Erie Railroad Company

The Erie Limited eastbbund on the NY division 1939

In the early 1880's American railroads converted from wood  burning steam engines to the more efficient soft coal. For repairs; in most cases the steam engine came to the ash pit under its own power.  The ash pit was a 4 to 6 foot deep trench about 20 feet long between the rails where ashes were emptied from the engine fire box before it went to the roundhouse or back shops for repairs. In the early 1880's American railroads converted from wood  burning steam engines to the more efficient soft coal.

Before the 1880s removing the wood ashes was easy; for the most part the fire was out and wood ashes easily were removed when the vent was open beneath the engine fire box.  Removing the burning soft coal ashes, which burned much longer, was something else.  The burning soft coal fused, making clinkers.  The clinkers had to be broken with iron rods so they could pass through the grates under the firebox.  The men doing this work were so close to the open engine firebox they continually were breathing the soft coal gases.  Many developed breathing problems with persistent coughing.

When confronted with the soft coal gasses which inhibited their breathing. The local individuals who worked at the ash pits wouldn't work there any longer.  Thus the Erie and other railroads solicited arriving immigrants to fill these positions.  A great uncle who came to America in 1883 was one of many arriving Italian immigrants solicited by the Erie to work at the engine repair facilities (roundhouses or back shops) and assigned to removing ashes from steam engines.

 The immigrant Italian who worked at these jobs during their lifetime; the major contributing cause of their deaths was from emphysema  

 The Erie itself was another story, its corporate life span stretched from 1832 through the early 1970s.  Except during the period of the Civil War, World War 1 and World War 2 the   line was in continual receivership or bankruptcy   Before the demise of the Erie it merged with the Delaware Lackawanna and Western in 1962

.Everyone who worked for the Erie at the time were familiar with a poem by Joyce Kilmer printed below

The House with Nobody in it

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I'd put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I'd find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
FFor I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart

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The Erie placed the engines in service early during World War 1 and used as helpers in Susquehanna on the Gulf Summit run. It is not clear how many of these engines were purchased by the Erie. But it couldn't be more than three. Stories from that period revealed that the old timers, Italian and others said that the Matt Shay pushed a train to Gulf Summit and on its return it had to go back to the roundhouse for repairs. This was true of many of Erie pusher engines at the time. The same old timers said that they could identify the Matt Shay anywhere in town by the unique sound they made.

 

 

 

 

 

The book "Union Pacific"[1] describes the Big Boy as follows: “Built for and used only on the Union Pacific, the Big Boy 4-8-8-4 articulated locomotive was the world’s most powerful steam locomotive in 1941.  Among the largest ever made, the enormous engines were 132 feet long and weighed 1.2 million ponds---over 550 tons.  Built to haul 3500 ton loads up steep mountain grades, each locomotive could speed up to 80 miles per hour on level track.”   The difference between the Matt Shay and the Big Boy was that its builder (The American Locomotive Works) apparently learned much from the failure of the Matt Shay and furthermore had 27 more years experience building steam engine

 

 

 


Diesel unit painted by Norfolk Southern Railroad who now own some of Erie Railroad tracks in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Engine is actually in service on the Norfolk Southern Railroad

 

 

Top Map Erie Lackawanna, bottom  Erie Prior to merger 1960

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