Strasburg Railroad-A Rolling Museum


Background

Since its charter in 1832, the Strasburg Railroad continues to operate under the name of which it was created. This is the only railroad in the western hemisphere to accomplish this feat, as although ownership has changed, the name of the company remained constant. Considered one of the most popular tourist railroads in the United States, Strasburg attracts well over 300,000 guests annually.

Strasburg is unique as not only is it a tourist railroad, it also hauls revenue freight often utilizing a steam locomotive, which is a welcome treat in the modern era. This revenue freight is interchanged at Paradise, Pennsylvania, delivered by Norfolk Southern, via Amtrak’s Harrisburg-Philadelphia mainline, the Keystone Corridor.

Additionally, Strasburg conducts repair work for other railroads and museums, and has an ever expanding client base. In fact, the railroad is planning to extend their workshop facilities in order to accommodate the increased work load. Strasburg’s railroad shops are a trip back in time, as workers clean boilers, grease side rods, and perform overall general maintenance on the historic equipment, just as it was done in the heyday of steam.

Roger W photo

Strasburg has set the stage for various films throughout its history, including the filming of “Thomas and the Magic Railroad”, which hit theaters in 2000. For this film, locomotives from Strasburg were used as characters in the movie, including #475, which was pictured at the Harrisburg Transportation Center, painted in a special livery for the film. The film led Strasburg to begin “Day Out With Thomas” excursions, using a tank engine formerly owned by Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal. This locomotive was not initially purchased for the Thomas excursions, as it was purchased for standard tourist operations. However, it was soon discovered that the small capacity of water and coal the locomotive could store was not enough to traverse the entire 8 mile line. Ultimately, it was decided to utilize the locomotive on the Thomas excursions.

Historical Context

During the early 19th century, canals were becoming the most popular form of transportation. Upon the construction of the Susquehanna Canal, built between 1836 and 1840, Philadelphia began receiving small deliveries from the canal’s Columbia, Pennsylvania port, which traveled across land by wagon, which passed through the small town of Strasburg.

During this time, many of the goods that were transported via canal were destined for Baltimore. Philadelphia, looking to compete with Baltimore wanted to establish itself as a major port city, thus, began considering its options which included building a canal that could handle two-way maritime traffic, or a railway system, which was in its teething stages at the time, with the only other example being the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Despite the early stages of the railroad, the city considered it easier to construct a railroad on land than to create a canal. Thus, it chartered the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, which began at the junction of Broad and Vine streets in Philadelphia, and traveled westward to Columbia, Pennsylvania, leading to the bank of the Susquehanna Canal. There was now an opportunity to trans load cargo between the railroad and the canal, and a more direct and quicker route to Philadelphia. Motive power for this route consisted of mainly horses, with a few of the new steam engines thrown into the mix. Shippers usually provided their own wagons, crew and motive power for the journey.

Public Domain

Residents in Strasburg were concerned because the newly constructed Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad bypassed Strasburg, leaving them with no link to the canal,other than by wagon. Realizing that their livelihood was at risk, local residents and businesses proposed a plan for a rail linkage to Strasburg. In 1832, their efforts were recognized, and the Strasburg Railroad was chartered in 1832.

A few years later in 1835, construction began on the railroad, and by 1837, it was fully operational. Initially, the only form of motive power on the railroad were horses, as steam technology was not yet universally accepted. The railroad operated as a horse-drawn operation for over a decade before it purchased its first steam locomotive, the “William Penn”. In order to accommodate the locomotive, heavier rail was installed and other infrastructure was upgraded and refined. Much of the freight the railroad carried, was coal to the steam mill that was built in the town in 1866. Aside from freight operations, passenger trains carried travelers from Strasburg to Leamans Place for 25 cents, or 40 cents for a round trip ride. However, due to the introduction of the automobile, passenger traffic dwindled, and the railroad focused much of their resources on freight. Additionally, the Conestoga Traction Company streetcars served the Strasburg area, which provided faster and more direct services for passengers traveling between Lancaster and Strasburg.

For much of its existence, the railroad purchased second hand locomotives from other railroads. However, with new diesel technology beginning to emerge, the railroad purchased a Plymouth switcher for use on its freight services. This is the first and only locomotive Strasburg ordered new from the factory.

