A Double-Edged Sword
When the Cumberland Valley Railroad was officially dissolved into the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in 1919, the merger was initially beneficial to the economy of the region. Early connections with cities along the PRR’s expanded routes provided new markets for area goods. Local freight yards multiplied in size to handle the increased traffic. With extensive financial resources, the PRR also introduced new technology to haul agricultural products including special grain hopper cars.
After the Great Depression, grain farmers struggled as the once profitable expansion westward now threatened their livelihoods. To remain competitive, they adopted innovative techniques.
With access to larger city markets via the PRR, a tremendous quantity of freight, especially agricultural products, moved in and out of the Cumberland Valley. Because this freight needed to be systematically distributed, large freight yards were built to facilitate the process. These freight yards would methodically sort, store, load, and unload railroad cars as engines brought in their freight from multiple locations and prepared to depart for various destinations. In the early 1900’s the largest freight yard in the country was located in the Cumberland Valley at Enola, Pennsylvania. Prior to World War II the Enola Freight Yard handled as many as 10,000 cars of freight a day. This amount was doubled during the war.
Improved Grain Transportation
In order to improve its freight operations, the PRR incorporated stronger cars with greater carrying capacity throughout their lines.
Hopper cars that had opening doors to discharge cargo replaced old fashioned gondolas. These doors could be used in conjunction with automated loading and unloading facilities. They were constructed of steel and had an inside length of forty feet and had a capacity of 100,000 pounds. Special covered hoppers were developed to protect grain from weather and other conditions that might cause spoilage.
By 1946 hopper and gondola cars constituted sixty-seven percent of freight moved by the PRR.
Battling the Competition
Although, farmers saw the value of their farms increase with the growth of the railroad within the first few years of the merger, this trend would unfortunately reverse in the next decade. By 1930, farm values dropped to $21.7 million in Cumberland County. Although this drop was due primarily to the Great Depression, and value improved during World War II when wartime needs increased yields and profitability, they never fully recovered. The small, family-owned farms of South Central Pennsylvania had tremendous difficulty competing with the large, industrial farms of the Midwest. Prices of local goods declined severely.