Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Achieving the Impossible in 1873: Lifting the 160-Ton Draw of the Branch Line Bridge Across Eastchester Bay

In 1873, railroad crews were working furiously to construct the New Haven Branch Line through Pelham.  Although the Branch Line did not open to passenger traffic until November, 1873, for many months before then crews worked to lay the tracks and to construct the railroad drawbridge next to the new Pelham Bridge that first opened on June 1, 1871 and permitted its first public travel across the bridge on June 3, 1871.  

During the summer of 1873, however, there was a major problem.  The railroad drawbridge had been constructed, but the draw was not working properly and needed to be raised to permit repairs.  How in the world would it be possible to lift a 160-ton draw of the new railroad bridge to permit the necessary repairs in time for the planned opening of the new Branch Line?

I have written before about the furious efforts to construct the New Haven Branch Line in the early 1870s.  For a few examples, see:

Wed., Aug. 03, 2005:  Early Reports Relating to Construction of the Branch Line (Part I)

Thu., Aug. 04, 2005:  Early Reports Relating to Construction of the Branch Line (Part II)

Wed., May 09, 2007:  1870 Meeting of Residents of Pelham and Surrounding Areas To Encourage Construction of the Branch Line.

Tue., Sep. 04, 2007:  Construction of the New Haven Branch Line in 1873.

Wed., Sep. 05, 2007:  More About the Opening of the Harlem and Portchester Railroad Line Through Pelham in 1873

Fri., Feb. 20, 2009:  Train Schedule for the New Haven Branch Line Through Pelham Manor in April 1886.

Wed., Aug. 06, 2014:  Important Report of the Opening of the Branch Line Through the Manor of Pelham in November 1873.

Mon., Aug. 15, 2016:  More on the Construction and Opening of the Harlem River and Portchester Railroad Through Pelham in 1873.

During the summer of 1873, the Harlem River and Portchester Railroad had this seemingly intractable engineering problem as they raced to open the Branch Line.  The railroad turned to its Chief Engineer, H. G. Scofield of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Scofield quickly developed an ingenious solution.

He devised an elaborate system of trusses to slide under the draw to provide support.  He built those trusses on heavy scows (flat-bottomed vessels somewhat like barges) that he floated at low tide with the truss system resting on the scows so that at low tide the trusses were barely beneath the draw.  Thereafter, as the tide rose, so did the floating scows, lifting the truss system up to the draw and raising the draw so that the repairs could be effected during high tide.  

The system worked!  The draw was repaired.  The Branch Line opened to passenger traffic barely three months later, opening a large section of the Town of Pelham to development.

Detail from 1881 Map Showing Branch Line Railroad Bridge
to the West of the Pelham Bridge Between Pelham Neck and
Throggs Neck.  Source:  "Town of Pelham [with] Pelham
Manor" in Atlas of Westchester County, New York From Actual
Surveys and Official Records by G. W. Bromley & Co., pp. 56-
57 (Philadelphia, PA:  G. W. Bromley & Co., 1881)  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

Undated Post Card View of Today's Railroad Drawbridge
Over Eastchester Bay, Circa 1980s, with Amtrak's "The
Senator" Crosing the Bridge.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of an article that forms the basis for today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

[New Haven Journal and Courier.]

Mr. H. G. Scofield, of Bridgeport, performed rather a notable engineering feat on Saturday, on the new division of the New York and New Haven Road, from Harlem to New York.  It became, for the purpose, necessary to lift the draw of the new bridge across Pelham Bay, on this line, a structure weighing 160 tons.  To effect this object, Mr. Scofield devised the plan of building trusses, placing them on heavy scows, floating the latter around under the draw at low tide, so that the rising of the tide would do the work required.  This was successfully executed Saturday.  The tide rose four feet six inches, and the scows settled in the water but two fee, raising the draw sufficiently to make the repairs required."

Source:  A SUCCESSFUL OPERATION, The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA], Jul. 30, 1873, p. 8, col. 6 (Note:  Access via this link requires paid subscription).  See also [Untitled], The New Bloomfield Pennsylvania Times, Aug. 5, 1873, p. 4, col. 5 (same text; Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link); [Untitled], The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer [Wheeling, WV], Aug. 8, 1873, p. 2, col. 3 (essentially same text; Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).

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