The Pinkerton Landing Bridge

Homestead, PA, December 3, 2016. An eastbound CSX intermodal train rumbles over the Monongahela River on the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie bridge.

On July 6, 1892, the “Battle of Homestead” was fought at this site between the striking steelworkers of the Carnegie Company and the Pinkerton detectives.

The conflict had been brewing for several months. For union members belonging to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers the working and living conditions were dismal. Twelve hour days, seven days a week with every other Sunday off was the norm. Efforts by the union to negotiate were ignored. Management in the form of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick refused any form of negotiations. Frick developed a hard line, telling Carnegie that he, Frick, would take care of the strike. The workers were locked out; they, in turn, surrounded the plant, refusing entry to anyone.

After a day long battle the battered and exhausted Pinkertons surrendered. A shockwave ran through the area.”

Frick hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to break through the picket line and allow strike breakers to enter the plant. The plan was to send armed “detectives” aboard two barges that would land at the riverside pier; from there they would enter the plant. A tug brought the barges to the landing where angry workers denied entry, and a pitched battle broke out. Men were killed on both sides: two Pinkertons, six workers, and on both sides several were wounded.  After a day long battle the battered and exhausted Pinkertons surrendered. A shockwave ran through the area. Pennsylvania governor Robert Patterson dispatched 8,000 state militia to put down the disturbance. Frick’s hardline stance succeeded in breaking the union.  By November 20, 1892 the beaten strikers came back to work.

The broken union later became the part of the United Steel Workers, formed on May 22, 1942. The bridge in the photo is sometimes referred to as the Pinkerton Landing Bridge in honor of the workers killed in the conflict. A plaque commemorating the conflict is located next to the bridge.  The site is maintained by a local historical group Rivers of Steel.

An excellent book covering this period, Meet You in Hell by Les Standiford, covers this event and the conflict between Carnegie and Frick.

Keith ClousePhotograph and text Copyright 2017

Finding the Lost in Johnstown

Conemaugh & Black Lick yard Cambria City (Johnstown) on a bright fall morning with churches in the background.  – October 12, 2016

When you start out watching trains as a kid, most of what occupies your attention is the locomotive—big and noisy and powerful. After that, the rest is just legions of freight cars and (when I was young) a caboose bringing up the rear end. I’ll admit that I gave little thought as to what the trains hauled or where they were from or where they were headed—all I wanted to see were locomotives, especially those of the minority builders. Time and age changed that; I began to step back away from the tracks and look at all that was happening around the railroad. Read more

Editor’s Notebook

South portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel on December 27th, 2016. The walk through the tunnel on the old towpath is a little over one-half mile. A flashlight is required.
Across the Potomac river from Paw Paw, West Virginia, a landmark canal tunnel stands which is also associated with the early years of railroading. The largest structure on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the 3,118 foot long Paw Paw Tunnel was built at the height of the race between the C&O canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to reach the Ohio River. Construction of the tunnel began in 1836, but labor disputes, unexpected construction difficulties and lack of funds delayed completion until 1848. The C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad were both born on July 4th, 1828. In Georgetown (Washington, DC) the C&O Canal held an elaborate ceremony with President John Quincy Adams in attendance. In Baltimore the groundbreaking for the B&O railroad was more modest. Charles Carroll, the last remaining signer of the Declaration of Independence dug the first shovel-full of dirt to begin the construction of the railway. As the two companies made their way westward disputes over property were inevitable. At Point of Rocks, Maryland, competing claims to the narrow right of way resulted in a four year delay in construction until the courts ruled in the canal's favor. In the end, of course, the railroad won out. The Baltimore and Ohio reached Cumberland, Maryland in 1842, eight years ahead of the canal. After a disastrous flood in 1889 bankrupted the C&O, the canal came under the control of the Consolidation Coal Company, which was principally owned by the B&O. The canal closed in 1924.
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art recently published The Railroad and the Art of Place, by David Kahler, who is a contributor to The Trackside Photographer. It is an evocative look at how railroads shape the visual and cultural landscape. We will have an in-depth article about the book in March. In the meantime you may learn more and order here.