Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Edgar Thomson Works

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

Since the first heat of molten steel was tapped in 1875 The Edgar Thomson Works has produced steel continuously along the banks of the Monongahela River in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Constructed by Andrew Carnegie the plant was named in honor of his friend and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson. Carnegie’s mill would be the prototype for many modern facilities to come, making use of the Bessemer process, an innovative way to economically mass produce steel by forcing air through molten iron to remove impurities by oxidation. The mill occupies the site of the historic battle where French and Indian Troops defeated the expedition of General Edward Braddock on July 9, 1755. Flanked by Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River the locale offers waterfront access to receive raw materials and ship finished product on the Ohio and Mississippi River networks.

In 1892 the Edgar Thomson Works would be part of one most violent labor strikes in American history, the Homestead strike.  In an attempt to disband the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in Carnegie’s Homestead Works, Henry Clay Frick and Carnegie locked out workers when negotiations for the union organization went sour. Employees at the Homestead works picketed for roughly five days, with plant workers at both the Thomson and Duquesne Works joining in sympathy. Picketing turned violent when plant owners brought in the Pinkerton Guards instigating a full-scale riot that resulted in ten deaths and thousands of injuries. State Governor Robert Pattison sent two brigades of the State Militia to disperse the chaos and resume operations with temporary strike breakers. Mill owners continued fighting the efforts to unionize steel labor for years, causing other violent outbreaks until 1942 when the AA finally merged with others to create the United Steel Workers Union, gaining momentum to unionize major steel mills all together.

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad main line, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

In 1901 Carnegie Steel was merged with the Federal and National Steel Companies under the direction of J.P. Morgan among other partners creating US Steel. Once the largest steel producer in the world, US Steel still produces roughly 25 percent of America’s domestic steel at several major facilities in the United States. Operations at the Edgar Thomson Plant continue and now employ a basic oxygen furnace and continuous caster in addition to the remaining blast furnaces. Operated under the auspices of the Mon Valley Works  this operation is the last integrated steel mill in the Pittsburgh area with coke produced at the Clairton Works to the south, raw steel produced at the ET plant and finishing into coil and galvanized products takes place at the Irvin Works.

Though the Edgar Thompson plant was served by numerous railroads most of it was done through interchange with the Union Railroad a wholly owned subsidiary of US Steel that was established in 1894 prior to Carnegie’s sale of the ET works. The Union Railroad grew into an expansive system connecting Carnegie’s Bessemer & Lake Erie with the industrial Mon Valley moving raw materials from Lake Erie and finished product to market. The Pennsylvania’s primary source of interchange was at Kenny Yard on the Monongahela Branch across from the works in Kennywood, Pennsylvania. Other companies interchanged with the Union Railroad including the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Baltimore and Ohio and the Western Maryland most via the P&LE gateway at Connellsville.

Celebrating Labor Day on the Pennsylvania Railroad

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

September 1st, 1849 marks a day of significant history in the early years of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1838 State and Philadelphia officials acknowledged the failure of the Main Line of Public Works and the need for a privately owned all rail route to preserve Philadelphia’s western trade. As a result surveyor, Charles L. Schlatter was sent to the wilds of western Pennsylvania to survey various routes for such a potential venture. Schlatter returned with three options; the one selected would follow the Juniata and Conemaugh Rivers, and by 1845 the legislature was asked to charter such a railroad.

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Much to the dislike of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad who was attempting to build a line into Pittsburgh, the State Legislature passed an act on April 13th, 1846 incorporating the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The new company recruited J. Edgar Thomson as Cheif Engineer, and by early in 1847, the railroad let contracts to begin construction of the first 20 miles west of Harrisburg and 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, to meet requirements to make the B&O’s Pennsylvania charter null and void. By the end of 1848 more contracts for the grading of roadbed would total 117 miles of right of way west of Harrisburg to Logans Narrows. The anticipated operations to commence between Harrisburg and Lewistown by 1848, however, due to problems constructing the Susquehanna River bridge, the difficulty of obtaining rails fast enough and the overall lack of labor the opening would be delayed for some time.

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The first segment of the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed and open for service providing a connection with the Canal and Turnpike system on September 1st, 1849. Though one of the easier segments of the original PRR construction this important date begins a chapter in rail transportation history that would forever change the landscape of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With much fan fare, the first through train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh departed On December 10th, 1852 commencing operation on the PRR which has been in continual service since. With the evolution of the PRR’s route in the 19th Century, advancements in technology and engineering the State’s first east west rail line would develop into a conduit of industry and commerce. The very same route that visionaries like C.L. Schlatter and J. Edgar Thomson laid out and successor William H. Brown improved upon survives today as a vital transportation link in the Norfolk Southern rail network, remaining in regular service for over 165 years.

