Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 35
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: October 1997 Volume 35 Number 4, Pages 143–152
The Upper Main Line
My toy train layout depicts the Western part of the Philadelphia suburbs, served by the four-track main line of the Pennsylvania railroad in the 1930s and 1940s, when I grew up there. The toy trains focus my fond recollection of that era.
The area is called the "Upper Main Line" [Note 1] to distinguish it from the "Main Line" of "Philadelphia Story" fame. Working railroaders, and some of the top executives of the PRR, lived in the Upper Main Line which included both the towns of Paoli and Berwyn. [Note 2]
In the 1930s, Paoli was the end of the electrified trackage from New York and Philadelphia to the West. At Paoli, electric GG1 locomotives were changed to coal-fired K4s, or vice versa, until the line West to Harrisburg was electrified in 1938. In the 1930s and 1940s, Paoli was a major station served by the "Broadway Limited," "Red Arrow," and all of the PRR's best heavy varnish. The 1940 Pennsylvania Railroad East-West timetables list twenty-two westbound arrivals and departures daily at Paoli, and an equal number eastbound. [Note 3] Then, as today, it was the terminal for many commuter trains; the famed "Paoli Local" makes the sixteen station stops, including Berwyn, between Paoli and Philadelphia.
Local lore abounds about the trainmen and their bosses who lived on the Upper Main Line. As the Paoli Local pulled into the stations, dozens of railroad watches were pulled from dozens of pockets as the top brass checked to see if the train was on time. Trainmen sang the jingle that began: "There is nothing quite so holy, as the local from Paoli...." [Note 4]
When I was a boy growing up in Paoli, my father, uncles, cousins, and many neighbors worked for the PRR, which proclaimed itself "The Standard Railroad of the World." Many of them made "trainboards," which were put into top condition at Christmas time to fascinate us. This fascination continues to inspire my collection of toy trains and the layout on which they run.
Berwyn, where I now live, has one of those classic station buildings out of the hey-day of railroading. It is an impressive brick building which had a large waiting room, passenger ticket office, freight, Railway Express, and baggage rooms. It had a residence on the second floor. This impressive station building still serves hundreds of daily commuters, its beauty marred only slightly by a recent addition, which now functions as the waiting room and ticket office while the remainder of the building is used as offices and a retail shop.
The Paoli station was a classic wooden structure built in 1893 on a hill slightly elevated from the railroad tracks. [Note 5] The station building was torn down in 1953 by PRR [Note 6] to make room for the present utilitarian, low-brick station which is still served by Amtrak's "Three Rivers" and the few remaining day trains between the West and New York City. Alas, the "Broadway Limited" disappeared in 1995.
Paoli had a large, busy railroad yard, including a tower, freight station, water tower, administration building and car shop. In the 1930s and 40s the yard serviced PRR's crack through passenger trains. It was the terminus for all commuter runs, was a stop for through freights, and originated local freight trains which stopped at the freight stations on the Main Line. The water tower is gone, and the freight station is a crumbling remains. The administration building and car shop, until recently, serviced a large fleet of commuter cars operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
Professionally-built models of the Berwyn and Paoli station buildings are the center points of my layout. Not so professionally-built (author-built) models of the freight station, interlocking towers, stores and residences in Paoli and Berwyn depict the Upper Main Line "as it used to be in the good old days."
My layout is a 60 ft. long dogbone of track, with Paoli at the westernmost loop. The old Paoli Presbyterian Church, now the Baptist Church, was just south and east of the train station. It is represented on my train layout by a nice ceramic model of a pretty stone church, which the real church is today. Across Lancaster Pike, on the east corner of Darby Road, is a plastic model of the Sunoco Station which used to occupy that corner.
The Paoli Library Building, now moved to the site of the new Paoli Presbyterian Church on South Valley Road, well out of town, stood across Darby Road. My
first visit to the Paoli Library was on a field trip, supervised by Ken Mateer, principal of our Paoli School, and our fourth grade teacher, Miss Hoffman. The librarian, Mrs. Greenwood, patiently endured and encouraged children to attend the library, although more than one child in the library at a time must have been a nightmare for any adult present in that very small building.
