The Mt. Carbon Railroad.





RLHS Bulletin  Vol 107, Pages 34 - 39



      A standard gauge line from its initial coal delivery on April 19th, 1831, two years after its incorporation, the Mt. Carbon R. R. extended Y-shaped two miles up each branch of Norwegian Creek to Mine Hill, all through coal deposits. The three miles from the nine landing docks of the Schuylkill Canal to the branching of the creek were double tracked. Engineer Wm. R. Hopkins began construction during October, 1892, under the presidency of John R. White, a mine owner and operator since 1821, located on the railroad.


      In 1832 the line was equipped with three 6" x 4" oak tracks on the canal docks, while the traffic bearing line coming down Norwegian Creek had 6" x 10" white oak and pine rails, 16 feet long, capped with 2" x a" iron. Ties, on 8-foot centers, rested on two-inch oak blocks set at right angles to the rail. The light up-track had 6" x 8" rails. The three-mile average haul delivered, in 1832, 57,234 tons of anthracite to the Schuylkill Navigation Canal at Mt. Carbon. Rolling stock consisted of 150 cars of 1w ton capacity, costing $50 each. In 1834, tolls of $19,455 on a road costing $98,121, and with average yearly repairs in 1832-34 being only $1150, were incentive for further construction in the area.


      This railroad was the entrance for the D. & P. from the Mahanoy Valley, and the P. & R. to Pottsville depot. About 1848, T-rail replaced wood and strap rail, but mule power, other than on the section used by the P. & R., prevailed until 1862. A switchback at Mt. Laffee linked Beechwood Colliery, in 1868-69, with the line on the west branch of Norwegan Creek. The P. & R. leased the Mt. Carbon on May 16th, 1862, and merged the line into the parent organization on June 13th, 1872, in which year trackage was the same as in the 1830's (except for 50-lb. rail), seven miles, with four double/racked. Coal traffic through stripping operation caused the east branch to be rebuilt after World War II. The D. & P. tunnel and its Plane 1 above Wadesville disappeared in this stripping.




      In 1956 it is difficult to understand why the pioneer attempt to link Sunbury, at the junction of the Susquehanna branches, with the Schuylkill Canal by rail, began at Mt. Carbon. This route, passing through the Second Coal Region, required a tunnel in order to reach the Mill Creek Valley and today's Frackville, and was later paralled by the M. & B. M. and Pennsylvania Railroads.


      There were many reasons for routing via Mt. Carbon and Pottsville. Most important was the $30,000 loan to the Mt. Carbon road by Stephen Girard, main stockholder in the Danville & Pottsville. Another was Girard's ownership of landing acreage at Mt. Carbon, on the canal.


To pass through Pottsville, where considerable stock was held, required use of the Norwegan Valley, as by the P. R. R. in 1886. Other reasons were the substantial standard gauge construction of the Mt. Carbon road and the extremely light construction and 40-inch gauge of the Mill Creek line.


The Philadelphia struggle to capture the descending trade and furnish the return goods to the Susquehanna traffic dates almost to the founding of Pennsylvania. In the mid-1760's, the Schuylkill, as a route to the West, was labeled "God's gift to Pennsylvania." Between 1762 and 1828 this vast Susquehanna traffic initiated 63 surveys between that river and the Delaware, thirty of which were within that state. By 1827, the Union Canal was open from Reading, on the Schuylkill Canal, to Middletown, on the Susquehanna, and the Philadelphia & Columbia, opened in 1834.


Philadelphia and Reading papers of 1825 reported on the railroad meetings held in Pottsville, calling for a direct connection to the Susquehanna from the end of the completed 108-mile Schuylkill Canal. Pottsville had captured the Reading wholesale business immediately upon opening of the canal and, as a trans-shipping point from railroad to canal, hoped to grow more prosperous with the increased Susquehanna trade this railroad would bring.


A violent debate developed over the two possible routes and terminals on the Susquehanna, i.e., Sunbury-Danville and Catawissa. Engineer Moncure Robinson had surveyed the Catawissa Creek route for the Pennsylvania Canal Commission, and had also run the D. & P. line for Girard. He noted the feasibility of the Catawissa route for locomotive operation except at its summit, and the directness of this line to both Philadelphia and New York. His first exploring trip over the Sunbury-Central route called for twelve inclined planes. Competitive figures in 1827 showed the Centre Turnpike drew 608 wagons from Sunbury, 649 from Catawissa, and only 181 from Danville. Newspapers reported meeting after meeting and carried letters demonstrating the advantages of the respective routes. Hazard's Register reproduced most of these arguments.


