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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.

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: http://www.bullsheet.com/news/200201photos.html

Industry Along The Line

August 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Former Milling Complex of the Wheatena Company, ConAgra and finally Homestat Farms Ltd located off Second Street in Highspire Pennsylvania. The facility straddles Jury St, in this view looking West. To the right (North) is the milling buildings and offices, the left (South) are the storage silos. The dwellings in the background are typical of the area, resembling company homes from the nearby former Bethlehem Steel Steelton Plant. If one looks carefully there is a former Chessie Covered hopper tucked away to the left of the grade crossing in the center foreground.

While most imagine massive industry along the former PRR mainline, there was significant carload business scattered along the system, whether accessed by running tracks along the main, branch lines, or industrial tracks, these small businesses are something that the Company relied on to generate revenue. Take this Milling Complex for example, we are located on what the 1945 edition of a PRR CT1000 refers to as the the Wheatena Corp. Number 1 and#2 sidings on the Old Line in Highspire Pennsylvania at milepost 186. The Wheatena Corporation, dates back to 1879, when a New York City baker began roasting whole wheat and packaging it as a cereal called Wheatena. While the product was manufactured at a Modern plant in Rahway NJ through the better half of the 20th Century, the raw wheat came from this particular location. By the 1960’s, The Ulhman Company’s subsidiary, Standard Milling Company purchased Whetena and the Highspire Flour Mill, moving the cereal manufacturing to the Highspire Plant almost immediately in October of 1967. Production continued into the 21st Century under later lessees and owners International Home Foods, ConAgra,  and finally, William Stadtlander’s Homestat Farm Limited who currently owns the Wheatena royalties and product line.  As of the purchase in 2001, Wheatena products were still manufactured in Highspire and was still served by Norfolk Southern Corp, however during a recent visit, the mill looks inactive, but it is unclear for how long the facility has been shut down.

Rockville Bridge

Susquehanna River and Rockville Bridge, looking East. Marysville Pennsylvania

Opened in 1902 under the direction of Chief Engineer William H Brown, the Rockville Bridge is the longest masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world. Built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the 3820′ long span is made of 48 seventy foot spans over the Susquehanna River, connecting the PRR Harrisburg Terminal and Buffalo Line with the Mainline West, and connection to the sprawling Enola Yard complex through a complex junction in Marysville PA. This area of the PRR was the Eastern Hub of lines coming from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Hagerstown, creating a westward funnel, concentrating mainline traffic to Pittsburgh and points west.

While the terminal deserves more in depth coverage, the Rockville Bridge and supporting approaches particularly on the West Bank in Marysville, represent the forward thinking of PRR engineers in designing and managing traffic flow of passenger, thru freight and terminating/ originating freight without interference and delay.

Today this bridge faithfully serves the Norfolk Southern Corporation seeing heavy freight traffic and a round trip of daily Amtrak NYC-Pittsburgh service trains. While the track layout has been altered over the years, changing from the original 4 track system, to three, to the current two track layout, the bridge’s appearance is still just as impressive as Griff Teller’s “1949 Main Lines-Passenger and Freight” commissioned  for PRR advertising purposes. Located on the West side, in Marysville, is a personal favorite location, to view the traffic crossing the mile wide river. Like many, I never seem to get enough of this impressive structure, another historic piece of the Standard Railroad of the World!

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part 6: Cambria City and the Western Suburbs

Leaving Johnstown proper, the Mainline of the PRR crosses another site associated with the history of the Great Flood of 1889. A seven span stone arch bridge over the Conemaugh River, officially know as Bridge 222 built under the guidance of Chief Engineer William Brown in 1888, was the sight of tragedy as flood waters washed across the valley, trapping over 500 people and debris, eventually catching fire and killing all but 80 in the blaze. While the structure survived the damage, over 2200 lives collectively were lost in what is still considered America’s worst natural disaster.

Later, in the history of this structure the PRR modernized the bridge reinforcing it in concrete on the South Side and expanding the bridge to accommodate the four track system the PRR was know for. Today, there is more plans for the bridge with the City planning its South Side re-facing to incorporate decorative lighting for night time illumination, tying in the Point Stadium, Inclined Plane, and Festival Park, adding another visual landmark to the Johnstown Discovery Network.

Eastward View of Bridge 222 from Brownstone Hill, note the reinforced concrete facade from the later expansion to a four track mainline system. This bridge continues to serve Norfolk Southern today and is planned to be restored/ refinished as an anchor for the Johnstown Discovery Network system.

View of Brownstone Hill from the former Conemaugh and Black Lick rail yard on the North Side of the Conemaugh River. The mainline threads along the base of the mountain in the back lots of commercial and industrial buildings along Route 56 from left to right in the photo.

As the Mainline again follows the Conemaugh River westward, it hugs the base of Brownstone Hill in the back lots of Cambria City. Opposite, on the North Side of the river, the C&BL takes a wondering path, servicing the area know as the Lower Works, the original Cambria Iron Works that established Steel Making in area circa 1852. While the mainline is pretty straight forward, the C&BL runs through ruins of its former self. In the neighborhood of Minersville, vacant yard trackage and a quiet engine facility, far to large to be justified for the sometimes monthly operations of today stands testament to a company railroad that once thrived on terminal switching, moving in raw materials to the mill and finished product to the PRR and B&O.

Looking South East from 4th Street in Cambria City’s neighborhood on the North side of the Conemaugh River, we see the Conemaugh and Black Lick Main running along the concrete flood walls that now keep the flood prone river in check. The siding diverting to the left appears to be a leg of a Wye that led to a branch extending into the hillside for slag dumping and steel waste, most likely coming from the nearby Cambria Works just out of view in the top right of this image.

Further West, past the engine house the C&BL once again crosses the Conemaugh one last time on the Ten Acre Bridge to access the Wire and Rod Works in the Morrelleville Section one of the last facilities still doing what it was intended to do by Bethlehem Steel. From the North Side, a spur continues on from the locomotive shops only to be lost in the weeds along Cramer Pike.

On the South Side of the River we make one more significant observation on the PRR main. At MP 277.3 stood SG tower in the Western Suburbs of town. Here interchange was conducted with the C&BL. More significantly on the mainline, tracks 1, 2, and 3 (4 split off remotely 3 miles West) divided along the South Bank, while track 5 and 6 ran along the North to Conpitt Junction some 13 miles further West. Track 5 and 6 known as the Sang Hollow Extension, was built between 1881-83 to handle heavier freight traffic through the area, eventually connecting back with the Mainline and elusive Conemaugh Line, a low grade back road into Pittsburgh, at JD Interlocking just west of New Florence PA.

Excerpt from a 1951 PRR Pittsburgh Division, Central Region track chart, showing the Mainline from SG located in the Western Suburbs of Johnstown to Conpitt Junction, 14 miles to the West, which was the end of the Low Grade Sang Hollow Branch and beginning of the Conemaugh Main, a slower route which provided an easier profile for heavy drags and mineral trains into Pittsburgh. The chart was provided from the PRR Multmodalways Online Archive  

Just west of SG tower near milepost 278 the Sang Hollow Extension crosses the Conemaugh on a ballasted deck bridge at the area know as Dornock Point. Along the ridge in the rear of this image, the mainline continues westward along the southern bank of the Conemaugh River. 

This concludes our tour of the Greater Johnstown Area, check back soon for more in depth posts on other towns related to the Pennsylvania Railroad. For more imagery from my Mainline Project please visit my website.

For more information on the PRR and the neighboring landscape check out some of the links below. As a side note, I would like to thank the many deicated people that spend so much time and energy preserving, interpreting, and sharing the past, present, and future of our Railroad, Social and Industrial Heritage in this Country! Please feel free to send me more links and I will be sure to add them!

Altoona Memorial Railroaders Museum

American Memory Project: Library of Congress

Center for Railroad Photography and Art

The Hagley Library

Johnstown Discovery Network

National Railway Historical Society

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Five: Johnstown Proper

Although Johnstown has lost a good deal of manufacturing the City still has a lot to offer including several great museums, walking tours, the historic Inclined Plane to Westmont, Point Park and a Minor League Baseball Stadium among other key features that are part of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. Below are several images made over the past five years of the City Center, exploring both the City’s relationship with the railroads as well as the landscape and architecture in general.

View looking Northeast of Franklin Street Bridge across the Stoneycreek River from Somerset Street. Building on the far side is the Conrad Building which dates from 1900.

View of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, demolished some time after this visit in 2007, for the Northrop Grumman Technology Park that now occupies the site.

View from Flood Wall, Stoney Creek River and Franklin St Bridge. The church to the right is the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Support tracks and an interchange yard that runs parallel to Washington St fans out behind the Gautier Works in town, illustrating the Work’s dependency on the railroad to transport both raw and finished materials from just one of the many divisions of the Bethlehem Works.

Leaving the Gautier Works complex behind the C&BL crosses the Conemaugh River on a impressive through truss span, and ducks under the PRR mainline just East of the Johnstown train station.

Just past the C&BL underpass is the train station the PRR built in 1916 by famous Architect Kenneth M. Murchison of New York City. Murchison is also known for his historic designs of the surviving Delaware and Lackawanna Stations in Hoboken NJ and Scranton PA as well as Baltimore’s Union Station (later known as Baltimore Penn Station for the dominate service of the PRR).  The station, just recently donated to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association is intended to become a cornerstone to the downtown tourism development and provides a beautiful entry to a City on the verge of rebirth as an Industrial and Cultural Heritage Center in Western PA.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Four: Johnstown’s Old Conemaugh Section

Moving into Johnstown from Franklin we enter a historic neighborhood that at one time was served by several railroads. The Baltimore and Ohio’s Somerset & Cambria Branch was a line incorporated in 1879, to tap local coal resources and serve the Bethlehem works. Though not nearly the operation of the PRR, the B&O nonetheless maintained a presence in town. Coming up from the South along the Stonycreek River, the line comes into the Old Conemaugh Section of town and forks, moving West toward a connection with the C&BL along Washington Street, and East along the sprawling Gautier Works between Clinton and Short Street toward the former Station area and Freight house that still stands today.

View looking West on Short Street with former S&C Freight House on the right and the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert standing prominently in the center.

Three very unique houses along Railroad Street in the Conemaugh Section of Johnstown.

Two Churches are evident in this view from a lot bordering the Former S&C Branch looking Northwest. The Steeple in the foreground belongs to the 1891 Zion Lutheran Church the two further towers are part of the Cathedral of Saint John Gualbert built in 1895.

View North from Matthew Street with Clinton Street side of the Gautier Works.

Rear view of the 1906 Central Catholic School, part of St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church on Railroad Ave. This view is from Short Street looking South.

View from Singer Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works behind the buildings on Railroad Street at the bottom of the hill.

As mentioned the B&O and C&BL served the Gautier Works located along Clinton Street, accessing the sprawling facility from the North Side. The Gautier Works produced wire fencing, plows and other steel products for the agriculture industry. The size of this facility is quite evident from high views such as the one afforded from the surrounding hill sides.

View of trackage along Washington Street looking Northwest. Note the Gautier Works to the right. From  from the track layout this appeared to be an interchange area with B&O S&C Branch and the C&BL.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part Three: Franklin

Franklin is directly across from East Conemaugh, spread in two small neighborhoods, the eastern section is stacked on the hillside overlooking the former mill and river valley, once a home to many steel workers and the actual “hot side” of the Johnstown Works.

View of the eastern section of Franklin from East Conemaugh. Former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Yard in foreground. Note the Strank Memorial Bridge and old Chessie boxcar that appeared in the East Conemaugh Post last time from the opposide side of the Conemaugh River.

The former blast furnace and open hearth mills of the Bethlehem Johnstown Works from the Locust St. Bridge in Franklin. Note the C&BL lead that used to provide rail service into the mill.

Further West, down Rt 271, heading South West, you cross the Conemaugh River and enter the western end of town, including a small area of housing and churches that also was home to the Rail Car Division later spun off to FreightCar America Works, which was to become one of the last remaining steel related manufacturing facilities of the former Bethlehem Johnstown Works.

Car Wash and St. John the Baptist Church from Jasper Alley.

Various freight cars waiting for work at the Franklin Railcar America facility.

In 2008 the works closed its doors, taking much need jobs and tax revenue from this struggling little town.  As of the Fall of 2010, the facility was being leveled, ending hopes of manufacturing jobs that were once plentiful in a small town with big industry.

Stored tank cars awaiting reconditioning. The weedy yard and empty tracks of the C&BL interchange yard speak of the impending shut down of Railcar America facility which happened in 2008.


PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

May 20, 2011 1 comment

Part 2: East Conemaugh

The railroad maintained facilities here including Woodvale Yard, access to the Johnstown branch and interchange with the Conemaugh and Black Lick RR, the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and a engine terminal that supported both local operations and helper assignments that assisted Eastbounds on the ascent of the Allegheny escarpment.

View looking toward East Conemaugh. Taken from the Town of Franklin, Conemaugh and Black Lick trackage is in the foreground, the River, and finally the PRR and East Conemaugh nestled along the distant ridge. The bridge to the right is the Strank Memorial Bridge which is soon to be replaced.

The town itself, like many other smaller Pennsylvania towns, is a unique assortment of original buildings, signage, and character, void of the congestion, shopping malls, and the box store epidemic of suburban sprawl.

Small businesses flank quiet side streets that run parallel to the former PRR Mainline and Woodvale Terminal. This is a view from Davis Street between Cherry and East Railroad St.

The town’s design speaks of its relationship to the railroad, how the commercial center borders just blocks off the railroad tracks, becoming more residential as you progress further up the hill. Hand painted signage, beautiful old examples of small town architecture and community churches dot the landscape.

Former First National Bank Building, 300 Block of Greeve St.

Church of the Living God, Cambria Street, with residences on neighboring Heritage St. to the right.

PRR and the Greater Johnstown Area

Part 1: Eastern Entry to the Valley

The Mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad entered the Johnstown area from the East following the North Bank of the Conemaugh River. Parallel on the South side was the Conemaugh and Black Lick RR (C&BL), a Bethlehem Steel owned terminal road whose existence was to support the local steel facilities spread through out the valley.

View from Franklin Park Showing the river valley and proximity of the C&BL in the foreground and Mainline on the far Side of the River.  This image is in the area of the Allegheny Portage Railroad trail that leads East to the preserved Staple Bend Tunnel, now a National Historic Landmark and linear park.

AO interlocking, deep in the Conemaugh River Valley below the Village of Park Hill, was remote controlled by Conemaugh Tower, to facilitate moves of both freight traffic and helper engines into and out of the Woodvale Terminal.

View from the Parkhill area, looking South West into the Villages of East Conemaugh (right) and Franklin, PA (left).  If one examines the image carefully a long unit coal train can be seen snaking along the North (right) side of the Valley. Opposite, image center, is the remains of the Wheel Mill, a part of Bethlehem’s now defunct Railcar Division.


PRR: A Johnstown View

Johnstown, Pennsylvania is a town dear to me, through my travels photographing the Mainline Series, the location was key to other areas that lacked amenities, central to the railroad’s Western ascent of the Alleghenies, and home to some amazing people, landscapes, architecture, and history.

Beginning in the 1850’s with Cambria Iron works, the area flourished, with the steel works growing and changing, the facilities eventually became part of the Bethlehem Steel Company. In early times, tragedy in the way of the Great Flood of 1889 struck, taking over an estimated 2200 lives, with almost 1000 more missing. Subsequent floods in 1936 and 1972 necessitated additional flood walls and engineered river channels to prevent the loss of life and property that devastated Johnstown at an early age.

Later, in the 20th Century tragedy would come in other ways, mainly the collapse of domestic steel production. In the early 1970’s employment was holding steady at approximately 11,800 employees. Ten years later compounded by environmental regulations, a location that couldn’t compete with the inter-modal transport Pittsburgh and Burns Harbor was privileged to, and damage incurred from the Flood of 1977; employment plummeted to 2100 workers in 1982. As time progressed some facilities have been re-purposed, others survived only later to be shuttered. While much of the Steel Production is gone the City has embraced re-invention moving forward into the 21st Century.

Over the three plus years traveling the Mainline from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh I stayed in Johnstown many times, through out the various seasons. It allowed me time to become aquatinted with the area and photograph in the surrounding landscape more than many other places. While Altoona, Pittsburgh, and the Harrisburg areas have plenty to offer, for me, Johnstown is a particularly special place.

Though the steel industry at large has been absent from Johnstown for quite some time, the resilient people have moved on, adapted and are moving forward to bring more business and tourism to the area. Small boroughs, beautiful and unique architecture and a sense of small town life are things that really attracted me to the area, not to mention the history and railroad!

Over the next two months we will examine the region and its relationship to the former PRR Mainline moving from East to West, establishing a larger view of not just the trains, but the greater landscape that thrived around it.