Editor of the New Era newspaper of Lancaster, Pennsylvania for permission to reprint the following article and pictures.
In 1927, a massive 107-ton locomotive sped from Washington to New York in the record-breaking time of three hours and eight minutes, carrying with it a Pathe News film of Charles Lindbergh's return to the United States following his celebrated solo flight to Paris.
That Lindbergh engine will be featured in a collection of railroad paraphernalia to be on exhibit at the new Pennsylvania Railroad Museum at Strasburg.
The museum buildings, in their last throes of construction, include a rolling stock building, featuring four sets of tracks and an observational pit, and an entrance building, housing the offices, library, and rest rooms. The site is located along Route 741 opposite the Strasburg Railroad.
Flood Damage Construction was scheduled to be completed by December of this year but, according to construction officials, extensive flooding and water damage has pushed the deadline back a few months.
Subsurface -water was discovered while workmen were blasting shortly after construction began last September. That water and the residue from heavy Spring rains have combined to put the mechanical room and elevator shaft of the entrance building under several feet of water. Construction is being slowed until the exact source of the water has been located and the area is pumped dry.
Problems aside, George M. Hart, museum curator, says the museum will be one of the largest of its kind and will house one of the most extensive rail collections. An appraisal of the worth of the rolling stock alone was just under $1 million.
The largest part of the museum's collection is the rolling stock, which will be exhibited both inside one building and outside on a 100-foot operational turntable, donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission by the Luria Bros. Co. of Indiana.
More than 30 antique rail cars and locomotives are positioned on the tracks, some freshly painted and polished, ready to show shiny chrome to the first flash of the camera.
Unlike other exhibits, there are no 'keep off' signs on the equipment, but the museum commission requests that visitors refrain from boarding some of the equipment for safety reasons and also to enhance the appearance of the exhibit. Some of the pieces, which have been authentically restored from railroad sketches and records, will be opened to allow the public a closer look at the operation from the inside of the car.
'Johnstown Flood' The collection initially began a few years ago, many of the pieces donated from Penn Central.
Featured on the track is one of the oldest steam engines, an 1831 John Bull.
Not originally caught in the flood of 1889, another massive piece, named the 'Johnstown Flood Engine,' stands on display. Although it was the heaviest piece of equipment, on the tracks at the time, the Johnstown flood waters proved a more formidable foe, for several identical 62-1/2 ton engines were reportedly washed a mile down stream.
The Johnstown engine is one of the five cars at the museum that were on exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair.
'All of the cars are on their own wheels and can be moved around if necessary,' commented Hart. The rolling stock is expected to remain at the site but is in condition to be transported.
A forerunner of the modern combination car is also featured. Called a 'hermaphrodite,' it was named after two Greek gods, meaning 'one body of two sexes,' said Hart. One of the oldest forms of passenger coaches, this 1895 car seats about 45 people in one half, and stores freight in the other section.
Hart notes that the museum will help represent three eras of reail history. The early stage featured cars constructed of wood, until steel cars came into focus about the turn of the century in a heavyweight, non-streamlined model. The third stage includes the more modern lightweight, streamlined coaches.
Former Grandeur Patiently awaiting its turn to be refinished and returned to its former grandeur as a passenger coach of the 1880's is a 16-foot cross section of a 50-foot car.
Hart and his associates discovered the car in 1969 just a few days before it was scheduled to be burned, after it served a few years as an off track railroad office in Jim Thorpe, Pa. Hart wanted to save the entire coach but, because of the close proximity to a neighboring engine house, only one section of it could be salvaged and moved.
The coach will be restored and repainted, complete with seats, vents, window casements an d the elaborate ornaments that adorned the molding of the coach's interior.
Wood, Coal Burners Among the remaining items in the Penn Central collection are dining cars, a postal car, several freight and passenger engines, both wood and coal burners, and a barrage of day coaches and baggage cars.
As the visitor tours the site, the ground strewn with crushed cinders from locomotive fires, and strolls along the tracks, dwarfed by massive hulks that once drew breaths of smoke and sparks, he can close his eyes and feel the ground tremble and hear a barely audible whistle blast as the engine nears the station.
And from an engineer's seat, perched atop the shoulder of an engine, like the Lindbergh, he can imagine piloting the train himself, breezing through country fields. 'Yes, it was romantic,' added Hart. 'But,' he quipped, 'there was no fooling around.'