Railroad Story — A History of the Mid–Continent Bridge
Line 1870 - 1960
The MCB is a viable, profitable north/south bridge railroad which serves the area around their headquarters in the Fogle County Seat of Williamsburgh. Coal, lumber, oil and agricultural products are collected in the surrounding area and moved to the main yard at Chyrokes to be combined into trains traveling everywhere in the United States. Manufactured products from the Armstrong Industrial Park in Williamsburgh are also shipped from the yard.
The line came into being very early in 1905 when Mr. F. Wilson, a local lumber business man, persuaded the owners of two local railroads to combine forces rather than continue their destructive pursuit of trying to be the sole railroad in the area. The EM&I, (East Midland and Interior), and the PF&O, (Pacific, Frisco and Ontario), roads combined locomotive power and rolling stock into a single company which became more profitable when the double operating expense and price war stopped. Both suffered near collapse in the Long Depression of 1873-1876 and the economic Panic of 1884. The newly formed railroad was named the Mid-Continent Bridge Line. The MCB's own test of economic strength came quickly with the Panic of 1907. Each of the former owners had become a Vice-President with equal responsibilities in the MCB and was working together for success, so the line weathered the economic downturn with no lasting effects. There was no President since Mr. Wilson refused the job and the MCB corporate office was structured with the two leaders sharing responsibilities. Mr. Wilson and his family held the largest block of voting stock for many years, controlling the line but not with a daily up front presence.
The fact that a great deal of leased equipment was used to keep costs down is still evident today because it stimulated the growth of the MCB. The large yard and servicing facility at Chyrokes, (pronounced Shire Oaks), whose construction started in November 1905, grew out of the fact that some of the MCB's leased equipment was not of the best quality and did not meet their standards. A study was conducted and it was found that the equipment was less expensive to repair on site than to return it to the owners. Today, Chyrokes Yard also provides major service to the transcontinental roads with its excellent servicing/repair facilities. The attention to mechanical standards and safe operation has led to the outstanding record of never having had a fatal accident. All of the different leased equipment and bridge traffic lets the railfan see different road names from all points of the compass without leaving home. Because of the MCB's great industry reputation, rail fans have seen the latest in locomotives and cars as they stop at Chyrokes for tune ups and light maintenance.
Examples of the management's effort to keep costs low are present all over the line. One is the Chyrokes Yard weight house. A much smaller building would have worked fine but a tool shed was moved from near the car shop to its present location, some bigger windows were added, the scales installed and it went to work. There are plans to add a second set of weight tracks in the future so the space in the building will eventually be used.
The north/south bridge traffic enters the MCB from the south through Price Yard and from the north through North Dexter Yard. This traffic includes passenger traffic generated from transcontinental service. The Williamsburgh station has always been able to sell you a ticket to anywhere. George Bailey, owner of the State Bank, donated the station and connecting siding in 1911 to help the wonderful life and growth of the city. He had a personal agenda as well in that he loved to travel by train and didn't want to have to travel out of town to the stations of the transcontinental lines which were originally some distance away.
When the MCB was incorporated, Williamsburgh was a community which had come together near the Bird River about 1865. The local livelihood at that time was based on the Bird River's barge traffic which began to fail with Long Depression of 1873-1876. This business failure affected the down-river town of Allen's Port, also, since it was the next barge stop. A major log jam on the river caused silt to build up to the extent that the river became too shallow even for barge traffic. The town's name was contracted to Allenport near the turn of the century and its future became intertwined with Williamsburgh, with its location at the opposite end of Chyrokes Yard. It remains mostly a large residential area for many of the citizens of the Williamsburgh manufacturer's work force with little industry of its own. The morning commute begins in Allenport to get people to their jobs and then home at night.
Many critics stated Williamsburgh would never grow since it was located so close to the thriving farming communities of Dexter, Allen's Port and East Onion Breath. They failed to take into account the nearby large flat area on which the Chyrokes Yard would be built and its tie to the transcontinental lines. The ability to use the Bird River to supply the water needs of the Electron Power Company was also overlooked. This was one of the country's first local, city-owned electric utilities. The construction of the coal-fired power plant was completed in 1909 and soon running at high output to power the cities expansion. By constantly upgrading the plant equipment with new technology, the plant remains a friendly neighbor with no visible emissions from the stack. The profit from selling the captured stack gas has always been put back into the plant. These two factors, space and water, spurred the city's growth while Dexter's prominence faded.
