FROM BROAD GAUGE TO NARROW GAUGE
"The Erie was built as a broad-gauge line, having 6 feet between the rail as opposed to the standard 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. This enabled the Erie to carry wider and larger items than it's standard-gauge competitors, but made it difficult to interchange with them. In 1880 the entire mainline of the Erie was converted to standard-gauge in a single day."
The Erie Third Rail - In 1876, the standard gauge Lehigh Valley advanced the Erie Railroad some $2 million to lay a third rail from Waverly to Buffalo so that freight no longer had to be broken at the former point and transferred to wide gauge cars. This view, discovered by the late Joseph Boyd of Elmira, shows Erie engine 199 on the mainline next to the gravel pit at Cameron Mills, which may have been a source for stone ballast. There is evidence that Lehigh Valley locomotives pulled through freights to Buffalo this way before it opened its own main line west of Waverly in 1893.
Thanks to Richard Palmer for the research and submittal of the information below extracted from local area newspapers of the time period.
Cincinnati Commercial, Jan. 4, 1879
Last summer the laying of the third rail was continued to Binghamton, connection being there made with Albany by the Susquehanna Railroad. The work was completed last when the additional rail was finally laid to Jersey City, and yesterday the first train passed over to Port Jervis, the end of the Eastern Division. Hereafter it will be in constant use.
Cuba Patriot, March 23, 1883 Researched & Submitted by Richard Palmer
The Erie and the Narrow Gauges
The statement that the R.G. Taylor system of narrow gauges has been leased outright to the Erie road is both reported and denied. It is probably an error. However an arrangement has been entered into which brings these small roads into even closer communion with the Erie than has been.
They have at all times been favored by the Erie, sing at points of junction their depots, having switch room furnished, and working together in the control of freight and passenger traffic as though under one management.
The treasurer of the Erie road, B.W. Spencer, is treasurer of the narrow gauges, and officials of the former have been among the directors of the latter. They have been emphatically "Erie roads," and it is hard to see how they could be more intimately-connected, except under positive leases.
It is said that the new arrangement definitely provides for the transfer of traffic between the two, and that the Erie guarantees the outstanding bonds of the various narrow gauges o the amount of $1,500,000. This will raise them to the rank of prime securities.
The system includes 157 miles of road, made up of the Tonawanda Valley & Cuba, Bradford, Eldred & Cuba, the Bradford, Bordell & Kinzua, and the Bradford & Smethport road.
Erie Railroad Scraps the Broad Gauge
by Richard F. Palmer
It is generally known among railroad historians that the Erie
Railroad was originally constructed to six-foot gauge, and it has
been chronicled many times in various histories. Less known is the
long-term project to convert it to standard gauge.
Starting in the late 1860s, a third rail, as finances would
permit, was gradually laid the length of the system to accommodate
standard-gauge rolling stock and to permit interchange with other
railroads. It is recorded that the Lehigh Valley Railroad advanced
the money to the Erie to lay a third rail west from Waverly, N.Y. so
it could operate standard-gauge coal trains to Buffalo. This
arrangement was continued until the 1890s when the Lehigh Valley
built its own main line from Sayre to Buffalo.
This eliminated the complicated operation in which railroad
officials had to sometimes resort to peculiar methods of coping with
the different gauges. For example, Erie locomotives were equipped
with offset couplers to handle both wide and standard-gauge cars.
Dual-gauge yards could be nightmares when snow covered the tracks
only experienced trackmen could contend with.
Virtually the only source of information for this interesting
chapter in railroad history is the local newspapers of the day. They
reveal fascinating details of how this massive slimming of the
rails was accomplished. Although the actual changeover may in many
cases have been done in a matter of hours, months of preparation went
into this. The newspapers hailed the changeover as a miracle of
Following are several newspaper articles explaining how this was
accomplished. It wasn’t until 1882 and the investment of some $22
million that the Erie management finally corrected this extremely
costly mistake of not going to standard gauge in the first place. It
all but drove the Erie into bankruptcy because it also necessitated
the standard-gauging of thousands of pieces of rolling stock,
including locomotives, coaches and freight equipment.
American Railroad Journal, April 10, 1852
Gauge of Railroad from Buffalo to Cleveland.
