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It’s More Than Just a Historic Train

Photo by Art Petrosemolo – Special to the Advocate


Special to the Advocate

Just secured to its trailer in the dim light of a storage shed, the 19th century Leviathan locomotive looks immense and impressive. It is a representation of the 1865 Lincoln Funeral Train engine (Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive 331) that transported Abraham Lincoln’s body from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill., for burial passing through Elizabethtown as it made its way west.

The locomotive has a varnished wood cab, gold leaf trim and bright red wheels. The iconic 4-4-0 design was the first truly American made locomotive and a staple of 19th century U.S. railroads. One of the original 4-4-0s, just a few years later, was part of the Promontory Point, Utah, golden spike ceremony marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.

The Leviathan locomotive and tender are now part of the Stone Gable Estate’s collection of period American artifacts and antiques. It also is the site of the Star Barn, the Herr covered bridge and the soon to be re-constructed Belmont Barn complex. All are part of a growing collection of restored artifacts with a connection to central Pennsylvania being assembled by businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist David Abel and his wife, Tierney.

Steve Torrico, 60, a railroad man since his teens, serves as the superintendent of the new Harrisburg, Lincoln & Lancaster Railroad that will operate the Lincoln train on nearly three miles of track being constructed on the Stone Gables Estate.

Similar to the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village in Michigan, Stone Gables is providing educational experiences based on authentic artifacts from the last century and a half. It also is the site of private parties, wedding, corporate events, fundraisers and celebrations for the public throughout the year today in the Star Barn — one of the site’s focal points — which was restored over four years and dedicated on July 4, 2018.

Abel, who, in the 1970s, started DAS Companies — a marketing and global supply business focusing on the travel industry — now champions the groups’ stewardship initiatives including Brittany’s Hope — a nonprofit foundation dedicated to aiding special needs children from around the world. Profits from the Stone Gable Estate facilities support Brittany’s Hope.

Railroad veteran Torrico joined Stone Gables’ team in May 2018, just after the arrival of the locomotive and funeral car. The Abels were aware of the Lincoln Funeral Train and its connection to the Stone Gables and saw it for the first time at a train festival in 2015. They knew that the original funeral train had used the Elizabethtown spur of the then Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad that crossed the property. The railroad eventually became a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system.

The nine car Lincoln Funeral Train (with the funeral car just in front of the final car) traveled 1,600 miles in five days on its 1865 journey. It passed through 44 cities, and was pulled by 21 locomotives over the track of 15 railroads. The funeral car carried Lincoln and his son Willie (who had died a few years earlier). The majority of the original journey to Illinois was over flat or medium grade track at a very slow speed to accommodate the 3 million people who lined the route to pay their last respects to the assassinated 16th President.

The Abels acquired the Lincoln Funeral Train (locomotive, tender and funeral car) from Dave Kloke. Train enthusiast Kloke had built the locomotive over nine years finishing in 2009 from plans of the National Park Service who had constructed a similar replica in 1971 to use in Utah at the site of the completion of the first trans-continental railroad. The NPS constructed its replica locomotive from measurements taken from photographs and parts of other 4-4-0 locomotives at railroad museums.

“With the link to the Stone Gable Estate property, adding the replica Lincoln Funeral Train — this piece of history — to what we are building here made a lot of sense and it will allow us to not only tell the story of this train but how railroads helped build the United States,” David Abel said.

The replica, like the original locomotive, is supported with two sets of four wheels, what is called first American Type or 4-4-0 design built to run on 56.5-inches standard gauge rail. The locomotives, prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s — many built at Baldwin Locomotive in Philadelphia — were all out of service early in the 20th century. Kloke, owner of a construction and locomotive company in Elgin, Illinois, built his replica Leviathan as a tourist attraction and brought the locomotive and tender — on a special trailer — around the country to be run on at tourist railroads. The disposition of the original Leviathan is not known and most train authorities believe it did not survive into the 1900s. The original Lincoln funeral car burned in a prairie fire in Minnesota in 1911.

