Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Cost of Labor | Constructing the A&S

Today when you walk along the path of the former Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade it is a very peaceful experience. There’s no shortage of lush foliage shrouding rock cuts blasted out of the rolling hills, the elevated fills and stone masonry look they were there since the beginning of time, and the railroad itself is long gone. Today it is hard to fathom the purpose of such a resource and even more difficult to imagine the human struggle that was involved in creating such a line.

Workers pause for a photograph, likely made by Lancaster based photographer Harry P. Stoner who was commissioned to document the construction of A&S. Blasting, the high cliffs and large loose rock along the stretch in Manor Township presented many hazards to the men while constructing the final few miles of the A&S along the Susquehanna River. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Workers pause for a photograph, likely made by Lancaster based photographer Harry P. Stoner who was commissioned to document the construction of A&S. Blasting, the high cliffs and large loose rock along the stretch in Manor Township presented many hazards to the men while constructing the final few miles of the A&S along the Susquehanna River. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Early in the era when railroads engaged in a wave of line and capacity improvements across the country, construction of the A&S commenced in 1903. Its scope was compared to that of the Panama Canal, which began around the same time, but took three times longer to complete.  In the course of three years the PRR spent $19.5 million to build an engineering marvel that completed the final piece of a freight by-pass collectively referred to as the Low Grade between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. With curvature limited to no more than 2% and the maximum grade held to 1% or lower the high cost of building such a line was justified with improved operating ratios and a reduction in fuel and crew demands while providing additional capacity to move freight trains away from the congested mainline. With no grade crossings, local industry or stations the A&S was strictly a conduit to move freight to and from the New York and Philadelphia markets across southern Lancaster County to the west via Enola. The premise of the Low Grade is pretty simple until you consider the topography the line spanned; In order to maintain such gradients the PRR had to wage war against the landscape employing thousands of men to construct the line between Parkesburg and the Susquehanna River. The western highlands and the descent into the Susquehanna valley was perhaps the most difficult aspect of the project. It entailed erecting a massive bridge at Safe Harbor to span the Conestoga gap and carving a path high above the river that continued down to Creswell where the line joined the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch. Other notable challenges included the spanning of the Pequea Valley at Martic Forge and the 90-foot deep cut excavated out of solid rock near Quarryville.

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

According to the late Ernest Schuleen who managed the Safe Harbor Water Power Corp, "The major portion of the laborers were immigrants from Italy, Turkey, Syria and the other southeastern European countries, who were taken directly from incoming boats to do the job... Getting the job done was the thing; safety was secondary.'' Roughly 1000 men and 150 horses were deployed along the bluffs of the Susquehanna and hundreds more worked east and west from Quarryville. Obstacles were met with steam shovels and drills, finishing work executed with pick axes and shovels. Dynamite was a necessary tool to complete the work in a timely manner but its nature made the job that much more hazardous, premature explosions killed some, flying debris others. In the course of three years over 200 died while working to complete the A&S. On a weekly basis headlines pitched tragic stories of workers killed on the job with hardly a mention of who they were. One of the most tragic incidents occurred near Colemanville, the location of a dynamite factory employing local residents to produce materials for the PRR and more recently the construction of the nearby Holtwood Dam. On June 6th, 1906, just weeks before the public dedication of the A&S, a blast ripped through the stamping house containing 2400 pounds of dynamite, triggering a subsequent explosion of nitroglycerin, the disaster killing eleven men. The only identified remains was the arm of 25-year-old Frederick Rice, the rest, all in their late teens or early 20’s were laid to rest in a single common casket. Despite the fact that the plant was no longer producing dynamite for the PRR’s A&S project the railroad faced continued criticism for their lack of concern for their seemingly disposable immigrant work force which ultimately brought such tragedy to southern Lancaster County. 

One of the deep cuts near Quarryville takes shape as crews blast and dig their way through solid rock to maintain the 1% maximum ruling grade on the A&S branch. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

One of the deep cuts near Quarryville takes shape as crews blast and dig their way through solid rock to maintain the 1% maximum ruling grade on the A&S branch. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Regardless the project continued and on July 27th of the same year the PRR publicly dedicated the A&S line in the deep cut near Quarryville, where prominent Quarryville citizen George Hensel drove the final spike made of silver. Sadly the human tragedy and loss of life behind the construction of the A&S was the norm rather than the exception. Labor laws and unions had yet to gain a foothold and agencies like OSHA and the FRA had yet to exist. The Industrial Revolution was still very much a time where money ruled and the bottom line far outweighed the value of human life. The human story of the A&S was a dark reality repeated time and time again to build some the most important engineering accomplishments and transportation networks in the country.

Spring News & Events

Allegany National Photography Competition and Exhibition: I am very pleased to have a piece from the Mainline Series included in the 2nd annual Allegany National Photography Competition. This exhibition runs from April 8th to the 30th in the Allegany Arts Council’s beautiful Saville Gallery in historic downtown Cumberland, Maryland. Situated in the beautiful Allegany mountains the exhibition melds the region's rich concentration of photographic artists with an influx of national photographers through the juried competition. Juror Stephen Perloff is founder and editor of The Photo Review, a critical journal of fine art photography. Publishing since 1976, The Photo Review covers photography issues and events throughout the country and serves as a central resource for the Mid-Atlantic region. Perloff is to host a lecture Friday April 8th in the Schwab Gallery and the opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Saturday, April 9th from 6-8 PM. Gallery hours for the exhibition are Tuesday - Saturday, 11AM-5PM. The Allegany Arts Council is located at 9 N. Centre Street, Cumberland, MD 21502. For more information on the lecture, exhibition and the Allegany Arts Council please visit their website or call (301) 777-ARTS (2787).

From the Mainline | Exhibition: Continuing in its second month, my solo exhibition featuring work from the Mainline project is on display at the Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania. Plan a trip to see the exhibition and visit some area attractions; the city is very easy to navigate and there are several wonderful places to stay in town and of course, plenty of choices for lunch and dinner. The exhibition runs through April 30th and is open M-F 10 AM - 6 PM, Sat. 10 AM - 5 PM. The Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building, 515 Center Street, Scranton, PA 18503. 

 

40 Years | A Brief History of Conrail

Two Conrail trains part ways at iconic Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline over the Alleghenies, October 21, 1988. Image courtesy of Mike Danneman

Two Conrail trains part ways at iconic Horseshoe Curve west of Altoona, Pennsylvania on the former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline over the Alleghenies, October 21, 1988. Image courtesy of Mike Danneman

At the close of the 1960’s railroads of the Northeast struggled with mounting debts, declining traffic and deferred maintenance. Coal, once the railroads mainstay traffic source, took a nosedive as the nation’s appetite for oil increased, triggering financial panic among many rail carriers in the Mid-Atlantic. The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central, once bitter rivals, merged into the Penn Central creating perhaps the most infamous face for the ensuing financial disaster seven major carriers faced in the early 1970’s. In order to avoid the complete collapse of railroading in the east, congress enacted the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1974 (commonly referred to the 3R Act). The Act provided interim funding for the struggling carriers while creating Consolidated Rail Corporation, a government funded private company. Under the Act the United States Railway Association prepared a plan to determine what lines of the seven carriers would be incorporated in the final system plan to be transferred to Conrail. This plan would be approved by congress under the subsequent Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (4R Act) which was signed into law in February of 1976.

The original Conrail system map circa April 1st, 1976. Note the absence of the iconic Conrail logo. Collection of the Multimodalways Project

The original Conrail system map circa April 1st, 1976. Note the absence of the iconic Conrail logo. Collection of the Multimodalways Project

Conrail was incorporated in Pennsylvania the same month and began operations April 1st 1976. The company’s function was to revitalize freight service between the Northeast and Midwest, operating as a for-profit operation. In 1981 Conrail’s economic standings began to turn around showing its first profit since incorporation. Under the leadership of L. Stanley Crane, a former Southern Railway CEO, the railroad flourished, shedding an additional 4100 unprofitable and redundant miles from the system between 1981 and 1983. The Staggers Rail Act of 1981 also provided much needed deregulation of railroad rates and tariffs allowing for changes in rate structuring that dated back to the turn of the century, giving railroads the ability to better compete with trucking companies. By the time Conrail approached its 10th birthday the railroad was ready to return back to the private sector. In the fall of 1986 congress signed in the Conrail Privatization Act authorizing a public stock offering that resulted in one of the largest IPOs in US history raising $1.9 billion in 1987.

Tony Palladino worked for design firm Siegel & Gale when he developed the iconic Conrail logo and identity, shown here in a lettering diagram. Collection of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives. 

Tony Palladino worked for design firm Siegel & Gale when he developed the iconic Conrail logo and identity, shown here in a lettering diagram. Collection of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives. 

Conrail’s ubiquitous blue locomotives and “can opener" logo developed by designer Tony Palladino became the symbol of a profitable network, a success story for a new era of railroading which also saw the creation of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. Ironically in the 1990’s NS and CSX engaged in a takeover battle that would have created an unhealthy imbalance in northeastern rail service, the compromise was instead a split of the Conrail system. CSX would take 42% of Conrail’s assets and the former NYC properties with NS assuming the 58% balance and much of the PRR network. Interestingly enough, the final split of Conrail is similar to a merger proposal from the 1950’s in response to the proposed marriage of the New York Central and Chesapeake & Ohio. The PRR had looked to join forces with the N&W and Wabash, both of which it already had a controlling interest in. Regardless, the ICC rejected both mergers but the net result some fifty years later is the same. Outside of the major split of Conrail assets three terminals where competition was in jeopardy continues to be serviced by the jointly owned Conrail Shared Assets Operation, providing equal access for both railroads in Detroit, Northern and Southern New Jersey/ Philadelphia continuing the Conrail name that began operations 40 years ago today. 

 

In Memoriam

Donald T. Rittler: 1919 - 2016

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of Donald T. Rittler, a former Pennsylvania Railroad train director who lived and worked in the Harrisburg area for most of his life.  In 2012 I had the privilege to meet Mr. Rittler during a private tour of the Harris tower museum, arranged by NRHS Harrisburg Chapter members. When Don arrived he brought this already fantastic interactive site alive with first hand experiences of running one of the most important interlocking towers on the PRR Philadelphia Division. Since to that meeting I had several opportunities to talk with Don about his experiences on the railroad including a very special return visit to Harris that I was so lucky to share with my father and son.