From Cleveland, Ohio, to Erie, Pennsylvania, the Ohio gauge of
four feet ten inches is used. Upon the Erie and Northeast railroad,
extending from Erie to the New York State line, a distance f some 18
miles, the wide, or six feet gauge has been adopted. From the state
line to Buffalo, the four feet ten inch gauge prevails.
To whom this arrangement is owing we are not informed, but the
genius of all evil himself could not have framed a a more
inconvenient, or one better adapted to obstruct business and travel.
With the exception of the Buffalo and State-line road, the only
gauges known in this State are the 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, and the 6 feet.
Common sense would seem to dictate that one of these should have
been taken by the Lake Shore road. As it is, there must now be
transshipments at Buffalo, Dunkirk, the Pennsylvania state line, and
at Erie; making tour where there should have been but two at most.
Either the wide or the narrow gauge should have been carried to
Erie. That would have been a convenient place of transshipment, and
would probably have been selected as such, had there been no break of
gauge even thee. There must be a limit to the distance to be run by
freight and passenger cars. It is found to be more economical and
convenient to transship freight from one train to another, than to
run the train over given distance, on account of the difficulty of
preserving order in the arrangement and distribution of the cars.
We presume that under no circumstances whatever, would cars
loaded at Cleveland be run through to this city. A break of gauge at
some point upon the line between the above cities is not
objectionable, provided it occurs at the most convenient point. But
where there are three or four interruptions to the transit of
merchandise and travel, within short distances, and at the most
inconvenient places, they will be found to work a serious injury to
traffic of all kinds.
We predict that evil will be in a short time become unbearable,
as to work out its own cure. What the Erie people were about, when an
arrangement was completed, that completely prevented them from moving
in any direction, is more than we can opine. At the lake their road
comes to a dead halt, and all through business has to be tumbled out
of their own cars upon those of other companies. All these blunders
must be remedied, and the sooner the better.
Montrose (Pa.) Democrat, Feb. 16, 1876
The laying of a third rail by the Erie Railway between Waverly
and Buffalo, will be in effect the first step taken by that road to
reduce the gauge. The tendency in all railroads is now toward narrow
gauge, which is found to be quite as safe and convenient as broad
gauge and much cheaper. In a few months the Albany and Susquehanna
Railroad will be entirely narrow gauge; the Delaware, Lackawanna and
Western Railroad are making arrangements for a similar change from
Scranton to Syracuse; and it is safe to predict that ere many years a
broad gauge car will be unknown in this locality.
Montrose Democrat, April 26, 1876
The third rail on the Erie railway from Jersey City to Waverly
will be laid by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and Delaware and
Hudson companies, they receiving from the Erie company 24 percent of
the earnings for two years. The Lehigh Valley Railroad company will
lay the third rail from Waverly to Buffalo and will have a perpetual
lease of road so that they can run their trains over the Erie at any
time. They have formerly been obliged to pay a large sum for the
privilege. Over 1,200 carloads of iron will be required to lay the
third rail from Jersey City to Buffalo.
New York Tribune, Nov. 8, 1877
Receiver Jewett of the Erie Railway, has been authorized to lay
a third rail from Binghamton to Susquehanna, to connect with the
Jefferson Railroad (which is leased by the Erie), and on which a
third rail has already been laid. The Jefferson road taps the
Delaware and Hudson Railroad system at Carbondale, and this route
will give the Erie another outlet to Philadelphia. The object of
obtaining this authority at present was to to furnish a guarantee to
the directors of the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railroad, that
the necessary arrangements for a Boston connection would be made,
without which they refused to begin the construction of their road.
Accompanying the request for the order, was a letter from T.W.
Powell to Mr. Jewett. Mr. Powell and Sir Edward Watkin are the
"independent trustees, not representing any special interest." Mr.
