Due to the impending Nor'easter, the Harrisburg Chapter has decided to cancel the lecture for Tuesday, March 14th; the event will be rescheduled for May 9th. I will send out more information as the new date gets closer.
Photographs & History
At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the American railroad became the vehicle at which life’s pace was set. Growing in the east and expanding across the western frontier the railroad was responsible for America’s success. Engineering such a system at such a rapid speed was no small task, the men who ran these companies understood the value of their accomplishments and wanted to share it with the world. To tout their new transportation systems, luring travelers to ride this modern marvel and experience the American landscape railroads turned to another new product of the industrial age: photography. Railroads employed some the most preeminent photographers of the time, outfitting darkroom cars, placed under the direction of senior passenger agents to see that their photographer had the best accommodations to illustrate their pride and joy.
While photography and the railroads redefined the 19th century’s perception of space and time, surviving imagery leaves us a rich visual legacy to derive tremendous amounts of information about the railway, the landscape and the energy of the industrial age. It’s this imagery that feeds my creativity and imagination, allowing me to visualize the prominent role the Pennsylvania Railroad played in developing the United States. These volumes of visual assets are the foundation of what inspires my work; the photographer’s technical and aesthetic ability, the conceptual ideas and the resulting images rich with information foster a dialogue with my image making, inspiring new works from pictures of the past.
Please join me Tuesday, March 14th for a lecture exploring the important role historical imagery plays in my ongoing project, From the Mainline, A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The lecture is part of the Harrisburg Chapter’s meeting and is free and open to the public.
March 14th, 2017 | Meeting begins at 7 PM
National Railway Historical Society
Hoss’s Steak and Seahouse
743 Wertzville Road
Well its fall, the weather is cooling off, the light is getting nice and its time to get back to work! I have a lot of good stuff in store for next couple of months including a big update of work on my website, a lecture for the Delaware Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and an article feature on the blog The Trackside Photographer, a platform that explores the larger idea of understanding the historic nature of the railroad landscape. Additionally I have a lot of great material in the cue for the blog Photographs & History, rounding out the exploration of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Atglen & Susquehanna Branch and continuing east exploring the mainline into Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Feature Article | The Trackside Photographer
A new article on the Main Line project goes live Thursday, October 13th on the blog The Trackside Photographer, a wonderful online publication that features photographers who's focus is documenting the ever changing railroad landscape. The article provides insight on my creative process while working on the Main Line project and is complemented by a cohesive gallery of imagery from the project.
Continuing a Legacy | Photographing the Pennsylvania Railroad
I am honored to once again present for the Delaware Valley Chapter of the NRHS. My lecture will explore the legacy of photographic imagery undertaken by the Pennsylvania Railroad and how it has influenced my own work. The presentation looks at several noted photographers commissioned to photograph the railroad while tying them to a visual dialogue with my own contemporary works exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad.
Delaware Valley Chapter, National Railway Historical Society | Friday, October 21st, 2016 | Lecture begins at approximately 8:30PM
Morrisville Public Library, 300 North Pennsylvania Avenue, Morrisville, Pennsylvania
New Work from the Main Line Project
The image above is one of many that is being readied for a big update of new work on the Main Line project. The update will include a new gallery of imagery which includes additional views from PRR divisions already represented as well locations on the New York and Maryland Divisions which were not previously represented in the project. Once live a series of singe image posts will begin in addition to the regular format to highlight the new work and the significance of these places in the history of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
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
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
I am excited to announce I will be presenting a lecture next Friday, May 17th about my ongoing project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This project as most of you know has been the culmination of a life long love of trains, history and photography. If you are free and live in the area, please come out for the event, it is part of the monthly meeting of the National Railway Historical Society's Delaware Valley Chapter and is free and open to the public. The lecture will follow the Chapter's monthly meeting and begin at approximately 8:30PM. Please see the details above or email me at email@example.com for more information.
Thank you for your support!
Dear Friends, Since the Library Company lecture early in March I have fallen off the radar, but for good reason! I am excited to announce my revamped website, michaelfroio.com which just went live! I have been considering a change in service for a while and finally began the process a few weeks ago after seeing the huge improvement in image quality and functionality that my new host, Livebooks offers. On the new site you will find more and larger images for the Main Line Project which was in desperate need of an update, including text on each of the Regions/ Divisions covered in the three portfolios. In addition to the Main Line Project you will find the Relic and Watershed Portfolios have been freshened up and reorganized for improved navigation. Of course the site still maintains a link to the blog, sections for news and updates, contact info and social media. I hope you take the time to check out the site, please feel free to email me with any feedback. I should note that the new site utilizes a Flash based template, and IOs users will be pointed to an HTML mirror site which looks and functions much like the main site.
Dear Friends, Happy New Year! I trust that you all had a wonderful and restful holiday and have settled into the New Year. Finishing out the last quarter of 2012 proved incredibly productive for the Main Line Project. While continuing work with many wonderful people at Amtrak for a second year I have begun building new relationships, with noted preservationist Bennett Levin and Eric Levin of Conrail Shared Assets opening many new opportunities. In addition, the release of the NRHS Bulletin article on the Main Line Project and the invitation to present lectures for several events ended 2012 with a promising start to the New Year.
