Race Against Time! Exploring the abandoned Kingsley Tower before its destruction

Road trip!

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I took a road trip to Susquehanna County in NEPA. One leg of the expedition took to me to the long-abandoned Kingsley Tower on the former Lackawanna Railroad.

Kingsley Tower on the Lackawanna Railroad
Kingsley Tower on the Lackawanna Railroad

I had last been here about 25 years ago as a teenager in high school. In fact, the structure is a only a couple of hundred yards from where I grew up. I remember the basement being dark and took all the courage I could muster to venture inside alone.

Rumor has it that the building is slated for demolition. In fact, just three miles away in Alford, the station and tower there have already been removed. I wanted to see Kingsley Tower one last time before it was too late.

Clark's Summit Tower and Signal Bridge on the Lackawanna Railroad. Kingsley, just 21 miles north, would have had a very similar appearance in the early 1920s.
Clark’s Summit Tower and Signal Bridge on the Lackawanna Railroad. Kingsley, just 21 miles north, would have had a very similar appearance in the early 1920s.

 

A Brief History of “The Cut-Off”

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (also known as the DL&W or simply as the Lackawanna Railroad) constructed a new railroad from Scranton to Great Bend, between 1849 and 1851. The railroad carried coal from the Lackawanna Valley coal mines around Scranton to Great Bend, where the cars were switched to the Erie Railroad.

Over time, the Lackawanna became a prominent railroad, and this one of their most prosperous lines.

In 1910, the Lackawanna announced plans to build a new route between Clarks Summit and Hallstead called “The Cut-Off.” My great grandfather, who was born in October 1900 and remembered the construction project, insisted that the railroad simply did it because “they had more money than they knew what to do with.”

In reality, the goal of The Cut-Off was to save money, not spend it. Compared to the old line, The Cut-Off was 3.6 miles shorter and eliminated all grade crossings. The eastbound grade was reduced from 1.23 to .68 percent while the westbound grade from .52 to .237 percent. The track’s overall curvature was also reduced from 3,970 to 1,560 degrees.

All these improvements resulted in a saving of 20 minutes in the running time of passenger trains and 60 minutes for freight trains. It also allowed only two engines to move the same tonnage that once required five.

TunkhannockViaduct1
Tunkhannock Viaduct in Nicholson, PA

The largest bridge on the line, the Tunkhannock Viaduct, is the largest concrete structure of its kind in the world. It carried a double track 240 feet above the valley floor for a distance of 2,375 feet from mountain to mountain.

Novelist Theodore Dreiser called the viaduct “one of the true wonders of the World.” More on the Tunkhannock Viaduct in a future post.

By 1915, the Lackawanna had completed the line relocation project. The following year, the 1916 edition of the Railway Signal Engineer declared it “the most important improvement of this character undertaken by an American road in recent years.”

The now single-tracked ex-DL&W line is currently operated by Norfolk Southern, which owns the segment from Binghamton to Taylor Yard (south of Scranton), then continuing via the ex-D&H/WBCRR/PRR to Sunbury. It’s still frequently used. It was formerly owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific.

The Cut-Off Signals and Interlocking Plants

For signalmen, however, the most exciting feature of The Cut-off was the signal installation, which includes 124 automatic signals and 6 interlocking plants, which the Kingsley Tower was one.

kingsleyTowerTrackLayout1

The signals were of the Lackawanna standard type—style B, two-arm, two-position, 60-degree, lower-quadrant, with home and distant indications. Eighty-six of the automatic signals were located on signal bridges, and 38 were ground locations. The ground signals were of the double-case type, the upper case housing the mechanism, and the lower case the relays and terminals. The lower case was lined with wood and equipped with four large ventilators for the protection of the relays. Twenty-two ground and bridge signals of the same type were located at interlocking plants. The location and size of the interlocking plants were as follows:

Railway Signaling and Communications

Kingsley Tower

Kingsley Tower is located near Kingsley, PA, just off of Wickizer Road. It was in service from 1915 until about 1938. The tower had 16 working levers for three switches and derails. The black and white photo below shows the second floor interior of a similar tower in nearby Clarks Summit. The third photo in the series is of the interior of the now demolished Alford Tower. Both photos provide a good representative of how the interior of the Kingsley Tower would have looked while in service.

Cabling from the levers above ran through these conduit holes to control the three sets of tracks outside.

kingsleyTowerInside3
Cabling for the switching levers once ran through these tubes.

Record Room

In the basement, I found a handful of burnt “Record of Train Movement” papers and other documents. Most listed the trains and the time they passed the tower. All the papers appeared to date back to the late 1920s. It was an exciting discovery!

kingsleyTowerPapers2
Check out the date. Yes, it says October 16, 1929.

Kingsley Tower Gallery

Here are all the photos I took while visiting Kingsley Tower.

Railroads

Not to be a killjoy, but it is technically illegal to walk on railroad tracks. Railroads are private property, unlike public trails, roads, or waterways. They are owned by the railroad that operates them. Every time you walk on them without permission, except at grade crossings, you are trespassing. It can be extremely dangerous to walk, run, or drive down the railroad tracks or even alongside them. Do so at your own risk!

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