Some time ago we left off on the Main Line tour in Christiana, Pennsylvania, crossing from Lancaster to Chester County, traversing the North Bend Cut along Zion Hill. What seems today like another unremarked view from the Main Line, the area around North Bend was a place essential to operations on one of the busiest transportation networks in the country. In the Brown era of the late 19th Century - early 20th Century, North Bend saw the realignment and expansion of the mainline, construction of the Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade, the installation of the Atglen water pans, and later in 1938 the final phase of electrification. The endless parade of traffic during World War II was followed by a long, slow decline of the PRR system, visualized by the rationalization of the physical plant and facilities that continued well into the Penn Central, Amtrak and Conrail eras. The photographs here depict over 100 years of change on the ever-evolving railroad landscape.
Photographs & History
Greetings! I hope everyone is having a great summer and taking some much deserved time off to enjoy the season with family and friends. Here is a quick list of some upcoming and ongoing events pertaining to the Main Line Project!
They All Fall Down | Lamenting the loss of a classic PRR Signal - The Position Light
I am very excited to have a new article featured on the blog, The Trackside Photographer this week. The piece focuses on the Pennsylvania Railroad's classic Position Light signals, many of which face an uncertain future as railroads push to implement Positive Train Control. It's a sizable article featuring a lot of imagery, several which have never been published. Please pay the Trackside Photographer a visit if you haven't already, they are doing a fantastic job featuring a diverse range of photographers and writers whose work focuses on the railroad landscape, it's an honor to have work published there!
Ongoing Exhibition: William H Rau: Urban, Rural, Rail
The current exhibition on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona has more than a month remaining and is generating a lot of great feedback so far. The exhibition features a selection of Rau's Pennsylvania Railroad images from the Altoona Public Library collection, along with several images from the Main Line Project. If you are in the area, the exhibition at SAMA - Altoona is a must see!
Rau Symposium - SAMA - Altoona: August 16
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, I will be speaking at a symposium along with Penn State - Altoona history lecturer Julie Fether who curated the show. My talk will focus on Rau's imagery and how it continues to inspire my project, while Julie will discuss how the show evolved, tying in influences from Harvard Landscape Studies Professor, John Stilgoe's writings and ideas on the "art and practice of 'seeing' landscape."
The event is at the SAMA - Altoona location on Wednesday, August 16th from 11AM-1PM, lunch provided, and costs $15 ($14 for SAMA members). Reservations are required by calling the museum at (814) 946-4464 or emailing email@example.com.
Pop- Up Exhibition: The Study at University City - Philadelphia
On display through September 30th.
An excellent opportunity came up recently to showcase some work from the Main Line Project, at the Study, a beautiful new Hotel in University City, central to Drexel University's campus at 33rd and Chestnut Streets, in Philadelphia. The small show includes ten pieces from the project and is free and open to the public. If you're in the area, please stop in and have a look!
The Study at University City, 20 S 33rd St, Philadelphia, PA
While I don’t typically write about motive power and rolling stock on the railroad, this week, with much fanfare a workhorse of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor will go to the stables for the last time. The venerable Amtrak AEM-7 locomotive fleet built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors has been the common face of regional and long distance trains up and down the Corridor for over 37 years, logging over 220 million miles in the process. Developed after testing Swedish and French electric locomotives in the 1970’s the units were designed after the successful Swedish class Rc4. Ultimately the AEM-7 fleet would replace Amtrak’s hand-me-down fleet of 30 class GG-1 electrics of Pennsylvania Railroad/Raymond Loewy fame after the purchase of General Electric E60’s failed to deliver in the mid-70’s. Utilizing electrical components supplied from Swedish company ASEA and shells constructed by the Budd Company in Philadelphia, EMD manufactured 54 of the units for Amtrak in three separate orders; 1977 (30 units), 1980 (17 units) and 1988 (7 units). Maryland Area Regional Commuter Service (MARC) and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa) also made subsequent orders while New Jersey Transit purchased a fleet of its successor, the ALP-44. The boxy double-ended 7000hp motors (PRR term for electric locomotives) were considered lightweight, weighing just 101 tons and were capable of a maximum speed of 125mph
Over the years they have affectionately received the nickname Swedish Meatball or Toasters because of their origin and size and were widely regarded as a success, being the second long-standing fleet of electric locomotives to ply the former PRR territory since the GG-1. The AEM-7s have been replaced by Amtrak’s new fleet of 70 Siemens built ACS-64 class motors, based on the successful EuroSprinter platform. Only time will tell if the Sprinters prove to be a match to the durability of the Meatball or the holy grail, the GG-1. While the last AEM-7 on Amtrak’s roster is dropped, several remain in service for Septa and MARC but on short time; Septa has placed an order for 13 new ACS-64 units and MARC will drop all electric powered service all together, converting all Penn Line trains to diesel with new Siemens Charger series locomotives. While it can always be argued that the lines and styling of the GG-1 coupled with its battleship like design will never be replicated the AEM-7’s durability has certainly made it a worthy successor in hauling passengers safely up and down the Northeast Corridor for almost 38 years.
