Watercolor… Norris Locomotive at the Staple Bend Tunnel, Mineral Point, Pennsylvania. Completed in 1833, the 901 foot long, Staple Bend Tunnel is the first railroad tunnel built in the United States. (Two earlier, smaller tunnels… the Auburn (1821) and the Union (1828), were bored to carry boat traffic on canals located further east within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.) The Staple Bend Tunnel can be found on the west side of the Allegheny Mountains, at the crest of incline #1. Over thirty-six miles of mostly single track, with passing sections and triple sidings, funded by the Commonwealth, were laid between Hollidaysburg & Johnstown to bridge the Alleghenies, which had prevented the Pennsylvania Main Line Public Works Canal System, from connecting the Susquehanna & Ohio Rivers. Track was constructed of wooden rail; with flat iron wear strips along the top, laid on square sandstone blocks, called “sleepers”. Boats, uniquely constructed in a coupled A-B-C configuration, were individually pulled from the water and loaded onto railcars for the mountain journey. Stationary coal fired steam engines, sited above each of 10 inclines, simultaneously hauled east and westbound canal boats on their rail carriages, up and down each steep slope, utilizing a counterbalanced, parallel double track, funicular rail system. Horsepower moved recoupled freight and passenger cars between inclines and through the Staple Bend Tunnel. Wood burning steam engines, produced by the William Norris Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, pulled these boat trains over a relatively mild, 13-mile grade between the first & second incline. An operating 4-2-0 Norris locomotive, the “Lafayette”, is preserved at the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Museum, in Maryland.
… Illustrated… a Norris locomotive and tender, having been cut from its westbound train, is rotated on a unique, double track, turntable at the Staple Bend East Portal, in preparation for an eastbound job. By 1854, the privately owned Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had opened its competing, “Horseshoe Curve” bypass route and the Allegheny Portage Railroad was rendered obsolete. The audacity and history of this project is impressive. For more information, visit the National Park Service Allegheny Portage Railroad Historic Site.