Penn Division History

About the D&H Penn Division:

The D&H Penn Division ran from its connection with the PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad) at Buttonwood Yard in Wilkes-Barre, PA, 70 miles north to a connection with the Erie Railroad’s mainline at Jefferson Junction near Lanesboro, PA, and continuing north, eventually merged with the D&H’s own  Susquehanna Division at Nineveh, NY., 23 miles later (a total distance of 93 miles from Wilkes-Barre to Nineveh).

FYI, the border and header colors used on this site (medium gray-green and dark green) are examples of the actual D&H Steam-era two-tone Company colors, that would have been used to paint stations, towers,  freight houses, water tanks, yard offices, etc. The orchre yellow header and trim color repesent that color as used to letter the sides of steam loco tenders and early diesel loco hoods, as well as the striping that was applied to both types of locomotive cabs.    

In its day, the D&H Penn Division (Erie Jefferson Division) boasted one of the longest grades in the Eastern U.S., and a never ending parade of pushers were used to get heavy coal and merchandise tonnage out of the anthracite fields of the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys, up over the summit of Ararat Mountain, and on to upstate New York, New England and eventually Montreal, Canada. Hoppers full of hard and soft coal were the primary northbound commodities, destined for the towns and cities of New England and Canada, with boxcars of Canadian newsprint, bound for the major metorpolitan regions along the eastern seaboard, coming south.

The Erie Railroad actually owned the trackage from Lanesboro to Carbondale. The D&H leased that portion of the line from the Erie, had running rights,  and performed all the track maintenance. Erie and D&H trains plied the rails together, both operating under D&H rules, and the authority of the D&H dispatcher at Carbondale. The D&H ran one scheduled symbol freight every hour, either north or south (approx. 24 trains a day), with the Erie running 3-5 trains per day [one northbound (AY-91) and one southbound (AY-78) scheduled symbol freights, and 2-3 coal-extras].

The north and southbound ruling grades to the top of the summit at Ararat were not the steepest in the U.S., but what they lacked in slope, they made up for in length. The northbound grade from the yard at Carbondale, PA to the top of Ararat averaged a continuous 1.2 to 1.4%, but was 19 miles in length!!! The stiffer southbound grade, from Cascade Wye near Lanesboro, PA to the top of Ararat is 1.3 to 1.5%, and is 17 miles long.

Typical trains from both companies were on average 90 to 110 cars. On the Erie, the southbound symbol from Susquehanna Yard was mostly empties and would rate just two locomotives. Usually a huge R-2 or R-3 class, 2-10-2  Santa Fe, and a large 2-8-2 Mike. Both locos were placed on the head end of the train (no pushers) with four to six cars in between. The reason for this (per the D&H Employee Timetable) was the weight restrictions on the Little Starrucca(Buck Creek) steel viaduct, just south of the village of Starrucca. Northbound was a different story, especially with all cars loaded. Typical power would be a 2-10-2 on the point, with one, two or even three massive S-Class 2-8-4 Berkshires pushing, and sometimes a fourth loco in the form of an extra 2-10-2.

On D&H trains, a southbounder would rate a 4-6-6-4 Challenger on the front, and another one on the rear, sometimes supplemented with an 0-8-8-0, or one of their giant 2-8-0’s.  North was the BIG push, with a 4-6-6-4 on the head head, and one, two, or three more 4-6-6-4’s on the rear, and one additional locomotive tagged onto the back of the caboose, that ran with the train from the yard at Carbondale, and dropped off at Forest City. This tail-end helper was known as the “Forest City Kicker”.

Day in and day out the D&H and Erie operated trains up and down this line until its abandonment in the early 1980’s. The entire line saw passenger service from the D&H until 1928, and the Erie until 1931. D&H passenger service, known as the “Miner’s Local”  continued on the southern end of the line from Scranton to Carbondale and return, until January of 1952.

A Change in Ownership:

Anthracite coal production in Pennsylvania hit its peak in the late 1920’s, but large quantities of coal were still being mined in the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys of PA from the ’30’s well into the 50’s and beyond. Bituminous coal production, however, in the rest of the eastern U.S. did not peak until the middle 50’s. The Erie, who owned the line as far south as Carbondale,  had no connection with the PRR on the southern end, as did the D&H. In the ’50’s, the PRR was still supplying the D&H at Wilkes-Barre with large quantites of soft coal, mined from Western PA, Maryland, and West Virginian, that needed to be transported to the markets in New England and Canada.

