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To many people the building of the Pittsburg, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad is a tale of a multi-million stock selling gamble with the smallest amount possible spent on the railroad. To others, it is the old story of a small enterprise being smothered by larger railroads to eliminate competition.
The purpose of the road was excellent – to tap the vast coalfields in Lycoming, Tioga, Indiana and Clearfield Counties and to establish an east-west trunk line between Pittsburg and Binghamton and the New England states. However, lack of construction planning and properly coordinated effort were important factors in its failure.
Prior to January 1906, rumors of the projected PB&E Railroad were about Bradford County. A coalition with several small lines was anticipated, which would complete links in the system. F. A. Sawyer of New York City and Binghamton was president and Ben Kuykendall of Towanda was secretary of the company. I. N. Beardslee, a lumberman of East Canton, was purchasing agent, and in February 1906, he advertised for 100,000 oak and chestnut ties and was active in securing rights of way. Work was scheduled to start at Powell, Pa. on March 1.
The survey from Powell to Canton presumably was completed, but engineering crews continued to map alternate routes even after construction was started. Survey of the stretch from Canton to Galeton was planned next. The Powell-Towanda link was to be carried over the Susquehanna and New York tracks, and construction continued from Towanda to Binghamton via Nichols and Owego.
A New York State charter was granted in March, though the Erie Railroad fought this through the New York Court of appeals.
Offices were rented in the Lewis Bldg., Canton, and work was expected to start early in April.
H. C. Ferris, former division superintendent of the Union Pacific, was made general superintendent of the PB&E.
Engines were reported ordered and bridges to be manufactured by the Owego Bridge Co.
Work actually began on bridge abutments at Powell on April 23, 1906, under contractor Thomas C. Whalen, with 52 men and 8 teams hired.
Early in May 60 Poles were started at pick and shovel grading there, making 100 men and 12 teams on contractor Whalen’s payroll. Later that month a rumor the PB&E had sold out to the Delaware and Hudson was hotly denied.
So that he might personally supervise the work, President Sawyer purchased a 50 horsepower, 7-passenger car late in June, intending to commute from Binghamton each day. As this was not practical, he and his family located in Canton shortly thereafter, spending the summer at Mourland Park.
July marked the awarding of construction contracts to Holbrook, Cabot and Rollins of Boston. Several steam shovels, donkey engines and 18 carloads of supplies were received; the latter included a car of 22 horses. One hundred more men were employed and a section of grading was being pushed through LeRoy Township. Abutments for the two Powell bridges were nearly finished and a grading crew started work near East Canton.
Ten steam drills powered by a 50 horsepower boiler were working at Rock Cut between Powell and Franklindale, and great quantities of dynamite were used for this most costly piece of work.
Forty large, four cylinder engines had been ordered from the American Locomotive Works in Schenectady to be delivered in the spring of 1907. Surveying of many alternate routes continued and even those selling rights of way through property were never sure these would be used.
Late in the month a large camp of Italian laborers was established on D. T. Lindley’s farm east of Canton. President Sawyer declared traffic would be moving through Canton on the new railroad by November or December.
Great activity was evidenced during August. A 60-ton steam shovel was taken through Canton streets on railroad rails, laid in short sections. Six more locomotives were ordered. Several carloads of rails and small construction engines arrived at the Northern Central railroad station here.
In September, 15 railroad dump cars were hauled by Hugh Crawford’s traction engine through Canton streets on rails, to be followed later by a second lot. A merger with several small roads was ratified to complete the link to Pittsburg. By the middle of the month, 700 men were on the contractor’s payroll.
On September 20 the route through Canton was in doubt, though many surveys had been made, but on October 2, it was announced the one chosen was that skirting Towanda Creek. Junction with the Northern Central would be made at Cedar Ledge, 1½ miles south of town. Grading completed at East Canton was then abandoned, as the rails would also follow the creek at that point.
Day and night crews were working between Powell and Van Fleet Hill about 5 miles east of Canton. One thousand men were busy and work was progressing rapidly. One gang of Italians struck when ordered to move from West LeRoy to Cedar Ledge and were discharged.
Early in November, President Sawyer issued a statement assuring completion of the railroad from Binghamton to Clearfield, saying ample capital had been secured. On the 16th, a tragedy struck when Luther Ogden, a Canton youth, was killed while unloading rails.
