The Formation of the Beaver Meadow Railroad and Coal Co.

 

Where is Beaver Meadow?

Where was the Beaver Meadow R. R. ?

Procurement of Locomotive Engines for the Beaver Meadow Railroad

 

Where is Beaver Meadow?

 

The Beaver Meadow Railroad and Coal Co. (hereafter refereed to as the BMRR) was organized in 1830 by Philadelphia capitalists with the idea of transporting coal mined in Beaver Meadow to the Philadelphia markets. The focus was on using steam locomotives to move the coal from the mountainous anthracite fields to the Lehigh/Delaware canal network.

 

Beaver Meadow (after 1937 called Beaver Meadows) is located 100 miles NNW of Philadelphia. According to the 1873 Lehigh Valley R. R. Guidebook, the town (pleasantly situated on elevated ground, 1600 feet above tide-water) was first settled about 1833, although at that time the original house, built in 1804, was still standing (in 1873). It derives its name from, Beaver Creek (running near by), upon which a dam is said to have existed, built by the beavers.

 

Today’s map of Pennsylvania/New York showing the location of Beaver Meadows. Click here for an enlargement.

 

The town is located on the lower right end of the Middle Coal Field – the fields colored in blue in the map below. It is said that coal was “taken away” from the fields as early as 1801, and that the area was populated by Welsh miners who began mining operations in 1813 (according to Rupp’s 1845 history), but major  deep mining operations did not begin until the BMRR began their operations.

 

Sherman Day, in his 1843 history, gives a brief description of the mines.

 

 

The Middle and Southern Anthracite Coal Fields. Click here for an enlargement of this map.

 

According to Matthew & Hungerford’s 1884 History of Banks Township (in Carbon County and the location of the town of Beaver Meadow), the town of Beaver Meadow was named after the creek which flows just to the south of the town – see map below. As you see, the railroad was built between the creek and the town. The mines were south-west of the town.

 

Further history of the town of Beaver Meadow can be found in Fred Brenckman’s 1913 History of Carbon County. A 20th century history, which contains information on the town’s beginning, was published by The Hazleton Plain Speaker in at the time of the town’s sesquicentennial (1937).

 

Click to enlarge

 

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Where was the Beaver Meadow Railroad?

 

The Beaver Meadow R. R. and Coal Co. was formed by Philadelphia-area interests to exploit the developing anthracite coal fields. Officers of the new company were

Samuel D. Ingham, president – Ingham had retired from an active political career. He had no background in the coal industry;

John Ecky, secretary;

Morris Hall, treasurer;

Canvas(s) White, chief engineer – White had much experience in canal engineering. He served only briefly due to ill health;

Ario Pardee, assistant engineer.

 

After the incorporation of the company in 1830, plans for the siting of the railroad were undertaken. A team of engineers and surveyors eventually led by Ario Pardee was engaged to locate the road which would allow the coal to be transported to Penn Haven where the loads would be transferred to canal boats operated by the LC&N Co. However negotiations between Samuel Ingham, president of the BMRR and Joshua White of the LC&N became so heated that the BMRR announced that they would extend the rails all the way to Easton. The LC&N was not happy about this and as construction took place LC&N’s Joshua White went so far as to arm his men working on the canal to persuade the BMRR people to alter the route. Negotiations continued and a compromise was reached whereby the BMRR would go to Parryville which was 20+ miles from the point where the road first reached the Lehigh River. The following map shows the route.

 

Click to Enlarge

 

The roadbed extended eastward from the mines on a relatively gradual downward grade, until it turned south to the town of Weatherly. At this point the grade increased significantly such that it was required to install an inclined plane to control the loaded coal cars as they made the decent and to bring the empty cars back up the grade. Leaving Weatherly, there was a short southward section until the junction with Quakake Creek. Here the road turned eastward and it was required to construct 5 bridges to direct the road over the meandering creek. The road reached the Lehigh River (12 miles from the mines) where it turned south and passed along the western bank until reaching Turnhole. At this point a major bridge was constructed and the railroad then proceeded southward on the east bank of the Lehigh, parallel the LC&N canal, to Parryville. This leg was approximately 14 miles in length. It was the summer of 1836 before the railroad was ready for operation.

 

The roadbed consisted of iron straps 5/8 in. thick x 2-1/4 in. wide laid on hardwood stringers. Details are given in a letter written by Pardee to a Commission of the Franklin Institute.