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.
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.
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
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 Main Line 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!
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 Main Line, 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 main line 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.
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 main line. 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.
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.
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!
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 main line 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.
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.
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 main line 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 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 main line 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.
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.
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 main line 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 main line 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 Main Line. 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 main line including the branch to West Chester in 1928 and north on the main line 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 main line, 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 main lines. Work commenced on the Low Grade from Morrisville to Enola, the main line 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.
The electrified infrastructure of the PRR Main Line 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 Main Line, 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!
Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the Main Line 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.
The Main Line, 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” main line. 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.
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.
On Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path from the Main Line and Low Grade 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.
Early History: Surviving segment of Thomson’s Poker Game? No sooner than the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line 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 Main Line 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 Main Line 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.
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 Main Line 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 Main Line of Public Works in its entirety on August 1st, 1857. Now that Thomson had the last piece of railroad to complete a wholly owned main line 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 main line 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 main line 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 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.
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 Main Line 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.
I am happy to announce that I’ll be presenting a slide show and discussion on my ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Inspired by the work of photographer William H. Rau, who was commissioned in the 1890’s to document the PRR and its destinations, the project explores the transitioning landscape along the former PRR Main Line from New York to Pittsburgh, highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the PRR. Using large format film based images this project combines historical research and imagery to present a creative documentation of one of the most celebrated railroads in American history for both exhibition and web format. Attendees will also be treated to some of the recent commission work I have been doing for Conrail Shared Assets and some behind the scenes insight on the production of a long term video and time lapse documentation project.
The NRHS was founded in 1935 by a group of rail historians. It has since grown from 40 founding members to include over 13,000 men and women of all ages and professions in every state and many foreign countries, making it the nation's largest rail preservation and historical society. The Harrisburg Chapter is one of roughly 160 around the country, and widely recognized for its remarkable and innovative preservation efforts including the restoration of Harris Tower and the creation of a interactive installation combining the old interlocking machine with 21st Century technology to recreate the working environment of one of the PRR's busiest towers. For more information about the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, their activities or to plan a trip to the Harris Tower museum visit their website.
The lecture, on March 10th, 2015, is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s meeting is free and open to the public and will begin at 7PM at the Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse, 743 Wertzville Road, Enola, Pennsylvania
For more information please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
The railroad never stops, nor does the industry it serves. In the shadow of the Coatesville bridge spanning the west branch of the Brandywine River the former Lukens steel mill hums with activity around the clock providing jobs for people in the surrounding communities. As we enjoy the company of family during the holidays, men and women leave home to work in the plant day and night, producing specialized steel to build America's bridges, buildings and infrastructure. For some, working through the holidays seems unthinkable, to the folks in the steel or transportation industry its business as usual. Whether you are home with loved ones or on the job, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas !
Friends, As 2014 winds down and we are amidst the holiday season I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone for all the wonderful words and support. Between formally becoming a small business owner, commercial commissions, lectures, curating an exhibition, writing, research and making photographs for the Main Line Project it has been a truly amazing year. I look forward to taking the final days of 2014 to reflect on the year and spend some much-needed time with the family. Looking forward to 2015 there is a number of events on the horizon,more information will follow after the start of the New Year. I have taken a moment to assemble here some of my favorite holiday posts from years past, enjoy and happy holidays from my family to yours!
Holiday Traditions: Story of 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 Main Line Project, his knowledge and generosity have been a invaluable resource.
The Lionel Corporation: Model Railroad Icon of the Holiday Season
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.
