The Mahanoy & Shamokin and The Shamokin, Sunbury & Lewisburg Railroads
BY EARL J. HEYDINGER
RLHS Bulletin Vol 109, Pages 29 - 32
The Mahanoy & Broad Mountain R. R. was chartered on March 29th, 1859, to build from the M. C. & M. H. road into the Mine Run, Shenandoah, Mahanoy, and New Boston coal basins. Theodore Irish made the preliminary surveys. George B. Roberts, later president of the P. R. R., became chief engineer in September, 1860. Burd Patterson is credited with extension of the M. & B. M., as well as the M. H. & S. H. and the East Mahanoy Roads into the Second Coal Field. James Connor projected the M. & B. M. to link the Mine Hill and the Little Schuylkill's East Mahanoy Railroads within the Mahanoy Valley. It was organized on April 6th, 1860, with John P. Brock as President, and Richard S. Brock as Secretary; both men being coal land owners in the Ashland area.
Work began in 1861 with Collins and Morehead contracting to build the line from above St. Clair to near Locustdale, west of Ashland, crossing the M. H. & S. H. at both Big Mine Run and near Locustdale. The P. & R., which leased the Mill Creek & Mine Hill for 999 years, on July 26th, 1861, offered financial aid upon the initiation of work to build from a point 1000 feet west of the proposed Mahanoy Plane to St. Clair, and from the Plane eastward to Mahanoy City, or Waste House Run, (today's St. Nicholas Colliery) and the legal termination of the East Mahanoy Road. The P. & R. hoped to receive coal from the . M. & B. M. by April 1st, 1862. On June 11th, 1861, they leased the unbuilt line from a point 3000 feet beyond the foot of the Plane to Mahanoy City and St. Clair. The main reason for the lease was probably fear of the Lehigh & Mahanoy's penetration of the Mahanoy region.
Conflicting stories are told about the old Danville & Pottsville right of way in the Mahanoy Plane region, especially about the plane location. Schuylkill County histories tell that the M. & B. M. road's attempt to buy the 1834 plane failed. Other accounts tell that the eastern section of the D. & P. was sold to the M. & B. M. Whatever the case, the 350-foot-high Mahanoy Plane of 1862 ran down the mountain westwardly at right angles to the Moncure Robinson plane. This plane, 2410 feet long, was in use before June 2nd, 1862. On May 30th, the railroad accepted a coal shipment from Connor and Patterson, the first operators in the Girard Estate, but a flood on June 4th damaged the new road so .-badly that repairs required three months.
In September, 1863, Reading officials replaced the Brock group. The U-shaped Shenandoah Branch, 4.7 miles long, from the foot of the plane to Shenandoah, opened during 1863. The 4.28-mile Mt. Carmel branch led northwesterly from the Shenandoah Branch at a higher level, back of Girardville, passing through a 550-foot tunnel into Big Mine Run Valley, there paralleling the older M. H. & S. H. northward. This line and tunnel are shown on the 1883 Pennsylvania Gleological Survev |maps as unbuilt or abandoned.
The M. & B. M. extended to Enterprise Junction on the S. V. & P. by means of the 3.54-mile Locust Gap Branch. In 1864, the P. & R. purchased the .75-mile Locust Gap Improvement R. R. which linked the Mine Hill line with the S. V. & P., but, by this time, the former had been leased to the Reading. Subsequently, the P. & R. built the Locust Gap Lateral Connecting R. R. to the M. & B. M. branch near Enterprise
The P. & R. furnished all equipment for the leased line. On June 22nd, 1863, mixed passenger and freight service began between Ashland and Tamaqua, and, by November 27th, 1865, passenger trains ran from Ashland to Philadelphia, after which passenger service over Gordon Planes ended. There was no passenger service over Mahanoy Plane. Haupt's stages carried passengers between Frackville and Mahanoy Plane station in the valley. Passenger service from Pottsville to Frackville and Shenandoah began in 1869.
The Pennsylvania State report for 1870 stated that the M. & B M. was a 12.74-mile road, but controlling numerous branches and other lines with a total of 80.55 miles. The other roads controlled in 1869 were: Enterprise, 8.9 miles; Mahanoy Valley, 6.85; Shamokin & Treverton, 9.2, and the Zerbe Valley with 15.1 miles, which, with the 26.65 miles of branches and 12.74 miles of main, totaled 79.39 miles.
