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COMING OF THE FIRST CONDUCTOR.

Eben E. Worden was the first Erie conductor. He was a slight, delicate young man, and was noted for his polite manners. He had been a member of the firm of Thomas & Wordan, who had a contract for a section of the first grading of the railroad in 1840, the cut through Piermont Hill being a part of their work. The Railroad Company being in financial straits, the firm lost money. According to the reminiscences of W. H. Stewart, it was understood that one John S. Williamson, who had influential friends in the Company, was to be made conductor as soon as the road was opened. Williamson lived at New York. In consequence of Worden having been unfortunate in his dealings with the Company, Superintendent H. C. Seymour appointed him to be the conductor on the opening of the railroad to Goshen. He came from Cayuga County. He had been a contractor on the Erie Canal, and had a large claim against the State, which was disallowed. He then took the contract on the Erie, in 1840. He remained with the Erie two years as conductor, when broken health compelled him to resign. He died of consumption in the fall of 1844, and was buried at Sennott, Cayuga County. He married a Miss Smith, of Goshen, but left no family. (The author made diligent effort to obtain a portrait and biographical data of this first Erie conductor for reproduction here, but was unable to obtain either, much to his regret.)

The appointment of Worden as conductor created a great deal of feeling among the friends of Williamson, and they not being disposed to let the matter pass without an effort to secure him the conductorship, in spite of the fact that Worden had it, Williamson was offered the place of Receiver of Freight on the New York dock, as a compromise. He accepted the offer, but with the understanding that when the Company employed another conductor he should be the man. Capt. A. H. Shultz, or Capt. "Aleck" Shultz, as he was more generally known, had command of the steamboat that ran between Piermont and New York, in connection with the railroad. A man named Evans was ticket clerk on the boat. This man evidently had influence with Captain Shultz, and Captain Shultz must have been influential at railroad headquarters, judging from what happened. Evans had a relative by marriage named Henry Ayres, who was working for the Harlem Railroad Company. The Erie had to have a freight conductor, and Evans put in a word for Ayres to Captain Shultz, and Captain Shultz talked it up at the Erie offices, and Ayres was chosen as conductor to take charge of the freight train on the road between Goshen and Piermont, thus becoming the second conductor on the Erie. This appointment caused another disturbance, and the friends of Williamson tried to have Ayres' appointment reconsidered, but without success.

This Conductor Ayres became part of the history of the Erie, for he was more than thirty years the dean of the fraternity of Erie conductors, and, as "Poppy" Ayres, was known the country over for years after he ceased to be a railroad man. Henry Ayres was a native of Boston. In 1820 he was in the United States Army, and was under General Eustis when that officer took possession of St. Augustine, Fla., July 4th of that year. In the spring of 1837 he began work as a conductor on the Harlem Railroad, running from New York to Morrisania, and in September, 1841, commenced running on the Erie. He continued as conductor until May, 1869, when he left the road, and became proprietor of the Central House at Owego, to which place he had removed in 1848. He was subsequently for a time United States Mail Agent on the Erie Railway, and was afterward in the service of the Company at Elmira. When he left the road he was retired on half pay, which continued until his death.

Captain Ayres, whose title of Captain was given to him by his friends many years ago, was one of the most genial of men, and his fund of good humor was inexhaustible. He was known affectionately everywhere as "Poppy" Ayres. He was a very large man, weighing about 300 pounds. He had to squeeze his way through the car doors sidewise. In winter he wore a fur-trimmed overcoat and coon-skin cap. He died at Owego, October 5, 1880, aged eighty years, leaving a wife, and a son and daughter by a former marriage.

The history of the Erie is rich in reminiscences of Captain Ayres, of which these are samples:

AN UMBRELLA THAT CAME BY TELEGRAPH.—In the summer of 1849, a worthy old lady living at Lordville, in the Delaware Valley, resolved to make a trip to New York, where she had relatives, and see the great sights of Gotham. She had been out of sight of her native place but once in all her life, and that was when she went one time "down the river" on a raft with her husband. For her New York trip she had boxes and bundles a-many. Among these belongings was an ancient umbrella, a family relic. It is presumed that she enjoyed her visit, but she had much tribulation on her return trip. In coming up the Hudson River on the steamboat, she became so nervous from fear that the cars would leave Piermont without her that she forgot all about her much-prized umbrella, and left it on the boat. She did not miss it until the train had reached Cochecton, which was well on toward her own stopping-place. "Poppy" Ayres was the conductor. In passing through the cars after the train left Cochecton, he saw the old lady swaying back and forth in her seat, wringing her hands and making a great ado.