During my visit to Harris in 2012 I had some time to chat with Don while photographing him with the 4x5 view camera. I am lucky to have this image of Don at the train director's desk, a familiar place throughout his 42 years of working in interlocking towers for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central and Conrail.

During my visit to Harris in 2012 I had some time to chat with Don while photographing him with the 4x5 view camera. I am lucky to have this image of Don at the train director's desk, a familiar place throughout his 42 years of working in interlocking towers for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central and Conrail.

Don Rittler started his career with the Pennsylvania Railroad on October 11th, 1937 as a messenger for the interlocking towers on the PRR Philadelphia Division. The first person to be hired since the 1927 furlough of employees as a result of the Great Depression, Don worked the introductory job spending his days relaying messages and paperwork from tower to tower as needed, gaining a familiarity to the basic operations and chain of command among the many towers on the system.  On December 1st, 1940 Don posted his first position as a block operator and leverman, working the Philadelphia Division extra list, filling in at different towers over the years.

Detail of Don's home away from home, Harris Tower's interlocking machine and train director's desk, a post Don worked for many of his years during his tenure with the PRR which began in 1937.

Detail of Don's home away from home, Harris Tower's interlocking machine and train director's desk, a post Don worked for many of his years during his tenure with the PRR which began in 1937.

In 1944, like many other PRR employees Rittler was summoned to serve his country in World War II. Holding the title of Master Sergeant in the Army’s 775th Railway Grand Division and the 3rd Military Regiment, Don’s deployment centered in the Pacific Theater during the height of the war. Initially working in the Philippines operating the Manila Railway Don’s unit moved to Japan to secure a railhead for military transport inland in the event of land attacks. As a result of the infamous atomic bombs, their services were not needed for this purpose but they did continue to work keeping the Japanese rail systems functional. Returning to the US a short two years later almost exactly to the day, Rittler resumed his tenure with the PRR, holding tower positions as both leverman and eventually train director for State and Harris towers near the Harrisburg passenger station.  Rittler, who’s father was a master machinist for the Pennsy in Enola was always fascinated with the railroad, as it was always apart of his life, with many friends, neighbors and family also employed by the PRR.

Don and his wife Mary built a house in New Cumberland near Lemoyne and lived a wonderful life with their daughter Donna, sharing the family like atmosphere and camaraderie of the many railroaders Don worked with on a daily basis. He continued to work in the Harrisburg area well into the Penn Central era eventually moving to Conrail after the 1976 consolidation. Amtrak was slowly taking over operations on the Keystone Corridor in the mid 1970’s and Don’s choices of where to work were becoming increasingly limited. Don ultimately worked first shift at Lemo tower in Lemoyne, which he described as a welcome break from the busy towers he was accustomed to like Harris, finishing out a spotless 42 year career in railroading in 1979. After retirement, Don was very gracious with his time and experience in the towers, helping the NRHS Harrisburg Chapter develop the interpretive exhibit for the Harris tower project. He would also on occasion visit with small groups at the museum to provide first hand working knowledge of his craft like I was so fortunate to experience. Don’s presence at Harris will be greatly missed but thanks to his generosity, his legacy and knowledge will live on with the Harrisburg Chapter and the Harris tower museum.


May your presence always be felt at Harris tower, rest in peace Don.


For more information about memorial services for Mr. Rittler, please click here

 

From the Mainline | Upcoming Exhibiton

I am excited to share the details on my upcoming exhibition in Scranton, Pennsylvania featuring work from the ongoing project, From the Mainline. Scranton, though never served by the PRR could not be more of an appropriate venue to put together an exhibition exploring the relationship between railroads and the landscapes they travel. The Electric City is situated in the heart of Anthracite Coal Country and has a rich history largely associated with being at the crossroads of six railroad companies at its peak and home to the the sprawling Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad locomotive shops.  The railroads played an important role in the city of Scranton, providing extensive access to the nation's rail network while providing a wealth of jobs to the regional economy, much like the many places I’ve photographed throughout my time on the PRR.

Today Scranton is home to several major universities, the Steamtown National Historical Site as well as several other interpretive museums that explore the role railroads and coal played in the regional economy. Plan a trip to see the exhibition and visit some area attractions; the city is very easy to navigate and there are several wonderful places to stay in town and of course, plenty of choices for lunch and dinner. The exhibition opens next Friday, March 4th and will run through April 30th at the Camera Work space, located in the Marquis Gallery, in the historic Laundry building in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Hope to see some familiar faces at the opening!

Sincerely, 

Michael Froio

Lecture | Saturday

 Historical Image Credits (bottom row) L,R. W.T. Purviance, Collection of the New York Public Library, C. Frederick Gutekunst, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

 Historical Image Credits (bottom row) L,R. W.T. Purviance, Collection of the New York Public Library, C. Frederick Gutekunst, Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Continuing a Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad

Please join me this Saturday for a lecture exploring the role of historical imagery with my ongoing project, From the Mainline, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society's Philadelphia Chapter meeting and is free and open to the public.

February 13th, 2016 | 1:30PM

Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society
Philadelphia Chapter

Drexel Hill Methodist Church
600 Burmont Road
Drexel Hill, PA

Continuing A Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

The Rockville Bridge, circa 1875, from the album entitled, "Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad" by Frederick Gutekunst. Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

At the dawn of the industrial revolution the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout their new transportation systems, luring travellers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age; photography. Employing some the most preeminent photographers of the time, railroads outfitted special cars placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy. By no coincidence was the Pennsylvania Railroad one of the biggest supporters of this endeavor being their corporate headquarters of Philadelphia also happened to be the epicenter of photography in the US in the 19th Century. The PRR employed photographers for a multitude of tasks including the glamorous commissions to illustratate the railroad and its destinations for the Centennial and Columbian Expositions to the more mundane day-to-day documentation of massive engineering projects taking place all over the system. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

Horseshoe Curve, William T Purviance, Circa late 1860's. Collection of the New York Public Library. 

While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railroad, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, that allows me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States and the continual improvements they made to better themselves in the process.  These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideals and the resulting images rich with information foster a continued dialogue with my own image making, inspiring new works from images of the past.

This is a brief excerpt form the upcoming lecture “Continuing a Legacy, Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad” which I will present on February 13th for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

 

Interview | From America with Love

As mentioned last week, here is the interview I did with photojournalist and educator Niko J Kalliantiotis for the project From America with Love a curated platform hosted by the organization Orama Photos, Greece. The interview discusses the Mainline Project as well as my overall approach to photography and will be part of a larger survey showcasing the current state of contemporary American photography. Enjoy! 

From the Mainline is a project that draws on many personal interests and is intended to be a long term investment creatively. Franklin Boro and Mainline, View from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

From the Mainline is a project that draws on many personal interests and is intended to be a long term investment creatively. Franklin Boro and Mainline, View from East Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

NJK: You have been working on the Railroad project for approximately ten years. Can you please discuss the nature of the project from its inception to its current state

MFP: When I started the project From the Mainline, I was looking for something that connected a number of different personal interests, something big that I could dive into in phases and that would provide a sort of long-term return creatively. The railroad is what initially led me to pick up a camera, I wanted to get back to the subject but not in the sense of the trains themselves, I instead wanted to focus on the surviving infrastructure and landscape. I chose the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) because of its historical significance and the amount of surviving elements that would provide visual clues to juxtapose its past and current importance.  My initial approach was pretty simple, go out and follow the railroad between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh exploring the railroad right of way and the places the railroad served. 

Between trips I took a lot of time to look at the work and figure out what was missing, what the project needed to convey the scale and significance of the PRR. I turned to the historical work of William H. Rau, a commercial photographer who was commissioned in the 1890s by the PRR to illustrate the railroad for marketing purposes. The work really struck me on both a technical and conceptual level. Here you had a photographer who was looking at the pinnacle of transportation and engineering utilizing a medium that was also coming into its own. Photographing a railroad that spanned the wilds of western PA, a corridor of modernity that was the lifeline for industry and people alike, an engineered landscape very different from its surroundings. It was Rau’s work and others like him that enlightened me to just how significant the railroad was, not just in the sense of the their engineering accomplishments but also how towns and industry flourished because of the railroad’s presence. In addition to Rau the writing of Harvard Landscape Studies professor John Stilgoe helped to better understand the physical, cultural and social impact the railroads had, and how to sort of recognize these attributes in my own work. From this research my approach became more informed, thus did the work. I was beginning to realize my photographs along with writing and historical resources could do a more effective job in telling the story of the railroad and the towns it served. It was the story of America’s rise in the industrial revolution, developing the east and concurring the west. My role is to illustrate and disseminate the layers of history along this engineered landscape. Utilizing both the exhibition format and a more in depth blog format allows the work to be both creative and historically informative, something that really appeals to my creative approach. Like the photographers before me who were hired to document the American scene, I continue a tradition in celebrating one of the most important transportation networks in the United States and how it remains a different but vital part of the American landscape. 

NJK: There is a consistency in the aesthetic decisions and a timeless quality in the work. Can you talk briefly about your concept behind those aesthetic decisions?

MFP: Photography is great medium in that for me it is still part science, part creativity and make no mistake about it, the two are closely related. I typically work with a view camera, which lends itself to a slow methodical way of making pictures. The process, from lens selection, composition, exposure, development, scans and print is all very intuitive, very intentional. Recently I have introduced digital capture into the mix and even that is treated the same way. I have preferences in what light I like to work in, though sometimes beggars can’t be choosers, when you are 100 miles from home and railroad officials have committed to you for the day you have to make due with what you’re given. Being a good photographer means knowing the limits of your materials and how to manipulate what you have to get it to fit your visual aesthetic. I prefer black and white, I tend to print a little dark and a little flat, I like my work to be void of people, not because I don’t like them, but really because its about the timeless quality of these landscapes. The hand of industry and the railroads is implied, it doesn’t always need to be seen. 

NJK: I find in the mood and testimony of the photographs a link to the current industrial situation in small town America. Is there a connection towards that territory or is the project strictly based on the documentation of the PRR?
 

