The Cosens Brothers

Cosens Brothers

The Cosens brothers (left to right): Adolphus, George, and Alfred, 1933. Photo: The Cosens family.

They were the three middle sons of Edmund Cosens, a veteran of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. All were born in the 1860s in London, England. The family was drawn to Canada by the excitement of the railway fever of the early 1870s and came to this country in 1871, with the determined objective of careers in railroading.

Edmund, the father, having settled his family in Cayuga, Ontario, obtained early employment with the Canada Southern Railway, taking charge of the track between Cayuga and Canfield. He died at the relatively early age of 65, while working with an MCR “extra lifting gang”, of a heart attack, in a caboose, at Rodney, Ontario, on August 17, 1894.

Adolphus, or Dolph, known as “Corncracker”, began his career on the CSR at “The Taylor Pit”, two miles west of Rodney. Throughout the 1880s he worked off and on as a switchman’s helper, than as a full-fledged switchman. For a short time in 1889 he did a stint as a freight conductor, but by December 1, 1890, he was made Assistant General Yardmaster at St. Thomas and the following year was promoted to General Yardmaster – a position he held until June 25, 1897, when he was transferred to Hamilton – at the time the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway was being built. Dolph took charge of the setting up of the yard and he became the first General Yardmaster. On March 16, 1898 he was back in St. Thomas as the Night Yardmaster. In 1900 he left St. Thomas for the Montrose Yards at Niagara Falls, where he acted as Yard Conductor and/or Yardmaster until 1915, when he became General Yardmaster – a position he held until his retirement in 1931. He died on August 22, 1954 at the age of 92.

George also began his railroad career in 1880 on the section between Cayuga and Canfield. He worked at this for about a year when he retired to “try his hand” at butchering. On March 4, 1883 he was given employment on the old “wood train” – a train that was never idle throughout the year. He transferred to the freight service as Freight Brakeman on September 1, 1884, and was promoted to Freight Conductor on September 15, 1891, working up through freight, local way freight – culminating in his last 25 years of service, mostly as Passenger Conductor, until his retirement, due to health reasons, in 1927. He died March 25, 1946 at the age of 81.

Alfred, youngest of the three brothers, began his railroad career in St. Thomas about 1887, beginning as a switchman’s helper, becoming a full-fledged switchman at Windsor in 1891. He continued in this position until about 1909. In about 1910 he became a Train Dispatcher, where he remained until 1920 when he moved to Tower 3, as a “Towerman”, where he remained until his retirement in 1933. His career that started in St. Thomas was for over 40 years at Windsor. Alf died July 30, 1940 at the age of 72.

All three of the brothers suffered accidents with the primitive coupling mechanisms. Dolph, sometime before 1890 had his left leg badly crushed, but received excellent medical attention. He carried a silver bar in his leg. All he had to show for his misfortune was a long scar. George, in the early 90s lost the little finger of this left hand in a coupling mishap. In his later years, he seemed somewhat proud of his missing finger. Alf encountered the greatest loss. On June 20, 1889, while assisting his brother Dolph, switchman, and while coupling two cars on the repair track in the St. Thomas yards, his left hand was “carried with the pin” into an Ames coupler and was ground to a shapeless mass. The hand was shortly thereafter amputated above the wrist. For the rest of his life he wore a wooden prosthesis covered by a glove, usually black leather.

All of the sons (seven in number) and all of the sons-in-law (four in number) of these three rail veterans worked at one time on the MCR/NYC. One, Bill, son of Dolph, was a brakeman and lost his life in a tragic accident at Niagara’s Victoria yards in 1912.

On George’s retirement in 1927, he gave this written statement that was subsequently printed in the New York Central Lines magazine: “I have had the pleasure of working under a good many officials and I have the best wishes for all of them and also for my fellow employees that I have had the pleasure to work with – may the New Year of 1939 bring prosperity to them all. If at any time of my life from now on I can be of any service to the New York Central Lines, ‘The Best Road in America,’ to promote Freight and Passenger travel over the Road, I will gladly do it. Yours truly, George Cosens.”

Inducted 2012