Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Sadsbury | Six Miles of Fill

A temporary wooden trestle supports two diminutive 3-foot gauge steam locomotives and their hopper cars, used to haul fill material from land holdings along Zion Hill to the   six   mile   fill Charles A. Sims & Company constructed for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch  .

A temporary wooden trestle supports two diminutive 3-foot gauge steam locomotives and their hopper cars, used to haul fill material from land holdings along Zion Hill to the six mile fill Charles A. Sims & Company constructed for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch.

Concurrent to the improvements on the main line at North Bend railroad contractor, Charles A. Sims & Company of Philadelphia was awarded the contract to complete the grading and masonry work for the easternmost segment of the Atglen & Susquehanna project in 1903. Sim's crews began the monumental task of building the new right of way in Sadsbury Township between Atglen (A&S milepost 3.3) west to Milepost 9, just beyond Lamparter Road, a total of almost six miles. Diverging from the shared right of way of the PRR Main Line that ran alongside the ridge of the North Valley Hills, the new line required a massive earthen fill to maintain the gentle grade as it veered southwest into the rolling countryside of Southern Lancaster County, making the ascent to Mars Hill Summit. 

Workers pose in front of the masonry work of the 60' arch spanning Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. While it appears that much of the stonework is complete, the task of backfilling the span and wing walls is yet to be completed as construction progresses west toward Mars Hill Summit. 

Workers pose in front of the masonry work of the 60' arch spanning Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. While it appears that much of the stonework is complete, the task of backfilling the span and wing walls is yet to be completed as construction progresses west toward Mars Hill Summit. 

Material excavated from various improvement projects had been stockpiled on landholdings in the vicinity of Zion Hill. A six-mile narrow-gauge railroad was constructed to transport the fill material from these deposits, crossing over the mainline on a wooden trestle and on to the new right-of-way via temporary trackage. The usual assortment of manpower, steam shovels and a copious amount of dynamite were then employed to generate additional material needed to construct the new right of way. Part of this six-mile segment involved building the first bridge from the east; a large 60' single-arch masonry structure that spanned the historic Noble Road and the East Branch of the Octoraro Creek. The stone arch and wing walls were erected and then backfilled with material hauled in by Sim's narrow gauge railroad, a process repeated countless times as the line reached further west into Lancaster County. 

While Sim's length of the A&S and the rest of the branch has found a renewed purpose as a recreational resource since abandonment in the Conrail era, the arch at Noble Road remains a symbolic portal, marking the crossing from Chester to Lancaster County. More importantly, it is a reminder of the stark contrast between the A&S and the role it played in our national railway network and the quiet life on the farm, typical of Southern Lancaster County. 

The Engineer And the Contractor

BY 1903 William H. Brown, the man who earned the nickname the stone man for his preference of masonry bridge construction was winding down a rewarding 44-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad, 32 of which he served as Chief Engineer. Brown's tenure was part of an era that was arguably one of the most transformative times for the PRR's infrastructure and right of way. His role in the construction of the Low Grade, especially the Atglen & Susquehanna segment would be his last major project before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. Brown had come full circle in life having been born and raised in the same rolling countryside of Southern Lancaster County where he'd close out an impressive career.

One of seven cuts and a fill illustrated in this Manor Township view in Southern Lancaster County. Chief Engineer, William, H Brown, saw to it that the ablest contractors were employed to complete this challenging work promptly. The Manor section was contracted to Patricius McManus a very accomplished railroad builder and neighbor of Brown. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC

One of seven cuts and a fill illustrated in this Manor Township view in Southern Lancaster County. Chief Engineer, William, H Brown, saw to it that the ablest contractors were employed to complete this challenging work promptly. The Manor section was contracted to Patricius McManus a very accomplished railroad builder and neighbor of Brown. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC

Throughout Brown's tenure in the Engineering Department, he relied on skilled contractors to undertake the task of completing a project, among them was arguably one of the most prominent railroad builders of the time, the McManus Construction Company.  By the time construction commenced on the A&S, Patricius McManus, president, and general manager had over 37 years of experience managing railroad construction projects.  McManus started his first project for the Sunbury & Lewistown building 11 miles of track at just 19 years old, developing an impressive portfolio of projects including the double tracking of the Reading's Atlantic City Railroad. The PRR also contracted McManus for the expansion and double tracking of the electrified WJ&S line between Camden and Atlantic City via Newfield as well as various components of the Philadelphia Terminal Division including the terminal trackage for Broad Street Station.  Brown and McManus shared a common thread in their lives and careers, coming from similar social circles, rising from humble roots to the upper echelon of society; they were both self-made success stories. Both Brown and McManus lived in the Powelton Village neighborhood of West Philadelphia, for a time as next-door neighbors, an area regarded as the home of the nouveau riche, outcasts from the old blue-blooded money of railroad executives on the fabled Main Line to Paoli.