MFP: Like many other photographers in this genre I am not trying to make a political statement I am simply conveying the information to the viewer (though that sounds a bit oversimplified). Yes the work is about the railroad, but if you don’t connect it to the landscape it travels and the industry it serves or once served you are missing the point. The landscape and the railroad developed for two reasons, need and opportunity, there is a very important relationship between the two, and when industry or the railroad left small towns, it brought despair, hardship and wave of social and economical issues. 

I was in Mingo Junction, Ohio on a trip once, home to a massive Wheeling-Pitt steel plant and part of the PRR mainline to St Louis. I stopped to ask a gas station attendant if I could use the property to make a photograph of the mill, his reply was, “take all the pictures you want, the mill just closed yesterday, over 500 people are without jobs now”. I haven’t been back since, but I bet its different, I bet its pretty sad, but you know what, I’ve been to the towns where the mill still works, its not much different these days, the culture has changed. The owners of these mills are often international corporations, they aren’t building communities to attract employees anymore, and they are barely treading water to stay alive in cutthroat markets. In the ten years I have been doing this I have seen whole neighborhoods disappear, mills close, even rail lines abandoned, its part of the life cycle and unfortunately some parts of the country suffer from it more while others are insulated from just how bad it gets when the jobs leave town. The railroad is literally the string that threads together modern economies and those of the past, its an essential part to understanding the importance and heritage of these places and one of biggest reasons I embarked on this project. 

While From the Mainline is about the railroad I also take great care to consider the neighboring economies past and present to understand the larger life cycles of the surrounding landscape. View from West Singer Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

While From the Mainline is about the railroad I also take great care to consider the neighboring economies past and present to understand the larger life cycles of the surrounding landscape. View from West Singer Street, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

NKJ: From where do you derive inspiration for your work and what are some of the difficulties working on a project of such a large scale?

MFP: My inspiration comes from a number of sources. Photographically I can ramble off a dozen or more photographers: Walker Evans, Frank Gohlke, David Plowden, William Clift, William Rau, Carleton Watkins… the list goes on. But I also draw inspiration from the virtually nameless photographers, illustrators and graphic artists who worked for the railroads at various capacities. Graphic artists that captivated the fascination of potential travelers in brilliant full color adds, illustrators that sold albums of lithographs highlighting scenic vistas along the mainline. Company photographers who were the day-to-day people chronicling the less than glamorous life of small towns and railroad construction and maintenance, anonymous photos of natural disasters and even the occasional train wreck. They captured the energy, excitement and details of life along the line; for this project it is often the historical imagery that feeds the creative imagination.

As far as working on a large-scale project, I don’t see any issues to it; it’s like a long-term investment. In this day and age people have such a short attention span I often wonder if I am shooting myself in the foot, but our quest in life is to do something you enjoy and be excited about right? Well, guess what… I still am after 10 years. When I am not excited anymore, I’ll stop and move on, but honestly with the depth of history of the PRR and the landscape it travels I don’t see myself loosing interest anytime soon. For me its not just about making art, it’s about preservation and that is not always something that happens overnight. 

NJK: What are your intentions in communicating the work with the public and how do you promote and distinguish your work among a dense photographic community?

MFP: While I target the photographic community, most of my aim is toward a larger audience. I accomplish this through the usual mix of social media, email campaigns, and networking. Last year I had the opportunity to put together an exhibition for the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, NJ, a sort of a visual history of the last 100 years of railroading. It was great to put my work in the context of some the photographers in my top ten list of all time favorites, it was also fun to put together a show that had a level of visual sophistication that transcended a show of just a bunch of “train pictures” as some people would dismiss it as. 

I try to distinguish my work as being creative but also historically minded. I haven’t seen too many people with the level of commitment to a subject like this who have the balance between a good photographic and historical aesthetic, but as you said this is very saturated market. I am certainly not the only one reinventing the wheel. 

NJK: How is the work received among the preservation community, considering the historical component?

MFP: In the historical field abroad the work has been received with open arms, and I am forever grateful for that. These are people that have worked so hard to preserve so many facets of the late Pennsylvania Railroad and many others, some even worked from the railroads at one point or another. I was born 8 years after the company’s demise; I am just going on imagination and my visual ability to present historical facts and images along side my own perception of the railroad. To me the recognition from the historical community is more important and far more gratifying than making it big in the art world, it’s a diverse group of people who never cease to amaze me with their generosity, intellect and conversation. 

NJK: What is your advice to students and emerging photographers?

MFP: Don’t let a rejection set you back, present yourself as a professional and work as such. Even if it’s an assignment that doesn’t peak your personal interest dive into it head on, you might learn something. If you want to work in the field or be successful stick to your passion and always look to different mediums to expand your outlook on a given subject.

NJK: What is your opinion on the current state of American Photography, and the work that is promoted by photography dedicated platforms and social media nowadays?

MFP: I think it’s the same as it was 100 years ago. There are a lot of talented photographers out there, some rise to the top, some stay in the middle and others go unknown. The difference today is technology has leveled the playing field to a certain degree, but in reality, if you want to be successful you need to be visually literate and able to convey an idea in your own creative and unique way. That goes for fine art or commercial work. Social media floods us with visual resources day in and day out, most of it is crap, a few get lucky, but you can always pick out the professionals in their imagery, composition and presentation.

Winter News And Events

A new year brings new opportunities and so far 2016 seems to be living up to that expectation! Here are the latest updates for the first quarter of 2016. There will be several opportunities to view work from the Mainline and Watershed projects and soon I will be sharing a recent interview and lecture that are in the works. Stay tuned for more in the coming months and as always, thank you for your continued support!

Historical Imagery Credits: L. Collection of Michael Froio, C. Frederick Gutekunst, R. William N. Jennings, Both Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Historical Imagery Credits: L. Collection of Michael Froio, C. Frederick Gutekunst, R. William N. Jennings, Both Collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia

Upcoming Lecture: I am pleased to announce the first of several presentations of a new lecture I have been researching that explores the legacy the Pennsylvania Railroad left behind in photographs and how that imagery has influenced my own work. The presentation looks at several noted photographers commissioned to photograph the railroad while tying them to a visual dialogue with my own contemporary works exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad. 


News Briefs

Bay grass and ATV trails, Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania. One of two images from the Watershed series selected for an award by juror Heather Campbell Coyle for the Perkins Center for the Arts exhibition Photography 35. The show opens January 31st and runs through February 26th and is free and open to the public. 

Bay grass and ATV trails, Tinicum Township, Pennsylvania. One of two images from the Watershed series selected for an award by juror Heather Campbell Coyle for the Perkins Center for the Arts exhibition Photography 35. The show opens January 31st and runs through February 26th and is free and open to the public. 

Perkins Center for the Arts: Photography 35: I am happy to note that I have two pieces from the Watershed series in the Perkins Center annual juried photo exhibition, Photography 35 one of which received honors from juror Heather Campbell Coyle, Curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum. The exhibition runs from January 31st through February 26th, 2016 with an opening reception on Sunday, January 31st from 1-4 PM. This exhibition is free and open to the public, for more information visit the Perkins Center online

Mainline Art Center | 2016 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art Finalist
The Mainline Art Center of Haverford, Pennsylvania selected the Mainline project as one of seven finalists for the 2016 Meyer Family Award for Contemporary Art. The competition featured over 200 applicants and awarded three solo shows to artists representing a diverse base of mediums while honoring an additional seven finalists with Professional Artist programming throughout 2016. For more information on programs and exhibitions at the Mainline Art Center visit their website

Upcoming Interview: Photojournalist and Educator Niko J Kalliantiotis interviewed me for a new project titled From America with Love a curated platform hosted by the organization Orama Photos, Greece. The interview is part of a larger project showcasing the current state of contemporary American photography. Stay tuned for more, I will send out the interview when it goes live! 

Upcoming Exhibition: From the Mainline: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad | Camera Work Gallery, Scranton, Pennsylvania 

I am very excited to announce the first solo exhibition featuring the Mainline project in a town rich with railroad history. The show will feature some 20 images from the project in a gallery space located in the historic Laundry Building in downtown Scranton. The show runs from March 4th through the 29th, with an opening reception on March 4th from 6-8 PM. More details will follow in the coming weeks! 

Happy Holidays! Seasonal Favorites from Photographs & History


Dear Friends,
 
Reflecting on another wonderful year I would like to thank you all for your continued support. The Mainline project and all its associated endeavors continue to move ahead with 2016 shaping up to be a great year for new projects, exhibitions and lectures. I have put together some of my favorite holiday posts for you to enjoy and as always new content will resume in the new year.
 
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael Froio


The Night Before Christmas | Paintings by PRR employee William W. Seigford Jr.

This time of year, family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays with traditions developed over generations. As a part of our family tradition I have the pleasure to read to my children on Christmas Eve as my father did before, the fabled poem, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. First published anonymously in December of 1823, it is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem on Christmas Eve.

The story and illustrations presented here were made in 1953 by Pennsylvania Railroad employee, William W. Seigford Jr. who maintained an office at the Harrisburg Passenger Station. They were displayed in the station during the Christmas season alternating with other decorations for several years until Seigford was transferred to Cincinnati in 1956. The paintings were never displayed in Cincinnati but remained in Seigford’s possession until he retired from Penn Central as General Foreman of Passenger Locomotives and Cars in July of 1974. After retirement he returned to the Lancaster area and subsequently donated the paintings to Amtrak’s Lancaster Passenger Station for display during the Christmas season. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central, all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 waiting room under the watchful eye of Amtrak employees Richard Peiffer and Donna Whitney, who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

I would like to acknowledge Mr. William (Bill) L. Seigford for his help on this post as well as his continued support on the Mainline Project, his knowledge and generosity have been a invaluable resource.


Lionel Trains | A Holiday Tradition

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the author.

With modest beginnings Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900, building model trains for retail window displays to help draw consumers to their stores. In 1906 the company responded to the increasing demand for the electric trains in the consumer market and developed its trademark three-rail “standard gage” track to simplify wiring and use of accessories.  By 1915 Lionel would supplement the large standard gage with the budget minded O scale which would later become the standard size of their product lines. Lionel’s use of sharp advertising was ultimately responsible for tying model trains to Christmas, making them popular presents during the holidays, establishing traditions that survive today.  By WWI Lionel was one of three major US manufactures of toy trains, surpassing competitor Ives as the market leader by the 1920’s. Lionel’s growth and aggressive ad campaigns further led to Ives' bankruptcy in 1928. More


Holiday Travel | Vintage Holiday Advertising from the Golden Age of Railroading

You must select a collection to display.

