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Chapter IV

Chapter IV:
The Clarks to the Rescue

This 1923 aerial view shows an RV train, probably with #11 steaming, switching the Wright Chemical Company on the wye at Branch Junction in Union. The road cutting across the image is Chester Road, much later the busy Route 22. Union Township Historical Society.

“Even World War I failed to help stabilize the little Rahway, although business picked up considerably" ( Cunningham 38 ). The Rahway Valley Railroad spiraled into a cataclysmic nose-dive in the years immediately after World War I. War time plants reduced production, changed output, closed down, or left the area altogether. Activity along the rails of the RV went from boom to bust literally overnight. “No one knows just how the road got through the tough years that followed” (Young).



"Hardly had the management finished searching their safe with candles to see if there might possibly be something left in it when the famous ice storm of the winter of 1918-1919 struck in with devastating effects” (Young).



The lack of business being done along t he line set the railroad up for a record setting deficit in 1920, expenses eclipsed revenues by more than $50,000. James S. Caldwell, the railroad’s General Manager, and Andrew A. Lockwood, the railroad’s Auditor, attempted to straighten out the railroad’s books but it continued to sink further into debt with each succeeding year. “All through the Twenties little kept the line going save its score of fuel and lumber yards. Outside income consisted of infrequent Jersey Central specials which crept over the uncertain trackage . . .” (Young).



The Elmira interests who held the majority of the railroad’s debt looked to rid themselves of the financial monstrosity. Matthias H. Arnot and Ray Tompkins, the railroad’s primary creditors, had both passed away and the representatives of their estates moved to liquidate, and even offered the property for sale. Louis Keller purchased the majority of the bonds and shares that the Arnot and Tompkins estates held in the RV in 1921. Keller continued to fund the railroad’s operation year to year with his own personal finances.



“Meanwhile the automobile had made its entrance upon the American scene. Improved roads had begun to erode railroad passenger service, until in 1919; all daily passenger service was terminated. Occasionally, the Rahway Valley ran a mixed train, the passenger coach coupled to the end of the freight to Summit, to keep the State Franchise alive" (McCoy 14 ). Passenger service, which had a banner year of bringing in $10,690 for the railroad in 1918, only accrued $4,920 for the RV in 1919. “In the spring of 1919, Keller ditched the three faithful coaches, for another motor car, passenger days were surely almost over” (Young). The Rahway Valley Railroad operated mixed trains, as well as its one railbus, possibly until as late as 1925. There were also the labor trains that travelled over the Rahway Valley Line to Maplewood (a.k.a. Newark Heights), “. . . there was little else of note save for “worker’s trains” on the Heights Branch. They consisted of the regular freight bedecked with men going to work, in the cab, on the tops of cars, and on the pilot" (Young).



Louis Keller, seen in his later years. Shortly before his death, Keller acquired controlling interest in the RV from the Elmira interests that held the majority of the railroad's debt. Baltusrol Golf Club.