As anthracite mining in the valley continued to dwindle, and more and more of its transportation went over to trucks, the Erie found that having a coal-hauling R.R. presence in the heart of Anthracite Country (Avoca, PA) was becoming far less lucrative.  And even though the 1950’s were an industrial and manufacturing boom-time for many other regions of the US, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area saw little of that new-found prosperity.

With loads dropping off, and revenues diminsishing, the Erie decided to rid itself of the Jefferson Division. Even though the Jefferson Division offered a nearly direct connection (running rights on a portion of the D&H) from Avoca to the Erie’s Delaware Division Mainline at Susquehanna, their Wyoming Division trackage, that ran directly from Avoca to the Delaware Division Mainline at Lackawaxen, PA was still in-place, active and well maintained.

In 1954 the Erie made an offer to the D&H to purchase the Jefferson Division outright. The D&H agreed, and in 1955, ownership of “the Jeff” was transferred to the D&H, at a price of 3.5 million dollars. The Erie was still able to retain trackage rights, and had the right to service the local customers still on the line at Forest City, Thompson, and Starrucca.

In the next couple of years, the D&H would tear out the old mechanical semaphores, interlocking and signal system, and would install new CTC and modern searchlight signals. By 1960 the tower operators at BS (Burnwood South), YD (Ararat), and MR (Stevens Point) would also be eliminated. A small “shack” at JN, that serviced the connection to the Erie’s mainline at Jefferson Junction would be maintained and manned by the Erie.

Bridge traffic from the PRR and other connections, handed to the D&H at Wilkes-Barre was continuing to decline all though the late ’50’s and into the ’60’s. The Erie’s Jefferson Division, now owned by the D&H was renamed the D&H Jefferson Branch. The Division had been double tracked all its life, but the decline in traffic meant that double tracking was no longer needed. After the installation of cTc (Centralized Traffic Control) and in an effort to save money on both maintenance and taxes to the Commonwealth of PA, the D&H single tracked a large portion of the Jefferson Branch in 1959.

Final Disposition:

With its never-ending maintenance requirements due to having been originally built through a swampy area, and with excessive groundwater run-off causing on-going troubles with errosion of the railbed, abandonment of the Penn began in 1981, shortly after the D&H purchased the old DL&W Scranton-to-Binghamton mainline. Thereafter, the Company quickly downgraded the Penn, and started sending Wilkes-Barre trains over this newly acquired line. However, not all traffic was re-routed to the old DL&W until 1982.

By the end of 1982, all traffic had been diverted off the Penn and as a result, the rails between Carbondale and Stevens Point were torn up, severing the link between the D&H’s Susquehanna Division in New York State,  and the southern half of Penn Division in PA.  The line from Nineveh, NY to Stevens Point, PA remained in place and was used for High-Wide loads that were too large to pass through the Binghamton-to-Albany Susquehanna Division’s tunnel near Belden Hill, NY, re-routing these loads to Stevens point, and up the Erie’s Jefferson Connection to the Erie Main and on to Binghamton and points west.  In 1986, after the rebuilding of the Belden Tunnel, Guilford Corporation (who had purchased the D&H) tore up the remaining trackage from Stevens Point  to Nineveh, as well as removing several bridges.  And so ended the Penn Division in its entirety.

Today, the tracks from Nineveh, NY to Carbondale PA and almost all the structures are gone, but the visible roadbed remains. A single track, from Carbondale south, through the towns, of Mayfield, Peckville, Archbald, Dickson City, and points south remains. It is owned by the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Rail Authority, and operated by the Delaware-Lackawanna R.R., a local, 85 mile shortline owned by the Genesee Valley Transportation Corp. D-L hauls a lot of crushed stone and sand to Carbondale, that is then used by many of the natural gas drilling outfits that are operating in the Marcellus Shale in Wayne, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Bradford, Tioga, and Lycoming Counties.  Those rails also seen an occasional excursion from Steam Town in Scranton to Carbondale, or the annual “Santa Express”.

Over the last decade the stretch of railbed between Forest City, PA north to the New York State border above Lanesboro has been acquired by the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern PA. The Council, through private donations and state and federal grants has been improving and restoring the railbed surface, converting the old line into a recreational trail. Although no longer hosting high-speed Challenger-powered freights, the old D&H Penn Division still lives on though this re-purposing project.

Through my “O” scale (P:48) efforts, it is my intention to bring the D&H Penn Division/Erie Jefferson Division, back to life as an historical, operating railroad display in 1/4″ scale (1:48), as it would have existed in the late summer of 1952.