Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Revisiting the Atglen & Susquehanna

The Bridge at Martic Forge

Returning to the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch, part of the PRR’s Low Grade freight network we pick up from Shenk’s Ferry where the line pulls away from the Susquehanna River to cross southern Lancaster County. From the high fill above the river the A&S makes a hard turn east to face the first formidable obstacle; crossing the switchback divide between Martic and Conestoga Townships in the deep Pequea Valley.

 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

View looking south from the Martic Forge Trestle reveals the rugged terrain the PRR had to contend with when creating the Low Grade, cutting through hills and spanning valleys to maintain an acceptable ruling grade for moving high volumes of heavy freight. 

The Martic Forge trestle was situated between two deep cuts excavated through Prospect and Red Hill deriving its name from a neighboring charcoal iron furnace that was active during the Revolutionary War. Utilizing a similar approach to the Conestoga (Safe Harbor) and the Little Brandywine Creek crossing in Downingtown, the trestle is a combination of 10 plate steel deck girders on bents supported by masonry piers with an inverted deck truss for the expanded section over the creek itself. The bridge measured approximately 630’ long and soared 149 feet above the valley floor. The structure was originally constructed with an open timber deck, which was later closed and ballasted at an unknown date. In addition to spanning the creek, the Low Grade also crossed the Pequea Electric Railway, a trolley line that ran until 1930 between Lancaster and retreat camps near the village of Pequea where the creek empties out into the Susquehanna. Places like the Martic trestle illustrate the Low Grade’s intention to bridge the land rather than to foster growth in between, soaring over life in the valley, a theme common to this line across southern Lancaster County. 

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Construction of the Martic Forge Bridge was completed in 1905. These remarkable photographs illustrate the challenge the PRR had constructing this bridge in the remote Pequea Valley. (L) Image collection of The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (R) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA

Over the last few years Martic Township has restored the deck of the Martic Forge Bridge, providing the current eastern anchor point on the continually growing Low Grade trail. Visitors are treated to beautiful views of the Pequea Valley where countless freights once moved in an area that was largely inaccessible until the railroad’s abandonment. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

The Martic Forge Bridge is now a major highlight on the Martic Township section of the Enola Low Grade rail trail. Once the Conestoga bridge in Safe harbor is complete hikers and cyclists will be able to travel from Creswell to Martic on one continuous and very scenic section of the former PRR Low Grade. 

God's Country | The PRR in Eastern Lancaster County

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

PRR Main Line: Salunga-Landisville

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR Main Line and Reading & Columbia Branch of the Reading Railroad. Today the tower, R&C and hotel are long gone but the small station behind the tower survives along with the Main Line. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

Continuing east on the Main Line we come to Salunga-Landisville in East Hempfield Twp, Lancaster County. The small community’s unique name derives from two sources: Salunga derives from the nearby Chiquesalunga (now Chickies or Chiques) Creek and Landisville coming from the town’s first postmaster John Landis.  The small town was host to the main line of the PRR, which was the former Harrisburg & Lancaster route, as well as the Reading & Columbia a railroad chartered in 1857 to connect the city of Reading with the Chesapeake Bay region by way of the Susquehanna Tidewater Canal in Columbia, PA. Later leased by the Philadelphia & Reading Railway the line was extended into Lancaster City and Marietta, PA providing competition for the PRR in the local iron producing and agricultural regions while offering up to 10 passenger trains a day at its peak.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of    The Broad Way    web archive.

Interlocking plate drawing for Landis Interlocking circa 1963, note the use of Reading style color light signals protecting the R&C branch. Collection of The Broad Way web archive.

Landisville was a unique place on the Pennsy because the R&C and PRR routes intersected at grade, something that didn’t exist for much of the modern PRR Main Line east of Pittsburgh. Right in the heart of town the R&C, running perpendicular to the PRR and Old Harrisburg Pike (Main St.) crossed the two-track PRR main line with connecting tracks in the northeast and southwest quadrants of the intersection. The junction was protected by the PRR using an early standard design wood frame  tower similar to Shore and Lemoyne, which was located in the southwest quadrant of the intersection accompanied by a small frame station on the southeast side of the crossing. Located just across the tracks in the northeast quadrant was a railroad hotel providing convenient accommodations for passengers. NV tower named such for  its telegraph call letters eventually gave way as traffic on the R&C diminished and the operator was moved to the station building next door. Landis as it was later known, as was a part time facility, occupied by a freight agent that handled the Reading – PRR interchange traffic and local customers including John Bergner & Sons Company, Keystone Boiler & Foundry and Chiques Milling among others, most of which in support of the local agricultural industry.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

(L) The surviving station building later housed the agent/ operator for Landis Interlocking. Immediately in front of the building was the R&C and the tower was situated roughly in the area of the brush in the foreground. (R) One of several warehouses on the PRR just east of the R&C crossing, this one was once used for shipping Lancaster County Broad Leaf Tobacco.

