Photographs & History

Photographs and History

Fire on the Line!

The massive Safe Harbor Bridge was just west of the temporary block station named Fire which was put into service in 1959. The block station and crossovers were located on the A&S Branch up on the embankment pictured here in the top right of the image, the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch is the line in the foreground.

The massive Safe Harbor Bridge was just west of the temporary block station named Fire which was put into service in 1959. The block station and crossovers were located on the A&S Branch up on the embankment pictured here in the top right of the image, the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch is the line in the foreground.

In a previous post, Managing the Line, we detailed the operations of dispatching trains on the Atglen & Susquehanna branch, one particular anomaly escaped the article. Thanks to the work of Abram Burnett who interviewed the late H. Wayne Frey a former PRR Block Operator, I am pleased to share an account of a brief occurrence on the A&S that necessitated an additional block station for a short time.

On Thursday, July 30th, 1959 Philadelphia Region general order No. 710 was put into effect to address a rising situation on the A&S branch just east of the Safe Harbor Bridge over the Conestoga River. Officials and crews discovered settling in the eastbound main (No. 1 Track) the result of an underground blaze ignited by a recent brush fire on the embankment. Officials found that the fill the A&S rode on comprised of dredged material that was suspected to contain river coal making the soil susceptible to fire.

Annotated track chart and General Order No. 710 effective July 30th, 1959 outlining the implementation of temporary block station Fire, Documents from the late H. Wayne Frey courtesy of Abram Burnett. 

Officials faced the issue of how to mitigate the situation while keeping trains moving through the area. The railroad installed a set of electric powered crossovers and signals between the compromised No. 1 track and the in-service No. 2 track to create a single-track gauntlet of approximately 700 feet. The railroad established a block station aptly named Fire; In service 24/7, the small wood shack outfitted with four small table interlocking switches (two for switch controls, two for signals) operated around the clock until sometime between February and April of 1961.  The stub-ended sides of the crossovers on No. 1 were retained to house tank cars supplied by Dupont Chemical who was contracted to extinguish the fire. As a means to prevent the situation from compromising the No 2 main track, the railroad drove sheet piles in between the tracks and installed a pipe system to feed the chemicals and water down into the subterranean fire.  Late in 1959, the nearby Susquehanna River was experiencing particularly severe ice jams that impacted the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch located at the bottom of the same smoldering embankment. A road crew on the Port Road brought a train to stop in the vicinity of Safe Harbor due to ice when an underground explosion occurred blowing out a part of the embankment. Fearing the worst the crew jumped from their locomotive. Fortunately, the worst injury was the broken ankle of the engineer, and there was no significant loss of life or property. In the first quarter of 1961, Dupont successfully extinguished the fire, and the A&S resumed normal operations. With No. 1 track rebuilt and the tempory switches and signals removed, the railroad closed its newest block station just shy of two years in existence. 

 

The Cost of Labor | Constructing the A&S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Susquehanna Reprise

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Though we've discussed the trials and tribulations the Pennsylvania Railroad endured sharing the banks of the Susquehanna River, particularly on the Columbia and York Haven lines, I would like to take a chance to celebrate the river itself. The Susquehanna runs approximately 464 miles from the uplands of New York and Western Pennsylvania to create the longest river on the east coast to drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The river's watershed drains some 27,500 square miles encompassing nearly half of the State of Pennsylvania. The broad shallow river winds a wandering course to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland. Through various routes including the mainline, York Haven, Port Road and Northern Central the PRR follows considerable lengths of the Susquehanna. In particular, for this post at least, we celebrate some of the natural beauty of the mighty river in context of Lancaster County and the PRR York Haven and Columbia branch. Enjoy!

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Royalton's Early Transportation Roots

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In a strip of land between the former Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad's Columbia branch and the Susquehanna River in modern day Royalton, Pennsylvania lays one of the few remaining clues of another transportation empire that succumbed to the practicality of the railroads. The State owned Mainline of Public Works was completed in 1834 creating a multimodal transportation network to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in direct competition with the Erie Canal. Consisting of over 273 miles of canal and 120 miles of railroad, the system utilized various modes of transport based on  geographic necessity. The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad connected its namesake towns to the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The Eastern Division ran 43 miles north from Columbia along the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties.  The canal made a northern connection to the Juniata Division Canal at Duncan’s Island and intermediate connections to Harrisburg and the Union Canal in Middletown. The Juniata Division paralelled the Juniata River making connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg where canal boats were then transported by rail over a series of inclined planes to cross the Allegheny ridge at a summit of 2322 feet above sea level. West of the Allegheny summit the Portage Road  made connection to the Western Division Canal in the City of Johnstown following the path of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of  http://maley.net/atlas/ .

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of http://maley.net/atlas/.

The dangerous and slow inclined planes of the Portage Road along with the canals would prove to be the downfall of the Public Works system limited by capacity and the seasonal nature of operations. The vast and diverse infrastructure needed constant work, many cases in remote areas making the system costly to maintain. By the 1840’s some investors began to look to the railroad as a better transportation solution and in 1846 the charter to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, a privately owned rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would challenge the Public Works System running almost exactly the same route. While the benefit of rail transportation over the Public Works was quickly realized subsequent expansion east to Philadelphia in 1854 would create the first all rail route across the state, dealing the final blow to the canals and Portage Railroad. The PRR eventually purchased most of the bankrupt Public Works system from the state to improve their mainline, often offering favorable routes alongside of towns rather than the early street running alignments of the original 1846 railroad.

