Archive for the ‘Railroads’ Category

A Ride on the Pennsylvania

April 3, 2014 1 comment

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

non-lcp-rau-iv0916“Storm lifting in the Packsaddle”, William H. Rau photograph. The Packsaddle is one of several locations that were used during various illustration and photographic campaigns on the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century. Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

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

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


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

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

William H. Rau: Using Historical Works For Artistic Guidance

March 6, 2014 3 comments

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

non-lcp-rau-ii0186No. 6 Bridge from Deep Cut, Pittsburgh Division. Image from Rau’s 1891 commission showing the fresh re-construction of the mainline through the Conemaugh River Valley that was decimated by tragic floods just three years before. William H. Rau photograph, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

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

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

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

PRR_BooK_Final_039View southeast from the Rankin Bridge of the Mon Line and Union Railroad interchange, Kennywood, Pennsylvania. One of many images made during the initial development of the Mainline Project draws from Rau’s use of the landscape for context and the often wide and elevated views common in his imagery. 

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

Between trips I contacted the Library Company to inquire about viewing the Rau Collection for further inspiration. Knowing that the book reproduced 50 plates from a larger collection of 463 individual images I could tell just by the published inventory list that I needed to see more. With the help of the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah Weatherwax, I began reviewing small reference prints and later original 18×22” contact prints. There was something magical about looking at this work in person, to be able to hold and interact with it minus the glass and polish of an exhibition. Seeing the sheen of vintage albumen prints and the endless amounts of detail from an image made from a negative of the same size was a true sensory experience. It was a first hand view of a historical photographic process, a cohesive collection of how one photographer viewed the world and the landscape that was in front of his lens.

Jacks_Narrows_1200Though this project was never meant to be a re-photographic survey sometimes the opportunity presents itself to study the 120+ years of change on the Pennsylvania Railroad like here at Jacks Narrows on the Middle Division. Left image by the author, right image by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

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

Rau_juxtapose1200Different views made by Rau throughout his commissions with the PRR show the great systemwide improvements that were taking place while also acknowledging previous modes of transportation that gave way to the railroads. (L) Trimmers Rock (looking east) showing both the Juniata River and relics of Mainline of Public Works canal. (R) McKeesport and Bessemer Railroad  Bridge reveals fresh masonry work and construction debris of this new bridge constructed to connect with mills in McKeesport from the West Mifflin / Duquesne area. William H. Rau photographs, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc.

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

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

The Edgar Thomson Works

February 27, 2014 Leave a comment

bradock001_contrasty_ copy1200On a damp morning smoke and steam rise from the Edgar Thompson Works in this view from Woodlawn Street in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Much of the commercial and residential  infrastructure of this section is in disrepair leaving the remaining residents among relics of a once thriving community that looked to mill for life. 

Since the first heat of molten steel was tapped in 1875 The Edgar Thomson Works has produced steel continuously along the banks of the Monongahela River in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Constructed by Andrew Carnegie the plant was named in honor of his friend and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson. Carnegie’s mill would be the prototype for many modern facilities to come, making use of the Bessemer process, an innovative way to economically mass produce steel by forcing air through molten iron to remove impurities by oxidation. The mill occupies the site of the historic battle where French and Indian Troops defeated the expedition of General Edward Braddock on July 9, 1755. Flanked by Turtle Creek and the Monongahela River the locale offers waterfront access to receive raw materials and ship finished product on the Ohio and Mississippi River networks.

In 1892 the Edgar Thomson Works would be part of one most violent labor strikes in American history, the Homestead strike.  In an attempt to disband the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in Carnegie’s Homestead Works, Henry Clay Frick and Carnegie locked out workers when negotiations for the union organization went sour. Employees at the Homestead works picketed for roughly five days, with plant workers at both the Thomson and Duquesne Works joining in sympathy. Picketing turned violent when plant owners brought in the Pinkerton Guards instigating a full-scale riot that resulted in ten deaths and thousands of injuries. State Governor Robert Pattison sent two brigades of the State Militia to disperse the chaos and resume operations with temporary strike breakers. Mill owners continued fighting the efforts to unionize steel labor for years, causing other violent outbreaks until 1942 when the AA finally merged with others to create the United Steel Workers Union, gaining momentum to unionize major steel mills all together.

ET-Works1200East end view of the Edgar Thompson Works reveals one of the remaining blast furnaces which produce the raw steel to feed the Mon Valley Works which includes finish mills in Irvin and Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. The complex rail infrastucture required to feed the mils is illustrated here: In the foreground there are staging yards for gondolas of scrap steel, the ram bridge that connects the ET Works to the Union Railroad mainline, the Union RR right of way left center (note signal gantry) all of which are on the bank of the Turtle Creek. 

In 1901 Carnegie Steel was merged with the Federal and National Steel Companies under the direction of J.P. Morgan among other partners creating US Steel. Once the largest steel producer in the world, US Steel still produces roughly 25 percent of America’s domestic steel at several major facilities in the United States. Operations at the Edgar Thomson Plant continue and now employ a basic oxygen furnace and continuous caster in addition to the remaining blast furnaces. Operated under the auspices of the Mon Valley Works  this operation is the last integrated steel mill in the Pittsburgh area with coke produced at the Clairton Works to the south, raw steel produced at the ET plant and finishing into coil and galvanized products takes place at the Irvin Works.

