Thursday, May 25, 2023

We Celebrated in PA

It's been a while between blog posts and also blog visiting.
The reason is that we've been absent on a(nother) getaway.

More specifically, a road trip for our 26th anniversary, not our wedding date, that's in August.
This getaway celebrated the anniversary of our first date in May 1997 — Yikes, 26 years ago!

One thing missing (purposely) on this trip was my notebook computer. Quite honestly, being offline for a while was refreshing. (I'll try catching up on your most recent posts ASAP.)

What we did . . .
As the post title said, we went to PA where we rode trains in Reading and Jim Thorpe, PA; toured an indoor auto consignment mall in Morgantown, PA and a unique 50s muscle car museum in Intercourse, PA; visited with youngest granddaughter and family (including a new grand puppy) in Lancaster, PA; and connected with friends in NJ and PA.

All that activity will not be included here. There's enough for future posts as long time blog readers know my penchant for lots of background on our getaways—maybe too much.

Our first destination, after a NJ overnighter and dinner with family, was Reading, PA, and our first train ride. Pennsylvania has a rich railroading history. The Reading Railroad (pronounced Redding) was once one of the largest and most influential railroads in the world. It began in 1833 as the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad as one of the first U.S. railroads and primarily hauled coal from anthracite coal mines in northeastern PA to Philadelphia. At its peak, the railroad had over 1,500 miles of track. 

Anyone who has ever played Monopoly may recall it's also the first railroad square in the game. By 1871, the Reading RR  had nearly cornered the lucrative coal market. Small by total mileage, it was the largest corporation worldwide by revenue due to its large mining operations. But, the need for this commodity declined after WWII ended. The railroad ran passenger trains, primarily in eastern PA and NJ, but ended operations in 1976 and sold most of its operations to Conrail.

Reading Outer Station, Pottsville, PA
In 1983, the privately held Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad (RBM&N)  began operations providing freight cargo service mainly for anthracite coal. Then, the railroad began passenger train service over a short portion of track with day excursions to various parts of PA. 

In May 2017, the RBM&N company began offering a round-trip excursion from the Reading Outer Station in Pottsville, PA, outside Reading, to Jim Thorpe, PA, using refurbished Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs). These cars were built by the Edward G. Budd Company  in the 1950s for railroad commuter use. The Budd Company, began in Philadelphia, PA, in 1912, and manufactured steel automobiles, passenger rail cars, and other transportation products.
Budd Rail Diesel Cars run by the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad
The Budd Rail Diesel Car, Budd car or Buddliner is a stainless steel, self-propelled diesel railcar. Between 1949 and 1962, 398 RDCs were built for passenger service in rural areas with low traffic density or in short-haul commuter service. They were less expensive to operate than a traditional diesel locomotive-drawn train with coaches and remain in service in the U.S., and several other countries as well.

The RBM&N Railroad owns and operates three self-propelled RDCs (9166, 9167 and 9168). The 9167 and 9168 cars are full coaches and the padded seats flip to face whichever direction the train is traveling. We could see everything, coming and going.

Our destination was Jim Thorpe, PA, which began as the village of Coalville in 1815, named as it was near a major anthracite coal seam which drew miners. Coal from the area fueled an expanding railroad system throughout the region. In 1918, Coalville was renamed Mauch Chunk, a Leni Lenape Indian name for a nearby mountain which means "Mountain of the Sleeping Bear."

Jim Thorpe
By the 1950s, when coal was no longer in demand, it devastated the economy of the town, once considered one of the richest in America. Some enterprising residents began a fundraiser asking others to contribute A Nickel-a-Week to save the town. By 1954, $30,000 had been raised and what happened next is how it was renamed after the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S., who later became a professional athlete, but was not a native of PA and never lived in the state.

After Oklahoma, his native state, declined to erect a memorial, his widow, Patricia, struck a financial deal with Mauch Chunk officials to honor her late husband and his sports accomplishments. Thorpe's remains were relocated from Oklahoma and are now interred in a mausoleum just outside the town. The plan was to use Thorpe's fame to attract tourists, but while it received much national press, it didn’t immediately draw tourism to the former coal town. That took years of promotion. 
Final resting place of the town's namesake, Jim Thorpe
Today, visitors come to ride the tourist trains, view the area's natural beauty and view the unique historical architecture in the town, which includes Victorian, Federalist, Greek Revival, Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Queen Anne, and Romanesque styles. 