Philadelphia Division: Royalton

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of  The Broad Way . 

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way

Straddling the towns of Middletown and Royalton in Dauphin County, Royalton interlocking was a strategic point where most freight and passenger traffic separated for the trip east to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Approximately 10 miles east from State Interlocking the mainline and Columbia branch (today Norfolk Southern's Royalton branch) ran along side each other with the freight operating on tracks furthest to the north. The Columbia branch, which drops south along the Susquehanna diverted freight trains away from the main at Royalton requiring traffic to cross into the path of the busy passenger main. To avoid this potential traffic disruption the PRR applied a proven technique of building a fly-over to allow all tracks/trains to gain proper position without the need to physically cross or intersect the other route.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

Prior to the late 1950's Royalton interlocking was controlled by a two story frame tower that sat on the eastern side of the tracks (railroad was oriented north - south here). The early interlocking plant was of an older design using a mechanical armstrong complex to control the switches and signals between the mainline and Columbia branch. The Columbia branch served as a back road connection from the mainline and freight yards in Harrisburg  to the low-grade route via Shocks Mill allowing freight from all directions to bypass congestion in Enola when necessary. In the late 1950’s Royalton interlocking was made a remote facility named Roy with control given to the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg. Evidence of this project survives in the form of a single story relay house that rests on the foundation of the former tower. As part of Amtrak’s Keystone Line rehab, Roy was rebuilt once again providing Amtrak with a set of crossovers for operational flexibility (the line is now governed by Rule 261-allowing bi-directional traffic flow) while maintaining the connection to the Royalton branch.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

Special thanks to Mr. Don Rittler, who's input on operations at Royalton provided some insight on this relatively obscure facility on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Don worked as a tower operator for the PRR and its successors in the Harrisburg region from 1937-1979.

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.

Philadelphia Division: Rowenna - Marietta

Continuing East on the York Haven line from Shocks Mill Bridge, we encounter more history on the fabled low-grade project of Alexander Cassatt. The east bank of the Susquehanna River was host to two major modes of transportation by the mid 1800’s, the Public Works Canal and the Columbia Branch of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad. By the time plans came for the new low-grade the canals had been largely abandoned for some time, however the Columbia Branch became a vital link to the original Philadelphia and Columbia as well as the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad providing connections to the mainline via Royalton. While designing the new low-grade the Columbia branch was the choice line to connect the Northern Central via the new Shocks Mills bridge, the old alignment would require revisions to fit the requirements of the new line. By the turn of the century Cassatt’s low-grade project would bring big changes to the local railroad scene. With the consolidation and construction of the new freight network many of the older track alignments were abandoned in favor of a separate right of way to avoid pedestrian and street traffic. Common to many locations on the PRR, these abandoned segments were either sold off or utilized as stub end tracks to serve industries still active near the town centers.

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers.     Plate collection of   The Broad Way  .

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers. Plate collection of The Broad Way.

In the village of Rowenna, just east of the Shocks Mill Bridge, a segment of the old Harrisburg and Lancaster drops off the embankment where the Royalton - Columbia branch and the York Haven line meet at an interlocking simply known as Shocks. This spur continued parallel to the mainline for several miles accessing agricultural industries and a military transfer depot constructed during World War II. Sill in service today, this branch serves the former Military installation, now an industrial park as well as a feed trans-load facility off Vinegar Ferry Road.

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge  .

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge.

Just a few miles further east we enter the Borough of Marietta. Established in 1812, Marietta once boasted many river, rail and canal dependent industries. On the south end of town remnants of the old Columbia Branch surface in an isolated area bound by Chiques Creek and Furnace Road. This area, which the creek and a local iron furnace are named after (albeit different spellings) derives from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish. In different eras it has been spelled Chickies, Chikis and Chiques but all refer to this common meaning. The Chickies Furnace #1 opened in 1845 with production thriving until the late 1890’s closing due to better, more efficient facilities, most likely in nearby Steelton.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Among the foundations and rubble that remains of the former Chickies Furnace #1, the Columbia branch can be found along the old canal bed. You can spot telltale signs of PRR construction methods, the most immediate is the use of the ubiquitous 3 pipe railings on a bridge over a sluice between the canal and creek. Piers also remain from a deck bridge that carried the branch over the creek prior to the 1936 flood while the former roadbed of cinder ballast provides reference of where the line entered the area from the west. Just down stream on Chiques Creek, the York Haven line crosses the outlet to the Susquehanna on a W. H. Brown trademark 3 arch stone bridge well above high water. The history of when the Columbia branch was abandoned ties into not only the construction of the low-grade but also the great flood of 1936, subject of next week’s post!

