placed his line on top of coal outcrops in the region of Glen Carbon with disastrous results, costly traffic interruptions, repairs, litigation, line re-location and, finally, abandonment of the Gordon Planes. The 1852 P. & R. Annual Report noted that two lateral railroads would tap the Second Coal Region during 1853. The Mine Hill R. R. would join with the Philadelphia & Sunbury, the old D. & P. Road, to carry the Danville iron trade. The second line was to have been the 1853-chartered East Mahanoy Tunnel line of the Little Schuylkill R. R., not opened until a decade later.
Passage of a train of coal cars and one passenger car over the two unfinished Gordon Planes, a 717-foot climb to the terminus at Big Mine Run, on September 16th, 1854, enabled the M. H. & S. H. to meet the charter deadline. Because the machinery at the Planes was incomplete, iron shoes on the tender plus the regular brake shoes made the descent possible. Returning to Schuylkill Haven, mules pulled single cars up the planes. The first coal over the planes, also drawn by mule power, came from the mines of Connor and Patterson. Gay resigned after this "opening." Wilder completed the Gordon Planes in 1855, using his own patented, inner-rail barney, which was used on the Mahanoy Plane and on the pre-1840 Ashley Planes of the Lehigh & Susquehanna R. R. owned by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. Gordon Planes, during the 1880's, lifted from 1500 to 2000 cars of coal daily. Here Wilder installed an electric-bell signaling system in 1856.
Used from this opening in 1854 until August 18th, 1896, these planes merit a short description. Plane 1, 5048 feet long and 313 feet high, required a cable 5105 feet long. Plane 2, 5124 feet long, was 404 feet high and had a 5225-foot cable. These cables were 24" in diameter and were made at different periods by the Roebling, the Hazard, and the Williamsport Wire Companies, of iron wire, until 1892, when the use of steel began. Usual cable service was one to two years. The maximum lift of any one cable was 72 million tons. One Roebling steel cable worked from April 25th, 1893, to October 20th, 1895, on Plane 1. Today, on the Rattling Run Road from Gordon to Minersville, both plane sites and their immense ash piles are visible. On the plane nearer Gordon the trestle work, covered in 1859, is again exposed, the fine coal fill having gone to market. The Mine Hill R. R., with its pair of planes, was not the first to tap the Second Coal Region. The Danville & Pottsville hauled coal over its five planes from the Girardville area to Schuylkill Canal, via the Mt. Carbon R. R., during 1833-36.
The Big Run Branch, extended northwestward from Gordon to Locustdale, west of Ashland, added to the coal traffic in 1856. Four years later the Locust Mountain Coal Company requested that the Big Run Branch be extended to their coal basin north of Locust Mountain, a rise of 300 feet in less than a mile. Rather than build a switchback, the M. H. & S. H. erected a self-acting plane, which eventually tapped the Centralia area and was in service after 1883. Also, in 1860, the company completed a connection to Sunbury, by extending their Big Run Branch from Locustdale to the Shamokin Valley & Pottsville Road, by a connection with the Locust Gap R. R. of the Locust Gap Improvement Company. Opening of this rail link to Sunbury was cause for a celebration on October 18th, 1860. A six-coach train, with over 500 passengers, pulled by a single, 30-ton locomotive, crossed Broad Mountain at 25 miles per hour, over grades up to 93 feet per mile. The train passed down the planes, two cars at a time, without delay or accident. A banquet at the Central Hotel, in Sunbury, climaxed the excursion. There was passenger service over the Gordon Planes, which continued until November, 1865, when the Reading inaugurated service from Ashland over the Mahanoy & Broad Mountain, the East Mahanoy, the Little Schuylkill and the P. & R. Railroads to Philadelphia. During 1862, the company merged with the Mt. Eagle R. R., incorporated in 1856 and extending westward from Tremont.
During 1859, the main line carried over 392,000 tons of coal from the First Coal Region, while the Planes lifted over 442,000 tons from the Second. This year, the company had 29 locomotives, two passenger and twenty-six freight cars. Passenger and freight business was under contract to the Union Transportation Co. The P. & R. and the Canal Company furnished the 3000 coal cars used on the line, whose dividends to date have averaged 11 percent.
The 1861 extension of the Mahanoy & Broad Mountain into and across territory served exclusively for seven years by the M. H. & S. H. brought conflict and litigation for over a year and proved to the satisfaction of the "injured" road that the P. & R. was financially backing the new line. The aim, in M. El. & S. H. though, was to force P. & R. control of its line and, by this control, to cripple the Canal Company.
Acquisition of lateral road traffic by the Reading became more secure during 1861 by the lease of the Mill Creek R. R. and of the S. V. N. & R. R. Co. However, the lease of the unfinished M. & B. M. and reduction of coal tolls on these leased laterals to below the rates of the M. H. & S. H. (all lines' rates had been even or above the Mine Hill road's) left the "injured" road with three possible actions, viz., 1. Connect with the Lehigh Valley via the S. H. & L. R. Railroad; 2 Shift traffic to the Canal Company; or 3. Lease itself to the Reading. The least costly course became the choice; the company signed a ten-year lease with the Canal Company, on January 1st, 1862.
