Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Workday Wednesday/ They've Been Working On The Railroad

My grandfather L.J. Warner in the cab,and his uncle Philip Power 1940's

     When my ancestors on my father's side came to this country, they mostly wound up in Manchester, New York.  Manchester is a township in Ontario County, and also the name of a small village within that township.  Today, no one would ever guess that Manchester village was once home to the country's largest, busiest railroad yards--but it was.  

     Nothing moves there now except pigeons and an occasional rodent, and the only remnants are a few tracks, a decaying roundhouse and some rusty boxcars.  The really old structures like the water and coal towers, leftovers from the age of steam engines, are gone now.  Sometimes when I'm in town I drive by and remember how it used to be when I was a child, lulled to sleep every night by the sounds emanating from the yards two streets over.  I even snagged a few bricks from the old roundhouse for a sentimental path in my garden.  

     Turn back the pages to the year 1892 however, and it was a much different story; that year the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which had designated Manchester a division point and transfer yard, opened shop in the village.  It was from tiny Manchester that incoming boxcars were switched around onto other tracks and sent on their way to their final destination.  There also, crews and locomotives were switched, the old crews retiring to the bunk house for a rest as a fresh crew took their places.

     People from all over the world were drawn to the village to work  in those yards.  Growing up I had friends who were Irish, (of course), along with Italian, Syrian, Polish, German--you name it, Manchester was a veritable United Nations and somehow we all got along.  I fondly remember my best friend's Aunt Freida, and her homemade Syrian bread with peanut butter, and Cindy's father's pasta fazool.  

     It can truly be said that if your family lived in Manchester in the late 19th thru mid 20th century, some member of it worked for the railroad, probably several somebodies.  My whole family did, my great, great Uncle Philip, my Grandmother, Grandfather, Father, Uncle Bill and my brother were all Lehigh Valley employees.  I never worked for the railroad, but I did "drive" an engine through the yards with my Grandpa the engineer once when I was six.

     The Lehigh Valley Railroad is gone now, bankrupted, taken over by a government entity known as Conrail and now CSX.  It makes me sad, Manchester was such a special, unique place to grow up. We were being exposed to so many different cultures and we didn't even realize it.  About ten years ago at work, an older co-worker said to me, "Where I was raised, alot of our neighbors were Syrian."  To which I retorted, "Oh my gosh, you're from Manchester"...and she was!

Grandfather L.J., Grandmother and Uncle Bill & Dad 1960's

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