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The Lehigh Valley Transit Company (LVT) was a Pennsylvania interurban rail transport company that operated a network of city and interurban trolley lines. In poor financial condition, LVT abruptly abandoned operation of its Philadelphia Division Allentown to Philadelphia line in September, 1951. LVT gave patrons no prior notice, and puzzled riders waited in vain to be picked up the next day. The LVT is considered the last of the eastern U.S. side of road, hill and dale, town street to farm land interurbans in the United States, although the Media end of the present day 100-year-old Upper Darby to Media former Red Arrow trolley line — now SEPTA Route 101 — has some of these same characteristics. As was customary for interurban trolleys, the LVT Philadelphia Division ran fast in open country, but once in a village or town it slowly progressed down streets, made frequent stops, and navigated sharp streetcar-like turns at intersections.
The Liberty Bell line had a terminal in each town with a waiting room and a ticket agent. In the larger towns LVT had facilities to handle trolley freight. Coming south from its downtown Allentown terminal, the LVT's Philadelphia Division served the Pennsylvania villages of Coopersburg, Quakertown, Perkasie, Sellersville, Souderton, Hatfield, Lansdale, and Norristown. In Norristown, its third-rail-equipped cars continued on the high-speed Philadelphia and Western to its 69th Street, Upper Darby terminus, which was the western terminus of the Philadelphia city subway-elevated. Philadelphia and Western Railroad crews operated the LVT cars from Norristown south. Much of the LVT's route was paralleled by the Reading Railroad's steam powered Bethlehem Branch  and had many of the same stops. In Lansdale, the two stations faced each other. The Reading operated passenger service directly to its busy downtown Market Street Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, but the LVT was less expensive for frugal riders and made many more village, local, and roadside stops. Some patrons would ride the Reading, for example, from downtown Philadelphia to Lansdale, then walk across the street to the LVT station to catch the interurban home.
In 1939, LVT purchased thirteen used lightweight high-speed Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad Red Devil cars from the abandoned Cincinnati to Toledo, Ohio, interurban to augment its older, heavier, and slower 700 and 800 series interurban cars. The former Red Devils were reconditioned by the innovative LVT Allentown shops and were then operated from Allentown to Philadelphia as Liberty Bell Limiteds. The LVT advertised for and ran freight, but it was a small part of the business. Like most interurbans, its primary income was from passenger service.Box motor freight trolleys usually operated at night, but LVT sometimes ran scheduled passenger trips as a "mixed" train with a freight box motor coupled behind the older 800 or 700 series of passenger coach. The former C&LE Liberty Bell Limiteds were not built with couplers. During the World War II years, LVT carried full loads including standees on its overworked equipment. When the war ended, ridership rapidly declined, and LVT again faced bankruptcy and abandonment as it had during the Great Depression.
The Lehigh Valley Transit Company (LVT) began in 1905. It acquired the "Lehigh Valley Traction Company", which began operation in the early part of the 20th century as a meandering side of dirt road street car line from Quakertown south to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.  In 1912–13, and again in 1925, LVT upgraded track and in places rerouted lines with private right of way between some towns where before it had been at the side of public roads making frequent 90 degree turns at road intersections requiring slow car operation. At Wales Junction on the original Chestnut Hill line, a totally new route was constructed southward to reach Norristown to connect with the Philadelphia transportation system. Long stretches of eighty mile per hour operation existed north of Quakertown, and the operator could go to shunted field motor setting for maximum speed.  Open country private right of way existed, particularly north of Quakertown. Another long stretch existed between Souderton and Lansdale and included a steel bridge north of Hatfield known as Gehman Trestle. LVT installed blade style block signals at track sidings where opposing cars would pass, purchased the 800 class faster heavy wood arch windowed interurban cars from Jewett Car Company, and set up railroad style dispatching. With these changes, local service using the St. Louis cars and express service using the new Jewetts began between Allentown and Norristown/Philadelphia 69th Street Terminal.
