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MCCLURE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The Era of Railroading through the Valley

Sunbury-Lewistown Railroad

Originally known as Middlecreek Valley Railroad

According to the Story of Snyder County by George Dunkelberger, the beginning of the Pennsylvania Railroad, incorporated in 1846, actually began with the construction of a railroad as early as 1832 from Philadelphia to Columbia, Pennsylvania, by way of Lancaster.  Great expansion of the railroad throughout the nation took place the decade following the close of the Civil War.

The appointment of a commission to organize the Middle Creek Valley Railroad Company was through an act of legislature passed on March 23, 1865, this provided for the proposed railroad to be extended “…from a point on the Pennsylvania Railroad, at or near Lewistown, through the heart of Mifflin and Snyder Counties eastward and terminate on the east bank of the Susquehanna River at or between Port Trevorton and Northumberland…” and the construction was to begin within three years and be completed within ten. 

The Middle Creek Railroad Company was organized October 2, 1866, in order to carry out the provisions of this act.  Construction began at Northumberland on August 1, 1867, and connected with the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg Railroad, crossed the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, extended south of Selinsgrove and continued west to the Beaver Furnace of the Shade Mountain Iron Company.

The railroad played a vital role in the development and expansion of McClure.  Work of grading began in the summer of 1867.  In 1870, the name was changed to Sunbury and Lewistown Railroad.  For two years, 1874-1876 trains ceased to operate.  Then in 1876, the Pennsylvania Railroad leased the road through McClure.  Finally, it was purchased by the P. R. R. and became an integral part of its system.  It was known as the Sunbury-Lewistown branch.  In September of 1871 the first train, consisting of a locomotive, a passenger coach and six trucks (open railroad freight cars) passed through McClure and continued on to Beaver Springs.  This was a trail run. 

On November 1, 1871, the first through passenger train, consisting of a locomotive and passenger coach of railroad officials and other notables passed through McClure.  After that train, another one with three coaches followed it.  The locomotives were beautifully decorated and the coaches were filled with passengers.  A large crowd had gathered in McClure to witness the great event.  The Rev. L.C. Edmonds, Pastor of the Beaver Springs Charge of the Reformed Church at the time, wrote of the occasion:  “On the morning arrival of the first passenger train, people of all grades and shades came flocking to the station all along the line to see.   Some of the hill and mountain folk had never seen a train of cars run before that event came to pass, hence there was some fun.  One old lady at the McClure station, on seeing railroad wagons moved without horses, she exclaimed, in Snyder County Dutch, ‘Eye wu sin don de gile?’ (Where are the horses?)  The answer by “dawdy’ was:  “Yaw, mommy, der shmoke moch selli redder rum ga;” (Yes, Mom, the smoke makes the wheels go around.) “Well!  Sell beet worhoft ig der alt Bellseboop selver!’”  (Well! This beats truthfully the old devil himself.)”

A new form of transportation, far superior to the slow horse-drawn wagons was now available.  And now, grain, farm produce, livestock, lumber and huckleberries picked on the nearby mountains were funneled into McClure to be shipped to near and distant points, This also worked the other way, for all kinds of items, including automobiles were shipped to McClure by rail, At the peak of operations 24 freight and passenger trains ran daily. Three passenger trains ran daily carrying many passengers, some of which were residents of McClure.

The station attendants included a head agent, day and night operator, and clerk and warehouse boy.  In 1899, the McClure station was the first one on the S & L line to become an around the clock telegraph office, and Charles Mumma was the first night operator.  In 1902, John M. Rauch was transferred from Paintersville to McClure where he was head agent and remained until 1935, when the station was closed and he retired.  Keemer Stuck and C. F. Wagner learned telegraphy while Rauch was agent, working the night shift.  Mr. Wagner worked in the mountain during the day and in the station at night, sleeping on the benches, so anxious was he to learn the trade, which he followed for 20 years.  Other railroad employees were S. H. Kline, A. A. Kline, H. C. Dreese, Earl Snook, Jacob Kinney, Fred Specht, Adam Wagner, Lewis Kahley, John Hughes, Arthur Shirley, John Heeter, Charles Helfrick, Hurley Romig, Jerry Wetzel, Joseph Otto, John Howell, James Goss, Amos Klinger, Aaron Wagner, Wilson Kline and Clair Kline.

In 1907, a section shaped somewhat like a Y was put in operation at the west end of town for the purpose of turning engines around so that they could go in the opposite direction.  It led off the main railroad bed north to and against the ridge.  An engine would back in on one side, a switch was thrown, and then it would pull out the other side, and be on its way.  On March 9, 1900, the first successful experiment of transmitting telegraph and telephone messages over the same wire was made on the S & L line.  From July 11, 1923 to January 17, 1926, an automatic train control was tested on this road.  The system, first tried on any railroad, was used to control train traffic, and was mounted on tower-like structures along the line.  Corresponding systems were also in the cab of the engine and in the station.  Here at McClure the signal bridge, with its disc on which electric lights were mounted, was located about one-half mile west of the station.  The automatic train control, although refined, is now used on all railroads in the country.

           

The heavy passenger traffic continued until shortly after World War I when the wider use of the automobile and better roads planted the "kiss of death on this type of travel. Finally on Saturday, January 16, 1932 the last regularly scheduled passenger train passed through McClure. It was made up of engine No. 5386, a mail and express car and a passenger coach. Charles A. Fisher was the engineer, Charles Laird the fireman, U. Howard Stock the conductor, and Harry Howell the brakeman. None were residents of McClure, Joe Henry Kline, a local model railroad enthusiast, vividly recalls that train as he watched it move through McClure.

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Photo to the left is of the original water tower that sat on the north side of the tracks in McClure, it is a standard 23,628 gallon tank and sand house; picture taken on July 12, 1917.

Pictured below is a map of Snyder County from 1895 dipicting where the Sunbury – Lewistown Railway Co. (S&L Railway Co.) went through the county.  The red lines indicate where the tracks were located and the red circles on the tracks indicate that there was a station or an out post at that location.

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