The Pennsylvania Turnpike and the fall of the Steel King

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike and the fall of the Steel King
Posted by Jones1945 on Thursday, January 23, 2020 4:52 AM

Construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike :

"The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a toll highway operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. A controlled-access highway runs for 360 miles (580 km) across the state. The turnpike begins at the Ohio state line in Lawrence County, where the road continues west as the Ohio Turnpike. It ends at the New Jersey border at the Delaware River–Turnpike Toll Bridge over the Delaware River in Bucks County, where the road continues east as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Extension of the New Jersey Turnpike... During the 1930s the Pennsylvania Turnpike was designed to improve automobile transportation across the mountains of Pennsylvania, using seven tunnels built for the abandoned South Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1880s. The road opened on October 1, 1940,[2] between Irwin and Carlisle. It was one of the earlier long-distance limited-access highways in the United States, and served as a precedent for additional limited-access toll roads and the Interstate Highway System." (Wiki)

Witnessed and even assisted the construction of the PA Turnpike, Pennsylvania Railroad didn't sit and wait for the PA Turnpike stealing patrons and changing traveler's habit:

"May 1940, Pres. Martin W. Clement recommends construction of a deluxe coach train similar to The Trail Blazer to operate between New York and Pittsburgh in the afternoon on a 7:40 schedule, or 18 minutes faster than the Broadway; intended to meet competition of the Pennsylvania Turnpike; by October matures into plans for The Steel King; train is the subject of the 1941 Grif Teller calendar painting, but is not placed in service before World War II."

 The Steel King by Grif Teller

I have seen this drawing many times before but never have thought that "The Steel King" was the name of the proposed all-coach trains of PRR:


2/15/1946, ODT drops limit on use of sleeping cars from 450 to 350 miles, returning 372  Pullmans to private use (Trains has 334); order for 1,200 troop sleepers nearly completed; PRR restores Pullman service to 17 cities; The Pittsburgher restored as an all-Pullman overnight train; the day train remains as The Steel King, using name from 1941... 

Est. 2/15/1946 to continue a deluxe day train after THE PITTSBURGHER returned to an overnight schedule; #82-83; daylight streamlined train New York-Pittsburgh; originally planned in fall 1940 to meet competition of Pa. Tpk.; subject of 1941 Grif Teller calendar painting; last trip 1/18/1947."(A GENERAL CHRONOLOGY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY)

This short-lived streamliner only operated 338 days, even though it was not only 18 mins faster than the Broadway but also 1 hour and 35 mins faster than the all-Pullman Pittsburgher (schedule in 1952) and 1 hour 9 mins faster than the all-coach Trail Blazer. The S1 never pulled the Steel King as in the drawing since she couldn't even reach Pittsburgh from Chicago for her gigantic size. I am still looking for more info on this streamliner, including the consist, motive power and photos of it, I could find none until this very moment. My guess of the train was a shorter consist like the Trail Blazer and Jeffersonian, PRR might have used new coaches and diners built by Budd to form the consist; they probably would have streamlined two more K4s for the proposed streamliner, just like how they treated the South Wind and Jeffersonian. 

 The South Wind (1940)

PA Turnpike is 360 miles long, around 300 miles from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. If a private car driver can keep the speed at an average of 50-60mph, it would only take him or her around six hours to finish the trip, so the 7:40 schedule of the Steel King wasn't really that appealing at all. I don't think PRR could have shortened the schedule any further in this case.

On the other hand, the Pennsylvania Central Airlines was offering a 1:50 (fastest) schedule for their NYC to Pittsburgh flight in 1946. For those who could afford a flight ticket, travel by air would have saved 5 hours for them; and for those who were looking for a budget travel transport option, the Greyhound offered a 10-11 hours schedule between NYC and Pittsburgh. All these factors added up, the fall of the PRR Steel King was a matter of course, and we know that there were more Steel Kings got eliminated one after another until the late 1960s.  



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Posted by divebardave on Friday, January 31, 2020 2:58 PM

and the PRR railroad helped form Greyhound and owned a airline


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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, February 2, 2020 8:02 AM

Running an all-Pullman ovearnight and an all-coach was a dumb idea to begin with.  Puting coaches on the Pittburgher like the IC's Magnolia Star on the Panama would have made more sense.  The Pittsburgher or was it the Steel City all-Pullman had me as rider around ten times.  I think often in a Creek duplex room. Business travel of course.

Often boarded at East Liberty after a late-evening dinner at a terrific Italian restaurant, a favorite of Harold Geissenheimer, the dinner companion and local wheels, after business concluded at Carnegie Institute or a church or syagogue.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, February 2, 2020 11:33 AM

Anyone who has driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike will know that it's no substitute for the train between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  This is the prewar Autobahn style road, a couple of slabs with minimal attention to high-speed grading with nothing but a cheap Armco-style barrier between opposed fast lanes.  There were places you could start making high speed if you had a capable automobile ... until you came across people going slower, and there were a lot of them, not always easy to see until the last moment.  And then there were people like my friend Stefan's father's in-laws, one of whom had a relatively new '38 Buick and delighted in running around coal trucks on blind curves, saying to distressed passengers "What are you worried about ... I got good brakes..."

Those advocating flying Capitol Scareways have likely never flown into a Pittsburgh airport.  You would take the additional four and a half hours in a bar, drinking to recover your composure after the landing.  This in addition to flying at low level over the Appalachians, a chain with sufficient ridge lift that sailplane pilots can take off from Blairstown, New Jersey (which is considerably north of Philadelphia, near the Delaware Water Gap), fly down to the Charlottesville, Virginia area, and then return to Blairstown.

It would be the advent of better turnpike-cruising cars and development of so many 'intermediate' destinations far from effective train stations that spelled the full death of service to and from Pittsburgh on the PRR.  But those certainly came.  As did more and more reliable, if no less frightening, air service in many weathers.    

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Posted by Jones1945 on Monday, February 3, 2020 5:56 AM

The proposed 'Steel King' was an afternoon all-coach train instead of an overnight train mixed with Pullman sleepers and coaches. It was like a section of the Trail Blazer, but depart much earlier than Trail Blazer's schedule. I am still looking for details about the train but the keyword 'Steel King' related to many irrelevant stuffs. 

The Pittsburgher was the overnight all-Pullman extra fare train between NYC and Pittsburgher and one source said that "...unlike many other Pennsy trains, patronage remained strong through the declining postwar years", "the Pittsburgher quickly became the top choice for business travelers wishing to arrive at their destination by the next morning..." If this is true, I see why Pennsy wanted to apply the same formula of Trail Blazer to the NYC to Pittsburgher market, even though there were other options like Duquesne, Iron City Express, Juniata, New Yorker, and Pittsburgh Night Express etc... A little bit too greedy but not really that dumb.  

It sounds as if the Pennsylvania Turnpike was a good bait that intentionally set the bar quite low so that the car owners who had driven on it would keep pushing the government to build better roads connecting Pittsburg to other important cities in the country. Another win-win situation for the politician and contractor! Who needs a doctor if there is no illness? It is quite sad to see the majority of people would rather have driven on a bumpy turnpike, taken a plane of the infamous US scareways instead of relaxing on the good old "Fleet of Modernism" train of PRR. 

You would take the additional four and a half hours in a bar, drinking to recover your composure after the landing.

Was it really that bad? People in those days would find an easy, popular solution that featured in the movie 'The Wolf of Wall Street' 2013, not sure if it is in the book as well. I thought landing Kai Tak Airport was the most dangerous thing in aviation history.


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