Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Downingtown & Lancaster Branch

On Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path from the Main Line and Low Grade as we leave the Lancaster area to explore the former Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad, an interesting branch line operation that may have been the result of early efforts to expand the PRR soon after its charter. 

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the  Lancaster History Archive

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

Early History: Surviving segment of Thomson’s Poker Game? No sooner than the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh the fledging carrier looked to expand its empire by purchasing rights, property and franchises to gain entry to new markets and expand upon their existing system. Largely driven by third president, J. Edgar Thomson, one of the largest single objectives was to gain direct access to Philadelphia. This would require control of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, an 82-mile rail route that connected Philadelphia to the canal system at the P&C’s western terminus Columbia, all of which was part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works. Though poorly engineered and in deplorable condition due to the mounting debt of the entire operation, the route had potential if the right funding could be secured and a staff of knowledgeable railroad men could be utilized to plan and execute improvements. This however would not be the problem for Thomson; it was more so the state who demanded a hefty sum for the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety with the clause that all parts of the system be improved and remain operational.  Thompson's response? Build another railroad and marginalize the state system.  Thus attention was focused on the recently incorporated Lancaster, Lebanon & Pine Grove Railroad, a start up enterprise looking to establish a connection between the Norristown Railroad and the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad which would essentially make the need for the P&C irrelevant. Founded in 1852, Christian Spangler a prominent Philadelphia businessman was named commissioner of the new line. Spangler, also a PRR board member would soon be named president of the railroad in 1853.  In the spring of the same year survey crews worked between Lebanon and Cornwall doing just enough work to look like the Lancaster & Pine Grove would come to fruition.

Detail of the 1855 map under Chief Engineer H. P Haupt shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad (across the upper center area of the map) which would eliminate the need to purchase the State's failing Main Line of Public Works. Though the route was never built the similarities of the line with Downingtown & Lancaster branch makes one wonder if the property had once been considered to be part of the plan had the Commonwealth and the PRR never came to terms. Map collection of the Library of Congress

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

In 1854, facing the reality of an investment that now accounted for almost all of the Commonwealth’s debt, fear of financial ruin motivated the state legislature to pass an act to sell the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety for the highest bidder above 10 Million dollars. The PRR wouldn’t budge; Thomson continued his bluff letting contracts to begin minimal construction with no intention of building an actual railroad but rather to force the hand of canal commissioners to sell on the PRR’s terms and price point.  For the next three years Thomson continued to wage his bets, showing public support for the construction of the Lancaster & Pine Grove. In 1855 the state legislature authorized another sale complete with operational clauses for the State Works to be sold at a minimum bid of $7.5 million; still no takers. Finally in 1857 a third bill was authorized for sale at or above $7.5 million including all rolling stock and property.  With no other offers the PRR took control of the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety on August 1st, 1857.  Now that Thomson had the last piece of railroad to complete a wholly owned main line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad would be dropped.

 

While the bidding war for the PRR to assumed control of P&C raged on, the East Brandywine Railroad had chartered in 1854, building an 18 mile line between the main line at Downingtown and Waynesburg (later Honebrook), Pennsylvania. Commencing operations in 1860 and reorganizing as the East Brandywine & Waynesburg Railroad Company the railroad extended another ten miles west to New Holland by 1876 operating in rich agricultural country. The line was operated by the PRR under leases until June of 1888, when the property was sold under foreclosure and the company reorganized as the Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad Company.  The road would later be extended from New Holland to Conestoga Junction, a total of 9.8 miles, opening for traffic in September of 1890 with the PRR operating the entire line as agent. The Downingtown & Lancaster was never intended to operate as a primary route, with a ruling grade of 1.6% westward, but the rural line did service the agricultural region with connections to the main line at both ends. When comparing the proposed route of the Lancaster & Pine Grove on Herman Haupt’s 1855 map the uncanny similarity of the route with parts of the D&L makes one wonder if the alignment is surviving property that was pawn to Thompson’s high stakes poker game to gain control of the P&C. 

 

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The Downingtown & Lancaster in the 20th Century: In 1903 the 37.5 mile line, property and franchises were officially purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operation remained much the same as it had for some time. New Holland was one of the larger centers for traffic on the branch, originally home to New Holland Machine, Musselman Brother’s Feed and Lumber, EM Rutter & Co. among several others. One particular company stood out later becoming a major shipper on the branch; New Holland Machine. Founded in 1875 by Abraham Zimmerman a black smith and mechanical genius, Zimmerman began offering his services to area farmers in need of repair or fabrication of farming equipment. Zimmerman grew his business carefully watching the rising need for the internal combustion engines in the farming industry.  Despite imperfect designs Zimmerman saw potential in these machines and sought to improve them by developing a new freeze proof water-cooled engine.  By 1903 Zimmerman had incorporated the New Holland Machine Company hiring 40 employees to mass-produce the engines in a facility located on Franklin Street.  Other items in Zimmerman’s product line included feed grinders, rock crushers and wood saws. By 1911 the company had grown to 150 employees and in 1927 the company employed 225. In 1947 the Sperry Corporation purchased New Holland Machine becoming Sperry-New Holland. Since the acquisition the company has changed hands several times and is now a brand of CNH Global which is majority owned by Fiat International. The New Holland, PA location remains the North American headquarters and is one of the largest plants for manufacturing hay tools in the world.

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

William L. Seigford hired with the PRR in December of 1959 and was later promoted and transferred from the West Coast territory of the PRR to the Harrisburg Division where he was assigned to the Lancaster Territory. Locally based in the Lancaster area, part of his territory included the New Holland Branch. Among other major shippers, Bill worked closely with Sperry – New Holland, who received both inbound steel from various mills and shipped finished product. At one particular time during the final years of the Penn Central era Sperry was experiencing a surge in production and the railroad had difficulty providing the necessary flat cars on a daily basis to move the finished product. Bill recalls, “Sperry’s traffic manager came up with the idea to charter a small plane to fly over the railroad in order to scout empty flat cars sitting in yards or sidings and insisted I go with them. We flew over Enola then on up the Middle Division to Lewistown where they (Sperry) loaded flatcars at the public delivery tracks with product from their Belleville Plant.” Through a stop off arrangement written in the PRR tariffs, these flat cars would be partially loaded in New Holland then shipped to either the Mountville plant or Lewistown to be completed depending on what dealers out west needed in their shipment. During the early Conrail era, Philadelphia’s marketing offices quickly realized they were loosing money on the additional stop off and sought to put an end to the unprofitable arrangement. Shipment of outbound loads tapered off ending in the early 1980's but the plant continued to received inbound steel for a few more years until Sperry had the necessary trucking companies to haul both. 

The D&L faced several abandonments with the first major change in the 1950’s when 8 miles were abandoned severing the line’s end points. By the 1960’s the entire east end from Downingtown was gone and Honeybrook (formerly Waynesburg) was the far end of the branch from Lancaster. Conrail continued to cut the line back eventually making East Earl the end of the line. Today trackage ends on the far-east end of New Holland near New Holland Cement. The remainder of the extant line in service connects with the former PRR Main Line in Lancaster at Conestoga interlocking continuing 12.8 miles to the end of track. Though Sperry-New Holland doesn’t ship by rail the branch remains very profitable, being served today Monday through Friday by Norfolk Southern's locals H28 and H29 (afternoon relief crew) and is home to major shippers like Dart Container, L&S Sweeteners, RR Donnelley Printing and several others.  

