In the early days of Erie, live-stock transportation was one of the railroad's big items of traffic. Trains half a mile long, loaded with horned cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs, used to pass over the road two or three times a day. Such a thing as a live-stock train is almost a curiosity nowadays. Coe Little was conductor of one of the stock-trains between Susquehanna and Port Jervis. He left Susquehanna one night with a long train of cattle cars. Those trains were next to passenger trains in class, and were run over the road a-humming. Conductor Little delivered his train at Port Jervis on time, and handed in his way-bills, which he had received at Susquehanna, and on which the number, character, and contents of every car in his train were recorded. When the agent at Port Jervis compared Little's train with his voucher, one car was missing. The car was entered on the way-bill as having left Susquehanna all right. Its place, according to the bill, was near the middle of the train, but it was not in the train at all at Port Jervis.

Conductor Little declared that every car was in the train when he left Susquehanna, for he had checked the number of each one on the way-bill himself. He certainly had not delivered the missing car to anyone on the way, and he couldn't see how anyone could have sneaked in and stolen it, especially as the train had been on the move pretty much all the time between Susquehanna and Port Jervis. A telegram was sent to the agent at Susquehanna, asking for information about the missing car. The reply was that nothing was known there that could throw any light on the subject; quite the contrary, for the agent corroborated Little's report. When the train left Susquehanna the missing car was part of it.

During the efforts of the puzzled railroad men at Port Jervis to solve the mystery of the lost car, someone discovered that the car that should have been behind the missing one was coupled to the car that should have been just ahead of the lost car, and without the aid of a coupling pin at that, the link being broken in such a way that it had become a hook, which was fast in the pin-hole in the coupler of the other car. This certainly did not help matters. It deepened the mystery.

They were still absorbed in efforts at Port Jervis to solve the problem, and a car-tracer was about to be sent back over the road to search for the car, when a telegram came from Chauncey Thomas, the agent at Shohola, sixteen miles west of Port Jervis. Agent Thomas said, in effect, that somebody's cattle car was astray in a field along the Delaware River just west of Shohola station, and that he had better come and look after it. The wrecking gang was sent up from Port Jervis, and, sure enough, in the middle of a field, 100 feet or more from the railroad, stood the missing cattle car, right as a trivet, except that its doors were open and its cattle gone. To get where it was the car had run down a ten-foot embankment, across a wagon road, and through a stout rail fence.

There was only one way to explain the freak of the car in quitting its train so unceremoniously. Going east along that part of the Erie, the track is down grade. Just before reaching Shohola the coupling-pin that held the car to the one ahead of it must have broken. This divided the train in two parts. The head car of the rear part jumped the track, and breaking the link that held it to the car behind it, went down the bank, getting out of the way of the cars following on the track. When the leading section of the divided train got to the foot of the grade, its speed slackened. The following section caught up with it and ran into the rear car, but not with force sufficient to do any damage or attract attention. The broken link, then a hook, happened to fall into the pinhole of the coupler ahead of it. The train was thus recoupled, and went on to Port Jervis without the loss of a car from its very centre having been discovered by anyone.

Whether the doors of the fugitive car were broken by the jar and jolt of its trip down the bank, through the fence, and across the lot, or whether the cattle inside had kicked them open, does not matter. The doors were open, and the cattle were gone. It was winter, and the Delaware River, only a short distance away, was filled with running ice. The cattle must have been in a panic, for they had plunged into that icy flood and made their way across the river into Sullivan County, N. Y. Searchers, accompanied by the drover who owned them, found and recovered them all, and not one had received injury.

There is no parallel to this one in the record of mishaps to railroad trains, and it never ceased to be a wonder to the old-time Erie trainmen.

Erie Page | Stories Page | Contents Page

This page is from Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra website, and is reproduced here as a memorial to him and his dedication to preserving the history of railroading in America. Please note I have no access to the original source material and cannot provide higher resolution scans.
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery . The Railroad Extra pages are ©2001 Thomas Ehrenreich.