MERRICKVILLE, FRANKLIN DEPOT AND THE NYO&W RAILROAD
by Lynn Finch
PART I – The Mill at Merrickville
Merrickville and Franklin Depot (Station) share common parents – The O&W Railroad. They were born in the 1870’s when the O&W went through the area on its way from Oswego to Weehawken. Merrickville was named for John Merrick who sold part of his farm for O&W right of way. Merrickville and Franklin Depot were located about two miles apart and both had, in addition to the depot, a post office, general store, feed store and creamery. Nowadays it might be hard to imagine so much commerce located this close in such a sparse rural area, but we must recall that roads were nothing more than packed dirt, and travel was by horse and wagon. Even into the 50’s roads in this area were narrow, packed dirt and although many people had an automobile, feed and milk were still hauled by individual farmers by horse and wagon. Later, as trucks became more efficient and dependable, some enterprising individuals developed routes to pick-up the farmers’ milk and deliver it to the creamery. This led to the closing of the myriad of small creameries and the development of larger and more dispersed ones. Farms in this era were usually small, in the neighborhood of 100 acres. There were at least nine farms just in the two-mile stretch between Merrickville and Franklin Depot.
I grew up in the village of Franklin in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, when railroads played a much larger role in our lives than they do today. It was during this period that Railroads were larger than life to a small boy and the New York Ontario & Western loomed the largest. Perhaps it was the rides on the school bus my dad drove through Merrickville and Franklin Depot; the memory of seeing a mailbag snatched, on-the-fly, from the mail post at Merrickville; or the time my mother took the train from Merrickville to New York City when she had been elected District Deputy Grand Matron of the Eastern Stars. (The memory of that passenger car disappearing, with her, as it approached the Zig-Zag Tunnel, is forever etched in my mind); or maybe it was the big trestle in Sidney Center that my Uncle Clarence would take us over on a hike; or perhaps the slight fear that we might get caught on the trestle if a train came. I now know that my uncle checked in with the Maywood Depot Stationmaster to make sure no trains were due before embarking on the hike. It does seem strange to me that I found tunnels fascinating yet a visit to the “zig-zag” tunnel never got on our agenda.
Uncle Clarence and Aunt Ruth lived almost under the larger trestle, bridge 216, so this was a special place to visit. Whenever we heard a train rumbling over the trestle we would run outside to watch it silhouetted against the sky. The silhouettes of these steam engines are still easy to fetch from my mind. I was always amazed at the open space between the boiler and the drivers.
One Sunday we hiked both trestles in Sidney Center. That hike included a stop in the depot so the oldsters in the group could chat with the station staff. The click clack of the telegraph fascinated my cousins and me. Who knows, this may be the reason in later years I learned to copy the Morse code up to about 25 words per minute. Many summer nights, when the air was still, the diesels could be heard in the village of Franklin making their way up the grade from Sidney Center to the Zig-Zag tunnel, blowing their horns for the crossings.
Merrickville boasted a post office, creamery, feed store and general store. The Merrickville general store was owned and operated by Orrin Z. Baldwin whose grandsons contributed to this article. The Merrickville Post Office was originally in the general store, but at some point was moved to the Depot. The last Stationmaster and Postmaster was Albert King who retired on September 29th 1951. Merrickville depot was torn down in early April of 1952.
The largest structure in the Merrickville – Franklin Depot area was the feed mill complex in Merrickville. Since Delaware County was one of the biggest dairy regions in the state, feed mills provided essential animal feed for local dairies, jobs for the locals as well as a fair amount of traffic for the O&W. By the late 1940’s business was declining all along the railroad. Apparently in 1948 an attempt was made to quantify the decline, as there is a report in the O&W archives comparing traffic in 1947 with traffic in 1946. (Exhibit D) It appears that by this time Albert King was handling all carload shipments destined for Merrickville as well as Franklin Station, Maywood (Sidney Center) and South Unadilla. Overall annual deliveries to these five locations declined from 349 in 1946 to 312 in 1947. It is interesting to note that both the feed mills at Merrickville and Franklin Depot had increased carload deliveries. In 1946 there were 94 carloads to Wm Hyzer & Sons feed mill and 107 carloads in 1947. This is one of the few locations where carload deliveries increased.
The mill received shipments by rail right up to the railroad closing. After the O&W ceased operation coal was delivered to the mill by semi-trailers, and tank trucks delivered molasses. Sometimes the Franklin Milling company trucks would make the run to Pennsylvania to bring back a truckload of coal. Without the O&W the remote location of the mill and the loss of farms in the area, the mill shut down in the mid 60's and the entire operation moved to the more centrally located store in the village of Franklin.
