The Mt. Pisgah Inclined Plane

Rounding a graceful curve, we approach the foot of Mt. Pisgah and its forboding inclined plane. O.S. Senter again describes his impressions, "We look up the iron track, hung as it were like frail bits of thread between the heavens and earth, merely to connect Pisgah with this lower world. Are we to go up that lofty ascent, steep as the roof of a house, and ending among the clouds, and in a car too?" Our car brakes to a stop at the foot of the plane after straddling a pit beneath a wooden platform.

Designed and named by Josiah White, Mt. Pisgah Plane is one of two inclined planes constructed in 1845 to facilitate the return of empty coal cars from the loading docks on the Lehigh River to Summit Hill and the Panther Valley mines. The plane is 2322 feet long and rises 664 feet on a 29 per cent grade. In 1872, its coal-carrying days ended. Then it became the initial segment of America's first tourist railroad, the Switchback. The tracks were removed in 1938 after the railroad had been sold for scrap.

Our conductor walks to a wire that ascends the mountain on poles and pulls it, ringing a bell in the engine house atop the mountain. With this signal, the engineman engages the stationary steam engine, starting to wind up long bands made up of individual iron plates. At the bottom of the hill a small car that the conductor calls a barney is drawn out of the pit by the bands to a position behind our car, where it begins to push us up the hill.

To see how this works, watch the following five video clips:

  1. Switchback car arrives at the base of the plane. (310K bytes)
  2. Barney car emerges from the pit and ... (342K bytes)
  3. contacts the Switchback car. (251K bytes)
  4. "Launch" and ... (300K bytes)
  5. ascent. (423K bytes)

(All are .AVI files compressed with Intel Indeo R3.2.)

The slope of the track that ascends Mt. Pisgah's plane is about 16 degrees, and, at this angle, about a quarter of a passenger's body weight presses on him from the back of his seat. Senter again, "Good heavens! how we seem to swing in the air! If anything holds us to the firm earth or the heavens above, and keeps us going up instead of down 'ker smash,' it is these frail little plates trundling nimbly upward on rollers. What if one of them should break, which it is liable to do, and then how quickly the other would go! We look at the conductor. He appears cool as a cucumber in January or an iceberg in June. And those ladies, they too appear as composed and stolid as though they had no nerves."

Mt. Pisgah Engine House

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