Like many other companies, the Great Depression would be a severe detriment to Lionel’s business, as a result their 1927 operating profit of over $500,000 plummeted to $82,000 in 1930, and ultimately a loss in 1931 of over $200,000 putting Lionel into receivership by May of 1934. A product credited with saving Lionel during the Depression era was a wind up hand car featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse which Lionel sold well over 250,00 units providing the cash flow to keep the company from closing.
In 1942 Lionel ceased toy production to produce items for the United States Navy during World War II. Regardless of the lack of toy train production, the advertising department pushed heavily to urge American teenagers to start planning their post-war layouts. By late 1945 Lionel resumed production, replacing their original product lines with more realistic trains and accessories exclusively in O Scale. Considered by many aficionados as the golden years, 1946-1956 saw sales soaring with new items including the famous Santa Fe Warbonnet EMD F3 locomotives as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad GGI and experimental S2 steam turbine locomotive. During the 1950s Lionel would tout its short-lived title of largest toy manufacturer, out selling American Flyer almost 2:1. After 1955 sales declined steadily with the rising popularity of the smaller but more realistic HO Scale and to many the end of the true “Lionel era” was in 1959. Over the years Lionel was diversified unsuccessfully and the name survived in different ways including retail toy outlet Lionel Kiddy City. Today the Lionel name remains the most famous name in model trains, though not associated with the original corporation, Lionel LLC owns most of the product rights and trademarks continuing the legacy started by American businessmen Joshua Lionel and Harry Grant well over 100 years ago.
Holiday Travel: A vintage add from the Pennsylvania Railroad
In 1881 a rising figure in the Pennsylvania Railroad by the name of William H. Brown was promoted to chief engineer. At 45 years old the Lancaster County native had 31 years under his belt working his way from a rod man on a survey crew in 1850 to the top of one of the most ambitious engineering departments in the railroad world. Brown had a reputation for knowing every grade, curve and crossing on the PRR. As chief engineer his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant during the 19th and early 20th centuries, implementing various programs of improvements up until his retirement in 1906. According to his obituary in the New York Times he, “made 133 changes and revisions to the Main Line, built fourteen elevated railways through cities, forty-one tunnels, and 163 stone bridges, including [the world's largest] Rockville stone bridge.” The last point was perhaps one his more notable achievements and certainly one of the most recognizable today; the stone masonry arch bridge.
Two of the earliest spans Brown designed for the Main Line were the crossing of the Conemaugh River in Johnstown and the Conestoga in Lancaster. Though bid separately both were originally to be constructed utilizing iron truss spans until Pittsburgh Division superintendent Robert Pitcairn endorsed the use of stone to Brown instead. Touting stone’s strength, durability and its abundant supply on the PRR, the stone bridge would be a long term solution, able to support the growing traffic and heavier trains the PRR was becoming accustomed to. It was there that the course divided for the two bridges. The Conemaugh bridge was built as planned with four tracks and the first to prove Pitcairn’s endorsement true surviving the wrath of the great flood of 1889 just a year after its completion.
With bridge renewals a major part of the program to expand the PRR’s trademark four track main line across the state of Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Creek bridge in Coatesville and the Conestoga bridge in Lancaster were the last remaining two track spans west from Philadelphia. As discussed previously, the Lancaster terminal was also a choke point in the movement of traffic necessitating the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off. Just to the east of the junction of this new route with the old main was the Conestoga River, a 61-mile tributary of the Susquehanna. The crossing of the Conestoga saw several successive bridges built for the railroad; the first a 1400’ long series of wood lattice truss spans dating from the P&C which was consumed by fire and later replaced with a fill and a shortened series of iron Whipple trusses around the Civil War. Though Brown had considered another iron design for Conestoga in 1887 its design ultimately followed the fate of the Conemaugh bridge, choosing to use stone instead. Though initial correspondence suggests the Conestoga bridge was to be a four-track span, costs and traffic levels dictated a compromise in design, building a two-track span with provisions in place for expansion. As a result the five arch, 329’ long stone masonry bridge was constructed with foundations to support a four track span. In addition, contractors left stones protruding from the southern side of the bridge, which would allow for any expansion to tie into the existing structure when demand necessitated. Completed in 1888 traffic grew through the next decade but plans were on the horizon that would direct freight off the main line to a new dedicated low-grade from Atglen to Columbia, by-passing Lancaster all together. Though the span in Coatesville was replaced in 1906 to support the combined traffic demands east of Atglen the Conestoga bridge was never expanded, nor was the main line between Lancaster and Royalton since the PRR now had three two-track routes for both freight and passenger moves via the Main Line, Atglen & Susquehanna low grade and the Columbia branch.