The extensive Pennsylvania construction of paved highways and the public's increased ownership of automobiles like the Ford Model T in the 1920s caused the financial decline of most interurbans in the United States. Many were abandoned prior to and definitely during the Great Depression. LVT struggled also during this time but survived, primarily due to the purchase of high speed light weight interurbans from the 1938 abandoned Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban in Dayton area Ohio. This improved ridership which then jumped due to gas rationing and increased industrial activity during World War II, but after the war the number of riders dropped again as they returned to their cars. Service quality declined during the 1950s as LVT lost rider revenue, which led to a further loss of riders. Through service on the P&W ended in 1949, and thereafter patrons had to change cars at Norristown. In September 1951, the financially failing LVT received temporary approval to suspend its interurban operation from the Pennsylvania PUC. Fearful that it might be ordered to resume operation, LVT had crews immediately rip up rails, remove signals, and tear out trolley catenary. Operation was converted to buses on back roads, which dissatisfied both employees and riders. The shutdown of the Lehigh Valley Transit caused considerable loss of employment at the shops at Allentown and Souderton. It was the end of a southeastern Pennsylvania transportation institution that had existed for over fifty years.
A fleet of fifty suburban cars built by St. Louis Car Company was placed into service in 1902. Later interurban cars purchased were the wood frame trussbar 800 series from Jewett Car Company in 1912, the all-steel and faster 700 series cars from Southern Car Company in 1916, thirteen 1939-purchased 1000 series former Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad Red Devil cars, and the round end 1030 from the former Indiana Railroad interurban. All except the 1000 series cars could be, and often were, run together in two or three car trains, including combinations of both the 800 and 700 series cars. Across the years, equipment modifications were made by the Fairview shops. The 700 series steel cars were converted from center-entrance two-man crew to one-man cars. A classic arch window interurban coach typical of 1910 construction was 812. It was rebuilt in the LVT shops as a private car and later converted to regular service. A classic interurban, it operated to the last day of rail operation in 1951. The LVT color scheme was an all red body with silver roof until the lightweight 1000 series cars arrived in 1939. Some of the fleet was then retired and the rest repainted white with red trim and silver roof.Restored LVT car 801 is located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as part of a growing trolley and interurban collection.
LVT's acquisition of the former Cincinnati and Lake Erie's unique Red Devil interurban cars in 1939 probably saved LVT from an earlier abandonment. These well designed interurbans dramatically improved passenger comfort. The cars had quick acceleration and high speed capability with poor track conditions, which improved schedules and service, and they used less power than their predecessors. LVT ridership increased, and then World War II started. Gasoline and tire rationing required more non-automobile transportation in the Philadelphia region.
The Red Devils were the result of three financially distressed Ohio interurban lines being combined in 1930 to become the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad. C&LE management knew that passenger and freight service had to be improved if the new line was to be profitable. For passenger service, C&LE engineers worked with the Cincinnati Car Company staff in 1929 to design and construct twenty interurban coaches with improved passenger comfort and appeal. Better performance in terms of ride, speed, and reduced power consumption was obtained through improved aerodynamics, reduced car weight, and improved truck design. Significant use of aluminum reduced weight, and the Red Devils provided passengers with comfortable leather bucket seats with headrests. One drawback was that Red Devils had a smaller passenger capacity than provided by the older Ohio interurbans, but C&LE planned to increase scheduled service. The Red Devils were 43'9" long, 11'4" high and weighed 24 tons (22 metric tons). A typical 1920s large steel interurban was around 56' long, 14' high, and weighed 60 tons.
A new truck design was a major part of the improved ride. The truck carried four new design compact 100 hp motors provided by General Electric. It had smaller diameter wheels (28") and a smaller truck frame. Both allowed the car to have a lower center of gravity. Two types of brakes were provided. A magnetic brake riding between the car's wheels on each truck pressed onto the rail head when the air brakes needed supplemental stopping power. The Red Devils were known for their excellent ride at high speed on rough interurban track. Unfortunately, when the Great Depression deepened, C&LE business declined and it abandoned in 1938 and sold the Red Devils to LVT and to CRANDIC.