Referring to the O&W1910 track map (Exhibit A) the feed mill is shown as a complex of two buildings: a feed store (original or Old Mill) and a coal pocket, owned by Chas. Moore. The mill was built prior to 1909 as Charles Moore purchased the mill from Herbert Seward November 27, 1909. Charles and his wife Mabel sold the mill to James and Malcolm Crawford in 1912. Records in the Delaware County clerk’s office indicate William W. Hyzer purchased the Merrickville Feed Mill from Janet Crawford in 1924.
William W. Hyzer of Liberty purchased a feed mill in Pepacton, NY in 1917 and in 1919 purchased a feed store in the village of Franklin. Sometime in this period he moved his family to Franklin. He and his wife Leona had three sons and a daughter: William “Bill”, Lester “Buster”, Harold “Skeet” Elvin, and Marion. Bill and Skeet married women with the same first name of Hazel so they were known in Franklin as Hazel Bill and Hazel Skeet. Marion married Ed Decker, and they operated the feed store in Andes. Harold did not enjoy the feed business and finally convinced his father to allow him to attend Albany Law School and he became a successful attorney in Franklin. Buster met an untimely death in 1942 leaving Bill to continue the feed business.
On the 1932 track map (Exhibit B) a bagged feed storage building, a garage, scales and a shed had been added to the complex. Bill and Hazel Hyzer moved to the house, shown as “DWL” on the 1932 track map in 1922. Jean Hyzer Stern was born in this house and lived there with her father, Bill Hyzer and family, until 1931 when they moved to Franklin where the feed store his father had purchased in 1919 was located. While living in Merrickville Jean remembers seeing the horses and wagons lined up in the morning getting feed (probably after leaving their milk at the creamery). She also remembers feed was stored in bags on the second floor of the old mill. Feed ordered by the farmers was sent to the first floor via a wooden chute. Here it was wheeled on hand trucks out on the platform and loaded on the wagons by hand. ”Jean remembers the wooden chute was beautiful piece of wood and polished to a high sheen by the feedbags. It also made an excellent slide. She frequently entertained her visiting friends by sliding down this chute. John Baldwin, mentioned later, also remembers sliding down this chute. John relates, “Jean is right, it was a highly polished wooden "chute." It was about 3 feet wide, without vertical sides, and terminated, as I remember, at the platform that ran along under the canopy that connected the old mill to the new mill.” The author also remembers sliding down a similar chute in the Franklin village feed store
Jean supplied a copy of a photo, from a Hyzer feed mill calendar ( Photo Above) and the following comments: “The small building, extreme left, parallel to the tracks, was originally a horse barn. (Although this barn was likely constructed with the original buildings, it does not show on the 1910 track map but is shown on the 1932 track map as a shed.) There were two horse stalls and manger but by the late 1920’s it was not used as a horse barn. At the insistence of Buster the tall elevator building, “new mill”, was added in the late 30’s in a space of only 14 feet between the coal pocket and Old original Mill. The garage, shown on the 1932 track map, was used to store trucks and tools used in the operation of the feed mill. The building on the right, of the calendar photo, was the coal pocket that could store five grades of coal: Buckwheat, Pea, Stove, Chestnut and Egg. Buckets on a chain took coal from under the hopper cars into the coal pocket.
On August 25, 2005 I visited Merrickville with Jean Hyzer Stern and Mary Hyzer Wagner, daughters of Bill Hyzer. We also had a guided tour of the area by Beverly Soldan. Mrs. Beverly Barnhart Soldan lives in the house labeled Stewart (1910 track map). She remembers the feed mill being pulled down and burned in June of 1969. Beverly’s daughter now lives in the house where Jean Stern lived until 1931. Mary tells how she and her friend Elsie Terwilliger rode on top of the feedbags, loaded on the trucks, and having to duck when they went under electric wires. Imagine doing that today? Elsie’s Grandparents, Grover and Florence Cleveland, operated the general store in Franklin Depot which will be covered in Part III.