The agent here was qualified as an operator and was able to control the interlocking, which was usually set to automatic for PRR traffic, to allow a Reading train to cross the main by using a small table top Union Switch & Signal machine that consisted of five levers and three timer run-downs for signals. In a brief conversation with veteran tower operator Don Rittler, he recalls a time working the tower during track maintenance, utilizing the single crossover to divert traffic around work crews. Don lamented about the difficulty understanding the Reading Railroad dispatchers who would call to report an approaching “Buck” the nickname for the R&C local, most of the dispatchers were of German-Dutch descent and often had very thick accents. By 1985 various segments of the R&C were abandoned eliminating the need for the crossing of the PRR and thus Landis was closed. Parts of the R&C route survive including a short segment from the junction at Landisville to the southern border of East Hempfield Township to serve an industrial complex and is operated as the Landisville Railroad.

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

This surviving segment of the Reading and Columbia branch crosses Main Street in Salunga-Landisville south of the connection with the PRR continuing to the East Hempfield Township line to serve several industries. Today this industrial track is served by Norfolk Southern crews and includes several consignees like the lumber yard immediately behind the photographer. 

PRR Main Line: Little Chiques Creek

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Plate #68. Bridge Across Little Chiques Creek, Near Mount Joy. Circa 1891-1893 by William H Rau Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc 

Moving east from Mount Joy the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad spans Little Chiques Creek. Originally known as Little Chiquesalunga Creek  which derives its name from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish, the creek runs some 20 miles in a southerly direction to join Chiques Creek a mile before it empties out into the Susquehanna River in Marietta.  The two track bridge was constructed in 1885 measuring 450' in length and 40' high, replacing an iron truss span during upgrades to the right of way under William H. Brown. The masonry bridge was unique in construction from Brown's later bridges utilizing brick lined arches and an intergrated countering pier that ran perpendicular to the span. With the special photographic train posed on the bridge, William H. Rau has set his 18x22" view camera up on the bank of the creek looking south (judging by the movement of the water) to capture a bridge that was less than ten years old. This same span continues to serve its intended purpose carrying Amtrak Keystone trains between Lancaster and Harrisburg.

Mount Joy on the Philadelphia Division

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

Turn of the century view of the third and final Mount Joy station after the PRR relocated the main line during the system improvements program of the 1890's. Inset image of the 1876 station constructed by the PRR  on the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad alignment at Market Street. Inset image collection of the Lancaster Historical Society.

The borough of Mount Joy was established in 1812, its name deriving not from a local geographic feature but the English surname Mountjoy, which was bought to the colonies by settlers from Ireland. Situated in the rich agricultural landscape of western Lancaster County, Mount Joy is flanked by the village of Florin to the west and Little Chiques Creek to the east.

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In 1836 the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad began service between Mount Joy and Lancaster with subsequent through service to Harrisburg beginning in 1838 due to delays excavating a tunnel to the west in Elizabethtown. The H&L was a private enterprise founded by James Buchanan and Simon Cameron, both would later rise to important posts in government – Buchanan our 15th President and Cameron the Secretary of War during the Lincoln Administration. The line was initially constructed as a means to connect the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad with the Cumberland Valley in Harrisburg. The H&L was one of the first private railroads purchased by the PRR, who contracted operation of the company in 1848 establishing a direct route between Harrisburg and Philadelphia (via the P&C at Lancaster) and later purchased the operation outright in 1917.

Surveyors plotted the original route through the heart of Mount Joy approaching from the west, north and parallel to Main Street. Shortly after the arrival of the railroad, agricultural related industry as well as furnaces and manufacturing quickly developed with the promise of connections to distant markets. Initially the H&L operated a passenger station at the corner Main and Barbara streets, part of railroad-operated hotel. It was in this vicinity that the original right of way made a dramatic turn south through the center of town in a congested two block area, crossing almost all east west streets at grade between Barbara and Jacobs Streets, straightening again between Sassafras Alley and East Donegal St and finally crossing Little Chiques Creek on the east end of town.

