|TH&B ~ RIDGEVILLE SPUR|
Jct. With Main Line
|Map 1||Map 2|
No trackage exists on this line.
The TH&B Ridgeville Spur was a line to I believe a gravel pit at Ridgeville. Ridgeville is located outside of Pelham.
I was told this line was pulled out back in the 1920's or 1930's.
The map above shows the Main Line in the bottom left corner.
The TH&B Ridgeville Spur cut off of the Main Line somewhere between mile 4 and 5.
The roads crossing the TH&B Ridgeville Spur are Sumbler Road, Foss Road, Welland St., starting from the bottom of the map.
In March of 2001, I found an article of interest printed in THE VOICE OF PELHAM, dated January 31,2001, Page 8.
It was submitted to the paper by Mary Lamb, Pelham Historical Society.
"At the recent meeting of the Pelham Historical Society, members spoke about their own researches into family or local history.
One of the presentations concerned the local railway spur which once ran through Ridgeville. A few long term residents might recall this line which was closed in 1935.
The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo was constructed through Pelham in 1985 with stations at Fenwick and Chantler. The spur line rant from Chantler north on unopened road allowances crossing Canboro Road close to what is now the Ridgeville Post Office (formerly Lindsay Lumber). Then it climbed the slope northeast up to Highway 20, which it crossed at the Effingham intersection, and continued climbing past what is now Hipwell's Motel. A switchback ran west parallel to the highway to the Brown Brothers Nursery. The rail cars probably climbed this steep gradient empty, but could be loaded with sand and gravel, fruit and nursery stock for the return trip.
A near disaster occurred once when some of the cars loaded with gravel broke loose and ran down the slope with three men aboard. As they gained speed, one of the men jumped off, but the other two stayed with the cars which finally came to rest miles down the line. None of the men was injured, but they gave up railroading after their experience!
The Spur line was never a money-maker for the railway. As early as 1908, three of the shippers who used it paid the TH&B $800 a year to keep it going. It was busy in the 1920's, but as road transport improved, and the costs of maintaining the line rose, the company applied to the Railway Commissioners to close it. In 1935, permission was granted for the spur to be abandoned. Some PHS members remembered the spur or the bumps left in the roads when it was removed, but most people now living in the town probably have no idea Ridgeville had its own railway!"
© 2001 - Kevin R. Leddy - Reprinted with permission
The Ridgeville Branch has been gone for so long that finding any information about it is beyond a research project. It is more like an archeological dig.
Much of the information used in this article is a result of the efforts of Carl Riff who spent many hours looking through microfiche, old newspapers, libraries and the Pelham Historical Society archives. He has even talked to a few local people who remember where the branch ran.
For these efforts and for sharing his material with the TH&B Historical Society, I want to give him my thanks.
Living in Texas, I am far removed from the TH&B. Therefore, I depend a lot on friends in the Society to answer questions and pass along any material in their personal collections. Without their help, some articles I have written would not be possible. A big thanks goes to Bill Sharpe who I depend on as one of my ‘life lines’. He helped immensely with this article by sharing what information and maps he had but most importantly gave some of his personal time to drive to Ridgeville and photograph the few remains.
The amount of material Carl and Bill provided more than doubled the number of pages of text and tells a more complete history of the branch.
The Ridgeville Branch was only supposed to be a temporary line. It was built to tap into a nearby source of ballast for construction of the Welland Sub and then it was to be removed. From the start, other business materialized that warranted keeping the Ridgeville Branch permanently open.
The line managed to remain in use for 40 years though it was operated in almost total obscurity.
The Push to Welland
In 1895, the Waterford Sub was completed from Brantford to Hamilton and the construction crews kept working their way east.
The ultimate objective was to connect with the Michigan Central (MC) at Welland. This would create the all-important link between the CP connection at Hamilton and the MC. This 38-mile line called the Welland Sub defined the TH&B's role as the middle player in the movement of freight and passengers essentially between Canada and the United States through the Niagara gateway.
With the construction came the need for a substantial amount of ballast to support the newly laid track.