About the coal pocket, Jean relates: “Coal stored in the coal pocket was loaded onto “stake trucks”. They backed the truck up, opened the door of one of the five chutes located along the bottom of the coal pocket, and away they went. Coal was usually delivered to homes with coal bins in the basement. When they got to Franklin or wherever they were going, people had cellar windows they opened and they put a chute in the window and dumped the coal by shoveling it onto the chute, from truck to window, and down into the coal bin.” The chutes were metal and the coal make a unique, mesmerizing, sound as it was shoveled into the cellars. This operation would often generate a crowd of kids (The author was usually one of them) to watch the “show”. As a little girl, Beverly recalls sitting at the window, above her cellar window, watching and listening to the coal going into the cellar.
Jean recalls that there was a big molasses tank between the old mill and the bagged feed storage building. Molasses was mixed with the feed as well as cod liver oil. She remembers her dad frequently sampling the cod liver oil, which was widely used in this era for its presumed medicinal properties. The author also remembers the ordeal of swallowing that terrible tasting COD Liver Oil. I’m sure many a kid went to school rather than risk this cure for a fake illness!
Bill retired in 1948 and his sons, James and Warren Hyzer, brothers of Jean and Mary, assumed operation of the business. According to a 1948 article in the Delaware County Dairyman, published in Franklin NY, the “28 year old firm of Wm Hyzer and Sons has changed its name to The Franklin Milling Company.”
Clarence Baldwin moved into the house, at the rear of the feed mill, after Bill Hyzer moved to Franklin in 1931. Clarence had two sons, John, born in 1938 and Wayne, born in 1941. They grew up in Merrickville during the period from the early 1940’s to the late 1950’s and “worked” in the feed mill. I’ll let them tell their story.
John: “ Here are some recollections I have of growing up in Merrickville 200 feet or less from the railroad and 400 feet from the Feed mill. We were all brought home as babies to our home in Merrickville where we spent the rest of our growing up years. Our house was the bungalow-style house 200 feet from the tracks and, as I said, about 400 feet roughly north of the Feed mill. The house was part and parcel with the Feed mill. It belonged to the Hyzer’s until my dad retired from the Hyzer employ, and at that time the Hyzers deeded the home and property over to my dad. I think they did that in appreciation for my dad's hard work and loyalty over 40 years of employment with the Hyzers in their feed and coal business, most of it right there at the Feed Mill in Merrickville. The Hyzers were good people. I'm certain they still are. After my dad retired from the feed mill, he lived in that same house until his death in 1958.”
“My earliest recollections of the railroad are of the steam engines that ran so close by the house during my earlier years--before the diesels took over. To serve the Feed mill there was a sidetrack that ran alongside the main track beside our house. The sidetrack started a little north of our house and ran south past the Feed mill and fertilizer storage building, which stood across the tracks directly opposite the railroad station, and terminated in the main line further past the water tower. My grandfather's general store was about 100 feet from the station and on the same side of the tracks. The Feed mill sold feed and fertilizer to the farms that surrounded Merrickville. And my grandfather sold groceries to the same farmers--and gave candy to all the kids. Your dad (authors father) would wait with the school bus in front of my grandfather's store for the Merrickville kids.”
“Folks growing up today miss out on one of the grand things in life, and that is hearing the sound of a steam engine's whistle as the engine brings a long freight down the grade on a cold winter night. I remember rubbing the frost off the dining room window to look out and see the glow from the firebox as the engine went by. The engines would back the grain and coal cars onto the sidetrack at the Feed mill.”
“ Wayne recalls that it was virtually always the evening train, i.e. the one headed in the direction of Oswego that dropped off the cars for the mill. Perhaps there was a practical reason for this: the downhill grade made it easier for the engineer to start the long string of cars once the car was dropped off and the train was ready to pull out. Another reason might possibly be that the sources for the feed and other materials to be delivered to the mill were located toward the New York City end of the line. After the morning train stopped picking up milk at the creamery, only on rare occasions would the morning southbound train stop at Merrickville. It was on these occasions that the engineer would often have trouble restarting the long string of cars for the pull to the tunnel.”
Wayne: “There were normally three trains that passed through Merrickville each day. The first was a morning train traveling south, and it did not normally stop at Merrickville. This train sometimes had a pusher engine at the rear. Once past the grade at the tunnel, the engineer would uncouple and reverse the pusher engine, backing it back to, I presume, Sidney. The second train of the day, the train that dropped off the cars at the mill, was the evening train, which came through at around 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. from the southerly direction. This train would have the advantage of the downgrade (toward Franklin Depot) for the restart in the event a car had to be delivered at the mill. The third train, the night train, passed through Merrickville after dark and virtually never stopped. This one, like the evening train before it, was also traveling north. As to where the cars originated, I can only offer that when they were dropped off, they were coming from the south, i.e., the New York City end.”