West from Darby Road, and along the south side of the "Pike", stood the old Paoli Bank, and the Fire Company Building. The original bank building still stands in Paoli, and is represented on my layout by a plastic model which could have been copied from the real building. The old Fire Company building has been torn down to make way for an addition to the bank. In addition to the Fire Company, the building housed the Paoli News Agency where I worked after school, on weekends, and during the summers. Everybody came to the news agency for their newspapers, magazines and current gossip, and I think I knew everybody who lived in Paoli in 1948. [Note 7] The proprietor, Les Mateer, was the unofficial mayor of Paoli and, in any event, its leading practical joker.
One Sunday morning the News Agency was filled with people picking up their Sunday papers and ice cream after church. One of the prominent ladies of the Presbyterian Church commented on how well the Bell Tower chimes could be heard. Les Mateer explained that the chimes could be heard clearly in the News Agency because the sound came through the water pipes from the church right into the News Agency sink. He invited her to bend over the sink, under the soda fountain, to hear the chimes even more clearly. As she bent over to display a very prominent posterior, everyone in the news agency gagged trying to stifle their hilarity. Les Mateer's son-in-law, Bud Tarr, was co-proprietor, and later became the principal constabulary and civil administrator of Willistown Township.
Bud Tarr taught me how to deliver papers from a 1937 Ford which had all but the driver's seat removed so it could be loaded with rolled-up newspapers. The car was steered with the left knee against the steering wheel, with the right foot planted on the accelerator to keep the speed above the minimum of 40 miles an hour. Papers were tossed with both hands from the open windows on either side, with the papers being aimed expertly at the milk bottles near the front door of each house.
The building housing the News Agency and the Fire Department also had a basketball court over a small bar in the basement of the building. Ed Rossiter was the only full time employee of the all volunteer Fire Company. He and his wife Eva took care of the building; Ed drove the first engine to a fire, and he tended the Fire Company bar.
In the 1930s and 40s, local fire companies traditionally had an annual "fair" or carnival to raise funds for their volunteer operations. The Paoli Fire Company never went to the trouble of having a fair, because they had a constant source of income from their small bar in the basement of the building. In those days, "Blue Laws" closed the public bars promptly at midnight on Saturday, and all day Sunday. Local inhabitants patronized the Fire Company bar at those times, and kept the Fire Company prosperous. Local wags questioned the priorities of the Fire Company -in the event a fire ever occurred during prime "Blue Law" operating hours of the Fire Company bar. Les Mateer ascribed to the Fire Company their motto, "We've never lost a foundation."
The public bars each had their own unique cultural attraction. The Cottage Inn was near the railroad station, south of the tracks, west of North Valley Road, about where The Village Shoppes now stand. This was the domain of the railroaders, who stopped at the Cottage Inn for a "shot" right before going on duty, as well as right afterwards.
The Green Lantern was on the northwest corner of Lancaster Pike and what is now Route 252 in a building that still stands. It was, earlier in the twentieth century, Schofield's store. The Eaves family lived in the adjacent house to the west. [Note 8]
The Horseman's Inn was on the south side of Lancaster Pike, almost in Daylesford, at the location now occupied by the Duffy Catering operation. Jimmy Duffy moved to our area about 1948 after operating a successful restaurant in Philadelphia. Local lore had it that Jimmy Duffy got his start as a bootlegger during prohibition, but this probably would be denied by his family, including his son, Eddie Duffy, whose lovely wife Barbara I dated in high school.
Before Jimmy Duffy turned the Horseman's Inn into the area's first classy restaurant, it was a cultural center for returning veterans when they weren't at the VFW. One of our neighbors from Maple Avenue was a well endowed young lady who occasionally attended cultural events at the Horseman's Inn. On the night of this story, the discussion centered on whether "Suzy" was wearing "falsies," which she vehemently denied. Several bets were made, and cash laid on the bar. "Penny" Pendergast was the part time bartender on duty that night. He had a regular job as a motorman on the Paoli Local, and lived in the residence above the Berwyn station. Penny was given the honor of deciding the wagers. After a suspenseful moment, he proclaimed that it was all "Suzy," and not padding.
In Paoli, a block of buildings still stand between where the Fire Company was in the 1940s, and South Valley Road. First was a sundry store with Alex's barbershop on the second floor. The Cilley Shop, Mapes Five and Ten, and a meat market were next. The butcher was alleged to be the local numbers operator,
probably because he made frequent trips to the News Agency to use the pay phone. The pay phone at the News Agency was also the best chance of reaching Tredyffrin Township's only police officer, "Woody" Woodward, who usually parked near the News Agency. I was a vital part of the police communications network, answering the phone, running outside to inform Chief Woodward, then disseminating the news to the News Agency's patrons and owners. The weekly edition of the Upper Main Line News, our local newspaper, had mostly stale news for the well informed people of the town of Paoli, who relied primarily on word of mouth communications.
