In the movie Back to the Future, teenager Marty McFly goes back in time by way of a souped-up DeLorean and the help of an eccentric scientist. But you don’t need an old sports car or the assistance of Doc Brown to go back in time. All you need is a visit to Pittsburgh’s Duquesne Incline.
The Duquesne Incline, located at 1197 West Carson Street (not to be confused with the Monongahela Incline, which is near Station Square) opened on May 20, 1877. After many decades of shuttling people up and down Mount Washington, the incline fell into disrepair, so in 1963 local residents came together and formed a nonprofit organization called The Society for the Preservation of the Duquesne Heights Incline. The Society’s goal is to restore and preserve the incline for future generations.
“At one time Pittsburgh had 15 passenger inclines,” said Mark McNally, manager of the incline. “Samuel Diescher, a German engineer, designed the incline to provide access to Mount Washington so that that area could be opened for development.” McNally started working at the incline while in college, and he knows the incline’s history well. “The Duquesne Inclined Plane Company operated the incline from its opening in 1877 until 1962.”
Attention to Historical Accuracy
Painstaking attention to detail and historical accuracy were employed when restoring the incline. The society worked with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to restore and rehabilitate the cars, equipment, and both stations to establish it both as a commuter facility and visitor attraction. As a result of their efforts, the Duquesne has been registered with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation Historic Landmarks, the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania, and The National Historical Mechanical & Engineering Landmark.
Considered a working museum, The Duquesne Incline boasts artifacts from Pittsburgh’s history, a gift shop, and an observation deck. “We have one of the most extensive selections of Pittsburgh post cards in the area and many one-of-a-kind items that have been made exclusively for the incline,” said Margaret Sommerer, who has worked in the gift shop for 12 years and doubles as an ambassador for the city. “People come from all over the world to visit the incline. Many of the tourists take my picture. Pictures of me are in places like China, Japan, and Australia.”
Tourism and the Duquesne Incline
Tourism is the incline’s life’s blood, with tourists making up 75 percent of the ridership. According to Tom Reinheimer, Office Manager and Marketing and Tour Director, last year 482,000 passengers took a ride on the incline. “We get tour companies and school students on field trips from all over the area who make it a point to include a visit to The Duquesne Incline on their itinerary,” said Reinheimer. “This is the incline to visit in the city. We have tours, a museum, free parking, and an observation deck. It’s a lot more than a trolley ride.”
A visit to The Duquesne Incline is such a unique experience that Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts can earn a special incline patch for learning about it and taking a ride.
The incline is open 365 days a year, Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 12:45 a.m., and Sundays and Holidays from 7 a.m. to 12:45 a.m.
Duquesne Incline FAQs
The incline can be a busy place-in the summer it can receive 4,000 visitors a day. It gets so busy that Mark,Tom, and Carol can’t spend as much time with their visitors as they would like, so they have come up with 10 of the most often asked questions at the Duquesne Incline.
- Q: How do you pronounce the incline’s name?
A: The French way: “Do-Cane.”
- Q: Is the incline safe?
A: Yes! The cables are changed are every two years, and those that are removed are tested to see the extent of the wear and tear. The cables never come in contact with each other nor do they take many turns, which doesn’t put much stress on them. We could probably use the cables for 20 years, but we like to be safe. Also, a sprinkler system has been installed, and as far as the records go, there has never been a fire at The Duquesne Incline.
- Q: Has anyone ever given birth or died on the incline?
A: The trip lasts only 2 and ½ minutes, and since most women don’t get on the incline in the last stages of labor, we’ve never had a baby born here. And there are no records of a death on the incline.
- Q: Have you ever had visitors with a phobia of inclines?
A: Most people have no fear of the incline. It is a gentle ride, not like one at Kennywood. However, a few years back when the Cincinnati Bengals were in town, a group of them rode the incline. When they arrived atop Mount Washington, one emerged from the car, very pale with eyes very wide. He refused to ride back down. His wife had to ride back down, get their car, and we had to give her driving directions to get to Mount Washington to pick up her frightened husband.
- Q: When was the incline electrified?
A: When the incline was built, electricity was not available, and it was powered by steam. It was electrified in the 1930s. In case of a power failure, the incline has diesel generators to keep it in service. The whole city could be suffering a black out, but we would still be working.
- Q: Are the cars air conditioned?
A: They are cooled with the air-conditioning of the 1800s, which means we open the windows on the cars. The cars accommodate 20 people, and even during hot summer days, the cars usually are comfortable as you get a nice breeze as you ascend or descend the hill.
- Q: Has anyone ever gotten engaged while on the incline?
A: Hundreds! We’ve had so many people get engaged here that we have special arrangements already in place for those planning to pop the question while on the incline.
- Q: Has anyone famous ever visited the incline?
A: Yes. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister John Majors came here together. We’ve had numerous local celebrities and sports figures too. Recently, Tom Cruise and his wife, Katie Holmes, took a ride.
- Q: What is the degree of descent and does the incline get stuck when it snows?
A: The track is 800 feet long and the degree of descent is 30.5 degrees. Because the cars are pulled by motorized cables and don’t rely on traction on the tracks, the incline operates even when it’s snowy.
- Q: Where are the bathrooms?
A: We have a portable toilet at the lower station. To keep the incline as it was built in the 1800s, we cannot install bathrooms without losing our historical accuracy.
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