The Maybrook Gateway II: DL&W, Erie, L&HR, LV and O&W hustle to keep the packers happy

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A decade ago, The Maybrook Gateway was published. It described the operations of the railroads which connected at Maybrook Yard; the Erie, Lehigh & Hudson River, Lehigh & New England, New York, Ontario & Western and the New Haven, which owned and operated the yard. The book recounted the development of the local railroad network of these carriers extending eastward and westward from Maybrook as well as operations in the yard itself and the motive power of each company.

The Maybrook Gateway II has some similarities as it covers operations on the Erie, L&HR and O&W but the emphasis is on their cooperation with the carriers that brought them fast freight business from the Buffalo Gateway/Niagara Frontier and how they competed with each other. Thus, we look at L&HR/DL&W via Port Morris; L&HR/LV via Hudson Yard; O&W/DL&W via Cayuga Jct. and O&W/LV via Coxton Yard. The LV and DL&W are covered from these interchange points to their western terminals in the Buffalo Region. Of course, the Erie boasted single line service between Maybrook and Chicago.

These companies competed on many levels. There is some mention of infrastructure projects such as cut-offs, CTC and rebuilt/new yards which served to increase traffic capacity and speed operations. Motive power is extensively covered, as in the steam era, railroads could acquire “custom” power as compared to the standardized offerings of EMD, Alco, etc. in the diesel era. Erie’s fleet of 105 2-8-4 Berkshires dramatically altered the competitive balance until LV and DL&W responded with their 4-8-4’s. O&W’s first trustee, Frederick Lyford, an LV veteran familiar with their 4-8-4’s, bemoaned the fleet of heavy 4-8-2’s he inherited. These copies of NYC’s Mohawks were more suited for “The Water Level Route” than for the O&W’s route to Maybrook beset with pusher districts. Lyford’s plan for complete dieselization of the O&W at a very early date was derailed only by the road’s precarious finances. His successors pursued a more gradual dieselization process but it was still a critical element in the one-time anthracite road’s battle for survival as a bridge line.

Lyford was well acquainted with LV’s operations and he endeavored mightily to stimulate LV to accelerate its service between Buffalo and Coxton in the face of a superior DL&W schedule. Dozens of letters document his correspondence with LV’s president D. J. Kerr and his successor A. N. Williams as well as internal communications among LV officials, sometimes trying to cooperate and other times rejecting the O&W’s requests.

The L&NE is excluded as it really was not a fast freight carrier. It had a valuable CNJ/RDG connection at Bethlehem Jct. but Summit Hill on the Bethlehem Branch was too much of a handicap in trying to compete with the L&HR’s “racetrack” to Maybrook. The New Haven and its operations in Maybrook Yard and eastward are also basically excluded as they were covered in the first volume.

The LV and DL&W only extended to Buffalo/Suspension Bridge/Black Rock and they were dependent on a group of carriers extending to Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. This group included the Nickel Plate, Wabash and Pere Marquette which were carriers somewhat similar in size to LV and DL&W. We give these three roads brief coverage. Other carriers such as NYC (Michigan Central) and Canadian National (Grand Trunk) also connected with LV/DL&W but are not covered.

Among the railroads entering Maybrook from the west, the Erie was in a class by itself as its Chicago connections and fast service cemented its reputation as the leading produce carrier to the New York metropolitan region. Accordingly, the Erie merits coverage along the length of its main line. Erie’s transformation into a formidable competitor from Chicago eastward required infrastructure improvements during the F. D. Underwood presidency and the arrival of the Berkshire fleet during the J.J. Bernet presidency.

Bernet came from the Nickel Plate and left the Erie to run C&O and Pere Marquette. He was the favored chief executive of the Van Sweringen Brothers and these were four of the properties in their empire. A section of the book is devoted to the brothers, their railroad properties and their “relations” with the “packers”. Why was the Swift Co. traffic manager on a first name basis with the Erie president and his conduit for information coming from “our friends in Cleveland”?

One group of shippers repeatedly appeared in the research for this book. The “packers”, as the railroads referred to the meat packers, were dominated by the Big Five based in Chicago. These and other large meat packers, had built their companies on the basis of fast, dependable rail service from their main facilities to smaller plants throughout the country. To transport refrigerated meat versus live cattle had required the development of specialized equipment, the refrigerated rail car or “reefer”, and these companies amassed fleets of thousands of cars. When a symbol freight was late and missed a connection, that meant certain plants received their meat late and the “packers’ were not shy about contacting the railroad to complain and even threaten to divert their traffic to a competitor. And the railroads responded quickly to the packers’ complaints. There is a chapter on the development of the reefer and the meat packing industry.

The time frame 1905-1957 was selected as 1905 marked the start of DL&W rerouting its New England traffic, per the request of the New Haven Railroad, away from New York Harbor and to a new, all-rail route via Port Morris and the L&HR to Maybrook Yard and beyond via the Poughkeepsie Bridge Route. Maybrook Yard was in its infancy in 1905 as well. The year 1957 was selected as the O&W ceased operations that year and Maybrook lost its first railroad. Just three years later, the L&NE quit operations and Maybrook lost another carrier. Meanwhile, around the same time, Erie and DL&W merged and that killed the DL&W’s Port Morris interchange with L&HR. So, 1957 marked the beginning of a period of recurring, major changes in operations at Maybrook, the Gateway to Southern New England.

354 pages; glossy paper; black and white presentation; indexed; 54 photographs; 133 images/maps/track diagrams/industry magazine articles/ads/illustrations over a six-decade period and dozens of copies of DL&W/LV/O&W correspondence.

By Pete Brill

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