Nicholson Viaduct by Rev. Garford F.Williams

Nicholson Viaduct

The Nicholson Bridge has become an historic structure and has been placed on the
National Register. It has been designated by the American College of Engineers as "the Ninth
Wonder of the Modern World." Pictures of it have appeared in leading encyclopedias, in
dictionaries to illustrate a modern viaduct, and in many history books. Railroad magazines have
given Nicholson Bridge full coverage. Photographs of the bridge, oil paintings, water colors,
postcards etc... have been produced in large quantities.
The bridge is located in Nicholson Borough, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania. It spans
the Tunkhannock Creek Valley. The bridge was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western
Railroad. It was started in 1912 and finished in 1915.
The D. L. & W. Constructed a railroad from Scranton to Great Bend, 1849-1851. This
was built through Nicholson and the roadbed is now the Lackawanna Trail. The railroad carried
coal from the Lackawanna Valley coal mines around Scranton. At Great Bend, coal was also
placed on ships at the end of the line, and was carried across the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie.
Iron was also shipped out of Scranton on the railroad. Soon the Lackawanna Railroad had its
own routes to New York City, Buffalo and many other large cities, and finally to Chicago. There
was regular daily passenger service from 1851. The Lackawanna became a very prominent
railroad and was one of the most prosperous.
In 1910, the Lackawanna announced plans to build a new route between Clarks Summit
and Hallstead. The purpose was to straighten the roadbed and eliminate nearly twelve full circles
of curves, shorten the road by at least three miles, and elevate the roadbed one hundred fifty feet
above the old main line at Nicholson. All grade crossings were eliminated. Nicholson was the
low spot between Clarks Summit and Hallstead. This required pusher engines on most of the
freight trains each way out of Nicholson to assist in climbing the steep grades.
The new route was called "The Cut-Off." It shortened the running time for passenger
trains by twenty minutes and freight trains by thirty minutes. The Cut-Off is 39.6 miles in length.
It required the erection of the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct and the Marten Creek
Viaduct (commonly called the Nicholson Bridge and the Kingsley Bridge), and a tunnel through
solid rock 3,630 feet long, just south of Nicholson. Many cuts were made in the hills, most of
them through solid rock. The stone from the cuts was used for fill and to secure the tracks on the
side of the hills. The cost was estimated at twelve million dollars.
Construction of the Nicholson Bridge began in the spring of 1912. The population of the
town increased in a few weeks from 900 to 3,500.  Temporary housing was built for the workmen. During the construction passenger trains greatly reduced speed at both viaducts to afford all passengers a spectacular view of its projects. To finance the Cut-Off, the Lackawanna Railroad issued stock at the value of twelve million dollars and paid interest to the stock holders at 4%. This stock was redeemed by the Lackawanna in just a few years after
the Cut-Off was completed.
The Tunkhannock Creek Valley at Nicholson, at the highest point is over three thousand
feet wide. Towers one hundred seventy feet high were built on the hills each side of the valley.
A center tower three hundred feet high was built near the Tunkhannock Creek. Cables measuring
three thousand feet in length were strung from the towers across the valley. The towers
supported weight of one hundred seventy tons and the cables supported ten ton weights. The
cables created a sky railroad and trolleys ran on the cables. At the center tower, material and
employees were elevated and carried along the cables to destination. The double track cables
could send two loads in the same or opposite direction at one time. There were four stationary
engines to operate the sky railroad. Signals were transmitted by telephone to each engineer.
Four thousand feet of narrow gauge track (three feet wide ) was built from the main line
to and around the base of the Nicholson Bridge. There were four small locomotives, called
dinkeys or lokeys, powered by steam, and fourteen flat cars which ran on this miniature railroad.
Wet concrete from the mixers was hauled in buckets, each one held two cubic yards of concrete.
These were drawn by the lokeys to the center tower, elevated, then moved on the cables to
position over the forms, lowered, then emptied from the bottom of the bucket. Often a worker
rode on the bucket and pulled the trip-rope to spill the concrete. A worker who failed to return
on the empty bucket created the myth that he had fallen into the concrete and was buried alive.
But the bucked had been lowered enough so that he jumped off!
One hundred eighty-nine thousand barrels of cement were used in the bridge. If it had
been transported to Nicholson at one time, it would have required a train fourteen miles long.
Four million five hundred nine thousand cubic feet of concrete was used in the bridge. Any
adverse criticism of the durability of concrete was forever laid to rest when the bridge was
completed. The bridge is as permanent a structure as granite and will stand like the Pyramids of
The bridge is reinforced with steel. Two million two hundred eighty thousand pounds of
steel was used. This required fifteen hoisting engines to raise the steel to position. The arches
were laid on a steel foundation which was covered with wooden forms. The concrete was poured
into the forms. Each arch has two sections, when the first was hardened, the steel forms were
moved adjacent to the first, and the process was repeated.