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Philadelphia Division: Shocks Mills Bridge

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Perhaps the bane of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's existence, the Shocks Mill Bridge is of significant note among the countless stone arch bridges, overpasses and culverts constructed on the PRR during his tenure. Opened in 1903 the Shocks Mills bridge was a part of the low-grade freight only line being constructed to connect Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Situated roughly 8 miles railroad west of Columbia the strategic bridge and accompanying line linked the Northern Central in Wago with existing lines in Columbia and ultimately the new Atglen and Susquehanna further down river. The 28 arch stone bridge was over 2200 feet long spanning the Susquehanna River with trains riding approximately 60 feet above low water. A smaller sister to the beautiful Rockville Bridge further upstream, initial construction cost the PRR $1 million dollars to build the bridge and long fill on the eastern approach. However problems with the bridge developed when piers began to settling in 1904 resulting in more money and time spent to reinforce the compromised areas of the span. After this additional work the bridge endured decades of heavy use and the additional of catenary during the later electrification phase of freight lines in 1937-38.

shocksmills.001

In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes would batter the East Coast causing record floods throughout the area resulting in over 3 billion dollars in damage and causing over 128 fatalities. Cash starved Penn Central was hit hard having multiple washouts throughout the system but one of more significant would be the loss at Shocks Mill. On July 2nd, 1972 a train crew noticed problems with the center piers of the bridge as flood waters raged below during one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Soon after, six piers toward the center of the stone bridge would collapse rendering the low-grade line useless until the damage could be assessed and rebuilding could take place. Becuase the PC was under bankruptcy protection court permission was sought to rebuild the vital link. Started late in the third quarter of 1972 the new construction was completed by August of 1973 utilizing nine new concrete piers supporting deck girder spans to bridge the void. Until settling compromised a pier on the Rockville bridge in 1997 this would be the only major failure on record of the proven and sturdy construction methods Brown used during his 25 year tenure as Chief Engineer.

Philadelphia Division: Cordorus Creek

CodorusCreek.001

During the construction of the low-grade, surveyors encountered several obstacles in the form of creeks and rivers. At approximately milepost 47 on the York Haven Line, Chief Engineer, William H. Brown handled Codorus Creek like many others around the system utilizing the standard cut stone masonry arch bridge, this one consisting of five arches. The Codorus bridge curves to the east on a high fill as  the mainline climbs toward the Shocks Mill Bridge over the Susquehanna River, less than a mile to the east.

Philadelphia Division: Cly

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Leaving the greater Harrisburg / Enola area from the west bank of the Susquehanna, the PRR's York Haven Line drops down river toward Columbia, PA. This line was a key component of PRR president Alexander J. Cassatt’s plan to build a low-grade freight bypass diverting traffic off the mainline from the Philadelphia area. Existing lines and new construction in the early 1900’s provided access to Baltimore by way of both the Northern Central via York and the Columbia and Port Deposit Branch via mainline connection at Perryville, Philadelphia via the new Atglen & Susquehanna and Lancaster via the original Philadelphia & Columbia. Running a distance of 15 miles east from Enola Yard along the former Northern Central alignment, this “branch” was actually one of the busiest electrified freight arteries in the east. Alongside the Susquehanna River in the town of Cly, the railroad maintained an interlocking here connecting the York Haven Line to the Northern Central. These lines would run parallel to Wago Junco where the NC drops southwest toward the city of York.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of  http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Cly tower was constructed in 1906; one of the few PRR interlockings utilizing an Armstrong plant of mechanical levers to control switches over the later US&S electro-mechanical installations.  Constructed of brick the two-story tower was a contrast to neighboring installations built in the late 1930’s like Cola to the east, which controlled long stretches of line utilizing a Centralized Traffic Control installation. Though an important junction the Northern Central to York was never a preferred freight route in later days of the PRR hosting passenger trains and local freight. During the Penn Central years the route suffered heavy damage as a result of Hurricane Agnes. In a dire financial situation, Penn Central opted not to rebuild the route and Cly’s importance as an interlocking diminished resulting in the eventual closing of the tower in the early 1980’s under Conrail. Today there is little left here as Norfolk Southern works to modernize this line, the catenary poles have been cut down and position light signals replaced with modern installations. While connection is still made to the branch to York in a simplified interlocking at Wago the modern Cly is a mere curve and grade crossing at milepost 54 of the Enola Branch.

Philadelphia Division: Middletown

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Continuing approximately 7 miles east from Steelton the mainline and Columbia branch arrive at historic Middletown, Pennsylvania. Skipping over Highspire, featured last year in the post, Industry Along The Line,Middletown, originally known as Portsmouth and was a significant place in early transportation history. Founded in 1755 and incorporated in 1828, Middletown is the oldest incorporated community in Dauphin County. Situated in a broad flat plain the Middletown- Royalton area was the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Canal System - part of the mainline of Public Works, the southern end of the Union Canal, and confluence of the Swatara Creek and Susquehanna River. Here many industries including boat building, lumber mills and iron works thrived in early years. The railroads arrived in the 1830's, served by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad via the Lebanon Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad via the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy & Lancaster. Soon after the railroad arrived in Middletown, the region's significance as a canal hub diminished as railroads triumphed over the inferior system. Both the Reading and PRR served the area for many years to come, but the PRR had a much larger presence with the mainline cutting right through town.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

Today both lines survive, and the town is served by three railroads: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (both PRR) and the short line Middletown and Hummelston (former RDG) which serves a few remaining industries in addition to operating tourist excursions along Swatara Creek. While Amtrak and NS appear to be on a shared mainline, two tracks are actually Amtrak's Keystone Line while the southernmost track is NS's Royalton branch. Though this segment is part of a expansive interlocking starting in the Middletown area we will discuss this railroad location in greater detail when we reach Royalton.

