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Liberty Bell Special, 1915

Liberty Bell Special, 1915

Fred Klein, 2015


The bell was originally cast in England and arrived in Philadelphia before the revolutionary war. It was inscribed with the lettering "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof". The bell cracked almost immediately and was recast. There are no accounts of it ringing on July 4, 1776 when independence was proclaimed in Philadelphia, but it probably rang on July 8 when the declaration of independence was read. The bell acquired its present distinctive large crack sometime in the early 19th century. The Liberty Bell acquired its close association with liberty and declaration of independence from secondary accounts written in the mid 19th century. Its fame grew with the Centennial Exposition of 1876, which was held in Philadelphia.


The Liberty Bell hung in the tower of Independence Hall in Philadelphia until the city allowed it to travel so the country could see it.  In 1885 it travelled by rail to the Independence Exposition in New Orleans. Then, in 1893 it went to the Columbian Exposition at Chicago. Two years later the people in Atlanta examined the bell at the Cotton States Exposition. The bell attracted huge crowds wherever it went. Additional cracking occurred and pieces were chipped away by souvenir hunters. In January 1902, the city of Charleston, South Carolina, was to be the host for the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. That 1902 trip had a smaller train than the 1915 train, with two baggage cars, two Pullman-owned cars, and a flat car on the rear. A three-foot high nickel plated guardrail was installed around the edge. The level of the floor on which the bell and its frame sat was the same as the rear platform of the observation car that it followed.


The bells’s last trip was to San Francisco in 1915, the last of seven excursions to the country. The ultimate destination was the Panama Pacific Exhibition in what is now San Francisco’s Marina district, to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal and the city’s rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake. The 1915 trip started westward from Philadelphia to Chicago on the Pennsylvania Railroad. It then went through Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, partly on the Rock Island Railroad. Then it went to Wyoming, Denver and Salt Lake on the Union Pacific. Then on to Idaho, Oregon, Seattle and down through Portland to San Francisco. The bell went down through California’s central valley to San Diego and Los Angeles. Then east through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and New Orleans on the Southern Pacific. Then to St. Louis, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State and New Jersey and back to Philadelphia. Some route maps are shown below, and photos from this 1915 trip. The 1915 trip was much longer than the 1902 trip, visited more cities, and had a longer train, which included 3 baggage cars, and at least 6 Pullman cars including sleepers. Because of the worry of future cracking and the cutting of pieces by souvenir hunters, the bell did not travel from Philadelphia again.


The liberty bell on its flat car coupled to the Pullman observation car. A Philadelphia sign was at one end and a San Francisco sign was at the other end. Photo probably taken in Philadelphia on the day of its departure for San Francisco on July 5, 1915.


The liberty bell on its Pennsylvania Railroad flat car in Ogden Utah. Photo by Lester Perry.


Union Pacific train #7 leaving Ogden Utah on July 11, 1915. Photo by Lester Perry. Note the three baggage cars and at least six Pullman or passenger cars (unknown types but probably including sleepers, coaches and a diner) in front of the Liberty Bell flat car at the end. Trains of heavyweight cars like this were so prevalent in 1915 that no one thought to photograph the whole train.


The special in front of the depot in Auburn Washington, a suburb of Seattle, on July 15, 1915.


The Liberty Bell Limited departing St. Louis on November 21, 1915. The train was on its return from San Francisco to Philadelphia from display at the Panama Pacific Exposition. A Rock Island switcher drew the bell through the crowd.


The Liberty Bell car in the 1884-1885 train as it travelled from Philadelphia to New Orleans. It was an old 34-foot passenger car, half of which had been cut down to the floor. The frame holding the bell is of a different design than the one from 1915. On future trips the bell had its own flat car so more people could get a better view. Edward Wilson photo from the Centennial photographic company.


The core of the N scale model train is the four-car set issued by Micro-trains in 2015. The flat car with the liberty bell is essential. The set also contains a baggage car, coach and observation car, all lettered Pullman, but without road numbers. I have not been able to locate a precise consist of the train, or to verify that the cars in the Micro-trains set were in the train. To make the 1902 train, a baggage car must be added to the 4-car set. The 1915 train requires 2 more baggage cars and 4 or more (Pullman) passenger cars, most of which are probably sleepers. I don’t know if the 1915 train had a diner, but many passenger trains of the day stopped for meals or had food brought on board. The 1915 train went through many states and was on many different railroads. The steam locomotive for the train could be one that was used in 1915 and could be from many different railroads. A consolidation, Pacific or possibly a large mogul might be OK, but no northerns or Hudsons. My train is pulled by a Santa Fe consolidation because that is a locomotive I have from the era, though it does not look like the train was on Santa Fe rails except for possibly some parts of the route from San Francisco to San Diego where SP and ATSF had parallel routes through the California.


