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In 1849, the Pennsylvania Railroad officials developed plans for constructing repair facilities at Altoona. These plans called for the construction of an enginehouse, erecting shop, and machine shop. The next year the railroad constructed an eight tracks and eight stalls roundhouse with parts of this structure serving as a paint shop and freight car repair facility. A long one-story building housed a machine shop, paint shop, woodwork shop, blacksmith shop, locomotive repair shop, and foundry. The railroad constructed these facilities east and tangent to Twelfth Street. These early facilities were later torn down to make way for the Altoona machine shops. The Altoona shop construction created a number of problems for the railroad management, including the need to provide adequate accommodations for company employees. Railroad official efforts to provide these facilities continued for the next several years. [10]

In 1850, the Pennsylvania Railroad opened a single track to Altoona and in December of that year the first train ran from that city to Pittsburgh using portions of the New Portage Railroad tracks. By 1853, one-half of the roadbed to Pittsburgh was completed. Pennsylvania Railroad officials planned to use iron bridges made in Altoona to provide passage for trains between the Portage Viaduct and the Summit Tunnel and over the Little Conemaugh. In 1854, the Pennsylvania Railroad completed the Horseshoe Curve construction. This engineering feat provided a gradual grade increase of no greater than 1.75 percent which permitted the successful crossing of the Allegenies by trains of that period. The directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad originally intended to construct a single-track road to Pittsburgh, but, during construction it became evident that a second track would be of value and so they ordered construction of a second track in certain sections. [11]

By 1852, the Altoona shops repaired railway cars and manufactured parts for locomotives, as well as constructing railway cars, cast iron bridge parts, boiler plate bridge parts, and wrought iron tracks. In addition, the Altoona foundry provided castings for Pennsylvania Railroad repair shops at Columbia, Harrisburg, Mifflin, Conemaugh, and Pittsburgh. The next year the Altoona machine shops came into full operation which only proved sufficient to keep up with the growing demand for their use. [12]

In 1855, the directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad reported that:

The shops at this place [Altoona] have been still further expanded, and new tools added since last report. A new Engine House, containing stalls for 26 engines, was brought into use early in the Autumn, giving a very desirable shelter to most of the engines lying over at this point. A new Smithy, containing 18 forges has been completed; the new Foundry and extension of the Machine Shop are finished; the latter is used at present as a shop for painting Passenger Cars.

Early in the spring the erecting shop will be ready, relieving the present machine shop from much of the heavy work which now crowds and encumbers it. [13]

In addition, the company authorized the construction of a brick house for the purpose of drying sand for use in the locomotives and the fabrication of iron bridges for placing over the Little Juniata River and Union Furnace. Company officials believed that a need existed for the erection of a passenger car shed at Altoona to facilitate the work there. The next year company officials requested approval from the board of directors to construct an addition to the machine shop for boiler repairs and erection of a new enginehouse as engines presently stood out in all weather while waiting for repairs. [14]


The railroad community's population rose from a few settlers in 1850 to a population of 2,000 in 1854 and 3,591 in 1860. These figures represent the rapid and steady growth of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona. During the next decade, the population in Altoona tripled to 10,610. [15] By 1855, the railway shops employed more than one thousand people. The Altoona shop complex included a car shop, tin shop, roundhouse, carpenter shop, paint shops, engine repair shop, car repair shop, boiler shop, iron foundry, brass foundry, and a store house with reading room. These shops stood by the railroad yard between Twelfth and Fourteenth Streets. In addition to the shop buildings, the Pennsylvania Railroad located various administrative offices for the shops and the railroad's Mountain Division in Altoona. [16]

Despite the new improvements at the shops, Epoch Lewis, Second Assistant Superintendent of Motive Power, in 1856 requested that the directors add a boiler repair facility to the existing machine shop and the enginehouse be expanded to accommodate all locomotives requiring repairs. [17] The directors took action on this request in 1857, but problems still hampered operations as Master of Machinery Alexander McCausland wrote:

An early completion of the extension to the erecting and boiler shop already commenced, is urgently required to relieve the Round House; which building is not at all calculated for other than its legitimate business, owing to its constant exposure, deficient light, and annoyance from smoke and steam rendering it almost impossible for the person in charge to have a proper supervision of his men. Only repairs of a trifling nature ought, under any circumstances, to be made there, there being no facilities with regard to tools and power. The fact of a large proportion of the general repairs on Freight Engines being made in the Round House, has largely added to the expenses of repairs.