In 1876 a new wood frame station was constructed at the crossing of Market Street replacing the original H&L arrangement and included enlarged facilities for both freight and passengers and an agent’s quarters. The new station was surrounded by industry like the Philip Frank malting facility and the Brandt & Manning mill, which likely provided materials to the A. Bube Brewery on Market St which survives today as microbrewery and restaurant.

Main Line Improvements of the 1890's

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Mount Joy showing the original alignment surveyed by the Harrisburg & Lancaster in the 1830's. In just a few years this route would be relocated to better suit the needs of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

Like many early railroad grades the existing alignment laid out in the 1830’s was less than ideal for the aspirations of the PRR approaching the end of the 19th Century. Part of the greater system improvements program under Chief Engineer William H. Brown, Mount Joy underwent changes between 1892 and 1896 that would improve rail service and the quality of life for many residents by eliminating grade crossings and the reverse curve through town. The PRR purchased land between Jacob (now W. Henry St.) and West Donegal Streets from Marietta Ave west to the town limits for construction of the new alignment.

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows completion of the new line with the old alignment yet to be abandoned.  Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

The railroad was built below grade eliminating any road crossings and straightened the line a great deal, a great benefit to the railroad who would eventually use this line primarily for fast moving passenger trains. Though the PRR was known for its four-track system, this line between Royalton and Dillerville always remained two tracks due to most freight being diverted over the Columbia Branch and A&S at Parkesburg.

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

1902 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the final arrangement including the removal of the H&L alignment east of Barbara Street, the same basic trackage arrangement that survives today. Map collection of the Penn State University Library. 

With the opening of the new line, the old H&L alignment was abandoned east of Barbara Street with the western half retained to access the numerous industries located on the now stub end spur. The 1876 passenger station remained for many years as an agent office while a replacement station was built on the new main line in 1896. Featuring a design similar to some suburban stations on the Philadelphia Terminal Division’s Chestnut Hill line the new facility had a street level station house with agent quarters and passenger shelters in the narrow cut below at track level.

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

Remains of the 1830's H&L alignment connects the Spangler's Mill complex to the main line from the west end of town. This mill is served by Norfolk Southern crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster, PA. 

In 1938 more change came to Mount Joy when the PRR initiated the final phase of electrification between Paoli and Harrisburg on both the main line and freight routes. Today Amtrak operates the line as part of the New York City- Harrisburg Keystone Service providing limited service at Mount Joy. Both the 1876 and 1896 stations have been lost and at the present time an Amshack bus shelter provides limited facilities for passengers. The county, borough and Amtrak aim to build an improved transportation center in the vicinity of the existing station, part of a plan to redevelop downtown Mount Joy and improve transportation access.  The surviving H&L alignment is now owned by Spangler’s Flour Mill and is serviced by Norfolk Southern Corporation crews based out of Dillerville Yard in Lancaster.

Main Line Tour Resumes!

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

There is a rich history associated with what became known as the Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Starting in the mid 1830’s the State owned Main Line of Public Works would construct a railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania connecting to a network of canals that was intended to compete with the Erie Canal. The system was troubled from the start as the advent of the railroad quickly triumphed over the slow, seasonal travel of the canals. The 1846 charter of the Pennsylvania Railroad eliminated any chance of the system succeeding as the new railroad paralleled the canal from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Upon arrival at the Ohio River, the young PRR looked to expand from its current terminal points aiming to secure access to lines reaching West as well as to Philadelphia and New York. Initially the PRR had negotiated the right to operate over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway in 1853 but poor track conditions, a result of the Main Line of Public Works financial distress, presented major limitations.

Seeking an alternative to the P&C the PRR surveyed a route in 1853 known as the Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad, a route that would bypass the P&C all together, creating direct competition while taking away some of the State Works only railroad revenue. Construction however never took place, as the PRR finally purchased the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857 for $7.5 million. This purchase included the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad providing exclusive control of the railroad to Philadelphia.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

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Another formative railroad in the evolution of the PRR expansion east from Harrisburg was the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad. It was chartered in 1837 to connect Harrisburg and Lancaster to the Portsmouth Canal Basin in modern day Middletown. One of its founders and first president was a young James Buchanan who would later become the United State’s 15th President. Indicated by its name, this route provided an attractive connection with the PRR in Harrisburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in Lancaster via the new line, eliminating part of slow trip on the P&C. In 1848 the PRR contracted a lease for 20 years, which was later extended to 999 years to operate the HPMtJ&L, making it the first of many independent railroads the PRR would absorb to build its empire.

