Friendship Register

August 19, 1926

Saw First Erie Train Through Friendship


Venerable John Chapman Reviews History of Service

Has Served Erie 72 Years

   The romance of steel rails is personified in John K. Chapman, of Hornell, who soon will have established a record of three-quarters of a century in the service of the Erie Railroad Company, and who recently has been congratulated by some of the highest railway officials in the country. The record of Mr. Chapman was brought to the forefront just lately by the presentation of a large gold medal designating him as the oldest employee on the Erie system.

   It is a record of which Mr. Chapman and his friends are justly proud. It is a record that has been unstained in any way. The recognition by President Underwood of the Erie took place at the annual Erie employees' outing at Crystal Beach, at which time the medal, which was presented by Vice President W.A. Baldwin in behalf of President Underwood, was displayed before a large crowd.

Recalls Road Building.

   Mr. Chapman was born on October 4, 1836, at Friendship, Allegany county, several years before the Erie Railroad even was thought of. His railroad career began October 2, 1854, three years after the road had pushed through the wilderness and the eastern and western ends united two miles west of Cuba. Well does Mr. Chapman remember the string times incidental in the building of the road.

   "There was great excitement all through this section when it became known that the Erie had decided to build its road through here," Mr. Chapman said. "I well remember hearing my uncle, Mr. Kirkpatrick, who was one of the builders, tell about it. A locomotive was shipped to Dunkirk by water and work was being pushed from both directions. It was between February 9 and May 5, 1851, that the two construction gangs met about two miles west of Cuba.

   "A Mr. Sullivan, who was the contractor in charge of the work, and my uncle, Mr. Kirkpatrick, were the men who fitted the last rail into place. My uncle held the chisel and Mr. Sullivan swung the maul.

Sees First Special.

   "On May 5, 1851, I was at Friendship when the first through train, President Fillmore's special, wen through. There were two wood burning engines run by Engineer C.H. Sherman, of Dunkirk, and Engineer William Hall, of Hornell, on the train and another light engine run by Engineer William Kimball, of Hornell, followed behind. The train itself consisted of three passenger coaches and a flat car behind to be used as an observation platform and also a place from which the speakers addressed the crowds along the way. Besides President Fillmore, there were many other prominent men of the day included in the party, among them being Mr. Minot, general manager of the Erie, and Senator Douglas, of Boston.

   "Great crowds gathered at the various stations all along the line. At Friendship Senator Douglas spoke briefly, after which the train pulled on to the next station. I well remember seeing the old wood burning locomotives come crawling along the tracks as the pulled into Friendship and how the crowd cheered and waved their hands as those on the train waved back.

   "The president's special was the first train, but a few weeks before that I had seen one of the work trains come down as far as Belmont with a load of rails. This was the first time I had ever seen an engine.

Began as Brakeman.

   "It was three years afterwards when I went to work as a brakeman for the Erie. In those days it was a part of the brakeman's duty to help load the tenders with wood every so far along the road. Leaving Hornell, we would carry from two to four cords, which would take us about as far as Wellsville, where we would load up again for Olean.

   "My first run was under Conductor Daniel Lockwood on the way freight between Scio and Dunkirk. H.B. Smith was then superintendent of the division. On July 6, 1856, I was given a job as fireman. The advent of the coal burning locomotives was during the time I was absent during the Civil War. When I left in 1861 to enlist in the Union army there was nothing but the wood burning engines in use over the entire road, but when I returned in 1865 there were several coal burners.

   "My war experience was with the Ninth New York Cavalry, in which I served three years and one month, being discharged on October 26, 1864, on account of the expiration of my term of enlistment."

Officer of G.A.R.

   Mr. Chapman now is one of the few remaining veterans of the Civil War in Hornell and for several years he has held the office of adjutant in the Hornell G.A.R. post.

   "Upon my return from the war," continued Mr. Chapman, "I took a brief rest before reporting to Superintendent H.G. Brooks, who then was in charge of the western division, and put me back to work. On February 26, 1865, I was promoted to engineer and with a few others was transferred to the Susquehanna division for a period of about four months. It was on February 1, 1889, that I was promoted to the office of road foreman of engines on the Allegany and Bradford division. I held this office for fifteen years and in 1903 returned to running an engine. In 1907 I became yard foreman of engines and continued to hold that office.

   "Back in the old days all the trains were way freights and locals, although there were a few stock expresses. The passenger trains were all known by name, the principal westbound ones being 'The Steamboat Express,' the'Day Express' and the 'Night Express.' Eastbound they were known as the 'Day Express,' the 'Night Express' and 'Cincinnati Express.' There was an old mail train that ran between Hornell and Dunkirk and was quite popular.

Confederate Prisoners Killed.

   Among the outstanding events that Mr. Chapman remembers was an occasion when a train dispatcher ran two trains together on the Delaware division and killed several Confederate prisons who wee being brought to the prison camp at Elmira. During the course of his many years as engineer Mr. Chapman had several wrecks, but none of much seriousness. One time his engine tipped over and he and his fireman were hurt, but not seriously.

   In the seventy-two years of service, Mr. Chapman met a great many prominent men, among them being Chauncey M. Depew, now chairman of the board of directors of the New York Central. One time Mr. Chapman was hauling a special train bearing Mr. Depew. Such a large crowd gathered at the station at Belmont to get a glimpse of him that Mr. Chapman brought his train to a stop, he says, to avoid killing someone.

   Recently Mr. Depew read an account of the bestowal of the medal on Mr. Chapman for his long service and wrote a letter congratulating him on his record. Mr. Chapman also received a similar letter from President Patrick Crowley of the New York Central.

   Elaborate arrangements are being made for Mr. Chapman's 90th birthday, which will be observed this fall, and it is expected that a public reception will take place to give his many friends an opportunity to greet him.