I would like to acknowledge both William L. Seigford and Mark Hoffman for taking the time to show me around the branch and share a wealth of information on the operations and local history of the New Holland branch through its later PRR, PC and Conrail operations.

Preserving the legacy of the Pennsylvania Railroad

At the close of 2014 the Greer Family donated a remarkable piece of Pennsylvania Railroad history in the form of an oversized album of large format photographs made by Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917) a native of the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Operating out of a studio at 7th and Arch Streets for more than 50 years Gutekunst was considered one of the preeminent photographers in the post-Civil War era. Some of his subjects included noteworthy people like Thomas Eakins and Walt Whitman but also extended beyond portraiture to include architecture and the built environment of the PRR. Before this album surfaced most examples of his work were in the form of stereo views, making this collection of 16x12” large format prints incredibly rare.

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

Plate 61, Allegheny Tunnel, Galitzen, Pennsylvania. One of 91 beautiful images from the Album of Frederick Gutekunst's photographs recently donated to the Library Company of Philadelphia by the Greer family. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia

The portfolio, dating from ca. 1875, titled simple “Scenery of the Pennsylvania Railroad” represents one in a series of campaigns the PRR embarked on to celebrate the railroad as a destination, touting the freshly manicured railroad dissecting the wilds of Pennsylvania, following serpentine rivers, paralleling the canals the road made obsolete; a symbol of modern engineering and progress in America. Fittingly the railroad chose photography over traditional illustrations and paintings, providing a tangible image which potential travelers could connect to, a portal into the world of the PRR and the landscape it traveled. Like his contemporary William H. Rau, Gutekunst utilized the large plate view camera to portray the growing railroad as the country recovered from the American Civil War. This remarkable portfolio illustrates the Pennsylvania Railroad before the grand system improvements started under Chief Engineer William H. Brown and his successors, which would last from the late 1870’s well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

On the Conemaugh at Lockport, Pennsylvania, by Frederick Gutekunst. Up until the PRR portfolio surfaced, much of Gutekunst's work for the PRR was only known to exist in stereo views like this. Image collection of Library Company of Philadelphia.

What makes this donation even more special, especially to PRR preservationists is that we owe a great debt of gratitude to a former Pennsylvania Railroad employee for having the foresight and pride in his employer to save the portfolio.

David St. John Greer, was born in Philadelphia in 1914, his father a laborer and his mother a seamstress. Settling in New Jersey, David completed high school in Pemberton, NJ and enrolled in a 4-year business administration program at Drexel University. Graduating from Drexel in 1937, Greer would begin a 32-year career with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though the details of his early years with the company are limited, in 1943 despite being exempt as a railroad employee to serve during WWII, he felt compelled to serve his country and enlisted in the Navy. Greer was never deployed in active war but was appointed as the Assistant Supervisor of Exports for the PRR Port of Philadelphia and later served as the District Property Transportation Officer in the Port of Philadelphia Customs House while also acting on the Ports Conditions Committee. Greer was released from active duty in January of 1946 as a Lieutenant returning to his civilian job with the PRR. Over the next 11 years Greer worked all over the system as a Supervising Agent for important terminals like Williamsport, Harrisburg, the company piers of New York, and Philadelphia. In 1953 he was promoted to Superintendent of Stations in the Pittsburgh Region and later the Chicago area from 1955-57. By the end of 1957 Greer was promoted to Manager / Director of Freight Stations and Motor Service on the entire system, responsible for all stations and trucking companies owned by the PRR. In 1968, the fateful year long time rivals PRR and NYC merged Greer was appointed Director of Stations system wide where he served just one short year, deciding that he could no longer work for the merged railroads.

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

David St. John Greer, pictured here in the center of the middle row (dark suit) was a devoted Pennsylvania Railroad employee who purchased the Gutekunst album after the ill fated merger of the PRR and rival New York Central in 1968. After being in their possession for over 45 years the Greer family decided to donate the album to the Library Company of Philadelphia where it will  join a sizable collection of Gutekunst's work along side the William H. Rau commissions for the PRR. Image courtesy of the Greer Family. 

During that last year, the PC worked to wipe the slate of documents and ephemera from the PRR archives offering items for sale to employees and later holding public auctions. It was here that Greer purchased the Gutekunst Album along with a number of other pieces of PRR memorabilia. Greer’s son, David, recalls, “My father loved the PRR and hated the merger. He particularly loved freight operations. He worked in places that included many of the locations in Pennsylvania pictured in the [Gutekunst] photographs and felt a close kinship to the railroad and the state of Pennsylvania. He took good care of the album but would occasionally sit and look at the photos much as I have done for the past twenty years.” David’s father gifted many of the other items he purchased at auction after his retirement, but held on to the album of photographs. “I think it is telling he kept the photographs, clearly the most valuable piece of railroad memorabilia he had. He also kept things that I think reminded him of the good times on the railroad. As an example he kept and displayed the menu from his dinner on the last run of the all Pullman Broadway Limited. The train crew signed the menu and he kept it along with some of the serving pieces that were used for this dinner. I think he felt that the end of the Broadway Limited was the end of an era. He flew to Chicago on business so that he could ride home on the Limited’s last eastbound trip as an all Pullman train, disembarking at Paoli near his home.”

Survived by his daughter Ann Hiros and son David Greer, David St. John Greer passed in December of 1993, leaving the album among other items with the family. In late 2013 I had heard about the album surfacing through PRRT&HS archivist Charlie Horan and in March of 2014 had the pleasure of meeting David on a train trip to Pittsburgh riding the Juniata Terminal Company PRR 120 and the Warrior Ridge (A Ride on the Pennsylvania). Dave expressed his interest in donating the album to a place that not only could care for it properly but also make it accessible to the public. Given my experience with the Rau collection housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia I suggested that David consider the institution, not only because of Gutkunst’s Philadelphia connection but also because of the existing collection of his work already at the LCP. It would also bring together two very important collections of photography that focused on the Pennsylvania Railroad from the 19th Century. At the close of 2014 the Greer family ultimately decided the album belonged in LCP’s permanent collection, adding to an incredible archive of 19th Century prints and photographs. We are lucky to have this resource preserved where it will ultimately be digitized for many future generations to enjoy in the honor of David St John Greer and photographer Frederick Gutekunst.

Lecture Next Week | Harrisburg Chapter NRHS

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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 michael@michaelfroio.com

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!

 

Merry Christmas from the Main Line !

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The railroad never stops, nor does the industry it serves. In the shadow of the Coatesville bridge spanning the west branch of the Brandywine River the former Lukens steel mill hums with activity around the clock providing jobs for people in the surrounding communities. As we enjoy the company of family during the holidays, men and women leave home to work in the plant day and night, producing specialized steel to build America's bridges, buildings and infrastructure. For some, working through the holidays seems unthinkable, to the folks in the steel or transportation industry its business as usual. Whether you are home with loved ones or on the job, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas !

Happy Holidays from Michael Froio Photography

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Friends, As 2014 winds down and we are amidst the holiday season I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone for all the wonderful words and support. Between formally becoming a small business owner, commercial commissions, lectures, curating an exhibition, writing, research and making photographs for the Main Line Project it has been a truly amazing year. I look forward to taking the final days of 2014 to reflect on the year and spend some much-needed time with the family. Looking forward to 2015 there is a number of events on the horizon,more information will follow after the start of the New Year. I have taken a moment to assemble here some of my favorite holiday posts from years past, enjoy and happy holidays from my family to yours!

