Ithaca and Owego Railroad Reminiscences
Source: Candor Courier, March 5, 1903

Ed. Candor Courier:

In your paper of the 12th inst. I noticed some statements and a time table of the Ithaca and Owego Railroad. It has brought to my mind many reminiscences of my childhood days and incidents connected with the grading and running of said RailRoad.

In conversing with my dear father previous to his death in 1876 on the improvement of railroading from what it was when the Ithaca and Oswego road was built through Candor with its ties, stringers and flat rail. My father exclaimed, "Oh my son you was to young to remember anything about it." I claimed I did and named the engineer that was overseeing the grading, etc., and saying that during his work he was sick at Uncle Osgood Ward's and that he was a physician.

Father examined his old day book and finally admitted I was correct.

This was in 1831 or 1832. The exact time of its completion for a horse railroad, I don't remember, but it must have been in the early thirties. It was mostly used for the hauling of lumber. Two small flat cars. Each capacity 2,500 or 3,000 feet of lumber, drawn by two horses, wheel horse in shafts, leader ahead.

The road was used in this condition for some time and fully played out. By the way, though, they had no brakes on the cars at that time. Car wheels were made open with spokes in them. Wishing to stop they would steam down, or use something like a hand-spike, placed in the wheel it would sound up against the front of the car sliding the wheels and stopping the car.

After using the road some time snake-heads were quite frequent. Spikes becoming loose at end of rail, rail turning up and some times going through the bottom of the car. The passenger car was similar to that of a state coach. North of the village half a mile or so was a heavy grade or hill. On the north end the grade or hill was much larger. Teamsters were obliged to leave one car and take a running start to get up the hill, then go back after the other car.

I knew most of the teamsters, Lem Bangs was one of them. I would occasionally ride up to Gridleyville on Saturdays and perhaps play the truant at other times unbeknown to my parents. On one occasion it was very fortunate I did for Mr. Joseph VanVleck (Mr. Bangs drove his team). Another had just got to the bottom of the north hill, ready to start up. Mr. Bangs was on the ground ready to brake the car with his hand spike but failed to do so. Though a small boy I realized the danger. I raised my voice above the excitement, and the noise of the car told the team to at the foot of the hill to get out of the way - shouting that Mr. Bangs had failed to brake the car.

I remember and recall now how the team tried, and tried again to hold back the load. How the wheel horse braced herself and slip, only to try to obey me again. The leader had to leave the track. The horses were not injured, as they obeyed and kept the car from getting any headway. as the Mr. VanVleck thanked me very kindly when I told him how near his horses came to being killed.

The grading on the road was done by superstitious Irishmen, who talked in their native dialect.

One day, while- the crew was working near Mr. Walter Hunt's an incident occurred which illustrates the character of those ill-knowing men. They were trying to remove a large stone out of the way, (Such tools as they have now were not in use on railroads then.) All wee tugging at it, when Mr Hunt stopped up and removed it alone with his crowbar. They were all in awe of him and after that fights were not so frequent.

After the horse cars quit running a car was left at the depot. The boys used to take a horse and haul it up the south hill and ride back down. It was fun until we got tired;better than riding on snow, but somewhat dangerous.

The day set at the time had arrived for the appearance of the big monster (steam railroad engine), but little else was talked of. All Candor was excited. Most of us boys went up on the railroad near Harvey Potter's to get the first sight of the monster near the point of the hill then covered with large hemlocks.Occasionally some boy would shout, "I see her."

Such a scratching to get up the hill among us, expecting it would be the last of us unless we could get pretty well up the hill. Everybody waiting and watching for the promised train. The day is drawing to a close and as twilight is approaching a shout goes, "See, she is coming." Such a scrambling, crazy lot, over fences, any way to get there.

At first but very few had courage to go very near the great engine.

It has been said this was the second railroad built in the United States, the horse railroad.

-- M.A. McKay

Return to Tompkins County Railways page

Editor: D G Rossiter

This page is http://www.swampstomper/nl/history/railways/ccourier19030305.html
Last modified: Sat Aug 23 10:10:58 EDT 2014