Regarding RV passenger service, a bizarre news article appeared in a 1920 issue of The Evening Telegram. The article told that the RV had acquired four jitney buses which it would convert for rail use. “With the business daring of a Jim Hill the Rahway Valley Railroad, which operates the only “true” freight line between the Grand Canyon of Kenilworth and the willow-kissed waters of the limpid Rahway River, today hurried a defi at the Public Service Railway Company which bids fair to put the skids under the traction company’s anti-jitney drive. The valley road announced that is come by four pneumatic tired jitneys, each with a thirty-five passenger capacity, and just as soon as the road can replace the rubber with steel shoes and cut the wheels to the measure of the rails there will be inaugurated the first and only jitney railroad this side of the Sierra Madre Mountains, guaranteed to do twenty miles to the gallon of gas or better. The announcement of this revolutionary step in Valley railroading comes at the very time when the Public Service is looking to the Supreme Court of New Jersey to scrap all the jitney lines of the State on the ground that they are infringing on the trolley companies’ franchise, that they have no legal stains and that they are a nuisance generally and particularly. Of course, the deluxe, steel tired bus the Rahway Valley Company proposes will be immune, outside the legal pale, for it will go and come over its own single track, on its own power . . . at the company’s pleasure. Up to new Kenilworth, where the valley road has its Hudson terminal, has been linked with civilization by Elmer Guy, known throughout the Garden State as the man who has “mothered” Kenilworth and kept the borough from slipping down the sloping banks of the Rahway River into oblivion. For fifteen years, without fear of competition, Elmer has piloted, alone and unenvied, the only bit of rolling stock, outside of the valley road’s gondolas, Kenilworth has ever known. Elmer is the whole works on the Aldene-Kenilworth trolley-motorman, conductor, inspector, switchman, general supervisor, and often times the motive power. To the borough this guy is a benediction and a prayer. He brings the children to school, the mothers to shop, and the town to the movies in Elizabeth. He calls his line the “Kenilworth Accommodation” and he has stopped at nothing to suit action to the word, from herding stray cows to minding babes. Of all Kenilworth Elmer alone views with alarm the Rahway Valley’s plan to Hylanize the jitney for railroad passenger purposes. He wonders how the road is going to get along without traffic cops and how the engineers are going to affiliate with the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen on their chauffer licenses. Will the company substitute gasoline for water towers? Will there be jitney diners and Pullmans? How will the Plumb Plan affect the venture? These and similar queries have been running through the mind of Elmer Guy. But the Rahway Valley is determined. In these days of Phoebe Snows and Chicago Limiteds, of Black Diamond Expresses and Millionaire Flyers, no progressive railroad . . . can help get the country back on a peace basis with freight service alone. And so it comes that the company has sunk surplus, undivided profits and liabilities into four jitney day coaches and challenged the Jersey traction ring to do it goldarnedest” (“Jitney’ Train is Railroad’s Defi to Anti-Traction Drive”). Whether anything ever became of this plan, or if it was ever carried out, is unknown. Perhaps this article was a dig at Elmer Guy and his trolley between Kenilworth and Aldene, which had hurt the RV’s passenger revenues.



The railroad’s Secretary and General Manager, James S. Caldwell, and the President of the Rahway Valley Company, Lessee, Charles J. Wittenberg, both died in 1919. Rather than pay for the expense of hiring two men to fill these positions, one man was hired to fill both. Robert H. England was installed as President (RVC), Secretary, and General Manager. England, the self-proclaimed “travelling general manager,” had managed such short lines as the Dansville & Mount Morris in New York, the Tavares & Gulf in Florida, and the St. Louis, El Reno, & Western in Oklahoma.



#11, seen years later in retirement, was purchased by the RV in February, 1920. After #8 was rendered out of service in 1923, #11 handled all the RV's trains until the purchasing of #12 in 1927. #11 was retired in 1933.

As part of England’s regime of getting the RV “back on track,” a locomotive was acquired to supplement #8, 9, and 10, all of which had been well worn by the rush of World War I. The newly acquired locomotive came from the Grafton & Upton Railroad of Massachusetts, where it was numbered #5, in February, 1920. Rahway Valley’s #11, a 2-6-0 Mogul, was a 1904 product of the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The two ex-PRR switchers the RV owned, #9 and #10, were retired in 1920 and 1922, respectively, and were eventually sold off. #9 and #10 eventually saw service on the Seaboard Air Line before being retired in May, 1930. #8 and #11 remained to handle whatever business remained along the rails of the Rahway Valley.



In 1919 England had a pamphlet published to entice industrial concerns to locate their plants along the Rahway Valley Railroad. “The best industrial sites near New York City are available on the Rahway Valley Railroad, a belt line connecting and interchanging with all the trunk lines, accessible to the best labor markets of Newark, Orange, and Elizabeth, with a population of some 600,000, and also with motor access on excellent asphalt macadam roads, only 14 miles to New York City . . . Here the manufacturer may obtain a choice from some 1,400 acres of land with the necessary railroad sidings . . . The advantages of a location on such a route is obvious. A manufacturer on a small road like the Rahway Valley, has the advantage of the competition of all the trunk lines, so that empty cars for quick loading and delivery may be obtained from either one trunk line or the other on short notice, which facilities might not be forthcoming on a busy line where there would be no competition to spur the service” (England 808). England also listed the twenty-two customers of the Rahway Valley at the time, which included coal and lumber yards, two stone quarries, and two chemical companies, among others.



Roger A. Clark and his young son George, while they still lived in Rochester, NY. Collection of Carol Clark Holden.

