By Harold F. Timmerman, Superintendent
Early in 1905 it was learned that Stella mines located between De Kalb Junction, N.Y. and Hermon, N.Y., at that time closed down, were to be reopened and operated under a new management under the name of St. Lawrence Pyrites Co.. At that time I was employed by the New York Central RR co as chief clerk at De Kalb Junction in charge of accounts.
Mr. Felix A. Vogel was general manager of the St Lawrence Pyrites Co. He contacted me outlined the movement, the Hermon people were promoting. That was to have the existing railroad from De Kalb Junction to the mines extended into Hermon and before he committed himself, he wanted to know if there would be traffic enough to warrant the extension. He asked me if I would go over our records for the past three years and give him the amount of traffic received that was destined for Hermon, Russell and DeGrasse, also the amount delivered to our station from the above towns to be shipped out. I compiled this data and gave it to him. Shortly after that I obtained leave of absence and went to the Pacific coast and was not in touch with developments until I returned and went back to work for the NYCRR at Adams, N.Y.
Mr. L. A. Boyd Superintendent of the Adirondack and St. Lawrence RR phoned me asking if I would meet him at De Kalb Junction the next forenoon. I did so; we rode locomotive #1 to the mines and walked over the right of way that had been obtained for the extension to Hermon.
He told me that the road had been incorporated under the NYS Railroad law on April 19, 1906 as a common carrier and included land purchased from Mr. Frank Glasby for yard sidings and station.
He planned to build the extension, yard, and sidings at Hermon, De Kalb Junction and mines in time to open the road for traffic on January first 1907. To do this he would put on another construction gang and wanted me to take charge. When this was completed I was to set up an accounting system for the railroad and interchange with the New York Central at De Kalb Junction, and also take the agency at Hermon.
I accepted and obtained leave from the NYCRRR and supervised building the extension and yards at Hermon. When Mr. Boyd completed the yard sidings at De Kalb Junction, we consolidated both gangs to construct the sidings at the Mines and Mill. We worked ten hours per day seven days per week! We had generally good weather, but during November and December we worked some rugged days and encountered some frost the latter part of December.
During the intervening time, the station at Hermon was completed and I had the accounting system set up. As soon as the main line was finished into Hermon, I shipped my furniture. The car containing it was the first car ever to arrive at Hermon by rail.
The last week in December was very cold, and as Mr. Boyd was a Southerner, he contracted a severe cold and took to his bed. As soon as he was able to travel, he resigned and returned south.
Mr. Vogel appointed me acting Superintendent, and before the road was formally opened, I was in charge of all departments. I retained the position until the road suspended operation. However in spite of cold, frost and snow, the day before Christmas at noon the last tie and rail was laid and the last spike driven (an iron spike-not gold plated).
Before the road was formally opened, we ran several passenger trains out to De Kalb Junction and returned. Giving all that wished a free ride! We had a full load every trip. I think we carried more passengers that day than any day while the road was open.
Mr. Vogel felt like celebrating. He asked Mrs. Timmerman to get a committee of Hermon ladies to canvas the town and invite everyone to a free dance to celebrate the completion of the road. He hired Mix’s hall and an orchestra. The ladies cooperated. The hall was jammed. Mrs. Webb Mix kept the punch bowl filled. I think the punch was plenty potent, as everyone seemed in a happy mood. Even the older people were dancing like teenagers.
The road was formerly opened for traffic on January 1st, 1907. We ran three round trip passenger trains and one round trip freight train per day. Our equipment consisted of Locomotive #1, one combination coach, ten box cars, one flange car, twenty bottom dump ore cars and two side dump tailings car.
When we suspended operations, we had added another sixty-six foot combination coach and three more Baldwin locomotives. This additional motive power was necessary to take care of increased business and have one locomotive in reserve. To house them we had to build another locomotive house.
Although the traffic we were handling when the mines got going full capacity and other freight, far exceeded our estimate, due to the short haul, the rates for freight and passengers we were permitted to charge were restricted by law. We were operating with a small net profit, but if faced with a costly accident or repair bill, our surplus would be wiped out. The solution was to obtain more traffic and thus more revenue.
The surrounding territory was a heavy milk producing section. This milk was manufactured into cheese and several carloads were delivered to our station each week while factories were operating. We knew if the milk were delivered to us in fluid form, our revenues would be many times greater so we began to work on that angle.
However, there were several factors to be considered, the supply of milk, a suitable location and building, and a milk shipping company to sell the idea to. The price fluid milk shippers were paying in other sections exceeded the price farmers received from cheese. Fluid milk could be sold the year round giving the farmers a steady income.
We had a suitable location and building. The vacant wagon shop situated on the West Bank of Elm Creek that would furnish ample supply of water. This property was owned by James Brown and Louis J. Knox. I obtained an option on this property, went to New York City and interested the Mutual Milk and Cream Company. They sent men up to check into the matter. They took up the option, installed necessary equipment, contracted for a supply of milk and started shipping fluid milk to New York City. This gave us a substantial increase in revenue.
