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Steam into History aboard the Northern Central Railroad 7/21/2013

by Chris Guenzler

Dave Smetko and I arose in Hanover, New Jersey and after packing, drove to McDonald's for my usual hot cakes and sausage before we drove over to New Freedom, Pennsylvania. On the way there we twice crossed the old Western Maryland tracks on which we both rode during the 2003 National Railway Historical Society convention in Baltimore. We arrived in New Freedom and came to a sight at which all steam train riders would be very sad or upset.

North Central Railroad 4-4-0 17 "York", built by Kloke Locomotive Works in 2013, was cold. It had to be inspected by the Federal Railroad Administration, which made no sense since it was just three months old. But with the engine herem, it made it easy to photograph.

So much for me being able to ride behind it. Well at least I will still get my rail mileage.

A Brief History

Steam into History, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that plans to build and operate a steam train to chronicle the role York County, Pennsylvania, played in Civil War history and to promote the area as a tourist destination.

The Story

Four months had passed since the Battle of Gettysburg, the so-called high-water mark of the Confederacy. President Abraham Lincoln was invited to speak at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg. His remarks were a work in progress on November 18, 1863, as he boarded his five-car train (draped in red, white and blue bunting) in Washington, D.C., for the four-hour ride to Gettysburg.

It is easy to imagine Lincoln pondering his speech as his train rumbled north on the Northern Central Railway into York County, stopping at Hanover Junction for the changeover to the Hanover Branch Railroad and continuing on to Gettysburg. Some say that Lincoln worked on the speech on the train, doffing his black silk top hat and using it as an improvised desk on which to write. Or maybe he wrote on the back of an envelope. There is some sentiment that he simply shared anecdotes and relaxed with his companions, who included Secretary of State William H. Seward.

What is certain is that what would become known as Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" is today considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. Lincoln's journey to Gettysburg is one of the many exciting and intriguing York County connections to the Civil War that Steam into History will bring to life.

This history will be enhanced through the use of re-enactors, on the train or along the route: perhaps Lincoln as a passenger; soldiers vying for control of bridges and tracks; 16-year-old telegrapher apprentice John Shearer relaying messages from the Gettysburg battlefield to Washington.

Today, the rolling countryside along the old Northern Central route is relatively undeveloped; consistent with how the area would have appeared in the 1860s. The area's unspoiled beauty belies the hub of purposeful activity that was Hanover Junction during the Civil War. The station saw as many as 30 train stops daily, as the Northern Central carried troops and supplies heading to Washington for service in the Army of the Potomac. After the Battle of Gettysburg, wounded soldiers were transported to hospitals in York and Baltimore.

Seventeen months after the "Gettysburg Address", Lincoln was slain. The Northern Central carried Lincoln's funeral train through New Freedom and Hanover Junction, stopping in the city of York to take on water for the train's boiler.

Steam into History passengers also will learn about the railway's role in the growth of small towns along the route and its major contributions to the economic development of York County. The Steam into History train is scheduled to begin operating in 2013, in time to mark the 150th anniversary of the Confederate invasion of York and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Brief History of the North Central Railroad

The Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad Company was chartered by an act of the legislature of Maryland on February 13, 1828, with authority to construct a railroad from Baltimore to the Susquehanna River. To reach the Susquehanna at any commercially useful point, the new line would have to cross the state line into York County, Pennsylvania. However, the Pennsylvania legislature did not look favorably on the prospect of the trade of its southern counties being tapped for the benefit of Baltimore, instead of Philadelphia, and would not grant a charter for a connecting railroad. Construction had begun in 1829, and reached as far north as the York Road at Cockeysville by 1831. At that time, the Baltimore & Susquehanna obtained an amendment to its charter from the Maryland legislature which allowed it to be built via Westminster into the headwaters of Monocacy River, intending to reach Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. New construction began at Hollins and ran west through the Green Spring Valley. The line reached the Reistertown Road at Owings Mills on June 13, 1832. However, despite fierce opposition from Philadelphia interests, the Pennsylvania legislature finally chartered the York and Maryland Line Rail Road on March 14, 1832, authorizing it to connect the Baltimore & Susquehanna, at the state line, with York, Pennsylvania, a commercial center on Codorus Creek.

The directors of the Baltimore & Susquehanna did not immediately give up their planned route via Westminster, the terms of the new charter being somewhat onerous. The Adams County Railroad was chartered on April 6, 1832, in Pennsylvania to run from Gettysburg to the Maryland state line, but was never constructed, nor was the line to Westminster (later the Green Spring Branch) extended. A further amendment to the York & Maryland Line's charter in 1837 allowed it the unlimited use of the Wrightsville, York and Gettysburg Railroad, which it had aided financially. The Baltimore & Susquehanna, and York & Maryland Line had completed the line from Baltimore to York by 1838. This line included the Howard Tunnel, the earliest railroad tunnel in the U.S. still in use today.

In 1832 the railroad purchased its first locomotive, the Herald, which was run along the route from Baltimore to Owings Mills. This purchase was a major undertaking, for it was built in England and transported by ship The America's. Also, because the age of railroading was new to America, an engineer was sent with the locomotive to ensure that he could teach others the finer art of locomotive engineering. John Lawson, (b. Makerfield, November 27, 1810) went on to own, captain and be first engineer to the Cherokee steamboat, which helped with the Confederate Army effort during the American Civil War. Also in 1832, the railroad built Bolton Station, with an adjacent roundhouse and shops, at Bolton and Howard Streets in Baltimore.

In April 1840, the Wrightsville, York & Gettysburg had been completed between York and Wrightsville, on the Susquehanna. There a connection was made to the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge, allowing trains to cross the river and reach the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad and later, the Pennsylvania Railroad just prior to the Civil War. The railroad provided an alternative method of shipping cargo from central Pennsylvania to the Maryland seaports versus the Tide Water and Susquehanna Canal. However, the cost of expansion and inconsistent tariff policies plagued the Baltimore & Susquehanna and limited further growth.

The York and Cumberland Railroad Company was chartered on April 21, 1846 to connect the York & Maryland Line with the Cumberland Valley Railroad somewhere north of Mechanicsburg. It was opened on February 10, 1851, running north from York to the Susquehanna and then following the river to Lemoyne, across the river from Harrisburg. It was briefly operated by the Cumberland Valley, but the Baltimore & Susquehanna took over operations on June 7. Work also began on the Hanover Branch Railroad, a line connecting Hanover with the York & Maryland Line at Hanover Junction. The Baltimore & Susquehanna opened Calvert Station in Baltimore in 1850.

On April 14, 1851, the Susquehanna Railroad was chartered to build north from the York & Cumberland or the Pennsylvania Railroad up the Susquehanna through Halifax, Millersburg and Sunbury, where it would fork into two branches reaching Williamsport and Wilkes-Barre. It was an ambitious enterprise, badly in need of capital, and as yet unorganized. The charter was amended on April 24, 1852, to allow the York & Cumberland and Wrightsville, York & Gettysburg to subscribe or loan up to $500,000 to the company, and to permit the counties and boroughs along the way to contribute funds. The Maryland legislature authorized the City of Baltimore to contribute the same amount on May 14. The Susquehanna RR finally elected officers on June 10, and was soon embroiled in a dispute with the Sunbury and Erie Railroad over right-of-way.

Meanwhile, on May 27, the Baltimore, Carroll and Frederick Railroad (renamed the Western Maryland Railroad in 1853) was incorporated to build from the end of the line at Owings Mills towards Hagerstown. On July 4, a serious accident occurred on the Baltimore & Susquehanna when a special picnic excursion collided with a York local, killing thirty-one persons. The Hanover Branch Railroad was opened to Hanover on October 22 and operated by the Baltimore & Susquehanna. On May 10, 1853, the Baltimore & Susquehanna's charter was amended to permit it to build two branches to the Patapsco River (the Canton Extension), but this was stymied by legal problems and difficulties in tunneling.

On the northward extension, the Susquehanna Railroad let contracts for the line from Lemoyne to Sunbury in November 1852, and construction began on February 22, 1853. A financial crisis beginning in the fall of 1853 proved a severe embarrassment to the Baltimore & Susquehanna and associated railroads, and on March 10, 1854, the Maryland legislature authorized the Baltimore & Susquehanna, York & Maryland Line, York & Cumberland and Susquehanna Railroads to merge, writing off its investment in the lines in exchange for a mortgage on the new railroad. Construction halted on the Susquehanna Railroad. The Pennsylvania legislature authorized the merger on May 3, and articles of consolidation were signed on December 4 (filed December 16, 1854), forming the Northern Central Railway Company.

On April 1, 1855, the Northern Central stopped operating the Hanover Branch Railroad, which began independent operation. On December 20, 1855, construction resumed on the northward extension and by December 28, 1856, the line had bridged the Susquehanna at Dauphin and reached Millersburg, connecting with the Dauphin and Susquehanna Railroad and the Lykens Valley Railroad, respectively. These were lateral lines tapping coal mines east of the Susquehanna, and the extension afforded them a direct outlet by rail rather than by canal boat. In 1857, it reached Herndon and the Trevorton Coal and Railroad Company, another mining line. On June 28, 1858, the line was opened to Sunbury, where it connected with the Shamokin Valley and Pottsville Railroad, to Shamokin, and the Sunbury and Erie Railroad, to Williamsport.