 

A map of the railroad sketched by Jack Koehler for an article on the BMRR published in the Hazleton Plain Speaker in 1984 shows a bit more detail concerning the location of the planes. From that sketch it appears the track for the planes was different from the track that brought the loaded cars down to Weatherly – effectively there were two separate tracks from outside of Beaver Meadow to Weatherly. Jack Koehler is a former postal worker and for many years a historian and rail fan. He lives in Weatherly just across the creek from the former site of the ca. 1841 Beaver Meadow shops.

 

A large scale map of Carbon County, along with Lehigh, Northampton and Monroe counties, published in an 1872 atlas shows the plethora of railroads that developed in this area as the coal trade flourished.

 

Further details concerning the formation of the BMRR can be found in the following:

Earl J. Heydinger, Railroads of the First and Second Anthracite Coal Fields of Pennsylvania.  The segment dealing with the BMRR is reproduced here.

Robert F. Archer,  A History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad .  The pertinent section, which includes information on the planes at Penn Haven which were installed after the 1850 floods wiped out the Quakake Creek trackage,  can be found here.

Angus Sinclair,  Development of the Locomotive Engine. This classic text provides a brief sketch of the BMRR here.

Poor’s History of the Railroads and Canals – published in 1860.

Matthews and Hungerford, The Beaver Meadow Railroad, 1884

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Procurement of Locomotive Engines for the Beaver Meadow Railroad

 

Hopkin Thomas became involved with the BMRR as a result of their quest for suitable locomotives for hauling coal cars from the mines to the canal shipping port. Fortunately, many of  the activities of the BMRR are recorded in the Minutes Book of the company which can be found in the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, Pa. The minutes are hand-written and are difficult to accurately transcribe. For purposes of this research, those pages containing information pertinent to the Hopkin Thomas project were photographed and enhanced. A sample is shown in the following figure. Interpretations of these cursive writings are given in Appendix II.

 

Sample of Minute Book recording from April 4, 1837

 

During the period from 1830 to 1836 when the railroad was being prepared, there were many on-going activities at Beaver Meadow such as erecting a machine shop, blacksmith and car shops, building of housing for the workers, etc. At the same time, there were activities associated with the procurement of locomotives. The first entry in the minute books related to locomotives was dated January, 1835. This entry, which deals with the cost or procuring and operating a locomotive, was probably recorded to establish that the costs would justify the investment. There surely were contacts with locomotive builders prior to this date, but those activities were not recorded. In particular, it is known that there were talks with Garrett & Eastwick regarding the construction of coal-burning locomotives, and that contracts had been executed for the construction of two locomotives.

 

It was in October of 1836 when those locomotives were ready to be delivered from Philadelphia to the Beaver Meadow railroad. Andrew Eastwick, co-owner of Garrett & Eastwick, asked Hopkin Thomas to join him in the delivery of the two engines. The delivery was accomplished in two stages. First the engines were barged to the Parryville landing on the LC&N canal where the engines were put on the tracks. There are no records of whether the engines were dismantled for this leg, or the makeup of the work force needed to place the engines on the rails. Next the engines were powered up and driven to the foot of the planes at Weatherly. The job that the engines were to perform was the delivery and return of coal cars from the foot of the planes to Parryville. (It is surmised that at this time the planes were not powered by a stationary steam engine, rather a mule team was employed to raise the empty cars up the plane. It must have been that a cable was deployed to lower the loaded cars on the plane. Mules were employed to deliver cars from the mines to the planes and back.)

 

The two engines that were delivered were the Samuel D. Ingham and the Wetherell. (The Wetherell was later renamed the Elias Eley) There are no drawings of these engines available, but they were of 4-2-0 configuration, similar to that shown below.

 

Norris-built 4-2-0 Locomotive, 1839

 

The story of the delivery of the engines is recorded in an account written by Alfred R. Longshore, who, as a 14-year old lad, witnessed the arrival of the engines at Penn Haven. Excerpts from Longshore’s Reminiscences of an Early Railroader, published in the Sugarloaf Historical Society in 1935, follow:

 

A few days before the first of November 1836, I remember, two locomotives were put on the road for the first at Parryville, the end of the road at that time. A party drove down on a truck to the water station, just below the old Penn Haven Junction, to meet them.

 

We waited there two or three hours before the locomotives made their appearance. I had never seen a locomotive before, not even a picture of one, and my curiosity was worked up to its highest pitch. I could not imagine how the steam was applied to turn the wheels. My eyes were probably wide with curiosity as the locomotives came around the curve. I soon saw how they worked. I may say they were miniatures compared with the present day locomotives. They had only two "drivers" and a truck; built by the firm of Garrett and Eastwick, in Philadelphia. The one locomotive was run by Eastwick, a member of the firm, the other by Hopkin Thomas, their foreman. One was named "Samuel D. lngham" for the president of the company, the other "Weatherell" for one of the directors.