Sunbury, with the advantage of Susquehanna traffic from both the North and West Branches, charged that the 64-mile Catawissa route, with a 600-foot summit, could not draw one-fifth of the traffic the D. & P. route would. The Sunbury line, with a 900-foot summit via Mill Creek, and 950-foot via Rattling Run (later used by the M. H. & S. H.) would draw the bituminous coal of the West Branch (trans-shipping into railroad cars at ten cents a ton) and the anthracite from both the Mahanoy and Shamokin coal fields. In addition, horse power was the better medium for a railroad carrying the irregular Susquehanna traffic to Philadelphia—the D. & P., with its inclined planes, had been labeled a horse-power road by Catawissa proponents


A traffic count made by Christian Brobst, in 1833, "proved" that the North Branch trade alone would support the Catawissa route; the West Branch would provide an income for the D. & P., while the state-owned Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, on the Juniata, would keep both the Union Canal and the Philadelphia & Columbia R. R. busy. Soon a railroad via the Little Schuylkill River and Catawissa Creek completely eliminated Pottsville from the through link to the Susquehanna; the Little Schuylkill & Susquehanna R. R. was chartered for this route, on March 21, 1831.


Statistics presented at Philadelphia meetings "demonstrated," as Brobst had, that the income from Susquehanna traffic was sufficient to pay ten percent on the cost of both roads. The D. & P. partially won its argument, but, more important, because it passed through the Mahanoy Valley where Girard owned coal lands, it won Girard investment and almost immediate construction.


By December, 1842, the D. & P. decided to construct sections of its line from both Pottsville and Sunbury. Estimate of the cost of the eight-mile line from Mt. Carbon Jct. to Mahanoy Creek, at its junction with the Shenandoah Creek was $189,495. The 27-mile Shamokin-to-Sunbury line would cost $271,991. Coal traffic to both the Schuylkill and the Susquehanna would help pay for the "unproductive," unbuilt eight miles. A Robinson re-survey eliminated the Rattling Run route with its 950-foot summit, and which did not pass through Pottsville. It reduced the number of planes between Sunbury and Pottsville from twelve to nine. Of the nine planes seven might be operated by water power. Number seven plane, with a rise of 181 feet, and number eight and nine descending, would later link the two portions. On the Danville extension, west of Reid's station, estimates called for a stream diversion through a 2444-foot tunnel to power a plane just outside of the tunnel.


Girard subscribed to D. & P. stock to benefit the lands he had purchased, the coal basis for his Girard College income. Two 100,000-foot sawmills, five mines with 17- and 18-foot veins, all within a mile of the proposed line, were sources of supplies and potential traffic. Later, Philadelphia, the Girard heir, leased coal lands to the railroad, allowed by charter to engage in coal trade, for five years at one dollar per year, with provision for a renewal for five additional years. The 800-foot tunnel cuttings above Wadesville and Plane 1 met on December 17th, 1833, at a cost of $22,000.


On September 24th, 1834, the Pottsville Miners Journal reported the excursion to witness opening of the D. & P. Cars passed over the 345-foot-high Mahanoy Plane in only six minutes, while each of the four self-acting planes required from w to 12 minutes for passage. These self-acting planes were to be water-powered when the westward trade to the Susquehanna began. Planes 1 to 4 were between Pottsville and today's Frackville. The Mahanoy Plane was at right angles to the 1862-1952 Plane of the M. & B. M., which the P. & R. used until 1932. Plane 6 was at the junction of Shenandoah and Mahanoy Creeks. Grading westward from this plane continued to Big Mine Run at the eastern edge of Ashland.


Mahanoy Plane had been equipped with waterpower operation but demonstration proved a stationery engine was necessary. Both Robinson and his wife rode over these planes to demonstrate their faith in the machinery and construction. Water had lifted coal over the planes in 90 seconds. A section of log pipe which conveyed water for plane operation is displayed at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County, in Pottsville.


Estimates had priced a 40-chain, inclined plane at $10,600; a steam engine cost $7,000 extra. These planes' dimensions were:—


                Plane         Height       Length       Angle

                No.           (Feet)       (Feet)       (Degrees)

                1.            105          667          9

                2             202          807          14

                3             150          550          16

                4             147          861          9w

                5             345          1625         12

                6.            106          884          10w


The D. & P. planes were steeper than those of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.


In calling for an all-rail line to Pottsville, Philadelphia advocates, in November, 1834, told that the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown was completed, the P. & R. all contracted, the Reading-Port Clinton line surveyed, and the D. & P. authorized to build between Port Clinton and Pottsville. In this period, Moncure Robinson surveyed the D. & P., built its east section, built the Little Schuylkill from Tamaqua to Port Clinton, surveyed the D. & P. extension to Port Clinton from Pottsville and the Port Clinton-Reading extension of the Little Schuylkill. In addition he had surveyed the P. & R. line from Reading to Philadelphia. While he was building the eastern section of the D. & P., engineer F. Rawle had initiated construction, during 1834, between Sunbury and Shamokin, and had completed grading by the summer of 1835. A coal loading basin was built at Sunbury. In 1835, the Tidewater and Susquehanna Canal was chartered, allowing canal boats to deliver coal to Baltimore, and boosting D. & P. stock from $40 to $53 per share.