"What's the matter, mother?" the kindly conductor immediately asked her "Are you sick?"

"No. Not sick!" sobbed the old lady. "But I've left my umbrell' (sob) aboard the steamboat! That umbrell' (sob) has been in our family fer more'n forty year (sob), and now it's gone! Oh, oh, oh! That's worse than (sob) bein' sick 1 Boo-o-o-o, woo-o-o-o!"

"Oh, mother, mother" said Poppy, consolingly patting the old lady on the back. "Don't cry! We'l lget your umbrella for you. We'll send for it on the telegraph. It'll be here in a minute or two."

The old lady cheered up instantly. She dried her tears, but could not disguise the surprise the conductor's assurance gave her. Ayres reached up, took hold of the bell-rope, then only a recent adjunct, and one that "Poppy" had himself introduced, as is told elsewhere. He wriggled the rope, assuming a theatrical and mysterious manner, and passed on, leaving the old lady gazing at the rope in open-eyed wonderment. The telegraph had not, as yet, been put in operation, but a line was in course of construction through that country, and the talk of the people was of that as much as it was of the railroad, which had itself only just come among them. Conductor Ayres knew that if the old lady had left her umbrella on the steamboat he would find it in the baggage-car, for it was the rule for the stewards of the boat to go through the saloons after passengers had left them at Piermont, and if any articles had been left there by absent-minded travellers they were taken on board the train and placed in the baggage-car, that they might be restored to their owners. So Poppy Ayres went into the baggage-car, found the umbrella, and, taking it under his arm, started back through the train. When he came to the car where the old lady was, he took it to her and exclaimed, as if in great triumph:

"There, mother! I told you we could get your umbrella by telegraph! And here it is!"

The owner of the umbrella was speechless with joy for a time over the recovery of the prized relic. She looked at it, and then gazed at the smiling conductor. At last she exclaimed:

"For the land sakes alive! Who'd ever 'a' thunk it? I've heern o' letters and papers bein' sent by telegrapht, but who'd 'a' thunk they could send umbrell's?"

And in the exuberance of her joy she rose quickly to her feet; threw her arms around Poppy Ayres's neck, and hugged and kissed him repeatedly before he could release himself, much to the delight and amusement of the other occupants of the car.


HE SUED "Poppy" AYRES.—One day, in the summer of 1856, a fussy old gentleman, named John Beebe, bought a ticket at Newburgh for Addison, Steuben County, N. Y. When the train he was on reached Deposit, which was far less than half the way on his journey, Mr. Beebe was tired, and he got off the train and remained over night at that place. Next morning he resumed his journey on the emigrant train. This train was not pleasing to Beebe, but he stuck to it until it got as far as Great Bend, Pa. At that station he deserted the emigrant train and waited for the day express. The day express was a "swell" train at that day, and its conductor was "Poppy" Ayres. He passed through his train after leaving Great Bend, and came to traveller Beebe, who handed up his ticket. The conductor glanced at it and handed it back to the passenger.

"Ticket ain't good!" said "Poppy" Ayres.

"Isn't good?" exclaimed Mr. Beebe, flaring up. "I'd like to know why it isn't good."

Been punched once for this division," replied Poppy.

I don't care if it's been punched for this division, or that division, or the other division," retorted the excited passenger. I I I paid for it, and I'm going to ride on it."

"You'll have to pay your fare on this train," said the conductor, quietly.

"I'll bet you I won't!" declared Mr. Beebe, with much emphasis. "You'll take this ticket or nothing."

"Poppy" Ayres would not take the ticket, and Mr. Beebe would not pay his fare, so the train was stopped and the stubborn passenger was put off. That did not cool him down a particle, however. He brought suit in Broome County, not against the Company, but against Conductor Ayres, to recover damages for being put off the train. Judge Balcom, who was afterward called to act in far more serious but much less creditable Erie litigation, heard the case, and directed a verdict for the plaintiff. The jury gave him a judgment for $250 against "Poppy" Ayres. As the conductor had simply carried out the orders of his superiors in ejecting Beebe from the train, it is to be presumed that the Company made good the judgment against him. He never would say whether such was the fact or not. At any rate, the case was not appealed. It may be that this was because the Company had then pending an Appeal in the case of Ransom against the New York and Erie Railroad Company, the lower courts having awarded the plaintiff, who had been injured by a train at Chemung, a judgment of $15,000. If the Company was awaiting the result of that case before trying its chances in any other appeals it acted wisely, for a few weeks after the Ayres verdict the Ransom judgment was affirmed. Ransom had been hurt July 4, 1853. Interest and costs increased the original amount to $20,000.


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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.
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