Thursday, February 23, 2017

1924 Rail Excursion to California February 23, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

February 23, 2017

California Here We Come, 1924

In an earlier column I mentioned that Judy Oelschlager Dames had loaned us a family heirloom, the ticket book her mother, Pauline Engel, used when she accompanied Mr. and Mrs. C. P. Mayer on an excursion to Los Angeles in 1924. Miss Engel was serving as Mrs. Mayer’s “companion”; this was an exciting experience for a young lady who had only been in this country four years at the time.

The occasion was the sixth annual convention of the Common Brick Manufacturers’ Association of America, an organization in which Mr. Mayer was a prominent member. It appears that this organization disappeared in the 1930s; The Brick Industry Association may be its descendant.

The “Special Train Trip” began in Chicago at 11:30 pm on Saturday, February 2, 1924. We have no record of how they got to Chicago from Pittsburgh. The “Pennsy” ran nine trains a day on that route, including the world famous “Broadway Limited”. The Limited was an overnight train, arriving in Chicago early in the morning. Perhaps they took that option and spent the day sight-seeing in the Windy City.

From Chicago they took the C., B., & Q. (Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy) Railway to Denver. Miss Engel had compartment C in car X34. Breakfast was served from 7:30 to 9:30 am after a stop in Burlington, Iowa; luncheon from Noon till 2:30 pm following a stop in Creston, Iowa. After stops in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, dinner was served from 6:00 to 8:30 pm.

The next morning, the travelers woke up in Denver just in time for breakfast from 7;00 till 8:30 am, following which they were treated to a sight-seeing automobile trip around the Mile High City. Lunch was served at the Albany Hotel, followed by a “Mountain Scenic Drive”, also by automobile. That evening dinner was served in the Tower Room atop Daniels & Fisher Stores, followed by cabaret entertainment.

Then it was back to the rail cars, for an 11:30 pm departure on the Denver and Rio Grande.The next day was spent in the Rocky Mountains with “wonderful scenery on all sides.” Taking time out for meals seemed a great distraction.

Breakfast the next morning found them in Salt Lake City where they were treated to another organized day of seeing the sights, culminating in an organ and choir recital at the Mormon Tabernacle, and an address by the President of the Mormon Church.

That night they transferred to the Southern Pacific at Ogden, Utah, to cross the Great Salt Lake. The booklet suggests that travelers take advantage of moonlight to take advantage of the view. The following day was through Reno, Nevada, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via Donner Pass, along the rim of American River Canyon, and on to Port Costa, California.

After breakfast, on Friday, they left their train and were provided with “real entertainment” at the Port Costa Brick Works. One wonders what that means. After lunch they crossed San Francisco Bay by boat in time for dinner at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, then returned to Southern Pacific rail cars, with a side trip through Chinatown.

After spending a night and eating breakfast in the railcars, they were treated to a automobile tour through the city. At 1:00 they boarded the train (Southern Pacific) and got on the road. At 4:00 pm they stopped at “Big Trees” briefly to view the redwoods. The next morning they stopped for several hours in Santa Barbara to inspect the old missions and bathing beach there before proceeding on to Los Angeles where they arrived in the late afternoon on Sunday after enjoying “the rural beauty of California”.

The convention opened promptly at 9:30 am on Monday. Daily programs lasted till 12:30 pm, with afternoons and evenings reserved for sight-seeing and entertainment. The first morning was dedicated to welcoming addresses and Association business – Secretary’s and Treasurer’s Reports, Committee Appointments, etc. Tuesday featured a series of fifteen minute talks on a variety of subjects – “Building Good-Will for Brick”, “Newspaper Advertising That Produced Business”, “Tariff Protection for the Brick Manufacturer”, “Standardizing Grades of Brick”, etc. – mostly business related rather than technical.

Wednesday’s subjects included “Does the Association Need a Laboratory?’, “Short Course in Brick-Laying”, “Selling Clay Products”, and an open forum on “ascertaining costs” (dubbed the most important session of the whole gathering).  Thursday it was “Mortar – Its elation to Brick Work”, “New Uses of Brick”, “Brick Salesmanship”, “Dealer Distribution”, etc. Friday was back to business – President’s Address, Election of New Officers, and Committee Reports.