In 2013 we will continue the tour of the Pennsylvania Railroad, focusing on the Philadelphia Division’s fabled Low Grade route east from Columbia, Pennsylvania as well as the main line from Royalton to Philadelphia. With new content and added historical imagery you can expect a more rounded look at the history and current operations of this important division of the PRR. I have already started making new images this year continuing documentation of the extensive infrastructure along the Main Line to finish out the Harrisburg – Philadelphia segment and expand upon my work in the Philadelphia Terminal and New York Divisions for future posts.
In addition to research, writing and photography, this year marks an exciting chapter for the project with the opportunity to present my imagery and research in three lectures scheduled for the winter and early spring. See below for details on these upcoming events!
From the Main Line: Exploring the former Pennsylvania Railroad today.
January 28th, 2013 7:30 PM
Though modern imagery inspired by railroad photographer William H Rau, the presentation will explore the unique landscape and vernacular associated with the Standard Railroad of the World.
West Jersey Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
625 Station Avenue, Haddon Heights NJ 08035
Understanding the Pennsylvania Railroad: Contemporary photographs in response to the historic works of William H Rau.
March 7th, 2013
This lecture will look directly at W.H. Rau’s photographs of the Pennsylvania Railroad made in the 1890's exploring their impact on the Main Line Project to understand the importance of dialog between the historic and contemporary photographer. Details to follow.
The Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Conversation on Photography Annual Conference
April 12th – 14th, 2013
The Center for Railroad Photography and Art hosts this annual conference. The Center has become America’s foremost organization for interpreting the intersection of railroad art and culture with America’s history and culture.
I will discuss the ongoing photographic project (2007- present) From the Main Line, exploring the transitioning landscape along the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh highlighting the unique vernacular of facilities and infrastructure built by the former Standard Railroad of the World. Details to follow.
Lake Forest College, 555 North Sheridan Road, Lake Forrest, IL 60045
I look forward to sharing another year of history and stories from the great Pennsylvania Railroad. I encourage you all to stay in touch and please feel free to share your stories and experiences with the railroad. I am only one person in the fraternity of countless historians and enthusiasts of our railroad heritage; it is exciting for me to understand a railroad that I never had the good fortune to experience though the oral histories and photographs of others!
As always, thank you for your time and support!
I am excited about this week’s release of the National Railway Historical Society’s quarterly publication the Bulletin, in which I have a feature article about the Mainline Project. The 26-page essay explores the history, accomplishments and legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad while examining its successors and state of operations today. Understanding the various attributes of the railroad helps to define the approach of the Mainline Project, celebrating not just the trains themselves but the landscape, physical plant and facilities associated with former Standard Railroad of the World.
The NRHS has been a figure in the preservation community since it was founded in 1935 growing from 40 members to over 13,000 people of all ages from US and abroad, making it the largest rail preservation and historical society in the country. The Bulletin represents 77 years of in-depth non-commercial coverage of Rail Preservation topics through out the rise, fall and rebirth of the American railroads.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this issue of the NRHS Bulletin please contact the National Railway Historical Society, 100 North 20th Street, Suite 400, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1462 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org copies are $6 each (including shipping) while supplies last.
As always thank you for your time and support!
Harrisburg was at the crossroads of the eastern system, and the largest city on the PRR between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. From the east passenger trains originated from Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC, from the west traffic came via Buffalo and Pittsburgh gateways to the North, South and West.
The surviving passenger station, built between 1885-87 is the third such built by the PRR in the general area between Mulberry and Market Streets. Constructed of brick and stone, the Queen Anne style station was altered several times during the early 20th Century and featured details like facing granite and brick fireplaces in the main waiting room, coffered ceilings, wood paneling and intricate mosaic tile floor patterns. After a destructive fire in 1904, the station was completely remodeled restoring the unique gambrel roof while converting the attic space into a third floor for offices adding the eight dormers on the front (east) elevation. A major addition to facilitate the electrification to Harrisburg in 1936-37 added a two story, three bay extensions on the south end of the building to accommodate the new Power Dispatcher’s facility and State Interlocking.
The surviving train sheds behind and to the east of the station were of even greater significance. When constructed they were considered some of the largest of its time, utilizing historic Fink trusses constructed of wood and iron to support the roof. The twin station sheds were extended at various times and measure roughly 540 feet in length providing shelter to 8 of the 10 station tracks maintained in the busy terminal.
Today the passenger terminal and sheds survive and are on the National Register of Historic Places and are also designated as a National Engineering Landmark. Known as the Harrisburg Transportation Center, the building serves both bus lines and Amtrak, where the Keystone Service from Philadelphia and New York Terminates, and the daily New York – Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian calls in each direction. While passenger train service is a mere ghost of what it used to be, the historic building survives as a monument of what rail travel used to be for future generations.
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?
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.
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/.