compiled by Thomas Ehrenreich

August 18, 1892

The longest cable incline railway in this country, and with but few exceptions the longest in the world, has just been opened for traffic up the eastern slope of the Catskill Mts. in New York, as briefly noted in our last issue. Inclined planes, or more properly inclined railways, operated by cables, have a very early history. Nearly every engineer has beard of what was probably the earliest and most important attempt to overcome steep grades by cable traction in this country, viz., the series of planes on the first Portage Ry., between Hollidaysburg, Pa., on the eastern base, and Johnstown, Pa., on the western base of the Allegheny Mts., on the line of the Old Pennsylvania Canal. Similar but much shorter planes were also formerly used, and are still to some extent, to transfer canal boats on the old Morris & Essex Canal. In England inclined lifts for canal boats were used at even an earlier date, being mentioned as early as 1774. Compared with the cable inclines of the present day, however, their grades were very light, rarely exceeding 10% in extreme cases, and for short distances only, and nearly always much less.

Of modern cable inclines having steep grades throughout probably the longest is that running from the steamboat station Kehrsiten, on Lake Lucerne, to the summit of the Burgenstock in Switzerland, although this grade is exceeded on short inclines in this country, notably the Duquesne incline at Pittsburgh, Pa., which has an average grade of 58½%. The Burgenstock incline is 3,071 ft. long on the incline and 2,713 ft. long on the horizontal, with a rise of 1,444 feet. For the first 1,312 ft. from the bottom the grade is 32% and for the remainder of the line 57%, giving an average grade of 53% throughout. This line is also notable as being one of the only two inclines of any length, so far as we know, which use electric power generated by dynamos actuated by turbines to operate the cables. The power is supplied by two of Thury's dynamos operated by turbines situated about 1,400 ft. below the summit station, to which it is transmitted by copper wires and there reconverted into mechanical energy. The cable incline up the Monte San Salvatore, at Lugano, Italy, which was fully described in our issue of April 21, 1892, is the only other using electric motors to operate the cables.

By far the longest cable inclines in the world are located in Italy. The older and better known of these is the line to the summit of Mt. Vesuvius, which is 10,500 ft. long. This line, however, is operated in two divisions, 6,900 ft. and 3,600 ft. long, respectively, the power house for both divisions being located at the Atrio del Cavallo at the end of the first division, where the passengers are also transferred from one line to the other. The other line ascends the Supurga, near Turin, Italy, on which is located the sepulchral chapel of the Italian royal family and is 10,243 ft. long. The grades on this line are comparatively low, the maximum being only 20%, and this for a short distance only. A very full description of this line was given in our issue of June 19, 1888.

Aside from the Otis Elevating Ry. up the Catskills and the Lookout Mt. Incline in Tennessee, which was described in our issue of Jan. 7,1888, the most important cable inclines in this country are located at Pittsburgh, Pa., and Cincinnati, O. The first ever built are in San Francisco (Eng. News April 4, 1878; Nov. 10, 1883), but the inclines are neither very high nor very steep. There are quite a number of isolated plants in the Pennsylvania coal mining regions and in different localities. Such of the more important cable inclines as we have been able to collect details of in a hasty examination are given in the following table, to which we add details of the new Catskill Mountain line for comparison.

....Name and Location
Length on
include, ft.
per c.
Mt. Vesuvius, Italy....... ...10,500 ...... .m'x63 ......
Mt. Supurga, ..".......... ...10,243 ...... .." 20 ......
Catskill Mountain,New York ....7,000 .1,630 .." 34 3.0
Mt. San Salvator,Italy.... ....5,358 .1,973 .." 60 3.28
Lookout Mt.,United States. ....4,360 .1,170 ...... 3
Burgenstock,Switzerland... ....3,071 .1,444 ..".57 3.28
Knoxville,Pittsburg,U.S... ....2,640 . 375 av13.8 9
St. Clair,....."...." .... ....2,060 . 361 ."14.2 7
Penn,.........."...."..... ......840 . 330 ."39.2 10
Duquesne,......"...."..... ......780 . 400 ."58.5 .5

As compared with other incline railways to overcome mountain heights the Otis Elevating Ry. up the Catskills is in some respects a new departure. It starts from Otis Junction, on the Catskill Mountain Ry., and runs directly to the summit of South Mt., near the Catskill Mountain House. It is of the three rail type, the middle rail being common to both tracks, and one train ascends as the other descends. The trains pass each other about midway on the line where a fourth rail is introduced for a distance of about 100 ft., making a turnout. The total length of the line on the incline is 7,000 ft., and its total rise in that distance is 1,630 ft. A general profile of the line is given in Fig. 1. The maximum grade is 34%, and the average grade is about 12%. The gage of the track is 3 ft., the same as that of the Catskill Mountain Ry., with which it connects.