John continues: “The Engineers often had trouble getting the train moving again, after they dropped off the cars, on the rare occasions when the southbound morning train stopped in Merrickville. This was because the feed mill and railroad station were located on the grade that led up to the tunnel a mile or so south, where the main line continued on to Walton. Although this didn't seem like much of a grade it was enough to give the trainmen a problem in starting a long string of cars up the grade if they had to stop in Merrickville. During the steam era this is how they would do it. The connecting couplings between each car were not rigid, but had four inches or so of slack built in them. That is, when the engine backed up, it would move backward four inches before the railroad car behind it began to move backward. That would happen between each car all the way down the string of cars. So when the Engineer wanted to move the long string out and get under way he would first back the engine up until he had backed the four inches of slack out of all the car couplings as far back as he could, maybe all the way back to the caboose. You would hear the couplings slamming together all the way down the line as he did that. Then it was time to go for it and he would open the throttle and start the engine forward. For the first four inches only the engine would be moving, which would give it some forward momentum. When those four inches of slack in the coupling was used up the first car would start moving with a jerk. And every four inches the load would increase by one car. But with each car the engine had a little more momentum and was able to accelerate. I hate to think what it felt like when the slack finally got taken out back at the caboose. During the best years when the trains were fairly long, they would have a helper engine at the back of the train. That made pulling out much easier. With only one engine, even at best the driver wheels would sometimes spin wildly until the engineer quickly pulled back the throttle and then eased it forward again. Each driver wheel had a steel tube in front that delivered sand to the rail just in front of the driver wheel to increase traction. The engineers would use the sand especially for starting in snow and at other times when the rails were wet.”
Wayne supplied a photo of the feed mill taken from their house.
“The mill was made up of three main buildings, the one on the left, with the little window was storage for bagged feed. Boxcars from the railroad were unloaded with two-wheeled trucks, five bags on a truck.
A platform ran from the boxcar into and through this building. It was level with the floor of the boxcar being unloaded and was about 15-20 feet above the main floor inside the building. You could dump the bags off of either side and then stack them up later. This building would hold a lot of feed. Underneath the platform an alley was kept open so you could come in and get the bags when needed for mixing. A runway connected, this building through a hall in the office building to the “old mill” building.
In the “old mill” there were big feed bins on each side of the building with a big mixer upstairs. At the bottom of the bins you could draw the feed out into a big wooden box (4’ x 5’) on three wheels. There was a sliding door on the bottom of these carts so you could dump the feed down a funnel like hole in the floor to feed elevator buckets that would take it upstairs to the mixer. There were scales in the mill where those big feed carts could be weighed before dumping them into the chute that took the feed up to the mixer. When it was mixed, the mixer would dump it into the chute going to the molasses mixer. A pressure gauge indicated how much molasses was going into the feed. The feed was then drawn out of the mixer into bags, tied, and stacked for delivery.”
John: “I recall there was plenty of "back and forth" with hand trucks and the three-wheeled "box" between the new mill and the old mill. Because there was no connection between the new and old mill, this traffic took place on the front dock. There was certainly more activity in the old mill, because all the mixing took place there, plus most of the final bagging. Much of the feed that went into the mixer came from the bins in the new mill. I know of at least gluten, oats and corn being stored in the new mill bins.”
John continues: “Wayne and I got together to see what we could remember about the molasses operation at the Feed Mill. The Molasses was stored in a tank that was probably of 10,000-gallon capacity. It was a horizontal tank maybe slightly larger in diameter than a railroad molasses car, but not as long. The storage tank was situated about halfway down the side of the railroad embankment and was in the space between the bagged feed storage building and the “old mill” building. The long axis of the tank was perpendicular to the track bed and was partially buried in the railroad embankment to allow it to be low enough for the molasses to flow into it by gravity feed. The end farthest from the tracks was the only end visible. As I remember, the visible end was somewhat more squared off flat rather than curved or rounded off. Soil and grass (weeds) covered the top of the tank from where it protruded from the railroad embankment to within a few inches of the flat cover plate on the top. The visible end as I recall extended to within 10 to 15 feet of the office building. I believe there were concrete supports under the end closest to the mill (the visible end). There was no dome, as such, on top. A section of steel pipe 3 or 4 inches high and about eighteen inches in diameter and contoured on the bottom to fit the curvature of the top of the tank was welded around the hole cut in the top of the tank. It was low--you had to kneel down to slide the cover off. This pipe was flanged at the top so that the circular steel cover plate would lie flat on top of the flange and served as an inspection hatch. The flange was drilled with a few boltholes. One bolt went through the cover plate and formed the "hinge" for sliding the cover plate around and open, and a second bolt went through another hole to keep the cover plate secure(?). This opening in the top of the tank was large enough for a man to squeeze through if there was ever a need. I don't remember ever hearing of anyone going into the tank. I don't ever remember a lock of any sort on the cover. One awful dread, as a boy, was that I might fall in the tank and sink to the bottom, never to be seen again. I guess my mother had the same fear because she cautioned us about that very thing. I'm surprised they didn't put a pad lock through one of the bolt holes. But a lot was different then.”