Our present demands for Engine accommodation require thirty tracks, whereas in the present building there are only twenty-six. A portion of which are constantly occupied by extra Engines, and those undergoing general repairs, causing on the average six Engines to be nightly exposed to the severe weather on the Mountain Division. A temporary building, with accommodations to house six Engines, is strongly recommended. [18]

The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the Main Line of the Public Works from the state in 1857 and closed the portage railroad that same year. The Altoona shops expansion continued into 1858 to accommodate the additional work load which resulted from this purchase. Construction undertaken at the Altoona shops included a new car repair shop, new paint shop, and extensions to the erection and boiler shops. A number of general improvements in the shop yards included the building of a large transfer table to move cars from one parallel truck to another, the laying of more than one mile of track, and the constructing of a large underground sewer system designed to drain water quickly from around the tracks in the yard. That same year the Pennsylvania Railroad began dismantling the portage railroad and sending the usable stone blocks from that railroad to Altoona for use in masonry buildings there. [19]

In 1859, company officials installed gas lighting and water mains in all shops, the latter for improved illumination and the former for fire protection. In a move to further upgrade facilities, the railroad installed a cast iron turntable to replace one made of boiler plate and constructed an L-shaped brick building, measuring 237 feet in length by 23 feet in width, divided into sections to store materials for brass and iron foundries to be constructed there. Also, the railroad constructed a brick extension to the maintenance of way department building. The next year the railroad erected a structure to house lumber and replaced the wooden turntable at the smaller roundhouse with a cast iron one. In an effort to provide better fire protection, the railroad authorized the erection of a firehouse next to the machine shops in which to maintain a fire engine. [20]


The opening of the American Civil War in April of 1861 resulted in the Altoona shops repairing engines and furnishing cars to transport soldiers and munitions for the Union forces. The Pennsylvania Railroad constructed entrenchments along certain sections of their track system and hired guards to protect bridges from Confederate saboteurs. When General Robert E. Lee moved the Army of Northern Virginia into Maryland in September of 1862, Pennsylvania Railroad officials ordered that all locomotives at Altoona be fired up and prepared to leave if Confederate forces moved north toward that city. Some forty locomotives with rolling stock were fired up and prepared to roll out, but the Confederate forces retreated south after the Battle of Antietam. [21]

Further expansion occurred at Altoona in 1862 to accommodate the additional work resulting from Union war effort. The enginehouse was rebuilt and enlarged to accommodate an additional fifteen engines. Despite the increase size in the enginehouse, Master of Machinery, John P. Laird, requested that the directors consider constructing another new enginehouse to accommodate the growing volume of locomotives being repaired in Altoona. The company erected a brick building for the car inspectors, trainmen, and yard clerks. The management contracted for the erection of a new frame paint shop and the former paint shop was appropriated for engine repairs. One building which served as a passenger car shed became a freight car repair shop. Also, a number of small buildings were built including an ice house and sheds for drying sand and storing oil, while a number of other buildings were altered with some receiving new floors, sewer systems, and roofs. The increase in the amount of bridge fabrication work led management to have a new temporary blacksmith shop erected. [22]

In 1863, the management decided to rearrange the work activities at the Altoona shops in order to obtain more efficiency and economy. The eastern section of the main shop building was converted from a passenger shop into a machine shop. This configuration allowed for a new fitting shop next to the boiler shop with the former fitting shop turned over for bridge work. Management placed the passenger car works in the southern wing of the main shop opposite the freight car shop. All wood-working machines were removed from the main car shop to a detached building. Management hoped these changes would benefit supervision and security of the works and provide the shops with better fire protection. Also, they authorized construction of a new brass foundry, a dry house for seasoning wood, a frame blacksmith shop, and a major extension to the machine shop. [23]

In June of 1863, Confederate forces under the command of General Lee marched north into Pennsylvania. Rumors circulated around Altoona that a Confederate raid on the railway shops soon would be launched. [24] All work ceased at Altoona with the workers loading up most movable equipment and taking it to places of safety away from the advancing Confederate army. The railroad workers dismantled and packed heavy less easily moved equipment in preparation for evacuation in case Lee's advancing army threatened Altoona. Maintenance of Way crews began constructing fortifications around railroad property. General Superintendent of Motive Power Epoch Lewis selected a dozen men and stationed them along the southern border of Pennsylvania to observe Confederate troop movements and report these activities to the superintendent at Altoona. These scouts reported daily to two or three telegraph operators stationed by the telegraph line and they passed these messages on to railroad officials. The withdrawal of Lee's forces after the Battle of Gettysburg allowed the Altoona shops to resume normal activities. [25] The Pennsylvania Railroad in a demonstration of support for the Union cause promised to pay the families of men that enlisted in the army five dollars a week for three months. [26]

The business of repairing locomotive and railroad cars increased so much in 1864 that railroad officials began planning to contract out iron bridge work and concentrate solely on the former tasks. They converted those shops which fabricating parts for the iron bridges to manufacturing locomotive and car parts. Management believed that the present yard and enginehouses were inadequate to serve the growing demand for train repairs. A particularly dangerous situation arose each night when forty to sixty engines required moving on one track out of the shops into the yards. Railroad officials hoped that a new enginehouse would alleviate this problem. [27]

The next year a new freight car repair shop and blacksmith shop opened at Altoona and these operations increased the efficiency of the repair facilities there. Maser of Machinery John P. Laird still requested that a new enginehouse be authorized to alleviate the congestion in the locomotive repair section. [28]

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Last Updated: 22-Oct-2004