Today many of Brown’s bridges are still in service without remark; the only exception of course is Shock’s Mills, which partially failed during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Building like the Romans for an empire in the transportation world, Mr. Brown and other people like him on competing railroads represented the pinnacle of engineering, design and forethought that built the United States and are largely responsible for the rail networks we have today.
Opening in 1883 the Lancaster Cut-Off was part of a series of main line improvements to eliminate excessive grades, traffic congestion and operational issues associated with the original main line through downtown Lancaster. Under the direction of chief engineer William H. Brown a two-track bypass running along the city’s north side was constructed between Dillerville and an interlocking named CG where it joined the existing main line just west of the Conestoga River. Though originally designed to divert only through trains away from Lancaster the improved line became the preferred routing because of the continuing problems operating through the busy city center. As a result service to the station on Queen Street declined, stirring complaints from city officials who demanded better passenger rail service.
Complaints continued well into the 20th century until city officials and the PRR began negotiations for a new passenger station to be located on the Cut-Off. Construction of the new facility began in August of 1928 and was dedicated dedication on April 27th of 1929. Situated between Lititz Pike and North Prince Street the beautiful brick and limestone colonial revival styled station featured a second floor waiting room with large arched windows and limestone walls. A concourse bridge over the main line connected the waiting room with 2 high level platforms while baggage was moved via a subterranean tunnel and elevators from the neighboring express building located immediately west of the station.
The construction of the new facility also necessitated additional track capacity since the old line would be largely abandoned after this project was complete. Sidings and runners were added to the two main tracks through the station complex. A new interlocking tower aptly named Lancaster controlled the new station trackage in addition to consolidating three existing interlocking towers: DV (Dillerville) - junction with the Old Line, Cut-off, Columbia branch and H&L to Harrisburg, CG (Conestoga) junction of the old main, cut-off and main line east and ES - junction with the New Holland Branch and end of the four track main line just east of the Conestoga bridge. Later renamed Cork this standard design tower of the Depression era was constructed of brick with a copper clad bay and hip roof. Inside the tower a 67 lever Union Switch & Signal Model 14 interlocking machine controlled the expansive physical plant.
Cork remained operational into the 21st century, during the Keystone Corridor rebuild several revisions to the interlocking simplified the infrastructure in the area pairing out the various control points and retrofitting the old building with new CTC like control boards mounted directly to the old interlocking machine. By the close of the first quarter of 2013 Cork’s local control was cut-over to Amtrak’s centralized dispatching center in Delaware, ending 84 years of continual service under three different railroads. Despite the loss of CORK the PRR passenger station continues to serve the city of Lancaster undergoing a slow and expensive renovation that will renew its facade and interior while adding modern amenities like climate control and new electrical systems. It is unclear to the author if additional retail spaces will be developed in the lower level but the facility seems to be ripe with opportunity for travelers who visit the county seat, home to a vibrant arts and tourism region. Only time will tell what the final development of the Lancaster passenger station will bring but today it continues to serve its intended purpose maintaining the Pennsylvania Railroad's presence in the city of Lancaster.
In 1835 Revolutionary War officer and Sheriff of Lancaster County, Adam Diller founded Dillerville, a one time separate settlement in Lancaster’s northwest corner. In June of the same year Diller would grant the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad a 1.5-acre plot to construct a depot. From these meager beginnings Dillerville would develop to become the western gateway of the Lancaster terminal, evolving with continual improvements after the PRR assumed control of the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroads.
Originally the location where the PRR predecessors split away heading west on their respective routes, DV interlocking as it became known, developed into a far more complex facility with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off in 1883. The second know tower in this location was completed in 1884 for the new cut-off utilizing Armstrong levers to control lower quadrant semaphore signals and switch points throughout the junction. This tower was built in the typical style of that era with Victorian details including a slate shingled hip roof and center cupola similar to surviving examples like LEMO tower now located in Strasburg, PA and SHORE at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia. DV was an important facility, directing trains to the Columbia Branch, Old Main, H&L line to Harrisburg and the Lancaster Cut-Off / Main Line east. On either side of the interlocking there were several yards servicing industries on the Old Main and the later plants of Armstrong World Industries and its predecessors. Adding to the complexity of this interlocking was an at grade crossing of the R&C division of the Reading Company who’s Lancaster Branch terminated at the foot of Prince Street in the north west corner of the city.