In 1861, the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired a controlling interest in the Northern Central's stock to compete with the rival Baltimore and Ohio. Thereafter, the Northern Central operated as a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad until the latter's demise in the late 20th century.

During the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Railroad-controlled Northern Central served as a major transportation route for supplies, food, clothing and material, as well as troops heading to the South from Camp Curtin and other Northern military training stations. During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early raided the North Central Railroad during his occupation of York, burning some rolling stock and a few machine shops in the rail yard. To impair traffic between Baltimore and Harrisburg, his cavalry destroyed a large number of York County bridges originally constructed by the B&S. They were quickly rebuilt by Herman Haupt and the U.S. Army Military Railroad in conjunction with the Northern Central Railway. Traffic resumed shortly thereafter, and thousands of wounded soldiers from the Battle of Gettysburg, including Union Major General Daniel Sickles, were evacuated via the Northern Central to hospitals in Harrisburg, Baltimore, York and elsewhere.

The Northern Central was attacked again on July 10, 1864, when a 130-man Confederate cavalry detachment attacked the line near Cockeysville, under orders from General Bradley T. Johnson. After cutting telegraph wires along Harford Road, they encamped at Towson overnight. The next day, the Confederate cavalry skirmished with a smaller force of Union cavalry along York Road as far south as Govens, before heading west to rejoin General Johnson's main force.

Abraham Lincoln traveled on the Northern Central on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address in November 1863, changing trains in Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. After Lincoln's assassination, his body was transported via the same rails on the funeral train's journey from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois. The nine-car train departed Washington on April 21, 1865, arriving at Baltimore's Camden Station at 10 a.m. on the Baltimore and Railroad. After public viewing of the President's remains, the train departed Baltimore on the Northern Central at 3 p.m. and arrived at Harrisburg at 8:20 p.m., with a brief stop at York.

In 1873 the North Central Railroad opened its Charles Street Station and the Union Railroad of Baltimore opened a new line connecting to the station. This 9.62 mile railroad gave them access to the Canton area, where it established a shipping terminal on the Inner Harbor. The line also completed a crucial link in central Baltimore between the North Central Railroad, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad and the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad. In February 1882 the Northern Central acquired the Union Railroad. The Union Railroad link enabled the Pennsylvania Railroad to operate through trains between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and the route generated serious competition for the Baltimore and Ohio. Today this Pennsylvania Railroad system is part of the Northeast Corridor.

The Pennsylvania Railroad's Northern Central line was double-tracked and equipped with block signals between Baltimore and Harrisburg by World War I. The line carried heavy passenger and freight traffic until the 1950's. On-line freight included flour, paper, milk, farm products, coal and less-than-carload shipments between such settlements as White Hall, Parkton, Bentley Springs, Lutherville and the city of Baltimore. Local commuter service, referred to as the "Parkton local", operated over the 28 miles between Calvert Station in Baltimore and Parkton, Maryland. Long distance passenger trains equipped with sleepers and dining cars were also operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad over the line from Baltimore's Penn Station to Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri, with through-sleeping car service as far as Houston, Texas. Much of the "Pennsy's" through freight service to points west was routed via its electrified Port Road Branch along the Susquehanna River to Enola Yard in Harrisburg, however, instead of the Northern Central line.

With the decline in rail passenger and freight service in the 1950;s, accelerated by completion of the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway (Interstate 83), the "Parkton locals" were dropped in 1959 and the line was reduced from double-track to single-track. Some long-distance trains, such as the General to Chicago and the Buffalo Day Express, continued to operate until the late 1960;s. In 1972, when Hurricane Agnes caused bridge damage and washouts along the line, it ceased operations completely. One of the oldest rail lines in the country, it had run for a total of 134 years.

In 1968 the PRR merged with the New York Central Railroad to form the Penn Central. After sustaining damage along the main line due to Hurricane Agnes, the Penn Central petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the railroad south of York. The section of the line between York and New Freedom was acquired by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in June 1973.

