This is the time of year when all of our thoughts turn to things spooky. So for this week’s feature let’s look at some Erie freight cars – the Erie Railroad that is!
The railroad was chartered in 1832 and the line reached the shores of its namesake lake at Dunkirk, NY in 1851. The decision to build the line to a very broad six-foot gauge had both good and bad consequences for the future of the railroad. In the long run, even though the railroad would eventually be narrowed to standard gauge, the extra clearances afforded by the broad construction gave the Erie and its successors the best clearances in the East.
This engineering also greatly increased construction costs however. The Erie was the first major trunk line to declare bankruptcy in 1859, and the company always seemed to be playing catch-up to its many large rivals in the region. An old Vaudeville joke even went, “I have to get to Chicago in the worst way!” “Take the Erie.”
There were of course some good years through the history of the railroad, and many of its great engineering achievements are still marvels of railroading today. The Erie officially disappeared in 1960 when it merged with neighbor and partner, Delaware Lackawanna and Western to form the Erie Lackawanna. The combined systems were a much leaner and more efficient operation that managed to hold on until Hurricane Agnes wiped out large portions of the line in 1973.
The property became part of Conrail in 1976 and significant portions of the old Erie are now owned by roads including Norfolk Southern and many regional carriers.
With its good clearances and access to many manufacturing centers, the Erie had a wide range of rolling stock. From boxcars of all sizes, to heavy-duty flatcars for large loads, the Erie’s roster was filled with the sublime and the incredible.
The railroad’s specialized flatcar fleet was among the most long-lived. Many of the cars lasted well into Conrail years before retirement.
In other areas, the Erie had little money or reason to invest in modern equipment. Its hoppers were all of the smaller 55 ton variety. Its boxcar fleet was also dominated be shorter 40′ designs. Many of these cars were replaced or retired during the Erie Lackawanna years.
While the Erie railroad’s history was rocky and at times a bit scary if you were an investor, there was nothing haunting about their equipment. From its simple but classy paint scheme, to strings of produce cars rushing east behind a Mikado, to a towering transformer on a heavy-duty flatcar, Erie trains were a class act. And although often overshadowed by its larger competitors, the Erie was a proud line that deserves a little more credit than it usually receives for its role in railroading history.