Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona PA show how advanced the steam engine world really had been (in 3 short films)

The Railroaders Memorial Museum om Altoona PA (close to downtown, at 9th ave and 13th st) offers three films related to the Horseshoe Curve built in the 19th Century by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The first film was “Working on the Mountain: Birth of the Curve” (22 min) gives the history of the building of the curve that climbs up about 600 feet onto the Allegheny Front near Altoona PA.  Unlike the Blue Ridge, the Front is an escarpment that has few breaks for rivers.

But the best film was the second one, “Altoona at Work: Era of Steam”, about 21 min, directed and edited by Peter S. Vogt.  The film describes how Altoona grew as a city of over 75000 in the early 20th century as the center for all the maintenance of steam engine trains for the Pennsy Railroad.  Much of the film focuses on what it was like in the 1940s, where the jobs were hard work, male, and very demanding, but also showed the our grasp of mechanical engineering technology by the 1920s or so was already quite impressive.

A whole world of culture, families, churches, and sports teams built around the railroad jobs, which started to go away in the 1950s (when I was a boy) as locomotives were replaced by electric and diesel, not made in Altoona.  So the film gives a practical lesson on how whole industries and their workplaces are not prepared for obsolescence, one reason why Trump won in 2016.

The third film was shown in the upstairs gallery and was called “Wrecks and Floods” and gave a history of some of Altoona’s disasters.  In 1893 there was a train wreck on the curve of a circus train that released the circus animals.  In 1925 there was wreck where a train slammed into town with tremendous destruction.  There was a third wreck in 1947 on the mountainside.  There have been numerous smaller incidents recently. In my novel “Angel’s Brother”, a back story of how one of the legacy older characters meets one of the “angels” follows a similar derailment, and I will develop this further.

Wikipedia notes that the Horseshoe Curve was a potential target of Nazi saboteurs during WWII. 

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