You know something is really important when the Nazi’s of WWII make it a target for sabotage!  The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Horseshoe Curve was one of several targets slated for sabotage by the Nazis in June 1942.  Before and during the war, the US Government secured and guarded the pass, knowing that its destruction would severely impede transportation of steel and other materials throughout the United States, potentially crippling the war effort and the US economy.

This curve of the RR finished the stretch from Philadelphia to Pittsburg over the Allegheny Mountains
The Horseshoe Curve finished the stretch from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh over the Allegheny Mountains

The Germans named the mission “Pastorius”.  Eight German residents, who had lived in the United States, were trained in Germany in the use of explosives.  Their mission was to sabotage American economic targets such as the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, Aluminum plants in Illinois, Tennessee and New York, and Horseshoe Curve near Altoona, Pennsylvania.  The submarines containing eight men landed in June of  1942.  They were eventually captured, tried and executed for war crimes.  For more information on this fascinating bit of American History see this article.

Pennsylvania Railroad was the hub of rail growth in America

I love the history of Railroads, because in a very real sense it is the history of American forward motion through the decades.  Sometimes we are tempted to apologize for the westward expansion of America, and no doubt there were conflicts and tragedies along the way.  But overall, the life we live now was built by those who pushed forward ahead of us.  And where the railways went, progress and growth were soon to follow.

Engine No. 1, 1906 Leetonia Railway
Bill showing off Engine No. 1, 1906, Leetonia Railway

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania tells that story with great flair.  With over 100 train engines and cars from over 200 years of train history, this museum is one of the largest of the world.  Which makes sense, since Pennsylvania is truly where the Railroad industry took hold and thrived.  Did you know that the first railway in the US was built in Delaware County, Pennsylvania in 1809?  It used horses to draw cars loaded with quarried stone to a boat landing.

Passenger Coach 3556 built in Altoona, PA in 1886
Passenger Coach 3556 built in Altoona, PA in 1886 and horse-drawn carriage used to transport passengers to the train.

In 1830, there were a total of 23 miles of railroad track in the US.  By 1840 nearly 3000 miles of railroad and 3300 miles of canal in operation.  In 1881 Railroad mileage exceeded 100,000 miles for the first time.  That is some quick growth!

Engine No. 4935 built in Altoona, PA in 1943. Weighs 477,000 pounds.
Engine No. 4935 built in Altoona, PA in 1943. Weighs 477,000 pounds.
Lego village
Lego village at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum. My uncle used to work on the Osprey helicopter shown in the high center of the photo.  (The real version, not the Lego version!)

Strasburg PA has several railroad attractions

So if you are in Southeastern Pennsylvania, be sure to stop by Strasburg for a look at the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum.  Right across the street you can take a 45 minute road on one of the original short line rails called the Strasburg Railroad.   While you are there, take a look at the Choo Choo Barn, a great display of model railroads, as well as the National Toy Train Museum.

Countryside surrounding Strasburg, PA
Countryside surrounding Strasburg, PA

Other things to do in Strasburg

This is also Amish country, so you can visit “The Amish Village” for a look at historical and current Amish lifestyles. Nearby, is the pretty town of Lancaster.  Don’t miss the Central Market there.  It is reputedly the oldest continuously functioning market in the country.  It is a large indoor market with vendor booths selling everything from hot pretzels to fresh herbs and spices.  My favorite!

Travel details:  There are several moderately priced RV Parks in the campground.  They are not fancy, but they handle big rigs and are close to the trains!



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Gail Reitz
Gail Reitz

Being from PA I found this very interesting. We took an elementary school trip to the Horseshoe Curve, and they probably told us all of this, but being 50+ years ago I don’t remember!