Photographs & History

Photographs and History

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

Leaving the city of Lancaster the PRR Main Line snakes its way across the rich agricultural landscape of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in central eastern Lancaster County. 

Leaving the city of Lancaster behind, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad snakes its way through small hamlets like Bird in Hand, Ronks, Gordonville, Leaman Place Junction and Kinzer arcing gently through the heart of central eastern Lancaster County. Known as Pennsylvania Dutch Country, this area is home to a large population of Amish and Mennonite farmers offering a unique contrast between modern living and the simple life these people traditionally live.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Plate 68: Mill Creek Bridge. Facing the southern facade of a virtually brand new bridge spanning Mill Creek, photographer William H. Rau frames the special photography train staged on the bridge. Very little has changed here with the exception of the concrete reinforcement and catenary towers as seen by the inset photo below taken in 2013. William H Rau image collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

The Main Line, part of the original Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad was the site of several improvements including grade separation and curve realignments along the route. Often in winter while riding the south side of the train the bare trees reveal traces of abandoned alignments especially around Kinzer where an early stone arch bridge and small fill once crossed Vintage Road south of the “new” main line. Eastbound trains face a .56% ruling grade approaching the crossing of Mine Ridge on a typical stretch of right of way for the PRR; Several brick freight houses survive, all constructed in a similar style around 1860, W.H. Brown era overpasses and culverts and two notable stone masonry arch bridges that cross the Mill Creek near Smoketown and the Pequea Creek in Paradise, all under a veil of catenary from the final 1938 phase of electrification.  

At Leaman Place Junction, connection was made with the Strasburg Railroad now a well known tourist operation that was originally chartered in 1832 to connect with the P&C. Operational by 1837 utilizing horse drawn coaches on rails the Strasburg purchased a locomotive constructed by the Norris Locomotive Works named the William Penn in 1851. 

 

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

Typical views along this stretch of the PRR Main Line include simple frame buildings and unspoiled views of the rich agricultural landscape inhabited by the Amish and Mennonites.

By the 20th Century the Strasburg had changed ownership several times and passenger ridership suffered from the competition of Conestoga Traction Company’s streetcar routes into the city of Lancaster. Ultimately the line was put up for abandonment in the late 1950’s when Henry K Long, an area railfan organized a non-profit to save the line.  Commencing tourist operations in 1959 the Strasburg railroad has been a cornerstone of Lancaster County’s tourism trade offering steam powered train rides through the unspoiled PA Dutch countryside. The railroad has been unique in its mission, centered not only on operations but also working to preserve the historical landscape and feel of a turn of the century railroad while running a healthy freight business and a full service shop for Strasburg and contract restorations.

An Institution of Steam Preservation

While there are many dedicated people operating steam locomotives in 2012, an institution among those in the Northeastern United States is the Strasburg Railroad. Reborn from a weedy right of way in 1958, by a group of dedicated business men who partnered to resurrect the historic line chartered in 1832. Running through the beautiful countryside of Lancaster County Pennsylvania, the company has continued to provide generations with an opportunity to ride living history through bucolic rolling farmlands.

Number 89 a former Canadian National Mogul Type Locomotive built in 1910, stands cold in August of 2011 waiting for its routine inspection.

Number 89 a former Canadian National Mogul Type Locomotive built in 1910, stands cold in August of 2011 waiting for its routine inspection.

As I child I was fortunate enough to visit several times, and now share it with my son and daughter making the occasional trip and also visit the neighboring Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum, another treasure of the Northeast.  Currently the Strasburg rosters four running steam locomotives including former Canadian National #7312 0-6-0 built in 1908 (renumbered 31 - subsequently the first locomotive purchased and operated by the 1958 Strasburg group), 1924 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-10-0 #90 formerly of the Great Western Railway, A 1910 Mogul type, former Canadian National #89, purchased from the Green Mountain Railroad, and finally No 475, a former Class M Norfolk Western 4-8-0 built by the Baldwin Works in 1906, and finally a former Brooklyn East District 0-4-0 from the Porter Company which has been converted into an operating replica of Thomas the Tank Engine. In addition scores of beautifully restored period passenger, freight and non-revenue cars, a very special gas electric car, and even a few early diesel electric switchers!

Former Great Western Light Decapod Class 2-10-0 #90 stands on the ready track early in the morning on a foggy August day in 2011.

Former Great Western Light Decapod Class 2-10-0 #90 stands on the ready track early in the morning on a foggy August day in 2011.

Strasburg has a world class reputation for their mechanical shops, where everything is fabricated and maintained by skilled craftsmen of various trades  to keep the equipment in as new shape. These same men and women also contract out their services to other railroads and steam operators all over the Country. Something else unique about the Railroad is their dedication to preserving the landscape it operates in, the lush Amish farmlands. Several years ago, the company initiated a land trust to preserve open space along the line, putting proceeds from ticket sales into a trust to preserve the view for generations to come.

There has been quite a bit written about the historic Strasburg Railroad, but in my opinion, its best to go and visit, take a ride, chase the trains, get there early and watch the daily routine of prepping the locomotives for the day's run, or when they put them to bed at dusk. Its been instrumental in captivating my love for history, steam and the railroads that built our Country, and I hope sometime you'll have the opportunity to experience it too!