While the TH&B already served gravel pits near Mt. Pleasant and Scotland, tapping a nearby source of ballast would expedite the completion of the Welland Subdivision An approximate 10-acre hilltop parcel of land was purchased from Elmer Crow that contained more than enough ballast than what was needed.
The track was laid on right of way initially leased from local property owners. When it became clear that the branch would be permanent, the TH&B purchased the right of way in 1896 plus additional land for possible future extension that if all the track was built would bring the total length to six miles.
About the Ridgeville Branch
The station of Chantler Jct. was established as the connection point with the Welland Subdivision Chandler Jct. was at Milepost 3.97 just 2.86 miles west of the original Coyle Yard in Welland.
Later (sometime before 1930) the name was changed to Ridgeville Jct. so presumably not to be confused with the station of Chantler a third of a mile further west at MP 4.31. From Chantler Jct. the line headed due north towards Pelham Centre then turned northeast towards Ridgeville. A right-of-way map dated June 1, 1896 shows the line actually crossed Highway 20.
Also, a spur built in a switchback fashion extended west and paralleled Highway 20 on the north side.
According to the original right of way map there were 4.01 miles of track. As originally built the line had no sidings or run around tracks. This is rather unusual but since it was originally intended to be a temporary spur to the gravel pit, none were required thus keeping construction costs to a minimum.
But over the years the total miles changed slightly as side tracks were added or removed. By 1910, the TH&B annual report listed the total track miles as 2.61. This figure creates some confusion because both the gravel pit and nursery located at the end of the line were still active shippers. Perhaps some of the track was sold to the local shippers. Whatever the reason, the decrease of over a mile of track remains a mystery.
In 1914 the annual report indicated land for additional right of way was purchased at Ridgeville and the following year an additional four tenths of a mile of side tracks were built increasing the total track miles to 3.01. More side trackage was again added in 1916 bringing the total mileage to 3.05. This was the peak mileage for the Ridgeville Branch as stated in the TH&B annual reports. The line mileage remained at 3.05 until 1925 when about six tenths of a mile were removed reducing the total track miles to 2.99. This would suggest one or more of the businesses stopped shipping by rail or discontinued operations.
The grade on the line varied from almost level at Chantler Jct. to a 2.87% uphill grade just south of Canboro Road. Keeping the grade under 2% was generally preferred if possible especially for main tracks. Again, the Ridgeville Branch was intended to be temporary and the money spent on grading would have been minimal. The grade to Ridgeville was not a big concern operationally because most of the tonnage went in the downhill direction.
No Company records have surfaced indicating there were any railroad structures on the line. A tool house stood at Ridgeville Jct. and it was still listed in the inventory of structures as late as 1952. A couple of old newspaper articles imply there was a station at Ridgeville. However, the articles referred to Ridgeville as a ‘shipping station’ and as such do not necessarily mean there was an actual station building there. Chantler station was the closest agency to handle customer needs.
A drawing included with the documents provided by Carl Riff show that the Chantler depot was very similar in both size and architectural style to the original Grassies depot built in 1895.
Determining the various customers on the line was a challenge. Several companies came and went and a few of them changed hands over the years. Also, conflicting information from different sources adds to the confusion. The list presented is probably not completely accurate but it should convey a good picture of the overall commercial activity. Products shipped included stone and gravel, nursery stock, lumber, cement, livestock and locally grown produce common to the area. There were even a couple commodities received including manure from the Toronto stockyards that was used by the local nurseries, and coal. All of the industries appear to have been concentrated around Ridgeville. Figure 1 is a map showing approximately where most of the customers were located. It is based on a couple of rough sketches made by Carl Riff.
Dominion Construction Company gravel pit - The Dominion Construction Company not only built the Welland Sub but was also affiliated with the TH&B due to John N. Beckley being the president of both companies. The Ridgeville Branch was constructed originally to reach this gravel pit. The land was purchased in October 1895 and by November had two steam shovels working around the clock loading 400 cars of ballast per day. Loading 400 cars per day as reported by the Welland Tribune is seemingly too high of a figure given the lack of track space and the simple nature of the operation. But that is what the Welland Tribune reported.
