"Disaster Avoided"

J.A. Rider was a well known and respected photographer in Wellsville, NY coming to town in 1868.  He operated a studio until 1901 when Amory Stewart took over.  The photo below is credited to Mr. Rider. A story follows the picture.



The grading for the 36" (narrow) gauge Wellsville, Bolivar & Eldred Railroad (the Bradford, Eldred & Cuba Railroad leased subsidiary that built the line from Wellsville to Little Genesee and from Bolivar to Richburg) was commenced at Wellsville near the Erie track on 9 June 1881 and the grade was finished to the Genesee River 2 or 3 days later.  The Erie delivered 4 carloads of rail on 16 June.  By 18 June the grade in Wellsville was finished to the Erie depot (which was a Union Station between the BE&C and the Erie during the BE&C's life).  By 18 July the grade was finished to Petrolia, including a 200' radius curve with a 209 degree arc.  The first locomotive on the narrow gauge arrived on an Erie flat car at Wellsville on 2 August 1881.  It was Bradford, Bordell & Kinzua (BB&K) #1, a 2-6-0 (Mogul-type) steam locomotive weighing 16 tons with a tender weighing 10 tons.  It was built by the Brooks Locomotive Works, Dunkirk NY, for the Parker & Karns City Railroad and later acquired by the BB&K. The BB&K and the BE&C System were controlled by the same interests.

BB&K #1 with 6 loaded construction gondola cars made the first trip out of Wellsville on 3 August.  On 7 August an excursion train made up of construction flats and gondolas ran from Wellsville to end of track about two miles up Brimmer Brook commencing passenger service of a sort.  Construction continued, including another 200' radius curve, this one with a 145 degree arc, at Norton Summit.  Norton Summit, at 1,919 feet above sea level, and more importantly, 409 feet above Wellsville, was reached via a steep nearly 2% grade.  Track reached Allentown on 25 August 1881 and on 29 August the new railroad hauled its first revenue freight, a carload of construction lumber for the H. K. Opp dry-goods store in Allentown.

Friday, 2 September 1881 saw the BB&K #1's date with destiny at the bridge.  The engine and crew had just finished making a trip to end of track west of Allentown with the train the Wellsville Daily Reporter, no doubt with tongue in cheek, called the "Allentown Express."  Due to the lack of a turntable or wye track west of Wellsville at the time the operating procedure was for the engine to push the train (today an excursion car and a flat car) up the hill.  This kept the engine on the lower end, at least to Norton Summit, which assisted in train control.  On the return trip the engineer stopped with his train on the temporary trestle over the Genesee River to take on water.  After finishing, as the train was slowly leaving a wooden cross member of the trestle cracked and the trestle slowly collapsed between the engine and its tender.

Remarkably no one was injured but Wellsville photographer Rider recorded the new railroad's embarassment for us.  Rider's photograph, a railroad classic, is taken looking south (downstream) at the eastbound locomotive.  Two versions of the photograph exist.  One shows the tender crudely lettered BB&K as if the negative (or a print) had been relettered.  Another version shows the tender clearly lettered BE&C but this may represent the artful work of someone with a print or negative who knew the location but did not take the trouble Colonel Rogers (see below)  did to ferret out the story.

The engine was rerailed and clear of the trestle by Saturday morning.  On Monday, 5 September, the trestle was repaired and trains again running.  Replaced later with a more permanent structure the trestle was never again involved in derailment.  The last regular train ran over the replacement trestle on 14 January 1893.

BB&K was ultimately returned to its owner's rails at Eldred as the BE&C's six new steam locomotives took over regular duties.

The above information could not have been written without the work the late Colonel Claire R. J. Rogers whose detailed research of local newspapers brought this incident back to life.  Those of us who are researching this and other Allegany County narrow gauge railroads owe him an immense debt of gratitude--Thank you, Colonel Rogers!.

Michael J. Connor

(The following was submitted for publication  by Michael J. Connor based on research by the late William L. Reddy and the late Colonel C. R. J. Rogers.)