Smoke and Oak Railroad, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Smoke & Oak Railroad History

Smoke & Oak: The Name

The railroad's name came from the abudant Oak trees in the Central Pennsylvania region of the railroad's main terminus in Mechanicsburg, PA. The smoke of the steam engines would be a common site among the trees in the early years of the railroad, and this name was brought back again as the railroad found its modern day role as a steam passenger tourist railroad.

The Smoke & Oak also plays on the usage of oak wood for the making of barrels, which ultimately get a char on the inside, used in the produciton of Whiskey and Whisky all around the world. The Whisky refers to Scotch Whisky and interestingly many of the sidings and other points of interest along the railroad have Scotch-themed names.

Early Years

The railraod was originally founded in 1893 on paper by a local business man looking to ship grain via the Reading Railroad when only the Pennsylvania Railroad was providing local service. This man purchased the land rights and then sold these rights to the Reading in exhcange for the Reading laying the track.

The Reading laid the track in 1894 but then extended the line in 1896 to connect with the Pennsylvania Railroad. This ironic condition lead to the Pennsylvania Railroad's ability to also provide local service on the line, despite the original owner's intention of working solely with the Reading Railroad.

Throughout the early 1900s the line acted as a bridgeline between the two railroads as the Pennsylvania found it to be a convenient route from Enola when major track work was being done on its own mainlines.

Enter Conrail

The line's usefulness was reduced with the formation of Conrail in 1976 as the previously competitor's Reading and Pennsylvania (now Penn Central) railroads were joined as one. The line was soon seen as redundant and traffic stopped (except for one every-other-week local).

Conrail officially abandoned the redundant line soon after its formation in 1976 and the railroad has operated as an independant company since then. The independant company was formed by two local rail enthusiats as a part-time hobby to keep then twice-monthly local freights operating.

In the 1980s there were some attempts to create a tourist passenger sevice for the area but the company changed hands quickly and these was not brought to completion.

End Of Conrail

In 1999 Conrail was split up into Norfolk Southern and CSX holdings with NS predominately getting the local formerly Pennsylvania Railroad lines and CSX interestintly getting the former Reading Railroad line called the Lurgan Branch. This put the Smoke and Oak Railroad back into major business as a bridge line between the two competing railroads.

To increase the bridge traffic major rail improvements were required to raise the track speeds so that CSX and NS would be interested in running fast freights over the line as a true short-cut. This work took several years but by the mid 2002 there were multiple daily mainline freights from both companies operating over the line.

Start of Steam Passenger Service

This increase in mainline bridge railroad traffic has brought in enough profit for the current owners to once again persue tourist passenger service while maintaining friendly local freight service as well.

The railroad acquired two steam locomotives (one former PRR engine was already in the area providing occasional runs on about a mile of track, the other being a former ATSF engine) and through an agreement with the Strasburg Railroad had the two brought up to modern boiler requirments.

The first tourist trains were pulled by restored vintage diesels in 2002 with the steam engines returning to the property in working order in 2008 with regular steam passenger service starting in 2009.