Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

A special Jonal: A review of
The Cambria and Indiana Railroad,
90 Years, 1904-1994,
by Jack Hill

The Cambria and Indiana Railroad,
90 Years, 1904-1994,
by Jack Hill
March 2011, 113 pages, quality paperback, dozens of photographs, maps, and document facsimiles, $14.69 plus shipping from Amazon or $14 plus $3 shipping, directly from the author.

One of the highest criteria I use in evaluating a book is how much I learn from it. And, like all Blacklick Valley residents in most of the twentieth century, I grew up taking the Cambria and Indiana Railroad—more familiarly known as the good old
"C&I"—for granted. It was so much a part of our daily life that we tended to think of it as "our" railroad, and that level of "ownership" tended to make us think we knew it a lot better than we actually did. Or at least I thought that way.

I assumed a number of things about the C&I that were not true. The main thing I "knew" that wasn't true was that the C&I was not only "our" (the Valley's) railroad, I thought it was our "only" railroad. Even when I read some years ago in Denise Duza Weber's history of Vintondale, Wehrum, and Bracken that the Pennsylvania Railroad had built the line from Ebensburg through Nanty Glo to Vintondale and on toward the mainline somewhere to the south and west, I thought the PRR as we knew it in "our time" two generations later was just the mainline; all the spurs had been sloughed off and the one through Blacklick Valley had become the C&I's. Wrong. It was still the PRR, which I should have known by virtue of the fact that I was a passenger on the last excursion train on that line from Twin Rocks to Pittsburgh as a seventh-grader in 1954. But what did I know?

But although the trains that used to block Nanty Glo's main street (Chestnut, in this case, and ipso facto PRR trains) for 45 minutes or so on what seemed to be most days had coal hoppers with names of lots of railroads, they always had a preponderance of C&I coal hoppers, right? Well, that's how I remember it,and it may have been true, because one of the things I learned through this book is that the C&I, one of the most successful "short run" railroads in the nation and one that continued operating for about twenty years after the PRR and its longtime rival and in their latter years its partner the New York Central faded into history. . . the C&I made most of its profits from the high number of its cars it leased and were used by other railroads to move their coal shipments.

As Nanty Glo was Cambra County's largest coalmining town and the C&I had its Eleanor Yards just outside town with the C&I Houses built to house its employees, I "knew" Eleanor was the C&I's main base of operation. Wrong again. It appears that Eleanor was built to serve that purpose, but though the yards were important to the Nanty Glo, Cardiff, Twin Rocks, and Vintondale mines, Eleanor was never C&I's headquarters. Colver was. Colver was the first major mining project of B. Dawson Coleman and John Heisley Weaver. They bought the Blacklick and Yellow Creek railroad that had been established mainly to serve the lumbering industry in Rexis and Vintondale before mining became the bigger industry, renamed it the Cambria and Indiana Railroad and moved its operations to Colver, where they stayed until it went out of business (as a subsidiary, by then, of Bethlehem Steel and/or Mines) in 1994.

I had a vague impression "in the day" that as the C&I served all the Valley's mines they somehow "owned" the railroad. Wrong again. Coleman and Weaver broke up their partnership in the early years of Cambria County's mining era, with Coleman continuing to control the Colver Mine and Weaver the main stockholder of the railroad (with the New York Central owning 40 percent of it through a mining subsidiary to be the second biggest owner of the C&I). Weaver, who already had started Heisley Mine in Nanty Glo independent of Coleman, also controlled the former patnershp's Revloc Mine. So, though I always considered Colver and Revloc Mines as two peas in the same pod (Revloc being Colver spelled backwards, after all), it's more corect to think of Nanty Glo/Heisley as in the same pod as Revloc while Colver was out on its own. And though the C&I continued to be headquartered in Colver, it was a third pea in the Revloc/Heisley pod.

Again as in his book about his hometown of Colver, Jack Hill has produced a readable historical document that anyone interested in Central Cambria County, its mines and railroads, will want to read.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

I just broke up with someone and the last thing she said to me was, 'You'll never find anyone like me again!' I'm thinking, "I should hope not! If I don't want you, why would I want someone like you?"

— Larry Miller

Thought for today

Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.

C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader")

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Jon Kennedy's recent book, The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, from Adams Media, F&W Publications, is available for purchase in support of the Liberty Museum in Nanty Glo and can be ordered here. It is also available on Amazon.