O&W’S Scranton Division Volume 3 – Never Give Up Until the Money Runs Out by Peter Brill
212 pages, glossy paper, indexed, bibliography, 29 photographs, 9 maps, 16 illustrations and 104 pages of railroad documents.
This, the final volume in our trilogy documenting the life and death of the O&W’s Scranton Division, finds the company enmeshed in bankruptcy and trying to reorganize while under the supervision of a federal court judge and management by a series of trustees.
Anthracite and milk traffic continue in decline. Passengers are gone. World War II will bring a surge of traffic but its effect is short-lived. The symbol freights are a bright spot in an otherwise dreary freight traffic situation but the volume cannot be grown to a level that will lift the entire enterprise out of bankruptcy despite the continuing efforts of Trustee Lyford who has expanded his efforts westward to include the Pere Marquette, Nickel Plate and Wabash in addition to the O&W’s direct connections, LV, DL&W and New Haven.
Dieselization is embraced for its substantial operational economies. An ambitious effort to completely replace steam via one purchase of diesels has to be dialed back in light of the company’s finances. It must be completed in two phases over a period of three years. Leased foreign steam fills in as EMD FT’s, F3’s and NW2’s gradually replace 4-8-2’s, 2-10-2’s and 2-8-0’s. Excess rolling stock and one of the two main line tracks are scrapped to help generate funding. The physical plant continues to be well maintained but the freight car fleet is another story. The O&W is increasingly burdened by car hire costs as its dwindling freight car roster forces it to rely on the car fleets of other carriers for its declining, but still significant, anthracite loadings.
The employees soldier on but want to be paid the same as employees on other carriers and this leads to friction between management and labor as certain industry-wide pay increases are skipped or delayed. The O&W is unable to pay property taxes to local municipalities and finally there is a consensus among the affected communities that something must be done to retain service. There is a significant but ultimately inadequate grassroots effort to drum up business for the railroad.
In the 1950’s, a number of parties, including the New Haven, a short line operator and various investors and bondholders, were involved in a series of schemes to create a profitable operation while preserving all or most of the railroad’s trackage. All the proposals floundered.
Finally, the ICC determined the railroad cannot be made profitable and indeed has been sinking deeper and deeper into insolvency throughout the almost two decades of bankruptcy. Accordingly, the trusteeship is ended and receivers are appointed to dispose of the assets. The O&W’s last day of operations was March 29, 1957.
Thus, our story is one of a twenty-year downward financial slide by the railroad into oblivion since the bankruptcy filing in 1937. In 1941, the Scranton Division lost its status as a “division” with its headquarters at Mayfield and was designated a “district”. But that does not mean that the O&W or the Scranton Division/District was not a worthwhile enterprise during those decades. That does not mean that the Scranton Division/District did not transport tens of millions of tons of freight and serve scores of customers over those two decades. That does not mean that the Scranton Division/District did not give employment to thousands of people, many for their entire working lives. And, that does not mean that the employees of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway just gave up and meekly accepted abandonment as well as the loss of their jobs.
No, the employees of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway did not give up but went about their jobs every day. They maintained the track; inspected and repaired cars and engines; operated symbol freights, mine runs, way freights and work trains; dispatched the trains with an emphasis on maintaining the published schedules of the symbol freights; processed the paperwork; visited companies across the nation to solicit New England traffic and. performed all the other myriad duties required by a functioning railroad.
So, we do have something substantial to document, preserve and share – the last chapter in the life of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway’s Scranton Division.