Railroad series concludes
In this concluding column, Mr. Mike Bednar, noted local historian, recalls some of our railroad history. Mike worked on railroads for 41 years and, with the aid of his wife, Donna, wrote a number of books on railroad history and lore.
In the last column, we wrote about two famous Lehigh Valley Railroad trains — the Black Diamond and the John Wilkes.
Today, we board the Asa Packer, Maple Leaf and Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Philadelphia Flyer.
The Maple Leaf was a Lehigh Valley Railroad train with connections with the Canadian National Railroad from Toronto to New York City. It contained overnight sleeper cars. The Maple Leaf met the fate of the Black Diamond, when the last run was made on Feb. 3, 1961.
Have any of you visited the Asa Packer Mansion up Jim Thorpe way? If not, do so — you’ll enjoy the tour.
Asa was a founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, a giant of the railroad industry. They say, when he was at home, he climbed up to the third-floor window with his pocket watch to time the Lehigh Valley Railroad train as it approached Mauch Chunk — today, Jim Thorpe. If the train was late, the engineer was terminated. Fact or fiction?
The train was a sleek, fast-moving passenger train with a dinner-lounge coach. The Asa Packer made its first run in 1939 and was an immediate success.
Mr. Bednar said, “It was a favorite ride for high rollers. Many executives of Bethlehem Steel and local corporations rode the train.”
During World War II, servicemen rode the train, but their journey was quite different.
The last run of the Asa Packer was met with sadness when it left the rails forever on April 26, 1958.
A competitor was the Central Railroad of New Jersey, another major coal carrier with lines passing through Northampton and Catasauqua. The trains originated in Jersey City and connected with other railroads in Scranton.
Some of their trains were named Philadelphia Flyer, Scranton Flyer and the Bullet. This writer was lucky to ride the Philadelphia Flyer, which made a stop in Allentown. The railroad was practically in our Main Street backyard. The Flyer’s last trip to New York was in 1967. Mike Bednar was then working in the Allentown Union Street tower.
He lamented, “At one time, 90 trains passed through on a daily basis. I saw it dwindle to 30 as the company became part of Conrail, seeing history change in front of my own eyes.”
In 41 years, Mike saw dramatic changes in the railroad industry. During his odyssey as an engineer and tower dispatcher, he has many memories.
For years, he worked in the tower in Newark, N.J. Mike and fellow railroad employees would spend two-and-a-half hours on the road down to Newark and an equal amount of time on their return home. He was on the road each day at 5:30 a.m.
When Lehigh Valley Railroad ended operations, he became a Conrail engineer. His career ended with the Reading and Northern Railroad, carrying coal and paper products in the Port Clinton-Mehoopany area. His last run took place in 2007. When he stepped down from the engine, he remembered his railroad career and was proud to be an engineer.
Talking to Mr. Bednar, there was a feeling of pride and sadness in leaving an industry he loved. He has written numerous books. Mike and Ken Bealer wrote a book all folks who have cement roots should read. The book, on my book shelf, is called “Trackside Around the Pennsylvania Cement District.”
Thank you, Mike and Donna, for your friendship and cooperation over the years.
More in two weeks.