Another railroad pilgrim to Gettysburg writes of his experiences: Part 2
The old Northern Central Railway depot in York, Pennsylvania, was a busy place during the Civil War years, as tens of thousands of Union troops passed through the town en route to Maryland and subsequently to their posts in Washington, D.C., Virginia, or West Virginia. During the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate Major General Jubal A. Early threatened to burn the depot and surrounding railroad structures and railcar manufacturing factories unless a $100,000 ransom was paid in full, but cooler heads prevailed. Early decided to spare the buildings, citing a concern that the fires might spread to nearby private homes and businesses.
After the war, dozens of trains each day pulled into and out of York and the depot remained busy until replaced by a newer and larger structure.
In 1872, a group of travelers was heading from Washington, D.C., to Niagara Falls. Among them was a correspondent for Scribner’s Monthly, a very popular and widely circulated illustrated magazine of the period.
In part 1 of this brief series, we followed the traveling party as they stopped at Hanover Junction south of York and then took a side expedition westward to Gettysburg.
In part 2, they have returned to Hanover Junction and now steam northward through rural York County en route to Harrisburg.
This illustration from the May 1872 issue of Scribner’s Monthly depicts the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Here is the correspondent’s views on his travels through York County to Harrisburg, where they would spend the night and then continue their journey, this time using the Pennsylvania Railroad.
“At Hanover Junction the original Gettysburg party are left behind to take the next train for Baltimore.
We are nine :
— The Veteran.
2. The Chief Executive of the Party.
3. The Quiet Man, who sees that everybody has a share of all the good things going.
4. The Little Man, who takes a joke hard,– and enjoys it. [These four are railroad men; the next five are guests.]
5. The Man who had been Abroad.
6. The Jolly Man.
7. The Man who has been up the Yellowstone, (Artist).
8. The Man who hasn’t been Anywhere.
9. The Man who has an Eye for Rocks.
“Where’s that ore going?” asks the latter, as we pass a long train of flat cars on a siding. “To Baltimore?”
“Yes; but not to stay there. It’s all shipped to Europe.”
“Coals to Newcastle!”
“Fact, nevertheless. We are carrying large quantities of it for exportation. It’s the most remarkable iron-ore–or rather steel ore–in the world. It was discovered by Dr. Nes, of York, two or three years ago. The hills along the Codorus are full of it. Smelt it and you have–not pig-iron–but steel, better than the best English steel, at a third the cost.”
“You see that knife?” The Little Man exhibits a pocket-knife. “It was made direct from the ore.”
“By the Bessemer process?”
“No; without any extra manipulation, it s silicon-steel.”
”Oh, I’ve heard of that,” said the Geologist, “but I never took much stock in it.”
“If you ever had a chance ‘to take stock’ in it, and didn’t, you may wish you had. It’s going to revolutionize the iron business of this country.”
“How much stock have you to sell?”
“None, I’m sorry to say, to sell,–or to keep. Seriously, it’s a wonderful discovery.
“The process of making steel with it is very simple. An ordinary puddling furnace is used. After charging with pig-iron, twenty per cent, of this new ore is added, and the compound is treated like ordinary wrought iron, only the result is steel. Or, by the addition of fifteen per cent, of this ore a fine quality of Bessemer steel can be made of ordinary pig-iron. Large quantities of the ore are now used .thus in making both wrought and cast steel. The Elmira Rolling Mills made 10,000 tons of steel rails with it this year. Those we are using on this road wear remarkably well. The Erie Railway and a number of other roads are using the same rails with the greatest satisfaction. For files, lathe tools, fine cutlery, indeed for all purposes for which steel is used, this silicon steel is pronounced–by those who ought to know– superior to the best English steel,–and it can be made as cheap as common iron.”
All this time we are speeding down the beautiful valley of the Codorus. As we approach York the valley widens, the slate and sand-stone (silicious iron-stone) give place to lime-rock. Everywhere are evidences of a rich farming community, rejoicing in fertile fields, immense barns over-filled, and comfortable houses.
York is a worthy center to such a region. It is a handsome, thriving, wealthy borough. We shall not see a more beautiful or busier place in the whole breadth of the State.
To the north, the fertile lime stone country extends to where we strike the Susquehanna near the double mouth of the Conewago. A long island stands across the mouth of the creek and deflects its waters north or south, as the main stream is low or high. Its rocky course is up-stream now. At this point we enter a region of red-shale, much broken by dikes of trap-rock, which cut up the riverbed and cause the water to rush tumultuously through deep sluices hemmed in by black and jutting reefs.
Above York Haven the river is full of slender islands, with occasional reaches of still water, whence long lines of wild-ducks rise and spatter away as we thunder past.
Awaiting orders at Goldsboro, we admiringly study the new locomotive that has served us so faithfully to-day. Polished, massive, magnificent, it stands a triumph of human genius,–a type of beautiful strength.
“Could we ride with the driver?”
“You won’t find it so pleasant as you imagine, but you can try it.”
The conductor signals, the engineer grasps one of the mysterious levers which put him en rapport with the modern behemoth, and the docile monster whisks away as if rejoicing in the lightness of the play-day train behind him. As our speed increases we become painfully aware that we are not on springs. The easy swing of the car does not pertain to the locomotive, which jumps to its work with a rioting, trampling, trip-hammer energy that disdains the thought of ease and softness. We cannot keep our feet, and find it hard to keep the high and narrow slippery seat, with nothing to hold on to.
The speed seems terrific. The country no longer glides away from us with a drifting motion,–it rushes on us lfke a thunderbolt. The trees and houses have a whirling motion, fierce, tumultuous, maddening, as though hurled towards a vortex from which we are momentarily escaping. Instinctively we shrink as the track cuts under us, and the huge rocks by the wayside seem flying at us.
Ahead is a curve. What is beyond it? We watch the disclosing line with peculiar fascination, for terrible possibilities are ever just out of sight. Gradually our senses become used to their new experience, and we are willing to forego our useless vigilance. On the right the river flows like a river in a vision,–noiseless, swift, and strangely calm. On the left the hills waltz and reel, bearing down on the track like an endless avalanche. Above, the fiery clouds betoken the close of a brilliant day, but it makes us dizzy to look at them. It is pleasanter to study the steady poise of the driver. Alert, self-possessed, unpretending, he sees every inch of the track by flashes of observation, lets out or restrains the heedless energy of his all but living engine, and holds the lives of us all with a grasp as true as it is seemingly unconscious.
We plunge into the shadow of Kittatinny Mountain, pierce the point of rocks that projects into the river, and stop amid a confusion of backing trains, shrieking engines, and the shouts of trackmen. We are at Bridgeport, and as soon as the bridge is clear we shall cross to Harrisburg.
“I shall have a realizing sense of my obligation to the engine-driver, after this,” remarks the untraveled man, as we climb down from the locomotive; “and a wholesome respect for his skill and courage.”
The red flames of the Lochiel iron-works gleam on the water as we roll slowly over I the long bridge. The islands opposite are but vague shadows on the smooth surface of the river; and, by contrast with the roaring, tumultuous, headlong speed of the past halfhour, the quiet, gliding motion of the car seems to drift us into the night as into a dream.
Source: Scribner’s Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 1, May 1872