Posts Tagged ‘Railroad history’

Michigan History Conference Seeks Presenters

February 23, 2022

The Michigan Railroad History Conference has issued a call for papers for its 2022 conference to be held in Sept. 17 in Ludington, Michigan.

The conference is seeking six presenters to talk about various aspects of Michigan’s railroad heritage.

Each presentation should be 30 to 45 minutes long and be content oriented rather than simply a collection of  photographs.

Interested individuals should contact Doug Johnson, chairperson, by March 15 at or at Chair at MRHC, P.O. Box  16235, Lansing, MI 48901. 

Presentation proposals should include a suggested title and brief description of the topic to be covered. The conference committee will review submissions and select presentations to provide a well-rounded quality program.

Michigan Conference Seeking Presenters

November 29, 2021

The Michigan Railroad History Conference has issued a call for papers for its 2022 event to be held Sept. 17 in Ludington, Michigan.

Papers may focus on any aspect of Michigan railroad history with presenters giving a 30-to-50 minute presentation about their topic.

The presentation should be content oriented rather than photography oriented. Presentation proposals are being accepted through March 1, 2022.

Those interested in presenting should submit a suggested title, a brief description of the topic to be covered in the paper, and brief background information on the author(s) to or by mail to MRHC, PO Box 16325, Lansing MI 48901.

A selection committee will review all submissions and select presentations to provide a well-rounded quality program.

The conference will be held at the United Methodist Church of Ludington. Although the conference is usually held every other year, the 2021 conference was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will be the 16th conference with the 15th conference in Ann Arbor drawing more than 100 attendees.

Michigan Rail History Conference Delayed Until 2022

February 18, 2021

The annual Michigan Railroad History Conference has been postponed until Fall 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event, which would have been its 16th, will be held in Ludington, Michigan.

Organizers of the event said they elected to cancel the 2021 conference out of a fear that COVID-19 will still be a concern this September. 

The 2021 conference also was slated to be held in Ludington.

In lieu of a live conference, the conference organizers might hold a limited virtual event in Fall 2021 on a date to be determined.

50 Years Ago Sunday, Penn Central Went Bankrupt

June 20, 2020

It is early Penn Central (Nov. 16, 1968) at Collinwood Yard in Cleveland. Two lcomotives still wearning New York Central markings sit with one that has already been given PC markings. in front of the former coaling tower. (Photograph by Robert Farkas)

This Sunday (June 21) will mark the 50th anniversary of Penn Central Transportation Company filing for bankruptcy protection in a federal court in Philadelphia.

The enormity of that event cannot be understated. At the time, Penn Central was the sixth largest company in America and its largest railroad with 20,530 miles of track in 16 states and two Canadian provinces handling one-eighth of the nation’s freight.

The bankruptcy occurred after a last-ditch effort to secure a $200 million loan from the federal government collapsed due to opposition from Congress and the Nixon administration.

The Penn Central bankruptcy was the largest in U.S. history until eclipsed in 2001 by the bankruptcy of energy company Enron.

Although Penn Central had $6.5 billion in assets, including a vast real estate portfolio, it was cash poor.

In the first quarter of 1970 it lost $62.7 million on the heels of a $56.3 billion net loss in 1969, its first full year of operation after being created by the Feb. 1, 1968, merger of the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads.

The merger was plagued from the beginning by management infighting triggered by cultural clashes, high losses on passenger service, and a deteriorating physical plant that suffered from years of deferred maintenance.

The bankruptcy would help spur a number of developments including the creation of Amtrak and Conrail.

Within a decade of the Penn Central bankrupty, thousands of railroad careers had been cut short and thousands of miles of track abandoned.

For many, Penn Central has come to be synonymous with failure.

Stories are told of how its track was so bad in some places that trains derailed while standing still. Freight cars and their contents were “lost” for months or years.

Passengers aboard the Spirit of St. Louis angered by the lack of functioning air conditioning, lights and water sat in front of the locomotive in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and refused to move until railroad officials addressed their complaints.

Penn Central boxcars might have been painted green, but its locomotives had a utilitarian design of a solid dark color with little more than the company herald and name.

A few years ago I was working the Akron Railroad Club table at the Lake Land College train show with the late Ed McHugh.

He quipped that he didn’t understand why people were interested in a railroad that had failed.

Yet Penn Central still has its fans and an active historical society.

I find myself at times wishing I could go back and experience the Penn Central era again.

There was much that existed then that doesn’t exist now including more passenger trains, more interlocking towers, more railroad stations, more rail lines and far more variety in freight cars and other rolling stock.

Who wouldn’t want to see again a freight train led by an F unit or a passenger train led by an E unit?

