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March 2005 - Page 37

Schuylkill Valley
Model Railroad Club
by Ron Natale & Gary Walton
Photos by Gary Walton

The original idea of the clubs founders was a what if scenario; that the SV would fictionally predate and preempt the Reading and the Pennsy along the Schuylkill corridor. However, this soon changed in that the layout would operate as if all three of these railroads coexisted with the SV. In any event, this scenario enables the club to have a much broader scope for prototype modeling of different railroads and operations on the SV.

The What If Scenario
Throughout the Civil War and the following three decades, the Industrial Revolution gained momentum and swept through urban America. The canal era was declining as railroad building was expanding. In southeastern Pennsylvania, the scenic Schuylkill River Valley community leaders welcomed the blossoming commerce but soon harbored concerns. Utmost were their growing fears that their interests might become pawns to the bitter struggles between capitalists controlling the rival Philadelphia & Reading and Pennsylvania railroads. By the late 1870s, some of these fears became reality. Goaded by the specter of financial ruin, but at the same time buoyed by their conviction, a small cadre of prominent Valleyites met in secrecy to launch a bold stroke. At the right moment, to be determined and based on careful plans and thorough preparations, they would construct their own locally controlled railroad. It would anchor the rich farmlands and mineral deposits between the busy port of Philadelphia on the east and the states capital, Harrisburg, on the west. It would be taking its main freight-interchange point to the base of the daunting Allegheny Mountains, stronghold of the monolithic Pennsylvania Railroad. With immense determination, the Valleyites quietly laid the groundwork for their objective. In early 1880, they began pushing their surveys and buying up rights-of-way under a host of clever disguises, from purported plank roads or rural canals to proposed horse-car lines in cities and towns. They solicited needed capital well beyond their own fortunes always doing it quietly and

selectively among wealthy friends and associates known to be both discreet and antagonistic to outside interests. During the initial business hours on Monday, January 5, 1885 (purposely in the aftermath of a long, extended weekend of New Years celebrations), with surgical precision the developers legally merged all their real estate holdings, had a charter for their Schuylkill Valley Railroad rushed through state legislature, and began moving raw earth. Tightly coordinated by cleverly coded telegraph signals, construction began at precisely 11:00 AM at five points along the 112-mile route and moved swiftly in both directions from each nucleus. By the next day SVs active construction sites had quadrupled. Enthusiastic locals added their volunteer labor and political support. The opposition tried in vain to block progress. Wheels began to polish rail by mid-March and some segments of purely on-line traffic were in acceptable service around midApril. By the first frost in late October, SV traffic was daily moving end-to-end on published schedules and without delays. A railroad was born. By 1890, the SV found itself nearly over-

extended. Much debate among the directors resulted in maintenance and schedule cutbacks, new branchline plans were halted, and the SV began to forge stronger relationships with on-line and off-line shippers and traffic sources. Through serendipity, or dumb luck, much redundant rail and equipment was stockpiled rather than sold. Under the disguise of a seemingly independent railroad, the SV attempted to extend into the northeastern Pennsylvania anthracite regions via the Allentown Gateway. The SV secretly backed the fledgling Carbon County & Northern Railroad (CC&N). This relationship was leaked to the press, with scandalous overtones. Swiftly, the powerfully entrenched anthracite roads, mainly the Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley, Pennsy and Reading, completely blocked the CC&Ns hope of extending beyond Allentown. Never forgetting the coup that the SV pulled off, the opposition saw it as payback time. For nearly a decade, until the Interstate Commerce Commission could solidify enough solid political and judicial support to enforce full compliance, the CC&N-SV route was covertly embargoed by its rivals and whatever shippers they


West End of Reading, PA, Coalfield Yard. An SV MOW train crawls westbound towards Harrisburg, PA. This is one of several paint schemes the club uses on SV power.

MARCH 2005


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