Recently, I received a call from Mr. Jim Rowland, editor of Lehigh Lines, official publication of Railroad Historians of the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Chapter. Jim requested some information on the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum and the railroad network at the Atlas plants.
Jim, a former Egypt resident, today resides in Maryland. Two friends, both railroad buffs in the chapter, are Mike Bednar, of Darktown (Hokendauqua), and a former student, Kermit Geary, of Lehigh Township.
After speaking to Jim, I sat down with my No. 2 Farber pencil to recall some of my own railroad memories. Unfortunately, some of our younger readers never had the experience to ride on a steam-driven passenger train.
As a youth, I resided in the 1300 block of Main Street in Northampton. Looking back, there was a transportation hub in the front and rear of our home.
To the rear were three tracks of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. In front was the track of the Lehigh Valley Traction Trolley, which ran daily until 11 p.m. or midnight. The clang of the trolley and the roar of the steam engines were part of your life on Main Street. They never interrupted our sleep.
On lower Main Street was the office and yard of the Northampton & Bath Railroad, now Newhard Pharmacy. There was a railroad station on lower Main Street. The structure still stands — the Siegfried Station — and across the bridge, the Coplay station of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.
This writer and my friends loved trains. I recall during World War II, the trains rolled around the clock. We saw cars loaded with trucks, tanks, artillery and materials pass in our backyard. There were coaches of young men going to war. They embarked at the Main Street, Siegfried and Coplay stations to serve the nation — some never to return.
We enjoyed going to the Main Street station and watch Uncle Ed, the station agent on the telegraph. What did the messages say? He allowed us to sit in the station, which today remains silent. Next to the station was the Railroad Express office that received and forwarded packages. Across the street was the Tru Blu Brewery, full of activity.
During the war, we, as many folks, had no automobile, so what a treat it was to board a train or trolley to go to Allentown to shop with my mother a couple times a year. For the first time, I saw Hess’s, Leh’s, Zollinger’s and a row of five and 10 stores and their counter-stand hot dogs. There was plenty of walking, but you didn’t mind when you boarded the 5 p.m. Flyer and returned home.
During the war, my father-in-law, Raymond Shoemaker, worked at the Philadelphia, Bethlehem, New England Railroad, which serviced the great Bethlehem Steel. He always recalled the giant artillery barrels manufactured at the plant.
With pride, he always spoke of railroad lore, as most railroad workers loved their jobs — just ask one!
We will be riding a Lehigh Valley Traction Trolley in two weeks!