Despite the rich history of Strasburg, the railroad fell on hard times during the course of its life. In 1871, when the railroad was under the ownership of Isaac Groff, a fire ripped through many of the railroad’s facilities, causing $50,000 in damages. Afterwards Groff sold the railroad, anticipating a substantial financial loss. Additionally, in 1958 the railroad was financially unstable, as traffic had dropped substantially. At this point, the current owner sought to abandon the railroad, citing it was not financially viable to upkeep and maintain. Concerned that the railroad would cease operations for good, two rail enthusiasts from Lancaster County, Henry K. Long and Donald E. Hallock organized fundraisers, which earned enough money to purchase the railroad, thus, operations continued in the form of hauling freight for local business and other clients. Shortly after the purchase of the railroad, Long and Hallock began operating excursion trips along the line, which began to attract numerous amounts of tourists, this was the beginning of the new Strasburg Railroad.

Equipment Roster

The Strasburg Railroad is known to have a unique and historical collection of locomotives and rolling stock in its one-of-a-kind roster. This is one of the only places in the modern world that you can view a revenue freight train being hauled by a steam locomotive built in the 1920s.

There is a wide variety of Vintage rolling stock included in the railroad’s excursions, as guests can ride in any class from a dining car,coach, the prestigious “Marian”, or an open air car. The equipment at Strasburg Railroad delivers a unique experience that is not easily duplicated, as the rolling stock used incorporates the original Edwardian and Victorian architecture.

Great Western Railroad #90 2-10-0 Decapod

Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1924, #90 served 43 years with the Great Western Railway of Colorado, and was acquired by Strasburg in 1967.No. 90 was the most powerful traction that the Great Western owned, and hauled the heaviest trains along the route, usually hauling around 50 loaded cars at a time. While employed at the Great Western, this locomotive commonly hauled trains of sugar beets, which were transported to the Great Western’s mill.

During its later years of service on the Great Western, 90 was used on the various excursion services conducted by the railroad. In fact, it was through one such excursion that Huber Leath, who was the chief mechanical officer of the Strasburg, discussed the purchase of the locomotive with the superintendent of the Great Western.

Gary Todd photo

The 2-10-0 “Decapod” type locomotive was typically used for freight service throughout North America due to its high tractive effort provided by the multiple driving wheels. The largest order for the Decapod that came from the United States was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s order of 598. These were much larger than previous 2-10-0’s as they featured higher axle loading and a large boiler, because of their weight of 386,100 lbs these locomotives had a higher tractive effort than most Decapods. These Decapods were useful throughout the rough terrain of the Allegheny Mountains, and have been known as powerful workhorses. However, due to the lack of a trailing truck, they were not favored by crews due to the rough ride.

Today, No. 90 can be seen hauling regular excursion service for the Strasburg, and is the most powerful locomotive in the fleet. No 90 is a fan favorite of any Strasburg visitor, and is considered the workhorse of the fleet.

Norfolk and Western #475 4-8-0 “Mastodon”

Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1906, 475 is one of 125 class M 4-8-0 locomotives built for the Norfolk and Western. No. 475 spent most of its time on the N&W hauling heavy unit coal trains, as well as manifest freights. The locomotive was retired from the Norfolk and Western in 1956, and began a second life as a display in Roanoke, Virginia. Thankfully, 475 was saved from scrap by W. Armagost in 1963, while later being sent to the Illinois Railway museum, before being sold to Strasburg in 1991, and restored to operating condition.

James St. John photo

Due to the rigid mountain terrain of the Norfolk and Western, a powerful locomotive with a high tractive effort was needed. They encompassed a proven design and were powerful enough for any railroad’s heaviest trains. These locomotives were one of the last order of the Mastodon locomotives produced in the United States. The N&W M series utilized the Stephenson valve gear upon delivery, which was mounted outside the frame, however, modified the valve gear to Baker standards due to the updated design. Norfolk and Western began introducing newer locomotives such as the Y, L, and J series, which had more tractive effort and provided more crew comforts. As these locomotives arrived, the 4-8-0 locomotives were assigned to other duties that required less tractive effort and power.

Canadian National #89 2-6-0 Mogul

Canadian National #89 was built in 1910 by the Canadian Locomotive Company, and was purchased by the Strasburg in 1972. It was purchased from the Green Mountain Railroad, and was a member of F. Nelson Blount’s Steamtown Collection. For much of its life, 89 could be seen working in the Canadian province of Quebec, however, its exact duties and career on Canadian National is widely unknown.

Roger Puta photo
Marty Bernard collection

When No. 89 was purchased by the Strasburg, the locomotive encountered turmoil during its journey to its new home. At the time of purchase, the locomotive was located in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and began its journey to Strasburg via the Penn Central. However, Hurricane Agnes was approaching the northeastern region of the United States, and the locomotive became stranded at the Penn Central’s Buttonwood Yard in Wilkes-Bare, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the yard experienced flooding and 89 was almost completely submerged. Thankfully, however, the locomotive had very minor damage, and was quickly returned to working order, and delivered to its new owner.

No. 89 was rebuilt from the ground up in the late seventies, a rebuild that would last almost a decade. In the early 2000s, the locomotive was repainted into its original Canadian National scheme.

The President’s Car, P&R #10

Constructed by Baldwin Locomotive Works and owned by the Reading, car No.10 is a business class car originally designed for railroad executives and special events. Built during the Edwardian era between 1901-1910, the stunning architecture has been carefully restored to its original appearance. The car was purchased by the Strasburg in 1964, and was put on static display until 2002, when it was restored to its former glory, and used on excursions.

First Class Lounge Car #118

Recently restored in the Strasburg Shops, 118 has been revived to look as it did in its heyday. Plush luxury furnishings, and beautiful wood trimmings adorn the car. For this class, light refreshments are available for purchase, also, air conditioning is available on this car, adding to the luxury experience.

First Class Parlor Car #88

All aboard the “Marian”! The Marian is a luxury parlor car named after the wife of one of the railroad’s founders. Built in 1910 by the Laconia Car Company, for the Boston and Maine, the Marian is the epitome of luxury, as you can relax and take in the views of Lancaster Country while enjoying light refreshments and admiring the Victorian architecture.

The Strasburg acquired the car in 1971, and at this time, was utilized for coach services, and was named the “Pequea Creek”, and was modified as a parlor car in 1988.

First Class Lounge Car #75

Built for the Boston and Maine by the Laconia Car Company in 1910, #75 is one of the most luxurious cars in the fleet, as it contains captains chairs on a swivel, so you have a 360 degree view of the countryside. The Henry K. Long is named after one of the first presidents of the railroad after it was saved from bankruptcy.

Dining Car

What could be better than having a delicious meal while traversing through the Lancaster countryside, traveling in a rail car built in the early 20th century? This is made possible with the Lee E. Brenner dining car. Aboard the car, table service is provided made possible by the dedicated staff ensuring that all passengers needs are met.

Open Air Car

The open air car is among the most popular cars on the railroad, as it gives passengers the opportunity to have a one on one encounter with nature as you travel the railroad with an unobstructed view.

Lancaster, Oxford, & Southern Gas-Electric Car

During the months of November and March, the railroad gives their steam locomotives a rest, and offers excursions on the self propelled L.O.&S. car. This unique ride gives visitors a chance to experience early self propelled traction. There is a 30 person maximum on this trip, so it is recommended that you pre-order tickets.

Excursions and Events

The Strasburg Railroad offers many unique train rides that take visitors on a trip back in time, when steam railroading was king. Many of these events are themed around holidays and historical events. Included in the excursions are holiday themes such as the “Santa’s Paradise Express”, “The Night Before Christmas”, and the “Easter Bunny Train”.

Perhaps one of the most popular events is Day Out With Thomas, (which includes Percy on select dates). Ride the rails behind your favorite blue tank engine, while meeting Sir Topham Hatt. Additionally, there is always a plethora of Thomas merchandise available for purchase during these events.

Other Activities

There is much to do in Lancaster County, including visiting the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania across the street, which is home to many historic pieces of locomotives and rolling stock. Also, check out the gift shop located near the Strasburg Station and purchase many railroad related merchandise.

The Choo Choo Barn, dubbed “Traintown USA”, is located just up the road from the station, includes a massive 1,700 square foot model train display, that shows the dedication and craftsmanship of the modelers who constructed the masterpiece.

The 15 acre Cherry Crest Adventure Farm is steps away from the Strasburg railroad. Find your way through the corn maze,and eat lunch at Groff’s Grove, which can be accessed by using the train.

Location

If you would like to visit the Strasburg Railroad and experience the nostalgia of the steam era of railroading, address and contact information are listed below.

Address: 301 Gap Road, Ronks, Pennsylvania 17572

Website: https://www.strasburgrailroad.com/

 

 

Josef

Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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