At the formal opening of the western section to Paxinos, in November, 1835, four mail-coach horses pulled the Pottsville-built passenger cars, "Shamokin" and "Mahanoy," each capable to carrying thirty passengers. Eastwick and Harrison's "North Star" finally rolled coal from Shamokin over the line on August 15th, 1838, delivering 40 cars with 100 tons of coal to Sunbury, and returning the empties to Shamokin the same day. Of the one hundred thirty D. & P. 22-ton coal ears owned in 1838, one hundred ten had been moved from the Pottsville line for use at Shamokin. Complete with two stationary engines and locomotives, the total cost of both segments had been over $695,000. The roadway, graded double line width of 22 feet, had a track on the north side only. Cross ties were on a five-foot center.


According to Northumberland County Historical Publications, locomotives "Mountaineer" and "Pioneer," 4-2-0's, complete with whistles and sanders, arrived at Sunbury from Philadelphia, via canal, and hauled coal during 1838-39, but proved too heavy for the wooden track. After their retirement, three or four horses, hitched in tandem, handled six to seven coal cars.


When its locomotives and rolling stock were sold by the sheriff in 1842, William and Reuben Fagely leased the line for ten years, using one hundred horses, with four or five pulling a ten-car train and making a round trip in two days. For years after the east end of the D. & P. was abandoned, maps of Pennsylvania showed it as a completed road. The first railroad link from the Schuylkill to Sunbury actually was completed by the M. H. & S. H., in 1860, in conjunction with the west segment of the D. & P.


Inability to pay the bond issue on which the State had guaranteed interest forced sale of the road on March 16th, 1847. The bondholders took over in January, 1851, in which year the Legislature granted the road the right to substitute the Mill Creek & Mine Hill R. R. as an entry to the Schuylkill region, in place of the Mt. Carbon line. This was probably the reason why the D. & P. refused to sell its old Mahanoy Plane to the M. & B. M. in 1862. As early as 1844, Rupp's History of Schuylkill County reported the road's east segment " rotting in the sun.


Reorganized in April, 1851, as the Philadelphia & Sunbury, the new company laid T-rail during 1852, and re-opened in 1853. Awaiting the formal re-opening on August 25th, were six locomotives, viz., "David Longenecker," "A. R. Frohe," "Thomas Baumgardner," "Green Ridge," "Carbon Run," and "Lancaster."


In 1855, the P. & S. extended its line to Mt. Carmel. Up to this time all traffic came to Sunbury in the morning and returned in the afternoon. After foreclosure and reorganization in 1858, the line emerged as the Shamokin Valley & Pottsville, by act of March 25, 1858. In 1859, the business of the 28-mile line was handled by four locomotives, a single passenger coach, five freight cars, 402 coal cars and 46 other cars. The Mine Hill road joined rail with the S. V. & P., during 1860, fulfilling the dreams of 1826. During 1861, a single-coach, passenger train ran each direction, with the upgrade trip to Mt. Carmel requiring four hours and fifteen minutes. The return trip consumed an hour less. Increased coal traffic in this year required use of 56-lb. rail. Rolling stock increased to seven locomotives and 438 coal cars. Nineteen cars accommodated all other traffic.


The road operated independently and then under Philadelphia & Erie R. R. control until February 27th, 1863, when its coal traffic led the Northern Central to negotiate a 999-year lease, guaranteeing 7%o on its bonds, 6%o on stock, and its taxes.


The P. R. R. Shareholders Report of 1874 stated that the 7808-acre Shamokin area coal holdings, controlled through the S. V. & P. R. R., and operated by the Mineral Railroad & Mining Company, had cost $1,092,549. The value in 1873 of these lands was $1,300,000, producing in that year 247,376 tons, which paid $115,725 in freight.


The later traffic developed over this line will be discussed under the L. & M. branch of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.




The sheriff's sale record of the D & P at Sunbury would disclose who purchased the "North Star" and "Mountaineer." These two locomotives could have been purchased by one George Wolf of Columbia, Pennsylvania. This owner rented them for 80 days, in 1849, to the Philadelphia & Columbia R. R. (See Columbia & Philadelphia Road Land Damage Claims, 16-19, W2-dl2, Canal Records, Harrisburg, Pa.) Mr. Wolf may have sold the "Mountaineer" to the Lehigh Valley R. R.



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