It wasn’t that I didn’t see any of that during my formative years, but I wasn’t a photographer then or even a railfan. I was just someone interested in railroads who enjoyed seeing them as I happened upon them in everyday life.

I particularly am reminded of what I missed when I look at the photographs that Bob Farkas made during that era that are posted on this website.

To be sure, railfanning in the late 1960s and 1970s was quite different than it is today.

Few would want to give up the tools of the contemporary railfan, including radio scanners, smart phones and social media sites.

Yet there is a perception that railroads were more fascinating places back then and the trains inherently more interesting compared with much of what we see today, particular on Class 1 railroads.

That perception has a lot to do with why some still find Penn Central an interesting study even if no one would hold it up as an example of how a railroad should be run.

Railroad companies today are much stronger financially than they were 50 years ago and as bad as things have been for the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, no one expects any of the Class 1s wind up broke like Penn Central.

Notice I said I wish I could visit the Penn Central era, not necessarily live in it.

But no one can’t go back there so memories, photographs, magazine articles and books will have to do to relive the Penn Central era.

Railroad Historian Hansen Dies

May 20, 2020

Peter A. Hansen, the editor of Railroad History, recently died at his home in Florida after a long illness

Peter Hansen

Hansen, 62, also wrote articles for Trains and Classic Trains, and hosted or appeared in several nationally broadcast television shows and documentaries about railroads.

Robert Holzweiss, president of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, which publishes Railroad History, said Hansen began editing the journal in 2007.

“I really came to appreciate (Pete’s) broad understanding of railroad history when we visited on the sidelines of the annual Lexington Group meeting,” Holzweiss told Trains. “The depth and breadth of his knowledge and sensitive treatment of controversial subjects on the pages of Railroad History carried over into our conversations.”

Robert S. McGonigal, editor of Classic Trains, said Hansen’s deep sense of history and engaging writing style made him an ideal author.

Hansen wrote 10 cover stories for Trains about historic events and personalities.

“Pete was an amazing journalist and we are fortunate he was beguiled by railroading,” said Trains Editor Jim Wrinn.

“Pete’s understanding of the big picture as well as his attention to detail made him one of the top practitioners of his craft,” Wrinn said. “He was equally at home with a historical feature as well as a technology piece about the future of railroading. We are all better for Pete’s presence, his determination, and his friendship.”

Hansen also served as a consultant for a number of railroad museums and institutions, including the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, Nevada State Railroad Museum, and Kansas City Union Station.

He was a consultant for the Smithsonian who worked with the late William L. Withuhn, the Smithsonian’s longtime transportation curator.

Amtrak hired Hansen to host an official 40th anniversary documentary in 2011, produced by Richard Luckin.

Hansen and Luckin collaborated on several other programs, and Hansen appeared on the CBS public affairs show Sunday Morning, as well as on NBC, PBS, and local stations.

Aside from his work as a railroad historian, Hansen worked as a corporate communications executive with the Sprint Corporation.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Eastern University, a private Christian university in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.

Blank for 48 Years Now

October 18, 2019

This former train bulletin board that once hung on the wall of the passenger station in Union City, Indiana, is a relic frozen in time.

The station where it hung was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad to serve passenger trains on the Pan Handle line between Chicago and Columbus.

But trains of the New York Central also called at the depot. But note that the train bulletin refers to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis, .a.k.a. the Big Four and not the New York Central.

That might have seemed confusing to passengers expecting to see New York Central, particularly given that the Big Four became part of the NYC system in 1906.

But the Big Four operated autonomously into the 1930s and even then many along its routes continued to remember the Big Four name.

The PRR’s marquee trains between Chicago and Columbus were the daylight Fort Hayes and the overnight Ohioan.

The Fort Hayes ended on Oct. 28, 1956. The Ohioan name was dropped in April 1958. On the last day of 1958 the former Ohioan was discontinued, leaving the Pan Handle through Union City freight only.

The NYC continue to host a fleet of trains that ran between Cleveland and St. Louis.

Union City would become a footnote in the Central’s efforts to do away with passenger trains on its St. Louis line.

The Central ended the Knickerbocker (westbound) and Southwestern (eastbound) between Cleveland and Union City, Indiana, on Sept. 6, 1967.

It was able to do this without regulatory approval because the Public Service Commission of Ohio allowed railroads to discontinue passengers trains within the state provided they are not the last varnish on a route.

The Central’s action left now unnamed Nos. 312 and 341 as Union City-St. Louis trains of one passenger coach pulled by a lone E unit.

In practice, this train actually originated and terminated in Bellfontaine, Ohio, but did not carry passengers between Bellefontaine and Union City.

This state of affairs continued until Nos. 312 and 341 made their last trips on March 18, 1968.

