Allegheny Portage Railroad
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Allegheny Portage Railroad

August 8, 2019


WELL, YOU SURE DON’T LOOK
MUCH LIKE A RAILROAD ANYMORE. AND NOT MUCH OF YOU LEFT. I GUESS WE’VE ALL SEEN
BETTER DAYS. WELL, THAT’S LIFE — YOU GROW UP, YOU WORK HARD,
YOU TUMBLE BACK INTO THE EARTH. [ Laughing ]
BUT BY GOSH, WE HAD OUR DAY,
DIDN’T WE ? SIX BOATS — SIX CANAL BOATS WE’D PULL UP
THAT STEEP INCLINE EVERY HOUR. BIG BOATS ! PUT ‘EM ON A FLATBED, HAUL ‘EM UP
OVER THE ALLEGHENY MOUNTAINS, DROP ‘EM IN THE WATER
ON THE OTHER SIDE. SEND ‘EM ON THEIR WAY
TO PHILADELPHIA OR PITTSBURGH OR WHICHEVER WAY THEY WERE GOING
IN THE FIRST PLACE. YOU TAKE A CANAL BOAT,
YOU PUT IT ON THE TRAIN, YOU TAKE IT OVER THE MOUNTAINS. THAT’S UNBELIEVABLE ! YOU TALK ABOUT OVERCOMING
WHAT NATURE PUT IN YOUR WAY — WELL, LOOK OUT ! YOU CAN’T BLOCK PROGRESS, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU GOT
A WHOLE COUNTRY OF PEOPLE CHOMPING AT THE BIT, WANTING TO GO WEST OR SEND A BOATLOAD OF SUPPLIES
IN THAT DIRECTION. WELL, NOW’S NOW. WE MAY BE FALLING APART, BUT BY GOSH, FOR SOME 20 YEARS
WE HAD A TIME OF IT, DIDN’T WE ? SHOULD HAVE WROTE
A BOOK ABOUT IT — “THE ALLEGHENY PORTAGE RAILROAD”
BY EDGAR WEST. OH, HOW WOULD I START IT ? AS A YOUNG MAN,
WAY BACK IN THE ’20s, MY OCCUPATION
WAS TO LEAD OUR MULES ALONG THE CANAL TOW PATH. I LIVED WITH MY FAMILY —
MULES INCLUDED — ABOARD THE CANAL BOAT. AND WE HAULED CARGO
BACK AND FORTH ON A CANAL BUILT ALONGSIDE OF A RIVER THAT WAS JUST TOO CANTANKEROUS
TO RUN A BOAT ON, WHAT WITH THE RAPID
AND THE WATERFALL. AND WORKING THE CANALS — THAT WASN’T AS EASY
AS IT LOOKED — NO SIR ! WELL, I MEAN MOST OF THE TIME
BETWEEN THE LOCKS IT WAS UNEVENTFUL, EXCEPT WHEN ONE OF THE MULES
FELL IN THE WATER. AND THEN YOU HAD
YOUR HANDS FULL. AND WHEN YOU CAME
TO ONE OF THE LOCKS, YOU HAD TO THINK FAST
AND ACT EVEN QUICKER. TEAM YA! YOU UNHITCH THE MULE
FROM THE BOAT, TIE HIM UP, RUN HELP GUIDE THE BOAT
INTO THE LOCK, AND THEN TIE HER OFF QUICK SO SHE WOULDN’T GO
BUSTING THROUGH THE GATES AT THE OTHER END OF THE LOCK. OF COURSE, THE LOCKKEEPER
WAS THERE TO HELP, MAYBE A BYSTANDER OR TWO. HE’D OPEN THE WATER GATES
ON THE OTHER SIDE. DOWN WOULD GO THE WATER LEVEL
AND THE BOAT. REAL FAST, IT WAS ! SOMETIMES THERE’D BE NEAR
A HALF-DOZEN LOCKS IN A MILE. HARD WORK. BUT IT SURE WAS THE ONLY WAY
TO TAKE A BOAT DOWNHILL — OR UPHILL, FOR THAT MATTER ! [ HINGES CREAK ] OH, THERE WAS SOME FUN
TO BE HAD — MAYBE THE LOCKKEEPER
HAD A DAUGHTER TO SPARK. OR MAYBE YOU COULD LISTEN
TO THE LOCAL GOSSIP. Man: DID YOU HEAR
WHAT PENNSYLVANIA’S GONNA DO ? Woman: WHAT NOW ? Man: GONNA DIG A CANAL
ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE STATE. Woman: DON’T PENNSYLVANIA
HAVE ENOUGH CANALS ? Man: NOT EAST TO WEST
THEY DON’T, LIKE NEW YORK. IT’S GONNA GO FROM COLUMBIA,
NEAR HARRISBURG, STRAIGHT THROUGH TO PITTSBURGH. Woman: OH ?
WHAT’S IT GOING TO DO WHEN IT GETS
TO THE ALLEGHENY MOUNTAINS ? Man: FROM WHAT I HEARD, THEY’RE
GONNA FIGURE THAT ONE OUT WHEN THEY GET DUG THAT FAR. Woman: WELL,
THAT’S FLAT OUT CRAZY ! WHY DO WE NEED ANOTHER CANAL
ANYWAY ? Man: WELL, NEW YORK STATE’S
ALREADY GOT THE ERIE CANAL RUNNING ALL THE WAY WEST. AND MARYLAND’S FIXING
TO DIG A CANAL FROM WASHINGTON OUT WEST. PRETTY SOON… Woman: WELL, PRETTY SOON WON’T BE ANYBODY TRAVELING
ACROSS OUR STATE, THAT’S WHAT. Man: THEY’LL BE TRAVELING WEST USING THE NORTH OF
OR SOUTH OF PENNSYLVANIA ROUTE, AND WE’LL BE LEFT OUT. West: COULD ALL THIS BE TRUE ? A BUNCH OF FOLKS OTHERWISE THOUGHT TO BE
IN THEIR RIGHT MINDS DECIDING TO DIG A CANAL
ACROSS THE WHOLE STATE, THEN UP ONE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN,
DOWN THE OTHER ? HO ! WELL THAT MIGHT BE
INTERESTING TO WATCH. SO I DECIDED
TO GO OUT ON MY OWN, MAYBE MAKE SOMETHING OF MYSELF. AFTER ALL, I WAS ALMOST 17. AND THAT SPRING OF 1831,
I LEFT MY PARENTS. I WALKED ON OVER
TO TAKE A LOOK AT THAT MOUNTAIN. GIT ! GIT ! I FOUND MYSELF WORKING ! GIT ! I HAD A JOB ! THAT’S THE DUMBEST THING
I EVER DID ! SEE, TRYING TO CROSS
THOSE MOUNTAINS IN GOOD WEATHER WAS A TRIAL. BUT IN BAD WEATHER ? HO ! ANYBODY WHO COULD FIGURE
A BETTER WAY TO GET PEOPLE AND WAGONS
OVER THESE MOUNTAINS DESERVED A PRIZE. THERE WERE ROCKS AND RUTS
AND RAIN AND MUD EVERYWHERE TO SLOW YOU DOWN. AND WHEN THE WEATHER CLEARED, THE BLACK GNATS
AND RATTLESNAKES CAME OUT. NOW WITH THIS KIND OF TROUBLE, ONLY HIGH-PRICED CARGO
LIKE FURS AND WHISKEY COULD EVER EXPECT
TO MAKE A PROFIT. NO WONDER SMART FOLKS
WERE USING THE ERIE CANAL. FINALLY
I CAME UPON PITTSBURGH — “GATEWAY TO THE WEST”
PEOPLE CALLED IT. DOWNTOWN, FOLKS WERE BEING RECRUITED
FOR THE NEW CANAL PROJECT. AND THE WHOLE THING
WAS HEADED UP BY A FELLOW
NAMED SYLVESTER WELCH. AN ENGINEER HE WAS. Welch: GENTLEMEN,
IT IS ALL QUITE SIMPLE. NOW FOLLOW ALONG ON THIS MAP. THE CANAL RUNS
FROM PITTSBURGH TO JOHNSTOWN. AT JOHNSTOWN, THERE BEGINS
A 36-MILE RAILROAD SECTION THAT TAKES TRAVELERS AND GOODS
OVER THE MOUNTAINS. A SERIES OF 10 INCLINED PLANES ALLOW THE PASSENGER CARS
AND BOATS TO BE HAULED UP
AND LET BACK DOWN BY STEAM POWER. THEN WHEN THEY REACH
HOLLIDAYSBURG ON THE EASTERN SIDE, THEY’RE SET BACK
INTO THE NEW CANAL AND SPED ON THEIR WAY
TOWARD PHILADELPHIA — A JOURNEY OF FIVE DAYS
COMPARED WITH 23 DAYS BY WAGON. AN AMAZING TIME FOR A VOYAGE
OF SOME 394 TOTAL MILES. ♪ POOR OLD REUBEN RANZELL ♪ ♪ RANZELL, ME BOYS,
