Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table – some fun facts:   1 comment

In the book – The journey from Philadelphia to New York on the 9 am Clocker:
  • The Pennsylvania Railroad (known as the Standard Railroad of the World) was the preeminent carrier in that market between Philadelphia, Washington and New York City. They had the only direct access to Manhattan Island, (other than bitter rival New York Central and the New Haven from Boston at Grand Central Station), thanks to Penn Station. It was a direct affront to their bitter competitor, the New York Central, and carried out on a grand scale, sponsored by the Pennsylvania’s President, Alexander Cassatt, who passed away before it was completed.
  • This massive undertaking completed in 1910 involved two tunnels under the Hudson River, four tunnels in the East River, blasting and tunneling then blasting and digging out a four square block area for the station itself, building a massive yard in Long Island, linking the Long Island RR into Manhattan and providing a connection to New England via the Hell Gate Bridge, completed in 1917. In addition, the entire station was electrified from near Newark, NJ all the way to Long Island, linking up with the Long Island RR’s electrified lines, using DC from third rails, later overhead AC power from 1933. The Reading, Jersey Central and the B&O served the market from Philadelphia and a south and west only as far as Jersey City, (using the Central of New Jersey’s tracks from Bound Brook, NJ) with a ferry connection to downtown New York. All other railroads from the west also terminated on the New Jersey side of the wide Hudson River: Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, Erie and Lehigh Valley.
  • The station’s operations were gamed out before starting by actually operating all the trains and engine changes two weeks prior to opening day in 1910, so they could make adjustments to the schedule to have a reliable operation on day one. They were able to do so since the station required new steel coaches and new electric engines and the distances were relatively short. The station and tunnels were also responsible for the accelerated development of steel cars to replace wooden ones, due to the safety considerations of the long tunnels. By 1914, steel bodied passenger cars were the norm.

Penn Station’s unique soaring steel and glass ceiling.


Penn Station’s monumental concourse based on the Roman Baths of Caracalla. This is corporate pride on a massive scale

  • Broad Street Station: Opened in the 1880’s modernized in the 1890’s with a huge arched trainshed that burned down in a    spectacular fire in 1923, was the main downtown station for Philadelphia. It was a stub-end station, and was avoided by most thru trains of the Pensylvania as it required a backup move. Thru trains between New York and points west used North Philadelphia station, and trains south used that one and old West Philadelphia station (located just west of today’s 30th Street Station). Broad Street had extensive commuter train service, including the famous Paoli Local, serving the old ‘Main Line’ communities who’s 20 mile 4-track mainline  was electrified by AC overhead wires in 1915. The original round overhead catenary poles still exist today. Broad Street was supplemented by the Suburban Station in 1928, serving only commuter trains, as the grade to the underground station was too steep for locomotive-hauled trains.
Broad Street Station about 1913.

Broad Street Station about 1913.

  • The Clockers: the Pennsylvania’s every hour on the hour trains between Philadelphia and New York’s Penn Station. Each train in the 1920’s took 2 hours, as opposed to 90 minutes starting in the 1930’s after the main line was electrified. The trains had first class parlor cars as well as non-reclining seat, straight back coaches, many had dining cars and club or lounge cars (for smoking and drinking) and many parlor cars also had a buffet or grill. The morning trains out of Philly (according to my 1926 Official Guide) stopped only at Princeton Junction and Manhattan Transfer after leaving the Philly stations behind. The 9 am Clocker had only a club car and parlor car with grill. The overall journey was slower than today in a large part due to the fact that engines had to be dropped at Manhattan Transfer just east of Newark and exchanged for a third-rail powered electric engine to haul it under the Hudson to Penn Station. Manhattan Transfer existed only for that purpose, there was no exit, used only for changing trains and engines. The station was also served by the Hudson Tubes (today’s PATH trains) to Hoboken or Wall Street (Hudson Terminal and its modest twin towers, torn down in 1970 to be replaced by the World Trade Center) and limited service was maintained to the Pennsy’s old Jersey City terminal at Exchange Place ( up until the early 1960’s).
Typical Pennsylvania Parlor Car of the era

