The Steam Era in the Electric City

by Ben and Grace R.

Welcome to Steamtown National Historic Site, located in Scranton, PA, the Electric City. Take a time machine back to the end of the nineteenth century; the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL&W) was in full swing. The DL&W was a major carrier of anthracite, the hard and clean-burning coal found in northeastern Pennsylvania. The DL&W railroad was supposed to have a cleaner ride than the alternative regular coal burning steam trains of the time. This was between the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century to be precise.


This locomotive is a Union Pacific Big Boy. Union Pacific didn’t run in Pennsylvania, and mainly ran in the West and Midwest.(Photo Credit: Grace R.)

DL&W created a fictional character called Phoebe Snow, who wore white. They combined catchy rhymes and phrases with artful drawings for the advertising effect. (Picture Below)



Until the end of World War l  railroads were popular carrying many passengers and loads of freight  with no competition of automobiles since they just didn’t exist. After 1918 passed, railroads faced increased competition from automobiles and trucks. By the 1950s railroads had decreased freight carrying and passenger services. Railroads had undergone dramatic changes, such as the introducing of the Diesel Locomotive starting around 1925.

Within fifteen years the  all efficient diesel locomotive had wiped away the coal-burning steam locomotive. The lives and duties of the women and men who labored for  many hours at the roundhouses, stations and train yards will be preserved for the future. With places like Steamtown, the steam locomotive can now be honored for its contributions to the United States of America (and other places too). The steam locomotive will never be forgotten but instead will be waiting for its next load of passengers to take excursions along the scenic routes of Pennsylvania.

A few places to see steam locomotives in and near Pennsylvania, besides Steamtown:

Strasburg Railroad:

5 steam locomotives, 3 in working order, the rest are inactive due to repairs and inspection. Located in Strasburg, PA. Notable for using steam engines to haul short freight trains, one of the only US railroads to do so.

Steam Into History:

1 steam locomotive. A replica of a 19th century engine. Located in New Freedom, PA.

Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway (subsidiary of Reading & Northern railroad):

Doesn’t regularly use steam locomotives, however, the excursion engines of the Reading & Northern are occasionally used for rides on special occasions. Located in Jim Thorpe, PA.

New Hope & Ivyland:

1 operating steam locomotive, with several diesels to haul freight. Located in New Hope, PA.

Pennsylvania has a very rich railroad history, and there are countless other places to ride behind steam or diesel engines or on preserved trolleys.

Featured image credit: Grace R.