Steam into History digs deep into the American story

Posted by Brian Plant
on Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the early afternoon of Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2013, Leviathan’s whistle blows for the Kirchner Road crossing on the north side of New Freedom, Pa., as the York follows closely behind. Photo by Brian Plant.

NEW FREEDOM, Pa. — The once-familiar sound of steam whistles again echo down the valley between Hanover Junction and New Freedom, Pa., on the rails of the former Northern Central Railway. The Northern Central connected Baltimore, Md., with Sunbury, Pa., with construction completed in 1858. Three years later the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired a controlling interest in the Northern Central. The year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania’s York County and the ensuing Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. The rails of the Northern Central and the connecting Hanover Branch Railroad played an important part in the aftermath of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, as injured soldiers were transported to hospitals in Baltimore, Harrisburg, and York. Hanover Junction’s shining historical moment was President Abraham Lincoln’s changing of trains on his way to delivering the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, 150 years ago today.

Leviathan passes through farmland just north of the Granary Road crossing between Glen Rock and Hanover Junction. Photo by Brian Plant. 

After a long stop at Hanover Junction on Veteran’s Day, the York now pulls the passenger train south into Glen Rock with the Leviathan racing close behind trying to keep pace. In reality a slow shutter speed gives the illusion of speed, as track conditions and at-grade crossings require speeds under 20 mph. Photo by Brian Plant.

Two years later President Lincoln’s Funeral Train plied the very same rails on its journey to Springfield, Ill. Over time the Northern Central played a declining role for parent Pennsylvania Railroad. The formation of Penn Central in February 1968 did not severe the Northern Central as a through route, but rather it was the devastating effects of Hurricane Agnes in June 1972.

The exquisite attention to detail can be seen on the No. 17 York. Photo by Brian Plant.

The Leviathan prepares for the run to Hanover Junction on the morning of Nov. 13, 2013 at New Freedom, Pa. Photo by Brian Plant.

Let’s fast-forward to the year 2013, when a brand-new Kloke Locomotive Works 4-4-0 “American” steam locomotive began to traverse the rails of the Northern Central, now an important part of the York County Heritage Rail Trail. The William H. Simpson No. 17 York is the centerpiece of the non-profit Steam into History, Inc., whose mission is to promote tourism by operating a period steam train which chronicles the role York County held in the history of the Civil War.

Photographer James Pfeiffer, who specializes in Ambrotypes and Ferrotypes, shares one of the recreated Matthew Brady photos to a volunteer at Hanover Junction. Photo by Brian Plant.

An homage to Matthew Brady’s photo of Lincoln’s train at Hanover Junction was staged on the afternoon of Nov. 13, but the sharp curvature and short length of the former Hanover Junction Railroad trackage kept the York and train on the Northern Central rails. Photo by Brian Plant.

An exciting series of events took place the week of Nov. 10th as the Central Pacific No. 63 Leviathan, another Kloke Locomotive Works 4-4-0, visited. Events included the staging of the Great Locomotive Chase, a reenactment of the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah to complete the transcontinental railroad and recreating the famous Matthew Brady photo of Lincoln’s train at Hanover Junction. One can now truly steam into history in York County.

The proud history of railroading in Glen Rock is exemplified in this image of the York returning from Hanover Junction late in the afternoon on Nov. 13, 2013. Photo by Brian Plant.

The low angle of the late autumn sun catches the plume put out by the York as seen from below on Pleasant Valley Road. A fitting name for sure. Photo by Brian Plant. 


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