2 On The Road Blog

After 12 years of full-time rving, we've sold our truck and trailer but we're still traveling. Email us at wowpegasus@hotmail.com if you would like to contact us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Allegheny Portage Railroad

This innovative project of the mid-19th century was something I had never heard about.   Click on these photos to enlarge for reading.

The NPS brochure had even more information.  "Completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 was cause for celebration among the merchants of New York City, but the feat discouraged their counterparts in Philadelphia.  Those merchants watched helplessly as their trade slipped away, diverted through New York to take advantage of the western markets opened by the new canal."

"In 1826 Pennsylvania's legislators authorized the Main Line canal system between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh - an ambitious plan requiring aqueducts, tunnels, reservoirs, dams, 82 miles of railroad track and 276 miles of canal.  The trade lost to New York loosened Pennsylvania's purse strings and spurred construction."

"By 1831 much of the state-owned Main Line canal system was finished.  But everyone was so concerned with pushing the eastern and western canal sections toward each other that no one had grappled with their greatest obstacle - the Allegheny Mountains."

"As workers on both canals approached the Alleghenies in March 1831, the legislature authorized a system in which canal boat passengers and goods would be moved to railroad cars and towed by stationary steam engines up a huge staircase of five inclined planes.  On the descent they would be let down five more planes, then transferred again to canal boats."
"By late 1833 workers had completed one track.  The portage officially opened on March 18, 1834, and the first adventurous passengers were pulled up incline Number 1.  The drawback of the system - transfer of freight from canal boat to railroad car - was eliminated in the mid-1830's by the development of sectional boats.  These could be split into sections and loaded onto railroad cars for the portage, allowing freight to make the entire journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on the same canal boat."

"At first horses towed the cars on the levels between inclines.  They were dependable but slow, and soon they were replaced on most levels by locomotives."

The portage railroad was a daring stroke of engineering that worked remarkable well, when railroads were still experimental.  But, it was not without its hazards.  Boilers exploded and the
3 1/2-inch hemp tow ropes broke too often.  John Roebling solved the rope problem by suggesting the portage railroad use the new "wire rope" that he was developing.  By 1849 wire cable, later used by Roebling on the Brooklyn Bridge, was used on all planes."

"Despite the new technology, the portage railroad was obsolete within a few years.  As locomotives grew more powerful and dependable, railroads provided stiffer competition, finally putting most canals out of business.  Moreover, inclines were slow and costly compared to continuous track.  In the early 1850s Pennsylvania began construction of a New Portage Railroad without inclined planes, spelling the demise of the old system.  The new portage was doomed before it was finished, when the privately owned Pennsylvania Railroad completed its line over the Alleghenies in 1854."

"Canals, which froze in winter, could not compete with a carrier that offered faster service year-round.  The portage was abandoned after 23 years of service, when the Pennsylvania Railroad bought the Main Line canal system in 1857."

The original Engine House no longer existed except for its foundation so this reconstruction was erected.  It is larger than the original so that the original foundation is protected.


From the Engine House we walked to the Lemon House.

I bet the dining room staff just loved clumsy guests that spilled their wine.

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