Powell, who has now returned to England, states that he was
authorized by the other seven trustees of the reconstruction program
to act on their behalf during his visit to America. "I have,
therefore, to inform you," he says, "that the trustees approve the
laying of the third rail for narrow gauge on that section and the
issue of the receiver's notes for the purchase of the necessary steel
and iron. And you may assure the vendors thereof of such an approval,
and of our intention thereof of such an approval, and of our
intention as trustees, having control of the expenditures of the
assessment money after the intended foreclosure sale, that (without
assuming or being held liable for any personal responsibility) it is
our intention to protect and pay any portion of the receiver's notes
for the purchase money of said steel and iron, which may not be paid
by the receiver before he hands over the road to the purchasers,
under the reconstruction program."
Mr. Powell's authority to act was contained in a resolution of
the Reconstruction Trustees, which provides that: "Mr. Powell be
urgently request to proceed to America to decided with Mr. Jewett the
appointment of Purchasing Trustees, and to make such arrangements as
may be necessary in his best judgment, to further the completion of
foreclosure, the repurchase of the undertaking, and the
reorganization of the company."
Cincinnati Commercial, Jan. 4, 1879
Erie's Narrow Gauge
The Laying of the Third Rail.
Advantages of the New Gauge.
New York Tribune. - In April last of the Erie Railway
reorganized, and under the new management the familiar name was
changed to New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad. But the new
management made other changes besides that of name. The most
important of these has been change of the gauge of the road, which
has been accomplished by the laying of a third rail. This work was
begun in 1876, when the alteration was made on the Buffalo, and a
part of the Susquehanna Division, so that narrow-guage cars of the
Lehigh Valley Line were run from Philadelphia through to Buffalo on
the Erie Road from Waverly.
Last summer the laying of the third rail was continued to
Binghamton, connection being there made with Albany by the
Susquehanna Railroad. The work was completed last when the additional
rail was finally laid to Jersey City, and yesterday the first train
passed over to Port Jervis, the end of the Eastern Division.
Hereafter it will be in constant use.
Octave Chanute, Assistant Superintendent of the railroad,
yesterday gave the following account of the adoption of the old
gauge, and its change:
"When Stephenson built the first railroad the gauge adopted was
five feet between the centers of the rails. The rails were then U-
shaped, they had a trough in the center about three inches in width,
for the wheel to run in. But this form was soon abandoned, because
the dirt collected in it, and the edge, or T-shaped rail was adopted.
In order to adapt this to the rolling stock then in use, it was found
necessary to measure the gauge on the inside of the rails, and this
four-feet eight and one half inches, which thus became the standard
The managers of the Great Western Railway of England believed
that more power could be gained by having a broad base to the boiler,
and that greater security would be insured by a broader gauge. So
they adopted seven feet. When the Erie was built three ideas
prevailed, and the six-foot or broad gauge was chosen. But these
principles have since been proved to be fallacious; no advantage has
been gained by the extra width, and the cost of rolling-stock has
been much increased."
"What will be the advantage to the road of the new rail?"
"The great saving will be in running freight through without
breaking bulk. Time and money will be saved by not having to change
the loads of cars when they come on our line. We have saved the
unloading of through cars by changing trucks at Buffalo, but this
cost forty cents for each car and took considerable time. The way it
has been done is this: Two cars, one on broad-gauge trucks and the
other on narrow, were run in side by side. By hoisting machines the
cars were raised and the trucks changed; one car went on west by the
narrow gauge track and the other ran to this city on the broad-gauge.
By the new regulations, cars of both gauges may be run on the same
train. We have been doing that on portions of the road already
provided with three rails. No difficulty is found, as we use a patent
coupler, which causes a direct draft between the two widths. Much
care is necessary at the switches, however, and extra caution is
enjoined upon all employees. To simplify matters as much as possible,
we try to keep all cars of the same width together."
"Has the company purchased any new rolling-stock for the narrow-
"We have ordered thirty new engines, which are being made in
Patterson, and 3,000 new freight cars. The present rolling-stock will
not be altered but will be replaced as fast as worn out by those of
narrower gauge. It would cost only about half a million to change all
the cars, but more than three times that mount would be necessary to
alter new locomotives, as new boilers would be required. No change
has been made in connections with other lines. It is quite probable
that some arrangements may be made with other lines, such as the
Midland, which meets us at Middletown, but so far the only change has
been with the Montclair and Greenwood Lake Road. Of this road's stock
we bought a large share at its recent sale, and the third rail will
permit the running of their trains to our depot in Jersey City.