Though for many of Labor Day marks the end of summer, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the countless men and woman that work to keep our rail networks viable, maintaining a transportation system that has been vital to American life for generations. Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend!

Ohio River Connecting Bridge

View of Ohio River Connecting Bridge from California Ave in Woods Run Section of Pittsburgh on the North Bank of the Ohio River. Note the diverging trestle,the left leading to Island Ave Yard and right to the Fort Wayne Line. The Mainline is just visible below Ohio River Boulevard in the foreground. The first large through span crosses the Main Channel and measures 508' while the further spans the Back Channel and measures 406', all maintaining a clearance of 68' to the Ohio River below. 

View of Ohio River Connecting Bridge from California Ave in Woods Run Section of Pittsburgh on the North Bank of the Ohio River. Note the diverging trestle,the left leading to Island Ave Yard and right to the Fort Wayne Line. The Mainline is just visible below Ohio River Boulevard in the foreground. The first large through span crosses the Main Channel and measures 508' while the further spans the Back Channel and measures 406', all maintaining a clearance of 68' to the Ohio River below. 

Moving to the Western Limits of Pittsburgh from Wilmerding, we come to a key location on the PRR Eastern Division Mainline. Three miles from the Pittsburgh Division boundary and  Penn Station proper, the Ohio River Connecting Bridge served as the western end to a freight bypass early on routing trains around the congested Pennsy terminal in Pittsburgh by means of the Port Perry Branch from Pitcairn Yard, the Monongahela Line and the Ohio Connecting Bridge to rejoin the Fort Wayne Mainline.

OCBridge

On the South bank of the Ohio River, a "branch" came West from the junction of the Monongahela Line and Panhandle Main across from the City Center, through a complicated junction, the Scully Branch made connection with OC Bridge at Esplen Interlocking. From here the East leg of a Wye directs traffic to the Fort Wayne line accross the OC, and the West Leg moves traffic from the the Fort Wayne to the Panhandle via the Scully Branch connection in Carnegie PA. On the North side of the bridge, a fly-over junction with the Fort Wayne Line ties the East leg of the Wye into Island Ave Yard, the Mainline East, and the Conemaugh Line via Federal St. On the West leg the Panhandle makes a long descent to Jacks Run interlocking (later renamed CP Bell in Conrail's CTC project) allowing bi-directional access for diverting traffic around the City Center.

The bridge itself deserves some attention, originally being built in 1890 as the single track Ohio Connecting Railroad Bridge, after completion and several years of service, the key structure proved worthy of expansion. Started in 1913 and completed in 1915 construction took place in full Pennsy fashion. Engineers expanded the structure from single to double track, literally at times around the existing structure to avoid shutting the connection down causing major delays to rail traffic. Once completed the new bridge complimented several other projects, mainly the Brilliant Branch to add another bypass for traffic to and from  the Panhandle around the station area, onto the Conemaugh Line, then back to the Main in East Liberty via the new 1.8 mile four tracked Brilliant Branch.

Unlike the Panhandle Mainline and the Brilliant Branch, the OC Bridge still serves the busy Mon Line bypass for Norfolk Southern, moving long intermodal and heavy mineral traffic around the City Center, a testament to the construction and forward thinking of engineering staff who built the Standard Railroad of the World.

PRR in the Turtle Creek Valley

View looking East from Greensburg Avenue. Note the former Westinghouse manufacturing buildings opposite the mainline along Turtle Creek. The home signals at the curve belong to former WG Interlocking, the location of a full interlocking, departure and arrival tracks from the west side of Pitcairn Yard, and divergence of the Port Perry Line to Duquesne, and connection to the Monongahela Line. Today this is Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh Line, and though greatly simplified both the Main and Port Perry Branch serve as a vital artery to both merchandise, intermodal and mineral traffic through the area.

View looking East from Greensburg Avenue. Note the former Westinghouse manufacturing buildings opposite the mainline along Turtle Creek. The home signals at the curve belong to former WG Interlocking, the location of a full interlocking, departure and arrival tracks from the west side of Pitcairn Yard, and divergence of the Port Perry Line to Duquesne, and connection to the Monongahela Line. Today this is Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh Line, and though greatly simplified both the Main and Port Perry Branch serve as a vital artery to both merchandise, intermodal and mineral traffic through the area.