The Welland Sub was virtually completed and train operations commenced on December 30, 1895. Subsequently in January 1896 mining operations were halted. The stoppage was very short for in February 1896 it was announced that the pit was to reopen in a few weeks. Operations did not actually resume until July when the TH&B was again taking out carloads of ballast to fill in various places along the Welland Sub including around switches and station buildings.
How long the pit remained open is unclear. A notation about the Dominion Construction sand pit was in the March 13, 1932 employee timetable but if it was still active remains uncertain. Overall sand and gravel represented on average about 5% of the traffic handled by the TH&B. Despite several on-line gravel pits, the percentage of this traffic was just a little over 2% of all the freight traffic that originated on line. In the 1920's when TH&B annual reports showed traffic volumes split by originating versus received, around 2,300 cars were loaded in 1920 but by 1928 this number dropped to under 1,900 annually. Also, in 1928 the Hamilton & Dundas Branch was extended to serve the Canada Crushed Stone pit in Dundas. This gave the TH&B a new and more centralized source ballast. All this suggests that by the time the March 13, 1932 timetable was issued, there was little rail activity at this pit.
The location of exactly where the pit was located was somewhat in question. But a right-of-way map dated June 1, 1896 provides some clues. There were three parcels purchased from an A. C. Crow that totaled 7.2 acres. This is somewhat less than the 10 acres stated earlier in the article. However, other than one article stating the property purchased totaled 10 acres, nothing was found to actually verify this. They were all located around the intersection of Highway 20 and Effingham Street. Another map from Carl Riff's material verifies this. First, the TH&B purchased the property from Elmer Crow. Second, a photocopy from Carl Riff of an old map shows this parcel as owned by 'Crow' but no first name is given. The size of the property is the approximate acreage of the pit and the switchback ran along side the southern boundary.
Brown Brother’s Nursery - A very active shipper since the opening of the line, they were influential in keeping the line from closing in 1896. In March of that year they were loading cars daily and in April it was announced that Ridgeville would remain as a shipping station for nursery stock. Besides the nursery stock they were the receivers of manure from the Toronto stock yards. The last notation of rail activity by the nursery was in April 1913 but it is uncertain how long they continued to ship by rail. The location of the nursery is unclear and perhaps they had more than one siding. The locations include at the end of the switchback north of Highway 20 and also a little further east on the south side of Highway 20 just west of Effingham Street. In addition, the manure siding was reportedly located behind the Pelham Cannery (see below).
Morris, Stone & Wellington Nursery - A second nursery that shipped by rail when the Ridgeville Branch was opened. They had their own siding and it was also used by Goodwillie & Page to ship lumber. Nursery stock was still being shipped by rail in 1913 but how long beyond that is not certain.
Pelham Canning Company - The cannery was built originally by W. H. Crow and was reported by the Welland Tribune that it was ready for operation in the fall of 1903. It is thought that W. H. Crow operated the Cannery until it was sold in 1929. But an article in the Welland Tribune mentions that on July 27, 1911 the Pelham Canning Company commenced operations. Earlier that July, the TH&B filed a request with the Board of Railway Commissioners to cross Canboro Road with a spur to serve the plant. This was separate and parallel to the Ridgeville Branch main track crossing. The following year the plant was enlarged.
Canadian Canners acquired the cannery in 1929 but promptly ceased operations. Possibly they moved the original structure to another site. It is speculated locally that Canadian Canners did not purchase the facility to expand their operation. It is believed they were buying out the smaller canneries to remove competition. The closure of the cannery and resultant loss of traffic to the TH&B undoubtedly put the long-term future of the Branch in question.
The location of the cannery is on the south side of Canboro Road just east of where the TH&B Ridgeville Spur main track crossed. In addition to shipping outbound canned goods, the cannery had a powerhouse that received coal by rail. The remains of the concrete foundation for the powerhouse are still standing.