“The molasses was delivered, according to Wayne, in 8,000-gallon tank cars. The molasses flowed by gravity from the tank car to the storage tank via a steel pipe, which, as I remember, was about 6" in diameter. The pipe from the car to the tank was permanent, above ground for about half its length and terminated close to the track where the car was unloaded. The lower end, which entered the storage tank, was buried. When a molasses tank car was to be unloaded, the steel pipe was connected to the tank car using a flexible coupling, and then the tank car valve was opened. If the train crew had not positioned the tank car closely enough to easily make the hook-up, the mill men used the "frog" to move the car into position. Unloading the car was straightforward, unless it had to be done in the winter. And that's where the fun came in. At least it was fun for the mill kids, because it meant maybe being allowed to stay up late, watching the fires burn. It might have been in Merrickville that the saying got started,
"He/she/It is slower than molasses in January." The molasses simply wouldn't flow when it was really cold. So the men had to build wood fires under the big pipe and keep them going as long as it took to empty the tank car. I don't remember if they kept fires going under the tank car itself, but it makes sense that they would have to. Those were fun
times for us kids. “
“ My father, being I suppose the most experienced of the mill workers, got in on all the heavy work around the mill, including the unloading of the molasses cars. One event my family will never forget is the time my father came to the door of our house covered and dripping with molasses. The men were unloading a molasses car and my father was under the car checking something, when the pipe coupling slipped off the underside of the car and molasses began pouring out. Apparently he couldn't reach the shut-off valve, and not wanting to waste any molasses he thrust his whole arm up into the opening in the bottom of the car and stopped the flow long enough for someone to reach the shut-off valve. My mother probably had to soak that pair of coveralls a long time before putting them through the washer. “
“Molasses was transferred, from the storage tank, into the “old mill” using an electrically driven molasses pump that was in a small enclosed shed located slightly below the storage tank and up close to the enclosed runway that connected the bagged storage building to the old mill building. This enclosed runway ran past and gave access to the tiny mill office just before the runway opened into the old mill building. The shed housing the molasses pump was accessed through a small door in the wall of the enclosed runway approximately across the runway from the office door. Opening this small door gave access to several wooden steps leading down to the pump shed. “
“When a feed order required that molasses be mixed with the feed, the electric pump delivered the molasses through a 1 1/2 inch pipe to the molasses injector "box" in the old mill. The molasses injector box was a rectangular wooden box about 6 feet long by about 18 inches wide on all four sides. It was mounted on the floor at shoulder level and was positioned so that it could be fed from the big rotating feed mixer high up in the second story of the old mill. Mounted in the topside of the injector box were a number of injector nozzles through which the molasses squirted into the box under pressure. The amount of molasses was controlled with a valve in the pressure line. Inside the box an auger ran the length of the injector box and moved the feed through the box under the injector nozzles. The auger not only moved the feed through the box, but also served to complete the mixing as the molasses was injected. The auger and molasses pump were driven by a large electric motor with a chain drive. It was a noisy machine and I can still hear the sound of the heavy chain turning the drive sprockets.
The feed to be mixed with the molasses flowed from the second story-rotating mixer down through a wooden chute and into one end of the molasses injector box. The auger moved the feed through the box, under the injector nozzles and out through an opening in the other end of the box where it was bagged and loaded onto hand trucks for weighing in
preparation for delivery to the farmer. The top of the injector box was hinged so that it could be raised, exposing the auger, which after only a little use would be caked with feed and molasses and would periodically have to be cleaned.”