A selection of vintage advertising from the Duke University Library Archives

The Liberty Limited

When putting together the Army Navy game article I kept trying to figure out how to to tie in the Liberty Limited story while maintaining a balance between the historical content and the magnificent effort that the Levin family and many others put forth to honor some of our finest. The truth is that story deserves its own piece, so after a conversation with Bennett, rather than reinvent the wheel I am delighted to be able to reproduce Ronnie Polaneczky's article published in the Philadelphia Daily News on December 22, 2005. This piece followed the first Liberty Limited special and has been shared world wide. Enjoy! 

AND NOW, in time for the holidays, I bring you the best Christmas story you never heard.

It started last Christmas, when Bennett and Vivian Levin were overwhelmed by sadness while listening to radio reports of injured American troops. "We have to let them know we care," Vivian told Bennett. So they organized a trip to bring soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philly, on Dec. 3. The cool part is, they created their own train line to do it. Yes, there are people in this country who actually own real trains. Bennett Levin - native Philly guy, self-made millionaire and irascible former L&I commish - is one of them. He has three luxury rail cars. Think mahogany paneling, plush seating and white-linen dining areas. He also has two locomotives, which he stores at his Juniata Park train yard. One car, the elegant Pennsylvania, carried John F. Kennedy to the Army-Navy game in 1961 and '62. Later, it carried his brother Bobby's body to D.C. for burial. "That's a lot of history for one car," says Bennett.

Passing through Chase Maryland, on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the Liberty Limited, powered by Bennett Levin's 2 E8 locomotives pulling 19 private cars carrying military personnel wounded in the service of our country, is enroute from Washington, D.C. to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. Waving a flag that had flown over our nation's capitol, retired Army Reserve Colonel Lex Bishop lets the military personnel aboard the special train know that their service & sacrifice is appreciated. Photography by Don Kalkman Jr. 

Passing through Chase Maryland, on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the Liberty Limited, powered by Bennett Levin's 2 E8 locomotives pulling 19 private cars carrying military personnel wounded in the service of our country, is enroute from Washington, D.C. to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. Waving a flag that had flown over our nation's capitol, retired Army Reserve Colonel Lex Bishop lets the military personnel aboard the special train know that their service & sacrifice is appreciated. Photography by Don Kalkman Jr. 

He and Vivian wanted to revive a tradition that endured from 1936 to 1975, during which trains carried Army-Navy spectators from around the country directly to the stadium where the annual game is played. The Levins could think of no better passengers to reinstate the ceremonial ride than the wounded men and women recovering at Walter Reed in D.C. and Bethesda, in Maryland. "We wanted to give them a first-class experience," says Bennett. "Gourmet meals on board, private transportation from the train to the stadium, perfect seats - real hero treatment. "Through the Army War College Foundation, of which he is a trustee, Bennett met with Walter Reed's commanding general, who loved the idea. But Bennett had some ground rules first, all designed to keep the focus on the troops alone: No press on the trip, lest the soldiers' day of pampering devolve into a media circus. No politicians either, because, says Bennett, "I didn't want some idiot making this trip into a campaign photo op. " And no Pentagon suits on board, otherwise the soldiers would be too busy saluting superiors to relax. The general agreed to the conditions, and Bennett realized he had a problem on his hands. "I had to actually make this thing happen," he laughs.

Over the next months, he recruited owners of 15 other sumptuous rail cars from around the country - these people tend to know each other - into lending their vehicles for the day. The name of their temporary train? The Liberty Limited . Amtrak volunteered to transport the cars to D.C. - where they'd be coupled together for the round-trip ride to Philly - then back to their owners later. Conrail offered to service the Liberty while it was in Philly. And SEPTA drivers would bus the disabled soldiers 200 yards from the train to Lincoln Financial Field, for the game. A benefactor from the War College ponied up 100 seats to the game - on the 50-yard line - and lunch in a hospitality suite. And corporate donors filled, for free and without asking for publicity, goodie bags for attendees: From Woolrich, stadium blankets. From Wal-Mart, digital cameras. From Nikon, field glasses. From GEAR, down jackets. There was booty not just for the soldiers, but for their guests, too, since each was allowed to bring a friend or family member. The Marines, though, declined the offer. "They voted not to take guests with them, so they could take more Marines," says Levin, choking up at the memory.

Bennett's an emotional guy, so he was worried about how he'd react to meeting the 88 troops and guests at D.C.'s Union Station, where the trip originated. Some GIs were missing limbs. Others were wheelchair-bound or accompanied by medical personnel for the day. "They made it easy to be with them," he says. "They were all smiles on the ride to Philly. Not an ounce of self-pity from any of them. They're so full of life and determination. "At the stadium, the troops reveled in the game, recalls Bennett. Not even Army's lopsided loss to Navy could deflate the group's rollicking mood. Afterward, it was back to the train and yet another gourmet meal - heroes get hungry, says Levin - before returning to Walter Reed and Bethesda. "The day was spectacular," says Levin. "It was all about these kids. It was awesome to be part of it. " The most poignant moment for the Levins was when 11 Marines hugged them goodbye, then sang them the Marine Hymn on the platform at Union Station. "One of the guys was blind, but he said, 'I can't see you, but man, you must be f---ing beautiful!' " says Bennett. "I got a lump so big in my throat, I couldn't even answer him. "

It's been three weeks, but the Levins and their guests are still feeling the day's love. "My Christmas came early," says Levin, who is Jewish and who loves the Christmas season. "I can't describe the feeling in the air. " Maybe it was hope. As one guest wrote in a thank-you note to Bennett and Vivian, "The fond memories generated last Saturday will sustain us all - whatever the future may bring. "

God bless the Levins.

And bless the troops, every one. *

Special thanks to Ronnie Polaneczky for allowing me to share this article and a very special thank you to the Levin family and the many people involved with the Liberty Limited trips for this truly wonderful effort, your spirit and generosity are an inspiration to all!

To the Game: A Pennsylvania Railroad Tradition

Grif Teller's "Mass Transportation" circa 1955 depicts the Army Navy game trains cued up in preparation for the flood of spectators returning from the annual Army Navy Classic. The image illustrates the massive commitment the PRR made to provide game day service ranging from the allocation of equipment to the conversion of a major freight terminal into a temporary passenger station all for a one a day event! 

Grif Teller's "Mass Transportation" circa 1955 depicts the Army Navy game trains cued up in preparation for the flood of spectators returning from the annual Army Navy Classic. The image illustrates the massive commitment the PRR made to provide game day service ranging from the allocation of equipment to the conversion of a major freight terminal into a temporary passenger station all for a one a day event! 

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 marks the 116th year of the annual college football classic between the rival teams of the United States Military Academy of West Point, New York and the United States Naval Academy of Annapolis, Maryland. The tradition started in 1890 and has run continuously since 1899 with the exception of just four years. The event has been held in several cities over the years but Philadelphia was often the regular host as it was roughly equidistant from both academies.  In Philadelphia the venue was held in several locations, games during the early 20th Century were held at University of Penn’s Franklin Field, in 1936 the game moved to Municipal Stadium, a product of the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition. Municipal Stadium (later renamed JFK stadium) was located at the southern end of Broad Street and would remain the primary location until moving to the new Veterans Stadium in 1980 then to the Lincoln Financial Field in 2003.

Despite having limited public transportation access (the Broad Street Line to Pattison Ave would not be built until 1973) the move to Municipal Stadium was ideal for the event for two primary reasons; the stadium had plenty of capacity to handle the crowds and it was in close proximity to the PRR’s sprawling Greenwich Yard. Capitalizing on the location, the PRR transformed the rail yard from a major import - export coal and iron ore facility into a passenger station to receive thousands of midshipmen, cadets, spectators and dignitaries on game day. Requiring a year of planning and weeks of work "on the ground" before the event the railroad transformed the terminal and freight only Delaware Extension and West Philadelphia Elevated Branch into a high volume passenger conduit to connect trains from all directions to the venue for just a single day.

Location plan circa 1954 illustrating the conversion of the Delaware Freight Extension and sprawling Greenwich Yard into a temporary passenger mainline and terminal. The plan highlights the close proximity of the PRR's facilities to Municipal Stadium. Note that the Baltimore & Ohio also provided some service to the Army Navy Games vie East Side Yard and a connection at Penrose Avenue. Collection of Keystone Crossings 

The Pennsylvania’s Army Navy game service quickly became one of the most concentrated passenger operations in the United States. Initial service in 1936 offered 38 special trains to the event and by 1941 the operation hosted 42.  After a three-year hiatus due to the wartime travel restrictions rail service to the game resumed in 1946 with 37 trains continuing an annual tradition that operated at various levels under the Penn Central and Amtrak well into the 2000’s.

Though the Army Navy game trains eventually ceased, noted PRR preservationist and Philadelphia businessman Bennett Levin sought to bring back the tradition for a very special occasion. Saddened by the reports of injured troops returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Levin and his wife Vivian looked to renew the tradition providing a special day to honor these soldiers. The Levin family spearheaded an effort with the help of countless agencies, officials, private railcar owners and an army of volunteers to assemble a train of luxury private rail cars to operate a special train from Washington DC. Recovering troops from the Walter Reed and National Naval Medical Centers would be transported to Union Station boarding a train that would travel the original route of PRR specials to the Army Navy Classic in Philadelphia. After the train’s arrival at the former PRR Greenwich Yard, Septa busses would take guests the remaining distance to Lincoln Financial Field to enjoy the game from premium seats at the 50-yard line.

The Liberty Limited ran in 2005, 2006 and 2010. After the initial success of the 2005 trip the special was given a high priority by hospital commanders and medical treatment was arranged around the trip date to ensure troops could attend. The 2006 trip was the most sought after and eagerly anticipated “outside event” for troops recovering from war related injuries at both Walter Reed and the National Naval Hospital according to George Weightman, MD the Commanding Officer at Walter Reed. When announced, the 2006 trip sold out immediately with another 65 soldiers on a stand-by list. Not wanting to turn soldiers away, changes were made to the train’s consist to ensure no “soldier, sailor or Marine would be left behind!” The 2006 trip would ultimately take 132 wounded warriors, invited guests and 26 medical staff to the game. With no press, politicians or Pentagon officials these men and women were treated to a first class experience in honor of their sacrifice for our country.

