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The Bowman's Creek Branch


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The Bowman’s Creek Branch

Lehigh Valley Railroad (1887-1963)

Chapter 5: The Railroad’s Decline

Twenty years after the Bowman’s Creek Branch opened to traffic, a number of factors were quickly ending the profitability of the railroad.  A trolley line to the Sunset section of Harvey’s Lake (1898-1931) drew away passenger service from Alderson, except for train excursions to the lake’s amusement park. 

After World War, young people increasingly moved from the farms to cities and were drawn away from country living.  The automobile age also had arrived; cars were quicker and more convenient than scheduled trains.  Not only passenger service, but also freight service declined.  The old State Line and Sullivan Railroad was dependent on haulage from the semi-anthracite coal industry in Bernice, which increasingly lost its market.  By 1913, the major lumbers business was over at Ricketts, Stull, and Alderson.  The Lopez mills, too, were closed between 1905 and 1907.  Any further lumbering was limited to small lots, particularly for mine props, which were hauled by truck.  The ice industry at Mountain Springs and the tannery at Noxen continued, but mechanical refrigeration, artificial ice, and leather substitutes were making severe in-roads into these industries.

By the mid-1920s, there was little passenger traffic on the Bowman’s Creek Branch.  The twice daily passenger trains were reduced to one train each way daily on December 19, 1928.  A passenger train from Wilkes-Barre to Towanda left Wyoming Valley at about 8:00 a.m.   A similar train from Towanda to Wilkes-Barre left at 10:00 a.m.   During the middle of the day, a local freight train running west to Bernice would place cars at sidings along the route and unload freight. 

The return freight train picked up ice cars in Mountain Springs, and local freight arrived in Wilkes-Barre about 8:00 p.m.  Yet, the Bowman’s Creek line was the only substantial transportation available to handle passenger and freight service for tiny villages along the creek between Noxen and Ricketts Glen. 

Roads were few and crude.  Separate passenger and freight trains to Alderson were discontinued on April 2, 1934, and the last advertised passenger service, even to the resort to Harvey’s Lake, appeared in March 1936.  In 1938-1939, the tracks between Lopez and Mountain Springs were removed.

For another dozen years, the Lehigh Valley Railroad sought to close Bowman’s Creek and its other marginal railroad lines, but community pressure often kept smaller lines open.  Finally, however, in 1948, the Interstate Commerce Commission permitted the Lehigh Valley Railroad to close traffic above Noxen on the Bowman’s Creek Branch.  During the next fifteen years, after the ice industry closed at Mountain Springs, the Bowman’s Creek Branch limped along, with one freight train daily in its last years.  In fact, the entire Lehigh Valley Railroad system was in severe trouble.

In July 1963, the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the Lehigh Valley Railroad to abandon the Bowman’s Creek Branch line between Dallas and Noxen.  The railroad had been in severe financial difficulty for years, and passenger service along the entire Lehigh Valley Railroad system had ended as a practical matter in 1961.  Mechanical refrigeration had ended the ice-cutting industry after World War II and eliminated the hauling of ice cars by the railroad, although the railroad had continued to haul hides to the Noxen tannery. 

The tannery, however, had peaked in 1941 when it employed 217 persons.  When the tanner closed in 1961, it ended the last remaining freight service of any consequence along the Bowman’s Creek Branch, and the last freight service on the Back Mountain line typically carried only a single boxcar.  The Alderson station had already been removed in May 1958.  Governmental approval to close the railroad line between Luzerne and Dallas was granted to the Lehigh Valley Railroad in September 1963.  On Sunday, December 22, 1963, at 12:01 a.m., the Lehigh Valley Railroad formally abandoned the Bowman’s Creek Branch from Luzerne to Dallas.

In 1970 the Lehigh Valley Railroad sought reorganization of its collapsing financial and operations structure under federal bankruptcy law.  On April 1, 1976, the federal government’s sponsored Consolidation Rail Corporation (Conrail) absorbed the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

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Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo

Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo