PS&N Expired 70 Years Ago in April
[Webmaster's note: This column appeared in the March 2017 issue of the society's newsletter magazine, the Cannonball.]
This year, 2017, and specifically April the first, will mark the 70th anniversary of the demise of the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern. I think it's safe to say that most everyone reading this is aware that the Shawmut entered financial troubles after only a mere five years of existence; it then spent the remaining 42 years in court-administered receivership.
The last two years of operations, from the end of WWII onward, were the times of greatest change for the Shawmut. Things started to move quickly and the speed toward the very end accelerated.
Above—Dr. Betty Hayes, company doctor for the Shawmut Mining Company, would be the one who would put events into motion that would eventually end the Shawmut.
|In August 1945, the sole “company doctor,” Betty Hayes, started investigating the sanitary conditions at the company-owned mining villages of Force, Byrnedale, and Hollywood, Pennsylvania. The conditions were so bad that the water had to be boiled before drinking and sewage overflowed into the streets causing mud bogs. The doctor confronted the Shawmut Mining Company officials with these deplorable conditions. The officials replied that there was nothing that they could do, especially since the mines would be worked out and abandoned in only five or six years. We know now that this was not the case, as some mines lasted well into the 1950s and 1960s.
The receiver, John D. Dickson, and some of the officials at the mining company viewed Hayes as an agitator and dismissed her. They locked her out of her company-owned house, even though she was paying rent to live there. An Elk County Sherriff's Deputy was posted at the door. Her personal be- longings including her medical books, instruments and supplies were locked inside. The miners went
This strike was catastrophic to the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern. You may recall that the mining companies were subsidiaries of the railroad. The mines had been marginally profitable for their entire existence and there were many times where funds were shifted from the mining companies to the railroad to shore up its finances. The strike, however, caused a double blow to the railroad. Revenues from the sale of coal
were impacted, obviously. But the railroad's main source of revenue, its raison d'ętre, was hauling the coal from these mines to customers, primarily in|
New York State. Without coal to haul, the railroad's finances started to hemorrhage. And without revenue from the sale of coal, there was nothing to shore up the railroad.
With the help of Dr. Hayes, the issue came before Federal Judge Guy K. Bard, who had jurisdiction over the receiver and who then ordered an investigation. Receiver Dickson, an attorney from Wellsville, was removed. He had been the receiver since 1923.
In late November 1945, the court appointed two new receivers: Thomas C. Buchanan and Robert C. Sproul Jr. Judge Bard instructed them to investigate the situation involving the miners, the strike and the overall financial health of the Shawmut operations. However, taking the extreme
Above—Federal Judge Guy K. Bard, for the western district of Pennsylvania would oversee the final disposition of the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern and all its subsidiaries. (United Press photo, PS&NRRHS archives.)
he also instructed the new receivers to “Wrap things up, quickly!”
What the new receivers found was a company that was about $30 million in the red. There wasn't money on hand to meet their first payroll. There weren't even enough serviceable locomotives on the property to operate the entire length of the line.
Faced with the reality that there was no way to save the railroad and with the court's blessing, the PS&N Railroad and the wholly-owned Kersey Railroad Company were sold at an auction presided over by Judge Bard on March 4, 1947. When the final gavel struck, the winner (for $1,505,000) was Harry W. Findley, a scrap dealer, of Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The last train of the Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern Railroad ran on April 1, 1947, at which time the Class I common carrier ceased to exist.
Findley created the Shawmut Railroad Supply Corporation to take ownership of the property and to execute its dismantling. The scrapping was done by two crews. Engine No. 72 worked the southern end, working from Tyler and Brandy Camp north to St. Marys and from Farmers Valley south to St. Marys. No. 72 was scrapped in St. Marys. Engine No. 71 worked the northern end, working from Wayland south and from Coryville north to Olean. It is unclear where No. 71 was scrapped. The Portville newspaper reported that No. 71 was to be hauled to St. Marys by the PRR for scrapping, but there is no record of this. It may have been scrapped in Olean.
I specifically selected photos for this column showing the scrapping operation. Although we might think of these pictures as being of the Shawmut, technically the PS&N no longer existed when they were taken. As you gaze at them pondering the fate of the PS&N, keep in mind that you are looking at equipment owned and operated by the Shawmut Railroad Supply Corporation.