Thursday Doors – Inclines

Duquesne Incline
Duquesne Incline

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.

Mile-long Stairs
Mile-long stairway connecting Mt. Washington to the mills along the river.

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.

81 thoughts on “Thursday Doors – Inclines

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  1. In the early 70’s I covered the Northeast Region for GAF when they entered the microfilm industry and Pittsburgh was always one of my favorite cities to visit so we could take customer up or down the mountain before or after dinner at LeMont Restaurant. Incredible views from their dining room. Good memories, will have to go back one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I took a look at that staircase going up the mountain and my heart did a little lurch. Wow. I wouldn’t want to do that trip every day!!

    I had never heard the term ‘incline’ used before. I immediately thought of the funicular in Quebec City. You added to my education today because now I know they’re the same thing.

    I really like the photo looking down on the little red car. Great perspective.
    …. but somehow I can’t get the image out of my head of careening out of control down the cliff. I think I’ve seen too many disaster movies ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. You added to my education today as well. I just popped over and looked up ‘funicular’ :) I don’t think the car could go off-cable and smash into the bottom. The worst thing would be if you had to exit the car and hike up the little slat stairway. Anyway, you can wait at the station with my wife, she’s good company.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, now here we a unique entry in this series. Good choice! Big red doors, and in an old brick building? Check. Then, as a bonus, we get the incline. I’d enjoy this little ride. Cool post, Dan.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s a very interesting bit of history, Dan. Thanks for sharing it. I’m still analyzing my reaction to the Duquesne building. While I don’t exactly find it attractive, and not inviting… I’m oddly intrigued by it. I want to go inside those doors. I don’t know why.
    Major,conference room-filled budget meetings at main campus this week. And when the meetings are not on… the air conditioning in my office building has been out all week. You’d think they’d make open-able windows… Great doors post. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pittsburgh is certainly a city of hills, Dan, one of which always seems to be between you and where you’re headed. :-) We’ve seen the inclines, but never gone up. Looks like it would be fun. The doors are great and it made me smile to see that we both chose, independently, some different doors this week. Happy Thursday!

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janet. I’ll have to go with great minds thinking alike :)

      Pittsburgh hills are a challenge, but I grew up loving to ride my bike up and down, all over the place. It’s listed today as one of the more bike-friendly cities.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have never heard of or taken a ride on an Incline. But I would…I’m not scared! The view is amazing. Thanks for another little piece of Pittsburgh history. I’m glad that they kept the inclines going for the tourists, and small children, and Faith. Nice photos and door post, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When the brewery was still operating, they used to have a commercial with this little bye who would say “I’ll have a duke quessne” – I’m glad you guys enjoyed this. If you follow the link to Faith’s photos, she has a lot of photos in that set from all over the city. That trip was her introduction to Pittsburgh.

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  7. You say incline, we say funicular but either way – cool idea for a post Dan!
    I have eyed them on my two visits to Pittsburgh but alas, never had the time to take a ride. Hopefully next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a wonderful looking building, Dan! It’s interesting how the architecture of the time creates a strong and imposing, yet warm and inviting, allure. Today’s modern architecture may inspire oos and awws too, but I find it much too cold and clinical. Too much smooth metal and glass, not enough brick, colour and texture.

    And it’s nice to see that they’ve retained the antiqueness on the inside of the car. It has so much charm and character. Looking at that photo, I can’t help but wonder if you stayed on long enough, would it somehow eventually stop at Willoughby…?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! It does have the look of the old rail car in that episode. Let’s hope I’m not getting off there. I imagine that the lamp was originally gas, but I’m glad they electrified it and kept the look. I love these old buildings. There is so much passion visible in the result. I think today’s contractors are beginning to think more about appearance but there’s still too much steel and glass. Thanks Wendy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for that wealth of information in addition to the photos. We are going to be in Pittsburgh briefly this summer and the inclines are at the top of our To Do list. The only decision is which one to take. Which would you recommend for first timers?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks.

      I prefer the view from the Duquense Incline, especially at night. You can also tour the powerhouse on that incline (I’m not sure if you can on the Mon).