After World War II, several other police officers were added to the Tredyffrin Police, possibly because returning war heroes, including my brother Don Kurtz, [Note 9] were spending large portions of their mustering out pay at the local social establishments, including the newly formed VFW on Grubb Road, and the newly built bar in the basement of the American Legion Home, which was moved from its previous quarters on Darby Road to its present location on Russell Road. [Note 10] As it turned out, there were few altercations among the veterans, but there was a serious dispute among the Tredyffrin policemen about 1947, when they allegedly broke up the Green Lantern late one Saturday evening. The dispute reportedly centered on the official time for applying the Blue Laws to the Green Lantern.
Earle's Drug Store, at the south east corner of Lancaster and South Valley Road, was the other building in the Fire Company block. Earle's soda fountain was the principal competition for the News Agency's fountain. Earle's was generally deemed cleaner, but our ice cream "scoops" were enormous for people we knew. Across South Valley Road was a building which still exists. In the 1940s, a dry cleaners and Howard Supplee's Hardware Store, occupied most of the building.
My best friends in the 1940s included Les Disharoon and Bob Carver, whose fathers worked for the railroad, and Skip Hoopes, whose father was one of the proprietors of Snowden and Hoopes, a garage half-way down Spring Street. Many people don't realize when they cross the Springton Reservoir on Route 252 near Media that it is fed by Crum Creek, which originates in a spring on Spring Street in Paoli.
We had a great time growing up in Paoli, our activities being only slightly curtailed by the fact that everybody in town knew who we were, and would threaten to tell our parents about any mischief in which we were engaged, although that seldom actually happened. One of our favorite recreations was to take the train to Berwyn to attend the movie house on Cassatt Avenue across from the train station. Children of railroad workers had "school passes," which were to be used only for going to and from school. The trainmen on the Paoli local undoubtedly
knew we were going to the movies, but chose to Ignore the infraction. They did give us a hard time about what we had done to have to go to school on Saturdays, and what was the current installment of the serial playing at the Berwyn movie house. For a small admission (10 cents or 25 cents), we saw a double feature, cartoons, and a serial. I don't remember any of the features, but I remember almost every installment of Don Winslow of the Navy, and The Green Hornet.
Doctor Fred Stevens had a dentist office at the front of the movie house. Fred Stevens was succeeded by his nephew, Bill Stevens, in a long time dental practice in Berwyn. These wonderful men did free dental work for people in the community who could not afford it, and did many other community services. [Note 11] Bill Stevens carried on the dental practice and community good works until very recently. Fred Stevens was also a regular attendee of cultural events at the VFW just after World War II. My mother never allowed him, or my brother, to forget the night he brought my brother home from a particularly intense cultural event. When my mother got out of bed to answer the door, Fred Stevens said: "Good evening, Mrs. Kurtz, here is your son." He turned on his heel and left, at which point, according to mother's story, my brother fell flat into the front hall.
On my toy train layout, east from the Paoii loop, the railroad tracks run past a model of the old Daylesford passenger shelter. The town of Berwyn has the train station, Fritz's lumber yard, the Post Office, Harold's Department Store, and the Over-the-Bridge Shop. The bell tower of Trinity Presbyterian Church is on the backdrop behind the station. The real Post Office is in exactly the same place it was in the 1940s, and the building is the same, except that Harold's Department Store used to occupy the east end of the building. Lou Lieberman was the proprietor, and his son Stanley is still a good friend from our 1950 class at T-E High School. Stanley always claimed that his older sister was the first Jewish student at T-E. I cannot vouch for this claim, but it had absolutely no significance to us at the time. This has always been a reminder to me of the lack of prejudice in the T-E School System when I was growing up. Well, after I went away to college, I found out about prejudice toward blacks and Jews. [Note 12]
Another good friend and classmate, Dave Soulen, lived in Charlestown. At one time, the T-E School District included Charlestown and all of what is now the Great Valley District. Dave Soulen's father, Henry J. Soulen, was a renowned illustrator. Many of his beautiful works were published on covers of the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal. Charlie Gasser, whose father was the only veterinarian in the area, was another member of our T-E High 1950 gang.