Profile of the Otis Elevating Railway Profile of the Otis Elevating Railway

With the exception of the turn outs the road runs in a straight line from end to end. In respect to its grade line, however, the road is decidedly novel. This is composed of a series of vertical, compound circular and parabolic curves so designed that the trains with equal loads exactly balance each other at all points on the line. This method of compensating for differences in weight between a long and short cable, and thus keeping the force exerted by the, engines constant, is familiar to engineers, and in many cable railways the natural slope of the ground has aided in its partial application, but this is, we believe, the first time in which the principle has been put into practice on a work of any magnitude. The credit for this innovation is due to Mr. Thos. E. Brown, M. Am. Soc. C. E., the designing engineer.

Surveys for the line were begun in December, 1891 The grading, earth and rock work were finished early this year. Beyond the large rock cuts and the natural difficulties of the ground there was nothing worthy of especial notice in this work.

Click here for an enlarged (23K) view in a separate windowThroughout the entire length of the road, with the exception of 1,000 ft. at the lower end, where the rails are laid on cross ties with broken stone ballast, the rails and ties are laid on a timber superstructure. We may note that all the stone used for ballast and for the masonry in the foundations for the various buildings and for the trestle bents was obtained from the rock cuts along the line. It is a blue stone of a slaty structure, such as is commonly used for flagging, in which is imbedded nodules of some trap-like stone, and it is apparently very durable. With the exception of the trestles the timber superstructure consists of two courses of longitudinal timbers 6 x 10 ins., laid on subsills placed 6 ft. apart, c. to c., and supporting 6 x 6 in. x 8 ft. crossties, spaced 2 ft. c. to c. The crossties are gained into the longitudinal timbers, and between each is a block of scantling 6 ins. thick, spiked to the longitudinal to prevent any tendency of the rails and ties to creep. The total length of trestling on the road is between 2,500 and 2,600 ft. and its maximum height is 72 ft. The construction of the trestle bents and the arrangement of the track are shown in Figs. 2, 3 and 4. The rails weigh 35 lbs. to the yard, and are laid with suspended joints with 4 bolt angle bars slotted to receive the spikes.

Click here for an enlarged (15K) view in a separate windowFrom the contractor's point of view the building of this timber superstructure and the track-laying and trestle work were, the most difficult parts of the work. Owing to a delay in securing the timber this work did not begin until May, some time after the contractors had arrived on the ground. Meanwhile, however, work was begun changing the line of the Catskill Mountain Ry., by moving it some distance toward the mountain in order to obtain the grade necessary to operate the incline. All the timber used was Southern pine, shipped from the South to New York and transferred to lighters for Catskill, and thence shipped by rail to Otis Junction. The necessary framing was done at the foot of the mountain and the timber hauled by team to its position. Owing to the rugged and precipitous character of the mountain side this work was very difficult and expensive, necessitating the use of block and tackle in many places. Even with this loads of only about 500 ft. B. M. could be hauled. It is stated that the cost of hauling some of the timber from the foot of the mountain to the point of erection was $15 per 1,000 ft. B. M. Considerable trouble was also experienced in laying the track on the steep grades, the heavy longitudinal timbers and rails developing a marked propensity for unexpected journeys to the foot of the mountain. This work, however, was completed by the contractors, Messrs. Mairs & Lewis, 18 Broadway, New York, without any serious accident, either to property or employees. The same firm also had the contract for the terminal stations and the machinery and boiler houses. About 1,250 M. ft. B. M. of timber were used in the various trestles and superstructure.

