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WNYRHS HISTORY - Machias Junction Depot 1984

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Historian's Corner GIF This page is devoted to some of the many historical articles about railroading in the Western New York area. This installment was written by Pat Vadney as it appeared in the "Arcade Herald" on 1/5/1984. As more articles are added, old ones will be archived. So sit back, or feel free to print out, and enjoy the rich railway heritage of Western New York.

by: Pat Vadney - Arcade Herald ( 1/5/1984 )

       It took only twenty-five minutes to demolish the building which held over 100 years of history within its walls. Up until 1972, Machias Junction was the main cross point and the most important operations center for all of the trains running between Buffalo and Eldred, PA. on the North-South Pennsylvania Railroad line and the East-West, Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway line that ran between Rochester and Salamanca. On December 20th, 1983, the Depot was gone.

          The Depot was operated around the clock, since it also included the most central "Western Union" office and morse code equipment in the area. That was back in the days before radios and telephones, when everything depended on dots and dashes as the quickest means of communication. Now, as in the case of so many other businesses, modernization and the addition of sophisticated equipment have eliminated the necessity for so many operation points to control traffic flow on the tracks. Today, this same area is all controlled from one block station located in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Even after the demise of Western Union, the freight and passenger business remained an important part of railroad operations. As recently as the 1950's and 60's, four passenger trains per day were running past Machias Junction and the Depot operators there were so busy, they were lucky to find twenty minutes in which to eat lunch. The increase in trucking, UPS and air freight services has not completely eliminated the use of freight trains, but it has cut down considerably on the amount of traffic. More superhighways and automobiles and increased short distance air flights, have severely cut into the need for passenger trains.

On hand to watch the demolition process and to reminisce on how their lives had been affected by the various railroad changes over the years were a few of the railroad personnel themselves. Keith Wood, of Portville, pointed towards the remains of what had been his maintenance operations office for the past fourteen years. "I hate to see these buildings go," he commented. Now working out of the Olean maintenance office for "Conrail," which took over the railroad in 1976, Wood was assigned to supervise the removal of the condemned building. Conrail would have had to continue to pay taxes on the building for 1984 if it had remained intact.

Several of the old Depots have already been taken down for the same reason, and the demolition contractor, representing "Gra-Hil" of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, indicated that the Chaffee Depot was next in line. He also mentioned that changes will be made in the configuration of the track at Machias Junction, as the railroad reported it hopes to eliminate the section of track running from that point to Rochester. In which case, the junction of the Pennsylvania line and the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway line will no longer exist.

The people with the most memories and information about the history of the Machias Junction Depot are Dick and Katherine Tullar, who live on Junction Road, across from the Depot's former site. Mr. Tullar worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1947 until 1972, when the operations center was closed. Although he was offered the opportunity to continue with the railroad in the Willamsport office, he elected to retire and remain in Machias. "Sometimes I've regretted that decision," he remarked wistfully, "I've missed railroad life." Mrs. Tullar has even more memories, since she grew up on that same road and her father, Dennis Cashman, ran the Depot for 51 years until his retirement in 1951.

Together, they recalled some interesting stories of the "bygone-era" as they reviewed old photographs and newspaper articles from the busiest railroad days. In those days, with many trains running at the same time, directing traffic to avoid collisions was of primary concern. Since there was no communication system between the Depots and the trains, the dispatchers would have to relay messages to the engineers as they sped by the Depot. Instead of having the train stop at every station to receive these "Train Orders," the dispatcher would stand on the Depot platform with the message attached to a string stretched across a hoop which the engineer would grab as he went by. To further complicate the process, it was repeated with each train, since the conductor, waiting at the back end of the train, received a duplicate of the message. Needless to say, the addition of the "inter-office" radio in 1963 was an important advancement for the railroads.

One photograph reminds Mrs. Tullar of the time when a steam engine failed to stop and plunged headfirst into Lime Lake. Another train was playfully nicknamed "The Jerk" becaused it stopped at every station between Olean and Buffalo to board and discharge passengers for school and work. The nickname described the type of ride people experienced.

During one period, Machias Junction was the central receiving point for all of the fruit and vegetables shipped from the south for the county home, and the Tullars remember hundreds of crates awaiting pickup being piled high inside the Depot. Also important locally, in earlier times, were the enormous ice houses that stood next to the "Pennsy" tracks at Lime Lake until electric refrigerators became available and popular.

Dick Tullar predicts that railroads will never completely die out, though they will continue to be used for moving freight. However, he recognizes that the decrease in the amount of traffic, plus the improvements in the centralized control system that now takes care of a 300 mile stretch of track, are the factors that made this Depot obsolete. On December 19th, 1983, Mrs. Tullar watched sadly out of her window as the Depot disappeared before her eyes. By December 20th, the building was completely gone, the rubble having been buried beneath its original site. Today, there are only memories left of the Machias Junction Depot of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg Railway.

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