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The Pennsylvania Railroad planned the shops at Altoona for the purpose of making repairs on locomotives, freight, and passenger cars as well as manufacturing parts for these items. The railroad company both constructed freight and passenger cars and also contracted out for the manufacture of these products. Thus, a variety of cars were either built, rebuilt, or repaired at Altoona. Pennsylvania Railroad management believed that railroad cars, as a general rule, could be constructed cheaper and better by the company than a contractor. The railroad management saw Altoona an ideal location for repair and construction projects as nearby could be obtained abundant supplies of coal, iron, and lumber. In addition, topographical features favored a repair facility at this point on the railroad. [1]

By 1852, the company ordered that the railroad car repair work at Harrisburg be transferred to the better equipped Altoona shops. Also by this time, the foundry at Altoona came into full operation and produced castings for all shops except the West Philadelphia repair shop. That year the Altoona shops constructed emigrant cars, box burden cars, open stock cars, and flat cars. [2]

During the winter of 1852, the Altoona machine shops began producing wrought iron, boiler plate, and cast iron bridge parts for railroad construction in the Pennsylvania Railroad system. Some of the first iron bridge superstructures fabricated for such bridges as the railroad crossings of the Portage Road and the Little Conemaugh came from the Altoona shops. The Pennsylvania Railroad became one of the first American railroads to adopt the use of iron bridges instead of wooden ones. Most of the bridges constructed on the Altoona to Pittsburgh segment of the railroad were iron when the road first opened in 1854, and over the next several years, the railroad replaced the few wooden bridges on the system with iron ones. [3]

In 1853, the Altoona shops rebuilt old railroad cars as well as constructed new baggage cars, four-wheeled coal cars, four-wheeled box cars, and eight-wheeled box cars with iron and wood trucks. [4] The Altoona shops in 1854 constructed passenger cars, eight-wheeled stock cars, eight-wheeled iron cars, eight-wheeled and four-wheeled coal cars, and eight- and four-wheeled box cars. The early passenger cars essentially were large boxes mounted on two swiveling trucks with no brakes. Each end of the cars had a platform for mounting into the interior. The interior consisted of long boxes on which 32 passengers could sit, and a row of eight twelve-paned windows on each side of the car provided light and an outside view. A vent pipe in the center of the car provided air and ventilation. In addition to passenger and freight car repair, the shops continued manufacturing iron parts for bridges that year. [5]

The Altoona shops continued this same type of work for the next several years with the four-wheeled cars gradually being discontinued in favor of eight-wheeled cars. Also, the Altoona shops spent time converting narrow passenger and freight cars to wide cars. The wide cars measured 37 feet 9 inches in length and had a width of 9 feet from the outside sls. Outside car body height was 7 feet 10-3/4 inches with an inside height of 6 feet 10 inches or less. After these cars became outdated, they were converted to serve as "emigrant trade" transports. [6]

The Pennsylvania Railroad developed thirty experimental refrigeration cars in 1857. These cars were constructed with double sides, roofs, and floors. The space created by the double wall construction were filled with sawdust to provide insulation. A hole was drilled in the floor between the doors to provide drainage for ice water with the ice placed in containers built into the door. Later, the ice was moved to huge boxes strapped to the end of the cars. [7]

In 1857, Thomas Woodruff devised a railway sleeping car and the next year obtained a patent for it. Woodruff concluded an agreement with the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thomas Scott, in 1858 to supply his sleeping cars under contract to the railroad. He agreed to provide one car for every night train with an additional car provided on request. This agreement allowed for the construction of a sleeping car facility at Altoona for the repair and maintenance of these cars. Another contract stipulation required the railroad to attach a fifty cents fee in addition to the regular ticket fare for those passengers using the Woodruff sleeper. The Woodruff company received this fee. The Pennsylvania Railroad used this type of sleeping cars until the 1880s. [8]

In 1858, the Pennsylvania Railroad company designated that all car shops use standard patterns. The reason for this was to cut down on the amount of patterns necessary for repair work on these cars. [9] The full implementation of the policy did not take place until the 1870s when it was extended to cover locomotives as well as freight and passenger cars.

