The History Of The Ashley Planes

Document Sample
The History Of The Ashley Planes Powered By Docstoc
					              The History Of The Ashley Planes
                                1843 – 1948
                                By Annie Bohlin

  The Ashley Planes are noteworthy for their pioneer engineering, their longevity,
and their relatively undisturbed remains. They ran south from Ashley, a mining
“patch” in the northern anthracite field, up through a mountain cut to the summit of
Solomon Gap. This cut is interlaced with other transportation routes and an early
waterworks system. Existing remains date from several times. Original construction
by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company began in 1837. In 1860‟s the Planes‟
alignment and technology were revised, and in 1909 modifications using concrete
were made by the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The Planes were in use until
1948, representing more than a century of continuous transportation and industrial
history. They were a critical part of the passage from the northern anthracite
basin in the Wyoming Valley to Solomon Gap, and thence to all points south. The
Ashley Planes the longest-lived of inclined planes, but was not the earliest. Their
construction resulted from earlier development of mining, transportation, and
marketing of anthracite from the southern and middle coal fields. They
represented the culmination of transitional technologies that pre-dated them in
other locations in the hard coal region.
  By the early nineteenth century anthracite‟s fuel value was recognized. However,
before its potential could be exploited, ways had to be found to get it from its
source to the population and industrial centers where it would be consumed. Until a
transportation system was developed, anthracite was useless to local owners and to
developing American industry. Establishing an economical transportation system for
moving large amounts of extremely bulky material from the anthracite region was
made especially difficult by the area‟s mountainous geography. The Ashley Planes
were part of the solution to this difficult problem and are, therefore, an
importation part of northeastern Pennsylvania‟s transportation history. The unusual
technology developed to make the Planes succeed also makes them significant in
engineering history.
  About 1810, Josiah White. A Philadelphia Quaker of great determination and
inventive ability, established with Erskine Hazard, a geographer and the younger son
of Ebenezer Hazard, who was the first United States Postmaster, a foundry and
wire plant on the falls of the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. Business boomed
during the War of 1812, at which time they pioneered the industrial use of
anthracite coal during the British navel blockade of Philadelphia .However, by 1817
White and Hazard were experiencing financial reversals and had become
disillusioned with prospects for business advancement at the falls and with the
Schuylkill Navigation. Looking for a better supply of anthracite for their Schuylkill
operation, they decided to investigate possibilities along the Lehigh River. On
Christmas Eve, 1817 White left to tour the mines at Summit Hill above Mauch
Chunk, and the Lehigh River south of there: early in 1818 White and Hazard
personally surveyed the Lehigh River from Stoddartsville to Easton. With a new
partner, George Hauto ( whose pretensions to wealth and influence later proved
totally unfounded ), they obtained a twenty year lease of a 10,000-acre holding of
the Lehigh Coal Mine Company for an annual rent of one ear of corn!
    On March 20, 1818, the Pennsylvania Legislature gave White, Hazard and Hauto
“The privilege of running themselves by granting them “An Act to improve the
navigation of the Lehigh River”. The general skepticism regarding the prospects of
making the Lehigh River commercially navigable was well founded, for the risks were
great: the Lehigh had a tremendous drop in elevation, and its tendency to flood was
well known. But in August, 1818, the Lehigh Navigation Company came into existence
with hard-found subscriptions of $50,000 capital and work began immediately on
the river improvements. At first, only a descending navigation was built to test and
develop the market for anthracite. For this navigation White invented and patented
the “Bear Trap” lock: one-way locks operated by complex water valves and
hydrostatic pressure. This system was completed in 1820. During the construction
period White and Hazard them-selves worked with the crews, living as much in the
water as on the log rafts that were the crews‟ quarters.
   The subscription of $55,000 for the Lehigh Coal Company was completed in
October 1818 ( in 1820 the companies were amalgamated ). and concurrent with
construction of the river improvements. mining operation at Summit Hill were
developed. The wagon road from Summit Hill to the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk
was converted in 1827 to the Mauch Chunk Railroad, a mule-powered gravity
railroad, the first such railroad in the United States. Also in 1827, work began on
two-way navigation using conventional locks between Mauch Chunk and the Delaware
River at Easton.
   Canvass White, who had worked on designing the Eire Canal, was hired as
supervising engineer. Josiah White insisted that the channels and locks be
construction not at the narrow European scale, but at a size that could eventually
accommodate 150-ton steam boats, because he foresaw direct passage between the
Atlantic and Mauch Chunk! In June, 1829, a combination of the canal and slackwater
navigation was opened between Mauch Chunk and Easton, Elevation dropped 353
feet in 46.2 miles, requiring 48 locks 22 feet wide 100 feet long, except the upper
ones at Mauch Chunk, which measured 30 by 130 feet.
                                                                 Collection of George M Hart
        LC&N coal car with riders and barney near the base of Plane #3 Note the latches
        immediately this side of barney

