Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Visit to the Keystone State

Frank writes...

This past weekend my job took me to central Pennsylvania, to the Harrisburg region and a bit east of there to Lebanon, PA. And what's in Mount Hope, not terribly far from the Lebanon exit off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

Philadelphia Transportation Company 8530 is a Peter Witt built in 1926 and retired in 1958. Since the latter year it has been in private ownership and for the last few decades, at least, it has been stored on private land (visible from the road, where the above photo was taken) on a section of track perhaps 300' long underneath a nice wooden shelter. The car appears to be in very nice shape and rumor has it that it may even be operational, though that overhead isn't quite up to Randy Anderson standards.
Saturday evening I was off work at 4:30 and even though it was snowing lightly I headed over to Middletown to the Middletown & Hummelstown. I got there just before their last Santa Train of the evening departed at about 5pm.
The train consisted of three Lackawanna MU cars pulled by a 44-tonner. I suppose these cars are pretty well suited to this use, what with their high capacity seating and electric heat. The train was apparently sold out.
The Middletown depot is pretty nice and they have an enviable platform setup, shown above, for boarding the train. I'm not sure of the depot's history but it's a nice old brick depot right near downtown Middletown. The owner of the M&H has a varied collection of traction equipment in various stages of repair on the property but between the snow and the lack of M&H people around (they were busy with the train) I wasn't going to try wandering around the yard. Most of the electric collection that's in good shape is inside their relatively new storage barn.

After that, it was off for a quick dinner and then a journey about an hour and a half west - past the snow, which stopped at the Susquehanna River - to Orbisonia.
I met Joel Salomon, who I think I had last seen about 13 or 14 years ago, at about 8:00pm as the Rockhill Trolley Museum's Christmas event was starting to wind down. Above, Johnstown Traction 355, which was completely restored by RTM about ten years ago, pulls into the platform. RTM was doing a brisk business, with several hundred riders per night, using three streetcars running constantly for several hours starting at nightfall.
Here's another view of the 355 at the platform. The car was built by St. Louis in 1925; very similar cars ran in Evanston. The RTM property was decorated with plenty of lights, as shown, and there were a multitude of lit-up displays - various plastic and inflatable Christmas- and winter-themed illuminated pieces - that were spread out along the right-of-way for quite a distance. The amount of work that went into all of this must have been tremendous. During each trip the car lights were turned off, holiday music was played from a boombox, and the riders enjoyed the holiday light show out the windows. Joel and I went for a ride on the 355 and it was pretty neat to see how another museum does its holiday event.
But I have to admit that the main attraction, for me, was seeing the 315. Joel and Keith Bray, who as luck would have it happened to be there, showed me all of the work going into the car. The 315 is the "missing link" in IRM's collection: of the classes of CA&E cars in preservation we have at least one of each distinct series (if you consider the shorties to all be one type) except for the 311-315 series Kuhlmans. The only Kuhlman in preservation is shown here, in the RTM workshop, in the middle of a major multi-year restoration project to return it to its original condition. Note that the arched windows have been cut back in and the car has a fairly fresh coat of Pullman green linseed oil paint on it.
At the moment, attention has turned to the car's interior. Here Keith points out some of the gold leaf ceiling detailing that was recently uncovered. The detailing is remarkably complex and includes both dark green and gold leaf designs. The Kuhlmans were the last CA&E (okay, AE&C) wood cars that had mainly Victorian design elements; the Jewetts, the next series ordered in 1913, featured a more Prairie School aesthetic on their interiors.
Keith, Joel, and the RTM restoration crew are putting a great deal of work into figuring out exactly how the 315 looked when it was new and returning it to that appearance. Here they discovered an intricate design on the end bulkhead over the door to the platform. The plan is to replicate all of this correctly in gold leaf; the reason Keith was at the museum when I visited was to meet with a gold leaf expert, who using an array of samples for comparison determined that the car's ceiling had used 22-karat leaf. Who knew?
I say yes, you say no...
Apparently as built the Kuhlmans had the body interior car numbers at car card level rather than over the doors to the platforms, as was later Wheaton practice. Pretty interesting. The veneer on the back of the electrical cabinet was replaced at some point during the car's service life but new veneer will be applied using correct mahogany. There's actually a bunch of veneer replacement that will be necessary in the smoker on this car due to damage of various sorts; the paint was only stripped off a few months ago so this work is int he preliminary stages. The RTM guys are also working on replicating various interior fittings like clerestory window hinges and latches, coat hooks (yes, these cars had coat hooks on the window piers originally), and ventilator rods. IRM will be working with RTM on some of this work in areas where we may be able to help each other.
By this time the Christmas event had ended (the last trip was at about 9pm) so some of the volunteers gathered around left on Johnstown Traction 311 for the "lights out" trip to turn off all of the light displays spread out along the right-of-way. JT 311 is a double-truck Birney originally built by Wason in 1922 for Bangor, Maine. It is the most recently-completed restoration at RTM, with a complete frame-up rebuild having been completed only a year or two ago. Joel was changing ends when I snapped this photo while Keith is in the left foreground.
Here's the Johnstown car at the end of the trip, about ready to pull into the car barn. Neat fender.
And here's the car barn. Straight ahead is York Railways 163, which is a pretty unique car. It was built by Brill in 1924 as a curve-sider. Brill briefly constructed curve-side cars to compete with Cincinnati, but I think they may have been sued (or else they just weren't very successful). Other than a handful of cars built for York the only Brill curve-siders I can think of were some single-truckers built for Zanesville, Ohio. Regardless, car 163 was acquired by RTM as a body and completely restored in the 1980s and 1990s. To the left is car 205 from the Philadelphia & Western, the only "Bullet car" still in operating condition, and to the left of that is a line of East Broad Top cars. This particular barn, along with the RTM shop, sits inside the Rockhill wye of the EBT and half of this building is given over to narrow gauge equipment storage. RTM also has its own barn just a few hundred feet away alongside the right-of-way and most of their collection is stored there. Unfortunately I didn't get to tour that barn this time. I guess I'll just have to go back. Many thanks to Joel and the other RTM volunteers for showing me around!


Anonymous said...

Great post about many visits, Thanks! I think you might mean "Art Nouveau" rather than "Victorian". Good to see the progress on the 315, I am not surprised it has taken so long, they are doing it right.

Randall Hicks said...

If I may indulge in some reminiscences, those pictures of the interior of the 315 take me back about 40 years. After the fire in the 309, all of the remaining walls had been stripped of paint, since some people wanted to return the car to its as-built condition. But removing every trace of paint from the woodwork is extremely difficult and time-consuming. You get down to the point of removing little slivers of paint from the grain with an Exacto knife. It can be done, but it takes a lot of work. After some arguments, we went ahead and restored the car to its 1940's appearance with painted walls. In the end, only the upper walls on the bulkheads had to have the paint completely stripped.

At least the 315 hasn't been set on fire. Of the preserved CA&E cars, the 303 and 320 have had their walls stripped of paint to be stained and varnished. That's quite an accomplishment. And the 316 is in progress.