In adjacent Indiana, similar to the 1930 formation of Ohio's C&LE, a number of struggling interurban lines were combined to create the new Indiana Railroad. In 1931, the IRR purchased ordered interurbans from the Pullman and American Car and Foundry based upon the St. Louis Car Red Devil design but with improvements. More aluminum was used, and a heavier Commonwealth truck design was adopted to allow more stability at speed. The IRR operated multiple car coupled trains from Indianapolis south to Louisville, so the new IRR lightweights had couplers and a rounded rear end unlike the Red Devil's square rear end. The round end allowed coupled car operation around tight curves in town streets. IR abandoned operations in 1941, and LVT purchased its car 1030 from IR parlor car #55 from the IR to replace former Red Devil car 1004 lost in a fire due to 1004's malfunctioning electric car heater at Philadelphia and Western's King Manor station. The fire also burned the station. Car 55 arrived on the LVT property in IRR's bright "traction orange" paint scheme and LVT's Fairview shopmen humorously labeled it the "Golden Calf."  The shop crew changed the former parlor seating to coach seating and repainted the exterior with LVT's white with red trim (called by the LVT a dramatic "Picador Cream and Mountain Ash Scarlet") and numbered it LVT 1030. It stood out from its former C&LE Red Devil brothers by having more tapered front windows and the round rear end. LVT also replaced the IR Commonwealth trucks with the Cincinnati Car Company's ABC-74D trucks (bogies)salvaged from the car heater fire destroyed car 1004 to provide the 1030 with third rail shoes. The original IR car placed the motorman on the left side, but the controller and brake stand were moved to the center and a passenger loading door was added at the left front to povide southbound passenger access to the Norristown platform. This was also used at Lansdale north bound and Souderton northbound to allow passengers to unload curbside rather than into the street. Although the frequent stops and eastern Pennsylvania's occasional steep grades (the climb from Broad Street and tight turn onto Summit street to cross Souderton's Reading RR bridge was severe) were more demanding on traction motors than Ohio's had been, the former Red Devils and the 1030 performed well until LVT abandonment in 1951. As company earnings declined due to diminishing ridership, seriously disabled cars were often set aside and not repaired. Car 1030 is now preserved and operating at the Seashore Trolley Museum.
LVT needed to maintain interurban cars, streetcars, freight trolleys, and line maintenance equipment such as the overhead wire car and the snow sweepers. LVT's primary car storage yard and major shop was the Fairview barn southwest of downtown Allentown. Tracks to Fairview left the main line just south of the 8th Street bridge on St. John Street, ran to Lumber Street, turned south on Lumber to Cumberland, then into the shop yard. To reach downtown from Fairview, LVT had the awkward situation of running interurban cars, sometimes backward, through residential areas along Lumber and St. John streets.
A second maintenance facility and yard was in Souderton, at 2nd and Central Streets. This is now the location of the Souderton fire department building. The Souderton maintenance facility was reached by a track branching from the main line on Summit Street at running two blocks east. The reliable classic all wood arch windowed 801 was kept at Souderton as backup and was used frequently.
Along with rolling stock, LVT had to maintain AC to DC power conversion substations along its route to generate its 600 VDC trolley voltage from locally provided AC power. In 1951 it had an aging car fleet and had to pay all costs to maintain roadbed and track, drainage systems, stations, other buildings, catenary, bridges, and snow removal. And local property taxes. Revenues were not keeping up with expenses and the line faced shutdown.
A Saturday-Sunday schedule for April 1938 shows Allentown to Philadelphia interurban "Expresses" leaving Allentown on the hour from 6 am to 10 pm. There were twenty five scheduled stops en route but many more stops occurred simply by a rider "buzzing" the motorman or by flagging the car down. Scheduled arrival at the P&W Norristown station was 1 hr 38 minutes later. Typical running time between the scheduled stops was two to six minutes. The Germantown Pike stop to Norristown's LVT+P&W station stop took a long 14 minutes because it included a southbound-northbound car "meet" with an LVT-P&W operator swap at Marshall passing siding in the middle of Norristown's Markley Street. This siding was located between Elm Street and Marshall Street (closer to Elm). The two cars were positioned door to door so that the motormen could step directly from car to car. Then, a P&W crew took the southbound car a quarter mile down Markley Street to Airy Street where tracks turned east for four blocks, then south on Swede and a jog from Swede onto a trolley-only bridge over Norristown's Main Street and into the P&W's elevated station. The 1938 schedule showed four "Expresses" operating on the line at the same time. Hourly local service had many more stops and used typical streetcar style equipment: vintage 1902 St. Louis-built cars before 1939, and more modern ex-Steubenville Ohio lightweight cars after 1939.  Local service operated between the Expresses and ran Allentown to Center Valley at the north end and Hatfield to Norristown at the south end. With four cars operational at any given time, one southbound-northbound limited meet was normally at Marshall siding in Norristown and the other at Nace Siding in open country just north of Souderton and the Souderton carbarn. The Reading Railroad's Bethelehem Branch from Philadelphia served many of the same towns as the LVT, with the passenger trains and trolleys occasionally pacing one another on parallel tracks.
