Ultimately the consolidation of coal companies after the Civil War failed to protect the new coal combines from the cyclical nature of the U. S. economy, not to mention coal prices. Amid the deflationary U. S. economy of the 1870s and 1880s, coal prices dropped sharply along with everything else, and in 1880 the Reading Railroad—which by then had a total bonded debt of more than $95 million from all its real estate purchases—was forced into the first of the three bankruptcies that the company would undergo over the next thirteen years.
Amid the chaos of coal bankruptcies and consolidations after the Civil War, John Leisenring’s unique combination of technical vision, coal expertise, and entrepreneurial shrewdness was much in demand. In 1871 the LC&N leased its railroad system to the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which completed construction of the LC&N’s line from Easton to New York. The Central had no direct prior experience in the coal industry, so it relied on local experts like John. He was made a director of the Central, and in that capacity in 1872 and 1873 he helped the Central to assemble a mining subsidiary, the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company. The L&WB capped the process by leasing the entire coal property of the LC&N in 1873. These large expenditures, financed by bonds, sent the Central itself into receivership in 1877. When that happened, the LC&N lease was cancelled, and in the reorganization John lost his seat on the Central New Jersey board.
Meanwhile, John had also been elected in 1871 to a five-year term as an associate judge of the Pennsylvania District Court. This single term in a public office accorded him the honorific title of “Judge” Leisenring, which