Lehigh Valley Business Car #353

Lehigh Valley Business Car #353 in Cornell Red paint
Lehigh Valley Business Car #353, named "The Black Diamond," rests in the railyard at Steamtown NHS

NPS Photo

History and Restoration

Lehigh Valley #353 was delivered to the Lehigh Valley Railroad on September 6, 1916 by the Pullman Company, Chicago, Illinois at a cost of $33,000. The all-steel, heavyweight car with a mahogany-painted interior represented the pinnacle of technology and luxury for its time. It was the equivalent of today's large corporate business jet. The LV #353 traveled around the nation, entertaining the railroad's customers, friends and officers in a grand style.

The car served at the personal convenience and the pleasure of the railroad's Chief Executive Officer for sixty years, until the Lehigh Valley was absorbed into Conrail in 1976. The car was never owned by any other railroad, which is quite unusual for a Business Car. Throughout those sixty years, the car received extraordinary care and was typically housed inside the company's Sayre, Pennsylvania facility when not in use.

The car was sold to Mr. Dick Horstmann in 1976 who operated it extensively and continued the quality care and maintenance the car had always received. It's most recent owner, DL&W Corporation, purchased the car in September 1996. The car was donated to the National Park Service collection by DLW Corporation in 2015.

The 1997 restoration returned the car to its steam-era appearance. Mr. Rob Mangels led the restoration effort, and Ms. Michele Blair did the beautiful mahogany finish. The effort began in September 1996 and was completed in August 1997. The car received a full mechanical update and was qualified to run on Amtrak movements at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. It was one of the oldest cars moving on Amtrak.

1997 Restoration

The exterior in Cornell Red matches the color the car was repainted in 1939, when all Lehigh Valley mainline passenger equipment was repainted. Except for some minor equipment modernization details, the exterior appearance is as it looked in the 1930s, after its upgrading to include air conditioning. The interior of the car has been restored to the way it would have appeared from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s, the last 20-plus years of the steam era. All interior walls remain as originally constructed, having never been modified – again, quite rare for such a car.

The faux painting of the walls matches the original treatment. When constructed in 1916 all-steel cars were a relatively new phenomenon and viewed as a major technological and safety advance. Therefore, the LV #353 was built by Pullman Standard Company in all-steel, but the beautiful simulated-mahogany interior was made possible by the Pullman Company's accomplished artists. Ms. Blair faithfully restored this original look.

Historical Significance

The LV #353 "Black Diamond" is the only remaining fully restored and operational piece of equipment from the Lehigh Valley Railroad, once a major Class 1 railroad that helped build industrial America and contributed significantly to the winning of two World Wars. To our knowledge it is also the only correctly restored and fully operational business car of any of the anthracite railroads.

Famous passengers included former President Richard Nixon, General Douglas MacArthur and numerous leading politicians and industrial leaders. Within its walls and under the gentle persuasion of superb cuisine, spirits and fine cigars, decisions were made that lead to the opening of new industries, large anthracite mines and coal breakers and other developments beneficial to the railroad. "The Black Diamond" stands as a tribute to the thousands of men and women who worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad during its 130-year existence (1846-1976). Their collective efforts made a major contribution to the building of America into a modern industrial state

Last updated: August 11, 2016

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