Naturally, bad feelings over the canal lease and the toll rate reduction grew during 1862. Litigation failed to settle the trouble. By August, the Mine Hill decided to fight the P. & R. by sending its coal tonnage to New York by a direct connection via Lizard Creek to the Lehigh Valley. Alexander W. Rae had surveyed the route of the S. H. & L. R. in October, 1856, following its chartering on April 19th. On March 22nd, 1859, the Legislature had extended its completion date. By December 16th, 1862, the Mine Hill had completed the new outlet's location and had awarded building contracts. According to the Pilot the alarmed Canal Company, almost entirely dependent on the Mine Hill for its tonnage but unable to finance a long-term lease, used its influence with the Mine-Hill—there were interlocking directorates— to arrange a lease with the P. & R., insuring the Canal of its share of trafflc.
Work on the Lehigh extension ended on May 1st, 1864. The Canal Company's ten-year lease of 1862 was ended on May 12th, and, on the same day, the Reading leased the $4,000,000 M. H. & S. H. Railroad for 999 years, at eight percent. The actual turnover occurred four days later.
The Pennsylvania State Report for 1870 stated that the main line of the Mine Hill R. R. extended 37.47 miles from Schuylkill Haven to Locust Gap. There were 21.8 miles of double track, and 74.63 miles of siding for a total of 133.9 miles of 60- and 62-lb. track. Capitalization was $3,856,450, all in stock.
The route of the Mine Hill from Locustdale and Mine Run to Gordon favored traffic to the Planes. From the head of Plane 2, the grade to Schuylkill Haven also favored the traffic. With abandonment of the Gordon Planes in 1896, pusher service became necessary for eastbound coal; it had formerly been required for the westbound only. In 1854,, passenger service from Shamokin in traveling from Locustdale to Ashland uses the old Mine Hill route, the only portion of this pioneer line with passenger service.
With the leasing of the Mine Hill, the P. & eight locomotives for which was paid $192,018.00.
Locomotives of the Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven Railroad
No. No. Builder C/N Date Type Cyls. DD Disposition
1 103 Baldwin 311 1847 0-6-0 132x18 42 Sc 1883
2 - Baldwin 312 1847 0-6~0 132x18 42
3 104 Baldwin 313 1847 0-6-0 132x18 42 Sc 1878
4 105 Norris 1847 0-6-0 122x22 Sc 1879
5 106 Norris 1847 0-6-0 122x22 Sc 1885
6 107 Norris 1847 4-4-0 122x22 Sc 1890
7 108 Baldwin 322 1847 0-8-0 42 Sc 1873
8 109 Baldwin 329 1848 0-6-0 142x18 42 Sc 1872
9 - Norris 1848 122x22
10 - Baldwin 366 1849 0-8-0 17x22 43 Sc 1850
10 - Baldwin 473 1852 0-6-0 16x20 42
11 - Baldwin 476 1852 0-6-0 16x20 42
12 - Baldwin 489 1852 0-6-0 16x20 42
13 110 Baldwin 532 1853 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc !881
14 111 Baldwin 534 1853 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1883
15 112 Baldwin 536 I853 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1881
16 113 Baldwin 596 1854 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1879
17 114 Baldwin 599 1854 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1881
18 115 Baldwin 601 1854 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1881
19 116 Baldwin 645 1855 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 18X2
20 117 Baldwin 649 1855 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1882
21 118 Baldwin 654 1855 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1879
22 119 Baldwin 666 1855 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1879
23 120 Baldwin 693 1856 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc !880
24 121 Baldwin 643 1855 0-8-0 16x20 42 Sc 1883
25 122 Baldwin 698 1856 0-8-0 19x22 42 Sc 1878
26 123 Baldwin 709 1856 0-8-0 19x22 42 Sc 1875
27 124 Baldwin 759 1857 0-8-0 19x22 42 Sc 1874
28 125 Baldwin 811 1858 0-8-0 19x22 43 Sc 1881
29 126 Baldwin 963 1860 0-8-0 19x22 43 Sc 1881
30 127 Baldwin 972 1860 0-8-0 19x22 43 Sc 1881
31 128 Baldwin 1176 1863 0-8-0 20x22 43 Sc 1872
32 129 Baldwin 1178 1863 0-8-0 20x22 43
Gem 893 B'waite 1841 0-4-0 102x16 42 1850
10. (#366) Sold to P. & R., October, 1850. Named "Baltic."
24. Built for the Philadelphia & Sunbury R. R. Bought in 1856.
31-32. Built for the Schuylkill Haven & Lehigh River R. R. Sold to the H. & B.T. M. R. R. in 1872.
Gem. Rebuilt to a 2-44) type inspection engine in 1868. It was numbered 893, in 1884, and was scrapped in Sept. 1886. Bought from P. & R., in 1850. Engines leased or borrowed from the P. & R. are not shown. Although these engines were acquired by the P. & R. in 1864, they continued to carry their original numbers until given P. & R. numbers in 1871, at which time the Reading changed from the use of names to numbers