RANZELL ♪ ♪ POOR OLD REUBEN RANZELL ♪ ♪ RANZELL, ME BOYS,
RANZELL ♪ WELL, I PRETTY MUCH KNEW ALL
I CARED TO KNOW ABOUT CANALS, SO I HIRED ON, WORKING ON WHAT
THEY’RE CALLING AMERICA’S FIRST
RAILROAD TUNNEL — STAPLE BEND TUNNEL. AND THAT WAS
THE FIRST BIG HURDLE IN THE RAILROAD
SCHEME OF THINGS. AND WE HAD TO DIG 900 FEET STRAIGHT THROUGH
A MOUNTAIN OF ROCK. AND WE HAD TO MAKE A HOLE BIG ENOUGH
TO DRIVE A LOCOMOTIVE THROUGH. WELL, IT WAS HARD WORK ! AND YOU SHARED
YOUR BED AND BOARD WITH AN ASSORTMENT
OF CHARACTERS AND CRITTERS. THERE WERE DRUNKARDS
AND RATTLESNAKES AND BLACK GNATS EVERYWHERE. BUT MAKING 47.5 CENTS A DAY
KIND OF EASED THE PAIN. AND IT WASN’T LONG BEFORE I WAS
PUTTING DOWN STONE SLEEPERS — THE FOUNDATION — ON TOP OF WHICH THEY SET THE
TIES AND EDGE RAILS THEMSELVES. IT WAS PRETTY HEAVY WORK,
BUT I COULD TAKE IT. AND SEE,
ABLE-BODIED MEN COULD GET WORK ALL ALONG
THE MAIN LINE CANAL ROUTE. THAT’S WHAT THEY CALLED IT —
MAIN LINE. WELL, SOMEHOW
ALL THE RAILROAD TRACKS WERE SPIKED INTO THE GROUND — THROUGH THE STAPLE BEND TUNNEL,
OVER THE CONEMAUGH VIADUCT, UP ONE MOUNTAIN, ACROSS THE TOP,
DOWN THE NEXT VALLEY, THEN BACK AGAIN. IT WAS ALMOST A YEAR
BEFORE WE WERE GOING TO OPEN UP, AND PEOPLE —
ALREADY THEY’RE ANTICIPATING HOW THIS MAIN LINE IS GONNA BE
A BIG BENEFIT FOR EVERYBODY. Man: IT TOOK ME 23 DAYS TO COME FROM PHILADELPHIA
HERE TO PITTSBURGH. NOW IT WILL TAKE ONLY FIVE DAYS
TO GET BACK HOME. Man: WITH THIS NEW MAIN LINE, PHILADELPHIA’S PORTS
WILL AGAIN PROSPER, QUITE POSSIBLY
OVERTAKING NEW YORK. CERTAINLY BALTIMORE
WON’T HAVE A CHANCE. Man:
I TELL YOU, MY FRIENDS — PEOPLE MOVING WEST WILL COME THROUGH
OUR FINE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND THAT WILL BE GOOD FOR EVERY
MAN, WOMAN, CHILD, AND TOWN ALONG THE NEW MAIN LINE CANAL. Woman: I JUST CAN’T WAIT. THE MAIN LINE
WILL SURELY BRING US A BETTER SELECTION
OF HATS AND DRESSES, AND PERHAPS A NEW PREACHER. West: JUST AFTER THE SPRING THAW
IN MARCH 1834, THE ALLEGHENY PORTAGE RAILROAD
OPENED FOR BUSINESS. I BET IT WAS FOR A MONTH BEFORE THERE WERE HANDBILLS
POSTED EVERYWHERE, TALKING ABOUT THE FAST NEW SERVICE AND LOW TOLL. WHY, EVEN THE LOCAL NEWSPAPERS CAME OUT AHEAD OF TIME SO THEY COULD INFORM THEIR READERS ALL ABOUT IT. AND BY THIS TIME,
I FOUND ME A REAL GOOD JOB — PERMANENT KIND, SORTA — WORKING AT THE BOTTOM
OF PLANE NUMBER SIX. AND I WAS THERE
AND SOME REPORTER CAME OVER. HE ASKED ME WHAT I DID, SO I TOLD HIM
JUST HOW I FIGURED IN THIS PLAN TO GET CANAL BOATS
OVER THE MOUNTAIN. Man: EXCUSE ME, SIR.
MAY I HAVE YOUR NAME ? West: EDGAR WEST. YOU SEE,
A BOAT COMES ALONG TO JOHNSTOWN, AND WE FLOAT HER
ONTO A RAILROAD CAR. SEE, WE’RE USING THESE NEW