Mainline Tour: Philadelphia Division Overview

Leaving the City of Harrisburg behind we will begin to explore the various lines radiating east. On the Philadelphia Division trains traverse routes purchased under PRR President, J. Edgar Thompson in an effort to gain access to Philadelphia. Later these routes would be improved upon or supplemented during President Alexander J. Cassatt’s series of system wide improvements which focused on reducing operational problems associated with the older alignments and increasing capacity

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Understanding this network requires a look back to the early 1800’s during the building of canals as a key national transportation network. Pennsylvania followed suit with construction of the State Mainline of Public Works in 1826which was completed in 1834. The system would utilize a series of canals, inclined planes and railroads to move people and freight across the expansive countryside from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. While some considered the network an engineering marvel the seasonal and logistic limitations quickly proved impractical. In time the Mainline of Public Works would begin to struggle financially. Furthermore the State granted a charter to the Pennsylvania Railroad for construction of a private rail line connecting Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in 1846 which would be in direct competition to the Public Works network. While many protested the new technology, the PRR ultimately won building their right of way in many cases parallel to the canal alignments. Shortly after completion of this line, PRR president J. Edgar Thompson secured access east of Harrisburg via control of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad (H&L) in 1849 providing  a connection to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway (P&C) in both Lancaster and Columbia.With this connection to the State operated P&C, the only all rail network between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would be created. With limited funding however, the P&C quickly became the operational lynchpin to quality rail service due to primitive trackage and poor right of way construction. By 1857 the PRR successfully purchased all remaining properties associated with the Public Works system, abandoning most of the canal and inclined plane operations but allowing the PRR to rebuild the P&C to suit the needs of the expanding railroad.

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Around the same time the PRR would acquire access to Baltimore via control of the Northern Central in 1861 establishing connections to the mainline in Harrisburg and the former P&C and H&L near Columbia.  This line also provided connections to the Anthracite fields in Shamokin, Lake Ontario access via the Elmira Branch and a mainline to Buffalo, New York providing connections with Canadian Railways. During the system improvements of President A. J. Cassatt between 1899-1906 the Northern Central would also become the western anchor of a new freight only low-grade from New York and Philadelphia.  Built to separate heavy freight traffic from the current mainline with its winding curves and undulating grades of the original P&C and H&L, Cassatt and Chief Engineer, William H. Brown surveyed a line connecting with the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad (C&PD) near Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna River. The C&PD would become the link between Cassatt’s new low-grade, the industrial center Columbia and the Northern Central via a new bridge over the Susquehanna at Shocks Mills, providing access to existing lines to gain access to Harrisburg.  Subsequently the C&PD would also become the route of choice for moving freight to Baltimore via connection to the mainline at Perryville due to the water level alignment and lack of grades making the older NC route the default passenger line.

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Known as the Atglen and Susquehanna the new line climbed the Susquehanna River valley slowly veering east to cut across the rolling countryside of Lancaster County.  Void of road crossings, major industry, challenging gradients or curves, the line came parallel to the mainline in a hamlet known as Atglen. Junction with the mainline was in neighboring Parkesburg via a fly-over arrangement insuring no delays to both freight and passenger traffic. Continuing east the mainline hosted combined freight and passenger traffic on four track mainline for nine miles to Thorndale where freight once again left on a low-grade line known as the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch.

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Though large parts of this network have been abandoned the mainline still serves Amtrak’s successful Keystone Service while many of the lines along the Susquehanna River still connect the Norfolk Southern network to York and Baltimore via the old NC and C&PD. This segment of the mainline tour will explore the various routes the PRR used to move traffic between the Harrisburg and Philadelphia Terminals, utilizing imagery, maps and text to explain operations specific to each route.

State Interlocking

Plate drawing circa 1963 illustrating the territory of State Interlocking, which is still controlled today by the original Union Switch and Signal Model 14 interlocking machine. Plate drawings collection of "The Broad Way" website 

Plate drawing circa 1963 illustrating the territory of State Interlocking, which is still controlled today by the original Union Switch and Signal Model 14 interlocking machine. Plate drawings collection of "The Broad Way" website 

On the south end of the Harrisburg Passenger Station, tucked away in a two-story addition dating back to the final phase of electrification in 1937 two significant PRR facilities operated around the clock. State Interlocking Tower is on the far south end of the station building and originally controlled the east end operations of the passenger terminal, access to the Cumberland Valley line to Hagerstown and the Northern Central via Lemoyne Junction on the West side of the Cumberland Valley Bridge. In addition to these important mainline connections State also controlled the Columbia branch that comes up from Royalton as well as access to both PRR and Railway Express Agency warehouses that handled local express traffic off the passenger trains.

Detail of current State Interlocking US&S machine and model board. Compared to plate drawing above note home much trackage has been removed including connection to the Columbia Branch, Reading interchange (now NS Harrisburg Line) and Cumberland Valley Line (lower center segment). Inset below shows the existing State Interlocking including operators desk and one of three additional remote interlocking modules added after the original installation.