John: “ Cod liver oil was also mixed with the feed but I cannot recall just how that was done. I remember cod liver oil was stored in 55-gallon drums. The new mill was used primarily for storage (bin storage); however, it also housed the machine, which we called the "grinder." This machine turned out what the mill men called "cracked corn." When the corn came off the boxcars and went into the bins, in the new mill, it was in the form of hard kernels, hard like popcorn. There was at least one bin of whole corn kernels. Cracked corn was used in some of the feed formulations ordered by the farmers and some of it was bagged and sold as “cracked corn”. The whole kernels were diverted to the grinder, where each kernel would be somewhat smashed, or at least broken up into several pieces before being added to the feed mix ordered by the farmer. This grinder was located just inside the door off the front runway, not far from the rudimentary one man (and a boy) elevator.
Wayne: “Feed and grain was delivered to the mill in boxcars. About 60% was bulk and 40% bagged. When a bulk feed car arrived at the mill and the steel doors were rolled open, "car doors" (also known as grain doors) kept the bulk feed from spilling out onto the ground. There would be several car doors placed across the opening, one above the other, and high enough to be above the level of the loose feed inside the car. Before the rail road car was loaded at the point of origin the car doors would be nailed to the wooden walls inside the car across the openings on both sides of the car. These would be removed and stacked on the ground when the car was unloaded. Each car door was approximately twenty inches wide, probably seven feet long, and from one and three quarters inches to two inches thick. Each car door was made up of a number of boards nailed together to arrive at the required length, width and thickness. All were two boards thick. They were immensely strong, and it was all one man could do to handle one of them. A farmer that I knew upended several of them and leaned them against a log placed at shoulder level across his creek from bank to bank to form a dam.
The bulk cars were unloaded with large shovels on wheels like the following drawing:
Some types of feed would settle down in shipment and you would have to use pickaxes to get it loose so you could use the shovel to dump the feed into the auger that took it into the feed bins. Most of the time two men would unload a car. Sometimes my brother and I would help. Once the cars were delivered, you would have three days to get it unloaded before they would charge the milling company extra money. (Demurrage charges). Sometime there would be two or three cars to unload. When one car got done they would have to move it out of the way and move it to another place.”
John: “I'll tell you how a 130-pound skinny kid could move a railroad boxcar up hill by himself. Well, not quite all by himself--he had to call on the "frog" to give him a hand. The frog weighed probably between 15 and 20 pounds and the business end of it, made of steel, looked somewhat like a frog, if you had a good imagination. The steel part of the frog was only about the size of a brick but it was mighty in the work it could do. At the rear end of the frog was a socket in which was set a lever consisting of a 6-foot hardwood pole, in diameter a little bigger than the big end of a baseball bat. Using the pole, the frog was placed on the rail behind the boxcar and pushed forward on the rail until it was tight against and under the curve of the wheel. The frog itself was made up of an ingenious lever system so that when the wooden pole was pushed downward, part of the frog would press upward with tremendous force against the lower back portion of the wheel giving the wheel a turning force.
The mechanical advantage was such that when the pole was pushed downward a distance of about 4 feet, even by a skinny kid, the railroad car would move an inch, or maybe a little more. The frog didn't set any speed or distance records but it got the job done. Moving a loaded railroad car was heady stuff for a boy, and something to brag about later. It usually took two men to move a car. One man up on the car where the brake wheel was located and the other down behind the car with a frog. The brake wheel can be likened to an oversize auto steering wheel and was positioned at the end of the railroad car. You reached it by climbing part way up the ladder at the end of the car. Turning the brake wheel operated a mechanical linkage that applied the brake to the car wheel. A "brake stick" was put through the spokes of the brake wheel to provide more leverage for stopping. The brakeman would wind the brake off and when the car was positioned put the brake back on. Those cars were on an incline and once they started to roll, they would go on their own. The side tracks had a switch (derail) they would leave on the tracks so if a car got away it would derail into the soft dirt, stop and not tip over before it got to the main switch. The frog was kept handy and used often; because the O & W train crew was not expected to position the car on the siding in exact position for unloading. Moving a car down the grade was easiest, because on the downgrade once the car was started with the frog, gravity usually did the rest. In moving a car down grade a mill man had to be ready at the brake wheel to apply the brake in time to stop at the unloading position. On one occasion a car being repositioned by the mill men got away on the down grade and couldn't be stopped by the brake wheel and ran at least one wheel off the track at the derailing switch before coming to a halt. My dad was much embarrassed by that episode. It was a matter of pride. By the way, when the brake stick wasn't being used to stop the railroad car it was just the thing for batting small stones across the fence and into the pasture. City kids miss out on so much.”
