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Strasburg Railroad is an American Heritage Railroad located in Strasburg PA. It is the oldest operating railroad in the Western Hemisphere, operating since 1832.

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History

By the 1820s, the canal system had replaced the Conestoga wagon as the primary method of overland transportation. When the Susquehanna Canal opened, the majority of goods were directed through Baltimore, Maryland, rather than Philadelphia.[4][5] The small amount of goods that were destined for Philadelphia traveled via a wagon road through Strasburg.[5] Philadelphia attempted to reclaim its position as a major port city by constructing the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in 1831. A railroad was easier and more cost effective to build than a canal. Because the new railroad would bypass Strasburg and cause Strasburg to lose its livelihood, a group of businessmen petitioned the state government for the right to build their own railroad to connect Strasburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia.[6] A charter was issued by the Pennsylvania Legislature with the signature of Governor George Wolf on June 9, 1832, to "incorporate the Strasburg rail road [sic]".[7]

Although the pre-1852 history of the Strasburg Rail Road is sketchy, it is believed that the line was graded in 1835 and was operational by 1837.[6][8] The railroad operated as a horse-drawn railroad until it purchased a second-hand Norris-built, 4-2-0 steam locomotive named the William Penn in 1851.[8] Controlling interest in the railroad was purchased by John F. and Cyrus N. Herr in 1863. The rails were replaced around the same time with heavier ones to accommodate the locomotive.[9] In 1866, the Herrs were granted a charter to extend the Strasburg Rail Road to Quarryville; surveys were carried out, but the extension was eventually canceled because of an economic depression in 1867.[10] Isaac Groff managed The Strasburg Rail Road for about 20 years until the fire of January 16, 1871, which destroyed the depot, grist, and merchant-mill, planing-mill, and machine-shop — in all, more than $50,000 worth of property. In 1878, the Strasburg Rail Road and the shops were sold.[11] The railroad was eventually again sold in 1888 to the Edward Musselman, with the Musselmans retaining control of it until 1918, when it was purchased by State Senator John Homsher. By this time, the number of passengers had dropped off due to tracks for the Conestoga Traction Company's streetcars reaching Strasburg in 1908, which offered a more direct route between Lancaster and Strasburg.[12]

In 1926, the Strasburg Rail Road purchased a 20-short-ton (18 t), gasoline-powered, Plymouth switcher—the only locomotive that was ever built specifically for the Strasburg Rail Road.[12] By 1958, the railroad fell on hard-times from cumulative effect of years of declining freight business and infrequent runs, damage caused by Hurricane Hazel, and inspectors from the Interstate Commerce Commission's lack of approval for operation of the Plymouth locomotive.[12][13] Upon the death of Bryson Homsher, the Homsher estate filed for abandonment with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.[14] Hearing of the potential abandonment, an effort to purchase and save the railroad was organized by Henry K. Long and Donald E. L. Hallock, both railfans from Lancaster. They organized a small, non-profit group to purchase the railroad. After the better part of a year of hard work, the purchase was completed on November 1, 1958. The following week, on November 8, the first carload of revenue freight was hauled to what was then the only customer, a mill in Strasburg.

Tourist excursion service began on January 4, 1959, and their first steam locomotive arrived the following year.

Trivia

Their Canadian National Mogul #89 Appeared in the Live Action Segment of the Episode "All Aboard"

They host "Day Out With Thomas" events every year and have the only steam powered Thomas the Tank Engine in the United States

In 2019 and 2021, The world famous J Class 4-8-4 Norfolk and Western 611 visited the area.

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