The trains of that road have been running to the depot of the
Pennsylvania Central, but tomorrow the change will be made, and
hereafter all passenger and freight trains of the road will run to
and from our depot only. A general notice to that effect has just
been printed. All business on that line will be noted at our offices."
John N. Abbott, General Passenger Agent, was asked if the completion
of the new gauge would make any change in he running of passenger
trains. "Our broad-gauge passenger and sleeping coaches," he said,
"give us an advantage over other lines in the comfort of passenger.
We have quite a reputation in this respect between here and Buffalo,
and we expect to keep it. Through trains of broad-gauge cars will be
continued over our own line and our broad-gauge connection, the
Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, o Rochester, Niagara Falls,
Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
"To points which we don't reach by broad-gauge we shall run
narrow-gauge cars, as to Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. The fast St.
Louis express, leaving here at 6 P.M., will be made up of narrow-
gauge cars, to run through. We had fifty new narrow cars built for us
in the Centennial year, and placed on broad trucks, these we can
change to use on the narrow gauge, if we wish. Of course, we shall
build no new broad-gauge coaches, although they are pleasanter to
ride in from their roominess, and run more steadily, from heir
Most of the rolling stock conversion took place at company shops such
as Susquehanna, Pa. and Hornell, N.Y., while some was done at smaller
facilities for convenience.
Cattaraugus Republican, Salamanca, N.Y., Thursday, June 24, 1880:
The Erie Narrowed Standard Gauge--A Day Without A Railroad Train--
Waiting Passengers--Quick Work--An Ovation--Again On Time.
Never was the enterprise and push characteristic of our age more
fully exemplified than in narrowing the gauge of the Erie last
Tuesday. For the last few weeks extra gangs of men had been busily at
work preparing the track and switches for the change, and getting
everything in readiness for the moment when the order should be given
to move one rail fifteen and a half inches nearer the other.
Moving the rail, however, did not constitute the greatest amount
of work to be done. The handling of the vast amount of rolling stock
was one of the largest jobs in connection with the work. Monday
morning the yards all along the division were full of broad gauge
cars, and these had to be sent to Hornellsvile on that day. During
the day 300 cars were shipped out of Salamanca, and at night the yard
on the Erie side looked desolate and deserted. The old switch
engines, 304, 36 and 73, which had so long pulled in and out on the
labyrinth of switches, were likewise sent away. As these old switch
engines left the yard the Atlantic (and Great Western) engines and
engines in the shops gave them a parting salute. The departing
locomotives gave a long good-bye blast, which had in it some little
tinge of sadness, and the whistles which had become familiar to all
were heard for the last time on the Reservation. At 6 o'clock Monday
evening there were but three broad gauge cars in the Erie yard -- the
tool car and two gondolas, which were to be narrow-gauged here.
The passenger trains ran regular Monday forenoon, but in the
afternoon there was a general abandonment after train 9 had passed
over the road. The last broad gauge train over the road was a wildcat
from Dunkirk to Hornellsville, run by conductor Kimball, and passed
Salamanca at 9:30 P.M.
Monday night was a remarkable one in the history of the Erie
road. After Kimball's "wildcat" reached Hornellsville, the shriek of
no engine broke the stillness between Dunkirk and Hornellsville. The
moon shone down upon a stretch of 198 miles of track upon which stood
not a single car. Excepting a few cars in the shops at Salamanca,
there was not a car on the Western division from 12 M until 9 o'clock
on Tuesday morning.
The work of moving the rail began at 4:30 Tuesday morning, and
at 8 A.M. intelligence was flashed over the wires to Superintendent
Beggs that the work was completed on the main line. About 800 men
were employed in the great enterprise, which was carried through
without accident in just three hours and a half from the time the
first spike was pulled. The Little Valley section was first to report
its work finished. In just two hours from the time of beginning
Foreman Carroll sent in his report that his section was ready for the
narrow gauge trains. Track Foreman Wyman telegraphed to
Superintendent Beggs that the Salamanca section was ready at 7:30. A
number of sections were completed at almost the same moment.
