Albany and Susquehanna Railroad

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    Completed in January of 1869, this New York-based railroad ran one hundred and forty-two miles through New York State, from Binghamton to the state capital at Albany. It provided a rail link for the shipment of anthracite coal from the mines of Pennsylvania to Albany, from where the coal could be sent on to the homes and factories of New England. The company was leased the Delaware and Hudson the following year.

    Jim Fisk and Jay Gould began buying stock in the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad early in July of 1869. Most of the stock in the railroad was held by town governments and individuals along the line. To buy that stock, Jim Fisk sent men with satchels full of cash up along the line. Fisk's attempt to gain a controlling interest was bitterly opposed by the railroad's founder and president, Joseph H. Ramsey, who began competing with Fisk to buy back stock. In their competition, Fisk and Ramsey bid up the price of the stock, which rose from twenty-five dollars a share to over fifty dollars a share during the month of July, 1869.

    By the end of the month, Fisk reckoned that he had acquired a controlling interest in the railroad. To formally take possession of the line, he met with Joseph H. Ramsey on August 5 at the headquarters of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. "It's all over but the shouting," Fisk confidently told his public relations assistant, as they went into the meeting in Albany. But when the meeting began, Joseph H. Ramsey refused to surrender. "You will never get the road away from me," he told Fisk. Fisk demanded to see the record books which showed how many shares of stock Ramsey had sold. Ramsey refused to let Fisk examine the books. Fisk made a grab for them. There was a short wrestling match involving the books. Finally, Ramsey's employees got possession of the books and spirited them out of the office. This incident was followed by some inconclusive legal wrangling.

    A crooked New York City judge, who was on Fisk's payroll, ruled that the railroad belonged to Fisk. An Albany judge ruled that the railroad belonged to Ramsey. With the law paralyzed, Fisk decided to experiment with violent methods of seizing his prize. An official stockholder's meeting was scheduled to be held in Albany on August 7, and Fisk decided to attend that meeting, with a platoon of street-fighters to back him up.

    Fisk went home to New York City, where he hired a Bowery street gang. He gave each hoodlum a proxy empowering him to cast votes at the next shareholder's meeting of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. On the night of August 6, Fisk and his gang traveled to Albany in the parlor car of a passenger train. As the train rolled north through the Hudson River Valley, Fisk drank and played cards with his followers. "Tomorrow morning, boys, we're going to gobble up the Susquehanna Railroad," Fisk told them. Unfortunately for Fisk, his boasts were overheard by a lawyer who was traveling to Albany to give legal advice to Joseph H. Ramsey. When the train reached Albany, the lawyer hurried to inform Ramsey of Fisk's remarks to his tough-looking crowd of followers.

    Fisk and his gang breakfasted in Albany, then marched through the streets to the stockholder's meeting at the offices of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. They found the building surrounded by a large crowd of idle men. Fisk's public relations assistant warned his boss that something felt wrong. "There are more people than usual on the street," he told Fisk, "and they seem to be watching us. They look as though they expect something to happen." Fisk told his assistant not to worry about the bystanders. "They don't often see an expedition like this," Fisk remarked, looking over his shoulder to survey his forces. "Can you blame 'em for being amazed? I'm amazed myself!" Stepping inside the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, Fisk found himself facing a large, dark, muscular man. Fisk asked him, "Who are you?" The sturdy-looking man said, "I'm superintendent of this railroad. I'm in charge here." Fisk told him, "The hell you are. You can go and tell your boss that you've been fired. I'm James Fisk, Jr., and I've come up here to take charge." When the superintendent refused to step out of his way, Fisk beckoned to his Bowery hoodlums, who had been waiting at the office door. "Come in, boys," said Fisk. "Make yourselves at home." The superintendent retreated a few steps, then halted to open another door, through which stepped a gang of local mercenaries who looked every bit as tough as Fisk's New York gang. A general melee commenced, which ended in the defeat of Fisk and his gang, who were thrown out of the office and down the front steps. On the sidewalk, Fisk rose to his feet and began straightening his collar. Suddenly, a man wearing a police uniform approached him. "What's all the row about here?" the policeman demanded. Several bystanders pointed at Fisk and accused him of inciting a riot. "Come along, then," said the policeman. Seizing Fisk by the arm, he marched him off to a police station and shoved him through the door. The policeman did not follow Fisk through the door, but remained outside the building, leaving the bewildered Fisk standing alone in the lobby. Fisk looked outdoors for the officer who had arrested him, but saw nobody. The policemen on duty in the station seemed puzzled when Fisk asked them what charges were being filed against him. Fisk eventually figured out that he had been "arrested" by one of Ramsey's men, impersonating a police officer.