Sincerely,

Michael Froio

Holiday Traditions: Story of the Night before Christmas Paintings by PRR employee William W. Seigford Jr.

This time of year, family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays with traditions developed over generations. As a part of our family tradition I have the pleasure to read to my children on Christmas Eve as my father did before, the fabled poem, The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore. First published anonymously in December of 1823, it is now the tradition in many American families to read the poem on Christmas Eve.

The story and illustrations presented here were made in 1953 by Pennsylvania Railroad employee, William W. Seigford Jr. who maintained an office at the Harrisburg Passenger Station. They were displayed in the station during the Christmas season alternating with other decorations for several years until Seigford was transferred to Cincinnati in 1956. The paintings were never displayed in Cincinnati but remained in Seigford’s possession until he retired from Penn Central as General Foreman of Passenger Locomotives and Cars in July of 1974. After retirement he returned to the Lancaster area and subsequently donated the paintings to Amtrak’s Lancaster Passenger Station for display during the Christmas season. Surviving the Pennsylvania Railroad and Penn Central, all 12 original paintings hang proudly in the beautiful 1929 waiting room under the watchful eye of Amtrak employees Richard Peiffer and Donna Whitney, who facilitated the making of these reproductions for future preservation.

I would like to acknowledge Mr. William (Bill) L. Seigford for his help on this post as well as his continued support on the Main Line Project, his knowledge and generosity have been a invaluable resource.

The Lionel Corporation: Model Railroad Icon of the Holiday Season

Page 12-13 of Lionel's 1947 product catalog illustrating the deluxe train sets # 1447WS and 1459WS featuring accessories including the log dump car and working cattle pen. Note the locomotive which is modeled after the PRR's failed S2 steam turbine locomotive, which ironically Lionel produced more of than the Juniata Shops!  Original 1947 catalog collection of the author.

Page 12-13 of Lionel's 1947 product catalog illustrating the deluxe train sets # 1447WS and 1459WS featuring accessories including the log dump car and working cattle pen. Note the locomotive which is modeled after the PRR's failed S2 steam turbine locomotive, which ironically Lionel produced more of than the Juniata Shops!  Original 1947 catalog collection of the author.

With modest beginnings Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900, building model trains for retail window displays to help draw consumers to their stores. In 1906 the company responded to the increasing demand for the electric trains in the consumer market and developed its trademark three-rail “standard gage” track to simplify wiring and use of accessories.  By 1915 Lionel would supplement the large standard gage with the budget minded O scale which would later become the standard size of their product lines. Lionel’s use of sharp advertising was ultimately responsible for tying model trains to Christmas, making them popular presents during the holidays, establishing traditions that survive today.  By WWI Lionel was one of three major US manufactures of toy trains, surpassing competitor Ives as the market leader by the 1920’s. Lionel’s growth and aggressive ad campaigns further led to Ives' bankruptcy in 1928.

Lionel 027 gage locomotives and tenders! No Lionel layout was complete with extra motive power, this includes many Pennsy inspired locomotives lettered in both the classic Lionel Lines and PRR. Original 1947 catalog collection of the author. 

Lionel 027 gage locomotives and tenders! No Lionel layout was complete with extra motive power, this includes many Pennsy inspired locomotives lettered in both the classic Lionel Lines and PRR. Original 1947 catalog collection of the author. 

Like many other companies, the Great Depression would be a severe detriment to Lionel’s business, as a result their 1927 operating profit of over $500,000 plummeted to $82,000 in 1930, and ultimately a loss in 1931 of over $200,000 putting Lionel into receivership by May of 1934. A product credited with saving Lionel during the Depression era was a wind up hand car featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse which Lionel sold well over 250,00 units providing the cash flow to keep the company from closing.

"From the Ranch Lands and Dairy Country!" Lionel was well known for there operating accessories including the Cattle Car and Milk cars both which were accompanied by track side platforms for loading and unloading. Original 1947 catalog collection of the author.

"From the Ranch Lands and Dairy Country!" Lionel was well known for there operating accessories including the Cattle Car and Milk cars both which were accompanied by track side platforms for loading and unloading. Original 1947 catalog collection of the author.

In 1942 Lionel ceased toy production to produce items for the United States Navy during World War II. Regardless of the lack of toy train production, the advertising department pushed heavily to urge American teenagers to start planning their post-war layouts. By late 1945 Lionel resumed production, replacing their original product lines with more realistic trains and accessories exclusively in O Scale. Considered by many aficionados as the golden years, 1946-1956 saw sales soaring with new items including the famous Santa Fe Warbonnet EMD F3 locomotives as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad GGI and experimental S2 steam turbine locomotive. During the 1950s Lionel would tout its short-lived title of largest toy manufacturer, out selling American Flyer almost 2:1. After 1955 sales declined steadily with the rising popularity of the smaller but more realistic HO Scale and to many the end of the true “Lionel era” was in 1959. Over the years Lionel was diversified unsuccessfully and the name survived in different ways including retail toy outlet Lionel Kiddy City. Today the Lionel name remains the most famous name in model trains, though not associated with the original corporation, Lionel LLC owns most of the product rights and trademarks continuing the legacy started by American businessmen Joshua Lionel and Harry Grant well over 100 years ago.

Holiday Travel: A vintage add from the Pennsylvania Railroad

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Summer News and Updates

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Dear Friends,

I wanted to take a moment to say hello, it’s been a while since I have emailed or posted and I thought it would be a good opportunity to fill everyone in on some exciting news and updates.

 The past nine months have provided big opportunities for me as a professional photographer. I was commissioned by Conrail to document a major rebuild of the Delair Bridge, a vital span over the Delaware River which connects the Conrail Shared Assets South Jersey freight cluster with Norfolk Southern and CSX networks. The conversation with Conrail began sometime in September of 2013 to provide a record for engineers and contractors of the fast paced process of replacing 60 deck girder spans over a series of several three-day work periods. After some discussion and my own consulting with several peers it was decided the best solution would be to utilize time-lapse photography to provide both a still record and moving piece that shows each 72 hour work outage in some 6-12 minutes. To date we have shot five of the six outages compiling roughly 10 terabytes of information utilizing Canon, GoPro and unmanned aerial drone technologies. It’s been one hell of an experience and I look forward to sharing the results of the project soon.

Other exciting news includes the recent confirmation that I will be curating a show opening this November titled, Railroads and the Historical Landscapes They Travel at the Monmouth Museum near Red Bank, New Jersey. Though details are still in progress I am excited to put together a great exhibition featuring a wide breath of work both contemporary and historic on the subject. You can also expect a new series of posts this fall focusing on works from the Watershed portfolio, which explores the Delaware River watershed and Atlantic coast. This work will be part of a three-person exhibition next year at the Perkins Center for Arts in their beautiful Collingswood exhibition space. Posts on the Main Line Project will also resume next week with a large series focusing on the history and evolution of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I have been working on accumulating resources for these posts and figuring out how to format the series for sometime now. I am pleased with the way things are coming together and look forward to your feedback once they start going live.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer and I look forward to sharing more with you on exhibitions, new work and creative commissions in the near future! Stay cool and keep in touch!

