Tomís Raritan River Railroad Page





A Moment in Time:

1937 on the Raritan River Railroad




The late 1930ís was a major turning point on the Raritan River Railroad.The Raritan River Railroad was pulling out of the Great Depression, and like a lot of big companies at the time, they were starting to make large capital investments after many years of no investment or maintenance at all.In many ways, it was the end of an era for certain things, while also being a new beginning for other things.(Some of which still survive today!)


It was almost the mid point in the railroads existence, but of course they didnít know it at the time.With construction started on the RRRR in 1888, by 1937 the Raritan River Railroad would have been 49 years old.The line would survive and eventually get absorbed into Conrail in 1980.Thus, in 1937, the Raritan had another 43 years to survive.


1937 Summary


The depression years were hard on every company in the region.Although unemployment was at 25%, the Raritan Riverís tonnage had fallen by 50% from years before.That meant 1 out of every 2 employees of the road were now gone.One out of every two companies were not shipping, or closed down completely.†† A few large companies, specifically the Michelin Tire Company, completely closed down early in 1930, decimating the small town of Milltown.But by 1937, the Raritan, like many of the surviving companies, were ready to pull out and pull ahead with some much needed items and changes:



  • Combination Car Number 22 is scrapped in 1937.It was the last Combine Car on the Raritan.
  • In 1937 they purchased 2 ex-Lackawanna 8 wheel cabooses and numbered them No. 5 and No. 6.
  • A total of 10 freight cars were scrapped in 1937.
  • The retirement of a 200 HP shop boiler and a 100 HP Corliss steam engine were replaced by two very efficient 25 HP electric motors.
  • Whiteheadsin Sayreville asked that the siding for Whiteheads #2 on the Sayreville Branch be rebuilt.
  • Engine number 12, purchased in 1915 and now needing big repairs, was scrapped in 1937.
  • Raritan River Realignment through Crossmansí property
  • 60 lb rail replaced with 80 lb rail





Raritan River Combination Car Number 22



Raritan River Railroad

Combination Car No. 22

Scrapped 1937

NY&LB Interchange, South Amboy


(From Joel Rossenbaum Colelction)


The first half of the Raritanís existence was due in large part to the passengers that they moved.In fact, in the early years, passenger receipts amounted to almost 60% of revenues†† But by the late 1930ís it was the beginning of the end of Passengers, Combine cars, and Passenger Stations.When the Raritan scrapped their last Combination Car in 1937, No. 22, they had lost an added bonus of moving passengers; baggage and luggage.Although baggage may not have been a large revenue stream anymore (in fact not a dollar was generated in 1937), at one time it was a big and necessary part of moving passengers and all their stuff.



Income Statement from 1937

Line item 103: Excess Baggage

Last revenue from Extra Baggage was 1936: $10.99

(from the Bob Kipp Collection)




Understanding that there before there were moving vans, personal trucks, or SUVs; everything that a passenger had to take with them would go in the Baggage Compartment of the rail car.And also understanding that any long trip one might take, especially to Europe or beyond, would require many very large and heavy wooden luggage trunks, which would be loaded at the station onto the baggage cars, then directly onto ships or other trains.Our luggage today is no comparison to the heavy wooden trunks of yesterday if you ever saw them.


One can only imagine the scene in the early 1930ís when Michelin closed down in Milltown.The majority of the workers were from France and when the plant closed down, most went back to France.It must have been quite a time at the Milltown station, with hundreds of people and families packing up everything, and loading it all into trunks, then into Combine Car No. 22, for an exchange at South Amboy, where the baggage would get loaded into a CNJ Baggage car for a trip to Jersey City, when their final goodbyes were made as they boarded an ocean liner for their trip back to France.The Raritan River was there to help them, and Combine Car number 22 was the car used to get them and all their stuff home.



Passenger Car No. 27

New Brunswick Station


(NRHS Collection)


Once Combine Car Number 22 was scrapped, that left the Raritan River with just one Passenger Car, Number 27.At one time the Raritan River had as many as 23 Passenger cars, moving as many as 9000 passengers per day during WWI.It was quite a time on the RRRR.But today, in 1937, the fleet had winded down to just one train per day, with just one car, making just one stop at each station.




Last Pocket Passenger Timetable Issued 1937

The service note at the bottom is original

(From the Bob Kipp Collection)




Little did they know at the time, but 1937 would be the last year of regularly scheduled passenger service, as all passenger service would get discontinued in April 1938.



