Railroad memories continue
In our last column, we wrote about railroad memories when the Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Northampton and Bath Railroads served Northampton, Coplay, Catasauqua and Cementon.
My first railroad trip took me to Allentown to shop in their popular stores, but a great thrill was a trip to visit my aunt in New York City. It was the first time I left Pennsylvania; she resided in the Bronx.
Our elementary years were spent at the Our Lady of Hungary School. Each day, we would cross the footbridge at 14th Street to walk to the school on Newport Avenue. Sometimes, a hail of smoke welcomed us on the bridge. It smelled, but it was a steam engine.
The Lehigh Valley Traction Company trolley passed our home on Main Street. We boarded the trolley at 13th and Main streets for a trip to Allentown to shop. It seemed to take forever because of the stops it made before reaching Allentown — riding time was one hour. When it snowed, a trolley equipped with a giant rotary brush would blow the snow from the tracks, resembling a blizzard on Main Street. The end of the line was at 21st and Main streets.
Sadly, the last trolley run was May 11, 1953. A crowd of well-wishers met the trolley 1:30 a.m. at 21st Street to bid farewell to a mode of transportation that had served us well.
My wife’s fondest train memory was riding the famous Lehigh Valley Black Diamond passenger train from Towanda to Allentown. In a few weeks, we will have more about the Black Diamond.
My mother’s train memories take us back to an era when the railroads brought literally thousands of immigrants to the Valley, many who were seeking employment in the cement industry.
My father, Anthony, was one of those immigrants. After processing at Ellis Island, they boarded a CRNJ train bound for Northampton; it was his first experience in a new country.
In those days, the immigrants were called Green Horns, denoting unskilled workers.
Today, the term might cause a political issue, but not in those days. When they arrived in Northampton, there was an unexpected greeting. There waiting for the train were a number of men in suits and ties with a tablet under their arms.
They were employment agents from the Atlas, Coplay, Whitehall, Dragon, Giant and Lehigh Portland cement companies, looking for employees. Yes, it appeared America did have streets paved with gold!
There were jobs, which did not exist in the old country. Some men could not sign their name, so the agents spelled them to the best of their abilities. Some were taken to boarding houses to live before they went to the plants.
In some instances, a tag was placed on their coat by the railroad conductor so they could be dropped off at the proper station. As a result, some men ended up in the wrong communities. In one of the interviews I conducted a number of years ago, a man’s father ended up in Youngstown, Ohio, and actually walked from Ohio to Northampton. That was quite a walk, but as his son said, “Pop was determined to get to Northampton to work at the Atlas Portland Cement Company.”
The Great Depression and the railroads — in two weeks.