Best regards,

Michael Froio

Upcoming Lecture | PRRT&HS National Convention

View of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line and East Franklin from Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

View of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line and East Franklin from Conemaugh, Pennsylvania.

I am happy to announce that I’ll be presenting  a lecture on the ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad during this year's annualPennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society national convention. 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.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (PRRT&HS) is a national organization including 12 Chapters around the country whose mission is to further scholarly learning and interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad through a number of activities. For more information about the PRRT&HS, their activities and archives please visit their website. The lecture, part of the annual national meeting which runs from May 1st to May 4th is one of many diverse presentations covering a range of topics on the late great Pennsylvania Railroad. For registration information and schedules please visit the convention page or contact me directly at michael@michaelfroio.com

Thank you for your support!

Michael Froio

A Ride on the Pennsylvania

Though I have spent some seven years documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad I can count on one hand how many times I have actually rode the original Main Line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. This past weekend I graduated to three fingers making the round trip to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia. This one however was no ordinary trip; in fact it was quite special, for it was made on two privately owned historic rail cars; Bennett and Eric Levin’s lovingly restored Warrior Ridge and the Pennsylvania 120 a former PRR business car. As an invited guest myself and several others were lucky enough to see the landscape that that PRR has traveled since its completion in 1852, traveling through places I was all to familiar with but not always from the perspective of the passenger.

"Storm lifting in the Packsaddle", William H. Rau photograph. The Packsaddle is one of several locations that were used during various illustration and photographic campaigns on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

"Storm lifting in the Packsaddle", William H. Rau photograph. The Packsaddle is one of several locations that were used during various illustration and photographic campaigns on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

It got me thinking as several of us discussed various facets of the PRR including illustrative and photographic campaigns undertaken over the years by the company. These campaigns were geared around flaunting the scenic vistas along this prolific engineered corridor; some are revisited several times, in particular during the second half of the 19th Century. Riding in a car that served PRR President Walter Franklin among other officials, I could imagine the conversations and acknowledgment of these beautiful locations that seemed to captivate railroad men whether it was because they conquered a particularly difficult pass there or because the beauty was just that breathtaking.

For over 160 years the PRR has traversed this natural landscape following the majestic Susquehanna, Juniata, Conemaugh and Allegheny Rivers among others. Throughout that time countless passengers gazed out the window at areas commanding names like Warrior Ridge, The Packsaddle, Mineral Point and Jacks Narrows. Let us not forget how many experience the westbound ascent of Horseshoe curve out of Altoona, entering the famous engineering landmark high above Burgoon Run one quickly gets a sense of the curve's purpose, watching an eastbound descend the mountain across the valley at a noticeably higher elevation. Places like this were engineered by brilliant and driven men on the backs of cheap labor wielding pick axes and shovels, they are a testament of what was possible in the by gone era of industrialization. But yet they still survive, moving countless trains on a given day, a refined version of J. Edgar Thomson’s engineering genius. Besides the trains themselves little has changed from when Frederick Gutekunst or William Rau left footprints in the cinders making the large format images that preserved this rugged beauty. I have always been fascinated by the undefined spaces the railroad travels, the areas in-between the towns, cities and villages that create a sort of rhythm that illustrates the growth and progress the railroads fostered along the line, watching the ever changing landscape from the window of train who’s predecessors we owe our Nation’s existence to.

"The Horse Shoe Curve, Pennsylvania Railroad" Illustration of the engineering landmark envisioned by  J. Edgar Thomson from an 1895 travel book which illustrates the scenic highlights of the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line. Collection of the author. 

"The Horse Shoe Curve, Pennsylvania Railroad" Illustration of the engineering landmark envisioned by  J. Edgar Thomson from an 1895 travel book which illustrates the scenic highlights of the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line. Collection of the author. 

Yes this weekend was a welcome distraction, a reminder of why I embarked on this project, to document and share a railroad so historic and massive that its reputation and design lasted longer the company itself. To spend time on the railroad with like minded folks on a pair of beautifully restored private cars was exactly what I needed to put into perspective the past, present and future of railroading on the Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travels. In regard to preservation, I take off my hat to people like the Levin’s who share the legacy of railroad travel in style and take every opportunity to see to it their guests are comfortable and having a good time. And to my fellow travel mates, I made some new friends and shared some great stories about the very railroad that bought us all together. Though the Pennsylvania Railroad has been gone for quite some time it is experiences like this that reinforce that the spirit and pride of the former Standard Railroad of the World is still very much alive through so many people and their work to preserve our railroad heritage. This is a trip that will stick with me for quite a long time!

William H. Rau: Using Historical Works For Artistic Guidance

Often times as an artist inspiration comes from many sources, mine takes root from a fascination of railroads, geography, architecture and history. With consideration of the Main Line Project there came another major source of inspiration: the photographic work of William H. Rau.

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau's 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the main line through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Born in 1855, Rau was a Philadelphia based commercial photographer whose relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad spanned his career in the business. Though he had numerous assignments with the railroad over the years, it would be two commissions that brought Rau to our attention in the 20th Century. The first assignment was from June to September 1891, the second, April to July of 1893. The commission employed the relatively new concept of advertising photography to entice the leisure traveler to explore the American landscape by way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Illustrating the terrain and destinations along the system, Rau worked with a mammoth plate view camera in the field, traveling in a customized passenger coach complete with living quarters and darkroom.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

(L) William H. Rau portrait circa 1908. (R) Rau and his assistants setting up his camera along the Conemaugh River at the Packsaddle near present day Torrance, Pennsylvania, circa 1891. Both images collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

In 2002 the Library Company of Philadelphia mounted an exhibition of original prints by Rau from the 1890’s commissions in conjunction with the release of a companion book titled “Travelling the Pennsylvania Railroad” published by University of Penn Press. The exhibition hit home with me for many reasons, providing not only a view of the Pennsylvania Railroad over 100 years ago but by also appealing to my photographic sensibility. Like Rau I was using the view camera to craft thoughtful, creative and technically resolved images that can function on both a documentary and artistic level. Rau’s mammoth plate images provided insight for an approach to photographing not just the trains but also the infrastructure of a railroad and the landscape it traversed. This exhibition and subsequent book was the seed that would germinate into the Main Line Project some five years later.

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Main Line Project draws from Rau's use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

In 2006, having been out college more than five years, I was making work and exhibiting as much as possible. I had finished a two-year Career Development Fellowship with the Philadelphia based Center for Emerging Visual Artists and was teaching at Drexel University. My projects focused on the Delaware River Watershed and later documenting historic but obsolete structures in and around the Philadelphia area. Though I was having a fair amount of success with the work, I couldn’t help but think more about Rau’s PRR commissions. Using his work as a starting point could provide insight on how to revisit the very subject that led me to pick up a camera in the first place – the railroad. In the spring of 2007 I applied for and received an Alumni Travel Grant with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists to photograph the surviving railroad and landscape along the former PRR between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the segment I was most familiar with. With the Rau book always by my side I made several trips building the conceptual framework of the project. Drawing from approaches utilized in past work, I photographed everything along the route, compiling an assortment of over a hundred images that ran the gamut, some good, some bad; others that became the cornerstones of how the project would evolve.

