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The Rail Archived
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Fall & Winter 1996
Fall & Winter 1996

Return to the Turn of the Century

LHRR's Roots

The Engine which pulls "The Highlander" is a Porter Tank 0-4-0 yard switcher, which was built in the 1920s and operated until the 1950s at the Western Pennsylvania yards in Connellsville. At that time, it was purchased by the Connellsville Historical Society and given to the city which placed it on the lawn of City Hall. The engine rested there for many years until the city arranged to sell the engine to a farmer from Indiana who had some track on his farm and wanted to restore the engine. The transaction was completed only minutes before the sheriff, who had been summoned by the Historical Society, arrived on the scene to prevent the sale. (Or so the legend goes!)

The engine was not restored by the farmer and was later purchased by Hal Harkness, a West Virginia railroad buff, who spent ten years restoring the boiler and running gear. The tank was removed and a tender was added. The wheel configuration was changed to resemble an American-style turn-of-the-century engine. Hal got assistance from his partner, John Buckwalter from Ohio, who owns a boiler company and just happened to have three heavyweight 1920s era passenger cars at his disposal. The two men began to operate a steam tourism line in Ohio.

In a remarkable turn of events, two local counties purchased the former CSX (Baltimore and Ohio) and Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad) trackage for the purpose of running a short-line freight operations in the area. They hoped to halt the deepening depression of the area due to its loss of coal and coke industry. This created an opportunity to return the engine to this area. Through the efforts of local citizens, a project dubbed by the press as bringing home "the little engine that could" began and now the results are history.

Cooperation Builds Tourism

Public, private, corporate, entrepreneurial groups and individuals are working together in a loose coalition to bring tourism dollars into southwestern Pennsylvania. Among the leaders in the push to make this area a tourist mecca are groups dedicated to the preservation of the past and others with an eye toward the future economic development.

At the center of many of the meetings is the Highlander. Local representatives and guests from the Smithsonian Institute have ridden the Highlander to gain a new perspective of the potential of this area. The group from the Smithsonian will return later this fall to get a better look at this coal and coke region.

Groups like the Fayette Festival Committee (Happy 50th Anniversary), the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, Jones Brewing Company, merchants in Mount Pleasant, Scottdale and Youngwood and historical societies are all working toward the same goal - spreading the word to visitors from this area and from around the world that southwestern Pennsylvania is a cornucopia of industrial, historical and cultural sites that will please the palate of the most discriminating tourist.

 
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