Detail of current State Interlocking US&S machine and model board. Compared to plate drawing above note home much trackage has been removed including connection to the Columbia Branch, Reading interchange (now NS Harrisburg Line) and Cumberland Valley Line (lower center segment). Inset below shows the existing State Interlocking including operators desk and one of three additional remote interlocking modules added after the original installation.

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Opening in 1937 as part of the terminal electrification, State Tower contained a standard Model 14, Union Switch and Signal unit, customary in most PRR interlocking towers. The interlocking was operated in conjunction with Harris to coordinate the combining and splitting of passenger trains in the station while also facilitating engine changes and yard moves needed to maintain passenger operations. While State still operates as a local block and interlocking tower, the physical plant is not nearly as intricate as it once was. Since traffic no longer operates on and off the Cumberland Valley Bridge and Norfolk Southern makes no connection from the Columbia Branch at the passenger station, most operations focus on  Amtrak trains arriving and departing for Philadelphia. Occasionally a bad order coach or cab car will be switched out here or turned on the wye but typically operation is pretty straightforward. Several responsibilities were added to State’s territory after Roy and Harris were decommissioned, giving State the remaining control of the NS connector at Capitol Interlocking (just west of Harris) and Roy interlocking where the NS Columbia branch diverges off the mainline further east in Royalton.

Looking east across State interlocking from the pocket track on the #3 platform. Note the Norfolk Southern train holding the Royalton Branch (called Columbia branch in PRR days) which connects to the former Reading line now utilized by Norfolk Southern.

Looking east across State interlocking from the pocket track on the #3 platform. Note the Norfolk Southern train holding the Royalton Branch (called Columbia branch in PRR days) which connects to the former Reading line now utilized by Norfolk Southern.

Also part of the 1937 construction, the Harrisburg Power Dispatcher’s Office was constructed to monitor and control electrical supply and loads on all electrified territory from Harrisburg and Enola east to Thorndale on the main and low-grade routes and south to Perryville. This facility survives as an incredible symbol of the strides the PRR made in electric traction technology and remains intact although not in use. The facility is still occupied by Amtrak’s power dispatcher who now works from a computer terminal in the center control atrium of the original installation. When visiting the facility last fall there was discussion of this location closing with completion of Amtrak’s new CNOC pending, but to my knowledge the facility is maintained to date. The Harrisburg facility was one of three such installations on the PRR with the other two at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and the Service Plant building of Penn Station in New York City, neither of which are still intact.

Panel detail of Power Dispatcher's Office in the Harrisburg Passenger Station. This impressive installation dates back to the 1937 electrification to Harrisburg and was responsible for monitoring and controlling electrical loads and supply from Thorndale and Perryville west to Harrisburg. Along the three walls the entire mainline system is illustrated noting substation installations and interlockings, accompanied by indicator lights for the status of both train and signal power. In the foreground are control panels that correspond and essentially functions as breakers for all circuits, phase breaks, and sub stations. This would be a stressful place to work during inclement weather as dispatchers worked against ice, lightning and heavy winds to maintain power to keep trains moving in adverse conditions.

Panel detail of Power Dispatcher's Office in the Harrisburg Passenger Station. This impressive installation dates back to the 1937 electrification to Harrisburg and was responsible for monitoring and controlling electrical loads and supply from Thorndale and Perryville west to Harrisburg. Along the three walls the entire mainline system is illustrated noting substation installations and interlockings, accompanied by indicator lights for the status of both train and signal power. In the foreground are control panels that correspond and essentially functions as breakers for all circuits, phase breaks, and sub stations. This would be a stressful place to work during inclement weather as dispatchers worked against ice, lightning and heavy winds to maintain power to keep trains moving in adverse conditions.

Harrisburg Terminal: Harris Interlocking

Moving railroad east from Rockville on the mainline we enter the capitol city of Harrisburg. Beginning in 1836 the city has been host to railroads including the Pennsylvania Railroad, Philadelphia & Reading, Northern Central (NC), Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster and the Cumberland Valley (CV), the later three eventually absorbed by the PRR in an effort to expand service under J. Edgar Thompson. Though there were numerous stations built in the general vicinity of the current Harrisburg station, the terminal complex was in constant flux through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, growing and changing with needs of this important terminal.

Plate drawing of Harris Interlocking circa 1963, regardless of the decline of passenger service by the 1960's on can see the vast expanse of this important interlocking. Plate drawings collection of  T  he Broad Way

Plate drawing of Harris Interlocking circa 1963, regardless of the decline of passenger service by the 1960's on can see the vast expanse of this important interlocking. Plate drawings collection of The Broad Way

During the late 1920’s the City of Harrisburg sought to expand the Market Street Subway crossing under the terminal, while a State project commenced to build a grand new bridge over the PRR at State Street; both projects necessitated a major reconfiguring of the terminal on the west end of the passenger station. With this construction the PRR saw an opportunity to replace several older mechanical switch towers that controlled various parts of the terminal with one state of the art facility utilizing an electro-pneumatic Union Switch and Signal interlocking plant. Opening for service in April of 1930, Harris Tower operated 82 signals and 74 switches with additional controls for the train director to set up directional flow of traffic through the six bi-directional station platform tracks for operational flexibility. All these operations were controlled by a new US&S Model 14 interlocking machine from one centrally located building. The operating territory of the new facility spanned a length of 3,250 feet and would regularly handle over 100 scheduled passenger trains, approximately 25 freights, and scores of switch and light power moves.

