Lehigh Valley Transit

Lehigh Valley Transit

The Lehigh Valley Transit (LVT) was an interurban trolleythat ran a forty five mile route from Allentown toUpper Darby Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It suddenly abandoned interurban operations September 1951 with no notice to waiting riders the next day. It is considered the last of theside of road, hill and dale, town to farm landtrolley interurbans in the United States, although theMedia end of the present day one hundred year old Upper Darby to Mediaformer Red Arrow trolley line (now SEPTA route 101) has thesesame characteristics. The LVT, typical of all interurbans,ran fast in open country, but once in a village ortown it slowly progressed down streets, made frequent stops and sharp streetcar like turns at intersections, and had a downtown terminal building. The LVT went through the Pennsylvania villages of Coopersburg, Quakertown, Perkasie, Sellersville, Souderton, Hatfield, Lansdale, and Norristown where its third rail equipped cars continued on the Philadelphia and Western line to Upper Darby at the Philadelphia city line. Much of the LVT's route was paralleled by the Reading Railroad's Allentown line and had many of the same major stops. In Lansdale, the two stations faced each other. The Reading operated passenger service directly to its downtown Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, but the LVT was less expensive for frugal riders and made more village and local stops. In 1939, the LVT purchased twelve used light weight high speed "Red Devil" cars from the abandoned Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban to augment its older, heavier, and slower 700 and 800 series interurban cars. The former Red Devils were reconditioned and operated from Allentown to Philadelphia as Liberty Bell Limiteds. The LVT ran some freight service, but it was a small part of the business. Freight trolleys usually operated between midnight and six am.

The Lehigh Valley Transit began operation in the early part of the 20th century as a side of dirt road meandering street car line from Quakertown to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. In 1912-13, track was upgraded and in places rerouted with private right-of-way between towns to reach Norristown. Wales Junction was the start of the new Norristown route from the original Chestnut Hill line. Blade style block signals were installed, and the 800 series heavy all wood arch windowed interurban cars were purchased. Railroad style dispatching was set up. With these changes, local service using the older street cars and limited service using the new interurbans began running between Allentown and Norristown-Philadelphia. The extensive state construction of paved highways in the 1920s, combined with better automobiles, started the financialdecline of most interurbans. Many were abandoned during the Great Depression, but the LVT struggled and survived. Ridership jumped due to industrial activity related toWorld War II, but after the war, the number of riders declined again. With the loss of revenue, service quality declined leading to more loss of riders. In 1951, the LVT received approval to abandon the interurban operation from the Pennsylvania PUC, and it quicklyconverted from trolleys to buses.

The LVT also operated city streetcars in the Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton areas. Counting its interurban cars, streetcars, freight trolleys, and line maintenance equipment, the LVT owned and maintained considerable rolling stock. Its primary car storage yard and repair facility was the Fairview Carbarn and yard southwest of downtown Allentown. A second maintenance facility and yard was in Souderton at 2nd and Central Streets. This was reached by a track running down 2nd Street from Summit Street where the main line was located. In Allentown, LVT had the awkward situation of running interurban cars (sometimes backward) through residential areas from Fairview to reach downtown Allentown to begin its hourly service to Philadelphia. LVT had to maintain miles of track and right-of-way with overhead catenary and AC to DC power conversion substations to generate its needed 600 VDC trolley voltage. Considering in 1951 that it had an aging car fleet, had a large employee headcount and payroll, paid all costs to maintain catenary, substations, bridges, cuts, fills, drainage systems, and snow removal, and paid property taxes on its facilities, it is surprising that the LVT survived as long as it did. The conversion to busses to operate on taxpayer maintained roads was probably long overdue. Sadly, the shutdown caused considerable loss of employment at Allentown and Souderton, and it left some rural riders without transportation.

The Saturday-Sunday schedule for April 1938 shows Allentown to Philadelphia interurban "Expresses" leaving Allentown on the hour from 6am to 10pm. There were twenty five scheduled stops enroute (listed below) but many more stops occurred. Arrival at the P&W Norristown station was 1 hr 38 minutes later. Typical running time between scheduled stops was two to six minutes. Germantown Pike (the last stop before Norristown) to Norristown's LVT+P&W station took 14 minutes. This interval included a southbound-northbound two car "meet" with an LVT-P&W crew swap at Marshall passing siding in the middle of Norristown's Markley Street between Marshall and Airy Streets. The two cars were positioned door to door so that the crew change was made by stepping directly from car to car. P&W crews took the southbound car down Markley briefly, east on Airy, south on Swede, then a jog from Swede onto a bridge over Norristown's Main Street into the P&W's elevated station. This 1938 schedule (below) required four "Expresses" active on the line at one time. Hourly local service with many more stops using typical streetcar equipment (timed between the Limiteds) operated Allentown to Center Valley at the north end and Hatfield to Norristown at the south end. The two southbound-northbound limited meets were normally at Marshall siding in Norristown and at Nace Siding in open country just north of Souderton.

Lv Allentown 11:00am, Aimeyville Jct 11:05, Emaus Jct 11:08, Summit Lawn 11:12,Lanark 11:15, Center Valley 11:18, Coopersburg 11:21, Zion Hill 11:24, Steinburg Rd 11:26, Brick Tavern 11:28, Quakertown 11:31, Rich Hill 11:36,Rocky Ridge 11:38, Perkasie 11:44, Sellersville 11:47 Telford 11:51Souderton 11:56, Hatfield 12:01, Dexdale Mills 12:06, Lansdale 12:10,Wales Jct 12:13, Center Square 12:20, Washington Sq 12:22, Germantown Pk 12:24,Arr. Norristown 12:38.

