Photographs & History

Photographs and History

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article I kept trying to figure out how to to tie in the Liberty Limited story while maintaining a balance between the historical content and the magnificent effort that the Levin family and many others put forth to honor some of our finest.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 main line 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.

Mainline Model for Historic Preservation: Harris Tower

Harris Tower avoided a fate most towers ultimately succumbed to after being decommissioned. Today as a result of dedicated volunteers from the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, the 1930 built switch tower functions as a unique museum experience, providing visitors with a hands on understanding of tower operations and traffic management in golden age of railroading.

Harris Tower avoided a fate most towers ultimately succumbed to after being decommissioned. Today as a result of dedicated volunteers from the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS, the 1930 built switch tower functions as a unique museum experience, providing visitors with a hands on understanding of tower operations and traffic management in golden age of railroading.

In 1991 when Harris’s remaining functions were transferred over to State Tower, the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS realized the significance of this building and set out to preserve the facility in place. The initial state of affairs in the old tower was pretty sad: damaged windows, a dated electrical systems, leaky roof, a defunct heating system and an interlocking machine and board that was in rough shape made just stabilizing the building a monumental task. Under the direction of Fred Wertz former Chapter President, countless volunteer hours from members of the Harrisburg Chapter (see the complete honor roll below) were logged to bring the structure back to its original as built appearance. As work progressed on the building itself, volunteers Dan Rapak and Jeff Vinton worked to restore the Union Switch and Signal interlocking machine and its accompanying model board. Rapak and Vinton worked to free the seized electro-mechanical levers while John Smith took on the restoration of the model board. A computer-controlled system was developed to operate the magnets on the interlocking machine allowing the levers and locks on the unit to once again function properly. The concept of running virtual trains was developed to make the interlocking machine a hands on exhibit which, by way of computer simulation, a given visitor can direct trains through the “interlocking” during a typical 1943 shift. The block lines, phones, teletype and indicator bell all work as if a neighboring tower was relaying train info, complete with scripts developed and read by former tower operators, announce oncoming trains as was done in typical tower operations. The Harris Tower museum is a one of kind experience for the historian, train buff and curious observer alike. Where else can you go and have a hands on history lesson on how to manage trains and control traffic in what was one of the busier towers on the PRR system?

Detail of the restored interlocking machine and interior of Harris Tower. The operator and train director's desk in the foreground features a restored lamp and key control panel that provided the tower communications with dispatchers, line-side phone boxes and other interlocking towers. In the rear is the carefully restored Union Switch and Signal Model 14 Interlocking Machine and Model Board, the device by which switches and signals were controlled to route trains through the busy Harrisburg Station. Note the complexity of the track work through this junction, which was needed to route the many passenger and freight trains in addition to the countless light engine and switch moves that took place during the height of the PRR era.

Detail of the restored interlocking machine and interior of Harris Tower. The operator and train director's desk in the foreground features a restored lamp and key control panel that provided the tower communications with dispatchers, line-side phone boxes and other interlocking towers. In the rear is the carefully restored Union Switch and Signal Model 14 Interlocking Machine and Model Board, the device by which switches and signals were controlled to route trains through the busy Harrisburg Station. Note the complexity of the track work through this junction, which was needed to route the many passenger and freight trains in addition to the countless light engine and switch moves that took place during the height of the PRR era.

While we visited Harris Tower volunteer William Kcenich provided a great interpretive lesson on operations and the restoration. We were also joined by Chapter member Don Rittler who provided first hand knowledge of operations at Harris from his time as a block operator here. 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 Don worked such posts as Norris, State, Harris, Cork and many others.