Typical Pennsylvania Parlor Car of the era

  • The Steam Engines: The E-6 Atlantic: They didn’t call the Pennsy ‘The Standard Railroad of the World’ for nothing. They practiced standardization on a massive scale. The E-6 Atlantic type which was a 4-4-2, that is had four wheels under the cylinders (two axles), four driving wheels (two axles) and two wheels under the large firebox to support the weight of it. This type of engine was an early attempt to get a larger heating surface for the boiler for improved power and hauling capability at high speed. The Atlantic type was already outdated in 1910 by the Pacific type which had an extra pair of driving wheels and longer boiler (4-6-2) when the Pennsy developed the E-6 Atlantic specifically to run short, fast trains on level ground on lines east. They developed this engine using the same massive boiler and square Belpaire firebox with 55 square feet of grate area from a standard freight engine used in low-speed service all over the system by the thousands. The E-6 proved to be wildly successful, and very fast as long as the trains didn’t exceed 10 heavy steel cars. Engine #460, which survives today at Strasburg, PA in the Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum really did hit 115 mph in Maryland hauling the special train with films of Lindbergh’s arrival back in Washington, DC. Trains in those days often exceeded 100 mph if they were late and the track could stand it. There were no federally mandated speed limits.
    • The E-6 Atlantic #460 today

      The E-6 Atlantic #460 today

    • The K-4 Pacific: The engine the E-6 raced in our story was the Pennsylvania’s pride and joy. First prototype was outshopped in 1914 and tested extensively at Altoona’s test plant then on the road. True to the Pennsy’s standardization, the same boiler for this fast passenger engine was used on a Mikado type freight engine (2-8-2) and they built 600 of those! The K-4 Pacific (4-6-2) was developed oddly enough, as a result of a large experimental demonstrator delivered to the Pennsy in 1911 from American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, NY or ALCO (according to Al Staufer’s Pennsy Power) who was always trying to get a  large contract from the Pennsylvania who mainly built and designed their own at Altoona or used online Baldwin Locomotive in Philadelphia. The demonstrator incorporated a truely massive boiler and firebox for 1911. The Pennsy’s own home-built Pacifics were not satisfactory up until then. They liked what they saw and slide-ruled it into their own design, taking ideas from the E-6 and their own early Pacifics, again using the square French-designed Belpaire firebox (used on almost all Pennsy engines) and the resulting K-4 was wildly successful. They built 425 of them virtually identical between 1914 and 1928. 
    • Penn Station: Pennyslvania’s massive invasion of Manhattan Island was completed in 1910, to the chagrin of its arch-rival the New York Central, hitherto the only other railroad with direct access to the city via Grand Central and its co-tenant the New Haven to Boston and New England. Penn Station’s massive Roman-style temple was an architectural masterpiece with its massive columned facade and underground facilities, still in use today. It had twin tunnels under the mile-wide Hudson, four tunnels to Long Island, used by the then-Pennsy-owned Long Island RR and for trains to Pennsy’s massive Sunnyside Yard. built to service the station and the LIRR. In addition, by 1917, tracks from Penn Station leaped over Long Island Sound via the massive Hell Gate Bridge to connect with the New Haven providing thru service to Boston and New England. This massive infrastructure undertaking as well as the massive system of flyovers and tunnels in the Philadelphia area and Pennsy’s own mainline electrification, (all of which was done with mainly private money)  which was gradually expanded starting in 1928 between NY and Washington by 1933 and Harrisburg by 1938, provided the foundation for today’s Amtrak Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston.
    • Strange fact: Oddly enough, another bitter competitor between Washington, Philadelphia and New York, the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) used the Pennsylvania’s tracks into Penn Station since the Government’s temporary wartime takeover of the railroads (The United States Railroad Administration) forced the Pennsy to accept the B&O’s trains, and that was still the case at least through 1926 using my reprint of the Official Guide
To find out more, and have some fun along the way, take a walk back in time with us to the last week of September, 1927 to see Babe Ruth hit his record-breaking 60th home run. Hang out with the incomparably witty Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Harpo Marx. Meet Dorothy’s friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald; run into a young and as yet unknown James Cagney, Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a certain Japanese Navy midshipman and many others.
If you liked ‘Midnight in Paris’ or ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and enjoy Jack Finney’s ‘Time and Again,’ then you might like this book too! Enjoy! Available on Amazon both Paperback and Kindle editions!

Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table Amazon Page


Posted January 16, 2013 by mikeile51 in The Books

One response to “Time Trippers: The Nights of the Round Table – some fun facts:

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  1. So informative. Can’t use this in my novels, as they take place in Scotland, but this answered a lot of questions I’ve had about rail travel here in the U.S.

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