SECTIONAL CANAL BOATS NOW — WELL, SOMETIMES — AND THEY WERE INVENTED
BY THIS FELLOW JOHN DOUGHERTY. AND WE PULL IT OUT OF THE WATER
WITH A STATIONARY STEAM ENGINE. THEN WE PULL IT ALONG
THE LONG, SLOW GRADE TO THE BOTTOM OF AN INCLINE,
LIKE THIS ONE HERE. AND THEN WE HITCH THEM UP TO
A CONTINUOUS 3.5-INCH HEMP ROPE THAT MOVES ON ROLLERS
BETWEEN THE RAILS. NOW THAT CABLE IS BEING PULLED
BY ANOTHER STEAM ENGINE AT THE TOP OF THE INCLINE. ONCE WE GET THE BOAT UP TOP,
WE UNHITCH IT, WE PULL IT ALONG THE FLAT SUMMIT
OF THE MOUNTAIN TO THE NEXT INCLINE —
NEXT PLANE, WHERE IT GOES UP
AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL, OF COURSE, IT STARTS GOING BACK DOWN
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. AND THAT’S ABOUT, OH, 36 MILES. THAT SHOULD TAKE
FROM 6 TO 10 HOURS. Man: THANK YOU, MR. WEST. West: MUCH OBLIGED. NOW THAT’S THE WAY
THINGS WERE SUPPOSED TO WORK. BUT YOU SEE, WE HAD MORE THAN A MILE OF ROPE
RUNNING IN A CIRCLE, HAULING CARS UP THE INCLINE
ON ONE SIDE AND LETTING OTHER CARS
DOWN ON THE OTHER TRACK TO BALANCE THE LOAD. BUT EVEN 3.5 INCHES
OF THE FINEST RUSSIAN HEMP COULD ONLY TAKE
SO MUCH WEAR AND TEAR. AND TEAR IT DID EVERY SO OFTEN. WHY, THE MINUTE YOU FELT
THE JOLT OF THAT ROPE BREAKING, YOU KNEW
DEATH WAS ROLLING TOWARD YOU. YOU GOT OUT OF THE WAY, AND YOU HOPED
EVERYBODY ELSE DID TOO. [ SNAP ! ] SOME DIDN’T. DEATH… HAD PLENTY OF TIME
TO MOURN AND THINK ABOUT IT. ‘COURSE FEAR
TURNED BUSINESS SLOW FOR THE NEXT WEEK OR SO. PEOPLE ARE AMAZING, YOU KNOW. THEY LEARN, THEY ADJUST,
THEY MOVE FORWARD. AND YOU KNOW
WHAT WAS INTERESTING, ALWAYS ? TO HEAR PEOPLE IN MID-JOURNEY
TALK TO EACH OTHER — FIND OUT
WHAT THEY WAS EACH IN FOR ON THE SECOND HALF
OF THEIR TRIPS. Man: GOOD AFTERNOON, SIR. I TRUST YOU’VE HAD
A PLEASANT TRIP SO FAR ? Second Man: WELL, THE BOAT
IS TERRIBLY CRAMPED. I MEAN, A 14-INCH PLANK
ATTACHED TO A WALL FOR A BED ! ONE REALLY CAN’T TURN OVER. CURIOUSLY, THEY TAKE THE BOARDS
OFF THE WALLS IN THE MORNING TO MAKE A DINING TABLE. Man: WELL, YOU’LL HAVE NO RELIEF
ON THE REST OF YOUR JOURNEY. HOWEVER, YOU WILL HAVE
THE EXCITEMENT OF RIDING UP THE INCLINES. AND THEN THERE’S THE MATTER
OF THE CONEMAUGH VIADUCT. SPECTACULAR ARCHED BRIDGE
SPANNING THE RIVER. AS YOU TRAVEL OVER, THEY STOP
AND LET YOU ENJOY THE VIEW. THEN THERE’S
THE STAPLE BEND TUNNEL — 900 FEET OF TOTAL DARKNESS. FINALLY YOU GO
DOWN ONE LAST INCLINE, SLIP BACK IN THE WATER, AND THE CANAL TAKES YOU RIGHT INTO
THE CENTER OF PITTSBURGH. Second Man:
OH, THAT’S MOST INTERESTING. THANK YOU FOR THE INFORMATION. I’VE ENJOYED SPEAKING WITH YOU. Man:
HMM…I DIDN’T GET YOUR NAME. Second Man:
OH, DICKENS — CHARLES DICKENS. GOOD DAY. West: WHETHER YOU’RE
