Saturday, July 1, 2017

Steamtown USA National Historic Site

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Fred and I are back on the road. Our plans include a journey of 23 states and 2 provinces before the Behemoth sets its wheels back in New York.
We began that trip with a stay near Scranton Pennsylvania in order to visit the Steamtown USA National Historic Site.
Steamtown USA is the only National Park whose purpose is to preserve the history of steam railroading.
Central Railroad Co of New Jersey Railway Crane No 5.
Trains are a part of our country.
The steam engine allowed western expansion by carrying passengers and freight with relative speed and safety.
Trains are a part of our history.
The expansion of the rail system allowed the transport of raw materials and finished goods in a timely manner that changed the complexion of United States from an economy based on agriculture to one based on manufacturing.
Those steam engines were converted to diesel many years ago. We now rely more on cars and air for travel and most freight is shipped more efficiently by trucks. But trains roll on.
We still enjoy spotting the iron beasts. Whether crawling through cities or rolling unrestrained on rural rails their whistles and rumbles bring out a smile.
It’s the sound of history and of adventure.
Where are you going?
What are you carrying?
Who will you meet today?
The Roundhouse and 90 foot turntable
The Steamtown USA complex sits on 40 acres of the Scranton railroad yard once owned by the Delaware, Lackawana and Western Railroad.
The collection of engines and railroad cars on display was started by F. Nelson Blount in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He bought the old engines to save them from being sold for scrap. After his death the Steamtown Foundation for the Preservation of Steam and Railroad Americana moved the collection to Scranton where it later became a National Historic Site.
New Haven Trap Rock Co #43
We drove through Scranton, up Cliff Street and into the parking lot where we were greeted with the site of 2 Reading Railroad locomotives on one side and a Union Pacific Big Boy on the other. The #4012 Big Boy is an articulated engine built by ALCO in Schenectady NY. It is 132 feet 9 inches long.  Park Rangers like to point out that its length is 12 feet more than the Wright brothers first flight.
We stopped at the ticket booth to show our senior passes and then entered the Visitor Center where we were drawn to the deck that overlooks the Roundhouse and turntable.
The Roundhouse was built in 1917 after a fire destroyed the first one. It was expanded in 1937 and was once capable of garaging 36 engines for maintenance and repair.
The 90 foot turntable was rebuilt by the National Park Service from original drawings. There are some safety modifications but otherwise it looks as it did in 1917.
Remember that Big Boy from the parking lot? It doesn’t fit.
Lehigh and New England Railroad Caboose #583
Today the right center portion of the Roundhouse is a working garage and maintenance center where a core group of skilled mechanics and craftsmen keep the trains in running order. They also restore and repair engines. When necessary they manufacture parts using precise measurements and pre-computer era computations. There are no computer guided laser cutters here. We were happy to be able to tour the maintenance center accompanied by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer. Rick’s love of trains was apparent and made him a pleasure to listen to. He showed a great deal of respect for the skills of the maintenance crew.
Lathe filings from a wheel trim
Fred was thrilled to see the gigantic lathe used to trim the train wheels when they develop flat spots. It reminded him of the one his Dad worked on at the Watervliet Arsenal making the big guns.
We learned that the lathe as well as a towering drill press and a metal bender as big as a bus were requisitiond and obtained from US Navy storage facilities.
Original architectural drawings
The far right side of the Roundhouse serves as a museum that has exhibits that include a timeline of modern railroading and an archaeological area that displays items found under the rail yard when the National Park Service moved in and started the restoration.
There are 2 cars showcased in the museum.
The first is  Erie Railroad Business Car, #3, basically a rolling office that included a kitchen and sleeping quarters for railroad executives.
Louisville and Nashville Railroad Post Office Car #1100
The second was Louisville and Nashville Railway #1100, a railway post office car. This was the only car on the train not under the jurisdiction of the Conductor. The rolling post office was part of the US Postal service. The best part of the display was a short filmed interview of some of the men that road and worked on the train as postal employees. It was wonderful to hear them speak about a job they loved and the comradrie that developed from riding the rails and working so closely together. It was interesting to hear them describe how they captured new mail and delivered sorted mail as the train rolled through towns without stopping.
Spang, Chalfont and Co #8 with the side cutout to show internal workings
The left portion of the Roundhouse is a Technology Museum. Here you will find Spang Chalfont and Co #8 a steam locomotive with one side cut away so that you can see the inner workings of the engine. There is also Rutland Railroad #28 a red wooden caboose and a Delaware Lackawana and Western boxcar that you can walk through.
Sand dome and bell
The Technology Museum also has a display of railroad disasters with filmed interviews of rescuers and survivors. You can tell from their expressions that the events still haunted them.
There were interactive exhibits of Train Whistle communication, Hobo symbols and other railroad signals.
Pictures of the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct made me wish that we had planned another day and had time to drive north in order to see it.
The grounds include a loading platform for days when rides are available, an operating sand drying tower and the Old Oil House that now serves as the Museum Shop and Bookstore.
We enjoyed our visit and spent most of the day wandering among the large machines and marveling at the skill and strength that it took to keep them running.
I am looking forward to learning more about early railroad travel as we head west.



Steamtown USA NHS
4 Lackawanna Ave
Scranton, PA
(570) 340-5200

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