Some of the unique architecture in Jim Thorpe, PA
The historic buildings in Jim Thorpe feature very unique architectural details. The chimney pots, spirals and decorative gingerbread work are wonderfully preserved examples of late 1800 to early 1900s architecture. The town has been dubbed The Switzerland of America, a nickname derived from its picturesque scenery, mountainous location, steep hillsides, and narrow streets.
Train station in Jim Thorpe, PA, built by Central Railroad of New Jersey in 1888
Shortly after disembarking from our first train ride in Jim Thorpe, we boarded another train.
In 2005, after a railroad bridge was completed across the Lehigh River, a new passenger train operation and sister company to the RBM&N Railroad began and was named the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Trains operate from the vintage station formerly built in 1888 and operated by the former Central Railroad of New Jersey station. (We appreciated the connection to our home state.)
The 1-hour, 16-mile round-trip followed along the Lehigh River over bridges through Glen Onoko into Lehigh Gorge State Park. Most trains are diesel operated and the railroad primarily uses passenger coaches built as early as 1917. There are indoor seats in traditional train cars and open-air cars with bench seating. We opted for the open-air car which provided better views and let us walk around the car to see both sides of the track.
Most of the trip is within Lehigh Gorge State Park along tracks once owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The D&L Canal Trail runs adjacent to the track and we saw many people walking and biking on this popular rail trail.
Franklin Street Train Station, Reading, PA, circa 1930s (online source)
Riding on trains wasn't all we did for our celebration. We dined in a former train and later bus station in Reading, PA. The Franklin Street Train Station was built in the 1920s as a stop along the Reading Railroad shipping and passenger Main Line to Philadelphia. It closed when diesel service was cancelled, remaining vacant. In later years, the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority (BARTA) acquired and refurbished the building, then converted into a bus depot.
Bus service at former Reading, PA, train station (online source)
However, after bus service was discontinued because of low ridership, the building sat empty and abandoned. Damage from vandals, fires, and bird decimated the building over 40 years. Exterior stone walls were covered in graffiti, windows were broken or missing, wood rot was extensive, plaster was damaged from a leaking roof. The original train station benches were long gone and debris littered the building.
Exterior view of Saucony Creek Brewpub
It wasn't until 2017 that the vacant building was revived to host showings of This Is Reading, a site-specific installation that blended live performance and visual media to present a visual narrative about the city. In 2018, Saucony Creek Brewing Company leased the facility and opened a brewpub restaurant in July 2019.
Interior View of Saucony Creek Brewing Company
The building is impressive and retains the feel of a classic train station with high ceilings and large windows. Rows of benches, like those that would have been used by waiting passengers 90 years ago, are the anchors of the dining area. None of the original benches or any remnants still remained in the building. The bench reproductions were based on historic photographs.

Norfolk Southern trains frequently use the former Reading Railroad tracks. On hearing the train horn, diners are encouraged to clap loudly until they have passed. We kept up that tradition too and clapped when a train passed. And, to answer a question in a fellow blogger's comment, the food was good. We went for an early dinner before more folks starting arriving after 6 pm.

We enjoyed ice cream on the trip; after all, it was a celebration !
After we returned home, catching up on things have kept me busy. My apologies on not getting to read many of your blog posts. This weekend hopefully will provide some catch-up time.


William Kendall said...

Excellent shots! Sounds like you enjoyed yourselves.

Michelle said...

What a great trip :) Nothing quite like unplugging for a bit.

Marcia said...

So what other trains are on your list to ride? You have well researched these two that you rode on your get away.

Barbara Rogers said...

Love those buildings in Jim Thorpe. So glad you all got away, (as well as screen deprived) and got to ride all those trains! The restaurant in the last shot looks very nice, hope the food was good too.

Emma Springfield said...

My mother and 5 children moved to Spokane, Washington, when I was about 10. It is a great way to travel with children.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Seems like you had a great trip and blogging can always wait. See - we are still here when you get back home!

MadSnapper said...

I really enjoyed seeing the archtecture, that would be fantastic to view. those 50's train cars are exactly like what i rode from Savannah to Bradenton twice a year for most of my life. I can still feel and hear them rocking as they rolled. My hubby is from Perkasie PA which is about 30 miles from Lancaster. glad you got to see family.

Linda G. said...

We visited Jim Thorpe several years ago. It was Memorial Day weekend. I remember a band playing at the war? memorial. I enjoyed the beautiful architecture. We will be going on a train ride in a few months. We will be in WV and will ride the New Tygart Flyer up into,the mountains, to a mountain waterfall. It sounds like your vacation got off to a great start.

DUTA said...

May you have only celebrations in your life!
Trains is an eternal vast, interesting subject!

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Y'all have really beautiful smiles!
Great pictures

Pamela M. Steiner said...

You really did "take a ride on the Reading..." Love that. I never knew about the town of Jim Thorpe! Interesting! Love the pictures of the trains, etc. What a wonderful trip!! Thank you for sharing it with us. Happy Memorial Day weekend.

Bijoux said...

What a good time! The architecture is lovely as I bet the gorge was. I’ve been on the Strasburg RR train twice, but that’s it for PA. I’m glad you had such a wonderful getaway.

Billy Blue Eyes said...

Nothing like the Reading in Berkshire near where I live, the Station there was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and is on the main London to Bristol line, it also passes through the station in our village. Hope you had a good time there

Jeanie said...

I remember the "Chance" card -- "Take a Ride on the Reading Railroad!" It looks like loads of fun. In fact, a fun time all around. Those houses you passed are fantastic. Let the celebrations continue!

Rita said...

A really informative post, as usual. Thanks for all the time you take to research all of these things for us. :)

David said...

Beatrice, You do more research than almost anyone I'm aware of. I do a lot myself, but you really get into it. The only other person that does more research per blog posting only posts about once a month... In any case, I'm into trains and depots big time and I've always wanted to visit Jim Thorpe PA. Color me jealous! Have a great Memorial Day weekend! Remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

My name is Erika. said...

It must have been wonderful to see family. And I guess I should have expected that there was a real reading Railroad, not just a monopoly space. And it's interesting to see this area as I've never been (that I know of) to this part of PA. And of course, it is never bad time to enjoy some ice cream. Yum! Glad you're home. Have a great weekend. hugs-Erika

Doris said...

We certainly are looking forward to visiting that beautiful town in August. Thanks for sharing your trip! Was certainly wonderful to see you while you were in PA ♥️

Rob Lenihan said...

Happy First Date Anniversary!

And what wonderful trip. I love train trips, so I was really enjoyed this post.

I lived in Stroudsburg, PA for five years, which is about 42 miles from Jim Thorpe.

Great research, as always, and what excellent photos!

nick said...

It's a shame when railways gradually lose customers and have to be wound up. It's good that there are still tourist trains you can ride on. As you say, Jim Thorpe has some wonderful architecture (I looked up the town on Google images). You two certainly get around!