As the railroad expanded and traffic grew, this main line network proved to be outdated to meet the needs of the PRR. Extensive rebuilding, expansion, realignment and added infrastructure continued to alter the railroad landscape in bucolic Lancaster County. By the 1880s Chief engineer William H. Brown had begun improving the main line, expanding the route to the trademark four-track main line, and replacing lighter bridges with the ubiquitous stone arch bridge he became known for. Though these improvements alleviated congestion, the undulating grades of these alignments, which dated from the formative years of American railroad development, were far from ideal for the future.

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Enter PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt who undertook a monumental system improvements project between 1902 and 1906 to eliminate operational bottlenecks and further modernize the PRR network. Cassatt and Brown would begin constructing what Chief Engineer and 3rd PRR President J. Edgar Thompson had envisioned many years before. Building a Low Grade route that provided freight traffic a dedicated right of way free of major grades, obstructions and curvature that would span the system between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, with the intention of going as far east as Colonia, New Jersey as well as a by-pass of the original Main Line into Philadelphia along Darby Creek.

A major piece of the this network was the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a two track main line that ran from a connection with the Northern Central south of Harrisburg, improving upon existing trackage to a location just south of Columbia, where the branch diverged off on what was the largest piece of new construction the PRR had taken on to date. Running across the rolling hills of Southern Lancaster County through cuts and fills, the A&S would connect back to the Main Line at Parkesburg continuing on a shared right of way to Thorndale where the routes split yet again, with the Low Grade continuing on the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch and the Trenton Cut-Off to Morrisville, and the Main Line into Philadelphia via Paoli. Opening in 1906, the A&S thrived for many years providing the capacity the railroad needed to handle the spike in traffic during World War I and II but would later fall prey to the Penn Central merger and subsequent creation of Conrail. As Amtrak inherited the main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, efforts were made to separate freight and passenger operations on the new railroads, forever changing the PRR network on the Philadelphia Division.

Starting next week we will resume our exploration of both routes, with many new photos, graphics and historical images to tell the story of the evolution of this important division on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Conestoga River Bridge at Safe Harbor

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Since the construction of the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad in 1877 trains have operated through Safe Harbor, where the Conestoga River joins the Susquehanna. When construction of the A&S began in 1902 the route was planned to diverge from the Port Road six miles north at Creswell beginning a gentle climb out of the Susquehanna Valley. The first formidable obstacles the PRR would encounter on the new alignment would be the approach and spanning of the Conestoga River Valley. Beginning excavation in 1903 contractor H. S. Kerbaugh converted a former rolling mill in Safe Harbor to provide compressed air to drill pilot holes for blasting in the rock face high above. The dynamite would be hoisted up the cliffs by hand, detonated and the process was repeated. The resulting debris caused the Port Road below to be closed for extended periods of time due to the dangerous conditions, which often buried the right of way.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Blasting to create the new A&S alignment approaching Safe Harbor. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Perhaps one of the more dramatic locations on the PRR, the new A&S Bridge would stretch 1560’ in length at roughly 100’ higher than the Port Road below. While construction was underway on the new span a flood in 1904 would destroy the Port Road Bridge. Taking advantage of the ongoing construction, engineers decided to incorporate a new crossing on the Port Road, rather than rebuild the existing stone arch bridge. The new span would provide a stronger bridge for the growing freight traffic with the added benefit of increased clearance from the Conestoga River below.

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Rare view of the original Columbia and Port Deposit Bridge spanning the Conestoga River. This bridge was destroyed by floods in 1904 during the construction of the A&S bridge. It was decided to replace it with a new span rather than rebuild the remains of the stone bridge. Collection of the Lancaster County Historical Society

Chief Engineer, William H. Brown would design the bridges utilizing different style spans to meet the specific needs of each route. The A&S bridge, much longer in length included a 300’ pin connected Pratt deck truss over the river supplemented by plate girder viaducts on steel bents - nine spans measuring 480’ to the north and seventeen spans to south measuring 780’. The bridge would carry two main tracks at height of almost 150 above the creek. Down below on the Port Road, the new bridge would feature 3 riveted deck plate girder spans carrying the two main tracks at a height of 55’ above the 1905 water line.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

Construction progresses as contractor H. S. Kerbaugh begins the southern approach viaducts. Once the steel erection is complete workers could begin working below on the Port Road bridge. Collection of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA.

