History of the Key Industries in the Parlin Area served by the Raritan River Railroad.
(click on the pictures to see larger versions)
Parlin was always an important location on the Raritan River Railroad. Crossing Washington Avenue, the railroad had two stations located here, as well as many large industries over the years.
DuPont – Early Years
In the late 1890s, the International Smokeless Powder and Dynamite Company (later known as International Smokeless Powder and Chemical company) established itself in Sayreville making smokeless powder in anticipation of the Spanish American War. They were later purchased by the DuPont Company in 1904 and started producing gunpowder, solvents, and lacquer. With the onset of WWI, DuPont received very large orders for smokeless powder from the Navy.
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike black powder which they replaced.
Smokeless powder is made from Nitrocellulose (also known as: cellulose nitrate, flash paper, flash cotton, guncotton, flash string). Simply stated, this is created by mixing Nitrogen, from Nitric Acid, with Cellulose, which is cotton. The Acid came in tank cars, and the cotton came in box cars. If Nitrocellulose was shipped, it arrived in box cars, eventually standardized in 55 gallon drums.
DuPont expanded and increased the workforce from about 200 employees in 1910 to about 5,500 in 1914. This is significant to note, as the total population of Sayreville at the time was only 5800 people (1910 Census), so this highlights the amount of employees that had lived in the surrounding areas and either walked or commuted in on the Raritan River Railroad.
When the Raritan River Railroad build its first Parlin station, the building was on the north side of Washington Avenue. Shortly before WWI, the Raritan River Railroad build a bigger two story brick on the south side of the road, and sold the old building to DuPont, who used it as their internal post office. This larger brick station was a passenger station, as well as the Freight Office for the line.
As the map shows above, the area where the old station was is now listed as “Shooks Siding”. A shook is un-assembled box lumber, otherwise known as a wooden crate. Stacks of wood, shipped in boxcars, that would be assembled into crates. They would be assembled and used to ship out some of the products they made. DuPont owned a Box Shook Mill in Deering Junction, Me., and shipped these shooks to their plants as needed, including their operations at Parlin.
After WWI, powder production was curtailed, and DuPont concentrated on automotive finishes, solvents, resins, and photographic film and X-ray film (Sayreville Historical Society, 1976:24-25). This continued the inbound and outbound loads of tank cars, as well as many box cars for inbound and outbound freight.
Due to the sensitivity and flammability of the chemicals being used in the area, sometimes the engines needed to use a spark arrester cap over the smoke stack.
For many many years, DuPont was a major industry on the Raritan River Railroad. They had multiple spurs and leads into the plant, from both sides of the plant. About 1/2 mile west, there was another back entrance into the plant.
As seen in the above picture from the official RRRR maps from about 1940, they had a large spur going into the plant that crossed Washington Avenue. A small storage yard was here just outside the Parlin Station for sorting and storing DuPonts cars, even a car scale was located here. By now we can see a small siding track along the back of the Parlin Station.
Here we see the western entrance into the plant, labeled “C Line Sidings” from about 1940. This back entrance had to be realigned further west a few years later when Minnisink Avenue was changed from a grade crossing to a bridge, and then required the unique bridge combination we have today.
Here is my favorite shot showing Raritan River Railroad Steam Engine Number 5 crossing Washington Avenue in Parlin with a Dupont Tanker Car in the late 1930s.
For many years DuPont received primarily tanker cars, filled with acids and alcohols, and assorted box cars with freight. They also received many cars of coal for many years, as much of their operations required heat and\or steam.
Hercules – Early Years
I plan to continue this story with some pics of DuPont into the Conrail era, as well as details on Hercules’ operations.