Other traffic began to develop. Late in 1911 we leased land to R. J. Fairbanks and Sons. Early in 1912 they built a feed mill and coal silos. We built a track from our main line to their buildings. Mr. Phillips leased land on this track and built a Maple Syrup storage building. The Wayne lumber Co. purchased a large timber tract a few miles South of Hermon, and built a Mill. and shipped the lumber from Hermon Station. Another good break with substantial revenue, I contracted with Mr. Frank Augsbury, general manager of the DeGrasse Paper Co. at Pyrites, to furnish tailings from St. Lawrence Pyrites Co. Mill to fill trestle approaches to their bridge spanning the Grasse River.
We delivered each day for three months, three- 80,000 hopper bottom dump gondolas to NYCRR at De Kalb Junction, which they picked up and delivered to the DeGrasse Paper Co. siding at Eddy. This was a good deal all around! The St. Lawrence Pyrites Co. saved expense of drawing tailings to their dump. Our Road and the NYC enjoyed substantial revenue. The DeGrasse Paper Co. got the material for their fill at lower cost than any other method.
Thus our efforts to obtain more traffic began to pay off and our earnings improved. Mr. Edward Burnham put bus service on between the town and station, carrying passengers and express.
Mr. Thomas Hamilton ran a bus line from Russell carrying passengers, mail and express. This new business not only benefited the railroad, but the town and surrounding section as well. The farmers had more money, The merchants sold more goods, and the feed dealers more feed.
The various changes in the milk business, if told in full, would make a good-sized book, and I will briefly outline only the things that directly affected the railroad. After operating a couple of years, the Mutual Milk and Cream Co. sold out to the Northern Condensed Milk Co., who enlarged the building to their needs, installed up to date condensing equipment, and contracted for a larger supply of milk. When World War I started, they sold out to Hires Condensed Milk Co (a subsidiary of Hires Root Beer Co.). Hires increased the capacity of the plant and purchased several cheese factories, used them for receiving stations, and trucked their milk to the condensery, which increased their milk supply. Hires purchased a right of way for a spur track from our main line to their plant. We went into the market for used steel rails for this spur track, but found all available rails had been earmarked for shipment over seas, practically cornering the market. However, they missed enough to let us by.
The Potsdam Stone Quarry near Hannawa Falls had suspended operation. We purchased steel rails from their tracks from the Merrett estate, took them up, and trucked them to the highway.
Tim Snell had his big trucks pick them up and deliver them to the rail siding at Potsdam. We loaded them on flat cars and shipped them to our yard at De Kalb Junction That took care of the rail situation for the Hires spur. However, there were ties needed. We only had an emergency supply that could not be spared.
I contacted the NYCRR co. They told me they had a tie crew up in Quebec inspecting and loading ties. There was a quantity of ties that did not meet their specifications but would answer our purposes.
I went to Riviere du Loupe, Quebec, and contacted Mr. Crocket, the tie contractor. He took me up to his camp 23 miles on the Timiscouata Railroad. I inspected, branded, and purchased 10 carloads of cedar ties. When they arrived, we built the Hires spur track, which enabled us to shift to their plant carloads OF COAL, SUGAR, CANS AND BOXES. After the US entered WW I, Hires sold out to the Nestles Food co.. They enlarged and improved the plant and contracted for more milk. We handled one carload from Rensselaer Falls and one carload from Heuvelton every day. Nestle shipped their condensed milk to England. Some of it reached there and some did not.
During the railroads operations we had the following employees: Office and Station: Wright Davidson, Claud Gates, Jay Rudd, Glen French, Stanley Dyert, and Henry Kenney. Conductors: Charles Lephart, Edward Rerick and Jay Rudd.
The section and tool house was in De Kalb Junction yard. The section gang numbered from 7 to 10 men. Alton Foster was foreman. B. E. Jones, was NYCRR and Adirondack and St. Lawrence RR joint agent at De Kalb Junction. We continued successful and profitable operation through the remainder of the war and up to February 12, 1921, when because of the shutdown of the St. Lawrence Pyrites Co. and Nestles Food Co. Condensery, the railroad suspended operation. All rolling stock was sold. Tracks and bridges were removed in 1924 and 1925. The corporation was dissolved on September 23, 1927.
Before closing this article, I would be sadly amiss not to state that in bringing the railroad and condensery to Hermon, we had the unstinted cooperation and support of the people of Hermon and the community at large. I was very sorry to have the railroad, the St. Lawrence Pyrites Co. and the condensery suspend operation. I think that was the general feeling of all the Hermon people, as everyone enjoyed good business from the above industries while they were operating. When they closed, the value of village property declined, and many people had to leave and seek work elsewhere. But those who remained carried on and adjusted themselves to the changed conditions. There still was a very large and prosperous farming community to serve, and Hermon is still a thriving, bustling community and a good place to live.
Editors Note: This article is copied from former Town Historian Floyd Walrath’s Scrapbook in the Town of De Kalb Historical Association Collection. The original is in Floyd’s hand and may have been published elsewhere originally.