The afternoon schedule is also interesting. On Monday there was an automobile tour to Santa Monica, Venice, and Ocean Park.  Tuesday was a series of visits to Los Angeles brick plants. Wednesday they visited Hollywood and movieland, with a viewing of “Ten Commandments” at the Egyptian Theatre. Thursday featured an automobile tour to Pasadena, with one to Long Beach on Friday, followed by a dinner dance at the Hotel Biltmore.

Saturday the tourists drove to San Gabriel Mission through orange and walnut groves and had lunch at “the famous Mission Inn” in Riverside. As for Sunday, “The officers believe this forenoon should be devoted to attending church”. A list of addresses and service times for eight different denominations was provided.

Sunday evening the tourists boarded the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe for an overnight ride to San Diego. There they enjoyed a morning of sight-seeing before boarding a San Diego and Arizona Railway train in time for lunch. That afternoon they passed through the marvelous Carriso Gorge. The next morning they left their train in Phoenix and travelled 120 miles by automobile to Globe, through the picturesque Arizona landscape, including the Superstition Mountains, Salt River Canyon, and Tonto Cliff Dwellings.

At Globe they rejoined their train, now Southern Pacific, had dinner, and went to bed. The next morning, Wednesday, they were in El Paso, Texas, where they were treated to several tours, including one across the border into Juarez, Mexico. The next morning found them in San Antonio; Friday morning, in Dallas. There their cars were picked up by the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railway for the rest of the journey, through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois and finally back to Chicago early Saturday afternoon, February 23, three weeks after their departure.

I suspect this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Mayers; it is very difficult to imagine what a thrill it must have been for the young Miss Engel to see so much of this wonderful country of ours (and hers, too,now!). I certainly envy them this opportunity and wish I could jump into my time machine and go back to 1924 and join them.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Beginnings of the Chartiers Valley Railroad February 16, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

February 16, 2017

The Beginnings of the Chartiers Valley Railroad

One of my long term projects is to write a chapter about railroads for a book entitled “The Civil Engineering Heritage of Western Pennsylvania”, to be published by the History and Heritage Committee of the Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

I immediately realized that the beginning of the chapter should be the story of the beginning of the Chartiers Valley Railroad, the first example of railroad engineering in this region. I knew that a group of developers decided to organize a corporation to build a railroad linking Washington, Pa. and Pittsburgh, in 1830. The construction of the National Road, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois had opened up a major transportation artery opening up the Midwest to settlers from the East.

Unfortunately the Road bypassed Pittsburgh, crossing the Monongahela River at Brownsville, then proceeding through Washington before crossing the Ohio River at Wheeling, (then) Virginia. The first attempt to connect Pittsburgh with the Road was the Washington and Pittsburgh Turnpike. As soon as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began to lay track in Maryland, it became obvious that a rail link between Washington and Pittsburgh would be far more effective than the Turnpike.

The Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad was organized in Washington in December, 1830 and incorporated by the Pennsylvania Legislature three months later. They hired a local civil engineer, Charles De Hass, to perform a preliminary design of such a railroad and to determine its estimated cost and the revenue it could be expected to generate.

At a time when there were only four railroads in the whole world and the one in this country was only twelve miles long, this assignment required an impressive combination of knowledge, ingenuity, and imagination. Mr. De Hass was obviously the right choice for it. We know nothing of his background or education, but the product of his efforts is proof of his capability.

We have been aware of an article published by the “Jefferson College Times” in 2000 by the Jefferson College Historical Society, in Canonsburg, which described the early days of this railroad. The article describes De Mass’ work and gives a footnote for the source of its information: “’The Chartiers Railway’ and ‘Engineer’s Report,’ Washington Reporter, May 17, 1871. The Reporter reprinted the engineer’s 1830 report in full when the railroad was completed 41 years later.”

In an effort to find a copy of these documents I dispatched emails to everyone I could locate who might have knowledge of this historical society or the old newspaper. I was surprised and delighted to receive a response from a gentleman named Rob Anders, who is Director of Sales and Marketing for the Observer Publishing Company in Washington. He informed me that all of the old copies of the “Reporter” are archived at Citizens Library in Washington, PA, on microfilm and that many of them have been digitized by Google. He also provided me with the link to the May 17, 1871 edition, which included De Mass’ report.

