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Celebrating 21 Years!

 

Strasburg Rail Road --- 175 Years on the "Road to Paradise"

 

The anticipation mounts. The conductor shouts, "All aboard."  The whistle blows. The steam engine and giant wheels slowly go to work. The train moves forward as puffs of smoke go by the window. And so begins, as it has for so many years, a ride on one of Lancaster County's treasures, the Strasburg Rail Road.

 

No Lancaster County attraction can match the long history and unique position of the Strasburg Rail Road as it celebrates the 175th anniversary of its charter. But back in the early days, tourism had nothing to do with the birth of the railroad...

New Arrivals

The area we now call Strasburg was first settled by a group of Swiss Mennonites, although French fur traders opened the first path through the area. As trade and traffic increased, a "main street" developed with inns and taverns to accommodate travelers. In 1816, the town became a "borough" with the name "Strasburg" selected, probably after the French city of the same name.

Don't Pass Us By!

As traffic to Lancaster from Philadelphia increased, canals and a railroad came to Lancaster. These new routes, however, did not pass through Strasburg, and the townsfolk worried that they would lose their commercial trade. They decided to build a short rail line from their town to connect to the main line of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. They received a charter from the State to lay the tracks in 1832. That means the Strasburg Rail Road celebrates the 175th Anniversary of its charter in 2007.

Various problems delayed the line's completion, at a cost of $50,000. Precisely when the railroad first turned a wheel is still being researched, but the earliest timetable found to date indicates trains were scheduled as of December, 1851.

On his inaugural train ride on February 22, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln made a stop at Leaman Place, en route to Lancaster via the Philadelphia & Columbia. His four-minute visit brought out nearly 5,000 people. To prepare for Lincoln’s visit, the Strasburg Rail Road had purchased its first passenger car to transport people to and from Leaman Place.

End of the Line?

First used for passenger and freight transportation, the railroad's main purpose was as a freight interchange with the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although passenger travel dwindled with the advent of the electric trolley in 1901, the need to transport freight during World War I and World War II kept the railroad going. Afterwards, however, improved highway transportation further decreased the need for the railroad.

By the mid 1950s, the Strasburg Rail Road was nearing the end of its usefulness and was losing money every year. In 1957, destruction of the tracks caused by a series of severe storms placed an immediate embargo on the carload freight. The owners were unwilling to invest in the necessary repairs.

Back on Track

While petitions for abandonment were being considered, two enthusiastic local rail fans with a vision, Henry K. Long and Donald E. L. Hallock, formed a group of interested individuals to save the railroad. In 1958, twenty-four stockholders purchased the Strasburg Rail Road for $18,000 from the Homsher Estate, but the railroad itself was inoperable. At some locations the rails were totally buried underneath farm fields. After repairs to the worst spots on the four-and-a-half mile track, the first passenger train in 40 years departed the station on January 4, 1959, pulled by a gasoline powered locomotive.

Once the new owners discovered they could make more money by running a passenger train than by hauling freight, the decision was made to re-create the setting of a steam locomotive line and station at the turn of the century. Massive, smoke-puffing steam engines were largely a thing of the past in America, and people found them fascinating. Using the old feed mill as a station, the ambitious band of "rail barons" opened the railroad as a visitor attraction focused on the age of steam.

Now the owners would begin acquiring an inventory of historic locomotives and passenger cars from all across North America. In 1960, stockholders purchased their first steam locomotive, Canadian National number 7312, renamed Number 31. The same year, an 1882 Victorian train station was purchased in East Petersburg, PA and moved in sections to Strasburg where it was reassembled. On September 1, 1960 at 7:00 pm, Number 31 took its inaugural roundtrip, returning steam locomotion to America's oldest short-line railroad.

Visitors began to come from around the country to ride behind the steam locomotive, and few train rides anywhere can boast these views of the Amish countryside and over 20 working farms. (Today, the railroad donates five cents of each regular train ticket to the Lancaster Farmland Trust to help preserve the justly famous farm scenery.)

Soon the railroad was known for its restoration work and the preserving of historic steam locomotives. Its trains or passenger cars were used in such movies as RAINTREE COUNTY, HELLO DOLLY, and THE WILD, WILD WEST. In addition, the State decided to build the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania just across the street.

Everything Old is New Again

 

Today, the Strasburg Rail Road offers something of interest to all age groups, and innovative ways to ride the rails. Couples looking to soak up the scenery and savor a quiet moment can now ride in style aboard the Wine & Cheese Train. Traveling in first-class accommodations, riders are served complimentary wine, cheese, crackers and fruit.

The Traditional Dinner & Live Entertainment Train offers the unique experience of enjoying Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, while the sound of music and thrill of live performance entertain you. 

Looking to be a part of the entertainment? Try the Murder Mystery Dinner. The Strasburg Rail Road Dining Car and Act 1 Productions bring you the story of “The Goober Family and the Silver Mine.” Audience members are encouraged to help solve the mystery while enjoying gourmet food.

Of course, the little ones all know that both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus ride the train every year. But clearly the most popular event of all is when Thomas the Tank Engine™ comes to the railroad three times a year. It's truly magical when children get to ride the movie train come to life. For tickets and information go to www.strasburgrailroad.com.

Off the Tracks

The fun continues off the train as well. You can provide the power for the miniature pump car or watch the little ones “steer” the pint-sized cranky cars around the track. Plus, this is among just a few places where an authentic miniature steam train is still in operation. Built for an amusement park around 1920, the Cagney is the perfect ending, or beginning, to your totally train day.

If you’d like to learn more about railroading, some wonderful tours are offered visitors who would like to go "behind the scenes." On the Mechanical Shop Tour, you actually get a guided tour through the shop where trains from across the nation are built and refurbished, including Thomas the Tank Engine™.

 

Yet another experience is the Switch Tower Tour, offering a bird’s eye view of the magnificent countryside and approaching trains. Built in 1855, this is a classic example of Pennsylvania Railroad signal tower design.

 

Special experiences and memories have always been part of a visit to the Strasburg Rail Road. Grandpa rode the rails when the train became a fledgling tourist attraction, and now the grandkids come for an experience that is becoming increasingly rare in America. No wonder Strasburg is now known as "Traintown, U.S.A." and America’s oldest short-line is called "The Road to Paradise." As a living experience of authentic steam railroading, the Strasburg Rail Road is truly a legacy for all to enjoy.

ALL ABOARD!

 

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 2007 Special Event Details

Wine & Cheese Train  (April through November)

Travel in first-class accommodations onboard the Parlor Car as you are served complimentary wine, cheese and crackers.

Easter Bunny Train  (April 6, 7 & 8)

Celebrate Easter weekend with Peter Cottontail, at Strasburg Rail Road, singing songs and playing games. Enjoy a relaxing ride through Pennsylvania Dutch County as you travel aboard a vintage steam train.  

Day Out with Thomas™  (June 16–24, September 15-23, November 30, December 1 & 2)

Join Thomas the Tank Engine™, a full-sized operating steam locomotive, as he greets friends of all ages. Ride a train pulled by Thomas and meet Sir Topham Hatt™. Order tickets by visiting www.StrasburgRailRoad.com, or by calling 1-866-468-7630.

Trains & Troops Weekend  (November 3 – 4)

Ride a special train with re-enactors from all eras of our military in conjunction with the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania’s Veterans Day celebration.

Santa’s Paradise Express  (December 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16)

Celebrate the magic of Christmas at Strasburg Rail Road. Travel down the tracks with Jolly Old Saint Nick aboard passenger cars warmed by potbelly stoves, as musicians stroll from car to car.

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