Strasburg Rail Road Yesterday
Founded in 1832, the Strasburg Rail Road celebrated the 175th Anniversary of its railroad charter in 2007. Precisely when the railroad first turned a wheel is still a matter of patient research, but the earliest timetable found to date indicates Strasburg trains were scheduled as of December 1851.
On February 22, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln made a stop at Leaman Place on his inaugural train ride, en route to Lancaster. His four-minute visit brought nearly 5,000 people out to cheer for the President and Mrs. Lincoln.
In anticipation of the President’s visit, Strasburg Rail Road chose to run a special train to transport people to and from Leaman Place.
First used for passenger and freight transportation, the railroad’s main purpose became a freight interchange with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Following World War II, improved highway transportation decreased the need for the railroad. By the mid 1950s, the Strasburg Rail Road was nearing the end of its usefulness. In 1957, destruction of the tracks caused by a series of storms placed an immediate embargo on the carload freight. The owners were unwilling to invest in the necessary repairs.
A second chance.
While petitions for abandonment were being considered, Henry K. Long, an industrialist and railfan from nearby Lancaster, along with Donald E. L. Hallock, another enthusiastic railfan with a vision, formed a group of interested individuals to save the railroad. With perseverance and a creative idea, the Strasburg Rail Road was saved.
After repairing the worst spots on the four-and-a-half mile track, the owners began acquiring an inventory of historic locomotives and passenger cars from all across North America. Using the old feed mill as a station, the ambitious band of “rail barons” opened the railroad to visitors in 1958. 2008 marked the 50th anniversary of Strasburg Rail Road as a tourist railroad.
Today, as we look back at their labor of love, the Strasburg Rail Road is one of Lancaster County’s most popular tourist attractions – and recognized as one of America’s most significant examples of early 20th century railroading.
June 9, 1832
The Strasburg Rail Road was incorporated by a special Act of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Andrew Jackson was President of the United States. Over the next hundred years, the Strasburg Rail Road would become an important part of the transportation network in Central Pennsylvania, carrying both freight and passengers.
The War Years
Although passenger travel dwindled with the advent of the electric trolley in 1901, the need to transport freight during World War I and World War II kept the railroad going.
Few freight revenues, mounting operating costs and a series of damaging storms led owners to petition the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for abandonment. Local industrialist and railroad enthusiast Henry K. Long along with Donald E. L. Hallock organized a group of individuals to purchase the property and restore it. Shares of stock sold for $450 to raise enough money for the purchase.
November 1, 1958
Twenty-four stockholders (named vice presidents) purchased the Strasburg Rail Road for $18,000 from the Homsher Estate, but the railroad was inoperable. Tracks desperately needed repair. At some locations the tracks were totally buried underneath farm fields, leading one investor to suggest that the privately-held railroad company join the local 4-H Club.
January 4, 1959
The first passenger train in forty years departs from the Strasburg station. The train was pulled by Engine No.1, the Plymouth locomotive, powered by gasoline.
Stockholders purchase the Strasburg Rail Road’s first steam locomotive, Canadian National number 7312, renamed Number 31. The same year, an 1882 Victorian train station was purchased in East Petersburg, PA and moved in sections to Strasburg where it was reassembled.
September 1, 1960
At 7:00 pm, Number 31 takes its inaugural roundtrip run on the Strasburg Rail Road, returning steam locomotion to America’s oldest shortline railroad. William Moedinger was at the throttle. Visitors begin to come from around the country to ride behind the steam locomotive.
1962 – 1991
Strasburg Rail Road stockholders purchase 5 more steam locomotives, including a rare camelback engine (Number 4) that burns anthracite coal.
June 9, 1982
The Strasburg Rail Road celebrates its 150th birthday.
September 1, 2000
The Strasburg Rail Road celebrates “40 Years of Steam.” Engine 31 recreates its first run with William Moedinger’s son Linn at the throttle.
June 9, 2007
Strasburg Rail Road celebrates its 175th birthday. From its early years as a connecting railroad with the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, to its rebirth as a living experience of authentic steam railroading, the Strasburg Rail Road is truly a legacy for all to enjoy.
America’s oldest short-line celebrates 50 years since its rebirth. In 1958, twenty-four visionaries breathed new life into Strasburg Rail Road, saving it from abandonment – keeping it alive to educate and entertain for generations to come.
On May 26, 2011, Strasburg Rail Road received a state historical marker. The honor, presented by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, recognized Strasburg Rail Road’s impact on the railroad industry worldwide and its innovations in heritage tourism.
Learn more about America’s oldest continuously operating railroad and the unlikely ascendance as one of today’s premier steam railroad’s when you purchase Arcadia Publishing’s Images of Rail – Strasburg Rail Road. Featuring over 200 historic photos, this book is available for purchase through our gift shop.