Since their construction in the earlier half of the twentieth century, the historic coaches that make up the majority of the NHRR’s passenger fleet have called these rails home. Built between 1914 and 1932 by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s Harlan & Hollingsworth Division of Wilmington, DE, they were acquired by the Reading Company for use in commuter passenger service between Reading Terminal in Philadelphia and the surrounding communities. Once considered the latest in passenger railroad equipment, they were instrumental in replacing older wooden cars on the Reading system. They could seat between seventy-eight and eighty-six passengers comfortably, and came equipped with improved heating, small restroom facilities at each end, and electric lighting, which was a real luxury at the time.
The line to New Hope was just one place in this part of Pennsylvania that these cars could be regularly seen in their younger years. Other destinations included, but were not limited to, the communities of Lansdale, Doylestown, Norristown, Newtown, Hatboro, Glenside, North Wales, Jenkintown, Quakertown, Bethlehem, Allentown, and Langhorne.
When placed in service, the oldest of these cars ran behind the Reading’s steam locomotives. As the years progressed, many locked couplers with the newer diesel electrics.
The youngest two were constructed as self-propelled cars, powered by electricity drawn from overhead catenary wires. These were used by the Reading to replace and retire the oldest of the locomotive-hauled coaches.
The PBh cars: Nos. 1424 and 1505
The oldest cars in NHRR service, Nos. 1424 and 1505 were constructed in 1914 and 1916, respectively as part of two separate orders. No. 1424 is one of two coaches at NHRR from the earlier order, while No. 1505 is the only car that survives today from the 1916 order.
As constructed, they both came with a double-deck “Clerestory” style roof similar to what was found on the Reading’s earlier wooden coaches. This would be changed in the 1930s when the railroad rebuilt them with a rounded “Turtleback” style roof, identical to what was found on younger passenger cars. They also came with decorative mahogany woodwork on their interior walls.
Between 1959 and 1964, No. 1424 was used frequently as part of the consists for the Reading’s steam-powered Iron Horse Rambles. Operated over various parts of the railroad’s system in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, these excursions were powered by their famed 4-8-4 “T1” class locomotives.
Both cars were acquired directly from the Reading Company by the founders of the NHRR between 1963 and 1966. Selected from a storage line in St. Clair, PA, they were refurbished for service before moving to New Hope for the start of operations in the summer of 1966. Shortly after the acquisition, No. 1424 was very briefly leased to short-lived excursion operator York Southern Railroad, which ran out of York, PA over the tracks of the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad. During this lease, the coach still wore its full Reading Company paint scheme and lettering.
Since coming back to Bucks County many decades ago, Nos. 1424 and 1505 have been in consistent operation. Both still retain much of their original interiors, including the beautiful mahogany woodwork on the walls, giving today’s travelers an excellent example of what it was like to travel here during the 1910s and 1920s.
The PBn cars: Nos. 1127 and 1220
These cars were constructed as part of two separate orders, No. 1220 in 1922 and No. 1127 in 1924.
Similar in style to their slightly older sisters, both came new to the Reading with more modern looking, for the time period, rounded “Turtleback” style roofs instead of the older “Clerestory” style. In addition, the interior walls originally came without decorative mahogany woodwork, with the NHRR shop later adding some in No. 1127 to match the older fleet.
In 1930, the Reading replaced the original “Commonwealth” style trucks (wheel assemblies) on No. 1127 with more flexible “Taylor” style trucks for testing purposes. This led the railroad to order the new self-propelled, electric-powered passenger cars with the latter truck design, which was found to be better equipped at handling fast acceleration. No. 1127 was the only locomotive-hauled coach to receive “Taylor” trucks and still rides upon them in the modern era.
Between 1959 and 1964, No. 1127 was regularly used in consists for the Reading’s steam-powered Iron Horse Rambles through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Both Nos. 1127 and 1220 were operated in commuter service into the mid-1960s, their last runs for the Reading taking place on the nearby Newtown Branch.
After retirement by the Reading, both were acquired from the St. Clair, PA storage line between 1966 and 1967 for excursions by the Valley Forge Scenic Railroad of Kimberton, PA. Located about four miles from historic Valley Forge Park, this company ran excursions similar to those of the NHRR over a portion of the Reading Company’s former Pickering Valley Branch. During their short time at Kimberton, both were repainted and renumbered for their new owner, with No. 1127 becoming VFSR No. 1776 and No. 1220 becoming VFSR No. 1775. The name Pickering Valley was also applied to the sides of No. 1220 during its time on the Valley Forge.
Following the closure of the Valley Forge Scenic Railroad in 1970, both cars were acquired by the NHRR, joining several of their former Reading sisters on the Bucks County shortline. Since their arrival, both cars have been in consistent service.
The EPb cars: Nos. 867 and 870
Both of these cars were constructed in 1932 in connection with the Reading’s massive project in the late 1920s and early 1930’s to convert most of their Philadelphia area commuter trains from steam-hauled to electric operation.
Originally these cars were built as self-propelled units, drawing electric power from overhead catenary wires with a roof-mounted pantograph, rather than riding behind a locomotive. Delivered with “Taylor” style trucks, as a result of testing conducted in 1930 with locomotive-hauled coach No. 1127, they were operated at much higher speeds than traditional locomotive-hauled trains, with quicker acceleration from station stops. Only seen under wire, these cars only operated as far north as Hatboro, later Warminster, on the New Hope Branch during Reading days.
In the mid-1960s, both cars were part of the fleet of thirty-eight that the Reading rebuilt at their main shops within the railroad’s namesake Pennsylvania city. Improvements, funded by the City of Philadelphia, included new lighting and seats, mechanical upgrades, and a new blue and white paint job, for which the upgraded cars would be nicknamed Blueliners. At this time, they received new numbers, with No. 867 becoming No. 9123 and No. 870 becoming No. 9125.
SEPTA began providing funding for railroad commuter service in the Philadelphia area beginning in 1966, with the Reading continuing actual operation of the cars until 1976 when Conrail crews took over. This would last until 1983 when Conrail exited passenger service and SEPTA’s newly created Regional Rail Division took full control. A year later, with the opening of the new Center City Commuter Tunnel, Reading Terminal closed its doors to train service on November 6th, with Nos. 9123 and 9125 both part of the consist that ran on the final departure from the historic station.
The late 1980s saw both cars retired from revenue passenger service, with No. 9123 acquired by the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society and No. 9125 converted by SEPTA into an unpowered crew car for use on the commuter operator’s wire maintenance train.
No. 9125 was retired by SEPTA in 2004 and soon after acquired by the NHRR. After several years of storage, it was restored and returned to passenger service as a locomotive-hauled coach in 2019, renumbered back to its original No. 870.
No. 9123 was restored to a Reading paint scheme and later displayed at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum in Hamburg, PA. In 2020, it was acquired by NHRR and moved to Bucks County, returning to passenger service as a locomotive-hauled coach that fall. Plans are to renumber it back to No. 867 upon a future repaint into the railroad’s color scheme.