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

This cut excavated on the Manor Township section of the Atglen and Susquehanna illustrates the massive scope of ongoing work. The temporary narrow gauge track used to haul some of the 1.3 million cubic yards of debris is evident in the cut complete with a steam shovel at lower right, one of the key pieces of equipment for such work. Harry P. Stoner photograph, Columbia Historic Preservation Society

L. Patricius McManus, Railroad Contractor. R. William H. Brown, Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

L. Patricius McManus, Railroad Contractor. R. William H. Brown, Chief Engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

When Brown parceled out eight contracts for grading and excavating the A&S in 1903, the engineering department knew that no section would be particularly easy. While some places required less significant work than others the line through Providence Township would be an imposing endeavor requiring the railroad to carve a path through the rolling hills since the local topography offered none. Brown charged McManus to execute this segment; Working west from Quarryville, equipment was brought in on an existing branch line via Lancaster and distributed by temporary trackage, moving in construction materials and supplies. Blasting and steam shovels did the grunt work of digging cuts through the hills, some up to 90' deep. McManus's crew of 300 men excavated some 1.3 million cubic yards of rock and earth creating seven cuts and a massive fill in the roughly 8 miles of line through the Township alone.

Brown closed out his storied career on March 1st, 1906 just shy of the dedication of the A&S on July 27th, but McManus's company would soon be involved with the construction of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Cut-Off between Park Summit and Milford, Pennsylvania another remarkable accomplishment of railroad engineering. Though Brown's Low Grade is abandoned now, so many other projects he and McManus worked on together remain a vital part of rail operations for the successors of the Pennsylvania Railroad, a testament to the     
formidable team of Engineer and Contractor. 

The Cost of Labor | Constructing the A&S

Today when you walk along the path of the former Atglen & Susquehanna Low Grade it is a very peaceful experience. There’s no shortage of lush foliage shrouding rock cuts blasted out of the rolling hills, the elevated fills and stone masonry look they were there since the beginning of time, and the railroad itself is long gone. Today it is hard to fathom the purpose of such a resource and even more difficult to imagine the human struggle that was involved in creating such a line.

Workers pause for a photograph, likely made by Lancaster based photographer Harry P. Stoner who was commissioned to document the construction of A&S. Blasting, the high cliffs and large loose rock along the stretch in Manor Township presented many hazards to the men while constructing the final few miles of the A&S along the Susquehanna River. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Workers pause for a photograph, likely made by Lancaster based photographer Harry P. Stoner who was commissioned to document the construction of A&S. Blasting, the high cliffs and large loose rock along the stretch in Manor Township presented many hazards to the men while constructing the final few miles of the A&S along the Susquehanna River. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Early in the era when railroads engaged in a wave of line and capacity improvements across the country, construction of the A&S commenced in 1903. Its scope was compared to that of the Panama Canal, which began around the same time, but took three times longer to complete.  In the course of three years the PRR spent $19.5 million to build an engineering marvel that completed the final piece of a freight by-pass collectively referred to as the Low Grade between Morrisville and Enola, Pennsylvania. With curvature limited to no more than 2% and the maximum grade held to 1% or lower the high cost of building such a line was justified with improved operating ratios and a reduction in fuel and crew demands while providing additional capacity to move freight trains away from the congested main line. With no grade crossings, local industry or stations the A&S was strictly a conduit to move freight to and from the New York and Philadelphia markets across southern Lancaster County to the west via Enola. The premise of the Low Grade is pretty simple until you consider the topography the line spanned; In order to maintain such gradients the PRR had to wage war against the landscape employing thousands of men to construct the line between Parkesburg and the Susquehanna River. The western highlands and the descent into the Susquehanna valley was perhaps the most difficult aspect of the project. It entailed erecting a massive bridge at Safe Harbor to span the Conestoga gap and carving a path high above the river that continued down to Creswell where the line joined the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch. Other notable challenges included the spanning of the Pequea Valley at Martic Forge and the 90-foot deep cut excavated out of solid rock near Quarryville.

