Horseshoe Curve Remembered by Frederick Kramer Soft Cover 1993 15 Pages
Horseshoe Curve Remembered by Frederick Kramer Soft Cover 1993 15 Pages

Horseshoe Curve Remembered by Frederick Kramer Soft Cover 1993 15 Pages

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Horseshoe Curve Remembered by Frederick Kramer Soft Cover 1993 15 Pages
 
Horseshoe Curve Remembered by Frederick Kramer Soft Cover 1993 15 Pages A cavalcade of trains and motive power
The story behind the building of Horseshoe Curve is a truly American story. It perfectly illustrates the pioneering spirit, competitive energies, and inventive technology of the early and mid-1800s. The significance of this engineering triumph can be found in events which followed the War of 1812.
Victory over the British for the second time in a generation not only invigorated the country with a feeling of national unity but also gave recognition to the importance of the western territories. By 1818, the Mississippi-basin states of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Illinois had been admitted to the Union.
Riverboats on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers were the only available means for transporting significant amounts of goods into and out of this midwestern region, and thus the port city of New Orleans enjoyed an enviable potential for becoming the expanding nation's foremost commercial center.
For the moment, however, the city of Philadelphia was handling more shipping than New Orleans, New York City, Boston, Baltimore, or any other port in the new nation. All of these seaports wished to expand their trade. Because Pennsylvania was one of the richest and most powerful states, it was a leading contender in this competition.
The key for any of the seaboard states to improve their competitive position depended upon developing a means of directly accessing the western lands. The problem of access to the west was of course the tumultuous sea of mountains that was the Appalachians. Its chain of mountains stretched from the Deep South to the Canadian border, imposing and unrelieved.
There was one natural breach, however, and it was to be found in upstate New York where the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers allowed passage to the easily managed topography west of the mountain range. Fortune had smiled on New York state and DeWitt Clinton lost no time in marshalling the political forces needed to build a canal that would link the mighty Hudson with Lake Erie.
It was $7 million of New York state money that built the Erie Canal. Work began in 1817, with the full length being opened for traffic in 1825. Although described as a water level route, the canal did use 82 locks to overcome a total change of 500 feet in elevation. But it was workable and profitable from the beginning. Thus, the fine harbor of New York City became the Gateway to the West. With that, matters changed decisively, and as it turned out, with some degree of finality.
The technology of the times did not offer much latitude for Pennsylvania or any other state to develop inland transportation. Wagon teams were an uneconomic and ineffective alternative, not to be seriously considered by anyone. Canals were the only proven means of moving vast amounts of goods. Other than that, there was the railway which, on level terrain, could be powered by horses or possibly by the infant steam locomotive. For hill climbing, there was the inclined railway using a stationary steam powerplant, itself a new-found technique.
In its effort to retain the profits associated with commercial leadership, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania elected to try all three of the viable options in one bold venture. A railroad would be built from Philadelphia to Columbia, a point on the Susquehanna River a little over twenty-five miles south of Harrisburg. There, passengers and goods would be transferred to canal boats for passage along the Susquehanna to the mouth of the Juniata. The canal would then follow the Juniata west to Holidaysburg.
The assault of the mountains began there with a series of five inclined planes which carried the line ten miles to Blair's Gap and then descended to Johnstown, twenty miles away. Then it was back to the canals again to cover the remaining 104 miles to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh.
The Juniata section alone had more locks and greater rise than the entire Erie Canal. The ascension from Holidaysburg to the gap was nearly 1400 feet and the drop into Johnstown was 1172 feet. An awesome undertaking indeed. Although it would prove to be disastrously expensive and difficult to operate, the line was expected to capture the river traffic from the west. Traffic which the Erie Canal had captured was primarily lake traffic. Thus, there was reasonable hope that not all had been lost.
What was lost, however, was time. Operations began in 1836, and it shortly became evident to everyone that major improvements were essential. Perhaps a revised route for the portage over the mountain would help, and the Canal commissioners were directed to examine and act upon that possibility. However, the naked truth of the matter was that only an all-railroad line would suffice.
Having invested heavily in what did not work, Pennsylvanians spent the next several years debating proposals on how best to proceed. The outcome was a decision for an all-railroad route, yet it would be 1846 before a charter would be issued to a private company to accomplish this mission. The new venture was to call itself, quite naturally, the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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