Lindsay Lumber Company - Ernest Moore (the last name may have been Morse) purchased the former Canadian Canners facility in 1929 and opened it as a lumber mill. The Lindsay Lumber Company had originally established an operation at the intersection of Effingham Street and Welland Road. All the sawmill machinery was skidded that winter over the frozen road to the new location. Most likely the main reason for moving to the cannery site was to gain access to direct rail service.
Ernest Moore's ownership was rather brief for he was killed in an automobile accident in 1931. Frank Lindsay subsequently purchased the mill in 1932 and the Lindsay Lumber Company was one of the last active shippers when the line was closed.
Goodwillie & Page - Reportedly operated a sawmill behind the Lindsay Lumber Company. They were using the Morris, Stone & Willingham siding to load lumber in 1899. The only other notation stated the property was taken over by Frank Campbell in 1914. However, there was no indication that this sawmill continued to operate or if they shipped by rail.
Ridgeville Cement Company - History of the cement business is rather sketchy. It appears that it started out as the Bishop Gravel Company in 1912 and in 1916 was shipping sand to the various foundries in Welland. It later became a cement company manufacturing concrete crypts, tile and pipe. There is also a notation of a J. H. Fletcher & Sons manufacturing concrete blocks in 1916. This facility was located on the north side of Canboro Road just east of the Cannery.
The inbound coal business is rather unclear beyond the cannery receiving it in carloads for their power plant. The first reported loads were received in October 1896. In 1903, Frank Hutt operated a coal business on both sides of Canboro Road. The operation on the south side of the road became part of the Pelham Canning Company. Presumably this happened in 1911 when the cannery business was started. The coal yard on the north side of Canboro Road reportedly remained in operation for a number of years. Other references to coal business include an S. P. Townsend receiving coal in August 1910 and a J. G. Lent coal yard in September 1913. It is possible all of these interests used the same coal trestle.
Finally, there were the local farmers who shipped produce by rail. By all indications, none of them had their own sidings. The cars they loaded were placed on the nursery sidings.
The industry list looks rather impressive for a 2½-mile spur. However, in the final assessment the whole did not equal the sum of the parts. In other words, while there were a number of shippers, they were not all active at the same time. Most traffic was shipped in single-car lots and some, such as the produce and nursery stock, were only seasonal. There was a fair amount of freight moved over the line between 1922 and 1929. Then from 1929 to the closure of the line the volume of traffic declined significantly.
The Ridgeville Branch operated in almost total obscurity throughout its history. So far no railroad photos have surfaced of anything on the line. However, old employee timetables and a couple of dispatcher train sheets do provide some insight into train operations in the final years.
So small was the Ridgeville Branch that it was never given the status of being called a Subdivision. It was more like an industry spur and only got some mention in timetables under special instructions for the Welland Subdivision The line was never signaled and all train movements were under train orders. Maximum speed was 20 MPH on the main track and 10 MPH on the sidings.
A yard engine out of Coyle served Ridgeville. On a typical trip train orders and a clearance form B were obtained from the Coyle operator prior to departure. Also, Coyle was a train register station so the times for the Ridgeville movements were recorded both on departure and arrival. At Ridgeville Jct. the conductor was required to call the dispatcher informing him they had just cleared the main. On the return trip, the conductor was also required to call the dispatcher for permission to enter the main track and proceed to Coyle. Some dispatchers recorded the times at Ridgeville Jct. while others just left a dash.
A couple of examples from December 1930 show the round trip took about an hour and a half with one hour spent on the Branch. The yard engine departed Coyle around 1:30 AM and was back around 3:00 AM. If these were the times trains operated over the branch in later years, then that would help explain why there seem to be no pictures.
The line was always freight only but there were two recorded passenger moves. The first was a locomotive and coach that went up the branch on May 25, 1896 to pick up passengers for an excursion train to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, it got notoriety more for the tender derailing on a switch rather than from the appearance of a passenger train. The other passenger movement was a business car special on May 9, 1899 with TH&B officials who visited the Brown Brother’s Nursery and invited the shippers on a train ride.