      The anthracite mining and navigation along the Lehigh River, originally considered
   impractical and ruinous ventures by most, did have the earmarks of sustained financial
    success. Accordingly, and characteristically, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company
 began work in 1835 on taming the upper Lehigh, a wild gorge as far north as White Haven,
with a drop of 624 feet in 26 miles, more than three times the fall of the lower Lehigh. By
then Canvass White had died, so Josiah White chose Edwin A. Douglas, a young engineer,
  as construction supervisor. As Lehigh Coal and Navigation‟s transportation improvements
proceeded north, they became increasingly daring. The upper Lehigh project, completed in
    1838, consisted of 20 high dams, slack water navigation, a few short channels, and 29
  locks, 20 feet wide and 100 feet long, with the highest lifts of any then built. Lock #27
“The Pennsylvania” at Dam#18 at Lehigh Trannery, south of White Haven, had a lift of 30
    The purpose of the upper Lehigh navigation was threefold: to connect the
southern market with two major resources ( the vast forests surrounding
Stoddartsville and the great Wyoming Coal Field ) and to join the Lehigh Navigation
with the North Branch Canal on the Susquehanna. The first was achieved by
construction of three dams with Bear Trap locks for descending navigation only,
between Stroddartsville and White Haven.
                                                     Collection of George M Hart
Construction of the barney truck pits at the bottom of a new Plane #2 viewed to the south.
Apparently taken during the 1909 reconstruction.

  To expedite the other two, the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the Lehigh
Coal and Navigation Company in 1837 to construct a railroad connecting the Lehigh
Navigation and the North Branch Canal. To complete this, White, who firmly
believed that railroads would never replace canals, and Douglas produced their most
enduring and perhaps, most ingenious engineering exploits: the Lehigh and
Susquehanna Railroad and the Ashley Planes.
   The construction of a canal to connect the Lehigh and Susquehanna River had
been proposed by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and by others. In 1825
the Pennsylvania Assembly had passed an act for the purpose. But Nescopeck Creek
valley was the only possibility to connect the Lehigh and Susquehanna, the fall both
ways was 1,038 feet and water was scarce. So White and Douglas determined that
only feasible route to the third coal basin and the North Branch Canal was by
railroad. This involved the construction of a 1,743 tunnel between White Haven and
Solomon Gap and a series of three double-tracked inclined planes, running from
Solomon Gap down to the town of Ashley near the Susquehanna in Wyoming Valley.
  These Ashley Planes were opened to traffic in May, 1843, with steam-powered
hoists in full operation by 1847. Part of the original plan had been to portage canal
boats from the Lehigh Navigation to the North Branch Canal; this was done only
once when, after the floods of 1862, four boats were stranded in Lehigh at White
   Three separate inclined plane railroad were used to connect Ashley with Solomon
Gap. As first designed, Plane #3 rose out of Ashley along and over Solomon Creek,
through a rock cut just above the coal limits and adjacent to the creek‟s lower falls,
a distance of 4,894 feet with a rise of 5.7% to an elevation of about 900 feet: from
here there were linking tracks on a slight downgrade for 850 feet to an elevation of
about 892 feet where Plane #2 led southwest for a distance of 3,775 feet with a
rise of 8.6% to an elevation of about 1,250 feet. From here the cars were pulled
about 3,000 feet by horse or mule along level tracks eastward to the beginning of
Plane #1, which led for a distance of 4,361 feet with a rise of 9.3% to an elevation
of 1,681 at Solomon Gap. From there the cars passed over a weight scale and onto
a generally downgrade track which took them to White Haven on the Lehigh River.
    For about twenty years the LC&N was content to ship anthracite out of the
Wyoming Valley fields via the Ashley Planes, the L&S railroad to White Haven, then
by barge through the canal to Easton, and from there either south to Philadelphia
or east to New York. However, as the years passed it became obvious that an all-
railroad route would be necessary to avoid the constant flooding experienced on the
Lehigh River as well as winter shutdown. Also, with the advent of competition from
the Lehigh Valley Railroad, the LC&N knew it had to expand its own railroad along
the Lehigh River.
    In June of 1862 the Upper Division of the Lehigh Canal was almost completely
destroy by floods. On March 4, 1863 the Pennsylvania legislature passed an act
prohibiting the reconstruction of the canal, but granted the LC&N a charter to
extend its railroad from White Haven to Mauch Chunk. A year later on March
                        Lehigh Coal and Navigation Map 1867

16, 1864 the terms of the charter were extended to include a railroad from Mauch
Chunk to Easton. Upon its completion in 1868, the LC&N had an all-rail route from
Ashley to New York via its L&S and a connection with the Central Railroad of New
Jersey at Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
   The next step was to build the Back Track from Solomon Gap through Laurel Run
to Wilkes-Barre bypassing the Ashley Planes. It was completed in 1867, the same
year that the Lehigh Valley railroad also completed its own line to Wilkes-Barre.
   The reason for the Back Track was not to replace the Planes, but rather to
supplement them and give itself „a competitive advantage over the newly-completed
Lehigh Valley Railroad. Until the construction of the Back Track both freight and
passenger traffic was laboriously raised and lowered on the Planes, the tracks
operating in opposite directions. However, once passenger traffic, westbound
freight tonnage, and empty coal cars returning to the mines were transfer to the
Back Track, both tracks of the Planes were pressed into all-eastbound freight and
coal traffic.