The steel work for the bridge was fabricated in Steelton by PRR owned subsidiary Pennsylvania Steel and was erected by contractor H.S. Kerbaugh Inc. who had been one of two key contractors during the A&S project. The construction of the masonry piers and retaining walls was unique in that the upper and lower spans shared a monolithic L shaped pier on either side of the river. The piers for the main A&S span went up as the falsework was constructed to support the new 300’ Pratt deck truss, once this was completed, assembly of the approach viaducts proceeded, the northern first then the southern approach. When the majority of the high level erection was completed, contractors could commence work on the lower level Port Road bridge. By July of 1906, trains were running on the A&S and the Port Road, which had suffered from months of closure and restriction due to the construction, would finally resume normal operations later that year in August.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

Modern view of the Safe harbor Hydro-electric power plant during an approaching storm.

In 1930 construction would commence to build the northern most of three Depression Era hydroelectric dams along the Susquehanna River at Safe Harbor. Erected just above the confluence of the Conestoga River the first turbine went online in December of 1931 and by 1940 a total of seven were in operation. Two of these turbines were dedicated to generating the 25 Hz single-phase power required to feed the Pennsylvania Railroad’s newly electrified railroad. By 1938, the final phases of the electrification were complete and included the A&S, Port Road, Columbia Branch and Main Line west to Harrisburg. With the eastern main line and freight network complete, power from Safe Harbor began supplying the PRR grid, with tethers of high voltage transmission lines mounted above the tracks, feeding various substations along the PRR’s electrified territory. The railroad understood the value of the Public Works project and the advantage of a renewable energy source. Today Safe Harbor operates 12 turbine generator units and continues to supply the Northeast passenger rail network today.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

View from the Port Road looking to the South. There is a passing siding here that ends just to the north of the Conestoga Bridge, giving the appearance of double track. Most of the Port Road south is single track with passing sidings. The A&S Bridge stands silent today, with no rail activity since 1988.

Turkey Hill

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA.  Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

View of Turkey Hill from the north, near Creswell Station, PA. Turkey Hill, a prominent feature in the local geography along the Susquehanna River became a household name as a result of a resourceful dairy farmer during the Great Depression. Situated on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Manor Township, the hill rises roughly 500 feet above the valley floor. Both the Columbia & Port Deposit and Atglen & Susquehanna routes of the Pennsylvania Railroad make there way around the western face as they move east toward Conestoga Creek at Safe Harbor.

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of  Mytopo.com

Detail of a 1912 USGS topographical map of the McCalls Ferry Quadrangle. Notice the distinct notch that Turkey Hill creates off the eastern shore of the Susquehanna River. Collection of Mytopo.com

The name of the family owned Turkey Hill based dairy business dates back several generations to Armor Frey during the Great Depression. Starting as a small supplement to make ends meet, Frey built his dairy route into a profitable company, with his sons taking over in 1947. It wasn’t until the 1980's however that the name Turkey Hill made it into most of our lives when the Frey family made a considerable investment in growing their ice cream production. By 1981 independent markets in the Philadelphia area picked up the product line and soon after Turkey Hill would be one of America’s best-known dairies.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The former A&S right of way climbing toward Turkey Hill is one of two lines that round the point at different elevations. The Columbia and Port Deposit is at a lower elevation to the right, along the Susquehanna’s east bank. Note the wind turbine in the distance, the absence of the fan blade is due to the longer exposure while the turbine was in motion.

The forward thinking company installed two wind turbines on Turkey Hill in 2010 to provide up to 7.2 kWh or 25% of their facility’s power demands. The towers stand at 262 feet and are the tallest structures in Lancaster County. Ironically the same bluff that Armor Frey allegedly watched the sunrise from everyday before going to work is part of Lancaster County’s Frey Farm Landfill site, a massive facility that handles Lancaster County’s waste that cannot be converted to energy or recycled. While the facility is considerable in size, they have taken great measure to preserve the environmental integrity of the areas rich with wildlife and ornithological diversity. Currently Lancaster County is developing a walk in park and hiking trails to enjoy the breathtaking view from atop of Turkey Hill. Though I have yet to explore this particular location, you can be certain that I will report back with images from this prominent scenic viewpoint!

Atglen and Susquehanna Branch

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

Highlights of upcoming posts on the PRR’s A&S branch which completed the Low Grade network between Morrisville and Enola. Historical Images included in grid from the (Top row, middle, center row middle) Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Columbia, PA; The Kline Collection, Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC (center row, right) and Moores Memorial Library, Christiana, PA (bottom row, left).

