Throwback Thursday: 1914 Alley Popper Train Wreck

(Provided photo)

The Altoona and Philipsburg branch of the Pittsburgh and Susquehanna Railroad was founded and installed in 1894 to haul coal and local passengers.

It was established by Charles Rowland and other investors to compete with the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad.  For a time, it did well, showing a profit.

The rail line was nicknamed the Alley Popper. It became a local legend in the Moshannon Valley, as it steamed its way from Philipsburg to Fernwood in Gulich Township.

Osceola Mills, Houtzdale and Ramey were major stops along the way.

In 1914 Sigmund Lubin of Philadelphia, owner of the Lubin Film Co., found that the Alley Popper had two older engines available to take part in a head-on collision that would be filmed for a staged crash to be used in a number of his then silent movies.

Lubin sent his director, Romaine Fielding, to Philipsburg to make the arrangements.

On Sept. 8, a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch the crash.  The point of impact was on the stretch of tracks below where the Hometown Market now stands in Chester Hill.

Two experienced engineers were paid to race at full throttle against each other and then jump out before impact!  The head-on crash was both destructive and deafening as the cameras rolled to record the scene.

When the smoke and steam cleared, crowds gathered around the engines to survey the damage before the filming of rescue scenes began.

The footage was used in Lubin’s films, The Valley of Lost Hope and the eight-part serial movie, A Partner to Providence.  The latter can be viewed on the Internet.

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