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The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western's Sussex Branch

by Robert Mohowski

(Displayed here with permission from the author and publisher)

From: Railroad Model Craftsman - October 1990, Vol. 59 Number 5

Article Subsections

The Sussex Mine Railroad

A vein of iron ore and a determined entrepreneur named Abram S. Hewitt were the moving forces for a railroad in rural Sussex County, New Jersey. Hewitt was in the iron manufacturing business and decided that an earlier worked deposit of iron ore in Andover, New Jersey, would be a good source of supply for his works at Phillipsburg and Trenton. This mine was only seven miles from the Morris canal port of Waterloo, and in spite of the fact that railroads were still considered somewhat visionary, Hewitt decided on that form of transportation to bring the ore to the canal. A charter was obtained from the state of New Jersey, and Sussex county's first railroad, The Sussex Mine Railroad, came into existence.

Although its primary purpose was to haul iron ore, the charter contained limits on charges that the railroad could place upon both freight and passengers. This can be explained by the fact that Hewitt hoped for the new line to have public appeal and that public subscription would carry some of the cost of construction. There was little, if any of this support, so Hewitt and his partners in the ironworks, Peter and Edward Cooper, had to fund the line on their own.

The construction work took a little more than one year, and the line was ready for service in the summer of 1851. It was a 40" narrow-gauge, mule-drawn operation with the possibility of some helpful gravity momentum down a hill at about the mid-point on the line. A dock arrangement at Waterloo had the ore cars dumping the loads into canal boats, which were drawn by mules to Phillipsburg on the Delaware River. There the ore could be processed at the Cooper-Hewitt works or continue on to Trenton via the connecting Delaware Canal that paralleled the river.

Within this same time frame, other parties were pushing for the extension of the Morris & Essex Railroad through the southeast corner of Sussex County The M&E was one of New Jersey's earliest railroads and connected Newark with Morristown and Dover. Its westward push was intended to tap the agricultural, mineral and commercial possibilities of northwestern New Jersey and more importantly perhaps, the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania.

Eventually, the M&E connected with and became a part of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western. If the Sussex Mine Railroad could make a connection with the M&E, it might become a part of that line or at least make a connection that would allow for an all-rail route to the iron furnaces. This would be faster than the canal routing and avoid the annual winter shutdown of he waterway and the lack of canal service on Sundays.

Hewitt, apparently, had hoped to see he operation of his railroad taken over by another company once he got the line in place. However, he found himself saddled with the railroad for a good many more years before that would happen.

The Sussex Railroad

Along with hopes for the southern connection at or near Waterloo, the line had planned to extend northward to the county seat of Newton. Around 1853, local interest in the Sussex Mine Railroad had been sufficiently aroused so that enough securities could be sold to lay track in that direction. In addition to new trackage, it was also decided to substantially realign the route so that only two miles of the original road were used.

In the same year, the name of the company was shortened to the Sussex Railroad and the charter amended to allow the expansion to Newton and beyond. Thomas Hewitt, Abram's older brother, was elected president of the "new" company before the line's completion into Newton. The older Hewitt is credited with providing the final push that got the extension completed. This involved a confrontation with the grading crew in which the elder Hewitt, pistol in one hand and cane in the other, refused to yield to their demands. I

The first passenger train entered the Newton terminal on December 11, 1854. The line had, of course, been relayed to standard gauge and given up the use of mule power with the purchase of two used locomotives from the New York & Lake Erie Railroad.

The physical connection with the M&E at Waterloo was also made within a month of the arrival at Newton. Ore continued to go on to Phillipsburg via the canal until the M&E was completed to that point in 1865. Despite the connection, all Sussex Railroad trains terminated at Waterloo until 1901. Passenger and freight service in and out of Sussex County by rail was now a reality.

During the remainder of the 1850s, Hewitt considered a number of ideas and proposals including additions to the charter for extensions in a number of directions. In the end, no new trackage was laid and Hewitt's last effort to make the Sussex Railroad a financial success ended. The year 1858 saw the line sold to a local syndicate with Hewitt taking a loss in the sale.