That left unnamed Nos. 315 and 316 operating through Union City as they traversed their route between Cleveland and Indianapolis.

These trains had survived as long as they did because of their heavy mail business.

No. 315 departed Cleveland Union Terminal every night at 11:50 and was scheduled to arrive at Indianapolis Union Station the next morning at 6:05 a.m. This train was not scheduled to stop in Union City.

The equipment turned and departed Indy at 9:35 a.m. with a flag stop in Union City at 11:30 a.m. No. 316 was scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 4:05 p.m.

The planners who created Amtrak probably gave little thought to saving trains 315 and 316 and they began their final trips on April 30, 1971.

And with that this train bulletin board was wiped clean for good.

If you look carefully you might see that at some point some wag wrote “Hogwarts Express” as an eastbound Big Four train bound for London.

It is noteworthy that the bulletin board has room for more Big Four trains than PRR trains.

Tthat probably reflects the reality that the NYC had more trains through Union City and then did the Pennsy.

Although some railfans refer to the Union City station as the former Pennsylvania Railroad station the town calls it the Union City Arts Depot.

That’s because it is an all-purpose community center that happens to have a railroad history.

I have to wonder how many people in Union City know much about that railroad history.

Michigan History Conference to be in Ann Arbor

August 5, 2019

The 15th Michigan Railroad History Conference will be held on Sept. 20-22 in Ann Arbor at Washtenaw Community College.

The registration fee is $65 if paid before Sept. 1 and $75 after that date.

Headlining the conference on Sept. 21 will be featured speaker Kevin Keefe, former editor of Trains magazine and the author of the Mileposts column published on the Classic Trains website.

Keefe’s presentation is titled: How the Michigan Central got to Chicago and Personal and Professional Reflections on a Life with Trains.

Other presenters and their programs include: Mark Hildebrandt, Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County; Nick Korstange, Wood, Water and Wheels–Logging by Rail and Water; Jefferson Seaver,  A Peculiar Lumber Tramway; E. Ray Lichty, History and Sale of the Pere Marquette/C&O/CSX Carferry Services; Ford Cotton, Rail Service Through Ewen from the DSS&A to the Soo Line and into History; Rahn Stokes, Jackson Yard: Viewpoint of the Second Shift Yardmaster in the Early Seventies; and Dean Pyers, Train Robberies in Michigan.

There will be two field trips, both of which have additional charges.

On Sept. 20 there will be a tour of railroad operations at Greenfield Village and the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit that is limited to 25 people.

It will begin at The Henry Ford where the curator of transportation will discuss the role of railroad history at Greenfield Village.

There will be a walk through the DT&M roundhouse moved from Marshall, Michigan, where an active shop performs collection maintenance and restoration.

Additional structures that tour attendees will see include the coaling tower, water tower, manually-operated turntable and ash dump.

Lunch will be at the Cork and Gabel Restaurant in Detroit (included in the field trip fee of $75) where the construction manager for the Michigan Central Station project will describe plans for rehabilitation of Michigan Central Station.

The depot is now owned by Ford Motor Company and is the focus of its facilities devoted to development of autonomous vehicles.

There will be a brief walk through parts of the station with the points to be seen dependent on construction work underway.

On Sunday, another field trip will be held to view the remains of the Jackson-Ann Arbor electric railways.

Two companies (Hawks–Angus and Boland–Foote syndicates) competed to provide interurban service between Ann Arbor and Jackson

Their tracks were never more than three miles apart and crossed each other in five places.

This tour, led by Norm Krentel and Doug Johnson, will follow one line from Ann Arbor to Jackson and the other back to Ann Arbor.

There will be a stop at the Lost Railway Museum in Grass Lake.

The fee for this bus tour is $30 and it will depart from the Washtenaw Community College parking lot at 8:30 a.m.

For more information visit or contact

Sleuthing to Solve a Historical Mystery

July 5, 2018

Historical artifacts don’t always come with much explanation of their past. Such was the case with this train bulletin board that is mounted on a wall of the Midwest Railway Preservation Society roundhouse in Cleveland.

There are some clues about its past starting with the name of the railroad. When created in October 1960, the Erie Lackawanna used a hyphen, but that was soon dropped.

It can clearly be seen that someone painted over the original name of the railroad with “Erie-Lackawanna.

Given the shaky condition of the EL throughout its lifetime, I can understand how no one cared to change it once the hypen was dropped in 1963.

I can also understand why one bothered to paint over the numbers of trains that no longer operated. The EL was in the passenger business for nearly a decade and took a certain pride in it, but the period was marked by retrenchment until its last intercity train, the Chicago-Hoboken, New Jersey Lake Cities completed its final trips in early January 1970.