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

An excavation crew pauses with a rail mounted steam shovel that appears to be down for repairs. Steam shovels and air powered drills were initially utilized to excavate the right of way in Manor township as well as the deep cuts along the line to the east. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

According to the late Ernest Schuleen who managed the Safe Harbor Water Power Corp, "The major portion of the laborers were immigrants from Italy, Turkey, Syria and the other southeastern European countries, who were taken directly from incoming boats to do the job... Getting the job done was the thing; safety was secondary.'' Roughly 1000 men and 150 horses were deployed along the bluffs of the Susquehanna and hundreds more worked east and west from Quarryville. Obstacles were met with steam shovels and drills, finishing work executed with pick axes and shovels. Dynamite was a necessary tool to complete the work in a timely manner but its nature made the job that much more hazardous, premature explosions killed some, flying debris others. In the course of three years over 200 died while working to complete the A&S. On a weekly basis headlines pitched tragic stories of workers killed on the job with hardly a mention of who they were. One of the most tragic incidents occurred near Colemanville, the location of a dynamite factory employing local residents to produce materials for the PRR and more recently the construction of the nearby Holtwood Dam. On June 6th, 1906, just weeks before the public dedication of the A&S, a blast ripped through the stamping house containing 2400 pounds of dynamite, triggering a subsequent explosion of nitroglycerin, the disaster killing eleven men. The only identified remains was the arm of 25-year-old Frederick Rice, the rest, all in their late teens or early 20’s were laid to rest in a single common casket. Despite the fact that the plant was no longer producing dynamite for the PRR’s A&S project the railroad faced continued criticism for their lack of concern for their seemingly disposable immigrant work force which ultimately brought such tragedy to southern Lancaster County. 

One of the deep cuts near Quarryville takes shape as crews blast and dig their way through solid rock to maintain the 1% maximum ruling grade on the A&S branch. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

One of the deep cuts near Quarryville takes shape as crews blast and dig their way through solid rock to maintain the 1% maximum ruling grade on the A&S branch. Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PMHC

Regardless the project continued and on July 27th of the same year the PRR publicly dedicated the A&S line in the deep cut near Quarryville, where prominent Quarryville citizen George Hensel drove the final spike made of silver. Sadly the human tragedy and loss of life behind the construction of the A&S was the norm rather than the exception. Labor laws and unions had yet to gain a foothold and agencies like OSHA and the FRA had yet to exist. The Industrial Revolution was still very much a time where money ruled and the bottom line far outweighed the value of human life. The human story of the A&S was a dark reality repeated time and time again to build some the most important engineering accomplishments and transportation networks in the country.

Delair Project: Highlight Video Is Live!

The Delair project highlights are live! This documentation included fourteen months of work, at times utilizing up to three photographers, working a total of over 800 man-hours to capture 10 terabytes of imagery through bitter cold, snow, rain and miserable heat, day and night. I would like to thank the people at Conrail and all the contractors and consultants for their assistance and patience, without them this project would not have been possible. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Samuel Markey who was an integral part of the entire production and Michael Legrand who’s aerial footage added another dynamic to this already massive undertaking. Please click the image above to check out the highlights of the Delair Improvements Project and as always feedback is much appreciated!

Thank you for your time and support!

Michael Froio

Michael Froio Photography, LLC

Delair Bridge Project: Upcoming Release

In the spirit of anticipation I am excited to announce the release of four trailer videos this week for the upcoming public debut of work from the 14 month project documenting the rebuilding of Conrail Shared Assets Delair Bridge. The Delair Bridge, completed in 1896 and heavily modified in the late 1950’s is a vital link between Conrail’s South Jersey operations and parent companies CSX and Norfolk Southern's transportation networks. With this upgrade Conrail can now handle heavier loads and larger trains fostering economic growth in Southern New Jersey. This project is part of an $18.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant awarded to the South Jersey Ports by the US Department of Transportation.

I was initially asked to provide a basic documentation for the project which grew into a major production conducted over 6 - three day/ 72 hour scheduled outages where up to 13 bridge spans were replaced and track renewed. As you can imagine a project of this scope cannot be done by one person; I was fortunate enough to work with two other very talented Drexel Photography graduates; Samuel Markey (Class of 2011) who contributed his extensive knowledge of time lapse production, shooting and editing and Michael Legrand (Class of 2000) who provided aerial footage which added an amazing element to the documentation. At times we utilized up to six cameras to capture the various crafts working together to meet the tight deadlines the railroad required in order to minimize service disruptions. Several contractors including Cornell Steel, Thackray Crane and Railworks were managed by Jacobs Engineering to complete scheduled work within the allotted 72 hour slot through snow, rain, extreme temperatures and physical conditions. Next week you can expect more trailer releases and the finished highlight reel which is slated to go live late in the week. I hope you enjoy the work! As always please feel free to comment and share!