Railroad History

Its all about the rails


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Summit Hill and Mauch Chunk Railroad

In just a few months in 1827, the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in one massive well organized effort, completely built the 9.2 miles of America's first significant railroad using the road bed of the wagon road built in 1818–19. A gravity railroad, the Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill Railroad, used wooden sleepers on a gravel substrate to bring coal from mines to the river more efficiently. The work went quickly since the right-of-way surveyed by White ran along the virtually uniform gradient created by grading the original mule trail, work overseen by Hazard in 1818.

The wagon road to become gravity railroad ran from what later became Summit Hill along the south side of Pisgah Ridge to Mount Pisgah to the canal's loading chute over 200 feet above the canal banks. Summit Hill, lying nearly a thousand feet higher than Mauch Chunk, was the starting point for the cars of coal. Descenting by gravity by means of inclined planes and chutes to their destination of boats in the river, the whole of this plan was evolved by Josiah White, under whose direction the project was complete in four months.

The rails were of rolled bar-iron, three-eighths of an inch in thickness and an inch and a half in width, laid upon wooden ties, which were kept in place by means of stone ballast. The loaded cars or wagons, each having a capacity of approximately one and a half tons, were connected in trains from six to fourteen, attended by men who regulated their speed.

Turn-outs were provided at intervals and the empty cars were drawn back to the mines by mules. They descended with the trains in specially constructed cars, affording a novel and rather ludicrous spectacle. Thirty minutes was the average time consumed in making the descent, while three hours was the average return time.

Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company

The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company was a mining and transportation company that operated in Pennsylvania from 1818 to 1964. It ultimately encompassed source industries, transport, and manufacturing, making it the first vertically integrated company in the United States.

Building on two predecessor companies incorporated in 1818, founders Erskine Hazard and Josiah White entered the coal industry to serve customers seeking a steady supply of fuel for foundries and mills on the falls of the Schuylkill River. Their LC&N spearheaded the Industrial Revolution in the United States, accelerating regional industrial development by taking on civil engineering challenges thought impossible and creating important transport and mining infrastructure. Most importantly, the LC&N established the Lower Lehigh Canal (begun 1818, usable 1820, improved 1821–24, and made two-way in 1827-29) and taught America to burn anthracite. By the early 1830s, the Lehigh Canal and its "bridging" river trip along the Delaware River inspired and connected four other canals.

In 1827 the LC&N built the Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill Railroad to bring coal from mines to river more efficiently. It was nine miles in length, and occupied the route of the old wagon road most of the distance.

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