Column #301  –  August 28, 2004


History Of Monongahela Railway 

Is Now Available

by Glenn Tunney


        In the first two articles of this series, I wrote about an effort by two men to produce a comprehensive history of the Monongahela Railway in words and pictures.   During the past two weeks, several readers have asked me how they may purchase “The Monongahela Railway:  Its History and Operation, 1903-1993” by David E. Gratz and Terry E. Arbogast.  In today’s final article in the series, I will pass that ordering information along to you, and Dave, Terry and I will also take a closer look at the story behind the photographs that grace nearly every page of their new book.

        Terry Arbogast was in charge of preparing the photographs chosen to be included in the book.  He and Dave Gratz had to choose pictures from Dave’s 11,000-negative photographic archive of the Monongahela Railway, from thousands of railroad slides and pictures Terry has taken over the past forty years, and from several other sources of historical photos. 

        “How did the two of you decide,” I said to Terry, “which pictures to put in the book?”

        “We originally chose 1,100 photographs to consider for inclusion,” he told me, “and about 320 of them, based on photo quality and subject matter, made it into our 212-page book.”

        “That leaves more than 10,000 of the Monongahela Railway negatives that didn’t make the final cut,” I said.  “Might we expect to see some of the others in a future book?”

        “Dave may collaborate with me on a second book that would have even more photographs in it,” Terry said, “perhaps as many as 500.  I have interviewed hundreds of former railroad workers, and my hope is to publish a book of railroad photos that would be accompanied by stories told by these former railroad employees.”

        And what about the 60,000 slides and negatives that Terry has produced with his own cameras over the past forty years?

        “I have been working on ten B&O books for the past eight years,” he revealed, “and I also hope to publish two more Monongahela Railway books.”

        I was interested in learning more about the thousands of negatives in the Monongahela Railway archives, many of them taken by Monongahela Railway photographer Charles Keibler.

        “How far back in time do the photographs go?” I asked Dave Gratz.    

        “The railroad began in 1902, and the earliest pictures are dated 1903,” Dave said.  “The railroad photographers usually numbered each photograph and wrote the date right on the negative.  There are also a lot of unnumbered negatives in the archives from the Indian Creek and Northern Railway.  They were in a box in the Monongahela Railway files.  I am guessing that Charles Keibler was able to get the B&O people or the contractor to give them to us.  Terry has been working on them, trying to separate them and organize them.”

        “I can understand why a railroad would want a photographic record of its equipment, its track, even its personnel,” I said to Dave, “but I have noticed that some of the pictures in the Monongahela Railway collection do not seem to show anything connected to the railroad.   For example, I am thinking of photos that depict the Monongahela Hotel across the street from Union Station or that show the Flatiron building nearby.  Do you think pictures of that type were taken as a sort of public service?”

        “No,” Dave replied without hesitation.  “There were several reasons for taking railroad photographs that do not show equipment or track.  First of all, the company wanted to have a photographic inventory of the railroad’s buildings.  I have three loose-leaf books downstairs of the railroad’s buildings, and all of the buildings were numbered according to their milepost along the track. 

        “Another reason for some of those pictures is that when there was an accident, they would go out and take pictures of the scene.  Whether it was a crossing accident or a personal injury, the claim agent wanted pictures of the accident.  We included a few of those pictures in a chapter entitled ‘Accidents, Incidents and Acts of God.”  As an example, whenever a train ran into a coal truck, as is shown in the photo on page 161, the railroad took pictures of it. 

        “Some of the photos were taken from the Union Station building towards other parts of town,” Dave continued.  “That was early on, and sometimes Charlie Keibler would do that to get used to the new camera.  He had a Speed Graphic, which took a 4 by 5 picture, and before that, he used a camera that took a 5 by 7 photo.  When they got a new camera, Charles would practice with it and develop the pictures in the railroad’s darkroom in the Union Station building.            

        “Was that his only job, taking pictures for the railroad?”

        “No, he was a draftsman and a photographer.  He started working on the railroad when he returned from World War I with a collapsed lung.  His dad, Charles W. Keibler, was lockmaster at Lock 5, both when the lock was in Denbo and later when the locks were built in Brownsville.”

        “Mr. Keibler and the railroad performed a remarkable service for local historians by producing that great archive of photographs,” I commented.  “Thank goodness you were able to save them.  What happened to other types of documents that chronicled the day-to-day operations of the Monongahela Railway?”

        “Conrail took them all,” Dave said, describing the aftermath of the Monongahela Railway’s merger with Conrail on May 1, 1993.  “We had the original deeds for the railroad’s property, and we also had carbon copies in bound books that we used for reference.  And Conrail took it all!  I thought at least they would leave the carbon copies of the deeds here in Brownsville.  They were all hauled off somewhere for storage, probably to Philadelphia.  Where they would be now, I haven’t the slightest idea.”

        I found it depressing to think that such records, which would be of great interest to Brownsville residents and historians, are languishing somewhere, potentially at the mercy of some bureaucrat’s whim to “get rid of those old papers!”

        Turning back to a more positive subject, I said to Dave, “Your book, which just went on sale at the end of July, is a hardback edition.  What made you decide to do a hardback instead of a paperback?”

        “I think it’s a nicer book,” he said, “and railroad buffs prefer hardbacks.”

        “How is the book arranged?”

        “It is primarily a chronological arrangement, divided into several sections,” Dave said.  “It begins with the history of the railroad.  Then it goes into the operation of the railroad, explaining in detail how the railroad was run on a daily basis.  The third section describes and shows the equipment we used on the railroad.  A lengthy appendix includes many charts and maps, as well as some interesting vignettes about railroaders and interesting happenings on the railroad over the years.”

        “Readers have been asking me how to purchase your book.  Where can it be bought?”

        “The book is being promoted by the publisher and in rail fan publications and on the internet,” Dave said.  “People in this area may purchase the book at the Flatiron building or at Nemacolin Castle.”

        “And if someone wishes to purchase your book by mail . . .?”

        “The price of the book, which contains 319 photographs in its 212 pages, is $39.95, plus $2.40 tax (for Pennsylvania residents) and $3.00 for shipping.  People may order a book by writing to me, David E. Gratz, 1020 Lewis Street, Brownsville, PA  15417-2238.  Pennsylvania residents should include a check for $45.35 written to David Gratz; non-Pennsylvania residents should include a check for $42.95 with their order.  I will personally autograph each copy and send it out via media mail immediately upon receipt of the paid order.” 

        Having read the book, I can vouch for the tremendous accomplishment that Dave Gratz and Terry Arbogast have achieved in producing this history of the Monongahela Railway.  The men have combined a great deal of patience, the resources of the railway’s 11,000-negative archives and Terry’s collection of thousands of pictures, and their own extensive knowledge of the Monongahela Railway to create a book which will be of interest to railroaders and non-railroaders alike.  The community truly owes a debt of gratitude to Dave Gratz and Terry Arbogast for creating a permanent, comprehensive record of a railroad that was an integral part of many peoples’ lives throughout the twentieth century in Brownsville.  


    These articles appear weekly in the Saturday Uniontown HERALD-STANDARD.  If you enjoy reading them, please let the editor know.  You may e-mail your comments to editor Mark O'Keefe at mo' 

    Readers may contact Glenn Tunney at 724-785-3201, at 6068 National Pike East, Grindstone, PA   15442, or by e-mail by clicking here.

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