The town of Wilmerding Pennsylvania was a significant place in the history of railroads, not only for its trackside affiliation with the PRR, but because of a local manufacturer, The Westinghouse Air Brake Company. In 1890 George Westinghouse opened a plant in Wilmerding, 13 miles east of the City of Pittsburgh to build one of the primary devices that lead to the rapid growth and speed of the modern railroad, the air brake. Peaking at aprx. 3000 employees, Westinghouse was a forward thinking employer, the first to offer 9 hour work days, 55 hour work weeks, affordable housing for employees that diverged from the typical dismal "company towns" typical through out PA,  and cultural activities for employees and their families. Further East the PRR had a sprawling yard complex know as Pitcairn Yard. The facility, originally built in the late 1880's, served as a classification facility for Westbound Pittsburgh Division traffic and Eastbound Panhandle Division Freight. Once the largest facility on the Pittsburgh Division, having multiple roundhouses, car shops and two hump yards, Pitcairn lost its status as in the 1950's with the construction of the Samuel Rea Car Shops in Hollidaysburg and the modernization of Conway Yard, west of Pittsburgh.

One last and final significant note on the Turtle Creek valley was the divergence of the Port Perry Branch from the Mainline. The Port Perry Branch was part of a traffic bypass for the PRR, joining the Monongahela Branch in Duquesne to route traffic around the congested Mainline and Station Terminal Complex of the Steel City. Traffic from the Mainline could take the Port Perry to the Mon, connect with the Panhandle Main, or back to the Fort Wayne Mainline West via the Ohio River Connecting Bridge. In addition, the Perry also provided connection with the Mon Valley Line south to the various coal mines, coke facilities, and mills along the Monongahela River, and ultimately connected to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie and infamous coal carrier Monongahela Railroad in West Brownsville Pennsylvania.

Munhall Yard on the PRR Mon Line

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad Interchange. From left to right, the first four tracks serve as the interchange leads for Munhall Yard, the last two are the main tracks of the Mon Line, now a double stack bypass for NS container trains with clearance issues on the mainline through Pittsburgh proper. Note the US Steel Edgar Thompson Works in the background in the industrial town of Braddock across the Monongahela River.

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad Interchange. From left to right, the first four tracks serve as the interchange leads for Munhall Yard, the last two are the main tracks of the Mon Line, now a double stack bypass for NS container trains with clearance issues on the mainline through Pittsburgh proper. Note the US Steel Edgar Thompson Works in the background in the industrial town of Braddock across the Monongahela River.

Formerly known as Munhall Yard, this location on the former PRR Mon Line (short for Monongahela, the River the line follows)  was an important interchange with Union Railroad, operated by  United States Steel (USS). The Union Railroad at one time served several major steel making facilities in the Pittsburgh area and remains integral to the Irvin Works, Edgar Thompson Works, Clairton Coke production facility hauling raw materials and finished product to the mills and interchanges. To the southeast of this location the Mon line Connects with the Port Perry Branch, crossing the Monongahela River and eventually connecting to the Mainline near Pitcarin. From that junction the Mon continues south to connect with famed Monongahela Railroad in West Brownsville PA. In the background, across the river is the last remaining integrated mill in Pittsburgh, the Edgar Thompson Works of United States Steel, still a major customer of the railroads.

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.

MCKCon_RR

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.

Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Station

View Looking East toward UF Interlocking from tracks 7 and 8, former Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Station.

View Looking East toward UF Interlocking from tracks 7 and 8, former Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Station.

Built by noted Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, and completed in 1903, Pittsburgh's Union Station served the PRR and several subsidiary lines, making it unique, as typical Union Stations served several roads. Later renamed Pennsylvania Station in 1912 to reflect specifically the Company it served, this Station was the Gateway to Pennsy "Lines West" including the Panhandle Line to St Louis and the Fort Wayne Division onward to Chicago. While the historic office tower and trademark rotunda has been saved, its importance as a long distance hub of train travel has dwindled. Currently, one through route to Chicago via Washington DC is available on the Capitol Limited and the station also serves as the Western terminus of the Pennsylvanian, which utilizes the former PRR Mainline from NYC to Pittsburgh via Philadelphia. Perhaps someday, with push for more high speed rail in this country, this terminal will once again look like it did circa 1940, with rail activity under the now mostly empty station shed.