In my opinion, the shape of the bell is wrong. It should have curved sides and a wide bottom like the iconic bell that thousands of people know, instead of the straight upper sides on the microtrains bell. Adding some figures, like police or soldier guards, and some American flags to the car is a nice touch to match the photographs. I did not find police or soldier figures dressed in 1915 uniforms, but blue will do. I printed some 48-star flags (the number of states in 1915) to scale and put it on a brass pole.


I added several heavy-weight Pullman and other cars to the 1915 train to make a train that could cross the country and match the one photo I found of most of the train. The listed consist is not based on a prototype listing, but is my model train that I think is a good guess. The model heavy weight Pullman cars in this train are all steel and typical of what Pullman made in the 1920s. The 1915 train used modern cars for that time, but they may have been of an earlier design with wood sides or truss-rods, instead of the Pullman prototypes that Microtrains used for the models. Certainly the air conditioning ducts on the roofs of the microtrains cars are too new a feature for a 1915 train. Any Pennsylvania Railroad cars would be painted tuscan, and it is probable that some tuscan cars made the whole trip. They would not have had pin stripes, which were introduced just before and after World War II. This model train is not meant to show the actual train used, but is a possible representation of it.


model car

model car name

Steam consolidation 2-8-0 loco

ATSF 2523

70' baggage


60' B60b baggage

Pennsylvania 9171

70' baggage

PRR 6016



12 sect-1 draw

Pullman McKeages

10 sect-1 comp-2 dbr

Pullman White Bear Lk




PRR 7991

10 sect-1 comp-2 dbr

Pullman Point Bluff



40' Flar car with Liberty Bell

PRR 668260*

*  in Microtriains set




Power and baggage section

The locomotive was provided by the railroad then hosting the Liberty Bell Special.  It had to be typical of those used on passenger trains of the 1915 era, and a Baldwin  2-8-0 consolidation of 1908 is a perfect type that would have been capable of pulling 10 or 12 cars. The model is made by Bachmann. The photo above shows three baggage cars, and the 3 model cars are possibilities for a model train. The Pullman baggage is a Microtrains car from the Liberty Bell set. Because the train originated in Philadelphia, it is likely that some of the baggage and other cars were owned by or painted for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The 60’ baggage is from a Hells Gate kit and is prototypical for the Pennsylvania. The last baggage is a factory decorated Microtrains model. The baggage cars would likely have carried the tools, flags, and other items needed to display the bell and control crowds.


First passenger section

Next is a Pullman coach, probably for people joining the train for short runs between stops. It is from the Microtrains liberty bell set.  Because the train traveled for months between the coasts and back again, it would need several Pullman sleepers for the crew, guards, and officials. I have a 12 section-1 drawing room car and a 10 section-1 drawing room-2 bedroom car, both re-decaled Microtrains cars. A parlor car like the Microtrains model shown would also be a natural for the train.


Second passenger section and bell flat car

A long distance train would have needed a diner and kitchen car for the crew, guards and dignitaries. This is a custom painted Rivarossi diner car for the Pennsylvania Railroad, which is not a PRR prototype but it would be representative. The factory painted microtrains PRR diner (not shown) has pinstripes, which are not correct for the 1915 era of the train. Next I use another 10 section-1 drawing room-2 bedroom car, this time custom painted in Pennsylvania tuscan color. The last passenger car was an observation car with a rear platform facing the flat car with the star of the show, the Liberty Bell and its supporting frame. I added some figures to represent police guards and American flags. The flags must have 48 stars for the number of states in the union in 1915. The observation and Liberty Bell flat car are from the Microtrains set.




Maps of some of the routes of the train in 1915



Three of the four route maps from the book On the road with the bell, which is partly online: see the link in the references below. The northwest map is missing from the on-line version. A model train could use a locomotive from any of the railroads shown.




various photos from a google photo search