During 1862, a new type of passenger car designated as Class PA was constructed. This car seated 52 passengers and had an outside length of 53 feet with an interior length of 45 feet 10-1/2 inches. The interior was 8 feet 6 inches in width by 8 feet 10-5/16 inches in height. Candles provided light for these cars while one stove supplied the car with heat in cold weather. These cars contained neither wash basins nor toilet facilities. [10]

The Altoona car shops produced some of this country's first mail cars in 1866 under the direction of John P. Levan, then general superintendent at Altoona. These mail cars were constructed under contract with the federal government and sent to Washington, D.C. when completed for final inspection. Each of the mail cars contained a small slot at the bottom of the door for people to place letters when the train stopped at a depot. [11]

In 1867, the Class PB car became the newest improvement for passenger travel. This car provided seating for 54 passengers and offered added height through the use of a clerestory roof known as a "monitor." Three double lamps which burned coal gas supplied light, but no sanitary facilities existed. In 1878, a toilet and basin facilities were added which resulted in the reduction of space by two seats. [12]

Another car constructed in the late 1860s was a gondola car. By 1869, these Class GA cars had inside dimensions of 30 feet 9-1/2 inches by 7 feet 6-1/2 inches with a capacity of 28,000 pounds. A 40,000-pound capacity car known as Class GC came into use in 1880. This and all gondola cars were constructed of wood until 1898. This fact meant that about half of the car's capacity was taken up by its own weight [13]

In 1870, the Altoona shops began constructing baggage cars. These baggage cars usually consisted of two sections with a forward compartment for regular baggage and a back section closed off with a grill and barred window for transporting valuable parcels and money. Also cabin cars were constructed that year which served as mobile homes for construction crews. [14]

In 1873, the original erecting shop in Altoona installed an overhead crane to facilitate in the construction and repair of engines and cars. That same year Pennsylvania Railroad officials became interested in testing the new air brakes developed and patented by George Westinghouse in 1869. Testing began in 1875 and these brakes proved so successful in tests that the Pennsylvania Railroad became the first railroad to adopt them for all their cars in 1878. [15]

By 1875, passenger cars were both designed and constructed in Altoona. These passenger cars were of particularly sturdy construction and designed to protect the passenger in case of an accident. The wheels for these cars were of the double-plate pattern and fabricated using a casting process which combined steel with charcoal iron resulting in a very durable wheel resistant to cracking. The next year the Altoona shops began constructing excursion cars. The excursion cars were identical to the standard Pennsylvania passenger car except that they contained wooden slab seats and were fitted up in a less costly manner. [16]

The Altoona shops in 1876 produced a new type of coal car for use on the Pennsylvania Railroad. That same year the management of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company adopted a policy to equip all cars with automatic couplers. This coupler replaced the link and pin coupling devise which proved so dangerous to railway workers. [17] In 1877, a committee of Pennsylvania Railroad officials met in Altoona and developed a set of criteria so that all box cars used on lines operated by that railroad would be standardized. [18]

The Pennsylvania Railroad in 1879 unveiled a newly designed observation car. This car differed from observation cars used on the Central and Union Pacific Railroads in that it had a top which protected passengers from the elements. The car appeared designed in a similar style to older passenger cars, but was open at the windows and ends where fluted columns supported the roof. The passengers sat on wooden seats. The railroad used these cars on the mountain route between Altoona and Pittsburgh as they considered this extremely scenic. [19]

Besides passenger cars, the Altoona shops in 1879 constructed box, stock, tool, coal, derrick, hopper, gondola, oil tank, and cabooses. The 1879 box cars had a length of 79 feet and a capacity of 24,000 pounds with an internal dimension of 1,321 cubic feet. Also that year freight cars began to be equipped with arch bars which had greater strength and flexibility than earlier types. [20]