ON A PLEASURE TRIP OR ON BUSINESS
OR SHIPPING MERCHANDISE, EVERYONE RECOGNIZED THE BOLDNESS
OF WHAT WE’D DONE — OUTSMARTING NATURE. NO DOUBT ABOUT IT ! AND THEN, A FELLOW
NAMED ROEBLING COMES ALONG AND INVENTS
AN IRON BRAIDED CABLE TO REPLACE THE HEMP ROPE — THAT THICK ROPE THAT HAULED
THE BOATS UP THE INCLINES — AND IT WOULDN’T BREAK…
WELL, MOSTLY NOT. AND YOU KNOW,
ONE OF THE THINGS I LOVED — I LOVED SEEING WHAT WAS BEING
CARRIED ON THE MAIN LINE. MOSTLY GOING WEST
WAS GROCERIES, DRY GOODS, MANUFACTURED ITEMS AND THE LIKE. AND COMING BACK EAST, YOU’D FIND
COAL, TIMBER, AND IRON ORE, PLUS FLOUR, BACON, TOBACCO,
WHISKEY, FEATHERS, WOOL, CHEESE. THE FARMERS OUT WEST WERE GOING
FROM BARELY MAKING A LIVING TO GROWING
REAL PROFITABLE CROPS. WHY, SO MANY RAW MATERIALS
WERE POURING INTO THE EAST THAT PRICES STARTED
TO GO WAY DOWN — LOW ENOUGH SO EVERYBODY COULD
AFFORD A PRETTY DECENT LIFE… EVEN ME… [ Chuckling ] EVEN ME. THERE WAS NO STOPPING PROGRESS. STEAM LOCOMOTIVE CAME ALONG
AND PUT THE MULES OUT OF WORK. ALL ALONG THE MAIN LINE,
SMALL TOWNS STARTED TO SPRING UP WHERE THERE WASN’T EVEN
A WIDE SPOT IN THE ROAD BEFORE. I HEARD SOMEBODY SAY JOHNSTOWN
IS GROWING IN POPULATION ABOUT TWICE AS FAST
AS THE REST OF PENNSYLVANIA ! PITTSBURGH IS GOING TO BE
AS BIG AS ANY EASTERN CITY ! OHIO IS GETTING POPULATED TOO ! BUT NO MATTER
HOW FAST WE OPERATED, WITH ALL THE IMPROVEMENTS, THERE WAS FOLKS WHO WANTED TO DO AWAY WITH THE PORTAGE RAILROAD. STEAM LOCOMOTIVES WERE GETTING
BIGGER AND STRONGER, SO THESE FOLKS SAID
THAT A LONG, EASY, GRADED TRACK COULD BE BUILT
AROUND THE PORTAGE, AND TRAINS COULD PULL THE LOAD
STRAIGHT ON THROUGH. WELL, MUCH AS I LIKED MY JOB, I HAD TO AGREE…SECRETLY. BY 1854, THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD
HAD PUT TRACK UP AROUND WHAT CAME TO BE CALLED
HORSESHOE CURVE, AND BLASTED THROUGH
THE ALLEGHENY MOUNTAIN SUMMIT WITH THE GALLITZIN TUNNEL. AND THAT SPELLED THE END
FOR THE PORTAGE RAILROAD. BY 1857, WE WERE JUST A MEMORY. IT’S FUNNY — FIRST WE REPLACED
THE OLD-FASHIONED WAGONS, THEN WE GOT REPLACED
BY BIGGER, STRONGER LOCOMOTIVES. SEEMS THERE’S ALWAYS
A BETTER WAY TO CROSS A MOUNTAIN. WELL, FOR A LONG TIME
WE WERE THE BETTER WAY. WE COULD COMPETE WITH ANY CANAL OR TRANSPORTATION
IN THIS COUNTRY — MOVING RAW MATERIALS EAST, MANUFACTURED GOODS AND PIONEERS
WITH THEIR NEWFANGLED IDEAS OUT WEST. WE WERE SOME KIND OF SOLUTION
TO SOME KIND OF PROBLEM, WE WERE. SEE, BACK THEN, THIS COUNTRY NEVER HAD VERY FAR
TO LOOK FOR AN ORIGINAL IDEA. WELL, I DON’T SUPPOSE
THAT’S EVER REALLY CHANGED. NAH, PROBABLY NEVER WILL. NO, I DON’T SUPPOSE
THERE’S ANY PROBLEM US FOLKS CAN’T SOLVE — EVEN IF IT’S AS BIG
AS A MOUNTAIN.