In the late 1920s DV interlocking was part of a consolidation project in preparation for the opening of a new passenger station complex on the Cut-Off centralizing several towers into Lancaster Tower, which was later renamed Cork for its proximity to the PRR’s largest freight customer in the city, Crown Cork & Seal (Armstrong). Another component to this improvements program involved partial abandonment of the Old Line retaining only the segment from West Yard to the freight houses on Water Street. Dillerville Yard continued to serve as a local base of freight operations for the diverse manufacturing and agricultural consignees in the city and beyond on both the Main Line and New Holland Branch.
In 2009 Norfolk Southern, successor of PRR operations in the area (through the purchase of Conrail) began a major reconfiguration of Dillerville Yard in order to accommodate the $75 million Lancaster Northwest Gateway Project, which is developing acres of unused brown fields to provide expansion opportunities for both Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin & Marshal College. Earlier this year the last of the remaining PRR era facilities including the pedestrian bridge, trans-load facility and engine terminal were abandoned after NS dedicated new facilities in a yard named after the late H. Craig Lewis state senator and former NS VP of corporate affairs. Part of more than a century of urban renewal the Northwest Gateway Project is the last effort in removing all rail activity from the city center including the industries the railroads once served completing an effort that began in the 1880's with the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off.
Lancaster Old Main: The original main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad made a gentle southern arc from the area of Dillerville in the northwest corner of the city limits to where it crossed the Conestoga in the northeast, intersecting busy streets through the growing city of Lancaster. The line was the combination of routes built by the Philadelphia & Columbia (P&C) and Harrisburg & Lancaster (H&L) railroads. The P&C, part of the state built Main Line of Public Works, was a through route connecting Philadelphia to the east and Columbia to the west. The H&L was an early private venture that terminated in Lancaster connecting the P&C via its own main line directly to Elizabethtown and Harrisburg. Shortly after the charter and beginning of construction on the main line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh the PRR contracted a 20-year agreement with the H&L in 1848, part of an effort to secure a direct route to Philadelphia. J. Edgar Thompson would accomplished this goal when the PRR finally assumed operations of the P&C in 1857, part of its $7.5 million purchase of the Main Line of Public Works. With the reorganization of both lines into the PRR, traffic patterns west from Lancaster evolved to a pattern familiar to contemporary operations with passenger trains favoring the more direct H&L and the P&C for freight traffic.
After the PRR purchased the P&C it immediately took initiatives to replace primitive station facilities run out of a local inn. The result was a beautiful train shed and station built between Queen and North Christian Streets parallel to Chestnut Street. While a drastic improvement from previous arrangements it would prove to be a stopgap measurement for the fast growing railroad. Larger operational issues existed to the west of the station in a maze of trackage servicing both PRR owned freight houses and numerous industries most of which was at grade with the city streets. Adding to the congestion was the connection to the Quarryville Branch and interchange with the Reading Company’s R&C Division all within the city limits.
Serving as the sole through route into the 1880’s the PRR addressed the limitations of the Old Main by constructing a bypass known as the Lancaster Cut-Off. After the 1883 opening of this new route only trains serving Lancaster navigated the city route. Despite the growth and increasing need for more rail transportation the unfortunate reality was the mighty PRR was diverting more and more trains away from the Queen Street station in favor of the new by-pass. The net result meant mounting political pressure on the PRR from city government to provide residents and visitors improved rail transportation, an issue that would continue well into the 1920’s. This era marks the beginning of an effort of urban renewal that continues to change how people and the railroads interface with the city of Lancaster. In future posts we will continue the discussion of how and when the PRR diverted operations away from the Old Main and how successors have continued to revise and improve local facilities and operations.
The city of Lancaster has a rich and diverse history that began in the late 1600’s as a part of the Penn’s Woods Charter, a 45,000 square mile land grant to establish an English Quaker Colony in the New World. The area of Lancaster would develop and flourish around rich agricultural land and the development of iron forges throughout the 1700’s. As iron production increased the need to develop road networks became necessary to bring in raw materials and transport finished product to market, the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike was one of the first, opening in 1795. Lancaster held the honor of being the state capitol from 1799-1812 and was incorporated as a city in 1818 developing at the crossroads of trade routes connecting Philadelphia with manufacturing centers like Columbia, York, Lebanon and Portsmouth (Middletown).
Early in the first quarter of the 19th Century construction of the Erie Canal put the state of New York at a great advantage over Philadelphia and the Comonwealth in trade and commerce. In an effort to compete, Pennsylvania would embark on a similar project known as the Main Line of Public Works, an ambitious network that utilized a multimodal system of railroads and canals. While the Erie Canal was in use by 1821, Pennsylvania did not break ground until 1828 and the network was not complete until 1834. What would determine success of these networks was ultimately the topography. The Commonwealth was far more challenging than the water level route of the Erie putting the Main Line of Public Works at a major disadvantage. The Main Line of Public Works network required multiple transfers to move cargo from train to boat in Columbia, back to train in Hollidaysburg, onto inclined planes to surmount the Alleghenies, and back to boat in Johnstown. Though the trip was a vast improvement over wagon travel, it was still hampered by logistics and weather. Though woefully under-engineered the only potential success of this network was found on the east end, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad which ran the 82 miles between its namesake towns with Lancaster along the way.
The potential success of this new railroad spurred private ventures to construct connecting lines like the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad (H&L for short) which completed its route in 1838 bypassing the train-boat transfer in Columbia and thus connecting local industry to an all rail route to Philadelphia. Recognizing the overall failure of the Main Line of Public Works the Commonwealth deemed that a private venture should be chartered to construct an all rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh in order to preserve and improve trade and commerce, therefore in 1846 the Pennsylvania Railroad was born. Once the PRR route was complete to Pittsburgh, lines east of Harrisburg including the H&L and P&C became the object of desire for the young railroad striving to complete an exclusive rail network between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An operating arrangement was established with the H&L in 1848 leaving one last lynch pin, the now cash starved P&C. The Commonwealth offered the entire Main Line of Public Works system for sale in 1854 but it wasn’t until 1857 that the PRR would agree to purchase the system for $7.5 million, almost a third of the original asking price. This purchase secured the final segment of a wholly owned rail route between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while also providing the surplus canal right of way that would be crucial to expanding and improving the main line west of Harrisburg. With the potential for increased traffic the railroad began improvements to its main line system, an endeavor that would continue on and off well into the 20th Century. Antiquated facilities in Lancaster were a continuing concern; construction commenced on a new station in 1860, several bridges were improved, the physical plant expanded and finally a by-pass route was built around the congested city center in 1883. By 1904 the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to the Conestoga River was four tracks wide. In Lancaster the complex terminal reduced down from four tracks to two on the east end, splitting twice, once between the old main and the 1883 Lancaster cut-off and again at Dillerville where the old main (former H&L) connected back to the cut-off and the former P&C diverged to Columbia. Though plagued by the two track bottleneck over the Conestoga for some time, completion of the Atglen & Susquehanna branch in 1906 diverted a considerable amount of freight traffic away from Lancaster to the east and the two track Conestoga Bridge would remain as is, adequate to handle the remaining traffic on the main line.
Terminal improvements continued in the 1920’s including the abandonment of the old main and 1860 station in favor of a new passenger station on the cut-off providing expanded train service, the result of political pressure and some gentle encouragement from Armstrong Cork a major PRR customer in Lancaster. Around the same time electrification was sweeping the eastern main line, preparations were being made to modernize area interlocking plants which were centralized to a single tower appropriately named Lancaster (renamed CORK a few years after its construction for the neighboring plant of Armstrong Cork). In 1938 electrification of the Paoli – Harrisburg main line, Low Grade and Columbia branch were complete; Electric locomotives were now hauling the bulk of freight and passenger trains west to Harrisburg, leaving steam and later diesel propulsion to switch sprawling industries scattered about on the remaining sections of the old main, Dillerville area, Quarryville and New Holland branches.