The Over-the-Bridge Shop was in the same building, but on the west side of the Post Office in Berwyn. It was a newspaper, magazine and sundry shop, with pin
ball machines in the rear. This made it a natural hang out for T-E students, including our gang, who were unusually well behaved because the proprietor of the Over-the-Bridge shop was Henry Potts, an assistant principal at T-E High.
In the 1940s, Berwyn also included the Fritz Lumber Yard, operated by the present Bill Fritz's father; Judge's Bar where the car wash now is; Grit Clark's seafood restaurant and bar on the corner of Lancaster and Lakeside; and the Berwyn Tavern, right where it has always been. The Berwyn Tavern is represented on my layout by a cut out of the real building. I've also taken license of including a model of our house in Berwyn on the layout.
Day's Drug Store, and the Berwyn Hardware Store, were across the street from the train station; the Drug store in part of the present Connor's Pharmacy building, and the hardware store where the Pearl of the East is now. Cas Tollinger owned and operated the Berwyn Hardware Store, and was a prominent leader of the local community. He taught Sunday School at the Paoli Presbyterian Church where my mother played the piano for Sunday School classes. In order to avoid my mother's embarrassment (or wrath) from my class of twelve year olds, Cas Tollinger took us out to his car in the parking lot where constant loud interruptions of the Sunday School lesson did not bother others more intent on their studies. Here is a word of assurance for the young people at Paoli Presbyterian. As long as Dick Mahaffey is active in that church, none of them can ever be accused of being the orneriest kid that ever attended the church.
Cas Tollinger was also one of the leaders of the local Republican Party, which has consistently over the years nominated and elected quite competent people to local offices in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships. Al Severance, the basketball coach at Villanova, was also very active in local Republican politics. He lived on Lancaster Pike across from the present liquor store in Berwyn. My mother and father both served at one time as Republican Committee people in Tredyffrin Township. A major split in the Republican Party was threatened when my mother insisted that she could not vote for Thomas Dewey because of his moustache.
In spite of this serious party defection, my father was nominated, and elected, tax collector of Tredyffrin Township in about 1952. In the primary election, he was opposed by Colket Wilson who had many followers because of the Wilson family's long involvement in civic affairs in Tredyffrin, but my father had the backing of the Republican Party. I was allowed to attend the election night party at the American Legion Bar over the strong objections of my mother. Possibly, my mother's voice in political matters had been tempered by the "Dewey thing." As results came in from the various precincts, it became apparent that the election was very close and my father might lose. He was reassured by Sam
Semelsberger who was the precinct committee-man for Tredyffrin East, which included the loyal Republicans of the Italian neighborhoods of Strafford. In any event, Tredyffrin East reported last with a sufficiently large majority to elect my father tax collector.
Back to my "train board", a model of the Overbrook Tower is where the tracks extend through the wall into my workshop. The eastern loop of the layout dogbone, and two holding tracks, are in a crawl space adjacent to my workshop. This area has a two-stall engine house, townhouses, stores and a backdrop representing the city of Philadelphia. In the 1940s, my mother and her friends periodically took the train to Philadelphia to shop at Wanamaker's, Gimbel's, Snellenberg's, and Strawbridge's.
The railroad line between Philadelphia and Paoli was originally served by steam locomotives which had to be turned in Paoli to make the return to Philadelphia. In 1915, the twenty miles from Broad Street Station in Philadelphia to Paoli were electrified. Many of the coaches of the steam-pulled commuter fleet were converted to electrified, self-propelled cars which could travel in either direction. These evolved into a fleet which eventually numbered over 400 cars, and were the backbone of the PRR commuter service until they were eventually replaced by streamlined, air-conditioned, silverliners starting in the mid-1970s. The old cars were painted tuscan, the PRR's color. They were referred to as "red rattlers" by millions of commuters, shoppers, and people who traveled to work in them on the Main Line. The "Red Rattlers" used in Paoli Local commuter service are represented on the layout by two custom-made models of PRR MP54 cars.
The MP54 MU cars of these trains were referred to more often by railroaders as "red dogs" or "owl cars" because of their round "owl eye" windows in both ends. [Note 13] I also have some beautiful Pennsylvania Railroad model passenger sets including the "Broadway Limited" headed by a 4-4-2 model steam engine, passenger cars, a baggage car, a combine car and a dining car. All together, a consist of nine cars makes its stop at Paoli station on my layout. At Paoli, a change is made between the steam power of a Pennsy 4-4-2 and a model GG1, just as in real life in the 1930s.
