The Crooked Lake Review

February 2008

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


Old-Time Railroading

compiled by

Richard Palmer

Commercial Advertiser, Canton, N.Y., Jan. 21, 1903

William H. Tuller, of Rome, formerly a conductor on the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad, has many interesting reminiscences of his experience in the service.

In 1852 he received a position as conductor on the road under Superintendent Job Collamer. He remained for nine years on the line from Rome to Cape Vincent, but in 1861, upon the consolidation of the Watertown & Rome and the Potsdam & Watertown railroads, his run was from Rome to Ogdensburg. Mr. Tuller continued in the capacity of conductor until 1872, when poor health induced by irregular hours and exposure to all kinds of weather, force him to retire. After a furlough of one year, which had been granted to him by the company, Mr. Tuller settled in Rome and has since made it his place of residence.

He was told frequently that at any time he cared to resume his place on the road there would be a train ready for him. During the 20 years of his service he never had an accident that forced the company to pay a dollar for injuries to passengers. He was on the road which had but one track, in the days before the telegraph was in general use and before the time of the skilled train dispatcher. Then it depended upon the man who had charge of the train, and that was the conductor, who had to watch both ends of his train with unwearied vigilance to avoid collisions. Now the responsibilities of a safe transit for the train are placed equally upon the conductor and engineer.

The other superintendents under whom Mr. Tuller worked were Carlos Dutton, Addison Day and J.W. Moak. He was under the latter eight years. In all his term as conductor he never received a reprimand for disobeying orders, for he acted always upon the belief that orders were meant to be obeyed. Engineers frequently grumbled because he would not vary from the letter of the order, and officials of the road soon came to know that he could always be relied upon to do just as he was told.

The result was that when any work was to be done that required unusual caution and care Mr. Tuller was invariably called upon. During the time of the Fenian raid into Canada he was requested one night, just after having finished a long run, to take a train and convey to Norwood a United States Marshall and a United States District Attorney who wished to arrest some of the leaders. Because of the fact that he had just come in from a long run and was tired out he tried to get excused, but the order had come to get Tuller and he had to go.

When he reached the station he told the United States officials that if they would wait until morning he could get them through much easier, for two freight trains which had gone north, would have to be passed and there would be the necessity of avoiding trains coming south. as this was before railroad telegraph lines had been put in there was no way by which other trains could be notified that an extra was put on the line that night.

the officials would not be content to wait, however, and a train as made up. None of the regular engineers could be found, as they had all gone to Utica to attend a meeting of their brotherhood. At last it came to the necessity of taking the engineer of the shifter, who had never been over the road and was entirely unfamiliar therewith. The fireman was a young man who had been on the road only a short time. Thus in the middle of the night and with this green crew. Mr. Tuller started out on his perilous journey. He stayed on the engine most of the time to assist in keeping a sharp lookout, and not only passed the two freight trains in safety, but met the passenger trains and reached Watertown all right. When the train drew in the Watertown depot, Superintendent Moak came to meet him, and said, shaking hands with him, "I know it was tough, Tuller, but you were the only man I dared trust."

In those days the railroad was without the facilities for fighting snow that it now has and the winter was almost a continuous struggle to keep the road open between Rome and Watertown. Mr. Tuller would sometimes leave Rome with seven locomotives and a large number of men and spend almost an entire week going to Watertown and back. Wood was the fuel used and there was no apparatus for forcing a draft when an engine was standing, so that when it ran into a snowbank it was quite likely to get stuck. Then, too, the engines were built so that the drive wheels had to revolve in order to pump water into the boiler. Every engineer carried a set of jack screws and when the engine was stalled in the snow it had to be jacked up so that the drivers could revolve in the air and thus the boiler could be kept full.

The schedule running time of passenger trains was from 25 to 30 miles an hour and it was necessary to keep a constant watch for other trains. Under the rules trains on time had the right of way and other trains had to give them the road. When a train became late there was no way to notify other trains coming from the opposite direction and a train would lie in a station where the two were scheduled to meet for some time, waiting for the other trains to arrive. If it failed to come after a reasonable time then the waiting train would go on ahead cautiously, keeping a lookout for the train and sending out flagmen.