A series of events including inflation, poor management, abnormally harsh weather conditions and the withdrawal of a government-guaranteed 200-million-dollar operating loan forced the Penn Central to file for bankruptcy protection in 1970. Pennsylvania Railroad operated under court supervision until 1976, when its lines were transferred to a new government corporation, Conrail.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources converted the corridor north of Cockeysville into a trail which opened to the public in 1984. It is known in Maryland as the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail. The trail continues into Pennsylvania, where it becomes the York County Heritage trail. The line south of Cockeysville was rebuilt in the late 1980's and is now part of the double-tracked Baltimore Light Rail system.

In York County, the Bridge 182+42, Bridge 5+92, Bridge 634, South Road Bridge, Howard Tunnel, and New Freedom Railroad Station are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Diesel into History.

Dave changed his ticket to reflect the trip we were going to make and so that is what we will call it.

Our train

View of the train in New Freedom.

Stewartstown Railroad 44 ton switcher 10, nee Coudersport & Port Allegany Railroad D-1 built by General Electric in 1946 which was on loan since the steam engine was bad-ordered. This would push our train to Hanover Junction.

Reader Railroad replica coach 702.

Reader Railroad replica coach 213.

Reader Railroad replica open coach 101.

The rear of our train.

Our trip

We left New Freedom and would be running beside the York County Heritage Trail the whole way to Hanover Junction.

A Pennsylvania Railroad position signal.

Pennsylvania Railroad caboose 477834, nee Pennsylvania 478160 built by the railroad in 1951, and caboose 477723, nee Pensylvania 477797 built by the railroad in 1941.

The New Freedom station built in 1885.

Here is where the Stewartstown Railroad took off.

Our train reached the end of the siding at New Freedom.

As you can see, trails and rails can both be used at same time.

Old Pennsylvania Railroad signal masts along our route this morning.

You can see both trains and trails are safe for both uses.

The train crossed the South Branch of Codorus Creek for the first time today.

The train went through the town of Railroad. The borough of Railroad owes its existence, and its name to what became the Northern Central Railway, which was built to connect Baltimore, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The train crossed the South Branch of Codorus Creek for the second time.

Bicycles are popular on this trail as well as people hiking.

Walking is popular as well.

This railroad does have some straight track on it. It runs through miles of forests.

The train crossed Trout Run.

This hiker stopped to watch our train go by.

The trail switched sides of the tracks with crossbucks.

A whistlepost on this curve.

Plenty of room for both the public and the trains.

All roads had flagmen to stop the traffic for our train to pass through.

The train took this curve.

Passing the trail rest station.

Exiting from a curve.

The trail has a railing to keep people from going over the edge here.

Another section of straight track.

Our train crossed over another rural road.

The trail switched sides again.

We passed another whistlepost.

Our third crossing of the South Branch of Codorus Creek.

The train crossed over this road.

Bicycles are required to stop at all roads on this trail.

At most roads along our route, you find buildings.

These people and their dog stopped to watch the train run by.

Going through another curve.

Taking the next curve.

Interesting geology along our route.

Dave was enjoying his trip aboard the Diesel into History train.

The trail switched sides again.

Nearing Glen Rock.

Plenty of bicyclists out this beautiful morning.

Passing through Glen Rock.

The short trip of the Steam in History stops here but ours continued on to Hanover Junction.

The town of Glen Rock.

Trail information boards are located at public entrances to this trail.

The train crossed the Centerville Creek.

More views down the tracks and along the trail.

We next crossed this road.

Another walker the train is catching up to.

The train crossed the South Branch of Codorus Creek for the fourth time.

Another road to be crossed ahead.

The train took this curve.

Another piece of straight track.

The fifth time our train journeyed over the South Branch of Codorus Creek.

The trail seems like an old friend to me by this point of the trip.

The stone wall was for the old coaling tail loading track to get cars to the top where they could load five trains at the same time at this location.

We ran along this road for a bit of this trip.

You can see the Hanover Junction station straight ahead of our train.

The train is pulling into Hanover Junction.

An old building in Hanover Junction.

The North Central Railroad and Western Maryland station at Hanover Junction built in 1863 which used to be a hotel.

Ladies in period costumes met the train when we arrived and w were allowed to detrain.

Our train at Hanover Junction.

North Central Railroad 70.

The Hanover Junction Historical Marker.

The rear of our train.

The Heritage Rail Trail County Park board. I reboarded the train and went back into the rear open car and relaxed back to New Freedom.

This young railfan was allowed to punch his own ticket.

He then enjoyed the rest of his trip.

The cabooses signal our arrival back in New Freedom.

Our trip ended at New Freedom. I suggested that both museums here and at Hanover Junction should be open when the train runs its trips. Today, they were both closed. Dave and I then departed for Williams Grove.