Lancaster and the railroad thrived during the surge of World War II traffic but as peacetime settled in, the PRR began to show its age, left with mounting debts and a worn out physical plant. With a decrease in traffic and increasing competition from trucking the rationing of their physical plant began in the early 1960’s removing two of the main tracks east of the Conestoga Bridge to Parkesburg. Traffic continued to diminish and the ill-fated merger of the NYC and PRR drained cash away from much needed infrastructure improvements. In 1971 Amtrak was created to preserve national passenger train service, on the Harrisburg Line the new company slowly began carving away at money loosing local, regional and long distance services the PRR once provided. In 1976 Conrail assumed control of freight operations in the Lancaster/Dillerville area which continues to generating traffic from a number of large industrial plants and new distribution warehouses. In the late 1990’s the future of Lancaster’s railroads faced more changes. Conrail was split up by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corporation, the later which assumed control of Lancaster freight operations. Amtrak’s Keystone Line was designated a high-speed corridor and work slowly began to rebuild the Harrisburg - Philadelphia main line for hourly electrified service once again. In 2008 Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster General Hospital struck an agreement with NS to develop the land along the former old main that was retained for yard and bulk transfer facilites for the railroad. NS commenced a long-term project to move, reconfigure and expand Dillerville Yard all of which was completed at the close of 2013. Today contractors are removing the remaining traces of the old main changing the local landscape forever. Amtrak’s rebuilding of the former PRR Main Line is largely complete including the tumultuous rehab of Lancaster’s 1929 depot, the streamlining of the physical plant and the closing of Cork tower, one of a few left on the former PRR system. Though the PRR has been absent from the Lancaster area for over 45 years its legacy remains a vital infrastructure to the local economy. Over the next few months we will spend some time exploring the various lines and history of the Lancaster area including current and historic facilities.
I wanted to take a moment to say hello, it’s been a while since I have emailed or posted and I thought it would be a good opportunity to fill everyone in on some exciting news and updates.
The past nine months have provided big opportunities for me as a professional photographer. I was commissioned by Conrail to document a major rebuild of the Delair Bridge, a vital span over the Delaware River which connects the Conrail Shared Assets South Jersey freight cluster with Norfolk Southern and CSX networks. The conversation with Conrail began sometime in September of 2013 to provide a record for engineers and contractors of the fast paced process of replacing 60 deck girder spans over a series of several three-day work periods. After some discussion and my own consulting with several peers it was decided the best solution would be to utilize time-lapse photography to provide both a still record and moving piece that shows each 72 hour work outage in some 6-12 minutes. To date we have shot five of the six outages compiling roughly 10 terabytes of information utilizing Canon, GoPro and unmanned aerial drone technologies. It’s been one hell of an experience and I look forward to sharing the results of the project soon.
Other exciting news includes the recent confirmation that I will be curating a show opening this November titled, Railroads and the Historical Landscapes They Travel at the Monmouth Museum near Red Bank, New Jersey. Though details are still in progress I am excited to put together a great exhibition featuring a wide breath of work both contemporary and historic on the subject. You can also expect a new series of posts this fall focusing on works from the Watershed portfolio, which explores the Delaware River watershed and Atlantic coast. This work will be part of a three-person exhibition next year at the Perkins Center for Arts in their beautiful Collingswood exhibition space. Posts on the Main Line Project will also resume next week with a large series focusing on the history and evolution of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have been working on accumulating resources for these posts and figuring out how to format the series for sometime now. I am pleased with the way things are coming together and look forward to your feedback once they start going live.
I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer and I look forward to sharing more with you on exhibitions, new work and creative commissions in the near future! Stay cool and keep in touch!
I am happy to announce that I’ll be presenting a lecture on the ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad during this year's annualPennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society national convention. Inspired by the work of photographer William H. Rau, who was commissioned in the 1890′s to document the PRR and its destinations, the project explores the transitioning landscape along the former PRR Main Line from New York to Pittsburgh, highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the PRR. Using large format film based images this project combines historical research and imagery to present a creative documentation of one of the most celebrated railroads in American history for both exhibition and web format.
The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (PRRT&HS) is a national organization including 12 Chapters around the country whose mission is to further scholarly learning and interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad through a number of activities. For more information about the PRRT&HS, their activities and archives please visit their website. The lecture, part of the annual national meeting which runs from May 1st to May 4th is one of many diverse presentations covering a range of topics on the late great Pennsylvania Railroad. For registration information and schedules please visit the convention page or contact me directly at email@example.com
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