Buffalo Courier Express
May 27, 1961
Widower Owes Contentment to ‘Peanut Line’
By Bill Lamale
ON FARM - Geoge Nown lives on a two-acre farm on the banks of willow-lined Bowing Creek, near the point where it crosses Route 5, west of Batavia. He was born in the same neighborhood and has never been outside Western New York.
Now he’s a wider, a retired railroad man, and he has a pass that would allow him much freedom of travel. But George is happy with his vegetable garden and chickens.
And this contentment is mostly because of the “Peanut Line.”
The Peanut Line was a stretch of track reaching from North Tonawanda to Canandaigua, and the expression also meant the little trains that rumbled and rattled along those rails, stopping at every station on the way. It was a tiny offshoot of the huge New York Central system.
‘Peanut’ expert George is matter-of-fact, a slow and deliberative chewer on toothpicks. Probably no one knew he “Peanut” better than he. He spent the great part of his working days on the New York Central, and much of that time on the East Peanut - that section of the road east of East Pembroke.
He started out as a section hand, lifting rails and tamping ballast, and finally became foreman of a work train. In 20 years on that train he got all the traveling he ever wanted.
Somehow railroad life never captivated him, even when he was a boy and the Peanut crossed his father’s farm at the back and he waved to all the engineers. He got started on the railroad just by chance.
George trained for carpentry, but work became slow. Then one day the section boss walked cross the field and offered him a job. Thinking it would make a “good winter’s work,” George accepted.
“You can wear anything but red,” the boss said. “Red clothing is against company rules. It might be mistaken by an engineer for a signal.”
So George be can as a laborer on the Peanut. One of those teakettle engines jumped the track near East Pembroke, he says, but that is the most excitement he can remember. Life on the Peanut was like the schedule of trains, pretty slow.
He worked six miles of track from East Pembroke to Batavia. The section men went to work on a handcar, pumping their way along the track, and they hung their black lunch boxes on the fence to keep out the ants.
Theirs was a 10-hour day, blistering in mid-summer heat. The engines were always dropping live coals along the tracks, starting fires in the ties, or in the brush on the right of way, and these the section hands would tackle with brooms and shovels.
“At noon you’d look for a spot under a tree to eat your dinner and stretch out a bit,” he says. “The happiest thing that would happen was for someone from the nearest arm would bring down a jug of something cold.”
With they picks, they worked the cinder ballast, installed new ties and laid new rails. Cows used to escape from pastures and go wandering down the tracks, and then the section gang would have to round them up and “toggle up” the broken fence or close the gates.
For years George was the trackwalker on Sundays. His standard equipment on such trips was a track wrench, a red flag and a pocketful of signal torpedoes. Among other things, he had to look for broken rails. He never found one.
When trains went by, he’d look for “hot boxes,” over-heated wheel bearings . But he never saw one of those. “They didn’t go that fast on the Peanut,” he says.
Hoboes used to sneak rides on the gondola cars, but George declares that it was “by mistake.” They simply intended getting on another line.
“The Peanut?” they used ask when questioned. “What’s the Peanut and where does it go?”
George used to be able to answer that. But when we asked him how the line got that name, he just shrugged his shoulders. George said he could only guess at that.
Submitted by RICHARD PALMER