Between trips I contacted the Library Company to inquire about viewing the Rau Collection for further inspiration. Knowing that the book reproduced 50 plates from a larger collection of 463 individual images I could tell just by the published inventory list that I needed to see more. With the help of the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah Weatherwax, I began reviewing small reference prints and later original 18x22” contact prints. There was something magical about looking at this work in person, to be able to hold and interact with it minus the glass and polish of an exhibition. Seeing the sheen of vintage albumen prints and the endless amounts of detail from an image made from a negative of the same size was a true sensory experience. It was a first hand view of a historical photographic process, a cohesive collection of how one photographer viewed the world and the landscape that was in front of his lens.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Though Rau’s work was playing a big part in molding my project I did not want this to become a re-photographic survey, getting mired down in finding the exact locations and times Rau made pictures. Instead my relationship with Rau was an open dialogue, one that takes influence from the imagery while considering the modern landscape and rail corridor. Recognizing that Rau was commissioned to make this work, for me it was much bigger than just an assignment. I was working to discover the history tied to a railroad corridor that has largely shaped the landscape throughout the Northeast and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - about using Rau’s work to inspire and inform me of a past time in the landscape and on the railroad. The act of gleaning information from Rau’s images added yet another layer of depth in my relationship to his work.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Main Line of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

Around this time I began working with Amtrak’s engineering department and historic architect John Bowie Associates who were in the midst of documenting various historical facilities along the Northeast Corridor. It was the relationships that developed during this phase (which continue today) that helped me better understand more of the physical and economic history of the PRR and appreciate just how pivotal this era was to the company. Rau’s images reveal an evolution: a railroad building a physical plant that would be worthy of the claim of being the Standard Railroad of the World. In the 1890’s massive system wide improvements were well underway that would include construction of the countless stone bridges that remain today among other large scale engineering projects. At the same time the photos give a nod to antiquity, the relics of street running and canals that were giving way to a grade separated four track main line that stretched from New York City to Pittsburgh.

Rau’s imagery provided a comprehensive study of a railroad about to hit its prime and a landscape that would see continual transformation because of its presence. The ability to gain such a clear perspective of the PRR in one cohesive body of work afforded the visual “before” to my after. Understanding the history of this great railroad in conjunction with the aesthetical response to Rau’s photos provide a sort of spiritual guidance in making images for the Main Line Project. Inspired in different ways by his work I consider channeling my inner Rau every time I pick up a camera and look to a subject like the former Pennsylvania Railroad.

(Railroad) Photography with a View Camera

Every time I step foot out in the field to photograph I am fully prepared to handle a barrage of questions pertaining to my camera of choice, mainly because in this day and age its… well almost completely obsolete. I have for over 15 years had a love/ hate relationship with the view camera. A cumbersome, slow, maybe even archaic box like design. The basic principal and design of a view camera derives from the camera obscura a device used by artists and scientists alike through out early history, and ultimately the basis of early camera designs.

An example of a large format negative from a 5x7 view camera. When properly exposed and developed the negative produce a wide dynamic range in a single negative which can be either scanned or printed traditionally in the darkroom. (Below Left) View Camera film is cut into sheets and loaded into holders like this allowing for two exposures, one on each side. (Bottom Right) My camera of choice is a 5x7 wood field camera, a compact and precise design that affords the benefits of large format without the bulk of a rail design camera. Cassandra, Pennsylvania 

An example of a large format negative from a 5x7 view camera. When properly exposed and developed the negative produce a wide dynamic range in a single negative which can be either scanned or printed traditionally in the darkroom. (Below Left) View Camera film is cut into sheets and loaded into holders like this allowing for two exposures, one on each side. (Bottom Right) My camera of choice is a 5x7 wood field camera, a compact and precise design that affords the benefits of large format without the bulk of a rail design camera. Cassandra, Pennsylvania 

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Why use film and a View Camera? In the days of digital capture and Photoshop this is a very valid question. My mind is a process oriented one, I am fascinated by things that require a balance between artistry and technical proficiency, activities like cooking, beer making, and of course photography. Akin to a craft like woodworking, photographers have various tools available and over time you develop a preference to which tool you work with. The view camera for me is a technical tool that provides an interactive experience where you are fully and physically involved in the picture making process.

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I exaggerated in describing the view camera as a primitive box, perhaps some people use it that way, but in reality the view camera is a complex device that allows an incredible amount of control in the picture making process. Constructed with two standards – front and rear they are connected by a light tight bellows creating a highly flexible camera body that is capable of use in most genres of photography. These standards operate independent of one another; the front providing the mount for lenses that are on rigid boards allowing for quick changing, the rear has a frosted ground glass the image is projected on which allows the photographer to compose and focus the camera. One of the most common comments I get when one looks through the camera is that image on the ground glass is “upside and backwards” this is because of the lack of reflex mirrors we are accustomed to in SLR type camera designs, its something you get used to, I don’t even notice it anymore until someone else points it out.

The standards move on multiple axes including rise, fall, shift, tilt and swing which allow the user to manipulate shape and focus of the object you are photographing and areessential to perspective control, one of the primary reasons I prefer this camera. Through use of the various movements the vertical and horizontal axis of the lens and film can be brought parallel to the subject eliminating convergence, keeping the subject straight in the resultant photo. In addition to this, one can also manipulate the plane of critical focus attaining sharpness and depth of field a standard fixed lens camera would have difficulty doing in certain situations.

Another benefit is the resultant negative. Though several view cameras are still produced to work with expensive digital capture backs, a properly exposed and developed piece of film, especially black and white which affords full processing control, will yield all the information you need whether you print in the darkroom or scan and print digitally (which I prefer).  This is perhaps the biggest barrier to entry for new view camera users: Its expensive, slow and takes lot of patience (plus a few errors) to really learn how to utilize film intuitively, but once you become proficient there are limitless possibilities.

I choose to work with this slow meditative process because it works for my focus on the landscape, architecture, and infrastructure but not necessarily moving trains (only on a few occasions under the right conditions) and it satisfies my need for a technical and interactive experience. Over the years I have come to prefer using a ‘compact’ wood field camera, it produces 5x7” negatives and is also equipped with a reducing back to shoot 4x5" as well. On occasion I will use an 8x10” field camera though lately while working on the railroad it sees a lot less use because of accessibility to locations and the bulk/ weight of the camera and film holders.

I am not the only one either; there is a list of others that utilize the large format camera to document the railroads, some taking the approach of focusing on the environment or people. Others have pushed the limits of what a large format camera can be used for in this genre. Over the next few months we will explore several different photographer’s work to understand why the large format camera was essential to their creative process and contribution to this unique genre in photography.

Upcoming Lecture | Northern Central Chapter PRRT&HS

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I am happy to announce that I’ll be presenting  a slide show and discussion on the ongoing photographic project, From the Main Line: A Contemporary Survey of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the Northern Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and 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.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (PRRT&HS) is a national organization including 12 Chapters around the country whose mission is to further scholarly learning and interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad through a number of activities. For more information about the PRRT&HS, their activities and archives please visit their website. The lecture, part of the Northern Central quarterly chapter meeting is free and open to the public and will begin at approximately 1:30PM at the Otterbein United Methodist Church, 301 W. Philadelphia Street, York, Pa. For more information please contact me directly at michael@michaelfroio.com

Thank you for your support!