So where did this train bulletin come from? Given that the trains shown operated between Chicago and New York that suggests it came out of a former Erie Railroad station.

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western had New York-Chicago through cars that interchanged with the Nickel Plate Road in Buffalo, New York, but I doubted this artifact came from a former Lackawanna station.

A check of the train numbers in the Official Guide of the Railways substantiated that. The Lackawanna did not have a Train No. 1 on the eve of the merger.

In the EL era, Nos. 1 and 2 were the Erie-Lackawanna Limited (nee Erie Limited), and later the Phoebe Snow, a former Lackawanna train.

Nos. 5 and 6 were The Lake Cities, which had a Buffalo section numbered 35 and 36.

No 8 was the Atlantic Express whereas No. 7 was the Pacific Express. These were mail and express trains that also carried passengers.

Train No. 80, though, baffled me because the only No. 80 I could find in Official Guide schedules for the Erie Lackawanna was a commuter train that originated in Port Jervis, New York, and operated to Hoboken.

Could it have once operated to Chicago? Going back into the early 1950s schedules of the Erie, I determined that No. 80 was a Sunday-only section of the Atlantic Express.

The number for another westbound train has been obliterated, but it probably was No. 9, a Saturday-only section of the Pacific Express.

Despite this artifact being displayed in Cleveland I ruled out it having come from Cleveland or anywhere on the former Erie line between Cleveland and Youngstown.

That line once had a substantial passenger business, but those trains in the EL era carried 600 series numbers and did not operate between Chicago and New York.

There are times shown for some of the train, but those were not helpful. Eastbound No. 2 didn’t have a scheduled 43-minute layover anywhere along its route.

It did pause in Binghamton, New York, for 23 minutes, but not at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.

I checked the times shown here for various stations, but that did not lead me to a particular station. That suggests someone added these times for show.

Buttressing that belief is the fact that Nos. 7 and 8 ceased to carry passengers in July 1965.

There was never a time when the EL had trains 2, 5, 6 and 7 operating when Nos. 1, 8 and 80 did not operate.

There was one more clue to pursue. The board used the letters “P” and “A,” to the right of the column “due,” which probably means p.m. and a.m.

Barely visible for Train No. 5 is the numeral “10” followed by “A,” presumably meaning a.m.

In late 1965 The Lake Cities was due into Akron at 10:10 a.m.

The Pacific Express when it still carried passengers was scheduled to arrive in Akron just before 8 p.m.

The only other train for which there is an “A” or “P” is the eastbound Lake Cities, which was due into Akron at 6:42 p.m.

I detected a faint trace of the letter “A” for the westbound Phoebe Snow, which was scheduled into Akron at 1:25 a.m.

This led me to conclude that this just might have been the train bulletin board at the Erie station in Akron.

Or was it? In checking the schedules more carefully I discovered that on the eve of the Erie and Lackawanna merger No. 5 was scheduled into Youngstown around 10 a.m.

As late as 1963 No. 5 was scheduled to arrive in Kent just after 10 a.m.

The best I can therefore conclude is that this bulletin board probably came out of a station somewhere in Northeast Ohio.

PRR Group Offers Program on South Wind Route

April 3, 2018

The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society meeting in Chicago on April 21 will feature a program about the route of the South Wind between Logansport, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.

The program will be presented by William Shapotkin at the Historical Pullman District Visitors Center. The PRRT&HS meeting will run between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. and admission to the program is free.

Shapotkin will also discuss an Amtrak proposal in the early 1970s to operate an auto ferry service between Indianapolis and Florida.

A test train of the AutoTrak service made one trip carrying rented Avis sedans in modified auto rack cars. The rented vehicles sustained so much damage that Amtrak scraped the AutoTrak idea.

However, Amtrak did combine is Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg Floridian with an Auto-Train Corporation service that began in May 24, operating between Louisville and Sanford, Florida. The arrangement lasted through September 1977.

Titchenal to Present at Cleveland Library

March 1, 2018

Former Akron Railroad Club member and railroad historian Stephen Titchenal will give a presentation on March 24 at the Cleveland Public Library about how maps can be used to show the history of railroads in Northeast Ohio.

Titchenal’s  presentation will use maps and other geographic sources from the Cleveland Public Library, local historical societies, and other related government agencies to consider the historical state of Ohio railroad maps and their effect on Northeast Ohio and the state at large.

The presentation will begin at 11 a.m. and be held in the Indoor Reading Garden on the first floor of the Louis Stokes Wing of the library.

It is one of four presentations that are part of a larger series of programs titled Mapping Cleveland’s History: Four Events to Focus on Parks, Railroads, Genealogy, and Architecture.

Each program will focus on various aspects of local history, including railroad transportation, historic park plans, genealogy research, and the city’s evolving architecture.