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The Rail Archived
Treasures Along The Rail Archived Issues
Summer 1997
Summer 1997

Along The Rails

LHRR's Roots
"The Little Engine That Could"

The engine which pulls "The Highlander" is a Porter Tank 0-4-0 switcher, which was built in the 1920's and operated until the 1950's at the West Penn power plant coal yard 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. It was then moved to the city's west side, not far from the Yough Trail and River Park of today. The city was later offered a sum of money by a farmer from the state of Indiana and sold the engine to him, despite a substantial amount of public protest.

Hal Harkness from West Virginia purchased the engine from the farmer and spent ten years of hard work restoring the boiler and running gear. The tank was removed and a tender added. The wheel configuration was changed (2-4-0) to resemble an early turn of the century engine. Hal then ran it along with three heavyweight cars as a tourism train in Ohio.

In a remarkable turn of events, two local counties purchased former CSX (Chessie, B&O) amd Conrail (Pennsylvania Railroad) trackage for the purpose of running short-line freight operations in the area. They hoped to halt the deepening recession due its loss of the coal and coke industry. This created an opprotunity to return the engine to its original home territory.

Jim DeOre from Connellsville began organizing local citizens to support the concept. Mayor Eugene Beran of Scottdale (deceased), Mayor Jerry Lucia of Mt. Pleasant, (both classmates of Jim's from Immaculate Conception, now Geibel High School) along with Jim Cook, local architect and historic preservationist, and Sherry Wingrove of the R&R Station Family Restuarant, helped pave the way. The project received the support of the Westmoreland County Commissioners, and the rest is history.

As an interesting footnote, in the late 1940's Jim DeOre's grandfather worked nights at the West Penn, where the engine toiled. Jim would often go with him, as his mother worked and his father had not yet returned from World War II. He would watch the little engine from the window. His mother always read him "The Little Engine That Could" storybook. During the effort to bring home the train, the press discovered this and dubbed "The Highlander" as "The Little Engine That Could." To many of us The "Highlander" is finally back home and now things are they should be...
The community of Scottdale is developing plans and a fund-raising program for a potential new home for the Highlander. The next magazine will have more details.

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