      The Monongahela is very close to Station Square at the bottom end, so there’s more to do. You can park at Station Sq, ride the incline, take a tour on one of the Gateway Clipper Fleet boats (I used to work on them). If you’re going to a ball game, you can actually take the Clipper to PNC Park.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deborah. You would love the view. When I took Faith up there the first time, I was standing a long time while she got the photos she wanted. The link to her Flickr site is to the photos from that entire trip, but a bunch are from up there.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Nice entry! :)
    I’ve been on two of these — one at Niagara Falls, as Linda wrote, and another somewhere else, I do believe it was the same trip as The Liberty Bell, but it’s been a long time. The engineering is beyond my comprehension, but they’re neat! :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Now I’m trying to figure out how I missed the incline at Niagara Falls – Hmmm. I’ve been on others. I even got my wife to go on one, heading down to the powerhouse of Coulee Dam. She didn’t like it much, but she went.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I used to love stuff like that. Now I just can’t deal.
        The one at Niagara is in Ontario, so you do have to see it from the other side (which is prettier anyway if you ask me.)

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Loved the post, enjoyed reading about its past. I have seen this thing in many travel videos but don’t have such options here in India. Many places now have cable cars, but I don’t use it. I bet on my legs than anything else. I’m starting to feel that Pittsburgh is the best city where I love to settle down, if I was there. Although, Boston was my first choice but I changed it to Denver later on, now I think Pittsburgh should be fine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Sharukh. I’m not on the tourism board for Pittsburgh, but it is a pretty cool place to live. It’s been rated as the Most Livable City a couple of times. Boston is a great city too.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Now, I learned something fascinating about Inclines and this being in Pittsburgh makes it extra special!
    I would definitely not be afraid of this engineering wonder, allowing people to travel up and down Mt. Washington. :)
    I have to go there someday to see my brother’s wall mural of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the Fathead’s Brewery House wall. Randy also gets paid to paint any new Fathead’s logos, in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Seattle. In Cleveland, he has made barrels into tables and trash containers, spears for the Headhunters flavor and hop vines in the brewery. They have a framed photo of Randy on their wall which says: “Resident Artist.”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Am impressed with all the materials and ingenuity they spent on getting the coal out! A worthy subject for a whole post -which you do well -and thank you for the historic background -great for people like I who know nothing about mining! And thanks for visiting my blog:)

    Liked by 1 person

        1. No, not really. Everything I find has already been written about, usually in greater detail, by others. I don’t know if I have the ability to really add to the body of knowledge. But thanks for suggesting that I could.

          Like

    1. Thanks for taking time out of you (overly) busy schedule to stop by, Amy. If you ever make it down to Pgh, these are worth a ride, and you would go ape over the photo opportunities from the top.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve begun to ease my way back into blogging, Dan. I however must change my format because it is just too time consuming. As for this ride, if I ever get that way you can be sure I will be on it with camera in hand!!! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  14. There’s a gondola at Vail, Colorado that will take the passengers to the top of their highest skiing point. It’s used both summer and winter. It doesn’t have the old-world charm that the one you show here does though.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A favorite post, this. I’ve always loved cable cars and some of the streets in San Fran feel like inclines. KCET (Los Angeles local station) has done a three part posting on the lost inclines in So Cal. Very cool these are — it is where I learned they are also called funiculars. They even had one on Catalina Island. You might enjoy — sending you the first one on Angel’s Flight and you can follow if you like. https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/incline-la-angels-flight-and-its-lost-sibling-court-flight-episode-1

    Liked by 1 person

  16. How cool is that!!! Love it…great post….pictures and descriptions were perfect…felt like I was there. I have seen pictures of the Pittsburgh inclines, but having never been there, so appreciated your blog on them.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. If I ever go to Pittsburgh, I’ll be sure to check out that Incline attraction. I’ve never heard of it and now my interest is piqued. I don’t do “heavy duty” rides, so I hope this one isn’t scary.
    Oh, first time I’m hearing on this Incline ride. Thanks for adding to my education!
    Have a great Father’s day weekend with Faith and Mrs. Antion.

    Liked by 1 person

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