It’s More Than Just a Train

March 7, 2019

Written by Art Petrosemolo

My work as a feature writer for the Lancaster Newspapers’ weeklies in Lititz, Ephrata and Elizabethtown as well as Lancaster Farming and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette bring me in contact with some interesting people and allow me to write about some cool stuff. And, in the process, I pick up a lot of minutia that would probably make me a good contestant on Jeopardy.

Recently I became reacquainted with the Star Barn and its restoration on the Stone Gables site in Elizabethtown. I remember the barn well from my early 1970s years working at Franklin & Marshall College and looking for it on trips to Harrisburg. If you have lived in Lancaster County for some time, you have watched the barn deteriorate until recently. It was rescued by David Abel and his wife Tierney a few years back and reconstructed and restored by B&D Builders in Paradise.

And recently there has been a lot of brouhaha about the Lincoln Funeral Train coming to Stone Gables as well as a rumor about a historic carousel that Mr. Abel is acquiring.

In any case, everything for me turned out to be interconnected. On a visit to the Star Barn to meet one of their public relations executives, I took a striking winter photo of the barn that appeared five days later across the front page of Lancaster Farming. After seeing what was done with the barn, I wanted to write about it and pitched my editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and he loved the idea. So, that assignment got me (through the help of Garden Spot slab table builder Mike Fisher to his neighbor Benjamin Esh). Esh and David Glick are owners of B&D Builders, the major contractors on the restoration of the Star Barn, are local in Paradise and, coincidentally (I really don’t believe in coincidences anymore) built the timber framing in the Village Square here at Garden Spot Village.

After meeting with B&D, I learned they were put on the map constructing a 78,000-square foot horse barn-stable (it really looks like a mansion for horses) for show horses in Chesapeake City, Md., built by retired cable executive John Malone. Because of my experience writing about thoroughbred, standard bred and show horses, I got really excited about this site and it looks like I will be able to write about the construction and photograph it for Lancaster Farming or Mid-Atlantic Horse. Everything, it seems, is connected.

Well, the meeting with the Stone Gables executive also alerted me to their plans for the historic Belmont Barn complex planned to be erected on the site to hold the Christmas and Toy Museums, as well as the Herr’s Mill Bridge deconstruction and reconstruction as part of the Lincoln Funeral Train project, which was new to me. And again, B&D Builders is the contractor for the site.

And it turns out, Mr. Abel recently purchased a replica of the Lincoln Funeral Train (locomotive, tender and funeral car) to run on three miles of track being constructed on the Stone Gables property. Who knew that the original funeral train carrying the body of the President Lincoln passed across the Stone Gables property? In 1865, the funeral train traveled through the property on the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad (a system eventually absorbed into the Pennsylvania Railroad system) returning President Lincoln’s body to Springfield, IL for burial.

The train will run for the first time on April 22nd (the day after Easter) in a reenactment of that journey to introduce the Lincoln Funeral Train to the public at Stone Gables. It was a story too good to pass up for the Elizabethtown Advocate and I literally hopped on it and visited with Steve Torrico who is the superintendent of the railroad.

It was a hoot (literally) and seeing the Leviathan locomotive secured to its trailer in the dim light of a storage shed, got me excited. The 19th century Leviathan locomotive looks immense and impressive.

The locomotive has a varnished wood cab, gold leaf trim and bright red wheels. The iconic 4-4-0 design was the first truly American-made locomotive and a staple of 19th century U.S. Railroads. One of the original 4-4-0s, just a few years later, was part of the Promontory Point, Utah golden spike ceremony marking the completion of the first trans-continental railroad on May 10, 1869.

Torrico has been a railroad man since his teens and had driven the locomotive several times during his career. The locomotive was built by an Illinois locomotive and machine builder Dave Kloke who trucked it around the country to run on tracks at tourist railroad sites.

The train is one of a number of historic artifacts with a connection to Central Pennsylvania that are becoming part of Stone Gables. The site is similar to the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village in Michigan, and provides educational experiences based on authentic artifacts from the last century and a half.

Stone Gables also is the site of private parties, wedding, corporate events, fundraisers and celebrations for the public throughout the year in the Star Barn—one of the site’s focal points—which was restored over four years and dedicated on July 4, 2018.

The Abels were aware of the Lincoln Funeral Train and its connection to the Stone Gables and saw it for the first time at a train festival in 2015. They knew that the original funeral train had passed through Elizabethtown and acquired it.

The original nine car Lincoln Funeral Train traveled 1600-miles in five days on its 1865 journey. It passed through 44 cities, and was pulled by 21 different locomotives over the track of 15 different railroads.

The replica, like the original locomotive, is supported with two sets of four wheels, what is called first American Type or 4-4-0 design built to run on 56.5-inches standard gauge rail. The locomotives, prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s—many built at Baldwin Locomotive in Philadelphia—were all out of service early in the 20th century. The disposition of the original Leviathan is not known and most train authorities believe it did not survive into the 1900s. The original Lincoln funeral car burned in a prairie fire in Minnesota in 1911.

The Lincoln train will operate with an engineer, a fireman as well as a conductor while circling the Elizabethtown property on what is called an insular rail system.

Two enclosed passenger day coaches as well as a coach, called a combine, with a baggage section—all of 1800s design—are being built for the new rail operation and, according to Torrico, they will carry around 100 passengers. The train will be available for all Stone Gables functions and Torrico foresees its use by bridal parties, at corporate events and celebrations.

The Lincoln Funeral Train was exhibited at the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show and attracted thousands of visitors who were anxious to have their photo taken in front of the locomotive and learn about the plans for the new railroad on the Stone Gables site.

Is Torrico excited? The supervisor/engineer can’t wait to guide the train on its first trip on Stone Gables track on April 22 at the Lincoln Funeral Train’s introduction to the community. “You bet I’m excited,” Torrico smiles. “It’s going to be a great day!”

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