The railroad’s inept auditor, Andrew A. Lockwood, was fired under England’s direction in early 1920. England enticed his friend, Roger A. Clark, to fill the position. "There were open fields along the tracks when . . . Roger A. Clark, came to the Rahway Valley from Oregon in 1920. The thread of circumstance from which the Clarks' story depends is that . . . [Roger A. Clark], who began railroading as a traveling auditor on the Buffalo, Rochester, & Pittsburgh, was a native of Rochester, N.Y. So was Robert H. England. . .  Around 1909 England got R.A. Clark to go west as auditor of the Central Railroad of Oregon . . . Later, R.A. became station agent at Boring, Ore., for the Portland Railway, Light & Power interurban. England, who had gone back east to become general manager of the Rahway Valley, sent for R.A. to help him straighten out the books" (Young 3).



Feeling his position was only temporary; Clark came east to New Jersey and initially left his wife and two children in Oregon pending his return, but the situation at the Rahway Valley prompted something a bit more long lasting, ". . . then R.A. decided to move the family to New Jersey and take a permanent position with the Rahway Valley as auditor. [His son,] George was hired too, as station agent at Springfield, NJ. Soon afterward, England left the company, and R.A. was made president and general manager" (Young 4).



England, not one to sit still for long, had left the Rahway Valley to pursue other railroading interests. "When R.A. Clark took over in 1920, with his son as vice-president, general freight agent, and auditor, the RV had about 20 customers - a few small manufacturers and a string of coal and lumber yards. The three largest plants on the line had closed after World War I. Some 1,400 acres of unoccupied industrial land along its tracks were going begging. The movie producers who used the line to make films with such early starts as Guy Coombs and Anita Stewart had come and gone, and the passenger service, now operated with railbuses, was on its last legs.” (Young 4).



George Clark with his dad Roger, on their way east to New Jersey in 1920. Collection of Carol Clark Holden.

"When the rest of the nation was plunged into the depths of a depression, the matter of fact was the RV actually began to make more money!” (Young). Roger Clark rekindled business ties with former customers of the railroad, and things gradually started to pick up on the line. "Roger Clark, a railroader with much experience in managing short-line railroads in the Pacific Northwest. Arriving with his son, George Clark, he found upon taking over as General Manager, the little pike was sadly neglected and in default. As realistic men, the Clarks applied their hard-nosed business experience to rebuilding the road and cultivating the freight accounts" (McCoy 14). Clark siphoned revenue from anywhere he could find it. In addition to freight revenues, additional income came from the leasing out of the Baltusrol Station (it became a post office and later an office for Andrew Wilson, a DDT wholesaler) as well as the Newark Heights Station. “Soliciting new business and reestablishing old customers aggressively, the new management gradually moved the balance sheet from red to black" (McCoy 14).



George Clark, Roger’s son, recalled those early days “Plenty of times I went down to Trenton in those days and got down on my knees to the tax men . . . We didn't know from day to day if we were going to make it. We didn't even have the money to meet our payroll when we started” (Cunningham 38-39 ). Roger Clark’s “. . .  regime was marked by wise and cautious handling of the road’s business, such as it was, one of which was disposing of the useless motor car” (Young). All vestiges of RV passenger service were abolished during the mid-1920s.



Costs were cut wherever they could be. The railroad used cinders for ballast, discarded railroad ties as a means to retain fill at several locations, and the facilities at Kenilworth received maintenance on an as needed basis. “The repair shed at Kenilworth, a long wooden structure, was so rickety that one morning after a high wind the employees came to work to find it leaning on the engines” (Young 4).



One thing the Clarks couldn’t ignore, however, was their rag-tag fleet of steam locomotive power. “The RV owned only one good locomotive” (Young 4) when the Clarks came east to manage the RV in 1920 and that was #11. “The equipment includes two engines, No.8, a ten wheel switch, weighing about 140,000 lbs. and No.11, an eight wheel, light passenger type, weighing about 98,000 lbs. At present No.11 is doing all the work and No.8 is in the shed at Kenilworth, having broken a set of springs about the first of April” (Letter to E.E. Loomis from E.H. Boles). With just one locomotive in service, the RV was in need of some new equipment.



#12, seen here in dead storage in Kenilworth, proved too big for use on the RV. Photo taken by George Votava.

"The Clarks gradually replaced the worn out locomotives with newer engines” ( McCoy 14 ). Over the span of three years, three locomotives were purchased. “ Mr. Clark wisely reinvested in some much needed equipment. In 1929 he scrapped the Engine Number Eight, along with a pair of little 2-4-0s which had belonged to a hill excavating company. This firm’s members had left town in a hurry, so he merely cut up their engines to get the money they owed him” (Young). The money Clark collected was spent on the purchases of #12, #13, and #14.