The Industrial Park was an out growth of new industries opening at Williamsburgh. It has been divided into East and West sections, each with unique industries such as the McCamey-Westwood Manufacturing plant in City West Industrial Park.
The favorable economic growth and positive attitude of the people impressed the highway committee planning the now famous North/South tourist path, Federal Highway 77, causing them to include the existing north-south highway in Williamsburgh into the tourist path during the mid 1920's. Tourism also feeds the local economy, providing stability. The east/west state highway 160 remains a small road of somewhat lesser importance today.
The Price Yard is a perfect tie into major Class I roads which bypass the local area because of geography and water problems. It was constructed as the brain child of city councilman Walter Price after he had a miserable winter wagon trip to the transcontinental line south of the city. The course of the Bird River placed these rail lines at a distance from Williamsburgh when they were built but rail installed in 1906 through Price Yard to Chyrokes has proven to be a profitable open door. The importance of Price Yard rose dramatically during WWI because of the need to ship the local area's lumber, coal and agricultural products. The Chyrokes-Price Yard-Transcontinental connection eased the task of shipping the products quickly to support the war effort.
The Roscoe Turn of the Williamsburgh Transit operation provides a link into the city for the local traffic. It makes an easy access for the Chyrokes Yard worker's commutes from the town of Roscoe. It was completed in 1917 because the war time traffic tied up the yard and passenger equipment was unable to have free access to the Williamsburgh station because of the large amount of traffic. The trolley transferred passengers to the station quicker than them waiting for the heavy war time freights to clear the way. Once at the station they could board north bound trains leaving through the North Dexter Yard.
The East Onion Breath Museum was constructed by the WPA in 1933. The area has enthralled tourists ever since it was opened.
The Mathes #5 mine shaft was first opened the following year by an eastern mining group to get the high grade coal first exposed by the WPA crews. Prospectors have combed the Granite Hills but have always been unsuccessful in their efforts to find the minerals theory says should be there. The Gulch Bypass was constructed to move the ore when it was located but the investment has yet to pay off. However, the bypass is maintained as if it was in constant use and is safe for regular use, generally by the occasional railfan trip. The bypass is ready to service the mining industry's needs when ore shipments begin from Granite Hills. This unique situation of both hard rock and soft rock minerals so close to one another has been unexplained but each will benefit from the presence of the Gulch Bypass.
Metallurgical coal from the Mathes #5 mine is shipped to the eastern market because of its high quality and is used in the manufacture of special tool steel at several mills along the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania. The coal has higher carbon content than anthracite and only a trace of sulphur. Mathes #5 is the only location at which this coal has ever been found. It is moved from the mine to Chyrokes to be combined with other products from the Williamsburgh area. Small trains with as many as 5 cars daily are moved and this steady work has contributed to the line's profitability over the years. A small shanty town was established for the mine workers and their families to make the commute to the mine less of a hardship. The mine owners opened a company store where the workers can purchase food goods as well as clothing and other items necessary for daily life. The mine workers built a small church to cater to the faithful in the community. An itinerant preacher travels to the area once a month for services. Deacons and other community members handle the preaching duties the rest of the time.
The lumber industry is centered on Stonehead Summit where a narrow gauge line was put into place by Mr. Wilson in the 1910 to 1913 time period. Wilson Yard was built at the south end of the line to link the lumber industry to the old EM&I Line portion of the MCB to get their products to Chyrokes. A service facility was built to maintain the narrow gauge equipment and the supporting industries naturally followed along. Lumber from the straight early growth timber is used in the manufacture of high quality furniture and other specialty products. During WWI it was used in aircraft construction. The narrow gauge line had a very sharp cutoff down to the railroad on the East Onion Breath side of the ridge when originally constructed which was known as Wilson's Cutoff. This was truly 'cut off' when the original EM&I line was built through East Onion Breath. What is left of Wilson's Cutoff can be seen at the museum today.
Oil has also played a small but persistent part in the line's economic picture. A Dexter rancher, Alex Berry, drilled a small well on the edge of his pasture because he "had a feelin' there might be a somthin' there because of the smell". The well was successful at a very shallow depth and the MCB put a siding on his ranch in 1926 which serves a dual purpose; oil pick up and cattle pick up during roundup. At least one tank car a day now leaves Berry's ranch for shipment west. The first car repair shop expansion at Chyrokes was driven by the need to maintain the tanker and hopper cars required for the local oil and coal industries. The Berry family works hard to maintain the area as witnessed by the painting projects all over the ranch.