11 Comments

  • Reply Ian H May 28, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    i came to this place just this past week. It was very much an interesting video to see!

  • Reply SteelerFanRich1 December 6, 2010 at 12:13 am

    This was a good video. I saw it there at the Center a few years back. I thought the man acting was very good.

  • Reply PoetryETrain September 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Love this, thank you, added to a playlist…

  • Reply Insert Redletter Media Meme Here April 25, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I went to the tunnel yesterday near Johnstown and wow, it was so cool. Long ass walk to get there but worth it. To think that's basically how the west was won.

  • Reply Missy G April 29, 2014 at 3:57 am

    I & my bf were there today n seen this video before we went. Last time i was there was with my family in 2008/09 but it rained… Now live near the site and showed bf it. Staple Bend is our next stop.. 2mile bike ride aint too bad. train watch too 😀

  • Reply Christine Plymouth February 1, 2016 at 5:16 am

    Wow, great job, really captures the flavor of the times !

  • Reply the.JZ.Original June 12, 2017 at 2:21 am

    The best film of all time. Edgar West is golden as Edgar West. 6 nominations gone through well. A gem in coal mine. John Roebling is ripped and Sylvester Welch is a genius. Take notes, film students. This is what America wants

  • Reply Joel Zelenski June 12, 2017 at 2:24 am

    This is an amazing film, I don't think people realize the swag of Edgar West

  • Reply shadow-wolf gaming January 28, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    awe saw this when on a field trip in elementary good times ☺

  • Reply Rab Baney September 19, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Lol when I was in 5th grade in 1999 we visited this place and sat in The theater room and watch this there…. wow can’t believe it’s on YouTube

  • Reply Grant Walker January 24, 2019 at 3:33 am

    My congratulations to the creators of this wonderful documentary. That was a time in America when the people were visionary's and had a "Can do" spirit. They weren't saddled with excessive State and Federal regulations stifling individual and collective initiative and progress making things nearly impossible and expensive as it is today.

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