Some signs of the LVT's single track Allentown to Philadelphia line still exist. Much of the line is today an electric utility right-of-way with an earthen jeep track located where the rails had been. At those places where the tracks ran in the shoulder of the road (e.g., U.S. Route 202 in Whitpain Township Montgomery County, and Old Bethlehem Pike in East Rockhill and Richland Townships Bucks County) highway widening projects have often encroached on the old rail-bed.
The columned trolley station on Perkasie's Walnut Street now houses the Perkasie Historical Society, and has been beautifully restored. A block north of the Perkasie Station is the LVT trolley tunnel under the Reading Railroad. Further north are concrete bridge abutments where the line crossed 9th Street.
At Sellersville the small white station is now a dental office. It served as a police station in the late 1950s. The Quakertown station at the northwest corner of Main and Broad has a mural on a back wall depicting one of the LVT's 1000 Series Liberty Bell Limited former Cincinnati and Lake Erie high speed interurbans. The house-like two story Hatfield station is now a cafe. Inside this cafe there are photographs of LVT cars, LVT locations, and a 1938 schedule of operations. South of this building, part of the former LVT right-of-way, including an original 1916 culvert, is a paved walking and biking trail called "The Liberty Bell Trail". Some of the former LVT right of way is visible from satellite as a faint scar across the countryside north of Quakertown. The DeLorme Company's "Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetter Topographic Maps" book shows "old railroad grades" as a faint dashed red line on their maps. There is a dashed line shown running from Quakertown to Center Valley at present day Route 309; LVT periodically ran adjacen to PA Route 309.
A devastating fatal wreck occurred in July 1942 in East Norriton Township, north of Norristown. The motorman of northbound lightweight 1003 was waiting at Brush siding near Germantown Pike and had dispatcher's orders to wait for both a southbound passenger car followed by a southbound freight motor, but he proceeded from the siding, violating the horizontal "stop" semaphore signal, and moved onto the main line after only the first passenger car had passed. He may have misinterpreted the "one-long and two-short" horn signal, indicating a following section, for the usual "two-toot" greeting that passing cars often signaled to each other. Alternatively, he may have been preoccupied in conversation with people in the front vestibule. Alongside DeKalb Pike (US 202), the 1003 accelerated and rounded a curve where visibility was limited by track-side vegetation. 1003 rammed head-on into moving freight motor C14. The heavier C14 "telescoped" into the lightweight and twelve people ultimately died, including the motorman of 1003. The motorman of C14 ran into the interior of the freight car, thus surviving, and had the presence of mind to first grab from the cab clipboard his train order authorizing his presence as the second southbound section. The wreck forced dispatching changes and a reduction in operating speeds.
The Associated Press report on the accident: (Headline) "TEN KILLED AND 22 INJURED IN HEAD-ON CRASH OF INTERURBAN AND FREIGHT TRAIN. TRAIN SLICES PASSENGER CAR AT RUSH HOUR. Norristown, Pa., July 9, 1942. (AP) -- Ten persons were killed and 22 injured in the head-on crash of a crowded interurban passenger car and a freight trolley late yesterday on a curve three and one-half miles north of here. The heavy, high-floored freight, running down grade, literally sliced through nearly a third of the passenger car which was en route from Philadelphia to Allentown, Pa., with a rush-hour load. Several of the injured were reported in critical condition at Norristown hospitals. A Philadelphia Red Cross unit, which rushed blood plasma for transfusions, was credited with saving six lives." The AP story then listed both the deceased and the injured and where the injured were taken for medical treatment. The motorman of the passenger car 1003 was among the dead. The crew of the freight motor survived, and the freight motorman was briefly held by police and county coroner prior to investigation of his actions, and he was cleared of wrong doing.
A less severe collision occurred the same year just north of Perkasie one evening after the Perkasie stop. Two northbound 1000 series cars were running a few minutes apart as a single dispatched "train." Climbing the grade in the wooded area approaching Old Bethlehem Pike near Three Mile Road, the first car, 1030, disengaged from the trolley wire, lost its lights, and drifted to a stop. The second car, 1001, rounded a curve and lightly rear ended the stalled and dark 1030. The accident could have been prevented if the motorman had flagged behind his car rather than attempt to recatch the wire in the dark.