                                                                           George Leilich
Just out of view to the left is the switcher shoving this cut of cars towards the bottom
plane at Ashley, Pa. in October 1944. The bottom Plane #3 had the greatest capacity-8-
cars- but rarely handled that many.
                                                                               W. R. Hicks
Looking up Plane #3 at Ashley, Pa. in the distance the exhaust from hoisting engine can be
seen in this 1947 view.

                                                                               W. R. Hicks
At Ashley, Pa. looking up Plane #3 on June 21, 1947. Yard engines would push cars onto the
Planes at this point.
   The Planes were more economical and faster method of raising tonnage from the
Wyoming Valley covering only about two and one-half miles compared to the twelve
and one-half mile long Back Track.
    In 1865-67 significant changes were made in the Planes allowing it to serve
better in its new role. Plane #2 was moved to its later position, with adjustments to
Plane #1 and construction of stone bridges over Solomon Creek and the old
mountain road in this section. The new Plane #2 had a length of about 3,000 feet
and a rise of 14.6%. This new alignment eliminated nearly 3,000 feet of level
trackage between the top of old Plane #2 and the foot of Plane #1; the use of
horses and mules to transfer cars from one plane to next was no longer necessary,
The new Plane#2 began operations about 1869. Clearly the LC&N had no intention of
abandoning the Planes after the completion of the Back Track, since it relocated
the middle plane and made improvements to the other two. In 1871 the Central
Railroad of New Jersey leased the Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad from the LC&N
including the Ashley Planes. The Ashley Planes remained under the control of the
CNJ throughout the rest of its operations.
    No sources have been found that exactly describe the change in equipment and
installation in the 1860‟s. However, in 1885 historian Henry Plumb described the
original operation. Originally there were “straps” of soft steel attached to a “truck”
(barney) with which to pull the cars up and let them down. The strap was composed
of four separate straps of steel, each about four inches wide and one-eight of an
inch thick and about thirty feet long, laid side by side parallel to each other and
half an inch apart, and the ends riveted on a strong plate of steel. Then another
set of four-inch straps were riveted on the same plate at the other end of them,
and so on until the length wanted was reached. There were two sets of these straps
to each plane, and two wooden drum about twenty feet in diameter at the head of
the plane to wind them up on, and two tracks, but only one set of straps and one
tack was ever used while those straps were in use on the planes.
   That was sufficient for all the business they had to do. At the bottom of the
plane there was a “pit” for the “truck” to run into. to let the cars pass over it in
going either on or off the plane. The trucks were made with an arrangement to
throw the cars off the track in case the straps broke. About 1850 these straps
were discarded for wire ropes… This was one of the best built and most substantial
railroads ever constructed in the United States.
                                                         Collection of George M Hart
View to the north showing a barney truck pit at the base of Plane #3 on September 8,
1935, The track to the right was used a storage siding.
                                                                           George Leilich
The Barney dropping downgrade in October 15, 1944 is about to descend into the pit under
a group of tank cars.

                                                                           George Leilich
               The “trip” of tank cars then starts their journey up Plane #3
                                                                          George Leilich
Retuning barney about to enter latches at the base of Plane #3 at Ashley Pa on October 15,

  In 1908 and 1909 the planes were nearly rebuilt. Concrete replaced much of the
original stone foundation. Bridges were reinforced and many engineering change
were made to the operation of the planes. The improvements to the planes in 1909
allowed them to operate without major repairs until the 1940‟s. World War II
created a tremendous need for transportation through-out the United States and
the Ashley Planes received its share. Once the traffic volume of the war effort
subsided, the CNJ turned its attention to the question of improvements to the
planes. A series of studies was made focusing on two different choices. The first
was to replace each of the three coal-fired power plants with electric motors. The
second was to abandon the planes in favor of using the newly-acquired diesel
locomotives on the Back Track. Ultimately the second choice was adopted.
Barney about to come up out of the pit at the base of Plane #3 on October 15, 1944. In
this scene it is traveling on the middle of the three gauges over which it operates. Note the
new CRR of NJ Statue of Liberty on the coal car to the left of the photograph.

                                                                            George Leilich
The base of Plane #3 at Ashley on October 15, 1944. Cable on the left is pulling cable.
Cable on the right is tail-rope. Note latches which guide outside flanges of the barney into
narrowest of gauges to guide it into pit under cars

Shared By: