Photographs & History

Photographs and History

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part 2: East Conemaugh

The railroad maintained facilities here including Woodvale Yard, access to the Johnstown branch and interchange with the Conemaugh and Black Lick RR, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and a engine terminal that supported both local operations and helper assignments that assisted Eastbounds on the ascent of the Allegheny escarpment.

View looking toward East Conemaugh. Taken from the Town of Franklin, Conemaugh and Black Lick trackage is in the foreground, the River, and finally the PRR and East Conemaugh nestled along the distant ridge. The bridge to the right is the Strank Memorial Bridge which is soon to be replaced.

View looking toward East Conemaugh. Taken from the Town of Franklin, Conemaugh and Black Lick trackage is in the foreground, the River, and finally the PRR and East Conemaugh nestled along the distant ridge. The bridge to the right is the Strank Memorial Bridge which is soon to be replaced.

The town itself, like many other smaller Pennsylvania towns, is a unique assortment of original buildings, signage, and character, void of the congestion, shopping malls, and the box store epidemic of suburban sprawl.

Small businesses flank quiet side streets that run parallel to the former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Terminal. This is a view from Davis Street between Cherry and East Railroad St.

Small businesses flank quiet side streets that run parallel to the former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Terminal. This is a view from Davis Street between Cherry and East Railroad St.

The town’s design speaks of its relationship to the railroad, how the commercial center borders just blocks off the railroad tracks, becoming more residential as you progress further up the hill. Hand painted signage, beautiful old examples of small town architecture and community churches dot the landscape.

Former First National Bank Building, 300 Block of Greeve St.

Former First National Bank Building, 300 Block of Greeve St.

Church of the Living God, Cambria Street, with residences on neighboring Heritage St. to the right.

Church of the Living God, Cambria Street, with residences on neighboring Heritage St. to the right.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part 1: Eastern Entry to the Valley

The Mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad entered the Johnstown area from the East following the North Bank of the Conemaugh River. Parallel on the South side was the Conemaugh and Black Lick RR (C&BL), a Bethlehem Steel owned terminal road whose existence was to support the local steel facilities spread through out the valley.

View from Franklin Park Showing the river valley and proximity of the C&BL in the foreground and Mainline on the far Side of the River.  This image is in the area of the Allegheny Portage Railroad trail that leads East to the preserved Staple Bend Tunnel, now a National Historic Landmark and linear park.

View from Franklin Park Showing the river valley and proximity of the C&BL in the foreground and Mainline on the far Side of the River.  This image is in the area of the Allegheny Portage Railroad trail that leads East to the preserved Staple Bend Tunnel, now a National Historic Landmark and linear park.

AO interlocking, deep in the Conemaugh River Valley below the Village of Park Hill, was remote controlled by Conemaugh Tower, to facilitate moves of both freight traffic and helper engines into and out of the Woodvale Terminal.

AO interlocking, deep in the Conemaugh River Valley below the Village of Park Hill, was remote controlled by Conemaugh Tower, to facilitate moves of both freight traffic and helper engines into and out of the Woodvale Terminal.

View from the Parkhill area, looking South West into the Villages of East Conemaugh (right) and Franklin, PA (left).  If one examines the image carefully a long unit coal train can be seen snaking along the North (right) side of the Valley. Opposite, image center, is the remains of the Wheel Mill, a part of Bethlehem’s now defunct Railcar Division.

View from the Parkhill area, looking South West into the Villages of East Conemaugh (right) and Franklin, PA (left).  If one examines the image carefully a long unit coal train can be seen snaking along the North (right) side of the Valley. Opposite, image center, is the remains of the Wheel Mill, a part of Bethlehem’s now defunct Railcar Division.

PRR: A Johnstown View

Johnstown, Pennsylvania is a town dear to me, through my travels photographing the Mainline Series, the location was key to other areas that lacked amenities, central to the railroad's Western ascent of the Alleghenies, and home to some amazing people, landscapes, architecture, and history. Beginning in the 1850’s with Cambria Iron works, the area flourished, with the steel works growing and changing, the facilities eventually became part of the Bethlehem Steel Company. In early times, tragedy in the way of the Great Flood of 1889 struck, taking over an estimated 2200 lives, with almost 1000 more missing. Subsequent floods in 1936 and 1972 necessitated additional flood walls and engineered river channels to prevent the loss of life and property that devastated Johnstown at an early age.

Later, in the 20th Century tragedy would come in other ways, mainly the collapse of domestic steel production. In the early 1970’s employment was holding steady at approximately 11,800 employees. Ten years later compounded by environmental regulations, a location that couldn’t compete with the inter-modal transport Pittsburgh and Burns Harbor was privileged to, and damage incurred from the Flood of 1977; employment plummeted to 2100 workers in 1982. As time progressed some facilities have been re-purposed, others survived only later to be shuttered. While much of the Steel Production is gone the City has embraced re-invention moving forward into the 21st Century.

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Over the three plus years traveling the Mainline from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh I stayed in Johnstown many times, through out the various seasons. It allowed me time to become aquatinted with the area and photograph in the surrounding landscape more than many other places. While Altoona, Pittsburgh, and the Harrisburg areas have plenty to offer, for me, Johnstown is a particularly special place.

Though the steel industry at large has been absent from Johnstown for quite some time, the resilient people have moved on, adapted and are moving forward to bring more business and tourism to the area. Small boroughs, beautiful and unique architecture and a sense of small town life are things that really attracted me to the area, not to mention the history and railroad!

Over the next two months we will examine the region and its relationship to the former PRR Mainline moving from East to West, establishing a larger view of not just the trains, but the greater landscape that thrived around it.

McKeesport Connecting Railroad

Interior view, heavy repair and machine shop of the former McKeesport Connecting Railroad.

Interior view, heavy repair and machine shop of the former McKeesport Connecting Railroad.

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Not far off the beaten path of the PRR, in the steel producing areas around Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River Valley, was a small industrial railroad that was incorporated in 1889 to build and  service the McKeesport - Port Perry line that was held under capitol stock by the National Tube Works of New Jersey. The railroad was a terminal company who's primary role was to support operations of its owner's mill and make outside connections to the B&O, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie, Union Railroad, Bessemer and Lake Erie and PRR. Transferred to US steel in 1942 and later, outside contractor Transtar Inc, the company became part of the larger Union Railroad conglomerate that still serves predecessor Camp Hill Corporation making pipe with materials supplied from the US Steel Irvin and Gary works for both the water and gas industry. In addition the Union Railroad still serves the region's remaining coke production facilities in Clairton, the sprawling Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock, and finishing mills in Irvin with interchange to all major class one railroads in the region.While the Union Railroad has consolidated maintenance facilities to the Monroeville area shop complex, the original 1906 McKeesport Connecting RR shop and roundhouse still stand in the company's namesake town, open to the elements and quietly rusting away, another relic of steam era architecture that could be lost in time.

Detail of equipment bins in the former roundhouse area which appears to last be used for car repair, tool, and parts storage.

Detail of equipment bins in the former roundhouse area which appears to last be used for car repair, tool, and parts storage.

PRR: Summit of the Allegheny Mountains

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At the Summit of the Allegheny Range we look east on Sugar Run Valley in Cambria County PA. Immediately below us #3 track exits the New Portage Tunnel, this is the eastbound main commonly referred to as "the slide" on account of its 2.0 to 2.36 grade descending the Summit. Joining from the left, tracks 1 and 2 curve around from Gallitzin and Allegheny Tunnel (now just the newer Gallitzin Tunnel since Conrail increased clearances on the line in the 1990's). While the line is quiet during a steady mid-day rain, activity here can be quite impressive, watching west-bounds top the Allegheny Range and eastbound trains begin there descent to Horseshoe Curve and ultimately Altoona the eastern base of the climb.

Mainline for the Holidays

PRR Summerhill PA

We find ourselves in the tiny village of Summerhill PA on the West Slope of the PRR's ascent of the Allegheny Mountains. What is missing to the viewer is the smell of coal fired stoves, and the silent still of a fresh early morning snow. The temperature is about 28 degrees, and the sound of another eastbound is prominent as the Signal on No. 1 track beckons on with a "Proceed" indication on the company's trademark position light signals. Even though this is Norfolk Southern's property now, the spirit of the Pennsy lives on through so many who are dedicated to the preservation of all facets of this once self proclaimed "Standard Railroad of the World".

Thank you for all you interest in my first year of this blog, from my family to yours I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New year!

Sincerely,

Michael Froio

All I want for Christmas...

Page 18/19 of Lionel company's 1949 catalog illustrating three train sets with locomotives modeled after the PRR S2 Turbine Steam locomotive.

Page 18/19 of Lionel company's 1949 catalog illustrating three train sets with locomotives modeled after the PRR S2 Turbine Steam locomotive.

For many years young boys and girls and even moms and dads find that sentimental spot for the holiday train set buried in the attic that comes out once a year. The Lionel Train Company among others was no exception to many family holiday memories. What captured me as a child were the sleek lines of the PRR styled steam models, spark of ozone, and what seemed to be an intense noise for such young ears! Here are some samples from a 1949 and 1951 catalog the earlier stamped with Dealer "Wagners Roundhouse" of Pleasantville NJ, both courtesy of a close family member. Lets enjoy the memories of the Holidays past, and the excitement of Holidays to come!

Page 26 of the 1949 catalog illustrates the mighty GG-1 model that measured in at 14.5 inches, a dream gift for every child to recreate the high speed stream-liners that delivered them to a vague destination of childhood travels with family.

Page 26 of the 1949 catalog illustrates the mighty GG-1 model that measured in at 14.5 inches, a dream gift for every child to recreate the high speed stream-liners that delivered them to a vague destination of childhood travels with family.

The center piece of the 1951 Lionel Catalog touts "a Rip Roarin' Giant, Lionel's famous Steam Giant" catalog# 2173WS train set included the PRR S2, automated milk car, unloading coal hopper, operating ore dump car, double dome Sunoco tank car, and illuminated caboose (cabin car to PRR folks!).

The center piece of the 1951 Lionel Catalog touts "a Rip Roarin' Giant, Lionel's famous Steam Giant" catalog# 2173WS train set included the PRR S2, automated milk car, unloading coal hopper, operating ore dump car, double dome Sunoco tank car, and illuminated caboose (cabin car to PRR folks!).

Woodvale Yard and the West Slope

The sleepy Borough of Franklin wakes up in a low fog alongside former Woodvale Yard on the PRR mainline about 275 miles West of Philadelphia's Broad Street Station. Like many local communities Franklin has a prominent church, St john the Baptist that stands dominant along the nearby mountain ridge.

The sleepy Borough of Franklin wakes up in a low fog alongside former Woodvale Yard on the PRR mainline about 275 miles West of Philadelphia's Broad Street Station. Like many local communities Franklin has a prominent church, St john the Baptist that stands dominant along the nearby mountain ridge.

Woodvale Yard sat along the Mainline and Conemaugh River, in the communities of East Conemaugh and Franklin, Eastern Sections of the City of Johnstown. The yard once provided support for the bustling steel works and acted as an interchange with the Conemaugh and Black Lick Railroad, a Bethlehem Steel owned shifting railroad that serviced the sprawling complex that was spread across the Conemaugh River Valley. Today, the yard is little more than staging and storage for coal trains heading west to the nearby power plant in New Florence. The yard also serves as the western base for helpers to assist trains up the Western ascent of the Allegheny Range to the Summit at Gallitzin PA.

A story from Pier 122

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mingo Junction: The Panhandle Division of the PRR

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Mile Post 47 of Pennsylvania Railroad's Panhandle Division marks the understated stone arch bridge over Cross Creek and Mingo Junction interlocking, where a branch diverged south to the Large Yard facilities serving local steel industry and trackage that continued down the Western Banks of the Ohio River. Mingo Junction is one of many Mill Towns in the Ohio River Valley and contributed heavily to the PRR's business on the division.

Pier 122 and 124: Lost Facilities of the Pennsylvania Railroad

Recently the last of four traveling cranes of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s pier 122 Ore dock facility in Greenwich Yard fell victim to demolition in a plan to expand container port facilities along the Delaware River Waterfront of South Philadelphia.

View looking East, Pier 122: this view illustrates the massive ore unloading cranes that have recently been removed from the former PRR facility.

View looking East, Pier 122: this view illustrates the massive ore unloading cranes that have recently been removed from the former PRR facility.

With facilities dating back to the early 1900s, Pier 122 and 124 were built in 1929. Pier 124 was equipped with dual 120 ton McMyler rotary dumping units that combined, allowed the railroad to dump a maximum of 800 hopper cars per day into outgoing vessels. Pier 122, although constructed at the same time was expanded through new construction in 1952-1954 primarily to import South American Iron Ore. When opened, the facility's cost was 10 million dollars and originally equipped with two traveling cranes capable of unloading over one million tons in its first year of operation. Two other traveling cranes were added in 1955 and 56 respectively expanding total capacity to over 1.5 million tons per year.

Reinforced Storage Bins: These bins, located in the loading balloon tracks served a large fertilizer storage facility that also received bulk materials via Pier 122.

Reinforced Storage Bins: These bins, located in the loading balloon tracks served a large fertilizer storage facility that also received bulk materials via Pier 122.

Serving the PRR and later Penn Central and finally Conrail Pier 122 has been dormant since mid 1990s prior to the split of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation, victim to shuttered mills, more modern steel making processes, and more efficient facilities. Neighboring pier 124, the coal loading facility suffered a similar fate earlier when Consol Pier of Baltimore came online, providing shorter transport to export shipping lanes and more modern facilities. The removal of the Pier 122 and presumably 124 will mean another relic of the Pennsylvania Railroad and our industrial past will be gone, soon to be back-filled and paved over for container staging of imports and exports that have become standard in ports around the globe.

This was one of several shunting engines that ran on a narrow gauge track between the standard gauge railroad load out tracks. These units shoved the ore jennies or hopper cars through the load out and on to staging to be assembled into outbound trains.

This was one of several shunting engines that ran on a narrow gauge track between the standard gauge railroad load out tracks. These units shoved the ore jennies or hopper cars through the load out and on to staging to be assembled into outbound trains.