The Rahway Valley’s #12, a 2-8-0 Consolidation built by ALCo in August, 1902, came from the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad (#96) in September of 1927. The locomotive only remained in service on the RV for a short while, “No. 12 was the heaviest engine on the road, too heavy for the 60 [lbs.] rail” (Taber). Young tells us #12’s fate, “Number Twelve, a “too big” 2-8-0 which had been spreading the rails for two years, was retired, permanently, when the Eight Spot was scrapped” (Young). The locomotive remained in the yards at Kenilworth for the better part of two decades before it was scrapped in 1943.



#14, ex-Lehigh & New England #20, was purchased by the RV in August of 1928.

With #12’s purchase proving to be a fluke, Clark discerningly looked for a locomotive more befitting the RV’s criteria. He found two. “In place of them, [#8 and #12], came Numbers Thirteen and Fourteen from the Lehigh and New England" (Young). The Rahway Valley’s #13 and #14, of the 2-8-0 Consolidation type, were purchased from Georgia Car & Locomotive in May, 1928 and August, 1928, respectively. These two identical locomotives were constructed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1905 for the Lehigh & New England Railroad as their #19 and #20.  They proved to be well worth the investment and served the RV nobly up until the arrival of diesel power. #11 remained as standby power.



Louis Keller, President (RVRR) and longtime promoter of the Rahway Valley Railroad, had died in Manhattan, NY on February 16, 1922. “. . . Mr. Keller passed away leaving his relatives dubiously looking over their heritages, a flat broke railroad, and a declining social magazine. In accordance with his wishes, his money and holdings were put into an estate" (Young). Keller left the majority of his $350,000 estate to his nephews, Charles Keller Beekman and Louis Lawrence; and his niece, Catherine Huger. Beekman was charged with being the executor of his uncle’s estate. Beekman, an attorney of the firm Beekman & Bogue (a firm he founded with Morton Bogue), charged his associate Ralph S. Wolcott with managing the estate. At the time of his death, Keller held controlling interest in the Rahway Valley Railroad.



Keller’s heirs, as well as other RV shareholders, procured lawyers within the firm of Beekm an & Bogue to oversee their interests in the railroad. Lawyers such as Ralph S. Wolcott, Hubert C. Mandeville, and Louis Weeks, among others, would sit on the RV’s Board of Directors and fill managerial spots. Of Keller’s heirs only Louis Lawrence ever sat on the Board of Directors. The law firm of Beekman & Bogue continued to have oversight of the Rahway Valley Railroad for the remainder of its independent common carrier years. Representatives within the firm would periodically check-in on the day-to-day management at Kenilworth (the Clarks) and yearly board meetings were held in the Kenilworth Station. The shareholders of the railroad, and their representatives within the firm of Beekman & Bogue, maintained a “hands-off” policy and left the management of the railroad largely to the Clarks.



#13 is seen here along the rails of the Lackawanna in Summit, just four short years after the connection was made. 1935. Photo taken by Homer Hill.

The greatest achievement of Roger Clark’s term as the line’s chief managerial officer was the establishment of a connection with the Lackawanna at Summit in 1931. "At long last, in 1931, the Lackawanna, feeling the effects of the Great Depression finally agreed to the long delayed connection with the Rahway Valley. The switch was installed, and at last the R.V.R.R. became a trunk line" ( McCoy 16 ). Roger Clark, and his son George, had entered into negotiations with representatives of the Lackawanna just after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. The establishment of this connection at Summit seemed to ensure the coming success of the Rahway Valley Railroad, “. . . but when R.A. died in 1932 the RV's fortunes were again at low ebb" ( Young 4 ).



Roger A. Clark died at his home on Morris Ave. in Union on October 3, 1932, he was 62. Clark’s career as a railroader had encompassed positions with four railroad companies, the Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh of New York; the Central Railroad of Oregon and Portland Railway both of Oregon, and the Rahway Valley Railroad of New Jersey, and included the saving of the latter. Clark’s later years were marred by illness resulting from his diabetes. His illness resulted in the amputation of his legs and his confinement to a wheel chair in his later years. Despite his ailments, nothing could keep him from his position as President and General Manager of the Rahway Valley Railroad.

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