Very Rare Supplement to Timetable No. 124

All trains are annulled.

Passenger service is officially terminated.




After 49 years of successful and reliable service, the Raritan had to stop the trains.As you can see from the 1937 Income Statement above, they only made $226 moving passengers in 1937 and only $310 in 1936.It cost far more than that to run the trains, pay the crew, and keep the stations open.The time had come to put an end to an era.


This closure allowed the Raritan to eventually close down and tare down the Bergen Hill station and consolidate all businesses to the Parlin Station.They also remodeled the Milltown passenger station, raised it off the ground, and turned it into the Milltown Freight Station.The New Brunswick station was also eventually turned into a Freight Station.



Lackawanna Cabooses



Caboose Number 5

Purchased 1937

South River

(Joel Rosenbaum Collection)



The Raritan River purchased the first of four cabooses from the Lackawanna in 1937.The first series of four Cabooses ( Numbers 1-4) were purchased from the Lackawanna in the 1910ís.The last two, No. 1 and No. 2, were just scrapped last year 1936.


Caboose No. 1

Scrapped 1936



The Mid 1930ís was the end of an era of the little cabooses.Most lines had abandoned them by this point, as they were too small, and not strong enough to deal with the larger and heavier strings of trains and operations.The Raritan invested in the larger Lackawanna Cabooses (Numbers 4-8), which proved reliable and economical.It was a very wise purchase, as some of these cabooses lasted in use until Conrail took over in 1980 and sold them off.



RRRR Caboose Number 8

Ivyland, PA

(the owner was painting it red)




Even more amazing, Raritan River Caboose Number 8 (from the second set of 4-8) still survives today in 2006.It is privately owned and used in Ivyland, PA.I donít think the Raritan River could have imagined that in 1937 their cabooses would survive another 69 years!




Freight Cars


The first half of the Raritan Rivers existence revolved around serving the local clay and sand industries of the local area.These industries revolved around digging and sorting clays and sands, and in some cases, turning those raw materials into bricks.Therefore, the Raritan started out in 1888 with 2 engines and 20 open top 20 ton wooden gondola cars, and continued to add to the roster as industries and Branch Lines opened and needed them.The late 1890ís saw 14 more 30 ton cars ordered and 5 more 40 ton cars, with a final order of 44 more 50 ton cars ordered in the 1910ís.That would have totaled 83 cars.Its safe to assume that by the time the larger 50 ton cars came around, the smaller 20 ton and 30 ton cars would have been quickly scrapped.



RRRR open top wooden gondola car

1 of 44 Ordered 1910ís




A lot of these sand and clay industries had their own narrow gauge lines, that went into the pits and all round the properties, eventually meeting up with the Raritan, where the sand and clays would be transferred to the Raritan Riverís open wooden cars, to then be moved to a different plant on the line, or interchanged for a plant or client off the line somewhere.





Unfortunately, the depression all but wiped out these industries.It was the end of another era on the Raritan River.The very industries that made the Raritan profitable and successful in their early years were now almost gone.During the late 1930ís the Raritan was in a position to off load and scrap most of these wooden gondola cars, as they were not needed anymore.In 1937, the Raritan River planned to scrap Numbers 120-129.We can safely say that by 1937 the lighter 20-30-40 ton cars were all gone, and numbers 100-119 were also long gone. It was stated that they had 25 surviving cars in 1937.That would imply that the remaining 15 cars would be numbered 130-144.By 1945, almost all the remaining 15 wooden cars were officially gone anyway; anything that did survive was used in MOW service until they finally disintegrated.


Once all the freight cars were gone by 1945, it would be another 30 years before the RRRR had any real freight cars of its own; Box Car 100 (which still survives today in Quakertown, PA)would show up around 1970 but never interchanged.A fleet of one hundred leased 50 ft. boxcars for interchange service would come about 1977.






Raritan River Box Car 401

Late 1970ís

South Amboy Shops





Retirement of a 200 HP shop boiler and a 100 HP Corliss steam engine


In 1937, the Raritan was ready to make some much needed upgrades to their shop complex.After holding off most repairs and maintenance during the depression, it was time to start making some changes.It could be said that the beginning of the end for Steam was when the Raritan River retired two Steam motors and replaced them with two smaller Electric motors.It was decided that two 20 year old, very large steam systems, a 200 HP Bioler and 100 HP Corliss Steam Engine, could very efficiently be replaced by two 25 HP electric motors.The shops always had electric since they were built in 1919, bust mostly it was for lighting.Almost everything ran off Steam or got its rotational power from the steam motors.This started to end in 1937 with this major upgrade.It was the beginning of the end, for steam power in the Raritan River.