There are eleven piers, two of which are now buried. The latter are a hidden buttress to
support the nine piers which are exposed. The arches also span a hundred foot space from the
buried one to the exposed piers. The nine piers are all founded on solid rock as are also the
buried ones. The two piers nearest the Tunkhannock Creek are ninety-two feet below the creek
bed. The other seven piers which are seen are only sixty feet below the surface. Quicksand near
the creek delayed the erection of those piers for a few months. Compressed air chambers kept the
wooden forms from collapsing. Solid rock was located and the forms filled with concrete.
The height of the bridge is 240 feet above the creek bed and 300 feet above the solid rock
foundation. The span of the visible arches is 180 feet. Each of the ten spans support eleven
smaller arches. On the top of these is the roadbed which is thirty-four feet wide. There is ample
room on the top of the bridge for two tracks and for trains and workers to pass safety at one time.
The length of the bridge is 2,375 feet. Large fills at either end of the bridge shortened the
distance. The top of the bridge is capped with massive parapet walls three feet thick and four
feet above the level of the track. This insures safety for every person and the trains on the bridge.
It also affords an excellent view of the expansive and immensely beautiful Tunkhannock Creek
Drainage water from the roadbed on the bridge runs into copper pipes and is not
permitted to pass in or through the body of the finished bridge, nor near any of the construction
joints. Frost, snow, water and ice do not damage the bridge. The bridge was built to be
practically maintenance free.
There were thirty steam shovels used on the Cut-Off. Some cuts in the hills were 120 feet
deep; some fills were 145 feet high. With the dynamite used, the shovels moved 5,525,000 cubic
yards of earth and 7,647,000 cubic yards of solid rock. The reinforced steel used on the viaducts,
bridges and culverts for the Cut-Off amounted to 4,720,000 pounds. To an old railroader, this
seemed like a rather expensive and unnecessary piece of construction, but by modern operation
of trains, the expense of the Cut-Off paid for itself many times over.
The tunnel and the approaches to it produced 27,000,000 cubic feet of excavation. There
are two 135 foot ventilating shafts lined with concrete in the tunnel. These serve as chimneys
and give brief light in the dense darkness. The rest of the tunnel is lined with brick. Some of the
civil engineers proposed a deep cut in the Roberts Hill instead of the tunnel. President W. H.
Truesdale of the Lackawanna insisted on the tunnel. He said the children riding the passenger
trains would enjoy the tunnel and look forward to riding through it.
Flickwir and Bush Inc. (David W. Flickwir and Lincoln Bush) were the chief contractors
who built the bridge. They considered it a great honor to be able to build the largest concrete
bridge in the world. They personally attended to every minute detail of the construction. The
Lackawanna had a number of chief engineers employed by them: George J. Ray made the
surveys and blueprints. He planned and executed the Cut-Off. W. C. Ritner, F.L.Wheaton and
A. Burton Cohen were the Lackawanna's superintendents of construction. Frank M. Talbot was
the contractor for the Kingsely Bridge and was often in Nicholson to confer with these men.
John B. Waltz and Philip Reese of Billings, Montana, came to Nicholson and constructed parts
of sections five and six of the Cut-Off. Waltz & Reese Inc. Began at the west end of the
Nicholson Bridge and continued to Hop Bottom (or Foster as the Lackawanna called the town).
Messrs. Waltz and Reese remained in Nicholson after their work was finished and both are
buried in the Nicholson Cemetery.
The Nicholson Bridge was dedicated November 6, 1915. Many dignitaries attended who
came in private trains to be the first to ride on the new Cut-Off. President W.H. Truesdale of the
Lackawanna Railroad and over two hundred employees of the Railroad came from New York
and Hoboken. Governor M.G. Brumbaugh of this Commonwealth and many other state officials
came in a special train from Harrisburg. Mayors from cities along the route of the Lackawanna
also attended. Impressive remarks were made at the Nicholson depot to several thousand people.
At age 75, the Nicholson Bridge has survived all of its builders. The Lackawanna
Railroad has been bankrupt for some years, as has the Erie and the Delaware& Hudson Railroads
who used the line latterly. Passenger service which began on the Lackawanna on October 20.
1851, was discontinued November 28, 1966 when the Phoebe Snow made the last run. The
whistles are silent, the depot at the bridge is destroyed, and the railroaders have all left
Steamtown, operating out of Scranton, had weekend excursions during the summer of
1989. Trains stopped on the bridge for five minutes and passengers greatly admired the views
from the bridge. This revived much interest in the former glory of Nicholson, which was the
Lackawanna Railroad. The great Lackawanna Railroad Bridge at Nicholson will continue to
beautify our town. The memory of the evening trains, with the lighted coaches afloat in the sky,
will be life-long memories for those of us who remember the Lackawanna in its most prominent
Mr. William White, a later president of the Lackawanna, expressed it all very well when
he said: "Not only is the Nicholson Bridge the largest concrete bridge ever built, but it is also one
of the most graceful structures in the world."

Rev. Garford F.Williams

  The railroad is now owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway with rights also granted to Norfolk Southern.  Freight service crosses the Nicholson Bridge several times every day.