Photographs & History

Photographs and History

A story from Pier 122

Below is a story from Randy Leiser, who came across the post on Pier 122 and 124. I really enjoyed his story and graciously, he has agreed to post it here as a tribute to his Grandfather, Ted Leiser and the many other men and women that worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. My grandfather worked at Pier 122 for twenty plus years, from when it was new in the 1950s till the late 1970s or early 1980s (I don't know exactly when he retired).  When I was a kid (I was born in 1971) I knew that he "drove a pusher locomotive on a pier," but not much more.  Being a kid, I guess I just never asked--even though I liked trains.  He passed away when I was 16.

2.25.pier122.004 copy
Views of Pier 122 including the Unloading Cranes and loading tipple and Narrow Gage Pusher Engines that Ted Leiser operated.

Views of Pier 122 including the Unloading Cranes and loading tipple and Narrow Gage Pusher Engines that Ted Leiser operated.

When my kids came along (the first in 2004, the second in 2006) I began to get them interested in trains, too, which revived my interest in them as well.  I began teaching my boys all about trains--steam, diesel, passenger, freight, etc.

One day around 2008, I asked my dad about where my grandfather had worked.  He told me that it was "on a pier, south of the Walt Whitman Bridge, unloading ore ships.  You know, those big black cranes."  As soon as I heard that I recalled my grandfather having brought home a box of different ore pellets, each labelled with its country of origin.  I also recalled seeing the cranes every time we crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge--even though I didn't know what I was looking at.

I told my kids about their great grandfather, and how he operated a locomotive, etc.  They were quite interested, but I didn't have much more to offer them. A few months later, in 2009, I began Googling "Pennsylvania Tidewater Dock Company," which my dad had told me was the name of the company that operated the locomotives on the pier.  There were few references, and most entries referred to the company's Ohio location.  However, I found an obscure reference to Pennsylvania Tidewater Dock that mentioned Pier 122--the first time I heard the pier's name.  I began Googling "Pier 122" and back came a flood of entries.  I began reading everything I could find.  Before I knew it I'd found a ton of info on the pier, and even photos of the four locomotives they had.  I kept reading, and discovered that one of the four locomotives was saved by the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, PA!  Pier 122 imported ore that was sent to Bethlehem Steel, and when the steel plant closed, they made provisions for a museum--the narrow gauge locomotive was of interest to them, and they moved one into storage there, awaiting restoration.

In the space of a few hours I went from knowing very little about my grandfather's job and worksite, to knowing quite a bit, and even discovering that one of "his" locomotives was still around. Still not certain, I showed the pictures I'd found to my dad, who confirmed that it was the same pier, same locomotives, etc.  He even recalled riding in one with my grandfather when he was a kid.  I later found out that my uncle (my dad's brother) worked at the pier as a summer job, working on the locomotives, too.

At this point I was intent on getting to Bethlehem, but it was not going to happen soon, as my wife was pregnant with our third, and road trips were not in our immediate future.  We were, however, traveling to Philadelphia for my wife's care during the pregnancy, and I began wondering what was left of the pier.  I prepared myself with maps and Google satellite images.  On our next trip to Philly, we left early, and I detoured to the Pier.  To my surprise, it was not gated, and we drove right in.

Randy Leiser with his two boys, Paul(left) and Dan(right)on his Grandfather's locomotive.

Randy Leiser with his two boys, Paul(left) and Dan(right)on his Grandfather's locomotive.

To my delight, I looked to the left as we drove in, and still sitting on the narrow gauge horseshoe track were two of the pusher locomotives.  I parked the car, stepped out, and shot a couple dozen pictures.  Then (by this point somewhat sure I wasn't going to get arrested for trespassing) I got my two boys out.  My wife snapped a picture of the three of us, standing in front of one of the locomotives.  I now cherish that shot. My daughter was born just a few weeks later, and on a later trip, we took her and my dad to the pier, where he stared in disbelief at the locomotives, too.

I've always been interested in trains, history, and family, and in this case I had the rare chance to tie them all together. I've done periodic Google searches to see what turns up on the Pier.  That's how I found your blog--and I enjoyed reading that post immensely. In the time since I saw the locomotives the cranes on the pier have been toppled and dismantled.  They're making way for the new Southport container facility.  It's progress, I guess, but I hate to see it go.  Every time I cross the Walt Whitman Bridge, I glance southward toward the pier.

Recently, I acquired a Pennsylvania Railroad 1957 calendar, entitled "Vital Links to World Trade."  It features a view of the Pier 122 cranes, with the horseshoe track visible in the back ground.  (PRR built and owned the pier.  From what I gather Pennsylvania Tidewater Dock operated the pusher locomotives.)  The calendar is in great shape and will hang on the wall of my office, as a reminder of my grandfather.

Randy's Grandfather and former Tidewater Dock Co. Employee Ted Leiser with his wife Grace.

Randy's Grandfather and former Tidewater Dock Co. Employee Ted Leiser with his wife Grace.