Michael Froio

Changing Pace: Other Attributes of the Main Line Project

As the main line tour progresses I have been doing a lot of thinking about the direction of my blog posts during my seemingly endless research on the physical plant of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. In the process of producing this tour I have been ignoring a large part of the project, the towns the railroad traveled through. These places large and small developed around natural resources and manufacturing, much of which revolved around iron and steel production. The landscape of Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and West VA first began expanding because of natural and man-made waterways, which provided industry with a means of transportation to expand their markets. Though a major advancement, canals and rivers were subject to seasonal changes shutting down shipping with the winter freeze and summer droughts. It quickly became evident that a better mode of transportation was needed and the railroad was the answer. Politicians, lobbyists and industrial magnates fought for access to prime locations, rail lines were chartered, built and continually improved through the late 19th Century.  As a result towns along the railroad boomed, people were no longer in isolated communities but part of an industrial chain that drove the American economy. With the new ability to move large quantities of raw material and finished product across the country the steel industry expanded and so did the need for labor. Immigrants came by the thousands to places scattered across the region to work the mills, mines and for the railroads. The ethnic diversity was reflected in the various churches, neighborhoods and shops that brought the familiar comforts of the old country to this new place of work. Throughout the years there have been high times and lows in many of these towns, rocked by labor disputes, natural disasters and the eventual decline of the American steel industry.

The view from Singer Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania exemplifies the somber beauty of mill towns across Pennsylvania. Homes cling to the hillsides and business districts look toward the mill, once the focal point to the local economy. Today countless places like Johnstown are a quiet memorial to the era of steel and manufacturing across the region. 

The view from Singer Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania exemplifies the somber beauty of mill towns across Pennsylvania. Homes cling to the hillsides and business districts look toward the mill, once the focal point to the local economy. Today countless places like Johnstown are a quiet memorial to the era of steel and manufacturing across the region. 

Today many of these places serve as a monument to industry and a way of life that has disappeared. The villages, company towns and entire sections of cities often look onto the mill, celebrating the pride and prosperity these now abandoned places once provided for many hard working families. I have found myself completely entranced by places like Johnstown and Braddock, places that are a fraction of their former self, wondering what it was like when these places were in their prime. In residential areas there is little uniformity from house to house with the exceptions of clusters of company housing yet all of these places look oddly the same. Frame houses on hill sides, all slightly modified over the years or just plain neglected, empty streets and brown fields, virtually deserted town squares flanked with grand commercial buildings constructed of stone and terracotta, town by town the theme repeats.

East Conemaugh was situated across from the Franklin Works of Cambria Iron, later Bethlehem Steel. The mills are gone and the rail yards empty, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad still enters town on the far side of the Conemaugh River, the final resting place of engineer John Hess who used his locomotive whistle to warn the townspeople of the impending destruction of the great flood of 1889. 

East Conemaugh was situated across from the Franklin Works of Cambria Iron, later Bethlehem Steel. The mills are gone and the rail yards empty, the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad still enters town on the far side of the Conemaugh River, the final resting place of engineer John Hess who used his locomotive whistle to warn the townspeople of the impending destruction of the great flood of 1889. 

Like much of my work, this imagery is an observation, part of connecting the dots to understand a particular place or landscape. To many its a bleak and depressing place, I am often asked why bother visiting let alone taking pictures, some locals even get mad that an outsider would objectify their struggling community. To me the typical mill town is a comforting and familiar place, one of repetition and rhythm. You can find something different in every visit, grand and ornate homes in a row of company buildings, five story apartment houses in a town that doesn’t even rate a gas station, and the rail line that once fed this industrial giant snaking along from town to town. This is where the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad once travelled, the towns it built, nurtured and its predecessors served until the industry dried up. The railroad still thrives but like many places, the trains don’t stop here anymore. The mill town is a place of beauty in its own right, and I am happy to have experienced every one of them and look forward to sharing a different viewpoint of the built landscape that came as result of the railroads and industry. Over the coming months you can expect images celebrating these places as work continues on understanding the late Pennsylvania Railroad and the landscape it travelled. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

Lancaster. 007

Through all the shopping and holiday travel the railroads have done their job delivering the goods and people safely to destinations around the country. While people celebrate the season countless employees stand guard to keep the railroads running. During a moment between trains the historic Lancaster, Pennsylvania train station stands silent during the lull waiting to serve passengers who will return again soon.

From my family to yours, have a Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year!

Model Trains | A Holiday Tradition

1951 Lionel Catalog: Inside cover spread celebrating the "Romance of Model Railroading" Collection of the Author

1951 Lionel Catalog: Inside cover spread celebrating the "Romance of Model Railroading" Collection of the Author

As a welcome change from my normal writing and research I have often celebrated the tradition of digging out the model trains of various vintage after Thanksgiving  for the Christmas season in various articles and images. Last year I highlighted an icon of the 20th Century: The Lionel Company. I grew up with my father's Lionel trains, loving the idea of these rugged three-railed trains, the smell of ozone and smoke pellets, the automated accessories, the die cast metal, but in reality the noise of those things scared the hell out of me! Today I get to share these trains as well as other scale models I've collected over the years with my children. The trains of the Lionel era represented a period of craftsmanship, ingenuity and excitement, where life was simpler and toys didn't compete with electronic devices. Still today I relish in the fact that every year when the trains come out there is that renewed interest when the kids put down the game remote or Ipod to run the trains under the tree.

I wanted to take some time to share more imagery from the great Lionel and repost last year's story  of the great company that was largely responsible for encouraging a holiday tradition that continues, spanning many generations.

The ubiquitous orange and blue box that every Lionel Product was packed in. This is one of the few I have left that have held together over 60+ years from when my father had the trains as a boy. 

The ubiquitous orange and blue box that every Lionel Product was packed in. This is one of the few I have left that have held together over 60+ years from when my father had the trains as a boy. 

With modest beginnings Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900, building model trains for retail window displays to help draw consumers to their stores. In 1906 the company responded to the increasing demand for the electric trains in the consumer market and developed its trademark three-rail “standard gage” track to simplify wiring and use of accessories.  By 1915 Lionel would supplement the large standard gage with the budget minded O scale which would later become the standard size of their product lines. Lionel’s use of sharp advertising was ultimately responsible for tying model trains to Christmas, making them popular presents during the holidays, establishing traditions that survive today.  By WWI Lionel was one of three major US manufactures of toy trains, surpassing competitor Ives as the market leader by the 1920’s. Lionel’s growth and aggressive ad campaigns further led to Ives' bankruptcy in 1928.

T  he five stripe brunswick green Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 was 141/2' in length featuring dual Pullmore motors and twelve wheel drive. This model went into production in 1947 and ran until 1950 with a revised version returning to the company catalog in 1955. Collection of the Author

The five stripe brunswick green Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 was 141/2' in length featuring dual Pullmore motors and twelve wheel drive. This model went into production in 1947 and ran until 1950 with a revised version returning to the company catalog in 1955. Collection of the Author

Like many other companies, the Great Depression would be a severe detriment to Lionel’s business, as a result their 1927 operating profit of over $500,000 plummeted to $82,000 in 1930, and ultimately a loss in 1931 of over $200,000 putting Lionel into receivership by May of 1934. A product credited with saving Lionel during the Depression era was a wind up hand car featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse which Lionel sold well over 250,00 units providing the cash flow to keep the company from closing.

