December 1994

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Old Number 11

and the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad


Richard F. Palmer

Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer

Since the old locomotive, No. 860, was actually only leased by the Bath & Hammondsport, it was returned to the Erie when another second-hand locomotive was acquired from the Narragansett Pier Railroad of Peacedale, Rhode Island.

This locomotive, always known as simply "Number 11," has an interesting history. Originally built in 1920 for a Cuban sugar plantation, it was one of several of that same order that never made it to those shores.

Number 11 was a product of the Cooke Works of American Locomotive Co., which had a plant in Patterson, N. J. Of the 2-6-0 or "Mogul" wheel arrangement, her shop number was 62635. It was eventually sold to the Narragansett Pier line where it operated until April, 1938, when it was sold through an equipment broker to the B&H.

Number 11 soon became "part of the woodwork" at the B&H and for years was a favorite among rail fans all over the country. Probably no locomotive was so well photographed over the years. She served faithfully until the fall of 1949 when it was decided to replace her with a diesel. Following is an article concerning No. 11's retirement:

Elmira Sunday Telegram, October, 1, 1949

Undersized, Quaint Old No. 11 Engine Served Road for Decade

Bath—Picturesque old No. 11, tiny 2-6-0 steam locomotive and pride of the Bath-Hammondsport Valley, has regretfully been retired from active duty and in her place a new diesel engine will henceforth serve the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad.

No. 11, made 25 years ago by the American Locomotive Works, has given stalwart service the past decade, merrily chugging and tootling back and forth on the nine-mile stretch of winding track that connects Bath and Hammondsport.

Although the new diesel is the last word in efficient and powerful traction, it is doubtful that it will ever take the place of the gallant old "steamer" in the hearts of Vine City and County Seat residents.

Since she was brought here in 1939, No. 11 has added a quaint and nostalgic touch to the narrow valley traversed by the B&H tracks. Tourists from metropolitan areas often stopped their cars and stared goggle-eyed at the little steam wonder, relic of their childhood, as she highballed down the valley, bell a-ringing, whistle blowing, with great quantities of smoke and steam erupting from stack and boiler in accepted locomotive tradition.

Each morning she puffed southward, her boxcars, tanker and pint-sized caboose stringing merrily along behind. In the afternoon, unable to turn around, she backed majestically and noisely to Hammondsport, returning to her beshingled and elegantly spired, 75 year old station, itself an inspiration and subject for many an artist and photographer.

The station, built in 1875, a year after the company was formed and the tracks laid, houses the freight, express, communications and administrative facilities.

U. S. Arland, vicepresident and operations chief, supervises the activities in the busy little depot. He is also a coal dealer and his initials, USA, have provoked wide comment. Like the president, D. W. Putnam, and other officers, C.D. Champlain, R. H. Howell and F. C. Taylor, he manifests a genuine affection for the little railroad and all its accoutrements.

Real steam locomotive enthusiasts, these men, while proud of the new engine, agreed during trial runs that "It just isn't the same without the smoke, the steam, the bell and the whistle."

Norman R. Emilson, Hammondsport agent for the company, makes out the waybills and otherwise attends to the shipping which amounts to about 1200 carloads annually. Goods carried are diverse, including lumber, fuel, grapes, hay, vast quantities of glass jugs and bottles, cartons, paper and a wide assortment of smaller express shipments. Some grape concentrates, both incoming and outgoing, are shipped in tank cars. The finished grape products are nearly all handled in glass containers in box cars.

Mr. Putnam and his associates, after the flood of 1935 forced them to forego the convenience of B&H facilities, bought the little railroad in 1936. The Erie, owner since 1908, had petitioned the State Public Service Commission for permission to abandon the line. The Hammondsport men felt that local grape, fuel, and lumber merchants should not be dependent on trucking if it was possible to resurrect the defunct B&H and run it on a fairly profitable basis.

With Bob Ostrander as engineer, Miles Ellis as fireman, Douglas Stratton as conductor and Mr. Arland as operations chief, the line has kept out of the red and done yeoman service for its owners and customers.

Its quaint appearance, its genuineness, its record of fine service have endeared the funny little railroad to its officers as well as to the countryside. Although it is small, has only one station, and has to run backwards from Bath to Hammondsport, it is far from being a joke, hauling thousands of tons of shipping each year.

Nationally known from being written up countless times in magazines, the B&H powered by No. 11 has hung up a good record for the new diesel to match.

Like all good railroads the B&H issues passes only to special friends and dignitaries. These coveted passes are eagerly sought for the railroad enthusiasts all over the United States. One fan came all the way from Texas to get one signed in person by the vice president. Of course, the railroad is for freight and express but on infrequent occasions, some railroad society charters a passenger excursion. About 432 passengers were carried on the scenic route during one of these excusions last Summer.

The pass reflects the affectionate humor bestowed on the B&H. It is marked "Good until the next flood." Other comment printed inred ink includes "A short line is a heck-of-a-lot better than no line" and "not as long as the others but just as wide." Proud is he who has been honored with the gift of this distinctive pass from the genial vicepresident, USA!

U. S. Arland, President of the B&H at the time, could not bring himself to consign his "Champagne Trail No. 11" to the scrap heap. She was like an old friend, and was put in storage in case the diesel locomotive broke down.

So the 55-ton steamer languished for a few years in cold storage in the Hammondsport enginehouse, hoping some day to again be called to duty.

That day finally came in the spring of 1955. Dr. Stanley Groman of Syracuse, who was creating what turned out to be the first operating railroad museum in the country, was searching for a steamer and heard about No. 11.

He had purchased a 2-8-0 locomotive from the Huntington & Broad Top Mountain R. R. in Pennsylvania, but when it got to Groman's Rail City at Sandy Pond (near Pulaski) it was found to be too ponderous to negotiate the sharp curves. Known as "No. 38," it was put on display and did not operate.

Ultimately, No. 11 was purchased and was shipped by rail to Lacona, near Pulaski, where it was put on flatbed trucks and transported to Rail City, about six miles away. She happily operated there from the opening day on July 4, 1955, until the museum was closed down in 1972.

Ironically, it then returned to its old home at the Narragansett Pier R. R. where it was to operate in excursion service. This never materialized and today it rests in pieces in a shed on the Middletown & New Jersey R.R.—hopefully someday to be restored. Fans dream of seeing Old No. 11 once more puffing through the valley on the B&H, with Engineer Bob Ostrander at the throttle.

Thus far, the B&H itself has managed to survive different ownerships and management. Several years ago, its mileage was lengthened considerably with the purchase from Conrail of the former Lackawanna Railroad mainline between Bath and Wayland.

Unfortunately the primary customer on this extension the B&H intended to serve—Gunlocke Furniture—chooses not to use rail service with any regularity. Trains only operate as far north as Cohocton.

Interest in the B&H has revived over the past two or three years with a renewed effort by Stanley Clark to capture the tourist trade through excusions and dining car trains.

Only time will tell what the future holds for this latter-day effort. It is regretful, however, to learn that residents of the village of Hammondsport have thus far blocked efforts to operate excursion trains into the village limits. From an economic viewpoint it is shortsighted because it would bring in tourist dollars to help bolster a shrinking economy caused by the exodus of the wineries.

© 1994, Richard F. Palmer
I wish to thank Robert Groman of Baldwinsville, son of the late Dr. Stanley Groman, for providing information and photos.
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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