Beaver Meadow Railroad Blazed Trails for Coal


Hazleton Standard Speaker, Friday, February 17, 1984

Contributed by John S. Koehler, Collector and Historian, Weatherly, Pa.


Historians generally agree that Philip Ginder was the first discoverer of anthracite at Summit Hill in 1791. His discovery led to the formation of the first coal mining company, "The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company," which is still operating today.


After the discovery of coal by Ginder, there arose many arguments in other sections of the anthracite fields as to who discovered coal. Nathan Beach of Salem, Snyder County, Pa., discovered coal deposits in Banks Township, Carbon County, in 1812. He found coal where the old Lehigh Valley station once stood in the town of Leviston. (Leviston later became Coleraine and today is known as Junedale.)


In 1813, Nathan Beach opened a quarry for extracting coal. It was shipped to market by horse and wagon over the Lehigh & Susquehanna Turnpike, a toll road built in 1804, from Mauch Chunk to Berwick, Route 93.


To the east, the coal was hauled to "Landing Tavern" in the once small town of Lausanne, named after a province in Switzerland, which was a regular stop on the turnpike at the junction of the Nesquehoning Creek and the Lehigh River. No sign of this community remains.


The coal was transferred to "arks," or canal boats, and shipped to Philadelphia where it was sold for $8 per ton. To the west, the coal was hauled by wagons to Berwick and Bloomsburg for use in the blacksmith shops. In 1829, Nathan Beach had to give proof of title to his coal lands. He won his suit in court and later sold 500 acres to Judge Joseph Barnes of Philadelphia in 1830.


With the increased demand for coal, a faster way of transporting the coal to market had to be found.


On April 7, 1830, the Beaver Meadows Railroad & Coal Company was chartered to build a railroad from the mines near Beaver Meadows to the Lehigh River and then along the river to Parryville. Soon after the company was organized, it purchased 200 acres of land located where the first coal deposits were discovered.


These workings became known as the Beaver Meadows mines. Officers of the new company were Samuel D. Ingham, president; John Ecky, secretary; Morris Hall, treasurer; Canvas White, chief engineer; Ario Pardee, assistant engineer; Hopkin Thomas, master mechanic. (Note by J. McVey: Hopkin Thomas did not join the firm until after the Garrett & Eastwick engines were delivered in 1836.)


Many difficulties held up the start of construction, mainly the firm's own lack of confidence in the feasibility of the undertaking. However, in 1833, construction was begun under the supervision of White, the engineer in building the Lehigh Canal and Erie Railroad, and Ario Pardee, who surveyed the route along Beaver, Hazle and Quakake Creeks to the Lehigh River at Penn Haven and along the river to Parryville.


Trouble with rival railroad


While the road was being graded, trouble arose with the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in regard to the location of the roadbed.


With neither side giving in, Ingham of the BMRR & Coal Co. and J. White of the LC & N Company went to the point of arming their men with muskets and, at one time, feared a pitched battle would develop between the two companies. However, the matter was settled peacefully and the location of the roadbed was changed at a cost of thousands of dollars to the BMRR & Coal Co.


Hardly had they solved one problem, when more problems arose again with the LC & N Company concerning toll charges on the canal which led to the determination on the part of those building the railroad to push the line on to Easton and the Delaware Canal.The tracks were laid as far as Parryville when an agreement was finally reached and Parryville became the shipping point for the BMRR & Coal Co.


Ario Pardee became the first superintendent of the company after completion of the railroad in 1836 and remained until 1838 when he resigned and organized the firm of Pardee, Miner and Hunt, later called A. Pardee & Son, which began mining coal in Hazleton.


The Beaver Meadows Railroad built the first locomotive shops in 1836 in the "pond" section of Beaver Meadows.

A car building shop had been built late in 1835 and Philip Hoffecker was hired to help build coal cars under the supervision of Joseph Barker. Hoffecker was also trained to fit wheel and axles to the coal cars. When Joseph Barker left the company, he was succeeded by Jonathan Moore who built a foundry for the shops.