View looking west in the vicinity of Harris Interlocking. Note the State Street Bridge which necessitated the revision of the trackage and the PRR's building of Harris Interlocking. Aptly named Memorial Bridge, the structure with massive art deco towers honors those who have served our Country in war. Harris Tower is center left between the parking structure and State Street bridge. The current Norfolk Southern mainline is on the right with the Amtrak connection to the left. Note the vast expanse of emptiness here including the catenary poles leading up to the overgrown areas on the right side of the bridge, this was once all part of the Harris Interlocking plant moving traffic in and out of the Harrisburg passenger station

View looking west in the vicinity of Harris Interlocking. Note the State Street Bridge which necessitated the revision of the trackage and the PRR's building of Harris Interlocking. Aptly named Memorial Bridge, the structure with massive art deco towers honors those who have served our Country in war. Harris Tower is center left between the parking structure and State Street bridge. The current Norfolk Southern mainline is on the right with the Amtrak connection to the left. Note the vast expanse of emptiness here including the catenary poles leading up to the overgrown areas on the right side of the bridge, this was once all part of the Harris Interlocking plant moving traffic in and out of the Harrisburg passenger station

Operations at Harris and the train station itself were unique in that it was a place where various sections of westbound passenger traffic from both DC and New York were combined, with the opposite occurring for eastbound movements. Equipment moves including mail, express parcel, baggage and even dining cars were switched here by a number of yard crews through out a 24-hour cycle. While the engine changes were common in the early years, the location became far more significant when Harris became the western end of electrified service in 1938, becoming a place where electric motors, steam and later diesels co-mingled on a regular basis. Though Harris continued to play an important role in passenger operations after World War II the terminal and station complex would begin to fall victim to declining traffic as a result of the widespread popularity of the automobile and airlines. Through the turbulent transition of the ill-fated Penn Central merger and its subsequent bankruptcy, passenger service suffered critical blows eventually leading to the creation of Amtrak and later Conrail. Operations at Harris began to shrink as Conrail began to migrate away from using electric locomotives and Amtrak’s Philadelphia – Harrisburg line slowly became a stub end line with only one or two round trips continuing further west to Pittsburgh. During Conrail’s effort to separate themselves from Amtrak operations, piecing together an independent freight mainline, the Reading Company branch from Rutherford was rebuilt to link the PRR mainline and yards west of Harris with the Lurgan and Lebanon Lines. Part of the 9 million dollar Capitol interlocking reconfiguration the remaining responsibilities of Amtrak’s Harris Tower were eventually moved to neighboring State interlocking in 1991 making the historic facility surplus after 61 years of continual service.

Framed by the State Street Bridge, the remaining signals that protect Amtrak movements entering the train station from a connection with Norfolk Southern stand guard. Harris Tower stands on the right, all remaining operations are handled by State tower in the train station.

Framed by the State Street Bridge, the remaining signals that protect Amtrak movements entering the train station from a connection with Norfolk Southern stand guard. Harris Tower stands on the right, all remaining operations are handled by State tower in the train station.

Amazingly enough, this would not be the demise of Harris Tower, as several visionary people with the Harrisburg Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society would rally to not only save Harris, but resurrect it as a hands on learning experience for generations to come. Led by dedicated chapter members the Harris Tower project included a full structural and architectural renovation bringing the building back to its original design and appearance. Even more significant, the interlocking machine and model board was fully restored, unlocking seized levers and restoring the model board to reflect the terminal at its peak operations during the height of World War II. Restoration also included development of a computer system that interacts with the interlocking machine to recreate the full experience of a working interlocking tower, giving visitors a hands on experience of being a lever man in Harris Tower, lining simulated routes and signals based on operating schedules from the period. Like many other towers, Harris is no longer responsible for directing traffic over the PRR system, but today it serves as a living history museum to many of us who never had the opportunity to experience a piece of railroading once so common in America.

Harris Tower, restored by the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS as a interactive museum. Visit  harrisburgnrhs.org  for more information. 

Harris Tower, restored by the Harrisburg Chapter of the NRHS as a interactive museum. Visit harrisburgnrhs.org for more information. 

Harrisburg Terminal: Cumberland Valley Bridge

Cumberland Valley Bridge from City Island. View looking west toward Lemoyne.

Cumberland Valley Bridge from City Island. View looking west toward Lemoyne.

Following up from the last post on Lemoyne Junction we arrive at the Cumberland Valley Bridge. This strategic bridge provided the PRR with connections to the Cumberland Valley Line to Hagerstown, the York Haven Line, the mainline and Harrisburg passenger terminal. The existing bridge is the last of five such spans at this location dating as far back as 1839. The current bridge was completed in 1916 and comprised of 45 reinforced concrete arch spans carrying two main tracks over the Susquehanna between the Harrisburg passenger terminal at State interlocking and Lemoyne Junction. As part of the final phase of PRR electrification the bridge received catenary primarily for freight moves as most passenger trains operating over the bridge were coming off the non-electrified Northern Central from Baltimore. This bridge also acted as a relief valve in the event that problems developed at Rockville Bridge or Shocks Mill further south on the freight only Low Grade. The bridge survives but without train service, having had all trackage across the bridge removed after Conrail rerouted all trains over the neighboring Reading Company bridge to the south.

