History Of The Lehigh Valley Railroad
by Jim Herron
The Lehigh Valley Railroad has a special role
in my family history. My grandfather worked
for the Lehigh Valley for more than 50 years,
starting in 1887 and ending in 1937. For many
of those years he was an engineer, running
the Black Diamond from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
to New York City. My father grew up with six
brothers and two sisters in a large house
on a bluff overlooking the yards and station
in Wilkes-Barre. Three of my uncles were engineers
and firemen on the Lehigh Valley. Everyone
in the family loved trains -- both the real
and toy ones.
The first line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad
was completed in 1841 for the purpose of
moving anthracite coal. The railroad was
soon deeply involved in all aspects of the
coal business -- mining, marketing and transportation.
Rail acquisitions made the Lehigh Valley
the dominant carrier and mine operator in
the Eastern end of Pennsylvania's anthracite
Near the turn of the century, through
acquisitions and expansions, the general
merchandise and passenger service finally
exceeded coal tonnage in revenue. The LV
was a small railroad in an era when the
local depot was the center of activity,
a sort of social stopping-off point where
people flocked to the trackside to see who
was arriving or departing. It was an era
of elegant wooden Pullmans, bowler hats,
and boys in knickers and women with parasols.
These were the halcyon days of the LV.
The LV was always on the cutting edge
of motive power technology. From its earliest
days, the company's motive power innovations
and ever-larger locomotives kept the LV
in the forefront of engineering. In the
last years of the 19th century, the LV had
some of the highest locomotive axle loading
capacity of any railroad and its standard
bridge loadings were commonly used by other
railroads. Many locomotives built in the
later years of the 19th century were in
use until well after World War II. In 1925,
the company's first diesels were purchased
from the Alco-GE consortium. The 300-horsepower
machines went to work within the city limits
at terminals that were reached by car-float.
From that year on, the LV acquired a new
diesel engine each year, sampling various
builders. All these early diesel switchers
performed well and remained on waterfront
and other special assignments until after
the World War II boom.
In 1931, the Lehigh Valley purchased large
modern steam power in order to compete with
parallel railroads. In 1951, the last steam
engines were taken out of service, some
of which had only seven years of use.
The Black Diamond service of the LV was
absorbed in the merger of the Erie Lackawanna,
Pennsylvania, New York Central, New Haven,
Jersey Central and Reading, months shy of
its 130th birthday. This merged entity became
the Conrail freight system in April 1976.
Happily, one richly historic piece of
LV rolling stock still survives: business
car #353. This class heavyweight not only
survives, but it thrives. The Pullman Company
in Chicago built the 100-ton LV 353 in 1916.
It was and is completely self-contained,
with kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms
and a combined office/observation room.
The LV 353, operated today on charter service
by the LV Black Diamond Limited, retains
the essence of its appearance when it was
part of the LV passenger system.
Lionel, MTH, Williams and Weaver seem
to like the Lehigh Valley. They have produced
a variety of engines, a Black Diamond passenger
set, and a variety of rolling stock. MTH
came out with a ProtoSound A-B-A F3 set
last year. Weaver has produced several diesels,
including the C-630, C-628 and RS-3. Williams
has had LV Madison passenger cars. Budd
cars, box cars, cabooses, ore cars, searchlight
cars and tank cars are plentiful. I think
Weaver did the best job of any in 1995 with
its LV 4-6-2 #1078, black and Cornell Red
version of the "John Wilkes",
which started its life as a K-5 Pacific
in December 1916 and received its stylish
Art Deco shrouding in 1938. This train worked
the Wilkes-Barre to New York City run.