Wayne: The tall elevator building, we called the New Mill. This building had one main elevator in it with counter balance you would pull yourself up or down quite easily. I rode up and down in it with my dad. There was also a ladder that went up to the first peak and then you took stairs up to the other two floors. This building also had many feed bins. Elevator cups took the feed up to different levels of the building. There was a grinder in this building that would crack the corn for chicken feed. There were also magnets in the chutes that would remove any metal in the feed.
There was a little building by the track where cars were unloaded by auger. It is the small building with the shiny roof on the right hand side of (Exhibit E) photo. This building, located adjacent to the track, houses one end of the auger that transports bulk fed from rail cars into the new mill. Feed was shoveled from the boxcars by means of the large wheeled shovels into a wooden chute shaped like a "V" and slightly wider at the upper end than the width of the wheeled shovel. This chute was placed between the car door and the hopper inside the building. The chute extended outwards from the edge of the boxcar floor, at the doorway, and downward so that the smaller end funneled the feed down into the auger end inside the building. A wheeled shovel was pushed by two long handles similar to plow handles. In unloading the car the mill man would get a running start with the wheeled shovel and drive it into the bank of loose feed. This would result in a heaped up load of 200 or more pounds on the shovel. He would then pull the shovel backward, turn it around and push the load to the chute where he would lift the shovel handles and dump the load into the wooden chute leading to the auger.” (The author has a photo, taken in 2006, of the remains of a section of the auger still located at the site near the concrete hopper behind the new mill foundation.) The auger delivered the feed to the new mill where it was taken by an elevator to the top and then directed to the various bins for storage.
Wayne continues: “Across the front of both the old and new mills there was a 6 foot wide platform, this was wide enough to accommodate the three-wheeled box (pictured and described earlier and the narrower hand trucks, both of which were used to transport feed between and within the two mill buildings.
The coal pocket was on the other side of the new mill. There were five bins. When a coal car was to be unloaded the car would be positioned over a concrete hopper that was permanently installed between the rails. (The remains of this hopper are still visible and are shown on the plot plan. A set of drawings is available from the author and at the O&W archives). No chute was necessary between the car and the hopper, because when the door in the bottom of the coal car was opened the coal fell directly into the hopper between the rails. The coal then traveled by gravity down a slanting underground steel chute about 18 inches wide. This underground chute was a permanent installation. The lower end of the chute, near the base of the building, terminated at the coal elevator "paddles" which moved the coal up another slanting steel chute to a central distribution point high up in the building housing the coal bins. The coal elevator consisted of paddles, which were sized to fit the contour of the upward-slanting steel chute, which delivered the coal up to the distribution point at the top of the building. The paddles were attached to an endless steel chain traveling on sprockets and driven for years by a large, industrial type one-cylinder gasoline engine, which was later replaced by an electric motor. At the distribution point in the top of the building there were other steel chutes, each one leading to one of the coal bins in the building. The single chute from the elevator dropped the coal into the proper chute positioned to deliver the coal by gravity feed to the desired bin. Photos show the upward-slanting wooden structure that housed the elevator delivering the coal up to the distribution point. The extra story on the top of the building is the distribution point. In two of the pictures if you look closely you can see two slightly raised structures slanting down into the roof of the coal building from the distribution point. These structures are raised to provide clearance for the chutes leading from the distribution point to two of the bins, probably the two bins farthest away from the distribution point.
On the front of each coal bin was a chute. The bottom of the chute consisted of a steel mesh, which screened out the smaller bits of coal broken off during transport and the delivery of the coal to the bins. Trucks backed up to these chutes depending on what size coal was ordered buckwheat, pea, stove, chestnut and egg.
There were truck scales upon a little higher ground where the coal was weighed and sprayed down with water to keep down the dust when it was delivered.
Located between the old mill and the bagged feed storage building was the office mentioned earlier.” John: “The office was one room and tiny. As I recall there was space for one chair, and after that it was pretty much standing room only. There were two small windows, and the interior walls were unfinished. I don't recall a desk, as such, but there was workspace provided for making out bills and working on ledgers and other papers. A heavy safe was built into one of the walls. The telephone was old, even for its day, and could only be used standing up as the mouthpiece was on the front of a box mounted on the wall at shoulder level. There was a separate receiver, which the caller held to his ear. A hand crank was mounted on the side of the box for raising the operator in Franklin.