Don Rittler who used to work at Harris as both train director and lever man, shared many great stories and insight on the daily operation of a busy tower like Harris. Don worked for the PRR for 42 years enjoying a flawless career and the camaraderie of the many people he worked with. Rittler, now 93 is still as sharp as ever and is never shy about sharing a great story or two about his experiences on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Don Rittler who used to work at Harris as both train director and lever man, shared many great stories and insight on the daily operation of a busy tower like Harris. Don worked for the PRR for 42 years enjoying a flawless career and the camaraderie of the many people he worked with. Rittler, now 93 is still as sharp as ever and is never shy about sharing a great story or two about his experiences on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In 1944, like many other PRR employees Rittler was summoned to serve his Country in World War II. He would be part of an Army Unit known as the 775th Railway Grand Division, centered in the Pacific Theater during the height of the War. Initially working in the Philippines operating the Manila Railway the 775th would move on to Japan to be the first front if land attacks were made to secure a rail head for military transport inland. 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 returned to work for 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 built a house in New Cumberland near Lemoyne and lived a great life with their daughter Donna, sharing the family like atmosphere and camaraderie of the many railroaders Don worked with on a daily basis. Don continued to work out of 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 worked day trick at Lemo Tower, 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. Since retirement  Don has been very gracious with his time and experience in the towers, helping the NRHS Harrisburg Chapter with the Harris reconstruction and developing the interpretive exhibit. He also on occasion visits with small groups at Harris to provide first hand working knowledge of a craft that has largely disappeared from the railroad landscape.

I wish to thank Don for sharing his time and knowledge during our visit and subsequent phone conversation, for somebody who never experienced the PRR first hand, I feel very lucky to spend time with such a warm and welcoming gentleman. Special thanks to Mr. William Seigford who accompanied us to Harris and helped facilitate our visit, and of course to Mr. Kcenich who took time out of his schedule to accommodate our group from Amtrak and John Bowie Associates. In respect to the many people and countless hours bringing Harris to life again as key museum piece in the interpretive history of railroad operations I  would like to acknowledge NRHS Harrisburg Chapter members and their contributions. A very special congratulations and thanks to everyone, you have raised the bar on historic preservation and interactive exhibits all the while saving a part of the great Pennsylvania Railroad for future generations. Bravo!

Abe Burnette: Secured parts for model board and interlocking machine, including a reproduction machine builder's plate.Ed Burns:  Interior scrapping and painting (walls and ceilings).Richard Crow: Outdoor grounds keepingTerry Gardner:  Floor tile scrapping, cleaning.  Personally purchased and replaced all broken and/or smashed floor tile out of his own pocket. Joseph Heffron: Handled some of the interior painting of window trim and other interior painting.Charles High: Secured jacks and headed the moving of interior racks.Bill Kcenich: Responsible for assigning, training, and scheduling all Chapter members who volunteer as, and are, Harris Tower docents.Matthew Loser: Handled the initial negotiations with Amtrak to secure ownership of Harris Tower for the Harrisburg Chapter, NRHS; also handled the registration process to have Harris placed on the National Register of Historic Places; had a Harris reproduction sign made for the Walnut Street side.Robert Lyter: Responsible for the main front door restoration and maintenance.John Pari: Scrapping, painting of woodwork and window trim.Daniel Rapak: Interlocking machine restoration and development of the simulation systems, restoration of original ceiling lighting fixtures,  all interior electronics, including the securing and installation of the Seth Thomas #2 wall clock reproduction.  restoration of the original dispatcher's desk and accompanying furniture.John Smith: Responsible for model board graphic restoration, the elimination of oil heat and re-installation of city supplied steam heat (as original when Harris was constructed), the removal of  brick chimney (was added when oil heating conversion was done.) and personally involved with exterior renovation, i.e. power washing, new roofing, new gutters and new downspouts.Jeff Vinton: Assisted in restoring the interlocking machine and developing the simulation systems.Fred Wertz: Former Chapter President who has been instrumental since day one, overseeing building management, parts allocations and organizing monthly work sessions.Allen Wolfinger: Responsible for the removal of all interior wiring.Gary Yanko: Responsible for all building electrical upgrades, outdoor lighting, alarm system, and building insulation.

Currently the Harris Tower Museum is open to the public every Saturday from now through the end of October 10 AM-3 PM.  To learn more about the Harrisburg NRHS Chapter and Harris Tower, please visit their website, http://harristower.org/