Wellsville, Addison & Galeton Railroad: The Sole Leather Line
The Wellsville, Addison & Galeton Railroad, also known as the WAG for short (it gained its nickname as "The Sole Leather
Line" due to the tanneries it once served), was a shortline operation
which dated to the late 1950s. Its startup was thanks to the Baltimore
& Ohio, which was looking to rid itself of predecessor trackage in
upstate Pennsylvania and southern New York that had been recently
damaged in flooding and was no longer connected to the rest of its
system. Additionally, many of the lines were an operational headache
given their extremely stiff grades and tight curves. The WAG was given
light steam locomotives as original power but quickly switched to small
diesels instead with its largest power being late model
Electro-Motive covered wagons. Unfortunately, while a charming,
bucolic line the WAG was never particularly profitable. This was
compounded by several floods over the years and customers that began to
close not long after the line reopened. After a valiant effort it ended
all operations in the late 1970s.
The history of the Wellsville, Addison and Galeton Railroad can be traced back to a businessman by the name of Frank H. Goodyear.
In the 1880s he began buying up large tracts of timber in northern
Pennsylvania and southern New York with the hopes of moving coal,
lumber, and other freight to his businesses in Buffalo. Initially, he
organized the Sinnemahoning Valley Railroad from Keating Summit to
Austin, Pennsylvania where he had a sawmill (one of many) located
opening in December, 1885. Other lines that he and his brother would
come to either purchase or charter included the Susquehanna Railroad,
Cherry Springs Railroad, Coudersport & Wellsboro Railroad, and Cross
Fork Railroad. These lines were reorganized as the Buffalo &
Susquehanna Railroad in 1893.
The new B&S reached such towns as Sinnemahoning, Keating Summit,
Oleona, Wharton, and Galeton. In 1895 the railroad extended from
Galeton to Wellsville where it connected with the Erie Railroad and
purchased the 10-mile Wellsville, Coudersport & Pine Creek Railroad
to Hikcox. In 1898 it extended to Addison (New York) via Galeton and
the Addison & Pennsylvania Railroad. As the company continued to
grow into the 20th century it built numerous spurs and branches,
predominantly serving coal mines to grow traffic although it's ultimate
goal was Buffalo. By 1906 its line to Buffalo was opened and in 1907
the entire system became known as the Buffalo & Susquehanna Railway.
At its peak the company was more than 400 miles in length but riddled
with steep grades. The Great Depression was hard on the railroad allowing the B&O to purchase it in 1932 along with neighbor Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh.
Neither the BR&P or the B&S were particularly profitable properties for the Baltimore & Ohio although both did provide the eastern trunk line with access to new coal mines as well as Buffalo. The railroad experienced continual sinking profits after World War II and a flood during the war in 1942 isolated the system south of Burrows, Pennsylvania. As a result, the B&O decided to give up on the former B&S altogether, selling to the H. E. Salzberg Company for just $250,000 with operations beginnings on January 1, 1956. Overall, the new Wellsville, Addison and Galeton Railroad connected Burrows with Galeton and Addison to the north (interchanging with the Erie) Ansonia to the east (and a connection with the New York Central), and Wellsville to the northwest (and another connection with the Erie).
This gave the WAG a system of about 99 miles in length. While the
B&O initially gave the new owner former B&S light steamers,
Salzberg quickly ditched them in favor of diesels, mostly former Rock
Island 75-ton units built by Whitcomb. However, the stiff grades forced
the railroad into needed better
power where the line to Wellsville featured hellish 2.85% grade at one
point. In its place GE 125 Tonners and 132 Tonners took their place,
and for the time being provided amble power for the railroad's needs.
By the late 1950s this allowed the WAG to sell off its remaining steam
locomotives and light diesels. At this time traffic was still quite
good with freight ranging from oil products and the Sinclair Oil Company
to local tanneries (the refinery was large enough that the WAG
stationed a diesel to switch the property daily). Additionally, the
company earned extra profits from leased freight cars.
However, after just two years in service things began to go south for
the WAG. In 1958 Sinclair closed its refinery dealing a huge blow to the
railroad as it was its largest customer. Soon afterward a bridge on
the Addison branch was deemed structurally unsound forcing the shortline
to simply close the line and maintain its own interchange with the Erie
at Wellsville, which cut back the line to Elkland. In 1964 the WAG saw
its final growth: the NYC abandoned its paralleling line between
Westfield and Elkland and the shortline picked up pieces of this route
to serve remaining customers; additionally, it purchased the small,
16-mile Coudersport & Port Allegany Railroad (C&PA) between
Ulysses and Coudersport via a connection with its main line at Newfield
In 1968 the company further expanded its motive power fleet by picking
up six F7s, an F7B, and an FP7 which truly helped to tackle the tough
grades. However, by the turn of the decade the Wellsville, Addison and
Galeton Railroad's situation continued to worsen. In 1970 it abandoned
its Wellsville Branch and virtually all of the C&PA it acquired just
six years earlier. In 1971 its original 1894 carshops were destroyed
forcing the company to replace the facility with a smaller operation.
Then in 1972 the ailing Penn Central canceled its lease contracts on WAG
freight equipment. Also in 1972 it lost the Elkland tannery traffic to
a major fire (then the railroad's largest remaining customer) and the
remnants of Hurricane Agnes caused additional flooding that fall. More
flooding occurred in 1975 from another former tropical system, Hurricane
Eloise, and as traffic continued decline the railroad petitioned to
abandon the remaining 40 miles of its system in April, 1976.
The Interstate Commerce
Commission granted this request in March 1978 and the Wellsville,
Addison and Galeton Railroad ceased to exist as a railroad after
November 7, 1979 upon which the final rail movements were made to pull
out remaining equipment. It is somewhat interesting that the WAG was
created during the era of what railfans considered the classic age,
after World War II through the 1970s when paint was colorful and early
diesel locomotives reigned supreme (and alongside the last fleets of
steam locomotives). As such, the small shortline is often considered a
classic itself despite only operating for about 24 years. Perhaps also
this is because the railroad offered such unique, "down home" operations drawing it to enthusiasts as well as displaying a charming livery of white and red.