The Enterprise R. R. extended 61/2 miles from Locust Gap to Shamokin, with ten branch roads to collieries, in 1869. It is a horse-shoe curve near the present Mt. Carmel Junction. The Fulton Coal Company secured a charter for the Enterprise R. R., on March 21st, 1865, with authority to build a railroad not over nine miles long and to link with either the Locust Gap or the M. & B. M. Railroads to the east, and with the Carbon Run R. R. (a 2.4 branch of the S. & T.) on the west. Building began in 1866, and passenger traffic between Locust Gap and Greenback started on August 3rd, 1868, later the same year to Shamokin, giving the P&R a line independent of the older Shamokin Valley & Pottsville
Thomas Baumgardner, of Lancaster, Pa., president of the Enterprise R. R., sold his railroad and coal lands to the P. & R. As the first employer of Franklin P. Gowan, he had sent the future Reading president to manage a blast furnace owned by Baumgardner, at Shamokin. Personal friendship rather than business relations probably caused the sale of the Enterprise R. R. to the P. & R., rather than to the other line.
The 6.85-mile Mahanoy Valley R. R., after paralleling the Big Run Branch of the M. H. & S. H. southward from Locustdale, at a higher level, bore westward to Helfenstein's Franklin Colliery. Constructed during 1869, the line had a capital of $15,260. Coal first passed over the M. V. in 1870.
THE SHAMOKIN - TREVERTON AND THE ZERBE VALLEY RAILROADS
The S. & T. was incorporated on March 22, 1850, as the Treverton, Mahanoy & Susquehanna R. R. The original backers included Simon Cameron, of Harrisburg, Judge Helfenstein, of Schuylkill County, Kimber Cleaver, engineer of many coal roads, Daniel M. Boyd and Charles W. Hegins. The route was not new; in 1827 an act authorized a canal, a slackwater navigation, or a railroad from the Susquehanna up Mahanoy Creek to the mines at the mouth of Zerbe Run. Organization followed in New York City. A sister corporation, the Susquehanna and Union Bridge Company, empowered to build a 3600-foot bridge across the Susquehanna within five miles of the mouth of Mahanoy Creek, came into being on April 30th, 1850. These corporations merged on April 25th, 1854, as the Treverton & Susquehanna R. R. The financial interest of John B. Trever, of New York, was reflected in naming the railroad, the Susquehanna River bridge, the town at the mines, and the port on the Pennsylvania state-owned canal. Construction progressed until December, 1851. Despite a suspension of operations until the fall of 1853, Engineer Rockefeller completed the 15-mile line to the Susquehanna and its bridge to Port Treverton by January, 1855, using T-rails to finish the line. Grades of 90 feet to the mile favored the descending traffic. There were seven bridges in addition to the Susquehanna structure. A cut at Port Treverton, 40 feet deep by 1000 feet long required a year's work. A trestle twelve feet high and 40 feet wide, across the four-acre canal basin, carried three tracks, with docks and chutes on both sides capable of accommodating 40 boats a day.
The bridge crossed the river at White Island. Eight 150-foot spans crossed the east channel. A 140-foot trestle, later filled with spoil from the deep cut and coal dirt crossed the island. Fifteen spans of 150 feet across the west channel completed the bridge. This bridge, 40 feet wide, carried the railroad track on its south half, a road and a footpath on the north. Lack of a partition caused many horses and driven animals to run away. In later years, passengers nicknamed the line the "Huckleberry Railroad," as one had plenty of time to gather these berries during stops.
Charter provisions of the bridge company allowed the structure to be used by other railroads. Hence, when the Northern Central R. R. arrived at Herndon (Treverton Jct.) its trains crossed the Susquehanna to Port Treverton, where passengers and freight continued eleven miles to Sunbury via packet and boats on the canal. In 1864, the road owned three locomotives, one passenger car which carried 600 through passengers that year, two freight and 450 coal cars. Passengers from the Northern Central at Herndon rode to Treverton in the single car at the end of a coal train.
Despite a fair coal trade, failure followed on the heels of the opening of this line. Merged with the Mahanoy and Shamokin Improvement Company, a proposed line to Shamokin, the road became the Treverton Coal & R. R. Co., on March 24th, 1856. The new line was sold on December 8th, 1860, after a mortgage foreclosure, to the Treverton Coal Company. Failure to pay interest brought another sheriff's sale on August 3rd, 1867, of the railroad and coal lands. On April 13th, 1868 the Zerbe Valley R. R. took over. The new owners hoped to sell their property to the Northern Central, but P. & R. president Franklin Gowan purchased the road in 1868, and took over the line on July 1st. The L. V. R. R. was another prospe˘tive buyer.
With Reading ownership increased, canal rates over the P.R.R-controlled Pennsylvania canal followed. Using the existing M. & S. Improvement Company charter, the P. & R. completed the link between Shamokin and Treverton, and opened the new line on August 2nd, 1869, with through trains to Shamokin and Port Treverton. Naturally, Treverton coal then traveled over the M. & B. M. to the P. & R. The Shamokin & Treverton R. R. had 9.2 miles of track in 1869, including the 2.4-mile Carbon Run R. R. The Reading erected new bridges along the Zerbe Valley R. R., intending to extend westward to Huntingdon or into Clearfield County. However, during August, 1870, the P. & R. ordered the never-roofed Treverton Bridge demolished.