The engine and boiler houses are located at the upper end of the line, the latter being at one side of the track some 50 ft, away from and below the level of the engine house. Steam is supplied by two 150-HP. Manning patent vertical tubular boilers, each containing 152 tubes 15 ft. long and 2½ ins. in diameter, with a total heating surface of 1,563 sq. ft. The total height of the boilers from the floor line to the top of the bonnet is 22 ft. 10½ ins., and their diameter at, the waist is 56 ins. The thickness of their shells is a in. and of their heads v in. The outside diameter of the furnaces is 73 ins., the inside diameter 66 ins., and the height 44 ins. The boilers were tested to 200 lbs., and will be run under a pressure of 125 lbs. They were furnished by the Q. N. Evans Construction Co., of New York city. In connection with the boilers the same company furnished a smokestack 72 ft. high and 18 ins. diameter.Please click here for an enlarged (33k) view in a separate window.
We expect to give full details of the hoisting machinery in a future issue. In brief, however, we may say it consists of two 12 x 30 in. Hamilton-Corliss reversing engines geared in a ratio of 22 to 100 to one of two Walker differential winding drums, each 12 ft. in diameter and placed tandem. Cut-off at one-fourth stroke the engines are rated at about 80 HP. each. They are controlled by the throttle valve, reversing lever and the brakes, in addition to the usual cut-off gear. The levers operating the friction brakes and the reversing gear and controlling the steam are located in the operating tower from which a full view of the entire line is had by the operator. The cables, two in number, are of steel, with a hemp center 7,250 ft. long and 14 ins. in diameter, and weigh 2½ lbs. per lin. ft. The ends of the two cables are attached to the two trains of cars. The car on the right track ascending the cables pass from the right track to the winding drums which they encircle twice, and thence to an inclined sheave 8 ft. in diameter in the rear of the building which transfers them to a guiding sheave, and thence to the left track. Of course this order is reversed when the left car is ascending. The shifting sheave is placed some distance to the rear of the drums and is supported by massive timbers anchored to the rock with drift bolts 15 ft. long and 1½ ins. thick. Steam is transferred from the boilers to the engine by a pipe 5 in. in diameter. The cables are supported along the track in the usual manner by ground idlers placed 30 ft. apart, its weight being sufficient to keep it in place.

On a road of this kind the precautions taken to prevent accidents are of course especially important. In addition to the safety clutches on the cars, details and descriptions of which we defer until another issue, each of the engines is fitted with a strap or friction brake operated from the operating tower, as noted before. The main hoisting drum also has a strap brake which is to be connected with an automatic stop, to prevent the car from overrunning its proper position at the top of the incline The two terminal stations and each car are connected by electric gong signals.

The rolling stock used on the line is very simple. It consists of four cars; two for passengers and two for baggage. Each train is made up of a passenger and baggage car. The passenger cars were furnished by Jackson & Sharp, of Wilmington, Del., and are 46 ft. long and 7 ft. 6 ins. wide, built on an angle of 10o 30'. They can seat comfortably 75 persons, and with crowding 90 persons. They weigh 22,000 lbs. each, and are provided with stationary seats said to be the counterparts of those used in the elevators of the Eiffel Tower. Each is mounted on two 4-wheel trucks provided with the ordinary hand brakes. The baggage cars are open, being simply platforms with sides and ends but no top.

As before stated the road has been opened for regular operation, and runs trains in connection with the regular trains on the Catskill Mt. Ry., and the steamboat lines on the Hudson River. Its upper terminus is within a few rods of the Catskill Mountain House and from it the most popular, summer resorts of the mountains can be reached by a short drive, and in about four hours time from New York city. The ascent of the incline is made in about 10 minutes, or at the rate of about 700 ft. per minute.

The road was built by the Otis Elevating Ry. Co., of which Mr. Chas. L. Rickerson is President, C. C. Hager, Secretary and Treasurer, and Chas. A. Beach, Superintendent. Its total cost was $275,000. The general contractor for its construction was Chas. L. Bucki, of New York, who sublet the grading to Pennell, O'hern & Co., of New York; the trestles, track-laying, buildings and timber work to Mairs & Lewis, of New York, and the machinery to Otis Bros. & Co., of New York. Otis Bros. & Co. again sublet the engines and hoisting machinery to the Walker Mfg. Co., of Cleveland, O., and the boilers to the Q. N. Evans Construction Co., of New York. The chief and designing engineer was Mr. Thos. E. Brown, M. Am. Soc. C. E., who designed the elevators for the West Shore R. R. at Weehawken, N. J. (Eng. News, Jan. 17, 1891). The assistant engineers were Mr. W. G. Howell, of Washington, D. C., and Mr. Gaylord Thompson and Mr. Chas. F. Parker, of New York, and the engineer for Mairs & Lewis was Geo. C. MacGregor. We are indebted to Mr. Brown and the two last named gentlemen for the details of the work given herewith.

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