The Pennsylvania Railroad in 1881 introduced a new standard passenger car designed in the "Eastlake" style. The Altoona designers designed this car to appear light and airy while being durable and easy to maintain. An iron frame supported a wooden body composed of white pine, yellow pine, black walnut, and poplar. Galvanized steel overlay the white pine roof. [21] These passenger cars with a width of 8 feet 5 inches were narrower than the previous standard passenger cars which measured 8 feet 11 inches. The designer did this by reducing the size of the aisle. This reduced the car's weight by 5 percent and air resistance by 10 percent. However, the Pennsylvania Railroad did not adopt this as a policy for all cars as parlor cars constructed at Altoona were wider than standard passenger cars. [22]

In 1884, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company decided to construct a new parlor car in Altoona. These cars proved a novelty in that the sides contained a series of bay windows which provided a more panoramic view for the passenger. The seating was so arranged in the car that the passenger could take full advantage of outside scenic views. That year the West Jersey Railroad contracted with the Altoona shops for six of these parlor cars. [23]

The railroad continued to improve their trains through technological innovation. In 1882, experiments began for lighting passenger trains with electric lights. The "Pennsylvania Limited" in June of 1887 became the first regular scheduled Pennsylvania train to be illuminated with electrical lights. Prior to this in 1885, the company developed a system to use the locomotive steam to heat passenger cars. The company in 1886 began constructing an improved refrigeration car to better transport meats and other items requiring cool temperatures for preservation. The railroad introduced vestibules in 1887. The vestibules provided a safe passage between cars and linked the entire train together as a unit instead of being just individual cars. [24]

During this entire period, the Altoona car shops constructed private railroad cars. An example of this work is found in the private car used in a trip taken by United States President Benjamin Harrison in 1889 from Washington to New York City. The private car used by the president belonged to Pennsylvania Railroad First Vice-President Frank Thomson. One-third of the car contained a drawing room finished in white wood with a large gas-burning chandelier. A working fireplace stood in one corner of the room complete with mantel. Adjoining this was a bedroom with lavatory which occupied the middle third of the car except for an enclosed passageway that led from the drawing room to a sitting room. This sitting room served as a working and dining room during the day and additional sleeping quarters at night. This room contained a writing desk, lavatory, and toilet. Attached to the sitting room was a kitchen and pantry. The rear of the car contained an open observation room enclosed on the sides and top. [25]

By 1892, the standard passenger car used on the Pennsylvania Railroad measured 60 feet 7 inches in length on the exterior and 53 feet 5 inches in length on the interior, 9 feet 10 inches in width on the exterior and 8 feet 10 inches in width on the interior, and 14 feet in height on the exterior and 9 feet 5 inches in height on the interior. This coach could seat 52 people and was heated by two side heating Spear stoves and ventilated by a movable deck sash. Candles and gas lamps illuminated the interior and the restrooms contained a toilet and drinking water facility. [26]

In 1895, the Altoona shops constructed a wooden hopper car, class GG. This car was one of the first hopper cars built for quick unloading. The car's interior measured 27 feet and 7 inches with a capacity of 70,000 pounds. The floor was designed on a 30-degree angle to facilitate unloading. The first all-steel hopper car, class GL, built in Altoona was in 1898. This offered several advantages including a longer useful life and quicker dumping over the wooden hopper car. The interior length of the steel car measured 31 feet and 6-1/4 inches and a capacity of 100,000 pounds. [27]

The Bettendorf Company in 1903 introduced cast steel truck side frames in 1903. The next year the Altoona works built a steel passenger car for the New York City rapid transit system. [28] In June of 1906, the Altoona car shops built the first all steel passenger car, class P58. This was followed by the construction of the first all steel postal and baggage cars in November of 1906 and February of 1907. [29]