This is indeed a remarkable resource, and the “Engineers’ Report” is a remarkable document. Reading it carefully certainly suggests that Mr. De Mass was an outstanding engineer, who produced an extremely competent engineering report, despite having a minimum of access to the sort of information that became available to civil engineers generations later.

His approach was to survey a route down the Chartiers Valley to the Ohio River, then along the south shore of the Ohio and the Monongahela River to the Monongahela Bridge (now the site of the Smithfield Street Bridge). His judgment that this route should be limited to a grade of 1.5 % (one and a half feet per one hundred feet) and a minimum radius of 385 feet was an impressive prediction of what would be appropriate a century later.

His route was just over thirty two miles long; his estimate of the cost to build it was just over $148,000, roughly $4,625 per mile. This probably is equivalent to $125,000 per mile today, a cost that might be reasonable for a very light duty railroad of the type being built in the mid-1800s. De Hass did a good job of reporting the quantities of excavation and fill, masonry required for retaining walls and viaduct piers, viaducts, sleepers (ties) and rails, and crushed stone ballast.

His unit costs were based on experience with canal construction, the small amount of B & O Railroad construction, and appropriate local experience. For example his cost for viaducts was based on a recent covered bridge over Chartiers Creek in Washington that was built for $300.

Since he didn’t indicate any costs for tunneling we assume the tunnel south of Hill’s Station was not anticipated; apparently he intended to route the railroad around the end of the ridge it currently cuts through.

In addition to surveying and costing his primary route, the engineer also investigated several alternate routes. One alternate followed Scrubgrass Run up over the summit to the beginning of Little Saw Mill Run, then through the West End to the Ohio. The amount of excavation required to obtain an acceptable grade proved to be excessively expense. The same was true of two alternate routes out of Washington to a point about four miles down the chosen route.

The route in the Bridgeville area is not described in much detail. It begins on “Vance’s farm in Allegheny County”, which appears to be on the South Fayette side of Chartiers Creek about halfway between Bridgeville and Mayview, an area known then as Herriotsville. “McDowell’s factory” is two and a third miles farther north, probably at Bowerton, approximately where Vanadium Road crosses the railroad today.

The next referenced location, one and three quarter miles farther north is “a point near Cowan’s”, probably at the north end of Heidelberg. Then a little over two miles north to “a short distance before the mouth of Robinson’s Run” and another two and three quarters miles to “Murphy’s factory”. Looks like we have some work ahead identifying all these landmarks.

The evolution of railroad technology was so primitive at the time that De Hass had to come up with costs for three dramatically different track support schemes. In each case the rail was a small iron bar, lacking the flexural strength to span between sleepers (ties). One approach had wide stone sills under each rail running in the direction of the track. A second method was to support the iron bar on wooden stringers that were then supported at regular intervals by stone blocks. The third design replaced the stone blocks with transverse wooden sleepers. His final estimate was based on the third design, which of course evolved into the standard method as rail production became practical.

Mr. De Hasse then proceeded to analyze the potential traffic and fees that could be generated to pay for building, maintaining, and operating this new transportation mode in the Chartiers Valley. He anticipated cargoes of general merchandise, salt, flour, grain and pork, whiskey, wool, coal, boards and shingles, and the U. S. Mail. All told he forecasted revenue of about $15,000 per year, a very attractive value for potential investors.

All told, his effort was an outstanding example of civil engineering accomplishment at a time when the engineer lacked the information and resources that were available two generations later. One wishes we knew more about the life of this accomplished civil engineer.

Unfortunately the financial and business minds behind the Washington and Pittsburgh Railroad were not as successful at their task as Mr. De Mass was at his. Although the corporation began to acquire right-of-way and perform initial grading in the early years, it took forty years and several reorganizations before the Chartiers Valley Railroad was completed to Mansfield where it could then follow the tracks of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis Railroad to the Ohio and then into Pittsburgh, following De Mass’ original surveyed route.

