Concocted Corporate History
"The Route of the Senecas"
Michael J. O'Brien
Construction Foreman & General Manager, Midlakes
Somewhere along about 1865, in the quiet township
of Farmington, in bucolic Ontario County, in the beautiful Western Finger
Lakes region of upstate New York, a group of enterprising gentlemen
saw the need that a vastly improved transportation system would fulfill
concerning the movement of basic commodities. This also being the time
when "Railroad Fever" was at a fever pitch, as it were, they decided
that a railroad was just what their region needed to begin the push
toward true progress and modernization. Visions of profit and cash flow
must have entered into the equation somewhere, but history does not
always record such details when the ventures are small and highly localized,
so neither will I.
This group of investors, headed and encouraged by
Isaac Payne, a well-known, well-heeled, well-spoken, well-thought-of
local farmer and land baron, decided to plunge into these untested waters
head first and with both feet. This uncomfortable starting position
nevertheless netted them a railroad blessed with good traffic, full
loads, and heavy but manageable tonnage. The Farmington and Midlakes
Railroad, as it was christened handled those "basic" commodities of
produce, grain, milk, livestock, sand, gravel, quarried stone, milled
textiles and metal work both on-line and as traffic being shipped off-line.
In-bound commodities not originating in that area included iron and
steel stock, coal, fuel oil and the hundred-and-one different items
that made up general freight and express shipments. Passengers were
also an enthusiastic, if somewhat frugal aspect of operations. Connections
to the outside world were made initially East of Midlakes with the New
York Central and Hudson River RR.
One commodity that took some time to develop as
a moneymaker, but that proved a wise investment nonetheless, was lumber.
Not typically known as a focus of the lumber industry, this region developed
a highly specialized trade in hardwoods for high-grade millwork and
cabinetry stock along with some excellent results in lumber for the
construction trades thanks in large part to Isaac Payne and friends.
In order to keep their initial investments for this "branching out"
of operations under control, minimize the impact on the countryside,
and replicate the efforts of their relatives in the state of Maine (thereby
utilizing the concepts of both nepotism and parts commonality to further
reduce costs), it was decided that it would be best to begin the new
lumber venture with a 30 inch gauge railroad. Thus began the history
of the little known, but actually quite successful, Beaver Creek Eastern
Hardwood Lumber Company.
Since this is supposed to be a "Brief" history,
at this point we will summarize things by saying that after many, many
decades of prosperity and black ink, the lumber business fell off sharply
along with their general railroad traffic too. So in order to avoid
receivership, the whole kit and caboodle was reformed into the Beaver
Creek, Midlakes & Eastern Railroad. This version of the firm rolled
along nicely until well into the 20th century, when the routing of the
lines of the little company fell under the scrutiny of the larger railroads
in the area, who proceeded to make such an attractive offer for the
properties that the descendants of the original investors felt it their
civic duty to surrender the BCM&E forthwith, so as not to hinder
the progress of the communities served; communities into whose banks
these investors would soon be depositing the net earnings of the line
that had become known as "The Route of the Senecas".
A large gap has obviously ensued in the intervening
years between the fall of the flag for BCM&E and the genesis of
today's Midlakes Eastern. Such a gap in fact, that it was nearly impossible
to even find records of the existence of the earlier road(s). Today's
version of "The Route of the Senecas", being much easier to document,
has no less entertaining a story to tell about its beginnings.
In the early spring of 1992, after years of planning
and discussion, a group of serious railfans and railroad modelers from
the Western Finger Lakes region of New York, banded together to attempt
to bring rail transportation service back to this region of the state.
They felt the time had come for a more cost-effective alternative to
trucking, which was also more environmentally friendly and would serve
well the newly emerging mid-to-high tech businesses in the area.
These efforts were aided by the sell-off of dozens
of route miles of trackage by Conrail, and by the fact that almost none
of the roadbed of the former Lehigh Valley in the area had been developed
for any other uses. However the key ingredient in this fortunate mix
of vision, demand and happenstance, although officially discounted by
the railway's brass, would certainly seem to be the fact that every
one of the founders is or was an individual winner of the New York State
Lotto jackpot at sometime in the last ten years.
So after the necessary renovations and acquisition
of equipment, trackage and structures, the lining up of shippers contracts,
the generation of ever-present state and federal documentation and the
hiring of a veteran staff of seasoned railroad workers, the Midlakes
Eastern Railway, known as "The Route of the Senecas", was rolling. For
a more detailed look at this developing short-line power, we invite
you to watch for our upcoming work entitled:
The Midlakes Eastern Railway.hey, you never know!