When I was gathering photos from Pittsburgh for Saturday’s post, I was going to include one of the Duquesne Incline. While searching for it, I realized that, unlike so many places that I visited before joining Thursday Doors, I had actually taken pictures of the doors at the Pittsburgh inclines.
‘Inclines’ is barely plural today, but at one time, there were 15 incline railways carrying workers up and down Pittsburgh’s most famous hills. The two remaining railways are both on Mt Washington, the large hill that separates Pittsburgh from the southwest suburbs where I grew up. Tunnels bring people through Mt Washington, and bridges carry them over the Monongahela River, but the inclines were the best, and still are the most interesting way to get up and down. Prior to the inclines, workers would actually climb up and down about a mile of steps.
The Duquesne Incline is my favorite. Any time people would visit from out of town, my father would take them there. Any time we have visited, I’ve offered to take my family for a ride. Faith eagerly joined me in the car. The Mrs. prefers to wait at the top.
Although they are sometimes referred to as railways, they operate more like an elevator than a train. The cars do ride on rails, but they are not under power. They are pulled up and let down via cables, with each car counterbalancing the other.
The Duquesne Incline opened in 1877, carrying passengers up and down “Coal Hill” as it was known. Mining was a significant industry, as the nearby steel mills had quite an appetite for coal and coke, a processed form of coal. At the time the Duquesne Incline opened, there were four inclines operating on what would become known as Mt. Washington. The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company ran the incline from 1877 until 1962. Since 1964, it has been owned by the Port Authority of Allegheny County and operated by the Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline.
The incline rises 400 feet as it’s pulled along 794 feet of track. Those of you who enjoy word problems can work that out, but for the rest of you, the track grade is about 58% at 30 degrees. The cars move 18 people (each) at a whopping 6 miles per hour.
The very cool thing about the Duquesne Incline is the complicated way the hoisting cables work. The builders were unable to secure the land across the street, so the power house sits perpendicular to the track. The cables wind through a series of pulleys and sheaves. The whole operation is powered by a 75 horsepower motor. For my editor and those of you worried about being dragged up almost 800 feet on a 140 year old contraption, there is a safety cable attached to each car.
A little under a mile south of the Duquesne Incline, is the Monongahela Incline. Built in 1870, this incline is located near the Smithfield Street Bridge, one of the oldest bridges across the Monongahela River. The Monongahela Incline is 635 feet long, and rises 367.4 feet. Now let’s not see the same hands. Less height, but much less distance… Come on… OK, the grade is over 70% at an angle of about 35 degrees. Yes, that’s kind of steep. The interesting feature of the Monongahela incline is its three-level cars. As you prepare to board, you have to position yourself on one of three staircase landings, and you exit onto a similar arrangement. Like the Duquesne Incline, there is no power and there are no operators in the cars. The operator runs the cars from the upper station, where the power and cable management apparatus are housed. Unlike its neighbor to the north, the Monongahela Incline’s power house is a straight-shot down the track.
The inclines are major tourist attractions today, and some of the best photos of Pittsburgh can be taken from Mt. Washington. I love riding the inclines, and I love seeing little children pile up next to the window to watch the track as we descend.
This post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. If you want to join the fun, or see lots more doors, pop on over to Norm’s place and look for the blue button. Note: one of the children in the window is Faith. If you want to see her pictures from this trip, head to her Flickr site.