Giving Thanks

Collection of John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries.

Collection of John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries.

Taking a moment to think of all the men and women who sacrifice their time for the greater good of our country, those who can't celebrate with family on a day we associate with large family gatherings and bountiful feasts. From our military, police and transportation workers, take pause to give thanks to the people who make these sacrifices for the good of our nation.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Michael Froio

Revisiting the Atglen & Susquehanna

The Bridge at Martic Forge

Returning to the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, part of the PRR’s Low Grade freight network we pick up from Shenk’s Ferry where the line pulls away from the Susquehanna River to cross southern Lancaster County. From the high fill above the river the A&S makes a hard turn east to face the first formidable obstacle; crossing the switchback divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the deep Pequea Valley.

 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

The Martic Forge trestle was situated between two deep cuts excavated through Prospect and Red Hill deriving its name from a neighboring charcoal iron furnace that was active during the Revolutionary War. Utilizing a similar approach to the Conestoga (Safe Harbor) and the Little Brandywine Creek crossing in Downingtown, the trestle is a combination of 10 plate steel deck girders on bents supported by masonry piers with an inverted deck truss for the expanded section over the creek itself. The bridge measured approximately 630’ long and soared 149 feet above the valley floor. The structure was originally constructed with an open timber deck, which was later closed and ballasted at an unknown date. In addition to spanning the creek, the Low Grade also crossed the Pequea Electric Railway, a trolley line that ran until 1930 between Lancaster and retreat camps near the village of Pequea where the creek empties out into the Susquehanna. Places like the Martic trestle illustrate the Low Grade’s intention to bridge the land rather than to foster growth in between, soaring over life in the valley, a theme common to this line across southern Lancaster County. 

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Over the last few years Martic Township has restored the deck of the Martic Forge Bridge, providing the current eastern anchor point on the continually growing Low Grade trail. Visitors are treated to beautiful views of the Pequea Valley where countless freights once moved in an area that was largely inaccessible until the railroad’s abandonment. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

Crossing Mine Ridge

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the mainline but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

Looking west into Eby's curve the railroad traverses a fill across the timeless Amish farmland as it enters the Pequea Valley. The curve used to host four main tracks like much of the mainline but much of the heavy tonnage would be diverted away from this segment after the  Atglen & Susquehanna branch opened in 1906. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the mainline towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the mainline of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

With Mine Ridge in the distance a fill carries the mainline towards the summit from the west as it crosses between the Pequea and Chester Valleys. This area defined the ruling grade on the mainline of the Philadelphia Division and continues to be the most challenging part of Amtrak's Keystone line. 

Passing through the pastoral Lancaster County landscape the eastbound ascent of Mine Ridge takes the PRR mainline around a series of reverse curves that carry the railroad over the 560’ summit dividing the Pequea and Chester Valleys. Gap, a quaint community whose history dates back to when William Penn visited the area late in the 1600’s is located at the crossroads of the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike and the Newport Turnpike. The small village of roughly 1900 residents is divided by the first pair of significant curves on the mainline including the 4° Eby’s curve and the 4° Gap curve. To attain the summit the railroad climbs a .56% ruling grade and enters a cut on the Gap curve through Mine Ridge, limiting trains to a maximum of 50mph. Through William H. Brown's improvement years there were several attempts to reduce curvature of the route, but an ambitious project was proposed to eliminate the curves all together in the first quarter of the 20th century. With an estimated cost of $2.7 million, the realignment would require the removal of a large piece of Mine Ridge to eliminate a total of four curves with one large gentle arc, increasing speeds from 50 to 90 mph and reducing average travel time by 1.5 minutes. Alas the realignment was deemed too costly for the time and was never revisited, leaving the same basic arrangement that survives today now part of Amtrak's Keystone Line.

The Paoli Local: 100 Years of Electrification on the Pennsylvania Railroad

At 5:55 AM, Saturday, September 11th 1915 the first scheduled electric powered train departed Paoli for Philadelphia marking the beginning of one of the most famous railroad electrification projects in the United States. 

Overbrook Station marks the location where the Pennsylvania Railroad crosses from the Philadelphia city line into the suburban district knows locally as the Mainline. This location is full of PRR character including the station built in 1860, a PRR standard design interlocking tower and the original details from the first phase of the PRR's great electrification project. 

Overbrook Station marks the location where the Pennsylvania Railroad crosses from the Philadelphia city line into the suburban district knows locally as the Mainline. This location is full of PRR character including the station built in 1860, a PRR standard design interlocking tower and the original details from the first phase of the PRR's great electrification project. 

At the close of 1910 the Pennsylvania Railroad had certainly accomplished some remarkable projects. The building of Penn Station and the Hudson and East River Tunnels was an engineering feat that put the railroad at a major advantage over many others, giving them direct access to New York City while establishing a through connection to New England markets.  Out of necessity the new terminal utilized trains running on a proven direct current third rail system, as steam engines would literally suffocate passengers in the lengthy tunnels. The PRR had already begun utilizing DC propulsion on routes previous to the terminal as a way to economize operations and included subsidiaries Long Island Railroad and part of the West Jersey & Seashore. To the north the New Haven had just inaugurated heavy electrified mainline service utilizing a new alternating current installation in 1907, but with little time to observe the New Haven’s technology the PRR’s conservative management instead chose the proven DC system.

Soon after the New York terminal project was completed, engineering forces turned their attention to a major traffic bottleneck in the PRR’s corporate home of Philadelphia. Broad Street Station, built by the Wilson Brothers in 1881 and expanded by Frank Furness in 1892-93 was a 16-track stub ended terminal that was situated in the city center directly across from city hall. Broad Street saw a host of trains including commuter and long distance trains that stopped, terminated or originated here; because of the nature of a stub end terminal and a lengthily and congested reverse move to the engine facilities west of the Schuylkill River, trains faced a host of delays limiting Broad Street’s capacity and efficiency. In order to ease congestion the PRR turned to engineering consultant Gibbs & Hill to develop a solution utilizing electric traction, but this time with AC propulsion. Now several years into the New Haven’s electrification the PRR could capitalize on their triumphs while incorporating technological advances to perfect the new installation. A simplified infrastructure and commercial power purchased from Philadelphia Electric made AC propulsion very economical over DC which required the railroad to construction dedicated power plants. With a supply agreement in place the PRR and Philadelphia Electric could easily expand the network over the next several years, sharing the power generation expansion cost with other commercial and industrial customers.

The western terminus of the 1915 electrification was Paoli, Pennsylvania just 20 miles west of Broad Street Station. Here in a modern view we look west toward the interlocking tower and former shop facility used to service the MP54 MU cars. Telltale details of the 1915 electrification include both the lattice style and tubular trolley poles that support the catenary system. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The western terminus of the 1915 electrification was Paoli, Pennsylvania just 20 miles west of Broad Street Station. Here in a modern view we look west toward the interlocking tower and former shop facility used to service the MP54 MU cars. Telltale details of the 1915 electrification include both the lattice style and tubular trolley poles that support the catenary system. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The initial phase of electrification would be a costly investment due to the complexities of the Philadelphia Terminal’s trackage.  Once completed however, it could not only support electrified Paoli service but also mainline service to Wilmington, Trenton, the West Chester Branch and Chestnut Hill branch freeing up valuable terminal space while maximizing the benefit of the initial cost. Power would be supplied by the Schuylkill River generating station and transmitted across the river to the Arsenal Bridge sub-station then on to the West Philly, Bryn Mawr and Paoli sub-stations. Here the 25 cycle 44,000 volt single phase power would be stepped down to 11,000 volts and fed to trains via overhead trolley lines supported by cable suspension supports strung between tubular steel trolley poles. The route to Paoli was 20 miles in length and electrification included wiring a coach yard and service facility in the West Philadelphia shops as well as a new facility in Paoli, a total of roughly 93 miles of track. Initially limited to just the Paoli commuter runs the electrification would power some 80 plus trains a day while affording an 8% overall increase in capacity at Broad Street. Though this seems like a small advantage for such a significant investment, the PRR looked to the future making this the first of several steps to dramatically increase capacity by expanding electric operations off the initial hub.

Two of the original sub-station buildings still survive along the mainline at Bryn Mawr (L) and Paoli (R). Note to the right of the Paoli sub-station the vacant land which was the location of the Paoli shops.

Two of the original sub-station buildings still survive along the mainline at Bryn Mawr (L) and Paoli (R). Note to the right of the Paoli sub-station the vacant land which was the location of the Paoli shops.

While planning, design and construction of the Paoli electrification was taking place, the PRR turned to the proven class P54 steel coach that was already in production. Though only a basic coach design the PRR had incorporated provisions in the plans to accommodate electrification and operating components when it was time to develop a fleet of self-propelled multiple unit (MU) cars. These motorcars would largely makeup the initial fleet of the PRR’s electric operations until suitable locomotives were developed to haul long distance trains. Classified as MP54's many were already in electrified service on the Long Island and WJ&S utilizing DC propulsion. The MP54 fleet eventually comprised of over 1400 cars; 480 ran on the PRR proper, 923 on the Long Island Railroad and 18 on the WJ&S /PRSL, some of which outlasted the PRR itself, remaining in operation through 1981.

Detail of the Union Switch & Signal interlocking machine at Paoli tower. Though still in service the interlocking plant here and the facility's importance has been greatly reduced with the elimination of the shops. The model board reflects the abandoned #2 and #3 main tracks west of the interlocking. 

Detail of the Union Switch & Signal interlocking machine at Paoli tower. Though still in service the interlocking plant here and the facility's importance has been greatly reduced with the elimination of the shops. The model board reflects the abandoned #2 and #3 main tracks west of the interlocking. 

