The Pioneer Era (1860-1910)

The Pioneer Era was one of the most exciting periods in railroading history; beginning with the Civil War, transcending the era of the Wild West, and ending in the early 20th century. This was the era when railroading established its supremacy and surpassed waterways, canals and turnpikes dotted with horse-drawn wagons as the undisputed leader in transportation. It was also the era which helped to define America as we know it, with hot competition in the eastern corridor as the dominant players scrambled to acquire smaller carriers to expand their market share. Giants of the time New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad typified that process and eventually became the matriarchs of US railroading.

The nation was finally united by steel rails with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and received an additional boost with the introduction of standardized time zones. From Chicago and St. Louis west, latter-day giants Burlington, Union Pacific, Santa Fe Milwaukee Road, Northern Pacific and Great Northern all got their start in this era. Railroading hastened the pace of the industrial revolution as well as the movement of people, giving substance to the latter-day claim “America Grew up on Trains”.

Locomotive designs grew as well and the first 2-8-0 (Consolidation type) entered service. In 1904 American Locomotive Works built the first US Mallet type, 0-6-6-0 #2400 for the B&O. Speed records were first established in 1893 by the 112.5 MPH run of New York Central 4-4-0 locomotive #999 equipped with exceptionally large 86” driving wheels followed in 1897 by the sustained speed records of 70 MPH established by 4-4-2 locomotive #1027 of the Atlantic City Railroad. Freight car designs and types expanded to include cattle cars, refrigerator cars and tank cars to serve the newly founded petroleum sector in the east.

Passenger car designs advanced beyond the flat roof cars from the earlier period with the introduction of the clerestory roof that greatly improved car ventilation and enhanced the visual profile of passenger equipment.  Pullman Company’s first sleeping car the “Pioneer” entered service and proved to be wildly popular. Pullman kept moving and by the 1890s elevated their passenger cars to an unparalleled level of luxury. By 1900 passenger car lengths grew form 50 foot to 70 foot car bodies that rode six-wheeled trucks. The high-water mark of luxury arrived when the two most famous passenger trains in US history, the 20th Century Limited of the NYC and Broad Way Limited of the PRR entered service in 1902.

Challenges loomed as the demand for railroad service produced excessive route redundancy that fueled destructive rate wars. But larger, financially stable carriers used the later part of this era to recapitalize their plants correcting the serpentine nature of early track alignments and crude structures. Advancement of the latter occurred when PRR’s monumental Pennsylvania Station and New York Central’s new Grand Central Stations opened in 1910 and 1913 respectively.

The Pioneer Era can be an enticing period to model. A wide selection of rolling stock and locomotives are available in all scales, and the major historical events which took place during this period will make setting a theme and location for your layout both fun and rewarding!

Do you model the late 1800s? Let us know on social media – we’d love to see what you’ve done!