Souderton had a ninety degree sharp turn on an incline at Main and Summit Streets, and this caused problems for northbound trains. For approximately one block prior to Summit, Main Street was on a slight grade up, but at Summit this grade increased right at the Summit corner. The LVT center street track made this rising turn and was faced with more grade on Summit. This continued for about forty feet to the bridge over the Reading Railroad and then Summit flattened. During icy conditions, the incline could be a nightmare for the LVT when the interurbans would struggle to make the climb and turn. While crews from the nearby Souderton car barn worked with ice chippers and sand to provide traction for wheels on rails, the delays were logistically problematic for LVT. Even though cars were scheduled from Norristown an hour apart, the Souderton delays could force multiple cars to stack up waiting for enough sand to be deployed. South of the Souderton depot, which was at at Main and Broad about six city blocks from Sunmmit, there were also sharp turns, but track conditions there were level. From the LVT station on Main, the southbound track onto Broad Street, ran two blocks, then turned sharply east onto residential Penn Avenue where, after four blocks, at Penn and Cherry Lane it entered open country for the fast downgrade run to Gehman trestle and on to the next scheduled stop at the Hatfield depot.
Before 1949, when LVT trolleys arrived at Norristown from Allentown, trolley poles were pulled down and secured, car power was switched from trolley to third rail, and the trip continued to 69th Street Terminal just outside Philadelphia (Upper Darby) over the high speed Philadelphia & Western Railway. After 1949, when decreasing ridership and increasing costs forced a service cut-back to Norristown (only freight trolleys continued running to Upper Darby), LVT motormen had to run their passenger cars in reverse down from the Norristown elevated station, back to Markley and Airy Streets to a loop track known as Rink Siding. This required the motorman to go to the rear of the car and attach controls there. After looping at Rink, the motorman backed the car over the same four city blocks to return to the Norristown station where passengers would board for the next northbound trip. This was an awkward and unpleasant arrangement for the LVT and was indicative of its coming collapse.
A typical daily run for an early morning LVT car operator began at Allentown's Fairview car barn where he picked up his assigned equipment, usually a lightweight Liberty Bell, and took it eight residential blocks on a single track along Lehigh, Cumberland, Lumber, and St. John Streets to 8th Street where he switched onto the main line north, and ran over the 8th Street Bridge and then six blocks to the Allentown station at 6th and Hamilton Sts. where he loaded any people waiting at the terminal. At the scheduled departure time, he began his trip to Norristown. About an hour and one half later, he reached Marshall siding in Norristown where a car exchange would occur with the P&W operator from 69th Street, and the LVT motorman began his return trip to Allentown. A motorman's normal day was two round trips. Obviously if there had been any delays with cars operating in either direction or the need for a defective car replacement (for example, at the Souderton car barn by standby 1912 wood coach 812) his work day would be extended into overtime. An operator was required to wait until relieved. At the normal midday shift change, a motorman might pick up his car at 6th and Hamilton from the motorman arriving from Norristown, or an exchange could occur at 8th and St. John where the Allentown shop lead tied into the main line to 69th Street, Philadelphia.
By 1949, many of the Liberty Bell Limiteds were running almost empty. When the cars stopped running directly to the Philadelphia 69th Street terminal and terminated at Norristown and passengers were required to transfer to a Philadelphia and Western car, travel convenience diminished. The company had become marginal regarding profitability and a bleak future lay ahead. Management had been petioning the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission to abandon, and finally in September 1951, they were given permission for a "trial" suspension of rail operations and a conversion to busses. With no notice to the public, the formerly once an hour white and red cars simply didn't show up the next day. Following that, mangagemnent quickly sent crews out to rip up rail and take down the trolley wire, the idea being to prevent being ordered back to interurban operation. Cars were sent to the nearby Bethlehem Steel plant for scrapping.
In 1911, LVT needed a new span across Little Lehigh Creek in order to carry its interurban and trolley cars from center Allentown to the south side. It organized the Allentown Bridge Company and commissioned noted bridge engineer Benjamin H. Davis to design the bridge. The resulting seventeen arch concrete span cost over $500,000 and required 29,500 cubic yards (22,600 m3) of concrete and 1.1 million pounds of metal reinforcing rods. When opened for traffic on November 17, 1913, it was the longest and highest concrete bridge in the world. It operated as a toll bridge from its November 17, 1913 opening until the 1950s, at which time the toll was five cents for an automobile. The Liberty Bell Limiteds crossed the bridge to begin their run to Philadelphia and also to reach the Fairview car barn to the west of Eighth Street. Concrete poles that once supported the trolley wire are still standing on the bridge to this day. The bridge is now called the Albertus L. Meyers Bridge.