We are grateful to Mr. Anders for providing us with access to this information and the opportunity to recognize Mr. De Mass’ achievement.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Admiral Wiliam (Bull) Halsey February 9, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

February 9, 2017

Admiral William (Bull) Halsey

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society welcomed back Dr. Jack Aupperle for its January program meeting. As is its custom, the Society holds its January and February program meetings on Sunday afternoons, to minimize potential winter weather complications for its members.

Dr. Aupperle has a remarkable talent for reviewing current historical books and using their content as a basis for presenting a comprehensive picture of a relevant event or individual. This time it was “Admiral Bill Halsey: A Naval Life” by renowned historian Thomas Alexander Hughes. The speaker drew on Hughes’ biography of the well-known World War II hero to portray Halsey as a legitimate hero, an ordinary man who reacted heroically to great challenges.

Halsey was born in 1882, the son of a career Naval officer whose career was nondescript. He followed his father to Annapolis, where he too graduated in the lower half of his class. Once on active duty, however, he began to show great promise as a Naval officer at a time when the U. S. Navy was in a massive transition from romantic sailing vessels to mechanized fleets akin to floating industrial facilities.

In 1904 while an officer on the USS Missouri he was witness to a frightful example of this transition when a accident with one of her port guns resulted in the death of thirty one officers and men, an experience which haunted him for the rest of his life. From 1907 to 1909 he served as a deck officer on the USS Kansas as part of “the Great White Fleet”, Theodore Roosevelt’s triumphant demonstration of the Navy’s new-found power by its circumnavigation of the globe.

In recognition of his accomplishments Halsey was promoted directly from Ensign to Lieutenant, skipping the rank of lieutenant junior grade, a very unusual honor. When World War I broke out he was promoted to lieutenant commander and commanded a destroyer the USS Shaw so well that he earned the Navy Cross.

In 1934 Admiral Ernest King offered him command of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Captain Halsey accepted, with the provision that he be permitted to learn to fly at Pensacola. At age 52,He became the oldest officer in the Navy to earn his wings. After commanding the Saratoga and then the Pensacola Naval Air Station he was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1938.

In 1940 his carrier division was relocated to Hawaii, and Halsey was promoted to Vice Admiral. In early December 1941 his division, including the carrier USS Enterprise, was transporting aircraft to Wake Island to fend off a potential sneak attack by the Japanese, when they learned that Pearl Harbor was the actual target. Although they missed the opening act of the Pacific War, members of the division soon saw significant action.

In April they rendezvoused with the USS Hornet and provided cover for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. In October 1942 Halsey assumed command of all the forces in the South Pacific Command. His first task was salvaging the Allies’ position on Guadalcanal. That was followed by successful campaigns in the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck Archipelago. Halsey’s aggressive use of Naval aircraft was a key factor in their success.

When the war shifted from the South Pacific to the Central Pacific he was given command of the Third Fleet, which operated effectively in campaigns in the Palaus, Leyte, and Luzon. Halsey’s fighting career ended when he stood on the deck of the USS Missouri and witnessed the signing of the articles of surrender that terminated World War II. In 1947 a grateful nation honored him by promotion to (five star) Fleet Admiral, a distinction shared by three of his peers (Nimitz, Leahy, and King).

According to Dr. Aupperle, Halsey’s trademarks were integrity, loyalty to the men who served with him, aggressiveness, and impulsiveness. The latter trait betrayed him occasionally. During the landing on Leyte his decision to pursue part of a retreating Japanese fleet left the invasion uncovered, permitting another part of the enemy fleet to attack it with nearly disastrous consequences.

The speaker summed up his presentation by concluding that we must accept the fact that even our greatest heroes are not entirely perfect. His presentation was informative and entertaining; we look forward to hearing him again in the future.

In the near future, the Society’s next program meeting is scheduled for 1:30 pm, Sunday, February 26, 2017, in the Chartiers Room of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. Todd Wilson will speak on “Pittsburgh’s Bridges”, the subject of an Arcadia book he recently authored. The public is welcome, as always.

Historic Maps February 2, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

February 2, 2017

Historic Maps

The most recent addition to the Bridgeville Area Historical Society archives is a collection of four large historical maps of Pennsylvania, donated by Dana Spriggs, a donation greatly appreciated especially by me. Being a Civil Engineer and surveyor and possessing an MOS (military occupational specialty) of cartographic draftsman, I am thrilled by every map I see and particularly old maps of this region.

