January 1994

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Waiting at Freeville


Richard F. Palmer

Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer

Up until the Great Depression, one of the busiest railroad junction points in this region was Freeville, New York. An old train register, which is a book that the station agent maintained to keep track of train movements, shows that on a typical day in the mid-1920s, as many as 25 freight and passenger trains a day passed through here.

Freeville was the cross-over point for the Lehigh Valley Railroad's Elmira & Cortland, and Sayre, Pennsylvania, to Auburn branches. As a consequence, passenger trains met here twice and sometimes more frequently to exchange passengers.

In the early days, a third railroad, the Auburn branch of the New York & Oswego Midland, also passed through Freeville. But this was abandoned in the 1890s. Freeville also boasted a large hotel known as the "Junction House."

Through the 1930s one passenger train after another was discontinued. In 1938 the large brick passenger station was closed and demolished. What few passengers still rode the "mixed" trains would wait in the less-accommodating surroundings of the freighthouse office. The Lehigh Valley finally discontinued this service in the early 1950s.

Eventually, in the mid-1970s, even these branchline railroads through Freeville were abandoned, and today only pleasant memories remain for such oldtimers as Kenneth Rice of Freeville, the last station agent there.

Although old timetables would lead one to believe that passenger service was more than adequate on these Lehigh Valley branchlines, those who actually experienced it have said that trains frequently ran behind schedule. One story is told of a woman in labor who was traveling aboard the mixed train from Sayre to Auburn to visit relatives.

When asked by the conductor why she chose to ride this particular train when she knew she was pregnant, she said, "I wasn't when I got aboard!"

This particular train, also known as "the accommodation," seemingly stopped at every crossroads to switch out freight cars. Very little effort was made to keep to a published schedule, particularly if it was the only train operating on the line at the time.

Such irregular service apparently also existed in the early 1900s when Irv Nichols, a traveling salesman, penned the following lines:


My pa he is a trav'ling man;
Pa goes most everywhere;
And sometimes, too, my pa comes home
When he's the time to spare.
One time when pa came home he brought
A very pretty cane,
He'd whittled out at Freeville while
He waited for the train.
My pa he's got a great big book,
All written through and through,
With prices in of everything
He sells, both old and new.
Pa said, in writing up that book
He nearly wrecked his brains;
Pa did it all at Freeville, while
He waited for the trains.
My ma and pa played cards last night,
And my pa played so well,
That ma says:-"You've been practicing,
You'll surely have to tell
Where you acquired such skill at cards,
Of course you will explain."
Pa says: 'Twas down at Freeville,
While I waited for the train."
My pa he wrote a funny book,
He called it "Trav'lers' Hash";
Ma read it and she said, "You ought
To call it 'Agents' Trash,'"
Ma said: "In writing up that book,
You've taken lots of pains."
Pa wrote it all at Freeville,
While he waited for the trains.
Last week, when pa came home, you bet
Us children all were "skeered";
We didn't know our pa because
Pa wore a great long beard.
Pa says to ma: "Now, don't get mad,
Nor think I've gone insane,
My whiskers grew at Freeville, while
I waited for the train."

Irv Nichols, a traveling salesman from Cortland, wrote this rhyme in 1910. It was published in his book Rhymes of the Road.

© 1993, Richard F. Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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