The first coal was hauled by wagons from Leviston to the railroad at Beaver Meadows. From the new shops, the railroad was built along the south side of the present main street in Beaver Meadows, crossing Route 93 entering the community from the south. It followed the course of Beaver Creek through the valley to about halfway to Weatherly, where it continued along the side of the mountain while Beaver Creek cut through the ravine to empty in to Hazle Creek at Hazle Creek Junction.


Planes needed on hills


At the top of the hill above Weatherly, the railroad had to build a series of railroad planes to get the railroad down into Weatherly. The first plane was built from the top of the hill down to a point near the Hillside Garage and the second plane began a few hundred feet east of the first plane down to the site of the Wagner Electric plant. The length of the planes was 220 feet and they rose in height one foot every 11.20 feet. They were self-acting gravity planes, built by men like John Lomison and Joseph Buck. Buck built his home between two planes and it is still standing.


After the planes were finished, Joseph Buck was put in charge of the upper plane and David Petry had the lower plane. They managed these planes with great care and economy. Joseph Buck had the honor of running the first coal train down the planes.


The present highway into Weatherly was built on this old railroad grade and is called Plane Street. At the bottom of the hill, or plane, the railroad paralleled Hazle Creek on the west side, continuing along the creek and crossing to the east side slightly above the present Weatherly Steel Co. office. Here, the old grade of the BMRR is still being used by Conrail to Penn Haven and Mauch Chunk. The railroad was laid with wooden rails and ties were notched for the rails to slip in. The inside of the notch was beveled to drive in a wedge to keep the rails in place.


Later, straps of iron were installed over the wooden rails. Iron straps were spiked to the rails. Where there were soft places in the wooden rails, the weight of a locomotive passing over these places, would press the iron into the wood. Where there were hard places such as knots, bumps wold result, causing resistance to the pressure which would make the engine and cars bob up and down. The strap iron used ranged in size from one‑half inch thick to two inches wide on the rails above the planes while it was 2-1/4 inches by five-eighths of an inch below the planes.


The Route of the Beaver Meadow R. R. Courtesy of J. S. Koehler

Click to Enlarge



BMRR was finally opened for transportation of coal in the fall of 1836. Their first two locomotives, S.D. Ingham and Elias Fly, were built by Garrett and Eastwick of Philadelphia in 1836 and delivered to the BMRR Co. at Parryville in October, 1836.


The BMRR Co. was the first railroad to use steam for motive power in Carbon County, then part of Northampton County. The two engines made a test run to Weatherly from Parryville, where they were to await the first shipment of coal from the mines.


On Saturday, Nov. 5, 1836, two trains of 16, three-ton coal cars were hauled by mules from the mines to the head of the planes and lowered down the planes by mules to the waiting engines which would make the first coal hauling test run to Parryville. On Monday morning, Nov. 7, 1836, after everything was ready and the engines had a full head of steam, they glided down grade from Weatherly to Penn Haven. Everything had gone smoothly until below Lehighton, when Eastwicks' engine (Eastwick was a member of the engine builders Garrett and Eastwick) ran low on water in the boiler, causing the tubes to burn out.


Eastwick's engine being the lead engine, Hopkin Thomas's engine had to push him to Parryville. Eastwick and Thomas were engineers in charge of the trains that made test runs on Saturday and remained for the coal hauling test runs to Parryville.


The S.D. Ingham was put in the shops for a few months for repairs and then later assigned to run from the top of the planes to Beaver Meadows. Following the test run of the first coal train, two more engines were delivered to the BMRR Co. the Quakake in April 1837 and the Beaver in August 1837. Both were built by Garrett and Eastwick.


First four-wheeled engine


The Beaver was thought to be the first four-wheeled engine built in Pennsylvania. According to a U.S. report for 1838, the Beaver was a 26-horse-powered locomotive, while the first three engines were only 18 horsepower.


In the BMRR shops at Beaver Meadows in 1837-38, Hopkin Thomas built a new, six-wheeled locomotive named the Nonpareil. Later, through one of Thomas's inventions, anthracite was made available as fuel for use in locomotives. He also invented and successfully used the chilled cast iron car wheel.


For the first year ending 1837, the BMRR Co. shipped to the Lehigh Canal at Parryville, a total of 31,500 tons of anthracite; for the year 1838, 44,44 tons.


With the arrival of the new engines, the crews faced many ordeals that today's crews will never see. One of the early train crews on the Elias Fly, engineer Bill Gordon, fireman Fred Rustee, brakemen Jacob Derr, John Edwards and Alfred Longshore, were required to make two trips a day to Parryville. A day began at 4 a.m., requiring two hours to get steam up in their locomotive. A run down grade to Parryville from Weatherly was fairly easy, but the return trip often proved too much for the engine to handle the 16 empty coal cars. They often had to stop to get up steam.


The engine burned wood and water was often drawn from the Lehigh River when the boilers went dry. When the engine would stop, the draft was shut off and the fire would die out.


The crew would have to climb around the mountainside looking for wood and pine knots to kindle a new fire. Often sudden storms would strike with such force that they would almost be blinded by the rain and hail. When the storms would be too severe, they would crawl under cliffs and rocks along the tracks. During the winter storms, the crew would tie two husk brooms to the frame of the engine to clear the tracks of snow.


Another thing they had to contend with were the hot showers of sparks from the engine. The burning wood made so many sparks at night that they fairly lit up the sky and many of these sparks landed on their clothes which literally burned them up. Thus, the BMRR Co. was the first railroad to design and use a caboose for the protection of its crews. Later, Superintendent Longstreth had cabs built on the engines to protect the fireman and engineer. In consideration for the long shift, sometimes lasting 16 to 18 hours, they received as daily wages: engineers, $2; fireman, $1.50; and brakeman, $1 per day.


In 1839, Ingham and Weatherell, who owned land in Weatherly from the foot of the railroad plane along the west side of the creek, encouraged the BMRR to buy the land as it had proved very difficult to get the engines up the planes to the shops in Beaver Meadows for repairs. Also, if they located their shops in Weatherly, they could be operated much cheaper by waterpower instead of steam.


Early in the summer of 1839, the company moved the shops to Weatherly, located on the present site of a supermarket and garage, and they were operated by waterpower. However, the operation of the shops by waterpower proved a costly failure and they converted back to steam power. At the close of 1839, the railroad now had five locomotives in use and they had hauled to market 38,595 tons; for 1840, 43,707 tons.


A terrible storm in January 1841 washed away all the bridges from Weatherly to Parryville and almost all of the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Parryville. The company never rebuilt the washed‑out road from Mauch Chunk to Parryville and it was abandoned. They erected new shipping facilities for the shipment of coal at Mauch Chunk. All the bridges had to be rebuilt, especially the very important spans across the Lehigh River at Glen Onoko, then called Turnhole.


A. H. Van Cleve, superintendent, was in charge of rebuilding the railroad and soon had the line open for business in August 1841. A report submitted by the BMRR Co. said the amount of coal shipped by it to the Lehigh Canal were as follows: 1841: 26,232 tons (flood year); 1842: 45,423; 1843: 54,729; 1844: 70,379 and 1845: 70,659 tons.


In 1849, the company decided to replace the light wooden rails with flat iron bars fastened with t-rails. The work was done during the winter of 1849 and completed by the spring of 1850.


Another flash flood in September 1850 hit the region, carrying away again all the bridges along the Black and Quakake creeks. The flood also destroyed the shops at Weatherly along with most of the railroad to Penn Haven. This section of track was double track, one iron and one wooden. Repairs were made immediately to bridges and rails so they could be ready for the shipment in the spring of 1851.


File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

This is one of the shops of the Beaver Meadows Railroad at Weatherly at about 1855.


File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

Photo of the Weatherly Roundhouse from J. KoehlerÕs collection. The roundhouse foundation stones can still be found (1997).


File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 5.0

Click to enlarge this map of the BMRR Weatherly shops layout.  Source: J. KoehlerÕs photo collection.


BMRR right-of-way purchased


The Lehigh Valley Railroad board of directors authorized in August 1852 the purchase of the abandoned right‑of‑way of the BMRR Co. from Mauch Chunk to Parryville for the sum of $10,000 but due to delays in agreement, the final price came to $17,000 plus interest.