About this time the PB&E closed a contract for rights of way through Canton Borough. Hugh Crawford granted passage over his properties, mill lands and lots in the eastern part of town. No money consideration was involved, only reciprocity of action in regard to mutual enterprises between Mr. Crawford and the railroad company.
On November 23, Paymaster Fuller disbursed $31,700 in semi-monthly wages to PB&E laborers. The trip along the right of way was made by horse and wagon, Mr. Fuller being accompanied by Detective C. A. Innes of Canton and an armed guard. Fifteen hundred men working between Cedar Ledge and Powell were paid that day.
President Sawyer’s latest bulletin promised trains would run between Canton and Towanda in January, and the work was to be pushed day and night. Gaps on the several sections built would be closed and ready for traffic in January. Regulation rails now were being laid.
The announcement on December 14 that work had been temporally suspended came as something of a shock. All work ceased except near Powell where operations on Rock Cut continued. All foreign laborers and mechanics were laid off. Rumors were rife but none could be substantiated. A statement issued December 21 assured the public work had not entirely ceased but would not be pushed until more favorable weather. Gen. Supt. Ferris said 10 flat cars had been shipped from Atlanta, Ga., and more were slated for shipment on January 15. Engineers were then surveying a right of way from Towanda to Binghamton, via Owego.
On January 1, 1907, two months were deemed necessary to complete all work from Canton to Powell. Later in the month, Thomas Watkins, millionaire coal operator of Scranton, representing interests who acquired a large portion of F. A. Sawyer’s holdings, was elected president of the PB&E. L. T. McFadden and Daniel Innes of Canton were chosen directors. Ferris was made executive officer in charge of construction and purchasing, under Holbrook, Cabot and Rollins, and the Canton-Powell section was to be finished by April 1. An engine house, 250 feet long with a double track, was built at Cedar Ledge.
Although large engines, which had stood idle on sidings at Cedar Ledge and in Towanda yards for several months, were shipped to a railroad in Maine, the bluff of early completion of the PB&E continued.
In March, President Watkins resigned after two months in office. A statement was issued that stock was to be increased from $20,000,000 to $40,000,000 and more bonds issued.
The first and probably last wreck on the dying railroad occurred on March 25, when boys loosed brakes of a boxcar standing below Canton and it left the tracks after coasting some distance.
On April 1, 1907, 400 men were said to be at work and 1,000 yards of excavating done each day. Rock Cut was being completed and an iron bridge built across North Branch Creek at West Franklin.
Bonds were being sold by mid-November and funds thus raised were to continue work in the spring. Investors continued to alternate between hope and despair following good and bad reports on progress of construction.
A traffic arrangement with the Pennsylvania Railroad was concluded in January 1908, confirming for many the rumor the PB&E was backed by the Pennsy. The latest prophesy was "trains into Binghamton by the end of 1908".
A little work at the Binghamton end of the road was begun in February 1908, in order to hold the New York franchise, which the Erie was opposing vigorously. A proposed change in route would make the PB&E serious competition to them.
E. H. Gray & Co., Boston bankers, confirmed granting a contract to William C. Oliver & Co., Knoxville, Tennessee, late in July. Work was to be completed from Towanda to Oregon Hill coalfield, within 10 months. Cessation of work since December 1907 was attributed to the panic.
Thirty Negroes arriving in Canton to work for the new contractor went into camp near Cedar Ledge. A carload of 68 mules was quartered on the Thomas Brann farm, and 26 carloads of supplies were said to be on the way.
A statement issued by Gray & Co., placed the cost of work done between Canton and Powell at $1,500,000, or $70,000 per mile. This was more that the cost of many finished roads, yet it covered only grading, two bridges and a little rolling stock.
Late in August Mr. Rivinac, representing the contractors, said the work was being delayed for various reasons, but he had not been ordered to leave Canton. The idle Negroes were still camped at Cedar Ledge.
On September 10, 1908, it was announced in the Canton Sentinel that Judge Archibald of Scranton had appointed L. T. McFadden of Canton and John T. Reynolds of Boston receivers for the PB&E Railroad.
Thus ended the PB&E and a chapter in Bradford County history. The barracks for the laborers, the commissaries where they were fed and the numerous fights in which they indulged are only memories. So are the antiquated steam shovels, the horse drawn dump scrapers, and pick and shovel gangs.
Much of the grading between Powell and Canton is still visible. The portion between Franklindale and Powell is now Rt. 414 between these towns, passing through Rock Cut. This is the only portion of a project costing several million dollars, which was ever put to practical use.
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