The consists of these trains were generally short and powered in later years by one of the 0-6-0's on the TH&B roster. Perhaps one of the 2-8-0's filled in on occasion but so far there is no evidence to support this. The small trains did not warrant the use of larger power. No turning facilities are shown anywhere on the branch so in at least one direction they ran tender first. For those wondering why marker lamps always hung on the back of the tenders on all the 0-6-0's, here is one case where they were required. At the rear of these trains is the question of whether or not a caboose was used. One movement recorded on the train sheets the yard engine ran ‘engine light’ to Ridgeville to pick up a single car. This would indicate that cabooses were not used.
Yard limits were in effect from the Michigan Central Jct. at Coyle to 530' west of (or past) Ridgeville Jct. At one time an east-facing spur track came off the north main east of the Ridgeville Jct. switch. It appears that it functioned as a team track for the Chantler area. Under the yard limits rule in the era before train radios a yard engine out of Coyle could easily switch the spur track. In complying with this rule and operating as extras, the Ridgeville turns could only operate at restricted speed on the Welland Subdivision That is, they could only operate at a speed to enable them to stop in half the range of vision but no more than 15 MPH.
In conjunction with the yard limits rule there were also flagging rules under Rule 99 in timetable special instructions. In 1913 and 1914, the second main was added between Coyle and Fenwick. The APB signals governed movement for one direction only for each main track. There was a crossover between the two main tracks at Ridgeville Jct. allowing Ridgeville trains to normally run with the current of traffic. When trains ran in the normal direction on the respective main tracks the automatic block signals if adhered to prevented undesired meets. But in situations where trains were running against the current of traffic the Ridgeville switch crew if occupying a main track would have had to provide their own protection by sending out a flagman. This would suggest that a caboose was required to insure that a brakeman was on the rear of the train. Given the other evidence this point is debatable.
Generally speaking the TH&B operated in a safe manor and more often than not all switching was accomplished without incident. Beyond the minor derailments that happen in the normal course of railroad operations there were a couple notable incidents that occurred in the early years. There was the previously mentioned excursion train derailment on May 25, 1896. In addition, on July 21, 1896 a TH&B locomotive (number unknown) derailed on its side killing the engineer. Apparently, heavy rains undermined the roadbed causing the derailment. A month passed before the locomotive was finally picked up and returned to service. The last incident noted happened around 1901 when several cars got loose and rolled downhill from Ridgeville. They continued heading south on the Branch and when they got to the switch for the Welland Sub they ran through it and continued east. On the relatively level track of the Welland Sub they finally lost their momentum and came to a stop. However, they ended up traveling a total distance of eight miles. Despite crossing three major roads and one of the three people on board jumping off the moving cars, there were no injuries from the incident.
What Could Have Been
O. P. Maus wrote in 1940 that the TH&B considered extending the line to St. Catharines. No doubt, President John N. Beckley and the board of directors during the expansion years of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gave this some serious thought. Wouldn't it be nice to reach into the back pocket of the Grand Trunk Railway and capture some of their business in St. Catharines. Besides, St. Catharines was only about ten miles further north from Ridgeville. However, in looking at a map this extension would not have given the TH&B a route advantage over the Grand Trunk for traffic going to either Hamilton and beyond or to some extent across the border to the United States. The Grand Trunk easily could have retaliated by reducing rates making the TH&B less competitive and leaving the volume of traffic that could have been captured questionable. Also, the TH&B would have ended up with yet another grade going up the Niagara Escarpment. This would have required the use of larger locomotives, perhaps occasional doubling the hill or even the use of helpers when needed. Whatever the case the additional expenses would have to some degree offset the additional revenue. In the final assessment, the risk was not worth taking and the extension was never built.
Interestingly, there was another proposal in 1896 to build a line from St. Catharines to connect with the TH&B at Fenwick. Nothing ever came of this venture and certainly if the TH&B did not see any merit of building their own line to St. Catharines, they would not have been interested in backing anyone else with such a proposal.
Though neither of these two proposals was considered acceptable, the TH&B still had their sights set on St. Catharines. A third and final proposal did not involve any major track construction. Serious consideration was being given to purchasing the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto. That never came to pass but it did likely put to an end to the notion of extending the Ridgeville Branch.