View of the Reading Railroad's neighboring bridge to the south, which replaced the Cumberland Valley Bridge after Conrail diverted all Hagerstown traffic to the Reading line to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  The Reading structure was completed in 1924 and consists of fifty one concrete reinforced arches.

View of the Reading Railroad's neighboring bridge to the south, which replaced the Cumberland Valley Bridge after Conrail diverted all Hagerstown traffic to the Reading line to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.The Reading structure was completed in 1924 and consists of fifty one concrete reinforced arches.

Harrisburg Terminal: Lemoyne Junction

Looking east on the Cumberland Valley we see the expansive bridge over the Susquehanna River, with the neighboring Reading Company bridge to the right visible just above the railing. The plate girders on the bridge mark where the York Haven Line crosses below bypassing Lemoyne Junction altogether. With Norfolk Southern's work progressing in the area, the catenary poles and substation structure may become a lost visual clue of the late great Pennsylvania Railroad with the ongoing re-signaling and clean up project along the Enola Branch and Port Road.

Looking east on the Cumberland Valley we see the expansive bridge over the Susquehanna River, with the neighboring Reading Company bridge to the right visible just above the railing. The plate girders on the bridge mark where the York Haven Line crosses below bypassing Lemoyne Junction altogether. With Norfolk Southern's work progressing in the area, the catenary poles and substation structure may become a lost visual clue of the late great Pennsylvania Railroad with the ongoing re-signaling and clean up project along the Enola Branch and Port Road.

Lemoyne was a significant location in the Harrisburg Terminal as early as the 1830s. Site of a strategic junction between the Northern Central and Cumberland Valley Railroad, the facility was located on the eastern edge of the small borough directly west and across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. Located approximately 2.5 miles south of Day Tower and Enola Yard, the original junction at Lemoyne was a physical crossing of the two railroads protected by an interlocking tower know as J (later Lemo). When the PRR assumed control of the two lines in late 1800's connecting tracks in the northwest, southwest and southeast quadrants were added to allow movements in a number of directions on and off the Northern Central, Cumberland Valley and into Harrisburg Station via the Cumberland Valley Bridge.

Plate drawing circa 1962 shows the expansive Lemoyne Junction. The horizontal line is the Cumberland Valley line to Hagerstown, Maryland, the vertical lines on the right show the original Northern Central alignment (left pair crossing at grade in front of Lemo tower) and the newer York Haven alignment (right pair passing under the Cumberland Valley).Track charts collection of  The Broad Way Webiste

Plate drawing circa 1962 shows the expansive Lemoyne Junction. The horizontal line is the Cumberland Valley line to Hagerstown, Maryland, the vertical lines on the right show the original Northern Central alignment (left pair crossing at grade in front of Lemo tower) and the newer York Haven alignment (right pair passing under the Cumberland Valley).Track charts collection of The Broad Way Webiste

During the Cassatt Administration construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna, a rebuilding of the Northern Central and construction of the Enola Yard brought significant changes to the Junction at Lemoyne. With an effort to maintain lines that were free of interruption particularly at grade crossings with other busy railroads, the York Haven Line between Wago Junction and Enola was built closer to the river at a lower elevation, bypassing the intersecting lines and passing beneath the Cumberland Valley Bridge. In 1937-38 electrification brought about more changes at the junction with the Low Grade, Cumberland Valley Bridge and original NC alignment receiving catenary. What evolved from the years of change was a junction equipped with a kind of local and express lanes. The junction utilizing the quadrant tracks at the original location to move trains off the Cumberland Valley to Enola, Columbia and Harrisburg while the low grade routed trains around the junction all-together.

Former location of J tower and the crossing of the Cumberland Valley Railroad and Northern Central Railway looking east. Note the catenary towers   on the Cumberland Valley bridge in the distant center.   The relay case in the right foreground supplemented Lemo tower some time in the early 1980s  .

Former location of J tower and the crossing of the Cumberland Valley Railroad and Northern Central Railway looking east. Note the catenary towers on the Cumberland Valley bridge in the distant center. The relay case in the right foreground supplemented Lemo tower some time in the early 1980s.

With the demise of passenger service on the Cumberland Valley in 1961, Lemoyne saw mostly freight activity with the exception of passenger trains off the Northern Central from Baltimore and Washington. These were often combined at Harrisburg with trains on the mainline from Philadelphia and New York City to head west, a practice that occurred into the Penn Central Era to a limited degree. In 1972 Hurricane Agnes pummeled the Northeast washing out a number of Penn Central properties including the Northern Central route between Wago and Baltimore. Since the line was primarily used for passenger and local freight traffic, it was deemed surplus and not rebuilt by the cash starved PC ending any regular passenger traffic through the junction at Lemoyne. Further loss took place under Conrail with the consolidation of Reading and PRR mainlines to Hagerstown. Compounded by the separation of Amtrak and Conrail operations and Conrail’s rebuilding of the Reading line to Harrisburg the existing Reading branch to Shippensburg provided an ideal connection for the project. The Cumbeland Valley route would be cut back to Carlisle with other segments incorporated into the new route that Conrail would later transfer to Norfolk Southern in 1999. Though not a through route, the old Cumberland Valley is a very busy operation today servicing a number of major industries between Lemoyne and Mechanicsburg with a yard and local crew base operating in Shiremanstown. All that remains at the junction at Lemoyne is the northwest connector to the CV and a few lone catenary poles with all Norfolk Southern traffic utilizing the low grade to the East.