Shortly after the news that the line was reduced to standard
gauge, an inspection train, with Wm. Wilcox as conductor and
containing Division Superintendent Beggs and other railroad officials
was started out of Dunkirk. The train was pulled by an engine from
the Dunkirk & Allegany Valley Railroad, "The Conewango, No. 3"--with
engineer Tibbits at the throttle. The engine and cars were decorated
with flags and the train was greeted with continuous ovation as it
passed over the road. As it reached Salamanca, at 11:45, there was
such a screeching of engines as is seldom heard. The "wildcat"
inspection train proceeded to Olean where it was met by a similar
train from Hornellsville. The Dunkirk train returned to Salamanca and
was closely followed by the Homellsville inspection train, under the
direction of Conductor Langworthy. The train was pulled by engine 574
and reached here at 2:30 P.M. and was greeted with an enthusiastic
reception. M.W. Coburn, one of the most reliable engineers on the
road, has the distinction of driving the first Erie engine over the
narrow gauge track. Engine 574 is nearly new, having been used on the
Buffalo Division for a few weeks. It is a 60 ton Mogul, built at the
Grant Locomotive Works at Paterson.
The inspection trains having passed over the road, the track was
pronounced in good condition, and train three was dispatched from
Homellsville as "wildcat." The train, run by Conductor Martin, came
into Salarnanca at 2:50 P.M., being about three hours behind its
regular time. David Cary, one of the oldest men on the line, pulled
the train with engine No. 57. Thus with comparatively little
inconvenience to the traveling public the Erie was reduced to
standard gauge, and again the trains are speeding over the road
nearly on time.
The gauge of the New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio Railroad between
Leavittsburg, Pa., and Dayton, Ohio, was changed Tuesday from broad
to standard. Two thousand five hundred men were placed along the line
from Dayton to Leavittsburg, 325 miles. The work began at 3 a.m. and
ended at 9 a.m. the shortest piece of work of this kind on record.
The trains on the Eastern Division of the NYP&O, with few
exceptions, ran on about their usual time Monday and Tuesday.
Twenty new consolidated 60-ton moguls from the Grant Locomotive
Works are to pull the freight on the westem division of the Erie.
Their power seems almost limitless, and the boys say they will draw
everything that can be hitched to them. One of them took about eighty
log fed cars out of Salamanca yesterday morning.
On Monday a special order was issued by Superintendent Beggs,
enjoining engineers and conductors to use the utmost care in running
trains. The order was faithfully obeyed and the great amount of
rolling stock moved to the east terminus of the division without
delay or accident. The same care was enjoined and complied with in
moving the train after the road had been reduced to standard gauge.
About 70 cars have been narrow gauged at the Erie shops since the
15th of May. They are stamped "N.G. Salamanca, May (or June) 1880."
"N.G." doesn't always stand for "no good."
The new bob-tail switch engine No. 515, to be used in the yard
here, reached Salamanca Tuesday. Two more of the same pattern are
expected to do the same work by the old switch engines. Train 12 on
the N.Y. P.& 0. came into Salamanca Tuesday with narrow gauge
coaches. 1,600 cars from the N.Y.P.& 0. road were sent east over the
Erie between Monday and Monday night. Since the "embargo has been
raised," freight traffic has been lively.
Rochester (N.Y) Union and Advertiser, Saturday, July 30, 1881
"The Battle of the Gauges" Last of the Broad Gauge--The New York,
Lake Erie & Western Railroad Conforms to the Standard
The broad gauge of the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad is
no more. In the bright light of this beautiful summer morning with
each moving rail a change was wrought and in a few short hours the
diligent hands of experienced workmen had transformed the Erie road
from a broad gauge route to one of standard gauge. It was a matter of
expediency, nothing more. A few years ago this fact was fully
appreciated by the directors and managers of the road, and a third
rail -- allowing means of passage for both broad and standard cars --
was placed on the main line. To-day an important step has been taken
by the company. The road between this city and Coming has been
narrowed from a width of six feet between the rails, to one of 4 feet
8-1/2 inches, the standard gauge.
