The Arcade & Attica Railroad . . . where history repeats itself.
As railroads were stretching across the country, the farmers of Western New York saw the perfect opportunity for a link to the big cities. Many small organizations formed that began building railroads throughout the countryside. Despite many stops and starts, railroads were built stretching across the picturesque Allegheny River valley. When the Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to connect to Buffalo they found the best way to do so would be to purchase all the small incomplete railroads and link them together. As a result, the Buffalo, Attica & Arcade Railroad was formed.
The narrow-gauge line would connect Attica, through Arcade, to the Pennsylvania state line then onto Pittsburgh. In 1880 the line officially opened between Attica and Curriers Corners where our excursion stops today. The rails you ride on today were first spiked down in 1881 and standardized in 1895 to connect with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
By 1917 the B.A. & A. Railroad was being operated by the Buffalo and Susquehanna Railroad which was thinking of closing this section of the line. The businessmen along the B.A. & A. were very concerned. The Merrell-Soule Company of Arcade (predecessor of the Borden Co.) operated a large milk processing plant and they along with others needed rail service. Facing closure, interested parties began to raise money needed to purchase this section of line. Stock was sold to farmers, merchants and anyone else who was interested. 365 people raised $79,000 and formed the Arcade and Attica Railroad Corporation - and our story begins. The small corporation still owns the railroad today.
This railroad has never been blessed with a lot of luck. In addition to many bankruptcies, numerous washouts have taken their toll on the tiny railroad. The largest of these washouts occurred in January of 1957 when the Tonawanda Creek flooded its banks taking several hundred feet of track with it. At that time, it would have cost $72,000 to repair the damage...an amount the stockholders could not afford. In an emergency session, the Board of Directors voted to suspend all operations between North Java and Attica on January 25th. Nearly all the freight business was between Arcade and North Java so it was not a difficult decision. The line from North Java to Attica was abandoned.
The railroad has an active freight service which has transported milk, cheese, grain, cattle, gasoline, coal and mail. Thirteen boxcars were purchased especially for carrying “Cremora” all over the nation while the Arcade Borden’s plant was in operation. The longest train ever operated by the A. & A. occurred in the 1920’s when the line handled 50 cars of “New Improved Michigan Limestone” out of Attica. With engine #5 in the lead, cars were set off at each station along the way until the train arrived at Arcade with two engines and twenty-five cars. The conductor on the special was Gus Berwanger, engineer - Simeon Kilton and Rube Roblie - fireman. One of the more interesting operations of the railroad was service to the Attica State prison. The Erie Railroad serviced that area but their engines were too big to get inside of the prison so the job came to the A&A with its smaller engines. No “extra” passengers ever took the train out of the prison due to the watchful eyes of the inspectors.
The 1930’s were boom years for the Arcade & Attica, so when the depression hit, they were able to stay afloat without laying off a single employee. Quite an enviable record!
In 1941, with the advent of the diesel locomotive and the need to reduce expenses, the railroad purchased #110, a 44 Ton General Electric diesel engine. The A&A became one of the very first railroads in the nation to conduct operations with diesel power! #110, the first new locomotive ever owned by the company, performed so well and cut expenses so drastically, that it literally saved the A&A in 1941. She became “famous”, becoming the subject of numerous ads in the trade papers. Today she is the “star” of our trackside, historic static display where she keeps watch over all our comings & goings.
In the late 1950’s, freight business began to slide and something had to be done in order to save the short line. The decision was made to try steam powered passenger excursions. #18, a 1920 2-8-0 American locomotive, was purchased in 1962 from the Boyne City Railroad in Michigan along with two Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coaches. The inaugural run was on July 27 1962 for railroad officials and the press. Regular summertime excursions began in August of the same year. During that first season of only 27 days, 17,000 paying passengers were carried in only two cars. The trains ran from morning to night. In 1963 #14, a Baldwin 4-6-0 was purchased from the Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad and more Delaware, Lackawanna and Western coaches were purchased. The line came to be known as the “Grand Scenic Route”.
Today, the Arcade & Attica Railroad is the oldest continuously operating railroad under the same corporate identity in New York State. We are the only railroad in New York State offering steam locomotive passenger excursions. We hold the distinction of being one of the last private common carrier railroads operating both freight and passenger service. Passenger excursions behind either vintage WWII diesel #112 or 1920’s steamer #18, feature such special events as The Easter Bunny Express, Civil War Days, Children’s Trains, Murder Mystery Dinner Theater Rides, Wine Tasting Events, Fall Foliage Tours, Halloween Rides, and North Pole Express Trains!
So, sit back and enjoy yourself, listening to the click of the rails and the whistle echoing off the rural hillsides, on this little journey into the past. May it revive pleasant memories of by-gone days for you and give to today’s generation, a window into transportation history.
Thanks for your patronage and welcome aboard the train to yesterday…