Torrico, a licensed engineer, had worked for many years at Iowa Pacific Holdings, a regional freight and tourist railroad company, and, most recently, at the Saratoga (N.Y.), North Creek (tourist) railroad. He had actually driven the locomotive numerous times when Kloke brought it to the Saratoga, North Creek site and at other tourist locations on “busman’s holidays” for Kloke. For Abel, Torrico was the ideal person to head the train project at Stone Gables.

“It was a dream come true to be able to follow the train here to Pennsylvania,” Torrico said, “and to help make it one of the focal attractions here at Stone Gables Estate.” According to Torrico, initially a half-mile of track will be constructed on the original Lincoln Funeral Train route for the trip on Thursday, April 22, — the 154th anniversary of the train passing through Elizabethtown.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we will have three miles of track looping the property with the Herr Mills covered bridge, an open trestle, authentic 1800s passenger depots and a 190-foot shed to hold the locomotive and two cars.”

Torrico explains once the track is complete, the train will run at least once a month and the loop will take about 45 minutes and include an educational narrative for passengers on its history and connection to Stone Gables Estate.

The replica engine is identical to the original 4-4-0 configuration with the exception of the heating source for the boiler.

“The original engine burned wood to heat the water in the boiler for steam and many identical locomotives were fueled by wood, coal or oil depending on the fuel sources at the location where they were run,” Torrico said. “For ease of operation, Kloke built an oil burner for this steam locative, and it passed hydrostatic testing this winter and is certified by the state.”

The Lincoln train will operate with an engineer, a fireman as well as a conductor while circling the Elizabethtown property on what is called an insular rail system. The Leviathan and tender (which holds the fuel and water) weight 108,000 pounds compared to a modern diesel locomotive, which weighs 275,000 pounds. The Lincoln funeral coach weighs 70,000 pounds and the passenger coaches about 50,000 pounds.

Two enclosed passenger day coaches as well as a coach, called a Combine, with a baggage section — all of 1800s design — are being built for the new rail operation and, according to Torrico and they will carry around 100 passengers. The train will be available for all Stone Gables functions and Torrico foresees its use by bridal parties, at corporate events and celebrations.

B&D Builders, of Paradise, Lancaster County, one of the major contractors in the removal and reinstallation and restoration of the Star Barn, will erect the Herr Mills covered bridge on the property as well as build the train shed and the two passenger depots.

B&D has built several structures at the Stone Gables complex and will soon begin reconstruction of the historic Belmont Barn from Fruitville Pike in Lancaster that was removed for a new shopping complex. The Belmont Barn, at 75,000 square feet, is three times the size of the Star Barn and will house the Christmas and Toy Museums which will be part of the Stone Gables complex as well as a banquet hall seating 700.

The Lincoln train route at Stone Gables will be built with standard gauge 56.5 inch (inside rail to inside rail) track that, according to Torrico, dates back to the original British rail track of the 1800s from which the American rail system was modeled. And, Torrico, explains, “The 56.5 inches can be further traced to the roads the Roman constructed in England that included stone pavers to accommodate their chariots’ wheels that were 56.5 inches apart.”

The Lincoln train and system will be maintained by Torrico and the complex staff. Committed to authenticity, the system will use hand operated Harp switches identical to those used by American railroads in the 19th century and the locomotive wheels will be lubricated with “Journal” type boxes of the period and not the roller bearing systems found on modern train cars.

The Lincoln Funeral Train was exhibited at the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show and attracted thousands of visitors who were anxious to have their photo taken in front of the locomotive and learn about the plans for the new railroad on the Stone Gables site.

Torrico can’t wait to guide the train on its first trip on Stone Gables track on Monday, April 22, at the Lincoln Funeral Train’s introduction to the community.

“You bet I’m excited,” Torrico said, smiling. “It’s going to be a great day!”

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