The P & R. formed the Mahanoy & Shamokin R. R., on September 17th, 1870; by merging the M. & B. M., the M. V, the Enterprise, the Shamokin & Treverton and the Zerbe Valley Railroads. The new line extended 44.7 miles from Mill Creek Junction to Port Treverton. It crossed four railroads, had twenty-six stations, ten stone, forty-four wooden and four iron bridges, nine engine houses, and shops. The Reading furnished all equipment. There were 34.9 miles of branches and one mile of steel rail in the trackage of 136 miles. The M. & S. R. R. became part of the Reading through merger on March 25th, 1871.
Expansion in the Mahanoy-Shamokin coal region did not end in the 1870's. The Mt. Carmel & Natalie R. R., opened during 1891, between Alaska, on the old Enterprise road, and Natalie, a distance of seven miles. When acquired in 1908, its 5.8 miles of line and two locomotives went to the P. & R. (The engines became second Nos. 526-527. The #527 was originally P. R. R. #1502, Baldwin #12619, 1892. It was an experimental 4-6-0, Vauclain compound with cylinders 14" & 24" x 24", with 72" drivers. It was later given simple cylinders, 20" x 24", with 612" drivers. It was scrapped in 1923. Editor)
After 1864, the Reading had three routes to convey Mahanoy coal to the main line, viz., the East Mahanoy, with its tunnel and the Little Schuylkill road, to Port Clinton; the Mahanoy Plane and Mill Creek route to Port Carbon; and the two Gordon Planes and the Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven road to Schuylkill Haven. The Gordon Planes were used until August 18th, 1896, when difficulties with cave-ins over coal operations in the Glen Carbon area and the availability of two other routes brought about their abandonment.
In 1880, capacity of the Mahanoy Plane was 10,000 tons daily, or two million tons annually, at a cost one-fifth of that of locomotive power over similar grades. Rebuilt in 1910, the plane was 2466 feet long, with a rise of 22 feet in one hundred. Seven loaded cars rose at 20 miles per hour, as ten or twelve empties descended by the 22'' steel cable 2900 feet long. Hourly capacity was 700 tons. Though its use was discontinued in 1932, and a coal vein across its lower quarter was open-stripped, its top and bottom connections removed before 1946, and six-inch diameter trees grew between its eight rails, the plane was not scrapped until early 1952. At this time the P. & R. rebuilt the recently purchased P. R. R. Shenandoah line from Frackville eastward into the Mahanoy Valley and employed Diesel power to route coal via the old M. & B. M. to St. Clair Yards on the older Mill Creek & Mine Hill R. R.
THE SHAMOKIN, SUNBURY & LEWISBURG RAILROAD
At the very period the P. & R. was condemning the construction of paralleling railroads—as of the Nickel Plate along Vanderbilt's line, and of the P. R. R. up Schuylkill Valley to Pottsville—the Reading itself was building parallel to the old D. & P. to Sunbury and the Philadelphia & Erie from Sunbury to West Milton, with its S. S. & L. road. Despite the public condemnation of the P. R. R. construction, the P. & R. allowed the Pennsylvania 3.2 miles of trackage rights from Wetherell Jct., in Mill Creek Valley, to Frackville, for its Shenandoah traffic.
The S. S. & I,., incorporated February 16th, 1882, was the outcome of an agreement between the N. Y. C. & H. R. Railroad and the P. & R. to build a line from Shamokin to the Catawissa R. R. at Danville. Better grades along the West Branch Susquehanna caused West Milton to be substituted for Danville. Sunbury passed an ordinance in April, 1882, granting the new line the use of Penn Street. During 1883, a 19-span bridge across the Susquehanna, at Sunbury, completed the 31-mile road. The Sunbury depot of this line was the first in the world to be electrically lighted. Leased to the P. & R. for 999 years on July 2nd, 1883, the S. S. & I,. merged into the Reading Company on October 1st, 1923. Today, as when built, this route is the Philadelphia entrance (along with the Catawissa Branch) for both the N. Y. C. and the Erie Railroads via Williamsport.
As of March, 1954, Reading passenger traffic terminated at Shamokin. Williamsport service over the S. S. & I ended on April 23rd, 1949. The passenger traveled over the old M. H. & S. H. route between Locust Gap and Ashland. Freight traffic, before Diesel, requiring pusher service both east and west out of Gtordon, made that point an extremely busy railroad operation.