When I was growing up in Carbondale, my family didn’t own a car. If we wanted to go to Scranton to shop or Wilkes-Barre to visit relatives, we traveled by train.
We weren’t alone; scores of people rode the D&H passenger trains weekdays during the 82 years they operated. It all came to an end on Jan. 4, 1952, when the last “Miner’s Local” pulled into the historic Carbondale station.
In the heyday of train travel the depot was a busy place. In 1902 there were 14 D&H trains traveling in both directions between Carbondale and Wilkes-Barre. The last one left Scranton for Carbondale at 1:30 in the morning.
It was possible to get the train from Carbondale to Pittsburgh by connecting at Wilkes-Barre with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Drawing room buffet and sleeping cars were part of the consist.
In addition, there were D&H trains for Honesdale and the Erie “Flyer” between Binghamton and the Pioneer City. An article in the Carbondale Leader referred to the arrival of the “Boston express” being delayed because of a snow storm in February 1899.
Just up the street the O&W Railroad operated as many as nine trains daily between its station along the big viaduct over Dundaff Street and Scranton. One of the interesting facets of this service was the fact that a steam powered elevator lifted passengers from street level to the boarding platform atop the bridge.
Street cars had begun operating between Scranton and Carbondale in March of 1892 but the entire trip took an hour and 45 minutes compared to 40 minutes by train. As a result most of the trolley riders were traveling town to town within the valley while those going all the way were aboard trains.
The trolleys didn’t have a big effect on the trains but autos and the improved highways built for them did and reduction of service was steady. At first they cutback the number of trains on the timetable, then different destinations were eliminated.
The last Carbondale-Scranton runs on the O&W were on April 26, 1930, when an aging steam locomotive hauling a baggage car and an antique coach still equipped with kerosene lamps pulled into the Jersey Central Station beneath the Lackawanna Avenue viaduct.
Street cars ran to Scranton until June 1931 and in the same year the D&H pulled the plug on its Honesdale branch where passenger operations on what originally was the gravity railroad had begun in 1877.
D&H service from Scranton to Wilkes-Barre ended in July, 1941, but there were still four trains a day in each direction between Carbondale and Scranton. Many upper valley residents who worked in Scranton made use of them. So did my family.
If we wanted to go to Wilkes-Barre to visit our grandparents, we had to use the Laurel Line from Scranton. I remember the walk up Lackawanna Avenue from the D&H station to the Laurel Line depot was a grueling one, especially in the winter. Oh, how the wind blew; we often wished that the third-rail electric line had continued to Carbondale as planned. Unfortunately, the money ran out by the time it reached Dunmore in 1904.
The first memories of travel I have were the D&H service between Carbondale and Wilkes-Barre although my mother told me that as a “babe in arms” I once rode the streetcar down the valley to Olyphant where Dad’s Aunt Alice Mackie had a millinery store. It seems that that was the only place Mom and her mother would buy their corsets that were a “must” for well-dressed women of those days.
The only thing I recall about trolleys was watching the tracks being dug up along Church Street between Salem Avenue and Main Street. It must have been during World War II about the same time the Civil War cannons disappeared from Memorial Park.
As far as the O&W goes, I remember that some of the freight trains had an aging, dirty passenger coach instead of a caboose at the rear. I was told that that was part of the Public Utility Commission’s decision allowing the line to abolish passenger service on its Scranton Division in 1930. It was referred to as a “rider” car and anybody wanting to go to any destination as far north as Hancock, N.Y., could get aboard. I don’t know whether there was a charge.
Getting back to the thing I remember most – the D&H:
The train usually was made up of four or five wooden coaches that were part of a group stored in the coach yard near the Coalbrook Colliery. They had been rebuilt especially for the Carbondale-Wilkes-Barre service in the 1920s and were always spotlessly clean, inside and out.
A baggage car in which mail pouches and Railway Express packages was always between the coaches and the locomotive. The REA was the way catalogue businesses such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward delivered things that were too large for Parcel Post. It was the precursor of UPS and Fed-Ex of today.
At the head end of the train was usually a 500-class 10-wheeler engine turned out by the American Locomotive Works in the early 1900s.
The train stopped at every station en route to Scranton – Mayfield, Jermyn, Archbald, Winton, Jessup-Peckville, Olyphant, Dickson City, Providence and Green Ridge. At Carbon Street it left the main line for the track leading to the station at the lower end of Lackawanna Avenue.
The family’s train riding days ended when I bought my first car in 1949 but the Carbondale-Scranton on the D&H lasted another three years. The number of passengers declined steadily until it reached the point where railroad officials had to seek PUC approval to discontinue the service.
I had one last ride on the D&H. It was in March 1951 when the Carbondale draft board ordered a group of us to report for induction. We rode the train to Scranton and the Laurel Line to the induction center in Wilkes-Barre where we were sworn in and put on a bus for Fort Meade, Mayland.
It was a sad moment at the Scranton station late on the afternoon of Jan. 4, 1952 as the crew lined up for Scranton Times photographer Phil Butler, who was assigned to record the last trip.
Conductor Lou Colvin, resplendent in his brass-buttoned uniform with seven gold service stars on the jacket cuffs, shouted “all aboard.” Engineer Lew Davis sounded the whistle and eased open the throttle of Locomotive No. 500 and the last trip of the “Miners Local” headed north. It all ended at 6:11 p.m. at the red brick Carbondale station which would stand empty for another eight years before being destroyed by fire.
Ed E Rogers is a Carbondale native who spent 70 years as a reporter and editor for regional newspapers. He frequently shares his memories of his home town with Advantage readers. He can be reached at EdERogers@aol.com.