Throughout the summer and fall of 1880, gangs of men working on the construction of the oil pipeline invaded the western and southern portions of Sullivan County. These work crews, arriving from the upstate oilfield territories on the Eire Railroad, came in waves. First, a gang of twenty-five men armed with double-bladed axes and bush-hooks cut a swath through the trees and brush of forests and fields one rod in width, wide enough to allow teams to haul the pipes along the route. Following close behind was the gang of “grubbers” and “diggers” who were responsible for uprooting obstacles and digging the trench along the sections where the pipe was to be buried. Where the pipeline’s route traversed cultivated fields, the pipe needed to be buried deep enough so as not to be disturbed by the farmer’s plow. However, where the pipeline route sliced through the forests, the pipe was laid on top of the ground. The preparatory work progressed rapidly, the workers often clearing the route as far as two miles a day.
Railroad towns along the Erie’s Delaware Division quickly prospered with the activity.
In early September, sixty men hired-on by the oil company arrived at Callicoon Depot taking up quarters at the Minard House. A like number of workers filled up Dewitt Knapp’s hotel at Cochecton. Railroad yard sidings were stockpiled
with carload after carload of pipe, along with poles and wire needed for the telegraph line designed to follow the pipeline route. Local farmers with their teams went to work for the oil company, drawing the material all along the line, earning as much as four dollars a day. Contracts were signed with farmers and lumbermen for furnishing twenty-two foot long chestnut poles needed for the telegraph line, at a rate of one dollar per pole delivered and ready to be set.
Even with the sudden influx of such a large number of pipeline workers, relatively few problems were reported by local residents, aside from the occasional brawl or petty thievery. C A Hauser’s hotel at Cochecton was the scene of one of the more serious fracases when separate gangs of pipeline workers held a “reception” resulting in the hotel’s barroom being in need of repairs. At Cochecton Center, two pipeline workers were helping themselves to the apples in Peter Bower’s orchard. When confronted by Peter’s son, William, the men refused to leave the orchard and continued to gather apples, ridiculing and threatening the boy. The apple thieves soon learned a painful lesson when William returned, now brandishing a shotgun. The men, seeing their predicament, quickly turned tail to make their escape but not soon enough as William let loose with a single blast, pelting the legs and backsides of the thieves with buckshot. Though the men threatened retaliation, they scrambled onto the highway and hobbled down the road. Nothing more was made about the incident, the apple-thieves apparently were satisfied enough in plucking only one charge of buckshot from their hides….