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Lehigh, Monongahela and Ohio Railroad

The LMO is the result of a friendly merger among three railroads: the Lehigh Valley based in Bethlehem, PA, the Monongahela Central based in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Ohio Southern based in Cincinnati, OH. The individual histories of these three railroads will appear first, followed by the history after the merger.

Lehigh Valley Railroad

The Lehigh Valley was created by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to establish a stable and controlled railroad to provide raw materials to the original steel plant in Bethlehem and to transport the finished steel products to other major railroads for distribution. The original lines followed the Lehigh River from the coal regions around Hazelton and Scranton to Bound Brook, NJ where trackage rights to New York City via the rails of the Central of New Jersey were used.

As the local iron mines began to peter out, a need for a better supply of iron ore was realized. Bethlehem Steel acquired iron ore mines in Canada and began shipping out of Thunder Bay with the port of Erie, PA being the destination for the ore ships. The Lehigh Valley started building tracks westward out of the valley towards Harrisburg and hopefully beyond to Erie, PA. When the lines approached the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg it was determined that further expansion westward would not be allowed by the state government.

Because of this stalemate the Lehigh Valley contacted several western Pennsylvania railroads which had access to Erie to determine if trackage rights could be obtained. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted no part of this since they were in direct competition with the Lehigh Valley and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie did not have any trackage near Harrisburg. The Monongahela Central did have a right of way into the Harrisburg area from Pittsburgh, but the tracks had not yet been laid. An agreement was reached to provide service via the Monongahela Central tracks, with the provision that MC power was utilized. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation fronted the money to the Lehigh Valley and the tracks were laid and a bridge was built across the Susquehanna River thus providing passage from Bound Brook to Pittsburgh but the conundrum of the Erie leg still remained.

Monongahela Central Railway

The Monongahela Central was started by Cornelius Martin and was primarily a coal-oriented railroad with their original lines laid following the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh south into the coal fields of West Virginia. The railroad was very successful as Pittsburgh became another steel producing center in western Pennsylvania. Times were good for the MC until the Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Lake Erie railroads decided to start a price war in order to undercut the MC and steal the profitable coal and iron ore runs. The MC's share of the traffic continued to fall off until these runs were actually losing money. Minimal service out of Martin Yard to Shelfton, WV was still provided to the industries in that small town and continues to this day.

An agreement was signed, track was laid, and a bridge was built to connect with the Lehigh Valley. The problem with the interchange area was that the Lehigh Valley approached the gap from the south side of the mountains, while the MC approached from the north. This problem was compounded by the Pennsylvania Railroad because the PRR owned all the rights to the gap of the Susquehanna and thus forced the LV and MC to climb partway up the ridge and then go down into the gap to their common bridge. Both railroads had to provide helper service up and down the grades at the gap, but in the long run this helped to allow the change-over of power in the interchange area.

One of the stipulations of the agreement was that the MC would provide all the soft coal from West Virginia to the Bethlehem Steel plant while the Lehigh Valley would still provide the hard coal from the mines in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This portion of the agreement was in effect until the PRR and PLE railroads continuing price war forced the MC to give up coal service into West Virginia. The demise of the coal service from West Virginia forced Bethlehem Steel to go looking elsewhere for the soft coal required by the plant. The steel company found the Champion Mine near Carbon Hill, OH to supply the soft coal and the mine was serviced by the Ohio Southern Railroad which connected to the MC at Martin Yard near Pittsburgh.

Ohio Southern Railroad

The Ohio Southern Railroad was founded by Thadeous Raymond and became known as the "River Route" since it paralleled the Ohio River for almost all of its mainline trackage. The OS was famous for its high speed service when compared to the speed of the barge traffic along the Ohio River. The mainlines extended from Pittsburgh, PA to Cincinnati, OH, and on to Evansville, IN and finally to St. Louis, MO where they connected with the railroads of the far west. At several points along the railroad, small yards connected with the river traffic on the Ohio River to allow trans-shipment of goods to the hinterlands.
The OS was also known for its passenger service between Pittsburgh’s Union Station and the Union Station in St. Louis, MO. Several named trains plied this route on a daily basis, the "Ohio Flyer", the "River Express", and the "St. Louie Night Coach" to name a few.

With the demise of the Monongahela Central's coal service from West Virginia, the Ohio Southern was able to start hauling soft coal from the Champion Mine at Carbon Hill east to Pittsburgh for transfer to the MC for further movement to Bethlehem Steel via the Lehigh Valley. This started the warm relations among the Ohio Southern, Monongahela Central, and the Lehigh Valley which lasted until the merger of these railroads.

With the construction of the General Motors plant in Zanesville, OH, the OS had found another customer with major activity and Bethlehem Steel acquired another user of its sheet steel for the automobile industry. Traffic between Bethlehem and Zanesville started increasing as the plant was built and went into operation.