The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Atglen and Susquehanna Branch was an integral segment of the Low Grade network, a through route dedicated to freight traffic that stretched approximately 140 miles from Morrisville to Enola, bypassing the congestion of Philadelphia and Lancaster.  At a price of nearly $20 million dollars, the A&S Branch spanned Lancaster County creating the final link of this ambitious project. Constructed on earthen fill and etched through the stone hills of the Chester and Susquehanna Valleys the route connected to the Northern Central Railway at Wago Junction continuing east to Parkesburg where it linked back to the main line. A major piece of this route would include a new 33-mile segment between Cresswell and Parkesburg. To construct the A&S the Pennsylvania Railroad excavated an estimated 22 million yards of earth and rock while building roughly 80 bridges and culverts to create a modern superhighway for freight traffic.  At the time of its dedication on July 27, 1906, the line would be the largest construction project in the railroad’s history to date. Once completed, the A&S and the larger Low Grade would give the PRR an unrivalled route that provided access to all the major port cities the railroad served with a vital link to the four track main line system west.

During the 1938 electrification project, the A&S and the rest of the Low Grade would see the change from steam to electric locomotives with power coming from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant located on the Susquehanna River. This early “green” facility not only powered the trains of the A&S but through a tether of high voltage transmission lines along the route, fed major sub-stations along the Main Line and what is know today as the Northeast Corridor. The engineering accomplishment would serve the PRR well through the onslaught of traffic during World War II without major issue, but after the war, traffic would decline sending many railroads into financial crisis. Through bankruptcy and merger the ill-fated Penn Central and subsequent creation of Conrail, the A&S and other parts of the Low Grade would be abandoned in favor of the former Reading route to Harrisburg. On December 19th, 1988 the last freight train would traverse the A&S bringing an end to 82 years of freight service on this remarkable piece of railroad.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Map highlighting the A&S Branch from Safe Harbor to Parkesburg.

Since the last train the right of way languished in abandonment, however the transmission lines were retained to continue feeding the substations on the former PRR electrified network. In 2011 Amtrak moved to upgrade the former catenary / transmission line supports with modern mono-poles, while the local municipalities have taken possession of the right of way with some creating a beautiful rail-trail route through the heart of Lancaster County.

Over the next several months we will explore the A&S in detail, looking at the modern remains as well as historical images of the line during construction and operation. I am excited to share a thorough account of an engineering project that speaks to the ability and character of the Pennsylvania Railroad and their claim to being the Standard Railroad of the World!

Chickies Rock

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

Chickies Rock is a unique geological feature along the Susquehanna River known as an anticline, an arch of exposed rock arranged in layers that bend in opposite directions from its peak. Chickies is classified as the largest example of its kind on the East Coast. This particular location also played a significant role during the Civil War. As a highpoint along the Susquehanna River, the bluff was a strategic location for the Union Army during the Confederate’s occupation of Wrightsville across from Columbia during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Railway would build a trolley line north from Columbia to the peak of the Rocks where it also constructed an amusement park. The line scaled 1900 feet up the west side of Chickies Hill Road on a 6% grade abruptly turning toward the peak to access the park. Opening in 1893 the line later extended down to Marietta providing both towns access to the popular recreation area. The trolley line and park continued to operate until its abandonment in April of 1932.

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the  NY Public Library System

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the NY Public Library System

Looking to the north from Chickies Rock one can see the PRR York Haven line, the former alignment of the Columbia branch and the town of Marietta. The rail lines converge at the base of the rocks to squeeze south (railroad east) on a narrow flat along side the Susquehanna River. It was at this location during the construction of the low-grade that the PRR decided it would build the York Haven line out on a fill to avoid the curving profile of the older alignment between here and Columbia. As a result Kerbaugh Lake, named after one of the biggest contractors on the low-grade project was created. Though referred to as a lake the area was really a low laying swamp with poor drainage that separated the two alignments. In 1936 the flood prone Susquehanna rose to levels that consumed the new fill destroying the vital low-grade, flooding Kerbaugh Lake and the Columbia branch along the shore. The devastation required months to rebuild the York Haven line and forced the decision to abandon the older Columbia branch alignment. During this period the PRR also filled in Kerbaugh Lake and improved drainage in the area by installing several culverts between the lake and Susquehanna under the right of way. Today most of this area is part of the Chickies Rock Park operated by the Lancaster County Parks Department and provides some beautiful views along various trails following the former Columbia branch between Marietta and old Kerbaugh Lake in addition to park high above on Chickies Rock itself.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

An Institution of Steam Preservation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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