The 1906 steel passenger car incorporated improvements that the Pennsylvania Railroad developed since the 1892 wooden passenger car became the accepted standard for the system. These modifications included a wider vestibule which enclosed the entire platform and electric lights. Electric lights had become standard on class PL passenger cars developed in 1902. The 1902 car seated 72 passengers with the exterior dimensions being 67.5 feet in length. The first all steel car was very similar in design to the 1902 passenger cars. Shortly after the first all steel car was made, Altoona engineers began designing an improved passenger car to take full advantage of steel construction. They developed the P70 cars which had an exterior dimension of 79 feet 10-1/2 inches with interior dimensions of 69 feet and 7-3/8 inches in width and 9 feet and 1-1/8 inches in width. This design became the standard steel passenger car and was modified to serve for passenger-baggage, mail, baggage mail, dining, and other types of cars. This new car originally seated 88 passengers, but this was reduced to 80 with the installation of lavatories at each end of the car in 1926. [30]

In 1924, the Altoona car shops built an all-steel dining car. In 1936, the Pennsylvania Railroad redesigned these dining cars with the new cars containing a 38-passenger dining area and a club section. Then in 1939 the designers developed the first twin unit dining car. These units used one entire car as a diner while the second unit served as the kitchen with lunch counter or dormitory for staff depending on the service needs. [31]

During the 1920s and 1930s, a wide variety of cars were built in Altoona. These included various classes of the X29, X31, X32, and X33 box cars. These all-steel box cars ranged from 40 to more than 50 feet in length with a capacity of up to 100,000 pounds. During this time, the Altoona works constructed both G26 and G27 gondola cars which measured 68 feet and a little over 50 feet, respectively, in length and could carry loads up to 140,000 pounds. Also the H27 and H30 hopper cars were constructed at Altoona. These cars measured more than 30 feet in length and could carry 140,000 pounds. The H30 cars carried covered loads such as cement or other bulk commodities. The Altoona shops also constructed a special cement car known as GLE. Various flat cars of the F29, F30, and F31 types were built in the shops. These measured from 50 to 52 feet in length and carried from 140,000 to 210,000 pounds. The F29 was a well-type car and the F31 was a especially designed for carrying containers. [32]

Each of these freight cars required various manufacturing time requirements. For example, the G27 gondola car required 106-man hours for fabricating the structure, 138-man hours for assembling, 7-man hours for fabricating air brakes, 6-man hours for installing air brakes, and 8-man hours for painting for a total of 265-man hours per car. [33]

In 1936, the Pennsylvania Railroad began a modernization program which included the passenger car air-conditioning and making these cars more comfortable for the passenger. The purpose of this program was to make the railroad more competitive with automobiles, buses, and airlines. [34] As part of this program, some forty passenger cars were especially redesigned for the needs of overnight travelers. These cars contained large luggage compartments, and rotating and reclining individual seats with sponge rubber cushions. Each of these cars contained 68 seats and three washrooms. Another twenty passenger coaches were redesigned for daylight runs. This modification to these cars included sponge rubber cushions for seats and partially divided seats. These cars held seating for 84 passengers and contained two washrooms and an enlarged overhead baggage rack. [35]

Another phase of this modernization program involved the replacement of trucks on some 185,000 freight cars. The reason for this program was the development of one-piece cast-steel sideframes to replace the arch bar truck. This work continued through part of 1938. [36]

In 1938, the Altoona Works received an order for 1,000 gondola cars, 25 locomotive tenders, and 8 special freight cars. The special freight cars included six with "well hole" construction and two flat cars of the 200-ton capacity. The tenders were to be of 21,000-gallon capacity for M-1 locomotives. [37]The Altoona Works also constructed experimental cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the early 1940s, the shops produced a refrigeration car to test the effectiveness of dry ice versus water ice in refrigeration. [38] During the war years, the United States government ordered construction of new passenger cars to stop in order to conserve resources for the war effort. [39]

After the war, planning began for the construction and transfer of the freight and passenger car manufacturing facilities to the Samuel Rea shops in Hollidaysburg. These shops became fully operational in 1956. A few cars that did not lend themselves to the assembly line work process at the Samuel Rea shop continued to be built or rebuilt at the Altoona works. As late as 1969, the Altoona shops were constructing cabooses for the Penn Central Railroad. [40]

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Last Updated: 22-Oct-2004