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the Author

Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today's money!  Collection of the Author

In 1942 Lionel ceased toy production to produce items for the United States Navy during World War II. Regardless of the lack of toy train production, the advertising department pushed heavily to urge American teenagers to start planning their post-war layouts. By late 1945 Lionel resumed production, replacing their original product lines with more realistic trains and accessories exclusively in O Scale. Considered by many aficionados as the golden years, 1946-1956 saw sales soaring with new items including the famous Santa Fe Warbonnet EMD F3 locomotives as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad GGI and experimental S2 steam turbine locomotive. During the 1950s Lionel would tout its short-lived title of largest toy manufacturer, out selling American Flyer almost 2:1. After 1955 sales declined steadily with the rising popularity of the smaller but more realistic HO Scale and to many the end of the true “Lionel era” was in 1959. Over the years Lionel was diversified unsuccessfully and the name survived in different ways including retail toy outlet Lionel Kiddy City. Today the Lionel name remains the most famous name in model trains, though not associated with the original corporation, Lionel LLC owns most of the product rights and trademarks continuing the legacy started by American businessmen Joshua Lionel and Harry Grant well over 100 years ago.

Author's note: Growing up we set up my father's Lionel Trains the weekend following Thanksgiving in a spare bedroom, where I would spend most of my time for the next month and half. In the early 1980's (1982?)   I had a second layout at my grandparents house that stayed up almost year round in the downstairs rec-room. Here is me at the throttle of this layout in a photo dated 1983, I was 7 years old. These experiences were what shaped my imagination and sparked my curiosity of the railroad, both in model and prototype form. The Lionel catalog images are from several originals that were passed on to me through various family members. They still bring about that nostalgic feeling of excitement that came on Saturday morning when we would bring all the Lionel boxes down from the attic, after which my grandfather, father, brother and I would work together to build the train layout  . 

Author's note: Growing up we set up my father's Lionel Trains the weekend following Thanksgiving in a spare bedroom, where I would spend most of my time for the next month and half. In the early 1980's (1982?) I had a second layout at my grandparents house that stayed up almost year round in the downstairs rec-room. Here is me at the throttle of this layout in a photo dated 1983, I was 7 years old. These experiences were what shaped my imagination and sparked my curiosity of the railroad, both in model and prototype form. The Lionel catalog images are from several originals that were passed on to me through various family members. They still bring about that nostalgic feeling of excitement that came on Saturday morning when we would bring all the Lionel boxes down from the attic, after which my grandfather, father, brother and I would work together to build the train layout

Giving Thanks: 2013

PRR

Dear Friends,

The year 2013 has been yet another year of incredible growth for the Main Line Project. Tallying five lectures, a new website, 29 blog posts, 10 field visits to former Pennsylvania Railroad facilities and now commercial project commissions I look back and wonder how I was able to do anything else this year! As we near Thanksgiving I want to say thank you to all of you who have shared your knowledge, supported me and encouraged this project, justifying the countless hours of work I have invested. Having the opportunity to work with so many like-minded people and share with such a diverse community is truly what makes the project so rewarding.

From my family to yours, have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Michael Froio 

Why Document the Pennsylvania Railroad?

Advertisement circa 1944 illustrating the diversity of areas served by the PRR. Collection of the    John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History   , Duke University Libraries.

Advertisement circa 1944 illustrating the diversity of areas served by the PRR. Collection of the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University Libraries.

To preface the question why document the Pennsylvania Railroad, I would like to quote several excerpts from Fortune Magazine’s 1936 2-part article on the PRR. “Do not think of the Pennsylvania as a business enterprise. Think of it as a nation. It is a nation bigger than Turkey or Uruguay. Corporately it behaves like a nation; it blankets the lives of a 100,000 citizens like a nation…The Pennsylvania is the most powerful off all the railroad nations in the Northern Hemisphere. If all were of its size there would need be only 10 railroads in the US instead of some 200. The Pennsylvania’s revenues are 11% of all railroad revenues. Its employees are 12% off all railroad employees, receiving 11% of all railroad wages…One of every 10 locomotives in the US are owned by the Pennsylvania, as do 13.7 percent of all freight cars, and 15 percent of all passenger cars. A dime of every dollar invested on all railroads has been spent to build the Pennsylvania…Every one hundred tons of freight that moved a mile by rail in 1933, the PRR carried 10 and it carried one passenger of every five. Half the people of the US live in the territory it drains - which is the central east from St. Louis and Chicago to Long Island and the Chesapeake Bay.”

 At the time this article was written the Nation was recovering from the Great Depression, the PRR was in the midst of system improvements including the final phase of electrification on the Eastern Region arteries and we were just a few years away from the Second World War. The Pennsylvania Railroad was about to rise for its final epic performance moving the largest volume of war-time traffic by rail including freight, supplies, troops and even pow’s. The PRR was a well oiled machine, a culture of traditional railroaders brought up from the ranks. Their financial history was studied to exhaustion as one of the largest corporations of its time, paying financial dividends to its shareholders for over 100 years.

Overbrook Station, a commuter stop on Philadelphia's western edge typifies what initially drew me to document the former PRR. Among a historic station, signals and switch towers operates one of the most recently upgraded Amtrak routes in the Northeast, the Keystone Corridor. This route was originally the main line west from Philadelphia and played a big part in shaping the surrounding landscape known locally as "The Main Line".

Overbrook Station, a commuter stop on Philadelphia's western edge typifies what initially drew me to document the former PRR. Among a historic station, signals and switch towers operates one of the most recently upgraded Amtrak routes in the Northeast, the Keystone Corridor. This route was originally the main line west from Philadelphia and played a big part in shaping the surrounding landscape known locally as "The Main Line".

So it seems like there is no contest, why not study a company, a railroad and a culture of this stature? Frankly, my documentation initially had nothing to do with its corporate significance, or how many of miles of track or tons of freight it was responsible for, because all of that was long gone before I had ever heard of the Pennsylvania Railroad. So what was it then, that a kid could have been captivated with so many years ago compelling one later to embark on such an ambitious project to document something that was gone well over 35 years? The simple answer is infrastructure. The ubiquitous GG-1s and tuscan red passenger cars were gone and the fabled giant went down in one of the greatest financial disasters of all time, but the infrastructure, the engineering, the character of visionary railroad men still survived.

The Pennsylvania Railroad made a significant impact on the landscape that few can ignore, for its something millions of commuters, regional and long distance travelers interface with daily, defining rail travel on what is now commonly referred to as the Northeast Corridor.  West of Harrisburg the main line evolved as one of the most important arteries for freight between the Mid Atlantic and Chicago, funneling container, general merchandise and mineral trains east and west. The former PRR main line is a linear corridor of history: linking town, country and city together, illustrating the impact the railroad had on the American landscape.  Along this corridor modern successors operate among relics of the past: stations, interlocking towers, junctions and rail yards that all tell the story of how the mighty PRR once functioned. Despite modern operations many of these relics were built with such forethought that they still play an integral role in operating parts of the nation’s only high-speed rail network and one of Norfolk Southern's most important routes, a nod to PRR's engineering ability. By examining the Pennsylvania Railroad past and present we can begin to understand the evolution of the northeastern American landscape, the railroad and industry of a rich and historic region.

This article is the second in a series of posts that explore the Main Line Project, its origins and methodologies in documenting the former Pennsylvania Railroad.