The rule was that when this happened both trains should run into the nearest station where they could pass, the train coming from the station having to back up. Naturally engineers disliked doing this and so when expecting to meet another train they would go faster than was justifiable in order to get as far away from the last station as possible. Mr. Tuller would never permit this, however, when he was on board and the engineers sometimes found fault.

On one occasion his train ran right by a flagman sent out by another train ahead of his but the engineer failed to see him, in his anxiety to get through. Mr. Tuller happened to get sight of the man from the rear platform and immediately stopped his train, just in time to avoid a collision. Thereafter that particular engineer had nothing to say about obeying orders.

In speaking of his experiences with snow Mr. Tuller tells of starting out from Rome on Monday morning, Feb. 18, 1856, after a severe snow storm. He had five engines on the head of the train and two in the rear. There was one passenger car and a baggage car. In the baggage car there was a large box stone and, before starting, Mr. Tuller took on a chest of tea and several barrels of bread and cheese. In a large boiler he had tea made and this, with the bread and cheese, sufficed to feed the men who helped to shovel out the engines as they got stalled. The train finally reached Watertown and, after running about eight miles beyond, started on its return to Rome, which was reached on the following Saturday. Mr. Tuller found that the track hands worked well after being liberally supplied with strong tea, but if they got hold of any beer or whiskey they would get sleepy right away and go into the cars to lie down.

On another occasion he ran short of supplies and stopped at Williamstown, where he found the hotel proprietor had a lot of partly cooked hams and plenty of potatoes, but very little food. He had large caldron kettles put over the fire and filled with chunks of the ham and potatoes. This feast seemed to suit the trackmen to a T and they did not seriously bemoan their deprivations. Once his train became stalled and he went to the baggageman, whom he knew had on hand a number of kegs of oysters. These Mr. Tuller took in charge and every workman and passenger had an oyster stew.
Among the great changes in railroad facilities have been the increased size of the engines and freight cars. At the time Mr. Tuller was first in the service the engine drew but about 15 freight cars, and the cars themselves were not to be loaded to over 10 tons each. Wood for the engine's supply was purchased of the farmers along the road. They received nine shillings per cord for four foot wood which was afterward cut into lengths of about 16 inches.
The road experimented for a time with board fences to prevent the snow drifting in the cuts but after the fences had been frequently destroyed by fires the plan was changed and the movable wind breaks adopted.

The Potsdam & Watertown Railroad was an independent branch running from Watertown to Potsdam Junction to connect with the Vermont Central road* The R.W.& O. people endorsed the $800,000 bonds for the smaller road on condition that upon the first default in the payment of 7 percent interest the line should go under the control of the former company. The first payment was not made and the R.W. & O. authorities proceeded to take possession of the office, putting the P.& W. men out bodily. Friends of the latter returned to the offices and returned the compliment. It was some time before the matter was settled in the courts. When the extension was made through to Ogdensburg, Mr. Tuller had the honor of running the first train over the completed line.

Mr. Tuller tells the story of a girl about 12 years of age who was tagged to go through from New York to Kingston, Ont. She was placed in his charge just before the train left Rome, ad he tried to make her as comfortable as possible. He noticed that she was tired out with her all night's ride from the metropolis, and tried to get her to go to sleep in one of the seats near the stove in one of the coaches. At nearly every stop, however, she would sit up and ask if that station was Kingston. Even when assured that she would be duly notified when it was time for her to get off, she continued to appear afraid that she might be left.

This continued until a point near Adams Center was reached.There the engine ran into a cow, throwing the carcass up on the bank beside the track, whence it rolled back under the coaches, derailing and upsetting the one in which was the child, with other passengers. Mr. Tuller hurried back, and upon looking at the overturned car, and finding that it was not likely to topple any further, he proceeded to get the passengers out. No one was seriously injured, but several received cuts from broken glass. Among such was the little girl, who thrust her face up from the wreck, the blood showing on her forehead, and called out shrilly,"Is this Kingston?" It was difficult to refrain from laughing, for it really seemed as though the girl had it in mind that this was the way in which she was to be notified that her journey was ended.

The passengers were transferred to the baggage car, and the train proceeded with the exception of the overturned car, and M. Tuller drew into Ogdensburg on time, in spite of his accident.

© 2008, Richard Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR