The “Other” Penn Central

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at the end of line (in) South Fork. Note motorman raising trolley to wire from window. These were center door cars. 1918."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at the end of line (in) South Fork. Note motorman raising trolley to wire from window. These were center door cars. 1918.”

Railfans are probably familiar with the ill-fated Penn Central railroad, described by the Wikipedia as follows:

The Penn Central Transportation Company, commonly abbreviated to Penn Central, was an American Class I railroad headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that operated from 1968 until 1976. It was created by the 1968 merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was added to the merger in 1969; by 1970, the company had filed for what was, at that time, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

However, you might not be aware there was another ill-fated Penn Central, a short trolley line that briefly operated about 50 years before the more famous one. I certainly knew nothing about it until recently, when a few mysterious snapshots from 1918 surfaced:

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 leaving South Fork, 1918. After several runaways, (the) borough put (a) bumping block across tracks where car is pictured."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 leaving South Fork, 1918. After several runaways, (the) borough put (a) bumping block across tracks where car is pictured.”

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR cut between Summerhill and Wilmore, 1918. Motorman on front. Line never ran long enough for crews to have uniforms. This also was a 1200 volt line getting power from Southern Cambria."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR cut between Summerhill and Wilmore, 1918. Motorman on front. Line never ran long enough for crews to have uniforms. This also was a 1200 volt line getting power from Southern Cambria.”

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR Cut, 1918. Motorman and Conductor on front."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR Cut, 1918. Motorman and Conductor on front.”

I decided to do a bit of research. Turns out it’s an interesting story.

The web site of CamTran, a Pennsylvania bus operator, gives the following information:

Southern Cambria Railway Co. 1908-1928

The “fabulous Southern Cambria, dread of the timid traveler,” is a story of a transit line that tried to conquer the tortuous terrain of the Alleghanies. Extending from Johnstown to Nanty Glo, South Fork, and Ebensburg, the line was plagued by numerous accidents, the most tragic of which was the head-on crash of two trolleys on August 12, 1916. Twenty-seven lives were lost and 80 injured. The Southern Cambria continued operating until December 17, 1928.

South Fork-Portage Railway Co. 1912-1928

The South Fork-Portage Company was originally chartered as the Johnstown & Altoona Railway Co. with the intention of connecting the two cities by rail. But money problems narrowed the vision to a three mile trolley line between South Fork and Summerhill. In 1918, the company failed and reorganized as the Penn Central Railway Co. with the goal of extending the line to Portage. Numerous derailments resulted in the termination of the company in 1928.

Even these few facts may be subject to correction. According to Department Reports of Pennsylvania, Volume 3, Part 4, the date of reorganization was 1917, not 1918:

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.28 AM.PNG

The captions on the 1918 snapshots make me wonder if the 1928 termination date is accurate. They indicate that the line did not run long enough for the crews to get uniforms. They also allude to the short operation being accident prone, with several runaway trains leading the local government to place a barrier across the tracks. Since there the entire fleet seems to have been two cars built in 1913 by Niles, it wouldn’t have taken much to finish it off.

There seems to have been a cozy relationship between the Penn Central and the Southern Cambria. There may have been perfectly good reasons for forming a separate entity in this case, but perhaps the Penn Central operated only briefly in 1918 and existed on paper until the demise of the Southern Cambria ten years later.

It should be remembered that interurbans were the hi-tech enterprises of their time, chronically underfunded and overextended, with a very short peak coming around the time of the first World War– just the time we are dealing with here. From all accounts, the first Penn Central was a marginal operation at best, with a quick demise.

George W. Hilton and John Fitzgerald Due, in their classic The Electric Interurban Railways in America (1960), speculated that if highways had been developed a few years earlier, there might not have been an “Interurban Era” at all.

However, I for one think America is better off today for having had such marvelous electric interurban railways as the North Shore Line, South Shore Line, Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, Pacific Electric, and Lehigh Valley Transit, among others too numerous to mention. These were giants in their field, and long stood the test of time. With a bit more help, we could have saved a great deal more of this heritage than was actually done. Still, we are undergoing a true “trolley renaissance” today, and if transported into the past, some of today’s light rail surely has much in common with the earlier interurbans.

In that sense, the word “interurban” itself has a sociological meaning that ties it to an earlier era, mainly the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, most people who ride the South Shore Line probably think of it as commuter rail.

Perhaps the second Penn Central would have been better off choosing a different name. It seems that 50 years before the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad, this name was already jinxed.


Electric Traction magazine reported on page 513 of their August 1918 issue:

NEW ELECTRIC LINE OPENED

The formal opening of the new line of the Penn Central Railway Company, of South Fork, Pa., from South Fork to a point beyond Summerhill, took place recently when a car traversed the line bearing officials of the company, and others who had been invited to attend the event. Without the slightest hitch the car moved over the line from South Fork to the eastern terminus, where a stop of an hour was made before the return.

The roadbed over the entire 3 1/2 miles was found to be in splendid condition and the car negotiated the distance with all the ease and comfort of a Pullman coach. Secretary and Manager O. P. Thomas was congratulated over the achievement of the company in pushing its line through as far as it has gone, and the brilliant prospects for completing the line to Portage at no very distant date.

The car is of the heavy side entrance type and ideal for suburban traffic. Practically the only heavy grade on the line is encountered immediately after leaving the South Fork terminal. From the end of the eastern terminal on to Portage the trolley company will use the old roadbed of the Pennsylvania Railroad the greater part of the distance. Grading for the balance of the lines is 90% completed and the only factors that may handicap its early completion are lack of rails and labor.

The new line will draw on a rather thickly populated territory, including South Fork, Ehrenfeld, Summerhill, Wilmore, Portage, Beaverdale, St. Michael and other places. The original charter has been extended to Gallitzin, still further paralleling the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The latter has aided the trolley company in the development of it project in every way.

One car is now running regularly on the completed line; the fare is 10 cents.

Officers of the Penn Central Railway Company are: Robert Pearce, of Portage, presidet; Henry J. Raab, of Johnstown, vice-president; Andrew Strayer, of Johnstown, treasurer; and O. P. Thomas, of Johnstown, secretary and manager.


Forgive me if the above seems imbued with a sense of rosy, unwarranted optimism, trying to mask a sense of imminent dread and desperation. Ten cents seems to be a lot to charge for a 3 1/2 mile ride in 1918. There were many operators of the time charging a fraction of that for much longer journeys.

Why did it take five years to build a 3 1/2 mile line? Perhaps we will never know, but for part of that time, there was a war going on.

The first Penn Central turned out to be a trolley so obscure that there is nothing to be found about it on Don Ross‘ excellent and voluminous web site.

As for the rolling stock, the Electric Railway Journal reported as follows on page 768 of their April 26, 1913 issue:

NEW CENTER-ENTRANCE COMBINATION CARS

Two cars designed by W. A. Haller, of the Federal Light & Traction Company, have just been built by the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company for the South Fork-Portage Railway. This road is now under construction between South Fork and Portage by the Portage Construction Comapny, of which G. U. G. Holman is president. An extension of the line will be made as rapidly as possible so as to operate through cars crossing the mountain range between Johnstown and Altoona. Between South Fork and Johnstown the cars will run over the tracks of the Southern Cambria Railway Company.

Owing to the almost continuous climb from both Johnstown and Altoona to the summit, it was considered necessary to have cars as light as possible yet with great seating capacity to accommodate the mining population in the small coal towns though which the road runs. In fact, for a considerable portion of the distance, these mining towns are at close intervals, and the traffic at present will be primarily local. Larger cars of the same type are contemplated for through service when the road is extended. while the extreme length of the present car is only 45 ft. 7 in. and 44 ft. 7 in. over vestibules, the seating capacity is fifty-six persons. There is also a baggage compartment 8 ft. long which also can be occupied by passengers.

One of the novel features is the folding motorman’s cab, which isolates the motorman at the front end and which, when at the rear end, swings transversely with the car and supports two folding seats, increasing the seating capacity by four persons. The left sides of the center vestibule and of the baggage room also are fitted with folding slat seats as it is intended to open only the right-hand side.

Each side of the center vestibule is fitted with four pairs of two-panel folding doors glazed with clear glass from top to bottom, so that the conductor can observe the pavement from his station. These doors are operated by handles from the conductor’s station only. The step openings are covered by Edwards automatic steel trap doors.

The entire underframe, side frame and outside sheathing are of steel– the interior finish being of agasote and mahogany. Each car is equipped with four Westinghouse 1200-volt, 75-hp motors with HL double-end control and geared for a speed of 45 m.p.h.

On account of local clearances, the car is mounted with the bottoms of side sills 7 in. above the rails, the first step being 15 in. high. This may, however, be lowered to 11 in. if obstructions permit.

There were two South Fork-Portage cars, built by the Nile Car & Manufacturing company in 1913.

There were two South Fork-Portage cars, built by the Nile Car & Manufacturing company in 1913.

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 03.44 AM 001.PNG

South Fork-Portage Railway stock, issued in 1912.

South Fork-Portage Railway stock, issued in 1912.

This summary, from a World War I-era McGraw Transit Directory, shows that the principals of the South Fork-Portage Railway were the same as those of the Penn Central, which is was reorganized into in 1917:

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.13 AM.PNG

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.13 AM 001.PNG


More Mystery Photos

If you can help us identify some of these pictures, we would greatly appreciate it. You can either leave a comment on this post, or drop us a line at:

thetrolleydodger@gmail.com

-David Sadowski

Editor’s Note: Our readers (see the Comments to this post) have helped us reach a general consensus about most of these pictures.

1. The picture of Met “L” cars probably was taken at Laramie on the Garfield Park line.

2. The Douglas picture may show the Kenton Yard.

3. We have a difference of opinion about the gate cars in the yard, but this could very well be Linden Yard in Wilmette looking north from Maple Avenue. The contemporary view lines up well with the older photo, and this is a place where you would have expected to see gate cars. They were, of course, used throughout the CTA system but in the 1940s and 50s you would have been more likely to see Met cars in the Laramie Yard.

4. and 5. Theses two pictures likely show the Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago operation which ran until 1940. You can read more about that here. This had common ownership with the South Chicago City Railway Company, which explains why these cars look so much like Chicago’s.

6. We are now certain that the picture of car 242 shows the Chicago and Joliet Electric.

Thanks to all who contributed information.

These are Chicago Metropolitan "L" cars, but where was this picture taken? There seems to be dirt beneath the tracks, indicating we are at ground level.

These are Chicago Metropolitan “L” cars, but where was this picture taken? There seems to be dirt beneath the tracks, indicating we are at ground level.

That this is a CTA wooden "L" car (#2338) signed for the Douglas Park line is clear, but not the location. Where could this picture have been taken?

That this is a CTA wooden “L” car (#2338) signed for the Douglas Park line is clear, but not the location. Where could this picture have been taken?

CRT/CTA gate cars-- but where was this picture taken?

CRT/CTA gate cars– but where was this picture taken?

CTA's Linden Yard as it looks today, looking north from Maple. The track layout looks much the same as in the mystery picture, with three cars side-by-side. It would make sense to see gate cars there in the 1940s and 50s when the older picture was taken.

CTA’s Linden Yard as it looks today, looking north from Maple. The track layout looks much the same as in the mystery picture, with three cars side-by-side. It would make sense to see gate cars there in the 1940s and 50s when the older picture was taken.

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

This is car number 242 of a 1920s side of the road interurban, but which one? Could it possibly be the Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway, which connected the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago, Ottawa & Peoria? They did have a car 242, but I'm not sure this is the same car. Don's Rail Photos says, "242 was built by Cummings Car & Coach Co. in 1927." They have another picture of C&JE car 242 here for comparison. If this is that car, it would narrow down the time when this picture could have been taken to between 1927 and 1933. (We previously ran a picture of car 242 in a previous post.)

This is car number 242 of a 1920s side of the road interurban, but which one? Could it possibly be the Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway, which connected the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago, Ottawa & Peoria? They did have a car 242, but I’m not sure this is the same car. Don’s Rail Photos says, “242 was built by Cummings Car & Coach Co. in 1927.” They have another picture of C&JE car 242 here for comparison. If this is that car, it would narrow down the time when this picture could have been taken to between 1927 and 1933. (We also ran a picture of car 242 in a previous post.)

A close-up of the logo on the side of car 242.

A close-up of the logo on the side of car 242.


To round out today’s post, here are a few more interesting shots. No mysteries, however:

This circa 1952 photo gives a "bird's eye view" from one of Montreal's four open-air sightseeing trams. Car #2 is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum, in operable condition. I was fortunate enough to ride that car in 2014. You can see pictures I took of it here.

This circa 1952 photo gives a “bird’s eye view” from one of Montreal’s four open-air sightseeing trams. Car #2 is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum, in operable condition. I was fortunate enough to ride that car in 2014. You can see pictures I took of it here.

montreal1

Montreal Tramways had four of these unique observation cars in their fleet, which were used for sightseeing tours. Here, car #3 is at St. Joseph's Shrine on August 14, 1948. All four cars have been preserved, and car 3 is now at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum. A few years ago, I rode the very similar car #2 at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

Montreal Tramways had four of these unique observation cars in their fleet, which were used for sightseeing tours. Here, car #3 is at St. Joseph’s Shrine on August 14, 1948. All four cars have been preserved, and car 3 is now at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum. A few years ago, I rode the very similar car #2 at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

On the back of this photo, which shows Chicago Surface Lines 4003 at the Madison-Austin loop, it was misidentified as Brooklyn. See? You can't always trust what is written on the back of the photograph. As the man said, "trust, but verify."

On the back of this photo, which shows Chicago Surface Lines 4003 at the Madison-Austin loop, it was misidentified as Brooklyn. See? You can’t always trust what is written on the back of the photograph. As the man said, “trust, but verify.”

Help Support The Trolley Dodger

gh1

This is our 138th post, and we are gradually creating a body of work and an online resource for the benefit of all railfans, everywhere. To date, we have received over 163,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.

You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store.

As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”

We thank you for your support.


28 thoughts on “The “Other” Penn Central

  1. The location of photo csl127 is East Chicago, IN. The road is Indianapolis Blvd and the bridge spans the west leg of the Indiana Harbor Canal. The car is SB.

    Photo csl126 looks very familiar but I can’t quite place it. Any chance of getting a higher quality scan?

    Like

  2. Just a guess: The mid-1930’s mystery photos that show a background of storage tanks, 7up sign, and decrepit rooftop may have been taken somewhere down South, possibly Houston or Dallas.

    Like

  3. The two 28-2900’s I would say are at Laramie shop on the Garfield. The color photo is at the Kenton Yard on Douglas, BRC in background. Photo taken from access bridge to Kenton station. This was basically a roadway dept yard, but I guess cars could be put there if needed. The two gate cars look like they are at the very east end of the north yard at Laramie, train on left descending down the ramp from the L structure.

    The next two are Hammond-Whiting & East Chicago. The drawbridge is on Indianapolis Blvd in East Chicago, over the St George Canal by the refineries. It was only replaced maybe 30 years ago. The car about to cross tracks is also on Indianapolis Blvd. Tracks are most likely B&OCT, now long removed, at the north end of the refinery area in Whiting. Note fellow standing on left on sidewalk is also taking a photo!

    Like

    • I thing you may be on to something here, thanks.

      Wouldn’t it be interesting if the guy shown taking a picture turned out to be Edward Frank, Jr.? Who knows, maybe someday we’ll find the picture he was taking. Stranger things have happened…

      Like

      • Nope. It was not Ed Frank. The guy in the picher was a little more husky and shorter. Ed was tall and thin and you would always find his bike somewhere. He was an interesting guy and had some physical and speech problems. His hobby gave him the ability to share with “ordinary” people. There was another guy at CERA who also had problems and was also a real knowledgeable fellow. I can’t think of his name at this time. When we were not so nice, we snickered about the two. We called them “No face” and “Any face”. It came from the Dick Tracy comics. I am not proud of joining in with the rest, but that was a time when there was no such things like politically correct Can that be 65 years ago?

        Don

        Like

  4. Another possibility for the HWEC car crossing railroad tracks: Indianapolis at about 110th St, were the Horseshoe Casino driveway now is. Track would be the north end of the IHB Sheddfield line to American Maize Co. If so, this area is so totally redeveloped that only the track would still be left. However, those two locations are just about the only places where HWEC crossed tracks at the correct angle!

    Like

      • My first thought was Indianapolis Blvd for photo csl26 also. But I am nearly certain the cross track was neither the IHB at Roby nor the B&OCT at Whiting. The buildings in the vicinity of Roby in the 1930s do not match and some portion of PRR’s Colehour Yard would be seen in the background.

        The B&OCT line still crosses Indianapolis Blvd in Whiting on the west side of the refinery and continues straight north for a half mile or so. There was never a curve immediately north of Indianapolis Blvd.

        A location that seems to match is Schrage near Steiber St in Whiting. The car would be SB and the crossing track would be the IHB branch which joined the B&OCT Whiting Branch in the background. The HW&EC route left Indianapolis Blvd at 119th St, went east to Schrage, then south back to Indianapolis Blvd.

        Is there any chance of getting a better resolution version of the photo?

        Like

  5. The two “Chicago mystery” pictures look more like they may have been taken in Milwaukee. The paint job doesn’t look right for the CSL, and the cars look like Milwaukee cars.

    Regarding the Met cars: was there a shop facility at the end of the Douglas line? That would be the most logical explanation.

    Everything else, I’m stumped!

    Like

  6. After studying photo csl26 several more times and the HW&EC map in James Buckley’s book I am convinced the location is Schrage Ave near Steiber St in Whiting. The car is SB and the crossing track is the IHB branch which connected to the B&OCT Whiting Branch, seen in the background. Everything fits.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s