    At this point, Fisk decided that violence was not getting him anywhere. He decided to change tactics and try a little friendly persuasion. Without his gang of thugs, Fisk returned to the headquarters of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. Nobody tried to stop him from entering the offices, where he walked up to the sturdy superintendent and cheerily congratulated him on his victory. "Shake!" said Fisk, offering his hand. "I like your style. You're wasting your time up here. Come down to New York with me and I'll make it worth your while." "No thanks," said the superintendent. At this point the President of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, Joseph H. Ramsey, entered the room. He looked worried. Fisk told Ramsey, "I'll tell you how we can settle this whole thing in about fifteen minutes and save ourselves and everybody else a lot of trouble." "How's that?" asked Ramsey, wearily. Fisk said, "I'll sit down with you here and we'll play a game of seven-up, with the winner to take the railroad." Ramsey smiled but declined. "I've got other people to think of besides myself," he said.

    Fisk withdrew to the Delavan Hotel in Albany, where he plotted a new strategy. Instead of making another attempt to expel Ramsey from the Albany offices of his railroad, Fisk decided to try taking over the offices at the other end of the line, in Binghamton, New York, a hundred and forty miles southwest of Albany. Fisk expected that local officials in Binghamton would cooperate with him because they had been quarreling with Ramsey. Fisk sent a telegram to the Broome County sheriff in Binghamton, informing him that a New York judge had given the railroad to Fisk. The sheriff obligingly took over the rail yards at Binghamton for Fisk. The sheriff also tried to impound all the trains standing in the station at Binghamton. He seized two locomotives, but the crewmen of a third train, who saw the sheriff coming, evaded him by driving their locomotive down the track to Albany.

    The Albany and Susquehanna Railroad was now effectively cut in two, with Fisk controlling one end of the line, and Ramsey controlling the rest. To conquer Ramsey's portion of the line, Fisk ordered his agents in Binghamton to hire an army of five hundred men. Fisk planned to use this force to attack Ramsey's employees and drive them off the whole line. Ramsey meanwhile warned his employees to be prepared to use force to defend their jobs.

    On August 9, Fisk ordered his five-hundred-man army to board a special train in Binghamton and drive it up the track toward Albany. The train was supposed to stop at every station, where Fisk's men would take over the premises and fire Ramsey's employees. To deal with resistance, Fisk ordered his men to arm themselves with hardwood clubs. Fisk remained in Albany, sending orders by telegraph, as the train carrying his army departed from Binghamton. Advancing cautiously up the one-track line, Fisk's men at first met no opposition. They captured one station after another, firing Ramsey's employees and installing their own people. Emerging from a tunnel about fifteen miles from Binghamton, Fisk's train suddenly encountered another train loaded with employees of Joseph H. Ramsey. The Fisk train halted, but the Ramsey train, chugging slowly up a steep grade, blew a warning blast on its whistle and kept on coming up the single track. The locomotives collided head-on, with so much force that the locomotive of the Ramsey faction was knocked off the track. Fisk's public relations assistant, Robert H. Fuller, wrote the following account of what happened next:

    With the shock of the collision, the Ramsey forces tumbled out of their train with a chorus of yells and a cracking of pistols, and made for the Fisk army on the run. They were better armed than our side was. A good many had pistols, a few carried long guns, and the rest had axes, pickaxes, shovels, and similar tools, for which our green oak clubs were no match. Our men didn't wait. They put out for Binghamton as fast as they could go. A few went through the tunnel and a few stuck on the train, but most of them legged it up and over the mountain, pursued by a scatter of shots and a shower of stones from the Ramsey men in their rear. At the same time, the Fisk train at last got up enough reverse speed to reach the tunnel, into which it vanished, tail first. The Ramsey detachment put forth superhuman efforts to get their locomotive back on the rails, and in a short time their train was puffing after our train, which it pursued into the tunnel and out the other side. Our forces, invigorated by warlike messages from Jim Fisk in Albany, made a stand, yelling threats and imprecations, mingled with sacred and profane threats of opprobrium, until they raised a terrible din. This caused the Ramsey troops to deliberate, and before they could make up their minds to attack, a sound that the Civil War had made familiar--the sound of drums--became audible from the direction of Binghamton. The sheriff had called on the state for aid and the militia had been ordered out.

    The Ramsey crowd knew then that the game was up. They climbed into their train, which backed away with them into the tunnel, which they blocked with an upturned freight car to check pursuit, and then retreated to the other end of the line, in Albany.

    That evening, Fisk watched stoically from the window of his Albany hotel room as Ramsey's Albany and Susquehanna Railroad employees marched through the streets in triumphant parades. Some of the marchers shouted at Fisk's window, threatening to hang him from a lamppost, but they took no action. When some boys threw stones at Fisk's hotel, the police chased the boys away. Governor Hoffman put the militia in temporary command of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad, and asked the state supreme court to decide the question of ownership. When the court ruled in favor of Ramsey, "Jubilee Jim" Fisk knew he was beaten. He had lost a lot of money, and he had lost his bid to acquire the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. Fisk shrugged off this setback with his usual good humor. Several years later, he was fatally shot in a dispute over an actress.
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    Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Company Bond Certificate
    Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Company Bond Certificate
    Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Company
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