The first stop for the agricultural products from the Dexter area is in the Chyrokes Yard. This is very seasonal work of course but the MCB is prepared because the work must be done quickly to avoid spoilage. Grain and cattle are the primary products but a growing wine industry is adding to the line's responsibilities for scheduled freight service. This relatively new industry is adding a requirement for several box car loads a week for supplies to be brought in along with growing amount of traffic shipped out. The Hynee Winery, largest in the area, is owned by Mr. Kurt Hynee, an immigrant from Austria after World War II. Several of MCB's upper management maintains farms and ranches in the Dexter area which also helps keep the rails polished, of course.
The need for shipping the local agricultural and manufactured products and handling the through traffic during WWII far exceeded the similar need 25 years before. The worst accident to occur on the MCB happened May 14, 1943 when a troop train derailed on an incorrectly set turnout and injured 112 solders, 7 of them severely. This led management to make a million dollar investment in a lighted dispatcher system wherever there were passenger trains which was ahead of its time. It replaced the telegraph order system which was used at the time. Much of the line was rebuilt with heaver rail at this time to permit the use of newer, larger rolling stock. World War II placed a great strain on the MCB Line and some maintenance was deferred except such items as the heaver rail and dispatch system. It is hard to see any effect of this deferment today since the WWII profits were turned back into the MCB and the line remains the profitable investment that Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bailey desired for the community in terms of service and economic growth.
In 1947 the MCB, in cooperation with the city of Dexter, placed an Armored Museum on acreage donated by Mr. Berry at the end of the rail spur on his farm. This was done to honor the community and railroad employees who served in the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion unit of the National Guard which had been formed from the surrounding area in 1938. The east part of his farm was set aside for the museum in honor of the Berry family members who served with the 894th. The museum has a large library of documents about this unit for the public to use and frequently draws historians to the area. Oddly enough, most of the weapons display is of enemy equipment and was acquired with the help of Mr. Hynee and his family in Europe. The Russian T34 was painted white for winter camouflage for the European and Russian theaters and looks strange here in the U.S. The German equipment was sand colored for the desert. The two American tanks, the M-4 Shermans, were painted Olive Green as they were used in Europe and the South Pacific.
Most of the original businesses continue to flourish along the line with new ones frequently joining the family. Unfortunately, the lumber business has faded as both the need for and the availability of the lumber has lessened. The smallest business on the line is Mabel's Dry Goods Café. Still spry at 88, Mabel lives in the second story apartment and maintains long hours for her customers with the comment she can do this since no commute is required for her to get to work. The café has a regular following among the historians visiting the National Guard museum. Mabel's was built in Dexter during the war and satisfies the needs of both Dalton Park and Dexter. During the war the business also served as a post office but locals now get service from Williamsburgh and Mable's local service is no longer provided. A partial boxcar load of goods is dropped off every month for Mabel with the same attention provided other businesses.
Mabel also provides a catering service for the families bringing their loved ones to the Peaceful Slumber Cemetery. Some of the local established families use the local passenger run to carry their assemblies to the cemetery and the MCB waits for those who wish to return to Williamsburgh immediately after the service. On occasion the line has donated the service of a locomotive and several coaches for these occasions. Often a gas-electric "doodlebug" or a rail diesel car (RDC) is provided for this service.
The Allen Trucking Company operates from North Dexter Yard using the most up to date methods such as TrucTrains similar to the ones the Pennsylvania Railroad has started using at an expanding rate.
This history of the MCB railroad tracks its growth and industrial expansion and the people who made it work through the early 20th century. The history details the background of how and why it is what it is today. Those involved are working to continue its growth and operational service to the people it serves. Safety has always been a goal and will continue to be important in the Mid Continent Bridge Line operation.
The MCB today is a successful freight line able to show a profit due to the loyalty of its customers and employees. While not the newest or biggest, the line continues to serve customer's needs in a timely fashion.
This history was prepared in 1961 under the auspices of the late Professor Samuel G. Westwood, PhD, and has been reviewed and edited by the Williams County Historical Commission. Sources included the archives of the Williamsburg Times Herald and the Allenport Herald-Banner newspapers.