Railroads and the Lumber Industry

Stepping Stones Vol. 14 #3 by Bruce Smith

The 1880s represent a period during which the fever of railroad building was at one of its greatest peaks, both nationally and locally. In our immediate area, this situation made itself evident in a desire to link areas of Warren County and Forest County to tap forest reserves as well as newly discovered oil pools.

On January 20, 1882, the Warren Ledger states: “Tuesday, the 17th of January, engine No. 1, Tionesta Valley R. R., Horton Crary & Co’s narrow gauge, was placed on the road. Its name was Wild Pigeon. It was taken over and put on the road by A.P. Penfield, traveling engineer for the Brooks Locomotive works, Dunkirk, formerly of Warren. It was loaded on flat car and brought over the Dunkirk & Warren and from thence over the P.&E. to Sheffield. She was unloaded, the machinery put in order, fired up, and run over the road, a distance of about five miles. The grading is now done as far as Brookston, a distance of eight miles, but the purpose is to have it intersect with the narrow gauge running from the lower oil field to Kane, the whole length being about fourteen miles.”

The locomotive “Wild Pigeon” recorded as the first on the Tionesta Valley Railroad, was predecessor of a number and variety of steam engines. One compilation shows there were in use at one time or another at least 25 locomotives of various design and manufacture. Perhaps most interesting of these were the geared types, the Climax and Heisler. Gearing was a necessity on the steep logging grades so common along the line.

Successive developments southward up Bogus Run brought (1883) the Tionesta Valley Railroad to a connection with the present Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Sheffield Junction. The route eventually was continued over the divide and down Spring Creek. This section from Sheffield Junction was established as the Spring Creek Railroad in 1891. At Parrish, one branch up Wolf Run, was continued over the ridge to Loleta area and Winlack. The Spring Creek line subsequently reached Hallton on the Clarion River.

In 1926, the Tionesta Valley Railway purchased the Clarion River branch of the Pittsburgh, Shawmut and Northern Railroad, thereby making connections with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Carmen and with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Croyland. Northward from Sheffield, the Tionesta Valley Railroad extended to Clarendon where the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad was crossed near Clarendon Heights by overhead, thence on to Stoneham and Rogertown. Lines in this area, the Farnsworth and Tionesta West Branch tributaries, were named the Garfield and Cherry Grove Railroad, the Warren and Farnsworth Railroad. This construction no doubt was vastly stimulated by the Cherry Grove “oil excitement.”

Trackage of the Tionesta Valley was installed as far as Dunham Siding, near Hearts Content, in Watson Township, then east along the ridge to the Cherry Grove area. From Cherry Grove, a line was built south to a point overlooking Minister. The Tionesta Valley Railroad, Spring Creek, Garfield, and Cherry Grove Railroad, and Warren and Farnsworth Railroad retained independent paper status in order to secure favorable passenger rates then permissive under Pennsylvania law.

With the 1893 merger of manufacturing interests, all four railroad lines were unified and labeled Tionesta Valley Railway. Although the Tionesta Valley Railway, at one time or another, operated throughout most of the Tionesta Creek drainage area, if scheduled passenger and freight services are taken as criteria, the “main line,” particularly in later years, may be considered as laying only between Sheffield and the towns of Hallton and Loleta in Elk County. The branch from Parrish, in Forest County to Loleta was abandoned in 1913 upon discontinuance of lumber manufacture at the latter place. In its earlier days, the Tionesta Valley Railway made use of the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Sheffield for accommodation of passengers and freight. In 1907, a depot, still standing, was constructed to serve these purposes.

Not a part of the tanning conglomeration centralized at Sheffield, but directed by the T. D. Collins interests on the lower Tionesta, was the Sheffield and Tionesta Railroad standard gauge line. This was established in 1900 along Tionesta Creek, from Tionesta to Sheffield. A segment, Tionesta to Nebraska, was abandoned in 1915. The Sheffield and Tionesta Railroad intersected the Tionesta Valley Railway at Barnes. It has been said train crews of the two systems arriving simultaneously at this Barnes intersection were occasionally involved in right-of-way disputes to a point where, in one instance, it is averred, there was a locomotive-to-locomotive confrontation.

In Sheffield, the Sheffield and Tionesta Railroad for a time accepted and discharged passengers and freight at the Pennsylvania Railroad depot. In 1923, a frame building to serve these purposes was constructed on Horton Avenue, at the corner of Whipple Street. This structure, long since out of use by the railroad, was removed in 1968. With discontinuance of lumber, leather, and chemical wood processing in the Kelletville and Mayburg area, and a shortening brought about by the Tionesta Dam, the Sheffield and Tionesta Railroad ceased function in 1943.

Still another railroad in Tionesta country was the Wheeler and Dunsenbury line known as the Hickory Valley Railroad, built from East Hickory in Forest County along the Hickory and Queen Creeks as far as Dunham Siding near Hearts Content, with a branch extending along the ridge and valley to Mayburg. Because of the steep grade involved, this latter extension required a switch-back. The Hickory Valley Railroad was apparently established strictly as a carrier for company needs, without official passenger or general freight service, and was phased out of service long before Wheeler and Dunsenbury gave notice of official dissolution on April 25, 1967.

Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society