Original alignment of the Northern Central Railway just south of the junction and crossing of the Cumberland Valley.

Original alignment of the Northern Central Railway just south of the junction and crossing of the Cumberland Valley.

Lemoyne Junction Follow-Up

One of only two surviving examples of early PRR wood frame two story switch towers, J Tower survives today as part of the interactive experience at the Strasburg Railroad.

One of only two surviving examples of early PRR wood frame two story switch towers, J Tower survives today as part of the interactive experience at the Strasburg Railroad.

Of course it goes without say that Lemoyne Junction was protected by one of many interlocking towers along the PRR system. Built in 1885, J tower (later named Lemo) was situated in between the Cumberland Valley and Northern Central to protect the at grade crossing of the two lines in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania. The tower originally controlled switches and signals using a 35 lever mechanical machine (armstrong levers) linked to cranks and pulleys that moved the switches out on the line, subsequent upgrades modernized the interlocking plant using the standard Union Switch and Signal Model 14 electro-pnuematic plant. One of only two surviving examples of the early PRR standard design wood frame interlocking towers (the other variation being Shore Tower on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor) this tower was functioning up until the early 1980s under Conrail when the tower was removed from service. A group of volunteers with the Lancaster Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society saved the building, disassembling the structure and securing a location at the Strasburg Railroad where it would be reassembled and restored to its original appearance. In addition to the building's exterior restoration the interior would be reconstructed to its original operating configuration including the armstrong mechanical plant, parts of which were graciously supplied by Amtrak from Brill Tower in Southwest Philadelphia. Today people young and old can tour the building to gain a unique perspective of a facet of railroading that has largely disappeared in the computer age.

Here is a great little photo essay on Lemo Tower by photographer Jim Bradley

Harrisburg Terminal: Day Tower

Enola's South End

Situated at the southern end of the Enola Yards, Day Tower was responsible for movements in and out of the sprawling facility, handling traffic off the Atglen and Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit, Columbia Branch, Northern Central, and Cumberland Valley Division. At one time the tower controlled four electrified running tracks that fanned out to the Westbound Relay and Receiving Yards, and the departure end of the Eastbound Hump and Relay Yard. Located in the West Fairview area along the Susquehanna River the tower was situated on the northern side of the State Route 11/15 overpass between the number 2 and 3 tracks into the yard. The eastern most tracks into the terminal, sometimes referred to as the Northern Central or Baltimore Old Line (tracks 3 and 4) were part of the original NC alignment prior to the 1905 opening of Enola and actually provided a bypass along the eastern side of the yard to Rockville West in Marysville. The western tracks (1 and 2) were built as part of the original construction of the Enola facility.

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Day Interlocking and Tower situated at the southern end of Enola Yard in West Fairview, Pennsylvania. (Track charts collection of  T he Broad Way Website)

Plate drawing circa 1963 of Day Interlocking and Tower situated at the southern end of Enola Yard in West Fairview, Pennsylvania. (Track charts collection of The Broad Way Website)

Day Tower, responsible for both yard moves, westbound arrivals and eastbound departures utilized electro-mechanical, electro-pneumatic and  and mechanical (armstrong) machines to control switches and signals in the interlocking. To the south (railroad east) the four tracks narrowed to two in order to cross the Conodoguinet Creek until 1964 when a third span was added to relieve the bottleneck in the busy area. South of the creek the railroad enters the town of Lemoyne where the railroad once again split into multiple tracks under the control of Lemo Tower (previously known as J tower). Today this location, referred to as Stell interlocking marks the end of yard limits and beginning of the Enola Branch which is controlled by the NS Harrisburg dispatchers.

View north of Baltimore Old Line tracks, now the only remaining tracks that enter the yard from Norfolk Southern's Enola Branch. Note the remains of the foundation between the catenary poles on the left side of the image, directly in front of the US 11/15 overpass. This is the only remaining evidence of the PRR's Day tower that once controlled the busy south end of the yard.

View north of Baltimore Old Line tracks, now the only remaining tracks that enter the yard from Norfolk Southern's Enola Branch. Note the remains of the foundation between the catenary poles on the left side of the image, directly in front of the US 11/15 overpass. This is the only remaining evidence of the PRR's Day tower that once controlled the busy south end of the yard.

While at the time of this post it is unclear how and when Day met it's demise, today all that remains is the foundation north of footings for the 11/15 overpass. Various sources report conflicting information stating it was closed and demolished in the 1970's while other images clearly show the facility still active in the mid-1980's. One report mentioned it was destroyed while in service as a result of a derailment sometime in late 1986/early 1987, which is not hard to believe considering the location of the structure. Today the interlocking has been removed with all tracks under the jurisdiction of the Enola yardmaster utilizing hand operated switches north of Stell Interlocking. Though not as busy as it was in the PRR era, the area still sees coal traffic to PP&L's large Brunner Island Generating Station and a fleet of nocturnal north and southbound trains heading to Baltimore via the C&PD and Northeast Corridor in Perryville MD.