Our Railroad Anniversary

As Recalled by George Nye

by George A. Nye
Just 100 years ago this month Warsaw was connected to the east by railroad. The first train left the Buffalo street station on Monday, Oct. 27, 1856. It left at 7:40 a.m. Columbus, Ohio time. The engine was the VanWert with Sam Slagle as engineer and A. P. Conn as conductor.

The Northern Indianian of that date has much to say of the new railroad. The first shipment east was 1,200 bushels of wheat to Pittsburgh by Williams and Montford. Reub Williams, editor of the Indianian, says that the first engine to enter the town was the Allegheny with Josiah Tilton as engineer and J. J. Tilton as conductor.

It would be interesting to see a picture of these old trains. The engines were small and perhaps without any shelter for the engineer. They burned wood and had a top speed of about 25 miles an hour. Over a newly built road it would be dangerous to travel very fast.

All summer the road had been in the process of building. It reached Pierceton early in the summer. Much gravel was taken from the pit east of town on what was then the Boss farm. Irishmen were used in the construction and slip scoops and mules were the only machinery. For a month or so one train went east in the morning and returned in the evening. It was not until later in the fall that trains began to run to Plymouth.

Before this time Peter L. Runyan had a line of hacks and once a week a hack went to Plymouth one day and returned the next. Three times a week a hack went to Peru and daily a hack went to Columbia City where connection was made with the railroad.

The Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad appears to have grown out of three smaller companies the Ohio & Pennsylvania, the Ohio & Indiana and the Fort Wayne and Chicago. All was not smooth in building the line for we read of the Irish going on strike when their pay did not come through and when they did get paid much of it was spent at the saloons.

First Depot
The first building used as a depot was on Buffalo street just south of the tracks on the west side. Some time later a depot was built down on Union street on the north side of the tracks and on the west side of the street. It was west of a flour mill built about this time by Heller and Gallentine. Here the first depot burned down and a second one was built and dedicated by a grand shindig.

Later a freight depot was built west of the passenger station This section in here was a busy place for 50 years. Freight unloaded from the cars was hauled uptown by drays. Holbrook's bus met all passenger trains and hauled people back and forth from the hotels.

In 1856 the hotels were the Wright House and Popham's Exchange. Buses and drays would go down Market street to the depot.

In the vicinity of the depot was Aaron Eschbach's store, Dan Hardman's grocery, Shoup & Oldfather's flour mill, and south of it, Shorb's restaurant and saloon.

A switch in front of Shorb's could be thrown to let a train in on the south track which ran out to Boss's Spring in Spring Fount Park on Eagle Lake. The road was not double tracked until 1902. This caused the Dummy to quit running to the park and soon the street cars took its place.

The new passenger depot was built in 1893-4 and they hoped to have it ready for the World's Fair travel to Chicago. It was a very pretty building when it was new. The pavement in front of it was made a few years later. The grass plots east and west of the building used to be kept up and were very pretty.

In 1856 it took an hour or more for a passenger train to go to Columbia City with the old wood burning engines. In the 1890's the top speed was about 40 miles an hour over the gravel ballasted road bed. Passenger coaches were made of wood. From that time until the present there has been great changes and now the coaches were made of steel, the track is stone ballasted and the curve east of town is made for a top speed of 85 mph. Passengers now go to Fort Wayne in 30 minutes without any stops.

Wright House Burns
When the Wright House burned here in 1873, Bill Conrad telegraphed to Fort Wayne and they sent a pumper down to Warsaw in 30 minutes. That was going some for that period.

In the early years of this century, Jerry McCarthy, an engineer who used to live on North Buffalo street in Warsaw, made a top speed of 106 mph on a run in Ohio on the Pennsylvania Lines. He was trying to make up some time and of course this run encouraged him in his desire.

In the days when the dummy ran back and forth to Spring Fountain Park, Jerry was the engineer and Harry Bitner was the fireman. The dummy headed out and backed in.

In those days, Jerome H. Lones was the agent. Some of his helpers were Jack Shoup, Desoto Grant and a Mr. Baker.

We remember once when the local was shunting a car in on the Thayer elevator switch and Baker was on top to set the brakes. The brakes failed to work, the car went off of the end of the switch, struck a light pole and Baker was thrown head first over into Lake street suffering no great injury. This caused the company to put in a bumper post at the end of the Lesh Co. switch.

The Big Four railroad came through in 1870. This junction used to be a busy place for the exchange of freight. A transfer house was built and a Y put in to connect the two lines.

There are now 10 crossings in town all protected but one. Years ago of course none of them were protected but about 1890 Dwight Nichols was put at the Buffalo street crossing. He had a shanty on the ground at the northwest corner.

4 Crossings Protected
By 1895 the pressure had become so great on the company that four crossings were protected, Buffalo, Indiana, High and Detroit. Gates were built at each crossing and a shanty put up on the end of a pole.

Charles O. Davis, who had lost an arm in the railroad service, was given the Buffalo street crossing and he remained here for 35 years. He worked long hours for he could not leave until he had let No. 8 through. This train went east at 6:36 p.m. We are glad to see today that the day of the old steam locomotive is about over. It made a lot of smoke, was not over 19 percent efficient, required water tanks and pumping stations, and was not convenient for either engineer or fireman. Now since 1950 diesel engines have come into use. Their speed is greater and the whole set up is cleaner and more efficient.

Any person who is further interested in this subject is welcome to read George Nye's article entitled "Warsaw in 1856" which is entirely too long for publication in The Times-Union but may be perused at the surveyors office at the courthouse. It is a part of his book No. 21 on Local History.

Warsaw Times Union, Tuesday October 15, 1956

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