The BMRR Co. decided to abandon the incline planes at Weatherly in 1854. The company purchased one and three‑quarters of a mile of right-of-way from the Hazleton Coal Co. Railroad from Hazle Creek Junction to Weatherly along the Black Creek. This line was formerly used by the Hazleton Railroad but abandoned after the floods for a new, high level line from Hazle Creek to Penn Haven. The BMRR rebuilt the old Hazleton grade that became known as the Weatherly Hill. From Hazle Creek Junction in 1854, the BMRR graded one and a half miles of new track, which paralleled Beaver Creek to reach their railroad grade to the railroad planes. The new track was laid in the spring of 1855 and, on Aug. 14, 1855, the Weatherly railroad planes were officially abandoned. After the planes were abandoned, the company moved their shops to the east side of the creek where the present Steel Company now uses these buildings. Steel Company purchased these buildings from the Lehigh Valley Railroad on Feb. 10, 1913, for $10,000.


A second track was laid from Mauch Chunk to Penn Haven in July and August 1857, causing abandonment of the old Glen Onoko bridge with its two very sharp curves. A new, double track iron bridge was built and replaced the old structure.


Philip Hoffecker succeeded Hopkin Thomas as master mechanic in 1852. Under his supervision, many fine engines were built in the Weatherly shops; 82 in all. (Note by J. McVey It is almost certain that Hopkin Thomas had left the BMRR several years prior to 1852)


Men like Daniel Rouse, who was employed n the machine shop in 1849, built the frame of the engine Phoenix out of wood. In 1854, he built a new, five‑ton coal car and invented the cast iron brake shoes for the coal cars. John Bloomingdale, employed on the planes in 1845, became the night shift watchman over engines before they had roundhouses. On July 8, 1864, the Lehigh Valley Railroad Co. assumed control of the Beaver Meadows Railroad and, thus, this interesting little railroad became a part of this important coal carrier.


It became known as the Beaver Meadows Branch of the LVRR. Over the years, all of the original BMRR has been torn up, except the piece from Hazle Creek Junction to Mauch Chunk that Conrail still operates. This remaining piece of track is one of the oldest pieces left in the United States.


The roster of locomotives built for the BMRR Co. is as follows:

Built by Garrett and Eastwick: Samuel D. Ingham, 1836; Elias Ely, 1836; Hercules, 1837; Quakake, April 1837; Beaver, August 1837.

Built by Niles Locomotive Co.: Defiance, 1855; Champion, 1855.

Built by Weatherly Locomotive Shops: North Star, June 1854; Baltic, August 1856.

Built by Beaver Meadows Locomotive Shops: Nonpareil, 1837.

Built by Baldwin Locomotive Shops: Amazon, June 25, 1855; Orinoco, Aug. 22, 1855; Colorado, May 5, 1856; Alps, March 24, 1857; Messenger, Dec. 31, 1862; Meteor, Feb. 28, 1863; Neptune, July 30, 1864; Algonquin, March 10, 1865; James M. Porter, July 30, 1855; La Plata, April 30, 1856; Paraguay, June 7, 1856; Atlas, March 30, 1857; Mercury, Jan. 15, 1863; Vulcan, July 9, 1864; Tuscarora, Feb. 6, 1865.


Visit to the Weatherly Shop Location – October 1997

In front of the remains of the LVRRÕs Weatherly Shop remains are (l. to r.) Ruth McVey, A. Newton Bugbee, Jr., John McVey and Jack Koehler. The date above the doorway is 1873. This was the year that the LVRR built the caboose shop at Weatherly – this may be that building.


The original shop buildings were erected in 1839-40. These buildings are believed to have housed the machine shop and iron foundry.



The LVRR shops employed up to 1000 men who built 80 locomotives and repaired thousands more. The shops were closed in 1910. The property was purchased by Weatherly business men who operated the Weatherly Steel Co. from 1913 to 1989.



Return to the Beaver Meadow R.R. Formation Page


About The Hopkin Thomas Project


Rev. October, 2010.