With the first phase of electrification a success the railroad continued expansion from the Broad Street terminal, next on the Chestnut Hill branch in 1918 and the White Marsh branch in 1924. Concurrent to the expansion of the PRR’s electrified network other notable projects commenced, one of great importance was the Philadelphia Improvements. With heavy construction beginning in 1927 the PRR sought to replace Broad Street Station with a new subterranean station and office tower called Suburban Station and Penn center respectively. All north-south oriented mainline trains would utilize a new through station on the west bank of the Schuylkill River called 30th Street Station. East-west trains utilized an upgraded facility out on the mainline in North Philadelphia to eliminate the need to reverse out of the terminal to continue after stopping since 30th was actually off the New York-Pittsburgh mainline. Commuter trains in and out of Suburban would also service 30th Street from a separate upper level reducing the concentration of travelers separating commuter operations from the long distance and regional trains. 

Though the massive Philadelphia Improvements took years to complete electrification continued at a rapid rate extending south to Wilmington on the mainline including the branch to West Chester in 1928 and north on the mainline to Trenton and the Schuylkill Valley Branch to Norristown in 1930 completing the electrification of all Philadelphia region suburban lines. Further studies reiterated the economical advantage of electrification outside the commuter zones for regional and long distance trains between New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Harrisburg, prompting PRR president William Wallace Atterbury to close the gaps in electrification beginning late in 1928. Despite the Great Depression the electrification project continued through 1933, completing the retrofit of the New York Terminal for AC traction and finishing catenary work to complete the network to Wilmington and Paoli. Understanding that Wilmington would not be a suitable southern terminal for electrification, catenary was pushed south to Washington DC including Potomac Yard, financed by a $70 million loan secured from depression era federal recovery programs. Beginning in January of 1934, various reports say up to 20,000 men went to work, comprising of furloughed railroad employees and new hires in the electrical / construction trades to complete the electrification of the New York – Washington DC mainline, which opened for business on February 10th 1935. As a result of the success on the north-south “corridor” the PRR sought to complete electrification from the eastern seaboard west to the Harrisburg terminal including all associated freight and passenger mainlines. Work commenced on the Low Grade from Morrisville to Enola, the mainline from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Columbia Branch and Port Road. Completed in 1938 the entire electrification created a powerful conduit that put the railroad in an excellent position to handle the impending pressure of wartime traffic demands.

View looking east at the western limits of the Paoli interlocking plant. Number 2 and 3 track mains (center tracks) are basically stub end sidings here used occasionaly for track and maintenance equipment. The surviving infrastructure of the electrification reflects various generations of expansion including the massive singnal bridge, tubular trolley poles and the sub-station. This would have been some of the western most electrified trackage until the 1938 expansion to Harrisburg. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

View looking east at the western limits of the Paoli interlocking plant. Number 2 and 3 track mains (center tracks) are basically stub end sidings here used occasionaly for track and maintenance equipment. The surviving infrastructure of the electrification reflects various generations of expansion including the massive singnal bridge, tubular trolley poles and the sub-station. This would have been some of the western most electrified trackage until the 1938 expansion to Harrisburg. Note: This photograph was taken with Amtrak permission under watchman protection, the author does not condone any type of trespassing on railroad or private property. 

The electrified infrastructure of the PRR mainline has remained visibly the same over the ensuing decades despite modifications and renewal. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail and Amtrak the sub-stations, tubular catenary poles and surviving interlocking towers remain along with many original station buildings preserving the character of the Mainline, a name synonymous not only with the railroad but towns along the route to Paoli. As Amtrak continues to renew their electric traction system the original details of the 1915 electrification, now part of the successful Keystone Corridor could be on borrowed time. There are plans being developed that would call for a total replacement of the 1915 era catenary system. The construction of larger modern support towers similar to those found on the Northeast Corridor will allow Amtrak to move feeder and transmission lines to the railroad right of way much like later phases of electrification did. For now while you ride the Paoli Local or one of Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains take note of the historical infrastructure that survives, that infrastructure around you was part of the one the most ambitious and successful railroad electrification projects in the world!

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

Leaving the city of Lancaster the PRR mainline snakes its way across the rich agricultural landscape of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in central eastern Lancaster County. 

Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad snakes its way through small hamlets like Bird in Hand, Ronks, Gordonville, Leaman Place Junction and Kinzer arcing gently through the heart of central eastern Lancaster County. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonite farmers offering a unique contrast between modern living and the simple life these people traditionally live.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The mainline, part of the original Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was the site of several improvements including grade separation and curve realignments along the route. Often in winter while riding the south side of the train the bare trees reveal traces of abandoned alignments especially around Kinzer where an early stone arch bridge and small fill once crossed Vintage Road south of the “new” mainline. Eastbound trains face a .56% ruling grade approaching the crossing of Mine Ridge on a typical stretch of right of way for the PRR; Several brick freight houses survive, all constructed in a similar style around 1860, W.H. Brown era overpasses and culverts and two notable stone masonry arch bridges that cross the Mill Creek near Smoketown and the Pequea Creek in Paradise, all under a veil of catenary from the final 1938 phase of electrification.  

At Leaman Place Junction, connection was made with the Strasburg Railroad now a well known tourist operation that was originally chartered in 1832 to connect with the P&C. Operational by 1837 utilizing horse drawn coaches on rails the Strasburg purchased a locomotive constructed by the Norris Locomotive Works named the William Penn in 1851. 

 

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR mainline include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR mainline include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

By the 20th Century the Strasburg had changed ownership several times and passenger ridership suffered from the competition of Conestoga Traction Company’s streetcar routes into the city of Lancaster. Ultimately the line was put up for abandonment in the late 1950’s when Henry K Long, an area railfan organized a non-profit to save the line.  Commencing tourist operations in 1959 the Strasburg railroad has been a cornerstone of Lancaster County’s tourism trade offering steam powered train rides through the unspoiled PA Dutch countryside. The railroad has been unique in its mission, centered not only on operations but also working to preserve the historical landscape and feel of a turn of the century railroad while running a healthy freight business and a full service shop for Strasburg and contract restorations.

The Downingtown & Lancaster Branch

While the Mainline Tour has kept focus on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s major east-west main and freight by-passes on the Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path as we leave the Lancaster area to explore the former Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad, an interesting branch line operation that may have been the result of early efforts to expand the PRR soon after its charter. 

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR mainline just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the mainline where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR mainline just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the mainline where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

Early History: Surviving segment of Thomson’s Poker Game? No sooner than the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s mainline from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh the fledging carrier looked to expand its empire by purchasing rights, property and franchises to gain entry to new markets and expand upon their existing system. Largely driven by third president, J. Edgar Thomson, one of the largest single objectives was to gain direct access to Philadelphia. This would require control of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, an 82-mile rail route that connected Philadelphia to the canal system at the P&C’s western terminus Columbia, all of which was part of the state-owned Mainline of Public Works. Though poorly engineered and in deplorable condition due to the mounting debt of the entire operation, the route had potential if the right funding could be secured and a staff of knowledgeable railroad men could be utilized to plan and execute improvements. This however would not be the problem for Thomson; it was more so the state who demanded a hefty sum for the Mainline of Public Works in its entirety with the clause that all parts of the system be improved and remain operational.  Thompson's response? Build another railroad and marginalize the state system.  Thus attention was focused on the recently incorporated Lancaster, Lebanon & Pine Grove Railroad, a start up enterprise looking to establish a connection between the Norristown Railroad and the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad which would essentially make the need for the P&C irrelevant. Founded in 1852, Christian Spangler a prominent Philadelphia businessman was named commissioner of the new line. Spangler, also a PRR board member would soon be named president of the railroad in 1853.  In the spring of the same year survey crews worked between Lebanon and Cornwall doing just enough work to look like the Lancaster & Pine Grove would come to fruition.

Detail of the 1855 map under Chief Engineer H. P Haupt shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad (across the upper center area of the map) which would eliminate the need to purchase the State's failing Mainline of Public Works. Though the route was never built the similarities of the line with Downingtown & Lancaster branch makes one wonder if the property had once been considered to be part of the plan had the Commonwealth and the PRR never came to terms. Map collection of the Library of Congress

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

In 1854, facing the reality of an investment that now accounted for almost all of the Commonwealth’s debt, fear of financial ruin motivated the state legislature to pass an act to sell the Mainline of Public Works in its entirety for the highest bidder above 10 Million dollars. The PRR wouldn’t budge; Thomson continued his bluff letting contracts to begin minimal construction with no intention of building an actual railroad but rather to force the hand of canal commissioners to sell on the PRR’s terms and price point.  For the next three years Thomson continued to wage his bets, showing public support for the construction of the Lancaster & Pine Grove. In 1855 the state legislature authorized another sale complete with operational clauses for the State Works to be sold at a minimum bid of $7.5 million; still no takers. Finally in 1857 a third bill was authorized for sale at or above $7.5 million including all rolling stock and property.  With no other offers the PRR took control of the Mainline of Public Works in its entirety on August 1st, 1857.  Now that Thomson had the last piece of railroad to complete a wholly owned mainline between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad would be dropped.

 

While the bidding war for the PRR to assumed control of P&C raged on, the East Brandywine Railroad had chartered in 1854, building an 18 mile line between the mainline at Downingtown and Waynesburg (later Honebrook), Pennsylvania. Commencing operations in 1860 and reorganizing as the East Brandywine & Waynesburg Railroad Company the railroad extended another ten miles west to New Holland by 1876 operating in rich agricultural country. The line was operated by the PRR under leases until June of 1888, when the property was sold under foreclosure and the company reorganized as the Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad Company.  The road would later be extended from New Holland to Conestoga Junction, a total of 9.8 miles, opening for traffic in September of 1890 with the PRR operating the entire line as agent. The Downingtown & Lancaster was never intended to operate as a primary route, with a ruling grade of 1.6% westward, but the rural line did service the agricultural region with connections to the mainline at both ends. When comparing the proposed route of the Lancaster & Pine Grove on Herman Haupt’s 1855 map the uncanny similarity of the route with parts of the D&L makes one wonder if the alignment is surviving property that was pawn to Thompson’s high stakes poker game to gain control of the P&C. 