Very old Corliss Steam Engine

(from the Henry Ford Museum)



The Steam Engines would indeed survive another 17 years on the little Raritan, as the new EMD switchers wouldnít show up until 1954.But from this point forwards, management would always be looking at more efficient and affordable power choices.




Siding for Whiteheads #2 on the Sayreville Branch to be rebuilt


Although the Depression wiped out most of the Sand and Clay industries served by the Raritan River, those that survived started to prosper in the late 1930ís.Whitheads was one of those survivors and became the one of the largest shippers of sand in the area, and petitioned the Raritan River to rebuild its other siding on the Sayreville branch.


This was good news the Raritan River, as it allowed them to better service this customer in a more convenient location.Whiteheadsí reactivated siding would be near the switching yard in Sayreville and near the scale.


Whiteheads was a great customer of the Raritan River for many years.As far back as 1912 (thatís the oldest station/stop list I have) Whiteheads had 5 individual sidings and one yard on the Raritan.Whiteheads #1 was in South Amboy near Bergen Hill, Whiteheads #2 was on the Sayreville Branch, Whiteheads #3, #4, #5 as well as a small yard were all on the Serviss Branch.


By 1937, they were down to just Whiteheads #1 in South Amboy and Whiteheads #4 on the Serviss Branch.Whiteheads #2 has just shut down in 1931.The plan in 1937 was to rebuild the sand processing plant at Whiteheads #2 and shut down the old plant at Whiteheads #1 in South Amboy.


That was the plan, although I get the impression it never happened.In all my station/stop lists from 1931 on to 1941, I find to more mention of Whiteheads #2 being activated again, or the abandonment of Whiteheads #1.Further research will be needed to see if this plan ever actually happened.




Engine Number 12




Raritan River Engine No. 12

Scrapped 1937

Age 22 years




Engine number 12 was purchased brand new in the Wartime rush of 1915.She was one of six engines purchased at the end of 1915 and early 1916 to accommodate the crazy increase in tonnage and passengers during World War I.She was a Baldwin 2-8-2, and looked almost identical to her sisters, Numbers 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14.(The Raritan did not number any engine 13).At the War time peak, the Raritan River had a total of 14 Engines actively running daily on the line.


Things were very different in 1937.In fact, for the last 21 years, the Raritan had done nothing but scrap engine after engine.Starting with Engine No. 8 in 1919, Number 3, 4 and 6 would follow in the early 1920ís.Numbers 1 and 2 would get scrapped in 1929, as well as number 7 in 1933.


In 1937, old Number 12 would be in the need of some major repairs, and the decision would be to not repair her, but to instead scrap her.It was a sad time in the Raritan for sure.The last 21 years was nothing but down sizing and scrapping.Currently, in 1937 there are only six active engines.Quite a difference from the 14 of 1916!


But finally, this misery would come to an end.Starting next year in 1938, the first new engine would appear on the line, the first one in 22 years!Increasing tonnage would require that the Second Number 8 be purchased, and she would be the heaviest engine the line ever saw.Due to the Second World War rush, in 1941, another engine, the Second Number 7 would also be added to the line.Many years later, after the war, 6 more ex-Army 0-6-0ís would be added to replace the older engines purchased in 1915-16.†† The oldest original engine of the line, Number 5, purchased brand new by the RRRR in 1910, would be 37 years old by the time she finally gets scrapped in 1948!


In 1937, the little Raritan was ready to start growing again!








Narrow Gauge tracks under RRRR ROW

Crossmans Sand and Clay Pits


Note the wheel barrel and man with shovel loading a narrow gauge car

This carís load would eventually be put into RRRR cars


The ROW with the little bridge in this picture is the lower original line.

Itís possible that the big hill in the background is the new future ROW.






Crossmans was a very large Sand and Clay operation in Sayreville.They were a very early customer, and lasted way into the late 1960s.They had their own narrow gauge line that ran through their sand pits, under the RRRR, to reach the Raritan River for shipments by boat.


