All the king’s trains

I have my friend Zach Kreamer to thank for this one. It was a little busy at the Ross Library last night. (No matter what day you are reading this, it was a little busy at the Ross Library last night.) But Zach still found the time to mention it.

Zach, a co-worker, commented that his sister had been asking if the King and Queen of England came to Lock Haven in 1939.

“I never heard that before,” I said. “But I’ll look into it.”

So later, I looked at the microfilm, and Zach was right. It was June 8, 1939, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came through Lock Haven.

It is important to note that that wasn’t the whole reason for the trip. They didn’t come clear from England just for the purpose of visiting Lock Haven. It was part of a lengthy railroad tour that also involved Washington DC and New York. But they did get through Lock Haven, and the Express reported it on the front page.

“The unprecedented spectacle of a British king and queen passing through Lock Haven attracted to the Pennsylvania Railroad right of way early today a curious assemblage of who seemed content to see, if not their majesties at that hour, the 14 coaches of the Royal Blue and Silver train,” the article began.

The train carrying the royals was scheduled to come through at four in the morning. (Apparently, there is a four in the morning, in addition to the one I was aware of.) “Elaborate precautions” were taken to ensure security. This involved security personnel from the Pennsylvania Railroad calling in people from other areas to guard the section of track they’d be traveling through. They paid particular attention to all bridges and road crossings in the area. The state police also sent twenty-seven extra men, and Troop F, a National Guard unit, provided men, as well. (Troop F was the first unit to move into the Dunnstown armory, incidentally, when it was completed in 1928.)

Access from other trains was also temporarily blocked for security reasons. No trains were allowed through for several hours, giving the king and queen pretty much the entire track to themselves, though presumably they were asleep and unable to enjoy it. The highway between Lock Haven and Renovo was also blocked for security reasons, though most of the local drivers were also asleep at the time.

The people who were not asleep gathered on the east end of town to see the train come through, and there were quite a few of them that morning. The majority of them gathered around the railroad station near Henderson Street, though they couldn’t get too close, as it was being heavily guarded.

And finally, it arrived. The train carrying the king and queen. First, a small pilot train came through, and five minutes later, a fourteen-car passenger train passing through at precisely 4:16 a.m. (The pilot train overheated in Montgomery a bit later, and was delayed while a temporary pilot train took its place as far as Sunbury.)

The gathered crowds watched the train come through, carrying its royal people, who were almost certainly too asleep to enjoy their trip through Lock Haven.

As an added touch, many people had placed coins along the track, to be flattened when the train rolled over them. Afterward, they gathered up the coins, so quite a few citizens of Lock Haven wound up with a squashed 1939 penny as a souvenir.

As the sun came up, people dispersed. The logistics took a while to right themselves afterward; a train that was scheduled to come through at 6:33 a.m. didn’t arrive until 8:10 a.m. because of all the commotion.

So, in essence, the king and queen didn’t precisely “visit” Lock Haven so much as “sleep through in transit.” But it was an interesting moment in our history. Oh, and if you happen to find a flat coin in a jewelry box or something, give me a call.

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