 

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The Downingtown & Lancaster in the 20th Century: In 1903 the 37.5 mile line, property and franchises were officially purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operation remained much the same as it had for some time. New Holland was one of the larger centers for traffic on the branch, originally home to New Holland Machine, Musselman Brother’s Feed and Lumber, EM Rutter & Co. among several others. One particular company stood out later becoming a major shipper on the branch; New Holland Machine. Founded in 1875 by Abraham Zimmerman a black smith and mechanical genius, Zimmerman began offering his services to area farmers in need of repair or fabrication of farming equipment. Zimmerman grew his business carefully watching the rising need for the internal combustion engines in the farming industry.  Despite imperfect designs Zimmerman saw potential in these machines and sought to improve them by developing a new freeze proof water-cooled engine.  By 1903 Zimmerman had incorporated the New Holland Machine Company hiring 40 employees to mass-produce the engines in a facility located on Franklin Street.  Other items in Zimmerman’s product line included feed grinders, rock crushers and wood saws. By 1911 the company had grown to 150 employees and in 1927 the company employed 225. In 1947 the Sperry Corporation purchased New Holland Machine becoming Sperry-New Holland. Since the acquisition the company has changed hands several times and is now a brand of CNH Global which is majority owned by Fiat International. The New Holland, PA location remains the North American headquarters and is one of the largest plants for manufacturing hay tools in the world.

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

William L. Seigford hired with the PRR in December of 1959 and was later promoted and transferred from the West Coast territory of the PRR to the Harrisburg Division where he was assigned to the Lancaster Territory. Locally based in the Lancaster area, part of his territory included the New Holland Branch. Among other major shippers, Bill worked closely with Sperry – New Holland, who received both inbound steel from various mills and shipped finished product. At one particular time during the final years of the Penn Central era Sperry was experiencing a surge in production and the railroad had difficulty providing the necessary flat cars on a daily basis to move the finished product. Bill recalls, “Sperry’s traffic manager came up with the idea to charter a small plane to fly over the railroad in order to scout empty flat cars sitting in yards or sidings and insisted I go with them. We flew over Enola then on up the Middle Division to Lewistown where they (Sperry) loaded flatcars at the public delivery tracks with product from their Belleville Plant.” Through a stop off arrangement written in the PRR tariffs, these flat cars would be partially loaded in New Holland then shipped to either the Mountville plant or Lewistown to be completed depending on what dealers out west needed in their shipment. During the early Conrail era, Philadelphia’s marketing offices quickly realized they were loosing money on the additional stop off and sought to put an end to the unprofitable arrangement. Shipment of outbound loads tapered off ending in the early 1980's but the plant continued to received inbound steel for a few more years until Sperry had the necessary trucking companies to haul both. 

The D&L faced several abandonments with the first major change in the 1950’s when 8 miles were abandoned severing the line’s end points. By the 1960’s the entire east end from Downingtown was gone and Honeybrook (formerly Waynesburg) was the far end of the branch from Lancaster. Conrail continued to cut the line back eventually making East Earl the end of the line. Today trackage ends on the far-east end of New Holland near New Holland Cement. The remainder of the extant line in service connects with the former PRR mainline in Lancaster at Conestoga interlocking continuing 12.8 miles to the end of track. Though Sperry-New Holland doesn’t ship by rail the branch remains very profitable, being served today Monday through Friday by Norfolk Southern's locals H28 and H29 (afternoon relief crew) and is home to major shippers like Dart Container, L&S Sweeteners, RR Donnelley Printing and several others.  

I would like to acknowledge both William L. Seigford and Mark Hoffman for taking the time to show me around the branch and share a wealth of information on the operations and local history of the New Holland branch through its later PRR, PC and Conrail operations.

By Rail to the Boardwalk

Pennsylvania Railroad Class K4 Pacific 4595 takes on water from track tanks inside the gage of the rail at Ancora, New Jersey. The track tanks allowed steam engines to take on water at speed to avoid lengthly service stops and tying up the mainline and were once a common practice in many places along parent road, Pennsylvania Railroad. The ubiquitous PRR Class K4 was one of many locomotives the parent company provided to the PRSL for service. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

Pennsylvania Railroad Class K4 Pacific 4595 takes on water from track tanks inside the gage of the rail at Ancora, New Jersey. The track tanks allowed steam engines to take on water at speed to avoid lengthly service stops and tying up the mainline and were once a common practice in many places along parent road, Pennsylvania Railroad. The ubiquitous PRR Class K4 was one of many locomotives the parent company provided to the PRSL for service. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

Every Memorial Day marks the beginning of a tradition in the Delaware Valley where thousands of families migrate “down the shore” for summer vacations along the Garden State’s sandy beaches. Today it largely involves a flux of vehicular traffic on the congested 42 Freeway and Atlantic City Expressway, making an already miserable drive even less tolerable.  While sitting in traffic many don’t realize there was actually a time where people from all over the northeast and across the country could catch regular train service to most of the Atlantic and Cape May County resort towns. With through sleeper service from destinations all over the country and train names like The Sea Hawk, The Boardwalk Flyer and the Atlantic City Angler one can only wonder what happened to the great transportation system and America’s beloved playground, Atlantic City.

Eager to tap the seasonal boom in passenger traffic railroads were chartered to reach the Atlantic as early as the 1850’s. By late in the last quarter of the 19th century Southern New Jersey would become the battleground of bitter rivals, the Reading Company and the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR operated a network of lines that were consolidated under the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad in 1896.  Operations included Philadelphia to Camden ferries, the Camden & Atlantic Railroad; a direct line to Atlantic City via Haddonfield and the West Jersey Railroad, which ran via Woodbury to Newfield, Millville and ultimately Cape May. The West Jersey Railroad was one of the PRR’s first major electrification projects utilizing DC third rail transmission as far south as Millville and to Atlantic City via the connecting Newfield Branch in 1906.  A part of the branch between Clayton and Franklinville served as a test area in 1907 for motive power development for the NY terminal electrification and opening of Penn Station NY. The Reading’s major route was originally built as the Philadelphia & Atlantic City Railway in 1877 by former officers of the Camden & Atlantic. The line was built as a narrow gage operation to save money, running some 54 miles in length and was completed in just 90 days! The following year the operation fell into bankruptcy and several years later the Central Railroad of NJ and the Reading went in together to purchase the operation. Immediately after taking control the Reading converted the line to standard gage and double tracked the entire route for increased traffic. By 1885 the Reading acquired full control of the railroad and later expanded operations mirroring the WJ&S all the way to Cape May by purchasing other lines including the Ocean City Railroad, Cape May, Delaware Bay & Sewell’s Point Railroad and the Seacoast Railroad.

A PRSL local train powered by a Reading G class pacific locomotive heads south through Lucaston, New Jersey in the afternoon of September 3rd, 1954. Like the PRR the Reading provided motive power much of which consisted of various G class Pacifics that were built in the company shops in Reading, Pennsylvania. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

A PRSL local train powered by a Reading G class pacific locomotive heads south through Lucaston, New Jersey in the afternoon of September 3rd, 1954. Like the PRR the Reading provided motive power much of which consisted of various G class Pacifics that were built in the company shops in Reading, Pennsylvania. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

Camden was the epicenter of operations for both railroads, maintaining extensive freight and passenger terminals, ferry service and car float service to move freight cars to neighboring terminals in Philadelphia. The PRR increased accessibility to the WJ&S in 1896 when it opened the Delaware River Railroad & Bridge Company. Operating as a wholly owned PRR subsidiary, the company consisted of a 9.2 mile, double track line connecting to the PRR mainline at Frankford Junction. The line crossed the Delaware River on the Delair Bridge, an impressive span consisting of over 2500’ of approach trestle and a river channel crossed by three fixed Pennsylvania truss spans and one through truss swing span to allow marine traffic passage on the river. Once in New Jersey the line connected with the Camden & Amboy allowing movements to both Camden and to and from Trenton, The Bridge branch then continued east then south to connect with the Camden & Atlantic at Vernon interlocking in Haddonfield, creating a direct link to seashore resorts while bypassing the congested Camden terminal.  

For a time both railroads enjoyed prosperous service hauling countless express and local trains to the Jersey Shore, but by the 1920’s it became evident that the rise of the automobile and the completion of the Ben Franklin Bridge (originally named the Delaware River Bridge) in 1926 meant major competition and declining revenues for both railroads. During the Great Depression hearings with the NJ Public Utilities Commission aimed toward a merger of operations in order to mitigate the mounting financial losses. Effective June 25th 1933 the competitors ended their rivalry to become the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. Immediately following the merger the PRSL was busy building new facilities and inter-line connections to ration duplicate trackage and bring together the physical plant of the former competitors. Despite the Great Depression the railroad commenced construction on a new Union Terminal in Atlantic City that provided a large spacious station to handle all Atlantic City service, which was previously spread over three different stations. In Camden the Reading’s “new” Kaign’s Point Terminal was closed after just ten years of operation shifting everything to the newly expanded PRR Federal Street terminal where many trains still made Philadelphia connections via the PRR’s aging ferry fleet. By the mid-30s vacationers and commuters alike were offered a new service that would ultimately spell the demise of the ferries. A rapid transit rail link between Philadelphia and Camden utilizing a dedicated right of way over the Ben Franklin Bridge provided connection with Philadelphia Rapid Transit’s Frankford Elevated and Broad Street Lines. 