Though the Edgar Thompson plant was served by numerous railroads most of it was done through interchange with the Union Railroad a wholly owned subsidiary of US Steel that was established in 1894 prior to Carnegie’s sale of the ET works. The Union Railroad grew into an expansive system connecting Carnegie’s Bessemer & Lake Erie with the industrial Mon Valley moving raw materials from Lake Erie and finished product to market. The Pennsylvania’s primary source of interchange was at Kenny Yard on the Monongahela Branch across from the works in Kennywood, Pennsylvania. Other companies interchanged with the Union Railroad including the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Baltimore and Ohio and the Western Maryland most via the P&LE gateway at Connellsville.

(Railroad) Photography with a View Camera

February 20, 2014 Leave a comment

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

5x7neg_1200An example of a large format negative from a 5×7 view camera. When properly exposed and developed the negative produce a wide dynamic range in a single negative which can be either scanned or printed traditionally in the darkroom. (Below Left) View Camera film is cut into sheets and loaded into holders like this allowing for two exposures, one on each side. (Bottom Right) My camera of choice is a 5×7 wood field camera, a compact and precise design that affords the benefits of large format without the bulk of a rail design camera. Cassandra, Pennsylvania 

45holderv2Why use film and a View Camera? In the days of digital capture and Photoshop this is a very valid question. My mind is a process oriented one, I am fascinated by things that require a balance between artistry and technical proficiency, activities like cooking, beer making, and of course photography. Akin to a craft like woodworking, photographers have various tools available and over time you develop a preference to which tool you work with. The view camera for me is a technical tool that provides an interactive experience where you are fully and physically involved in the picture making process.

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

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

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

I choose to work with this slow meditative process because it works for my focus on the landscape, architecture, and infrastructure but not necessarily moving trains (only on a few occasions under the right conditions) and it satisfies my need for a technical and interactive experience. Over the years I have come to prefer using a ‘compact’ wood field camera, it produces 5×7” negatives and is also equipped with a reducing back to shoot 4×5″ as well. On occasion I will use an 8×10” field camera though lately while working on the railroad it sees a lot less use because of accessibility to locations and the bulk/ weight of the camera and film holders.

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

Changing Pace: Other Attributes of the Mainline Project

January 16, 2014 Leave a comment

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

PRR_Johnstown_016The view from Singer Street in Johnstown, Pennsylvania exemplifies the somber beauty of mill towns across Pennsylvania. Homes cling to the hillsides and business districts look toward the mill, once the focal point to the local economy. Today countless places like Johnstown are a quiet memorial to the era of steel and manufacturing across the region. 

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

PRR_Johnstown_028East Conemaugh was situated across from the Franklin Works of Cambria Iron, later Bethlehem Steel. The mills are gone and the rail yards empty, the mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad still enters town on the far side of the Conemaugh River, the final resting place of engineer John Hess who used his locomotive whistle to warn the townspeople of the impending destruction of the great flood of 1889. 

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

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Lancaster. 007Through all the shopping and holiday travel the railroads have done their job delivering the goods and people safely to destinations around the country. While people celebrate the season countless employees stand guard to keep the railroads running. During a moment between trains the historic Lancaster, Pennsylvania train station stands silent during the lull waiting to serve passengers who will return again soon.

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

Model Trains | A Holiday Tradition

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Lionel_1951_Comp1951 Lionel Catalog: Inside cover spread celebrating the “Romance of Model Railroading” Collection of the Author

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

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

lionel001-webThe ubiquitous orange and blue box that every Lionel Product was packed in. This is one of the few I have left that have held together over 60+ years from when my father had the trains as a boy. 

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

Lionel_GG1The five stripe brunswick green Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 was 141/2′ in length featuring dual Pullmore motors and twelve wheel drive. This model went into production in 1947 and ran until 1950 with a revised version returning to the company catalog in 1955. Collection of the Author

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

Lionel_PRR_Steam1951Lionel 2173WS Steam Turbine Set, Circa 1951. This set was loaded with action cars like the animated milk car and side dumping coal car. This set listed for $62.50 that is roughly 550.00 in today’s money!  Collection of the Author

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

lionel004-webAuthor’s note: Growing up we set up my father’s Lionel Trains the weekend following Thanksgiving in a spare bedroom, where I would spend most of my time for the next month and half. In the early 1980’s (1982?) I had a second layout at my grandparents house that stayed up almost year round in the downstairs rec-room. Here is me at the throttle of this layout in a photo dated 1983, I was 7 years old. These experiences were what shaped my imagination and sparked my curiosity of the railroad, both in model and prototype form. The Lionel catalog images are from several originals that were passed on to me through various family members. They still bring about that nostalgic feeling of excitement that came on Saturday morning when we would bring all the Lionel boxes down from the attic, after which my grandfather, father, brother and I would work together to build the train layout

PRR Mainline: Salunga-Landisville

October 31, 2013 3 comments

Landisville1909 view of NV tower, Landisville station and hotel located at the crossing of the PRR mainline 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 mainline. Collection of the Lancaster Historical Society

Continuing east on the mainline 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 mainline 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.

landisInterlocking 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 mainline 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 mainline 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.

Landisville_Comp(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.

Landsiville_2This 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 Mainline: Little Chiques Creek

October 24, 2013 Leave a comment

non-lcp-rau-i0069Plate #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 mainline 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 18×22″ 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.

Why Document the Pennsylvania Railroad?

October 16, 2013 Leave a comment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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