Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Electric Transmission Towers, 1927
along the Reading Railroad Line

Sara Jane Elk, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The high wire transmission towers following the original PG&N rail lines through Manayunk were designed during an era of innovation in both transportation and power generation. The upper part of the structures deliver high voltage power from auxiliary generating stations for the Philadelphia Electric Company, while the lower portions carry wires to electrify the trains. Today this track serves the SEPTA R6 regional line to Norristown.
The impetus for this cooperative arrangement between the utility company and the railroad came in 1927 as the Philadelphia Electric Company completed its new Conowingo Dam at U.S. Route 1 across the Susquehanna River.
1 Transmitting the power by aerial lines sixty-three miles to a substation in Philadelphia posed a problem, as a significant portion along the proposed route was already densely populated. The solution evolved from a concurrent and similar dilemma faced by the electric company as it also sought a route to transmit power from the northwest into Philadelphia, where the plans called for a new substation upstream from Manayunk on the Schuylkill River at Plymouth Meeting. 2 In pondering both projects, the management of Philadelphia Electric proposed directing the lines from Conowingo to the Plymouth Meeting station and carrying all of the lines together into Philadelphia. Although the plan presented an efficient way to transmit the lines, a route through an undeveloped region still eluded them. Spotting the PG&N tracks, a route that followed the river valley from near Plymouth Meeting into Philadelphia, and since acquired by the Reading Railroad Company, Philadelphia Electric began negotiations with the railroad to build towers over its right-of-way. Because plans to electrify that particular route had been contemplated by the Reading Company, its management was amenable to the proposal. After a period of discussion, engineers Clark Dillenbeck for the railroad and N.E. Funk of the electric company designed a tower to overcome the right-of-way issue and to support the dual power lines. In July, 1927, the two companies reached an agreement which allowed Philadelphia Electric to construct its towers from Shawmont to Westmoreland along the rail route. In negotiating a tower design to bridge the railroad right-of-way issue, the Philadelphia Electric Company successfully engineered a technique for maneuvering high power aerial lines among populated regions.
The original towers carried three 100,000-kilowatt, 66,000-volt aerial lines to a substation in Hunting Park which transferred the power underground to 66,000-volt cables to the company's main steam generating plants at Richmond, Schuylkill and Delaware Stations.

Two types of towers occur along the route, both observable in Manayunk. Each resembles human forms, minus the arms, with the legs straddling the tracks. The towers differ in the position of the legs. Standing at the intersection of Cresson Street and Shurs Lane, observe one type with a leg stepped to the side and the other type with the legs positioned symmetrically.

1  Nicholas B. Wainwright, History of the Philadelphia Electric Company 1881-1961 . (Philadelphia, 1961), pp. 179-82.
2  Wainwright, p. 181. This project involved interconnecting the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company with the Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey.

Update May 2007 (by Sara Jane Elk):
No change.