Southbound PRSL train passes through Kirkwood, New Jersey with PRR K-4 class locomotive 8746 and eleven cars, circa Summer of 1950. The Kirkwood station is actually where the modern day Lindenwold Station is for both New Jersey Transit and the PATCO high speed line. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

Southbound PRSL train passes through Kirkwood, New Jersey with PRR K-4 class locomotive 8746 and eleven cars, circa Summer of 1950. The Kirkwood station is actually where the modern day Lindenwold Station is for both New Jersey Transit and the PATCO high speed line. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

During World War II the railroad thrived as many did, though tourist travel declined the US Army turned Atlantic City into a major recruitment and training center for troops, often practicing maneuvers and amphibious beach landings much to the visiting tourist’s dismay. Many industries served by the railroad were converted into military defense plants and ports were overrun with outgoing equipment and supplies adding to the bottom line. Taking advantage of the need for scrap metal, the PRSL management targeted several unprofitable lines for salvage during the war years, which also helped the company to improve finances. After the war, like their parent roads the PRSL began a long slow decline as people took to the newly developed highways. Initiatives were taken to build new passenger traffic running dedicated trains to both the Garden State Race Track and new Atlantic City Race Track in 1947. Additional specials were marketed toward the many conventions held in Atlantic City, which provided income year round, helping the cash flow shortage when traditional seasonal traffic dropped off. Public outcry of the deteriorating appearance and services provided by the railroad initiated a PUC investigation.  As a result the railroad agreed to modernize and air condition the 60-car P70 passenger fleet began while the Bridge and Building department focused on cleaning up and painting stations and structures, additionally the purchase of new diesel locomotives allowed for the abandonment of the increasingly expensive Millville electrified service. A bitter coal strike around the same time forced the PRSL to begin looking to eliminate or at least marginalize steam operations, which happened to coincide with the release of Budd’s venerable RDC cars, a self propelled stainless steel car available in different configuraions that would greatly improve operations especially on lighter traffic lines. After testing the cars both the PRSL and local politicians were thrilled with their potential, making the last minute move to purchase 12 units in substitution of rebuilding the last 20 car lot of P-70s. The RDC’s arrived in 1950/51 at a cost $1.7 million and immediately were assigned to Cape May service where cars could drop off at Tuckahoe and Wildwood Junction as their own trains to the outlying destinations eliminating the need for additional locomotives and servicing facilities that were previously necessary.

In the Summer of 1954 PRSL local 656 pauses at the Kirkwood Station led by a Reading G class Pacific. Note the depot on the southbound side has been demolished since the view above in 1950. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

In the Summer of 1954 PRSL local 656 pauses at the Kirkwood Station led by a Reading G class Pacific. Note the depot on the southbound side has been demolished since the view above in 1950. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

Despite improvements the railroad continued to decline citing an 88% increase in operating expenses while utilizing a federally governed fare scale that had not changed since 1920.  In May of 1952 the railroad opened the new Broadway Station in Camden providing convenient connections with the rapid transit line to Philadelphia. As a result the railroad could finally close the Federal Street terminal and ferry service for good in March of 1952. The 1960’s were much the same; Atlantic City was no longer a haven for vacationers and air travel had become much cheaper and faster. People were no longer flocking to the Jersey Shore as a flight to Florida, the Caribbean or even the West Coast was now readily available. The newly formed Delaware River Port Authority opened a second Delaware River bridge (Walt Whitman) and the looming construction of the Atlantic City Expressway spelled almost certain death for passenger travel by rail in Southern New Jersey. Compounded by the PRR and Reading’s financial distress the PRSL finally began taking state subsidies to keep passenger service running. In contrast to the passenger situation freight service was booming, the PRSL spanned large tracts of undeveloped land along the Delaware River in Gloucester and Salem County that were ripe for development. Situated along the Penns Grove line major facilities for Shell, Monsanto and DuPont were built and served exclusively by the PRSL. Additionally Atlantic City Electric would build a coal-fired power plant in Beesley’s Point at the mouth of the Tuckahoe River that would be accessed by a spur leaving the Ocean City Branch in Palermo. In contrast to the increase in freight traffic, 1963 saw passenger losses at a staggering $1.9 million. The following year saw the beginning of the end as a project that would greatly change commuter rail service in Southern New Jersey commenced. The result of a 10 year study and the middle of three proposed routes, ground was broken on a new rapid transit line that would operate between Lindenwold, New Jersey and Center City Philadelphia via the Delaware River Rapid Transit Line. The line would utilize a heavily rebuilt grade separated line along the former C&A right of way from Broadway station in Camden to the terminal in Lindenwold where a new shop complex and transit center would be constructed.

Part of this project called for all existing PRSL trackage in downtown Camden to be eliminated necessitating the expansion of Pavonia Yard and the construction of a new connection just east of Delair to the Bridge Branch providing trains a southern connection to the former C&A. Once in Haddonfield PRSL trains would continue operating on a separate track parallel to the new PATCO service on a grade separated right of way to Lindenwold, resuming its original alignment to Atlantic City. In 1965 the final phase of the AC Expressway was complete severing access to the 1933 Union Statio necessitating the construction of a new station in an isolated area far from the resorts and beaches. In 1969 the new PATCO system commenced operations and in October of the same year, the PRSL terminated all passenger service west of Lindenwold. The remaining Cape May and Atlantic City trains would now require connections via PATCO to reach Philadelphia at the Lindenwold transportation center. Remaining freight lines including the Vineland, Penns Grove and Beesley’s Point branches would still be accessed via an adjusted mainline that was once the connecting track between Center and Mill interlockings in south Camden also sharing a short elevated fill with the PATCO line.

On the heals of a healthy upturn in freight traffic the financial crisis of the Penn Central was devastating for the PRSL, cutting off all cash flow with the bankruptcy of the larger parent of the PRSL. Not long after the Reading would follow suit as the repercussions of the PC bankruptcy resonated through the Northeast. In years to come Nixon would sign the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 and after the USRA developed a system plan in 1976 the PRSL would cease to exist being rolled into the Consolidated Rail Corporation commonly known as Conrail. Following the creation of Conrail and a cash infusion into the region, freight service continued to benefit. Marginally performing lines were spun off and continue to operate today including the Winchester & Western Railroad the Southern Railroad of New Jersey (formerly the Shore Fast Line) and the county owned Salem Branch. After 1976 passenger service was placed under the control of the NJ Department of Transportation (NJDOT) with Conrail acting as the contract operator. Despite the arrangement the overwhelming responsibility the State was just sidled with of taking over all commuter operations in both North and South Jersey, much-needed funds never came to the former PRSL operation. Citing bad track, a failed movable bridge and poor ridership Cape May and Ocean City service ended in October of 1981 with Atlantic City service following suit in 1982 ending a legacy of a 128 years of continual passenger service in Southern New Jersey.

An off season Camden to Hammonton local running via the former Atlantic City Railroad mainline crosses Vasser Ave in Stratford, New Jersey, December 6th, 1952. In short time the PRSL will remove the second main track on this line reflecting the diminishing train service on the secondary mainline to Atlantic City. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

An off season Camden to Hammonton local running via the former Atlantic City Railroad mainline crosses Vasser Ave in Stratford, New Jersey, December 6th, 1952. In short time the PRSL will remove the second main track on this line reflecting the diminishing train service on the secondary mainline to Atlantic City. Photography by Robert L. Long, Collection of William Gindhart

During the 1980’s gambling appeared to be bringing life back to Atlantic City and hopes to resume rail service were expressed by local politicians. In a significant turn of events an agreement was made with the State for Amtrak to rebuild the entire line from Frankford Junction to a new terminal that would eventually tie into the proposed convention center. On May 23rd, 1989 Amtrak’s inaugural departure left 30th Street station under the moniker of the Gambler’s Express, just a few months later, New Jersey Transit would commence Lindenwold to Atlantic City commuter operations.  Amtrak would eventually run through service from the Philadelphia International Airport, Richmond, Washington, Springfield and New York but high fares and poor marketing would ultimately spell the demise of the short lived service which was withdrawn on April 1, 1995. This left NJT as the sole operator of commuter service between 30th Street Station and Atlantic City. Today NJT continues to offer service on the AC line but it remains unseen as to what the future holds for this operation. Potential seems high if politicians fought to increase train frequency and connect the line with the increasingly popular Atlantic City airport. Other proposals call for a return of service to Cape May County, but as of now much of this seems unlikely. Another revival in Southern New Jersey passenger rail service commenced in 2004, when light rail service commenced on the former Camden & Amboy between Camden and Trenton. The new operation; a design, build and operate program with Bombardier affords commuters access to NYC while improving connectivity with both the PATCO line in Camden and AC Line in Pennsauken.

Today freight operations are still based out of Pavonia Yard however Conrail as a railroad, survives only as terminal operation. The Shared Assets arrangement was part of the 1999 split up of Conrail, which much to the contrast of when it began operations in 1976, the company had become an attractive, highly profitable operation. As a concession to federal regulators to maintain a fair market to shippers, Norfolk Southern and CSX maintain Conrail operations in three key terminals; South Jersey, North Jersey and Detroit. Like the PRSL the two parents share a similar arrangement of terminal access and financial responsibility making South Jersey rail operations a unique and diverse operation. Through out the souther part of New Jersey, faint visual clues remain of what once was, wether it be wider than utilized right of ways, surviving stations or abandoned paths, but the heart of PRSL operations to Atlantic City and its later advances in freight continue to be a viable part of the area's economy and transportation infrastructure. 

I'd like to acknowledge the generosity of William (Bill) Gindhart for providing the imagery for this article. Bill was a neighbor and friend of Robert L. Long is a long time railroad enthusiast and photographer. His imagery is commonly associated with the waning days of the PRSL service, putting a face to the decking years of a once great railroad empire in Southern New Jersey. 

 

The Railroad Family

Recently I had the privilege to attend a retirement luncheon for a gentleman I worked with at Conrail on the Delair Bridge Project. Gary Golden was retiring after 36 years of service, finishing a long career in the Bridge & Building department. From my limited time with Gary I found he was always a courteous and professional figure on the outages, he never once hesitated to help us with some outrageous production request or wait until the first train came through hours after an outage had been finished. Over the two plus years I have been working with Conrail I came to realize that Gary’s outlook on the job was not the exception but the norm. Confirmation of this came through informal conversations during the event with both current and retired Conrail vets and the speeches that caused even the most rugged men in the room to tear up. Senior staff from the engineering department were present and Assistant Chief Engineer Eric Levin said it best, that, “working at Conrail is like being part of a tight knit community, a family that looks after one another day in and day out while taking pride in keeping the trains moving.” The many people before and after Gary represent a time-honored tradition that helped develop our country and keep people and goods moving through times of conflict and peace. Additionally railroaders of Gary’s era are part of a generation that lived through the biggest turn-around in US rail history rising from the ashes of bankruptcy in the 1970s, rebuilding the network tie by tie. With Gary and the many others that will follow into retirement, another generation of knowledge will turn over, but the understanding and traditions of the “way it used to be” will go with them.  For Mr. Golden and the many like him, thank you, while you may not know it, your outlook on the job has likely provided insight to an outsider of the pride common in the ranks of railroad employees.

Best of luck Gary!

Michael Froio