As a young boy I was very much interested in an old, beat-up .22 caliber rifle that hung on the wall above the work area. It was scarred and had seen better days. A copper strip riveted along its length held the splintered stock together. The rifle was used to keep down the rat population and was also put to use on one occasion to clean out a flock of pigeons that had taken up residence in the upper stories of the new mill. When Wayne and his family moved from Merrickville and joined us in Daytona Beach a few years ago he brought along the old rifle. That is the only tangible link we have still remaining with the mill that was a part of our lives for so many years. Concerning the pigeons, my dad decided they would make a fine addition to the cooking pot so he dressed them out, keeping only the breast meat, and talked my mom into fixing them for supper. They were not bad at all. The little room was hardly an office by today's standards, but it was all that was needed and no one spent much time there anyway. But with the pot-bellied stove fired up it was a great place for a boy to spend a few minutes thawing out on a cold winter day. My dad did most of the paperwork, but he spent only the bare minimum of time in the office. The biggest part of his day was spent working the mill.
The last building is the garage for the delivery trucks. James Hyzer and Raymond Butts drove those trucks. Clarence Baldwin and Gene Teed worked in the mill.
Across the road from the depot and across the road from the main mill buildings was another building about 24’ x 28’ that was used for storing salt, lime, fertilizer in bags and block salt. Deliveries were made to the fertilizer storage building by railroad car. The sidetrack that served the main mill buildings continued south past the fertilizer building and terminated at a switch connecting to the main line some distance past the water tower. The salt, lime, and fertilizer were moved on hand trucks from the railroad car to the building via a wide wooden ramp.
John: “The “shed” or Horse barn" was not torn down until the rest of the mill buildings were finally torn down. It is the building on the extreme left shown in the "calendar" picture. You can see only the end of it in the picture. It was there from my earliest recollection, but by the time I remember it, it had no stalls or manger. I believe drums of cod liver oil were stored there along with Oyster shells for chickens. I remember that this building had the same shape, location, and orientation as that shown on the 1932 track map. The building was separated a little distance from the bagged feed storage building. The "outhouse" that served the mill was close up against the end of the shed on the end toward the mill buildings. To my knowledge the mill never had an inside toilet. As far as trips to the "restroom," the outhouse was for no.2 and a narrow plank elevated walkway from the office runway out to the vicinity of the molasses tank took care of no.1. After I left the air force in 1960 and rode my Harley Davidson home from California I stored it for a while in the shed. In those days Harleys were known as "hogs." I guess my hog was the last "animal" ever housed in the shed.”
John: “I thought you might be interested in what I can recall about the time the Franklin Fire Department came to Merrickville to "practice" on the new mill. Franklin had purchased a new Seagrave pumper in 1946, replacing their only fire truck, a model T Ford. I would have been about 10. My recollection is that Franklin had wanted to test it on the highest building in their jurisdiction. There was nothing around any taller than the new mill. It was an exciting time, especially for the neighborhood kids. I'm almost certain the Franklin Fire Department was all volunteer but the men who got off the truck at the mill appeared to know exactly what they were doing. There weren't any fire hydrants in Merrickville, but the fire crew had that problem covered too. They parked the new pumper truck near the mill and dragged a large diameter hose out into the pasture across the fence, where there was a creek that ran from the pond that once served the Merrickville creamery that used to stand beside the O&W tracks just up from my grandfather's general store. The large hose they put in the creek had a square box on the end with a mesh screen. I remember vividly what it looked like when the test was over and they stopped the pumper. The mesh screen was chocked full of wriggling minnows that had been sucked into the screen by the powerful pumps. The men had a great time "testing" their new fire truck. It looked to me like the stream of water that it threw reached all the way to the top of the new mill (despite the minnows in the screen). The new truck passed the test with flying colors.”
In the archives of the NYO&W Railway Historical Society there is a copy of a lease, granted to the Franklin Milling Company, dated August 30th, 1948, to use the old water tower for fire fighting purposes. One might wonder what part the minnows played in the negotiation of this lease. I could find no evidence that the lease was renewed after the first 1-year term.
Part II will cover construction of the buildings at the mill and constructing a model of the feed mill complex.
This article is a work in progress. Readers are invited to make comments, corrections and additions, which will be, included in future issues. Photos and anecdotes are solicited and credits will be given to submissions. Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org or 843 State Route 369, Port Crane, NY, 13833.
John and Wayne Baldwin
Mary Hyzer Wagner
Jean Hyzer Stern
Beverly Barnhart Soldan
© Copyright Lynn Finch, February 11, 2008