Better financial times did not come to the new owners in the early 1860s, but they brought a promise of better times to come. The agricultural potential of the county was slowly becoming a reality as far as the railroad was concerned. Livestock, grain, vegetables, milk and butter were moving southward to the M&E connection in increasing quantities.

John I. Blair, an individual active on both the state and national railroad fronts, gained control of the road in 1864. An experienced railroad promoter and operator, Blair revived and pushed through the decade or longer effort of extending the line to Branchville. This involved the building of some nine miles of railroad northward from a point called Newton Junction which was about a mile below the established Newton terminal. Both county residents and railroad men did not believe that the Sussex Railroad would end at Branchville. The line was now 22 miles long and it was expected that it would soon reach the Delaware River and a connection with the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania.

Additional expansion was accomplished in this same year of 1869 with the completion of the nine-mile Franklin Furnace Branch. Zinc, iron ore, limestone and the iron furnace itself, promised heavy and profitable business for the railroad. By 1873, the town of Franklin, New Jersey, boasted 500 inhabitants and the Franklin Iron Co. had one of the largest blast furnaces in the nation at the time. It was capable of producing 50,000 tons of pig iron annually. For this reason, it was this extension that was considered a continuation of the mainline rather than the route to agrarian Branchville.

The Franklin and Branchville routes diverged at a location known as Branchville Junction, slightly more than three miles above Newton. Consideration was also given to building into Sparta at this time, but nothing happened.

The Franklin Furnace and its nearby ore deposits had acted as a magnet for rail schemes long before the arrival of the Sussex Railroad. In 1872, the New Jersey Midland, later to become the New York, Susquehanna & Western, also opened a route through Franklin. It was a link in the "Great Midland Route", a trunk line running from Jersey City to Oswego on Lake Ontario. At Franklin Furnace, the two roads joined in a cooperative effort which included a shared station and trackage rights agreements for both roads to push northward.

The Sussex Railroad under Blair, was looking to establish a route to the New York State Line and perhaps beyond. The Midland aided the plan by granting Blair's road rights on its track from Franklin Furnace to Hamburg. From this point, the Sussex graded and laid track on their own right- of-way to McAfee where there were additional deposits of ore. This 1871 addition was called the South Vernon Branch. With the exception of a small line change at Newton this was the high water mark for Sussex Railroad mileage.

The earlier extension to Branchville Junction had left Newton at the end of a short stub. A mile and one-half extension in a northerly direction from the Newton station connected the town with the mainline in that direction and presented an alternate route to Branchville for several years. The older line, between Newton Jct. and the northern connection was not abandoned until 1890. Newton also became the main shop facility for the railroad. Repair, machine and blacksmith shops were moved northward from the Waterloo location 1872.

Hewitt's little mule drawn, iron ore carting operation grew into a 35 mile transportation system with six locomotives and over 100 employees. By no means, however, were the stock holders reaping a golden reward on their railroad investment but their mines, farms, and commercial enterprises required the line to maintain and improve their financial health.

Enter the DL&W

In l880, two other railroads acted upon the Sussex in a way that brought it up to full main line standards and out of the role of a small local carrier. Grinnell Burt was an Orange County, New York, businessman who was intent on pushing through a rail route that would connect the Erie at Greycourt, New York, with a railroad at Belvidere, New Jersey. The Sussex Railroad's disconnected four-mile line between McAfee and Vernon, the South Vernon Branch, was on his proposed route. Not only that, but he was interested in the mainline of the Sussex between Franklin Furnace and Andover. South from that point, Burt would again have to build his own roadbed.

Unfortunately for Burt, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, already active in the affairs of the Sussex, did not like the idea of possible competition with this proposed route and gained full control of the Sussex in 1881 via its subsidiary, the M&E. Burt was allowed to buy the four mile McAfee to Vernon section that same year, but nothing more. He eventually built a better route between Franklin Furnace and Andover and went on to complete the line route that became the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway.