When the Raritan River Railroad was being built, a deal was struck with Crossmans where the Railroad would be allowed to build its line over the Corssmans property, but Crossmans would still own the land, and eventually get the land back.This was planned so that Crossmans could eventually get to the clays under the ROW.The plan was that once Crossmans dug out all the clay just north of the existing ROW, a new ROW would be graded over the empty area, and the Raritan River would move itís mainline to that area just north of the existing ROW.One the railroad was on the new ROW, then Crossmans would get access to the clays under the old ROW.



Wreck near Crossmans




In 1937, Crossmans was ready to start moving the line.The Raritan was happy about this, because the existing ROW through the Crossmans property was as a high grade with sharp turns.Both contributed to wrecks, the most recent just 9 years earlier in 1927.In fact the rails were quite light (80lbs), and could use heavier rail anyway.




RRRR System map from 1937

Showing old ROW with new line just above it




RRRR System map from 1947

Shows no trace of original ROW



Crossmans was another Sand and Clay company to survive the Great Depression, and by 1937, they were ready to start expanding again.The Raritan was also in a good position now, agreeing to spend the $18,000 needed to finish the realignment.



60 lb rail replaced with 80 lb rail


When the Raritan River was first built in 1888, the entire line was built with 60 lb rail.Eventually, as traffic patterns grew, the busiest parts of the line were upgraded to 80 lb rail, and even small stretches of 100 lb rail were laid.With the depression, most upgrading had been on as emergency basis.Not a dollar was spent when it was absolutely needed.


With the planned Crossmans Realignment, new 100lb rail was going to be laid, and thus there was going to be free 80lb rail.


The upper end of the line near New Brunswick had not been upgraded in over 40 years at this point since carloads were minor and light.Most of that rail was still original 60 lb rail.The Raritan was going to use this previous project to help supply the needed 80 lb rail to upgrade this area.It was the final ending to the last bits of 60 lb rail.


One final note regarding the 60-80 lb rail.There is a small stretch of track left in North Brunswick near Silverline Windows.Formally Johnson and Johnson, formerly Personal Products, this complex was built in 1939 in the general area we were just discussing.


Wouldnít it be amazing if the following pictures of older tracks show the very rail that was upgraded back in the late 1930 when the Raritan River was pulling out of the Depression and investing in its future!


Tracks at Silverline

Tracks at right are old, possibly 60-80 lb rail

Possibly rail from late 1930ís





1937 Conclusion


In summary, 1937 was the end of an era, as well as a beginning of some new things.


It was the end of passenger service, baggage, passenger stations, and time tables.Some passenger stations would get demolished like Bergen Hill, others, like Parlin, would get remodeled to handle new tasks; others still get renovated to become freight stations like Milltown.It was almost the end of the clay and sand industries that made the Raritan so successful, as well as all the freight cars that the Raritan needed to serve them.It was also the beginning of the end for steam, as smaller, more efficient and cost effective electric engines begin to replace the steam engines in the shops.It was the end of the little 8 wheeled cabooses that looked so cute on the back of trains.It was also the end of the scrapping of engines, as very shortly, new engines would breath some new breath on the Raritan.


It was the Beginning of a new time on the Raritan.The new Lackawanna cabooses would show up, and survive until the end, even some of which still survive today.Although Crossmans is gone today, that realignment done in the late 1930ís survives, and is used almost daily by Conrail Shared Assets.†† As we would see, the Raritan was very quickly able to adapt from a raw materials handler to a mover of specialized products.With the closing of most of the sand and clay industries, some new and interesting customers showed up on the line like Personal Products, which required many more car loads, both in and out.After transferring to Johnson and Johnson, the plant is still used by Silverline and quite surprisingly, there is some 60 or 80lb rail that still exists there in North Brunswick.It may not used, but wouldnít it be amazing if it was that same rail that was laid out back in 1937 when the Raritan River Railroad came out of the depression with there head held high as they invested in their future.





The source for most of this information was from the Bob Kipp Collection.In his pile of papers, I was amazed to have found a projects plan from 1937 where T Filskov was asking for budgetary permission from the President of the RRRR for the above mentioned projects.It is an amazing document; an amazing piece of information as to exactly what was planned for a specific moment in time; 1937.Adding what I knew of the birth and demise of the line, I came to the conclusion that this year was dynamic, just about half-way in the RRRRís history.It was amazing to see where the RRRR came from, and to know where they eventually went as a company and a business, to see and understand the choices and decisions they made make then.1937 was indeed a turning point for the RRRR.





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