The first map has a title in French, “La Pensilvanie, en trois Feuilles”. I think “trois Feuilles” refers to its size – three sheets. The print Dana sent is about twenty four inches high by forty eight inches wide; perhaps a sheet is sixteen inches by twenty four inches.

In a different spot a title in English states “A Map of Pennsylvania, exhibiting not only the improved parts of that province, but also its extensive frontiers: Laid down from actual surveys and chiefly from the late map of W. Scull published in 1770.”  It goes on to document the fact that the map was produced for the benefit of the Penn family, proprietors and governors of the province.

Consequently this appears to be a pre-Revolutionary War map of the colony that eventually became the Keystone State. My continued interest in the Mason and Dixon Line immediately prompted me to look for the boundary between Pennsylvania and the Calvert colony of Maryland. Although the surveyors are not credited on this map, the boundary is indeed shown at the proper latitude – 39 degrees, 43 minutes, 20 seconds. It ends at the western border of Maryland; ignoring the additional survey beyond that point.

More significant of course is the fact that the sovereignty of what is now southwestern Pennsylvania is undefined. Also undefined is Pennsylvania’s northern border, the forty second parallel. In fact the map stops well below that latitude.

The map clearly shows Braddock’s Road from (Fort) Cumberland through Great Meadows to Dunbar’s Camp (near Uniontown) and on to “Guest’s” where it forked. One branch went west to Fort Burd and Redstone Creek (Brownsville). The other branch went on to Fort Pitt (designated “formerly Fort Duquesne”, crossing the Youghiogheny north of Connellsville before swinging to the northwest.

Braddock’s Field (“Champ” in French) and the Bushy Run site of Bouquet’s victory are also shown. Chartiers Creek is identified correctly. There is no other indication of life in this area except for a saw mill on what is now Saw Mill Run. The nearest Indian settlements are Sewickley’s Old Town and Chartier’s Old Town, up the Allegheny River near Oakmont.

The second map is entitled “Pennsylvania, entworfen von D. F. Sotzman” with a subtitle “Hamburg bey Carl Ernst Bohn, 1797.” Daniel Friederich Sotzmann was a prominent German mapmaker in the late 1800s; Herr Bohn ran a publishing firm in Hamburg. This map was one of their best-known products.

It is indeed a beauty. The legend (explanation or “erklarung” in German) is full of interesting detail. Roads varying from “Bridle Road” to “County Line” are each shown differently. All manner of colonial era industrial facilities are shown – forge (eisenhammer), grist mill (kornmuhle), saw mill (sagemuhle), etc., as well as Indian towns and Indian paths.

By 1797 Pennsylvania’s boundary disputes had all been resolved; the map shows the boundaries as they exist today, including “the Erie Triangle”, the portion of New York containing Presque Isle that we acquired in return for renouncing our claims to northeastern Ohio. In effect, we traded Cleveland for Erie.

In this part of the state the counties have been organized; the mapmaker calls them grafschafts, the German name for regions that have been the property of counts (grafs). The border between Greene (“Green” on the map) and Washington Counties is an east-west line, close to the irregular border that exists today. “Alleghany” County includes all the land north of the Ohio River and west of the Allegheny, all the way to Lake Erie.

The portion immediately north of the Ohio River and bounded by an east-west line several miles north of Butler is designated “Depreciation Lands”. The Depreciation Lands referred to tracts that were sold to raise money to underwrite depreciation certificates given to Revolutionary War soldiers who had received depreciated currency for pay, primarily men who had served in the Pennsylvania Line or the Pennsylvania Navy.

The rest of northwestern Pennsylvania was designated “Donation Lands”. These were tracts of land ranging from 250 acres to 500 acres that were awarded to Pennsylvanians who remained in the Continental Army or the Navy until the end of the Revolutionary War. Both the Depreciation Lands and the Donation Lands had been acquired from the Iroquois (Six Nations) as a result of the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. It is interesting that the area currently occupied by the (Seneca) Cornplanter Reservation is outlined on this map.