….

The locomotives took in water at the station where we were waiting. The rear engine took our truck to Weatherly or Black Creek as it was then called. There was not a house there at the time and not any of the land was cleared, except what was necessary for the road and sidings.

 

When we arrived there Eastwick discovered that the water was low in the boiler, so he started down the grade to pump. There was no brake on the tender; the engine started to travel pretty fast; an attempt was made to reverse the steam and it was discovered there was none to reverse. About half way to Penn Haven there was a level spot for a short distance. The fireman took the poker, leaned over the railing and thrust it through the spokes of the driving wheel. The locomotive stopped just on the brink of another grade. It took five mules to haul it up the grade to the planes.

 

We all left in the evening for Beaver Meadow, except the two engineers, William Gordon and Thomas Evans, who were to get everything in readiness for the first run on Monday morning. The company had built a house at the head of the first plane for the use of the men working on the road.

 

The next day the company had a celebration and banquet at Wilson's Hotel, Beaver Meadow. The officials, contractors and others took part. Several baskets of champagne were consumed.

 

On Saturday, two trains of sixteen three-ton cars each were hauled by mule power to the head of tile plane and let down to be in readiness for the start on Monday morning. The officials and their guests rode on trucks with the crews. I was one of the brakemen.

 

On Monday morning when everything was in readiness and the steam up, we soon glided down the grade. Everything went smoothly until just below Lehighton when the water in Eastwick's engine got too low and burned out the tubes. Eastwick's train being in the lead, Thomas had to push it to Parryville. The disabled engine was run into the roundhouse and it was two or three months before it was repaired. It was then taken above the planes and run from the mines to tile head of the planes. The empty cars were hauled back up the plane by mules. There was a special car to carry the mules on the downward trip. The crew of the engine was William Gordon, engineer; John Edwards, fireman; Fred Rustee, Jacob Derr and myself. We were required to make two trips day.

 

William Tubbs lived in a house on a small point between the Lehigh and the creek. We took our dinners and suppers there. We had to bunk in a shanty that the engineers built while locating the road. Our day started at 4 o'clock in the morning and two hours later when the steam was up we were ready for the start to Parryville. We could make the trip down very easily, but on the return trip sixteen cars were too much for the engine and we had to stop several times to act up steam. We used hemlock wood and frequently had to use water from the Lehigh when the boilers were nearly empty. When we stopped, the draft was shut off and the fire died out. Then we had to climb around on the mountains to gather pine knots for kindling.

 

During the next two years, three more engines, Quakake, Beaver and Nonpareil,  were added to the roster. To accomplish this feat, Hopkin Thomas was persuaded to join the BMRR as a worker in the machine shop. Exactly when this transfer from Garrett & Eastwick occurred is not known, however the Minute Books indicate that he was an employee prior to April 1, 1837. Furthermore, the Minutes Book indicates that Hopkin took charge of the shop on May 15. According to the Mauch Chunk Courier, these three additional engines were the product of the machine shop located in Beaver Meadow, except for the cylinders and boiler which were fabricated by Garrett & Eastwick and shipped to Beaver Meadow. The exception may be the Nonpareil which is often cited as being constructed by Hopkin Thomas at the Beaver Meadow shops with no mention of parts being fabricated in Philadelphia.

 

The roster of early BMRR locomotives is given by Heydinger  as:

1836

Samuel D. Ingham

18 HP

4-2-0

1836

Elias Eley

18 HP

4-2-0

1836

Quakake

18 HP

(?)

1836-38

Beaver

26 HP

4-4-0

1837-38

Nonpareil

26 HP

4-6-0

 

However, it is known (see Archer) that the Hercules, a 4-4-0 configuration was delivered by Garrett & Eastwick to the BMRR in August 1837.

Garrett & Eastwick’s Hercules

 

It should also be noted that the engines North Star and Mountaineer, built by Garrett & Eastwick in the 1938 - 1939 time period came to the B.M.R.R. in 1854. These 4-2-0 engines were originally built for the Danville and Pottsville R. R., then went to the Philadelphia & Columbia R. R. in 1842 before being transferred to the B. M.R. R. During the period while Hopkin was at the Beaver Meadow, all the work was performed by the 6 engines listed above; a complete listing of all 26 engines employed before the B.M.R.R. was absorbed by the Lehigh Valley Railroad is given in Thomas Taber's Antebellum Railroad Compendium.

 

Further activities of Hopkin Thomas at the BMRR are covered in the next chapter.

 

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About The Hopkin Thomas Project

Rev. November 2011