JOHNSTOWN INCLINED PLANE 1891

Synonymous with Johnstown and its great floods is the Johnstown Inclined Plane.Inclined PlaneConstructed as a "lifesaver" after the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889, the Incline has more than lived up to its original lifesaving purpose. Flood waters again swept through the Conemaugh and Stonycreek Valleys on March 17, 1936 and July 20, 1977. On both occasions, the Incline carried men, women, children and vehicles to safety and help. It is one of the longest and steepest hoists in the world and one of the few transportation systems of its kind still in existence.

Construction of the Inclined Plane was undertaken by the Cambria Iron Company, a predecessor of Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1890 and opened for business on June 1, 1891. It cost the company an estimated $133,296 and was intended to provide fixed-rail transportation up the steep Yoder Hill connecting the iron works along the valley floor with the new residential development of Westmont Borough. The railway was constructed with an 896.5 foot runway at a 71 percent grade. The wheels, rails and other Incline parts were from standard railroad equipment by the Cambria Iron Company. The lower entrance to the railway, crossing Stonycreek River, consists of a heavy iron bridge constructed with the three-foot-thick iron girders and supported by stone abutments.

The Inclined Plane is composed of two sets of tracks implanted in the side of the hill on which two cars run simultaneously one from the bottom to the top and the other from the top to the bottom. The cars on the Incline are uniquely designed to provide a level ride for cars, trucks and pedestrians, originally for horses and wagons. These cars are duplicates of those which hauled cargo boats over the Allegheny Mountains via the Allegheny Portage Railroad. The cars are 15 feet and 6 inches wide 33 feet and 11 inches long, and weigh 92 tons each. Each car can hold up to fifteen tons, and are hauled by strong steel cables which are controlled by a 400 horsepower electric motor. The cables, three on each track, are two inches in diameter, 1,130 feet long, and are safety tested to 335,000 pounds (167 tons). The track is 867.1 feet long and the top is 1,693.5 feet above sea level. The skillful arrangements of the hoisting ropes, the magnitude of the machinery, the interaction of the controls, and the dual braking systems are historic examples of the ingenuity, imagination, skill, and enterprise of the people who once settled here and conquered the frustrating natural obstacles of Johnstown's topography.

For over 40 years it served as a safe and sure link to the community situated on the rim of the hill overlooking Johnstown. Because of the convenience and access to the heart of the business district, it was directly responsible for Westmont becoming one of the nation's earliest residential suburbs.

In 1935, Bethlehem Steel sold the railway to Westmont Borough for $1.00. It served its purpose well during the 1936 Flood, when it carried approximately 4,000 men, women and children to safety at the top of Yoder Hill when flood waters again submerged the City.

As better roads were built in the vicinity of the Incline following World War II, use of the railway declined, and it was closed by Westmont due to the financial burden. Subsequently, in April of 1962, the Borough transferred the operational responsibility of the Incline, under a lease arrangement, to the Cambria County Tourist Council for $10 a year. It was then reopened on July 1, after an extensive restoration project was completed under the auspices of the Tourist Council and the Greater Johnstown Chamber of Commerce. The restoration improvements included the replacement of the original steam engine with a 400 horsepower electric motor.

Since 1962, the Tourist Council has continued the operating responsibilities of the Incline system. In over 80 years of operation the Inclined Plane Railway has carried over 40 million passengers and countless vehicles. Numerous local businesses and corporations have contributed manpower and materials to keep the system functioning. But the system reached the point where major capital improvements were needed to assure its continued operation.

Consequently, in August 1978, Westmont Borough solicited the assistance of the Cambria County Transit Authority, requesting that the Authority consider the acquisition of the Incline into its system. Subsequently, the Inclined Plane was purchased by the Transit Authority for $1.00 in 1983. Federal and State grants were submitted to initiate extensive capital repairs.

In 1984, the Johnstown Inclined Plane was completely rebuilt at a cost of $3.5 million by it's owner, the Cambria County Transit Authority. In addition, an expanded observation deck was constructed in 1990 to make room for a new Visitors Center.

The Visitors Center provides an extensive orientation area for visitors to Johnstown, describing the various tourist attractions available in the region. A spacious and informative display area has also been created by Metaform, Inc., the same company that designed the displays for New York's Statue of Liberty.

Situated directly beneath the glass-walled Visitors Center is a 150-seat family restaurant, with each table affording a panoramic view of the valley below.

Also adjacent to the Inclined Plane is the James Wolfe Sculpture Trail, the first such trail in the United States. Mr. Wolfe, a nationally renowned sculptor, was commissioned to create eight steel sculptures from remnants produced by the local Bethlehem Steel plant. His premier piece is a majestic 40' sculpture situated directly below the Incline's observation deck.

On the hillside above the Inclined Plane is a magnificent 30' x 60' American flag, flying on a 125' flagpole at the highest point above the valley. This flag is one of the largest flags in the United States, and can be seen for miles around from almost any point in the valley. It is also illuminated at night, a spectacular sight.

Other amenities at the Inclined Plane include a gift shop and the Hillside Ice Cream Shoppe.

Inclined PlaneThe newest addition to the Inclined Plane is the Laser Light Show. The Show is a beautiful and "extraterrestrial" array of laser lights creating unique and changing light sculptures in the sky. The laser lights can be viewed from the Observation Deck or, for a special treat, can be viewed by riding the Incline to "feel" the lights change as the cars move.

Thousands of visitors from around the world have visited the famous Johnstown Inclined Plane, billed by the Guinness Book of Records as "The steepest vehicular inclined plane in the world."

Back to History Page


Johnstown Pennsylvania Information Source Online
http://www.JohnstownPA.com
Designed by Michaels Computing
Send Email To:
webmaster@johnstownpa.com