The Great Merger of the LMO

The merger of the three railroads was instigated by the actions of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR began buying up the smaller short-lines in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in order to dominate the area and compete with the New York Central. As the local ore supply dwindled it became imperative that the three railroads acquire a more efficient means of shipping the iron ore out of the ports of Lake Erie as the closest they could get was the Lehigh Valley’s terminus in Buffalo. This meant a long and costly run around of the ferrite through western New York and eastern Pennsylvania to get the ore to Bethlehem and also kept them from competing for business in the growing Pittsburgh market.

The PRR had gobbled up all the short lines in western PA so as to starve the LV and its friends into submission but there was one lone holdout. The Robber Barron Ludwig Von Werkheiser, owner of the Tipton Youngstown Erie Railroad, held the final piece of the puzzle. And although his health was failing and the line was losing money, he despised the PRR and its bullying mentality and vowed that his beloved road would not become just another cog in their giant machine. A widower with no heirs, his last act of defiance was to sell the short line to the Lehigh Valley for the sum of one dollar to spite the mighty PRR and its corporate stooges. As the TYE ran from Tipton, a small town outside of Pittsburgh (which coincidentally had an interchange track to the MC in Shelfton) to Staffordtown, a lakeside suburb of Erie (with a through track to Buffalo via the Erie Lackawanna) the final leg of the ore run was in place.

Although this acquisition provided significant relief from the pressure of the Pennsy, the boards of directors of all three railroads realized that they could still fall under control of the PRR unless significant actions were taken. Since each was too small to stave off the PRR on their own, discussions among the boards were on-going and finally a decision was made to merge the three railroads. The merger was accomplished and the railroads began operating as one company. Many savings were realized by the reduced duplication of efforts but no positions were eliminated.

The board of directors was increased three-fold but was eventually reduced via attrition. Train throughput increased because the need to swap power was eliminated. Overall passenger service increased across the system including a new flagship passenger train, the 'Silver Bullet' which ran out of Bound Brook thru Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and then terminated in St. Louis. The turn of the century found the LMO in fine financial shape with a bright future ahead.

Ironwood Bridge

The Bethlehem Steel Co. was fast approaching number two in the steel industry with the advent of new technology and metallurgy processes, but 1914 found Europe at war. Bethlehem Steel had begun making a new type of armor plate and soon found a major customer in the form of the British Navy. Iron and coal shipments from the west increased and the armor plate was shipped back out to Canada via Erie, since the US could not directly trade with one of the belligerents. The old Susquehanna Bridge became the choke point of the system with all this increased traffic and it was really showing its age.
The two sons of the MC and LV's presidents had recently graduated from Lehigh University as civil engineering majors and were taking their post-graduation holiday in South America.

They had been enjoying their trip and also made time to observe the local railroads, in particular, the bridges along these lines. They learned that the lumber used on the bridges was called "Epai" and it was impervious to both weather and insect damage. Knowing the problems with the Susquehanna bridge they wired their fathers about their discovery and suggested that the bridge be rebuilt with the new wood. The price of the wood and the timing of the discovery decided the issue with their fathers and an entire shipload of these trees was soon heading for Baltimore.

The existing bridge was built low across the river which necessitated steep grades on both banks to get down to the level of the crossing. The two sons convinced their fathers to let them design and build a high trestle bridge like those found in the west using the Epai wood and thus eliminating the up and down routes to the old bridge site.

The new bridge site required that approaches be graded without disturbing the old bridge and lines. The wood from South America arrived at Baltimore and was shipped north on the BO and was forwarded to some local sawmills for cutting. Soon the local sawmills were complaining that the wood was like "iron" to cut and the bridge workers laughed at them until they had to drill holes thru these timbers to build the bridge. Because of all the complaining, the wood took on the nickname of "Ironwood" and hence the tall timber trestle across the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg became known as "Ironwood Bridge".

An offshoot to the bridge building was the discovery of a hot spring along the western approach to the bridge. The railroad workers soon found that a dip in the hot springs after a long day's work really relieved their tired and aching muscles. Word of the hot springs soon spread to the locals and on Saturday nights there was a large crowd enjoying the springs. The board of directors recognized an opportunity to increase their passenger traffic and by following the example of the Canadian Pacific Railroad they built the "Harris Glen Hot Springs Spa”. With convenient railroad travel right to the steps of the spa, soon travelers from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the eastern cities served by the old Lehigh Valley were flocking to the site.

Broadway Show Express

The commuter service in Pennsylvania became popular and profitable for the LMO. During the week the Budd RDC cars were busy morning and night, but on weekends these cars were idle. Folks in Bethlehem and Harrisburg inquired about service on weekends into New York City in order to see the Broadway shows and enjoy shopping in New York, but it was not viewed as economically viable for regularly scheduled service.

Since the demand was there, special service runs began after an agreement was reached with several New York hotels to provide reduced rates for overnight guests and the "Broadway Show Express" was born as a monthly run into New York.

The Express would leave early on Saturday morning for Grand Central Station and return on Sunday afternoon. The passengers could catch dinner and a show on Saturday, stay overnight at one of the selected hotels, have breakfast on Sunday, and then a little shopping before returning home. Thus another little niche was filled and more revenue for the railroad was generated.

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