Re: Going Bananas ...

Richard Hendrickson

On Mar 21, 2007, at 6:33 PM, Anthony Thompson wrote:

BTW, Dave, though I can't speak for Richard, I don't dislike the
Pennsy, I just find its fans excessively reverent towards it. Poking
fun at such people is irresistible. Fact is, the Pennsy had plenty to
be humble about, as did nearly all railroads.
Now that I'm back on the list after a trip out of town (to Hawaii, in fact), I can speak for myself on this subject. I entirely agree with Tony, and I will add that I have always found the pretentiousness of the PRR's mechanical department during the steam era to be both unwarranted and annoying (as did the mechanical officials of many other RRs). With regard to freight cars, the PRR's claim to be the "standard railroad of the world" bordered on the ludicrious, as almost all of their freight car designs, though often built in very large numbers, were unique, eccentric, and seldom copied by other RRs. It didn't help that PRR's J. Harold Geisel, who chaired the ARA committee on car construction in the 1920s, was notoriously arrogant and abrasive, a fact which helps to explain why the proposed 1924 ARA steel box car, based on the PRR's X29, failed to be approved as a standard design.

Through the 1920s and 1930s, the PRR persisted in building cars with roofs, underframes, trucks, etc. of obsolete in-house design which were notably deficient by comparison with contemporary car building practice. They were still building undersize X29s in 1934 with roofs that were prone to leak, truck sideframes that were prone to crack, and side sheathing that trapped water and rusted out. And as late as 1941, they were building X37s on what was essentially the X29 underframe, long after the superiority of the AAR standard box car underframe had been well demonstrated. Meanwhile, they were continuing to assert that PRR engineering was superior to everyone else's.

Of course, it was also the case that all of the PRR's steam loco designs after the mid-1920s were disasters, some worse than others, though that is off-topic, so I won't dwell on it.

The pre-eminence of the Pennsy, both its operating and mechanical departments, peaked early in the 20th century and rapidly declined thereafter owing to arrogance and bad management, with the post-World-War-I squandering of capital on its ill-conceived electrification project hastening its eventual demise. So I think it is fair to say that, In the era most of us on this list model, the Pennsy's size made it an important railroad but, in many particulars, it fell far short of being a great railroad.

It's not hard to understand why the PRR has been, and continues to be, popular with a large number of modelers; it was a very large RR that served a sizable and heavily populated part of the country, and much of its rolling stock was distinctive in design. So I have no quarrel whatever with those who model it, a number of whom I count among my personal friends, as long as they avoid the tendency of their prototype railroad to be excessively pretentious.

Richard Hendrickson

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