Steamtown ~ Land of American Iron

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As a young man from a low-income family I learned from an early age that if you break it, and can’t fix it, you go without. I guess this is where I get my smarts from.   I was never afraid to take things apart and see how they work, repair, change them, etc.  My girlfriend even purchased me a  shirt that says, “I void warranties”.  I don’t know about that. I will admit, I have never run across much that I cannot fix if it ain’t broken.  Anyway, what am I getting at here?  Well all of this leads me to my love of machines and my trip to Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Steamtown is a Technology Museum and a History Museum combined into one big train lovers paradise.   While there, we took a short excursion on a real steam locomotive driven train with vintage passenger cars, we saw static train displays and museums packed with the technology of yesteryear.   When you visit, you will see and experience history that you can find nowhere else in the world. When we first arrived we walked into the main building,  a modern style brick and steel building and we were then greeted with full size locomotives cut away to show you their innards.  Very cool for the gear-head to be able to see the insides of these behemoths. Here is a shot of one of these incredible cut-a-way done to engine #8.

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After taking in the static displays we wandered through a glass walkway that overlooks the old turntable yard.  While the turntable is still in operation, all the tracks except one are bricked over as walkways to more static displays in the yard.  I took the first shot from the walkway overlooking the yard and the second shot is a caboose from down on the yard floor.

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After a short jaunt over the glass walk-way, we entered the huge engine and rail car repair bays known as the Roundhouse.  Here we found several engines both new and old being fully restored to working condition.

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This facility was massive.  The higher walkway puts you above the action and allows you to see a lot more than you could from the floor itself.  We were there on a Sunday so there was no work being done, but visitors during the week can see restorations in progress. Here is the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (the Nickel Plate Road) #514 getting a rebuild.

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Several other freight and passenger cars are being restored as well. There seems to be plenty of work to do here.

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After completing our circuit around the roundhouse we exited to the rail yard.  The rail yard is the holding point for engines and cars that are either on display, parked for upcoming service, or resting in peace.  This was a great playground for the HDR photographer in me.  Although I did have to watch out for the active steam loco roving about. So I snapped a few shots and then we were scooted back to the roundhouse for boarding on the short excursion train ride.

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After a much to short look at the yard we headed to the roundhouse to board the #3254 for a short excursion ride.   The day we visited Steamtown it was 90+ degrees out and I was looking forward to the cruise.  The train pulled up with 2 passenger cars and we boarded.  The two cars were beautifully restored dining cars which filled up quickly so I sat in the car in the rear.  A short wait and we started to move. What a great feeling and knowing all the folks that road in these cars for may hours to get to their destinations. The mystique did not last though. About 60 seconds in to the ride I realize just how dirty a ride on the rails is.  Soot from the steam engine pulling us showered everyone.  Part of the experience I know, but I scrambled to cover my camera equipment.  We had to endure this for about a half mile, then the train came to a stop.  I thought maybe we were going to switch tracks and circle back around but that wasn’t the case.  The train began to move in reverse, back towards the museum.  We passed the museum, through the yard and continued about a half mile, then stopped again.  This time we started moving forward again and back to the yard.   Now this ride was only $5 but for me, it was way too short.  If I could offer any advice it would be to skip the short excursion at all costs.  It will just leave you wanting more, so I suggest taking one of their complete excursions for the complete experience. You can check them out at the link provided at the end of this article.  Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from within the car because of the soot. I really did not dare take my cameras out in that environment.  So after our short, short excursion, we were treated to the #3254 doing a spin on the working turntable.

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While I did enjoy the short excursion and the turntable, getting to roam the yard was really what I was looking forward to.  I am an explorer at heart and the yard is an awesome playground, even though I am sure it is not intended .  It is a LIVE yard so you have to pay attention as there are large trains moving about.  In the yard there is a myriad of steam, diesel engines and rail cars.  First up, I headed back to the #902 Reading diesel to grab some HDR shots of this 1950’s beauty.  The General Motors Diesel Locomotive was last restored in 1986-95 by the Lancaster chapter of the NHRS and made its last excursion in October of 2007.

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After some fun with the #902, I headed deeper into the yard to capture some of the older steam engines and miscellaneous passenger cars.  But, before I could get very far I was confronted by this giant monster:

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It wasn’t until I moved around the front that I discovered what it was.

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THAT is a Rotary snowplow car.  Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia: The rotary was invented by Toronto, Ontario, Canada dentist J.W. Elliot in 1869, however he never built a working model or prototype. Orange Jull of Orangeville, Ontario, expanded on Elliot’s design, building working models he tested with sand. During the winter of 1883-1884, Jull contracted with the Leslie Brothers of Toronto to build a full-size prototype that proved successful. Jull later sold his design rights to Leslie Brothers, who formed the Rotary Steam Shovel Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey. Leslie Brothers contracted with Cooke Locomotive & Machine Works in Paterson to do the actual construction.   Wedge snowplows were the traditional mechanized method of clearing snow from railroad tracks. These pushed snow off the tracks, deflecting it to the side. Deeper drifts, however, cannot be easily cleared by this method; there is simply too much snow to be moved. For this purpose, the rotary snowplow was devised.  Here is a video of the BEAST in action:

Once I got by the beast I made it to the old steamers and passenger cars.  These old dogs were absolute works of HDR art.  So many textures, rust, paint, patina, awesome!  Here is a look at those shots.

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This place is constantly changing and just full of amazing textures and endless compositions. It isn’t just about trains here, it’s about love and dedication to a dying art.

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After walking the length of the yard we decided to grab some lunch.  Conveniently there is a large shopping mall next to Steamtown appropriately named the Steamtown Mall!!  And to get there, they have built a really cool elevated walkway over the yard to get there.  Here are a few shots from the catwalk..

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After a great feast at the food court we headed back for a last look.  Feeling a bit full, and a lot of bold, I decided I was going to enter one of the steam engines and get a shot of the boiler.  So, while my partner scanned the area for authorities I climbed aboard one of the dinosaurs and snapped 9 exposures to create this HDR.  Reminds me of an alien head for some reason.

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And though the control surface of that beast was mind-boggling, the real brain twister was yet to come.  As we headed toward the parking lot to end our day, we were greeted by the largest Steam engine I have ever seen!  It’s known as “The Big Boy”.  This 762,000 pound (that’s not a typo) Steam Locomotive was a product of the American Locomotive Company.  It was the only locomotive ever built with a 4-8-8-4 wheel configuration and while its able to pull a long train at a sustained speed of 60 mph, it had a top speed of 80!!  Only 25 of these behemoths were built and they were specifically built to pull a 3300 ton freight train over the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. Over the years they were upgraded several times to increase the pulling power to whopping 4040 tons, unassisted!  Here it is, “The Big Boy”:

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That is one BIG locomotive!  Very impressive.  Also on site at this great National museum is also a full trolley museum which we did tour that day as well. For me, this was interesting, but did not compare to the big trains.  I look forward to a return trip and more climbing around the iron.  And the next time, I am booking a full excursion for sure!  If you are near the Scranton, Pennsylvania area and are a gear head like I am, don’t miss Steamtown!

The Steamtown Website

These photos are available in print and other formats at my online gallery.

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