Traffic Research

Freight Flows: Anthracite Coal

A quartet of U25Bs make a move in the Nevins Yard in Framingham during June of 1966. In the background is the shed of Framingham Coal, a one-time Hudson Coal dealer and affiliate to Claflin-Sumner. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

In the first half of the 20th Century, anthracite coal was a major commodity of Northeastern railroads. It seems like every station on every railroad had at least one coal retailer. After World War II, the nation accelerated its transition to other fuels and these facilities vanished from the landscape. As I sketched out plans for the Claflin-Sumner Ludlow Street coal yard I wanted to get a better sense of what the volumes and traffic patterns would look like in a mid-1960s setting to better model these shipments. To figure that out, I dug into the Carload Waybill and Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I railroads. Here is what I found.

Volumes

While the B&A isn’t a railroad usually associated with anthracite, the numbers show it had a significant share of the area’s hard coal – about 20%.

B&AB&AMass.Mass.
YearCarsTonsCarsTons
193017,349822,321n/an/a
19339,035412,761n/an/a
19388,864412,600n/an/a
194310,331550,400n/an/a
19488,732488,42145,3002,610,400
19533,368184,84218,000987,900
19581,49782,6268,000441,600
196365534,9143,500186,600
Anthracite volumes 1930-1965. B&A data after 1948 is estimated from MA data based on B&A’s 1948 market share. B&A 1930 and 1933 carloads estimated by using B&M tons per car for those years.
When coal was king the B&A handled over a million tons a year. Major terminals like this 5,000 ton bunker on the corner of Grafton and Franklin St. in Worcester were common. As the industry retrenched, it reverted back to small, simple sheds.

The data showed that tonnage declined dramatically with the onset of the Great Depression and then stabilized with a little bump from WWII. After the war there was a major conversion to home heating oil and natural gas. Over 80% of the tonnage was lost between 1948 and 1958. By 1963, the B&A was down to less than 2 cars per day – about 4% of the tonnage from 1930 when they were handling 48 cars per day.

Still, a couple cars a day isn’t zero. Maybe half of that volume terminated east of Springfield, so a car in a through freight every other session works out about right. What about the coal yard at Jamesville though? It appears that it closed not long after 1960, it’s sister yard on Webster Street stayed open past 1966 though and a dozen other yards were open in the city during 1963. With that in mind, it isn’t a stretch to use a little modeler’s license to extend its life.

Origins and Routes

All anthracite was mined in Northeastern PA in four fields. The northern field around Scranton-Wilkes Barre declined dramatically after the mines flooded in a tragic accident in 1955. The other three fields to the south fared a little better. The Anthracite Coal Division 1965 Annual Report published by the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries of Pennsylvania (link) showed hundreds of mine sites still in operation with 140 preparation plants processing coal (breakers, washeries etc…). The top coal producing companies were the following [company, tons produced, breakers used (location – if different, serving RR)]:

  • Glen Alden Corp. (Blue Coal) 2,111,988 Huber (Ashley, CNJ), Loree (Larksville ex-Hudson Coal, D&H )
  • Lehigh Valley Anthracite 1,461,675 Hazleton Shaft (LV), Morea (PRR), Dorrance (Wilkes-Barre, EL ex-L&WV), Loomis (Hanover Township, EL ex-DL&W – closed 6/65), Mammoth (Raven Run, LV)
  • Reading Anthracite 1,287,293 St. Nicholas (RDG), New St. Nicholas (Duncott, RDG), Trevorton (RDG)
  • Greenwood Mining (ex-Lehigh Coal & Navigation) 762,861 Greenwood (Coaldale, RDG ex L&NE)
  • Glen Nan Coal Co. 649,618 Glen Lyon (PRR), Bel Air (Old Forge, LV)
  • Jeddo-Highland Coal Co. 643,678 Jeddo #7 (Harleigh, LV), Highland #5, Lion (Cunningham Coal, Hazleton, LV), Midvalley Fine Coal Plant (Wilburton, LV)

By 1963 the Class I railroads originating this traffic had contracted to the six carriers listed below:

RailroadLocalForwardedTotal Originated
LV245,7671,947,7312,193,498
CNJ/RDG200,2831,470,8081,671,091
D&H76,549522,189598,738
E-L165,901517,829683,730
PRR980,381417,9001,398,281
Anthracite tonnage volume from the 1963 Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I Railroads publication – this is the last year that individual railroad statistics were listed

The category we are most interested here are the tons forwarded, since all the traffic to Massachusetts would fall into this category. Lehigh Valley and Reading led the pack by a wide margin. Although Reading’s totals include the Jersey Central, CNJ’s tonnage was always smaller and was hit badly by the collapse of the northern field. It is interesting to see that the Pennsy was the third overall in anthracite tonnage originated, but 2/3 of it stayed local to the PRR.

A Lehigh Valley hopper at Framinginam in January 1966. The LV was the leading anthracite carrier in 1965. The car is a variation of the offset design featuring ribs. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

Routes to the Boston & Albany from these origins include the following based on a 1947 New York Central routing guide:

  • E-L (D)-Utica-NYC (E/WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • E-L (E)-Binghamton-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • PRR-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or LV-National Jct.-NYC (WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • RDG-Haucks-CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or RDG-Allentown/Quakeake-LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
This map was a test image, right click on it to open in a new tab for a clearer version.

This shows the the D&H, which had the most direct route from the B&A to the anthracite region, enjoyed the lion’s share of the traffic to the B&A. As the B&A’s only direct connection to the anthracite region, it should not come as a surprise that several of the large dealers on the line, incluing Claflin-Sumner, sold Hudson Coal – a D&H affiliate. Hudson Coal was acquired by Glen Alden in 1963. So while LV and RDG led carriers handling hard coal, the B&A’s long term ties with the D&H may have given them a larger market share on this line. Regardless of routing, all cars from all these routes would come east in BA-6 and return west on a BV extra.

About 15-20% of the business on the B&A was overhead. New Haven and B&M didn’t participate in any through routes with the NYC to the origin carriers over the B&A. That may mean that the bridge traffic went to the CV at Palmer, G&U at North Grafton plus the NYC Harlem Division and Rutland at Chatham, NY.

Destinations

Rochdale Fuel in Rochdale, MA typical of larger northeast retailers. A trestle ran through the middle of the building, locomotives were not permitted to run on it per the rules in the employee timetable. Jack Leonard Photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

In 1963 there were still over a dozen retail dealers on the B&A proper from Worcester to Boston that were listed in the Freight Delivery Circular as receiving coal. These are only customers served at common points with outer lines. Perhaps there were two dozen firms still using B&A routings. That gives an average of one car every 12 days on average. Since I model winter, and Claflin-Sumner was a bigger firm, maybe a single car every 8-10 sessions is appropriate.

Barney Coal in Milford in 1975. While this industry was on the New Haven, it was open to reciprocal switching from the B&A. The main building survives in 2021 as does their sidetrack, but the sheds are gone. Although they haven’t received a hopper in many years, Barney may be the last coal dealer with a serviceable rail siding in all of New England. DigitalCommonwealth photo, used under Creative Commons license.

Conclusions

The retail coal business was on its last legs in 1965. The infrastructure to support the massive volumes of years past was already disappearing, although much was still in place. What was left was closed or vastly underutilized. The Claflin-Sumner yard should reflect this decline and look run-down and only receive limited shipments.