150 years ago this year, the predecessor to the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, the Shenango and Allegheny was completed from Shenango to Pardoe in order to transport coal from the pardoe mine to the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, later part of the Erie.
50 years ago, Roy Beaver, the retired Vice President and General Manager of the company published a centennial history on the railroad titled, "The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, 1869 - 1969," the first of a number of publications that covered the Bessemer Route.
15 years ago yesterday, May 10th, 2004, the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, a road that is adored by a small but dedicated group of railfans and forum members disappeared into the Canadian National system.
The Bessemer Route had become a fallen flag.
In those fifteen years there have been many aesthetic appearances to the properties. For the longest time, orange and black diesels powered the ore and coal trains, this came to an abrupt end in early 2015 when CN brought into former Illinois Central power to the route. That effectively ended the Bessemer identity at large with only a few orange engines and hundreds of increasingly rough and leaking hoppers to move the ore.
In the 15 years since CN acquired the Bessemer traffic has largely gone down; fortunately iron ore still moves between Conneaut and North Bessemer once a day. Coal traffic, along with other aggregates and interchange traffic has largely disappeared. A resurgence of coal traffic in 2014 - 2015 in some ways brought about the end of the Orange era.
Recently CN has decided to replace the battered fleet of hoppers with new hoppers to handle the ore trains. These will be a welcome sight on the Bessemer, they even have B&LE reporting marks. At the same time, the 905 is leaving the property, leaving the 867 and 868 as the only remaining orange engines on the route. These two locomotives along with the 862 are the only remaining original Bessemer and Lake Erie units on the former Bessemer route.
The Greenville shops sit quiet, empty, and falling apart where an increasingly small group of people remember what the Bessemer was to the town of Greenville and the communities that it served.
So what made the Bessemer so special?
This was a small railroad that operated in a big time way. A 1965 report indicated that on an average day, some 6 through trains south and north along with 6 mine runs, 3 drag runs, and 3 locals operated on the system. Some 21 yard crews were also called on a typical day.
This railroad also accomplished the following;
- First Railroad to complete the transition for Steam to Diesel in the early 1950's. The Bessemer of course preserved the Texas Type #643, which has had an unfortunate existence since it left Greenville in 1983.
- The Highest tonnage per mile of any Class One Railroad in the United States.
- First railroad to have continuous welded rail laid in its entire main line. The Bessemer used 155 lbs per yard rail; the heaviest rail in the United States.
Most importantly the Bessemer had an outstanding safety recorded, provided livelihoods to hundreds of people, and was a conveyor belt for mineral traffic in Western Pennsylvania.