While the DL&W might have had little to fear of a north-south line like the L&HR, they did not want to see any Sussex County traffic diverted onto this new road. Not apparent at that time was the fact that the L&HR and DL&W would be future partners in a very lucrative and competitive bridge traffic between New England and the rest of the nation.

With the DL&W takeover, the Sussex Railroad became the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna and underwent changes and modernization. A train called the Boston Flyer was introduced to the Sussex Branch in the 1890s on a route that connected Hoboken and Boston. This was primarily a mail and express train that served inland areas and took twice as long as New Haven trains using the shoreline route between New York and Boston. An awkward engine turning and run-around move at Waterloo certainly did not enhance the schedule.

This situation was finally corrected in 1901 with the building of the "Stanhope connection." This was a great improvement since it allowed Sussex Branch trains to run through to Hoboken for the first time. The connection required the building of some two miles of new line and did cut the running time of freight and passenger trains significantly. The juncture of this new connection with the old M&E main at Netcong was called Sussex Branch Jct. This improvement tied in nicely with the beginning of the branch's best years, which occurred between 1900 and the early 1920s.

The major contribution to those years occurred in 1905. Arrangements were made whereby the L&HR was given trackage rights over the DL&W between Andover Jct. and Port Morris yard, a distance of approximately eight miles. This agreement allowed the L&HR to bring trains of westbound traffic from the New Haven's Maybrook yards to the Port Morris Yard. Here the DL&W would integrate this tonnage into fast westbound trains for connections at Buffalo. This routing called for tight operations since the two roads were competing with the Erie, Leigh Valley, and the New York, Ontario & Western.

L&HR trains heading for Port Morris faced two tough grades on the Sussex Branch. The Lackawanna usually had a helper waiting at Andover Jct. to couple onto the head end and assist the train into Port Morris yard. There was a hollow called "Possum Dip" south of Cranberry Lake where a train might bog down if it didn't have the momentum to crest the north edge of the bowl. Two trains in each direction, Nos. 30 through 33, were generally adequate for this business.

It is interesting to note that both roads had alternate routes for the same traffic. The L&HR was part of the Central States Dispatch route which~h handled New England-bound traffic from Allentown off the CNJ, Reading, WM, B&O, (parts of the "Alphabet Route') and their connections. The DL&W fed New England traffic to the NYO&W at Cayuga Jct. near Scranton, Pennsylvania. While the latter two routings were longer, they both gave the L&HR/ DL&W route a good run for the money over the years.

Motive Power on the Sussex Branch

As a result of the DL&W/L&HR relationship, some of the finest and most impressive steam locomotives in the state rolled over the Sussex Branch. Lackawanna Americans, Ten Wheelers, Consolidations, Pacifics, massive 2100 series Mikes, Mountains and Poconos (4-8-4) served the branch in their turn. Eight-drivered power was generally used in conjunction with the L&HR trains and made only rare appearances north of Andover Jct. Consolidations were generally adequate for freight traffic beyond that distance.

Most of the freight power could call the Port Morris Yard and engine facility home. This was located only a few miles east of Sussex Branch Jct. As the power increased in length and weight, turning facilities at Newton and Branchville were enlarged.

The L&HR's three modern, magnificent 4-8-2's could often be found swinging around the connecting track at Andover Jct. Built in 1944, they were decades younger than most of the Lackawanna power with which they mingled. When they were busy elsewhere, massive 2-8-O's or more modest appearing 2-8-2's would make the Port Morris runs.

Cranberry Lake

In the closing decades of the 1800s and into the 20th Century, many railroads and interurban lines built or aided in the development of amusement parks and lakeside excursion parks that created a need for transportation service. These parks were usually at such a distance as to require the use of the parent

company's cars to reach the location. This of course was before the auto and electronic home entertainment era. With the acquisition of the Sussex Branch, the Lackawanna probably could select from several beautiful settings. It chose to develop Cranberry Lake, 53 miles from Hoboken, in 1902.

The railroad leased 30 acres on a peninsula, which it reached by a suspension bridge connected to the station area. A newspaper account of the period stated that, "Stairways, platforms and rustic arbors have been built along the shore of the lake and throughout the grove..." In addition, a hotel, dance pavilion, boating facilities and a miniature steam railroad served to attract crowds of excursionists that came independently or with church, fraternal and civic outings. The public truly came from near and far and a good day saw up to 6,000 passengers arrive in as many as 100 coaches.