How It Was Done
As the Erie was the last railroad to submit to the "battle of
the gauges," some little interest may be excited as to the manner in
which the change was made. For several months past extensive
preparations leading to a rapid narrowing of the road have been going
on. All along the line between Coming and Rochester, a distance of 94
miles, the measurements for the new gauge have been made. In fact the
line had already once been laid before work was commenced this
morning. The east rail was the one to be moved, and just 15-1/2
inches from the inside of this rail spikes had been set, throughout
the entire distance, at intervals of time throughout the past two
Mr. Canfield of Buffalo, Road-master, and Thomas Conners,
Supervisor of Tracks, had thoughtfully and carefully made preliminary
arrangements and G. E. Butterfield, stationmaster in this city, had
changed the switches in and about the yard, thus completing the
preparations for successful and speedy changing of the gauge. Last
night the rolling stock of the road was all transferred to Corning.
The Last train running on the broad gauge, drawn by engine
number 11, B. Rogers, engineer, and A.S. Alexander, conductor,
arrived in this city at thirty minutes past eleven and almost
immediately returned to Coming. Between two and four o'clock this
morning about 500 experienced workmen, employees of the Rochester,
Buffalo, Susquehanna and Western Divisions, were distributed in gangs
of six or eight each at equal intervals along the line of the road
between this city and Coming. Strict orders were given to begin the
work promptly at four o'clock and at that hour, all being in
readiness, almost simultaneously each separate force of workmen began
their allotted task. It was an interesting sight to one walking along
the line of the railroad to see these men busy as beavers tearing up
and rapidly replacing the rails. In each division the work was so
arranged that it was carried on in the most systematic manner possible.
First came the men who skillfully and quickly withdrew the
spikes, then followed swiftly those who moved the rail from its old
position to the one destined for it alongside of the spikes already
set, snd last of all in quick succession came those who drive the
spikes about the rail in its new place. The work progressed far more
rapidly than one would readily believe, the rate of taking up and
relaying the rails being about one mile in four hours as performed by
By eight o'clock the whole distance of ninety-four miles had
been transformed from a broad gauge to the standard measurement and
the last victory of the standard width, 4 feet 8-1/2 inches, in the
battle of the gauges in this country has been won. The first arrival
this morning over the newly laid track was the "wild cat" train from
Avon, drawn by engine 60, Frank Marsh engineer, and A.S. Alexander
conductor. This train left Avon at 8:15 and reached this city at
11:45, being detained about an hour and a half at the Henrietta
section; the only place along the route where the men laying the
track had not done all that was expected of them. At a quarter before
twelve o'clock the train from Corning, drawn by engine 35, in charge
of Augustus Johnson engineer, and G.H. Brown conductor, reached its
destination, thus proving the complete transformation of the road.
Although this train was an hour and forty minutes late running
time had been made, the delay being occasioned by waiting at various
stations for orders, the passengers on this train report a gala day
all along the line. At each station crowds were assembled to welcome
the train and great enthusiasm prevailed. Hats were thrown in the
air, handkerchiefs were waved and cheers burst from the lips of many.
The change is completed and general satisfaction prevails and great
credit is due to both managers and men for the highly creditable
manner in which this work has been accomplished.
Fish Plates and Spikes
--J.E. Butterfield and his men did some hard work yesterday. John
Wieman is the Boss man to "fix" switches.--The Hog (switch engine)
left on Thursday morning at 5 o'clock never to return. The porcine
locomotive, almost a historical machine, has done its duty.
--John English began at this end of the branch, with twenty men.
--Thirty men from Avon to Attica breakfasted at Mrs. Kelly's hotel at
half-past two o'clock this morning.
--V. Rogers, the well-known engineer, enjoyed the distinction of
driving the last locomotive over the broad gauge. He "made the old
gal scream" before leaving the city.
--Frank Marsh is the first engineer over the narrow gauge on the
--Tom Ford wants a little more practice before he can draw a spike
properly. --It as amusing to see Dan Turner handle a crow bar yesterday.
--It was a big surprise to some of the boys on this end of the
division to see themselves in the agony of perspiration. --Joseph
Bradt was out with his rail gang this morning and did splendid service.
--Tom Connors, the supervisor of the tracks, tough obliged to forego
the pleasure of helping in the narrowing, on account of
indisposibility, followed the work of the men in his mind and was
almost well when he heard the scream of the last engine out on the