Pre-war automobiles and trucks in abundance set the era of my layout. Models of cars run the gamut from Model T's and Model A's to Dusenbergs and Cadillacs. The Fords (sold by Walter Matthews and his son Jimmy in Paoli), were in abundance in Paoli and Berwyn in the 1940s, and there were occasional Lincolns and Cadillacs.
Toy trains and history make a great hobby. I enjoy every part of it, particularly sharing it with others. [Note 14]
2 – Alexander J. Cassatt worked for the PRR from 1861 until his death in 1906, working his way up from surveyor to President of the railroad. He is credited with innovations and achievements which brought the Pennsy to the peak of its greatness. [Jacobs, The History of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Bonanza Books 1988, p. 81.] The Cassatt horse farm is now Chesterbrook. The Cassatt family also owned the impressive stone house on the east side of Cassatt Road, above Hillside Elementary School, and the beautiful stone mansion in Daylesford which is now the YMCA. When the Cassatts moved to the Main Line, they were followed by many railroad executives and other wealthy men interested in a country lifestyle with easy access to their offices in the city. "Were these, perhaps, the first commuters?" [Ibid., page 37.]
3 – The 1936 timetables described Paoli thusly: "Paoli... a most convenient station to and from suburban Philadelphia. Residents in suburban Philadelphia territory bounded by Phoenixville, Norristown, Kennett Square, West Chester, Chester, Wilmington and the Main Line as far as Downingtown, etc., will find Paoli a most convenient station for taking trains both to New York or to the West. For their convenience, all of the Pennsylvania Railroad's crack flyers in either direction stop at Paoli to take on or discharge passengers. This arrangement provides particularly fine, fast, through, all-electric service between Paoli and New York."
9 – Don Kurtz was a genuine hero, having been severely wounded by a mine in the Battle of the Bulge. This did not deter him from buying a 1946 Ford convertible, participating in numerous social and cultural events at the aforementioned establishments, completing a Bachelor of Science and Master's degree in electrical engineering, and starting a forty year career as an engineer, scientist and inventor with the General Electric Company. He was one of the many returning World War II heroes who were idolized by the entire town.
10 – The old Legion House on Darby Road, about where the new Fire House is located, had a wonderful World War I cannon in front. I went to kindergarten there. The new Legion House on Russell Road has never been finished beyond the basement, possibly because the legionaires found the bar in the basement could fulfill almost all their facilities requirements.
11 – Dr. Everett Yake and his younger brother, George, had a similar dental practice in Paoli at the corner of Darby Road and Circle Avenue. Dr. Yake, I am sorry for tearing up your lawn. On a wet early morning in 1948,1 threw the Yake newspaper, then braked too hard trying to make the Circle Avenue turn. The News Agency Ford did a full 360° spin on the Yake's lawn, and left it traveling west on Circle Avenue just in time to throw a newspaper at the Hoopes1 house on the left. Dr. Everett Yake recently passed away. [The Suburban and Wayne Times. Thursday, January 30, 1997, page 10.]
12 – My brother disputes Stanley's claim, believing that the Friel family, whose daughter attended T-E, were Jewish. The Friel's owned the local movie theaters, including those in Wayne and Bryn Mawr. Also, worthy of mention is Stan Lee Broza, who hosted the Horn & Hardart Children's Hour on Radio Station WCAU, and who lived on Russell Road in Daylesford. His son Elliott was the drum major for the T-E High School marching band, Class of 1942. Elliott gained fame as a big band leader under the name of Elliott Lawrence. The point is still valid. Religion and race were not important in the T-E School System.
14 – The author attended Paoli School, Tredyffrin-Easttown Junior High School, Tredyffrin-Easttown High School, Lehigh University and George Washington University. He is a partner in the patent law firm of Woodcock, Washburn, Kurtz, Mackiewicz and Norris in Philadelphia, and serves on the Board of SEPTA. The author gratefully acknowledges the help of Caroline Hartman at WWKMN who typed and assembled this article; his wife Jacquelyn Kurtz, who edited it; his brother Donald R. Kurtz, who supplied some of the whimsical material; and TEHC editor Herb Fry. All stories herein are true to the extent that they have been told as being true at one time or another. No disrespect to any of the wonderful people mentioned in this article is intended.
Copyright © 1997 Richard E. KurtzTop
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