In Retrospect

Summer break has certainly allowed for time to stop and think about the evolution of my creative work, in particular my documentation of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Since January I have put together several public lectures that provided an opportunity to look at my own work from a perspective that is very different from the process of just making images. Writing these lectures, I began to articulate my process and approach which connects my photographic endeavors to a life long curiosity that inspires me explore the very subjects I have been enamored with since childhood.

A lone commuter detrains from a Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines train at the Gardens Station on the Ocean City Branch, October 1950. This facility was located between North Street and Battersea in the neighborhood along modern day Sindia Road and was abandoned in late 1958. It was photographs like this that captivated me at an early age and today   hangs in my office to remind me of my early curiosity of railroad history. Photograph by Robert L. Long, collection of the author.

A lone commuter detrains from a Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines train at the Gardens Station on the Ocean City Branch, October 1950. This facility was located between North Street and Battersea in the neighborhood along modern day Sindia Road and was abandoned in late 1958. It was photographs like this that captivated me at an early age and today hangs in my office to remind me of my early curiosity of railroad history. Photograph by Robert L. Long, collection of the author.

At an early age we all form some unhealthy obsession with inanimate objects, whether it be trains, trucks, legos or even dolls, but at some point most grow out of it. Not me! Since the age of three I've have had a fascination with railroads. I loved the models and of course enjoyed seeing freight or passenger trains pass by, but what really peaked my curiosity was the idea of where those trains were going and why. I grew up in Southern New Jersey, a place where regularly scheduled passenger trains whisked people to the shore resorts of Atlantic City, Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May over 75 years ago. The region was home to the unique operations of the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines where bitter rivals the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Railroad came together after a consolidation of operations in the 1930's. Providing through passenger service, Camden-Philadelphia ferry service, commuter and freight operations this system thrived in the summer months moving countless vacationers by rail to the resorts and offered scaled down operations after the peak summer season. By the time I was alive, the former PRSL network had become a part of Conrail, and the few remaining passenger runs would come to an end in 1982.

I remember the former PRSL RDC cars in Cape May and Lindenwold and occasional trips to Philadelphia with my father and grandfather recall seeing the inside of Reading Terminal's 1890's train shed and the countless trains that passed behind the Philadelphia Civic Center. Expressing an interest in trains, one summer our baby sitter took my brother and I to visit her uncle who worked at Pavonia  Yard in Camden the major terminal for former PRSL operations; We visited the hump yard, Brown interlocking tower in South Camden and even rode a locomotive on the industrial tracks near Bulson Street Yard. I was bit…even more curious, about why these lines existed, wanting to know about the stations and facilities that survived and the industries the railroad served. Many times I begged my father to take Atlantic Ave along the Clementon Branch just to follow the tracks in hopes to spot some old artifact or a view of one of the stations. I turned to books like By Rail to the Boardwalk, The Atlantic City Railroad, The Trail of the Blue Comet, and Trains to America's Playground, many of them books from members of the local West Jersey Chapter of the NRHS. These books were my gateway to feeding a curiosity that would never subside. Through subsequent travels with my father to Altoona including an infamous snowy hike up to MG tower near the famous Horseshoe Curve and road trips with friends once I was licensed to drive, I continued to explore both close to home and along the former PRR, using very basic photography to document what I saw.

East Broad Top steam line-up, Rockhill Furnace, October, 1999. One of the projects I successfully incorporated the railroad into my collegiate experience was a Advanced Documentary class. I spent 8 weekend in the fall of 1999 driving several hundred miles to photograph the fabled East Broad Top Railroad. Little did I know then, this would be the last year they had four locomotives under steam, let alone the railroad would be shuttered today. 

East Broad Top steam line-up, Rockhill Furnace, October, 1999. One of the projects I successfully incorporated the railroad into my collegiate experience was a Advanced Documentary class. I spent 8 weekend in the fall of 1999 driving several hundred miles to photograph the fabled East Broad Top Railroad. Little did I know then, this would be the last year they had four locomotives under steam, let alone the railroad would be shuttered today. 

This led to another unhealthy obsession, the need to understand and master the photographic process. A typical teenager trying to find their voice, I found the the whole medium fascinating - it was one that was both technical and creative. After a few courses in community college, I had decided to pursue photography enrolling in Drexel University's Photography Program in 1998. While attending Drexel in West Philadelphia I was surrounded by landmarks of the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s sprawling terminal facilities including 30th Street Station, the West Philadelphia Elevated Branch, Penn Coach Yard and Powelton Ave Yards. Though my interest in railroads had taken a back seat to other subjects, I had always found myself captivated by places and things that I had learned about through my research of railroad operations. On occasion I turned to railroads for subject matter in class projects but more often gravitated to the landscape, enjoying the sanctity of the open spaces of rural Southern New Jersey and the vernacular architecture of farming and agricultural communities. I spent considerable time exploring and photographing places along the Delaware River, trying to understand issues on land usage and how industry and recreational activities impacted the landscape. I took inspiration by a host of  photographers like William Clift, Frank Gholke, Art Sinsabaugh, Walker Evans and George Tice. Reading the book, They All Fall Down, I was taken by the tireless work of Richard Nickel to photograph and preserve the buildings of famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan in the 1960's and 70's which sparked my own interest to document landmark buildings that were once prominent structures in Philadelphia society. Eventually termed the Relic Project this work would be the first in which I realized that my work was more than just "fine art" but could serve as a means for preservation, something that Nickel had taken so serious it literally killed him. 

Erdner Warehouses, Woodstown, NJ. This image was from a series that started in college, photographing the agricultural regions of Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, what little is left of the Garden State of New Jersey. 

Erdner Warehouses, Woodstown, NJ. This image was from a series that started in college, photographing the agricultural regions of Salem, Cumberland and Gloucester Counties, what little is left of the Garden State of New Jersey. 

The diversity of my explorations contributed to building a visual toolbox that would guide my work after graduation. Free of worry about what others thought about my work, or what grade I would receive, photography was about what I wanted to do with the creative process. It took several years of experience and understanding that came from different projects but with time I gravitated back to the very subject that started it all: the railroad and not just the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines but the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Where would the project go? What should the work look like? I really didn’t know, but if I didn’t take the chance in 2007, I wouldn’t be here sharing this with you today. The Main Line Project and the rest of my photographic endeavors are the culmination of life long interests, the intersection of a love affair of trains, history, architecture and geography.

This article is the first of a series of posts that explore the Main Line Project, its origins, methodologies and ideas that not only influence this project but the way I generally explore art and life.

Lecture: Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society | Philadelphia Chapter

PRRTHS_PHLY

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 Philadelphia Chapter of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and 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.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society (PRRT&HS) is a national organization whose mission is to further scholarly learning and interest in the Pennsylvania Railroad through a number of activities. The Philadelphia Chapter is one of 12 around the country, both the National and Regional Chapters dedicate a great amount of energy producing some wonderful publications including The Keystone and Philadelphia Chapter's Highline and Keystone Chronicles among others. For more information about the PRRT&HS, their activities and archives please visit their website. The lecture, part of the Philadelphia Chapter's meeting is free and open to the public and will begin at approximately 2PM at the Drexel Hill Methodist Church, 600 Burmont Road, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. For more information please contact me directly at michael@michaelfroio.com

Thank you for your support!

Michael Froio