For the trolley fan, some signs of the LVT's single track (with sidings) Allentown to Philadelphia line still exist. The quaint columned station on Perkasie's Walnut Street is the most evident. It now houses the Perkasie Historical Society. Just north of there is the LVT tunnel under the Reading Railroad. North of that at are concrete bridge abutments where the line crossed 9th Street. At Sellersville, the track from the south crossed fields and Main Street to reach the small white station which is now a dental office. It served as a police station in the late 1950s. The former Quakertown station at the northwest corner of Main and Broad has a mural on a back wall (as of 2005) depicting one of the LVT's 1000 Series Liberty Bell Limited former Cincinnati and Lake Erie high speed interurbans. The former house-like two story station at Hatfield west of the Reading Railroad tracks is now a cafe. Inside this cafe there are (as of 2008) numerous photographs of LVT cars and locations plus the 1938 schedule of operations. South of this building, part of the former LVT right-of-way, including an original 1916 culvert, is now a paved walking trail.

Interurban cars included the wood frame truss-bar 800 series (Jewett Car Co. 1912), the lighter and faster 700 series all steel cars (Southern Car Co. 1916), and the twelve 1939 purchased light weight 1000 series former Cincinnati and Lake Erie Red Devil cars. LVT's round end lightweight 1030 was from the former Indiana Railroad interurban and was acquired to replace lightweight 1004 destroyed at a P&W station due to a car heater fire. (The 1030 in LVT paint is presently at the Seahore Trolley Museum.) All except the 1000 series cars could be coupled together and run in multiples including a mix of the 800 and 700 series cars. Across the years, equipment modifications were made by the Fairview shops. The 700 series steel cars were converted from center entrance two man to one man crew cars. Wood framed 812 was rebuilt in the LVT shops as a private car and later converted to regular service. It was used to the last day of rail operation in 1951. The LVT color scheme was all red until the lightweight 1000 series cars arrived. Then much of the fleet was repainted white with red trim.

A bad wreck occurred in 1942 between highspeed lightweight trolley 1003 and a heavier freight trolley near Norristown adjacent to DeKalb Pike. The heavier car telescoped into the lightweight, and twelve were killed. This wreck caused a change to scheduled speeds. Another wreck occurred just north of Perkasie one night when two northbound 1000 series cars were running a few minutes apart as a single dispatched "train." Climbing the grade in the area of Three Mile Run Road near Rocky Ridge, the front car lost its trolley pole, thus its lights. The second car rounded a curve and rear ended the stalled and dark first.

A highly recommended LVT reference is the 1997 William J McKelvey 96 page hardback "Lehigh Valley Transit Company's Liberty Bell Route, a Photographic History." If a reader proceeds from the first to the last page reading the captions with each photograph, he will come away with a good feel for a typical town to country interurban, the likes of which were once common in much of the eastern United States, particularly in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. These interurban trolley lines provided a valuable local transportation system at a time of poor roads, many of which were unpaved and turned into paths of deep mud in wet and winter weather. The McKelvey book contains approximately 300 photographs presented in photo location progressing from Norristown to Allentown. The reader is provided an excellent perspective of the LVT: the right of way through towns and rolling countryside and operation both summer and winter. There are photographs of cars on the line, in the shops, and of crewmen, linemen, passengers, and even a photograph of the very bad 1942 wreck. There is also a diary style detailed description of the author's 1940 ride on patron packed former Red Devil lightweight 1004 from 69th Street to the P&W crew exchange at Norristown, then on to Lansdale, Souderton, and Quakertown to Allentown as it makes slow progress up village streets and then goes to open country running reaching speeds up to eighty miles per hour. For the interurban fan, this is fulfilling reading, unique from the typical book on this subject.


*"Pennsylvania Trolleys in Color", Vol I by Volkmer; Vol 2 by Volkmer; Vol IV by LeRoy King 2003. Morning Sun Books, Scotch Plains,NJ. Excellent color photographs.
*"Philadelphia Trolleys", A. Meyers J. Spivak, Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
*"The LVT 800 Series Interurbans", Randolph Kulp, Allentown, PA.
*"The LVT 700 Series Cars", Randolph Kulp, Allentown.
*"History of the Lehigh Valley Transit Company, Railway Operations", 1966; and, "Lehigh Valley Transit's Heavy Interurban Cars, History and Roster", 1969. National Railway Historical Society, Lehigh Valley Chapter:
*"Lehigh Valley Transit Company 1934-1953". Benson W. Rohrbeck. 2001.
*"History of the Lehigh Valley Transit Company", Randolph C. Kulp.
*"Liberty Bell Route's 1000 Series Interurbans", Randolph C. Kulp, 1958.
*"Lehigh Valley Transit Company Liberty Bell Route- A Photographic History". William McKelvey, Jr. 1988.
*"Ride With Me On The LVT", Mervin Borgnis, 1996.(Allentown street car operation only.)
*"Interurban Era" and "Time of the Trolley" Wm. Middleton, Kalmbach Publishing.

=WEBSITES= these include a variety of material: photographs, newspaper articles, newspaper captioned pictures, and commentary. " phillytrolley.org; eastpenn.org; joelance.com (newspaper clippings; 1951 abandonment press release, Daily Car Report of defects); mikes.railhistory.org; nrhs.com/avlib; flickr.com/photos; philadelphiatrolleytracks.com; davespictures.org (a very large collection of site-visitor contributed photographs of all U.S. interurbans, including Lehigh Valley Transit).

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