The Cranberry Lake resort had a meteoric rise and decline. It did not last even a decade and by 1910 it was abandoned. That didn't mean the end of summer tourist traffic however. The lakes and rural retreats of northwest New Jersey attracted vacationers and sportsmen before and well after the Cranberry Lake years. Individual bungalows and hotels drew suburban families well into the auto age. This writer can remember commuting vacationers still using the final remnant of the Branchville service in the Erie Lackawanna days of the 1960s with a former DL&W GP-7 powering the train.

The Diesel Years

Diesels came to the Sussex Branch in the early 1950s. Along with the "torpedo boat" GP-7's (so called because of four, long roof mounted air tanks) came FM Train Masters and the smaller H1644's, F3's and RS3's.

One could sit back in a dreamy reverie and imagine a colorful Train Master with a southbound milk train rattling the diamond at Augusta Jct. while Maybrook bound Lehigh & New England Alco's sat at the home signal. A few miles further south and our Lackawanna Train Master might in turn be held at Andover Jct. while an L&HR eastbound headed for Warwick with a pooled CNJ Train Master on the point. Inside the yellow and green operators' cabin, telegrapher Stan Pierce would OS both trains to their respective dispatcher.

Milk Traffic

Milk was one of the earliest sources of revenue for the Sussex Railroad and virtually the last for the Erie-Lackawanna, which operated the branch during its final years. The early development of the Sussex Railroad roughly coincided with the refusal of city dwellers to accept city milk from cows fed on distillery waste and spent brewery grain.

The farmers in nearby Orange county, New York, had learned how to cool country milk before shipping, thus allowing it to keep fresh for the short rail trip to New York. Sussex County farmers were quick to follow and creameries were established in almost all the communities that were served by the Sussex Railroad. Sussex County milk earned a reputation for high quality.

Under Lackawanna control, the milk business was developed to a high degree with an interesting variety in the style and number of cars assigned to the service. Among them were some six-axle, 52-foot cars that so far as is known, were the only six-axle milk cars in use. Most of its cars, however, were the more typical four-axle style with a wooden superstructure. Several styles of bulk tank cars also saw service on the branch, and it is believed that the last use of the Bordens "butterdish" style took place on the Sussex Branch. (For more information on milk cars and milk traffic see the February and March, 1986, and the May, 1988, issues of RMC).

Connecting Lines

In addition to the L&HR, the Sussex Branch was connected with or crossed two other Railroads. The first was the NYS&W at Franklin Furnace (shortened to Franklin in 1913 with the closing of the furnace), and two other locations near Branchville Jct.

The Franklin Furnace junction was actually an interchange between the two roads and probably served as one until the Lackawanna abandoned the branch. Franklin Furnace was on the Susquehanna's original main line and as such should have seen some degree of through traffic. It is certainly probable that loads of mineral ores were interchanged here. This line was later referred to as the Hanford Branch, and was abandoned by the Susquehanna in 1958.

The Susquehanna's "new line", constructed at a later date to reach Pennsylvania, crossed both the Franklin and Branchville lines of the Sussex in the immediate vicinity of Branchville Jct.

Westbound trains on the Susquehanna would first cross the Franklin Furnace Branch. It appears that the name of this crossing disappeared with the branch itself in 1934. Within a mile, came the second crossing, this one being the Branchville line. Sussex trains had the right of way at this crossing with NYS&W trains having to stop and manually operate the signals that

would give them permission to cross. Wooden smashboards blocked the NYS&W track when they did not have clearance. Sussex Branch trains were protected by semaphore signals.

The Susquehanna referred to this crossing as Warbasse Junction and the Lackawanna named it NYS&W crossing which went back to the days when passengers would make connections be between the two roads. There were no in interchange facilities at either of these two places, or at least in the final years of both routes.

After the Franklin Branch abandonment interchange between these two roads was limited to a connection at Secaucus via the Erie. The second road to meet the Sussex Branch was the mainline of the Lehigh & New England (see "Between the Lehigh and New England" in the July and August, 1987, issues of RMC), which crossed the Sussex line at Augusta. This location, Augusta Jct., was just two miles south of the branch terminus at Branchville. This junction was controlled by a signal tower at one time, but it was eventually supplanted by automatic signals. Although some cars were interchanged here, the quantity was not very great for the most part. The two roads had a much closer work relationship in Pennsylvania where they both served cement mills and slate quarries in Northampton County.

In 1939, an interesting little episode took place concerning the LNE. The Borden's Company had a creamery in Sussex at the end of the LNE's branch into that town. Since the LNE was freight only by this time and that being mainly cement and coal tonnage, the creamery could not count on them for scheduled service. The Lackawanna stepped in and made the nine mile run from Augusta Jct. to Sussex to pick up and place milk cars. Bordens later moved to Branchville and received direct service from the Lackawanna at the affiliated, Sussex Milk and Cream plant.

Declining Fortunes

Except for the original connection at Waterloo and the South Vernon Branch, the old Sussex Railroad was intact well into this century. The first major track reduction came in 1934 when the nine miles between Branchville Jct. and Franklin were abandoned. There were several reasons for the abandonment. The L&HR and the Susquehanna were in a better position to handle the zinc ore traffic. Iron ore sources near Lake Superior were both cheaper to mine and transport to major steel centers, which pushed New Jersey out of the market. Improved roads allowed for consolidation of creameries with several small local plants being bought out or closed down. All L&HR interchange could be handled at Andover Jct. and apparently there was not enough done with the Susquehanna to keep the line going.

Not unexpectedly, passenger traffic diminished following the national pattern from the mid-1940s on. Eventually it saw the demise of the Sussex County Limited, a commuter train that had the glamour of an illuminated drumhead tailsign. Unlike most branch lines, however, passenger service would remain until the end.

The greatest negative impact on the line occurred with the 1960 merger of the Erie and the Lackawanna. A premerger study indicated that the combined company could benefit by routing New England traffic over the Erie route via Port Jervis and Campbell Hall. This change took place almost immediately after the merger was accomplished and meant a drastic slash in tonnage over both the Sussex Branch and the L&HR. Primarily, it meant that the EL got a larger part of the through haul and didn't have to share revenue with the L&HR.

Events continued to deteriorate. The year 1961 saw the LNE abandoning all rail service in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Although interchange at Augusta Jct. was light, it still gave the EL some reason to maintain the branch. In 1962, the NYS&W stopped all service west of Sparta Jct. and no longer crossed at NYS&W Crossing . All block signals north of Andover Jct. also came out that year. Henry Becker closed the Straders plant in 1964 and all milk would now be shipped out of the county via tank truck.

Passenger service north of Andover ended in mid-1966 with the rails pulled up shortly thereafter. Before the year ended, the south end of the branch lost the remaining passenger service as well. Before the decade ended, all remaining service north of Sussex Branch Jct. was terminated.

Although the final years were marked by a depressing number of abandonment proceedings, some remarkable plans were afoot that were in direct opposition to that trend. One proposal involved passenger service to the Playboy Resort at Vernon. A demonstration run was well in the planning stages before the idea was terminated by the EL management. This proposal would have had passenger trains operating via Andover Jct. and the L&HR.

A second plan actually called for an extension of the branch beyond Branchville to reach a proposed federal recreation area to be built on the Delaware River. One can imagine state and federal officials airing out the old charter and finding the amendment that gave the old Sussex Railroad the right to do just that.

Strong public pressure put a halt on the federal project, though, and there was nothing immediately ahead on which planners, railroaders or politicians could hang the line's future. It is unfortunate that neither these agencies nor the public could see to a more distant time. Sussex County is rapidly approaching the point when local highways will be inadequate for the steady influx of new residents. An extension of passenger service from the present terminus at old Sussex Branch Jct. might have been an excellent transportation alternative. However, hindsight is always 20/20.