Black Diamond takes final trip
In this fourth column, I am down in Darktown, Hokendauqua, Whitehall Township, visiting with Mike and Donna Bednar. Mike is a well-known railroad historian, a former railroad worker and engineer. He has authored a number of railroad books and magazines. Mike has had 41 years of experience with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Conrail and Reading and Northern Railroad. Mike knows his railroads!
He traces the Lehigh Railroad back to its roots when the first tracks were laid in 1851 to link Allentown and Easton.
One of the railroad founders was Asa Packer. I was especially interested in the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s Black Diamond, a train named for the anthracite the LVRR carried to help build American industry.
My wife was especially interested; she actually rode the famous train. The route of the Black Diamond started in New York City on the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which joined with the LVRR system.
Passengers boarded the train at Penn-Central Station for a trip to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York, where they met the Canadian Railroad.
The train bound for Niagara Falls was No. 9, with train No. 10 returning to New York City. A typical train had a dozen cars with a club car and private cars reserved for businessmen. The trip from NYC to Niagara Falls averaged around 10 hours and 30 minutes. The train was named by some as the “Honey Moon” train as it carried many married couples up to the scenic and romantic falls!
When my wife, Barbara, rode the train, she boarded at Towanda and traveled to Allentown. I asked Mike about local stops. He recalled, “The Diamond stopped at Slatington for passengers and mail. The 80-mile-an-hour train picked up mail at some stations with an ingenious hook without stopping.
“The baggage master actually kicked off the mail sacks. The procedure was used at Coplay, Catasauqua and Fullerton with a stop in Allentown.”
Some other stops were Easton, Flemington, South Plainfield and Newark.
Mike saw one of the last Black Diamonds at Cementon in early May 1959; a week later, May 11, 1959, it succumbed to history. The last regular LVRR passenger train run was on a cold, snowy day, passing Allentown 2:30 p.m. Feb. 2, 1961. Where are all the engines? All gone. Passenger car 353 can still be viewed at the Steamtown Railroad Museum.
I was surprised when Mike told me about some other well-known LVRR trains. Did any of our readers ever ride the Black Diamond and some of the following trains?
Another beauty was the John Wilkes, named in honor of the founder of Wilkes-Barre. It carried passengers from Wilkes-Barre to New York City. Remember Hess’s, the landmark Allentown department store? Max Hess and his sales managers boarded the John Wilkes on a regular basis for buyer trips to the fashion houses of New York City. The train carried a luxury club car.
In two weeks, we will board some other historic trains with Mike. We have your ticket!