End of the Line
The Ridgeville Branch was not exactly a cat with nine lives but it did survive two attempts to close the line prior to actual abandonment. The first was the previously mentioned initial plan to remove it in 1896 once all the ballast for the Welland Sub was hauled out. The second attempt was in 1908 but this was withdrawn when three of the shippers entered into an agreement with the TH&B to pay the Railway an $800 annual bonus to keep the line open. This bonus was discontinued after 1913.
By 1935, conditions were such that the TH&B could no longer afford to keep the Ridgeville Branch open. The railway was trying to survive the Great Depression and expenses had to be cut wherever possible. The Branch needed $27,000 to upgrade the track and roadbed but there was not enough business to justify spending the capital. Therefore, on September 20, 1935 the TH&B applied to the Board of Railway Commissioners to completely abandon the line. In reviewing the case it was determined that only the Lindsay Lumber Company would suffer any inconvenience or loss. However, good roads were in place where shippers had easy access to nearby team tracks such as the one at Fenwick. The decision was quick and unanimous. The following day the written decision was handed down granting permission for full abandonment. After 40 years, the line that was supposed to be temporary was taken out of service and the tracks removed in June 1936.
Though both mother nature and local development have largely reclaimed most of the right of way, there are a few traces that remain after 65 years. If you want to find where the branch was located in the Ridgeville area, here are a few landmarks to help you find it. The old cannery that later became the site of the Lindsay Lumber Company is now the post office. Just west of there is where the track crossed Canboro Road. Just south of the crossing is the concrete remains of the foundation for the powerhouse used by the cannery.
At Highway 20 and Effingham St., the line crossed diagonally through the intersection. The turnout to the switchback was located on the property that is now Hipwell Motel. On the north side of Highway 20 west of Effingham Street there is a gravel pit in the vicinity of where the Dominion Construction Company pit appears to have been. Traveling further west on Highway 20, there is a high school on the south side of the road. Brown Brother's Nursery was located on the north side across from the high school.
If the weather is nice and you find yourself with an afternoon of free time, take a drive to Ridgeville. The pictures provided by Bill Sharpe and the map showing some landmarks should help you find a former piece of the TH&B that has been largely forgotten for many years. Hopefully you will find the trip worthwhile. Most of the right of way is now private property so please keep in mind not to trespass without the owners' permission.
Photos © 2001 - William H. Sharpe via Kevin R. Leddy - Reprinted with permission
1. Intersection of Highway 20 and Effingham Street looking northeast. The Ridgeville Branch went right through the Hipwell Motel property just to the left og the motel office on the corner.
2. Looking east from Effingham Street just north of Highway 20. The tail of the switchback can be seen in the center left with the track to the gravel pit and Brown Brother’s Nursury coming back through the left center.
3. View looking south at the Ridgeville Post Office on the south side of Canboro Road. The building now occupied by the Post Office was built in 1941 directly on the foundation of one of the cannery buildings. The main track crossed Canboro Road just to the right of the building. The structure in the back is a second cannery building that was similar to the one that was replaced by the Post Office.
4. Foundation of the coal ramp used by the cannery. The stringer bearing locations are still visible.
5. Looking north from Welland Road. The former right of way is now partly used as a driveway and is known by the local fire department as Lindsay Street.
6. Looking south from Welland Road.
7. Former right of way looking north from Foss Road. It is now used as a private driveway.
8. Former right of way looking south from Foss Road.
9. Looking north at the right of way from Sumbler Road. Even after 65 years the slightly higher elevation of the roadbed is apparent. This portion of the line ran on relatively flat terrain that required little grading.
10. Looking south from Sumbler Road towards Ridgeville Jct. The line of trees marks the location of the original Welland Subdivision That was abandoned in 1972.
11. The original Welland Sub right of way where if crossed Poth Street looking east towards Ridgeville Jct. Following the right of way will get you to the site where Ridgeville Jct. was located but what little traces there might be are hidden in the trees and bushes.
11 photos in gallery