Catasauqua Press

Thursday, May 23, 2019
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEN BEALER, MIKE BEDNAR, RANDOLPH KULP AND LARRY OBERLYThe N&B switches box cars at the Keystone Cement plant in this 1954 photo. PHOTOS COURTESY OF KEN BEALER, MIKE BEDNAR, RANDOLPH KULP AND LARRY OBERLYThe N&B switches box cars at the Keystone Cement plant in this 1954 photo.
The N&B returns to Northampton in this photo, circa 1975. The N&B returns to Northampton in this photo, circa 1975.
An N&B engine rolls into the railroad yard office in this 1972 photo. An N&B engine rolls into the railroad yard office in this 1972 photo.

Taking a ride on N&B Railroad

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 by ED PANY Curator, Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum in Columns

In this fourth column, Mike Bednar, local railroad historian, is over at the old Northampton-Bath Railroad yard in Northampton. The N&B was incorporated in 1902. It was a major carrier of cement from the Atlas Portland Cement Company, the largest in the world.

The rail yard was named Navarro in honor of Jose Navarro, the founder of the Atlas. The railroad extended 8 miles to Bath, where they could transfer cars to the Lehigh New England and Delaware Lackawanna and Western railroads.

The stops were at Weaversville, where a siding served farmers and the large Allentown State Hospital farm and dairy. Other stops were Lerch’s and a grain mill at Jacksonville. The old Atlas Railroad and blacksmith shop became the locomotive shop for the N&B. The building is presently the Atlas Machine Shop, which provides services to cement plants and local industries.

In my research, I interviewed families whose fathers helped construct the railroad. The N&B also worked with the early Atlas railroad, which had tracks connecting the plants on the site. In 1910, during the Panama Canal project, a record was achieved — never to be broken — when seven trains moved cement from the site in one day.

Mike writes, “In 1931, the N&B purchased 215 steel 50-ton box cars and 50 steel-covered hopper cars. When the Atlas was sold in 1931, U.S. Steel took control of both the cement company and railroad.

“The N&B became a pace setter in the industry when they purchased their first diesel locomotive, adding a second engine in 1934 — the age of steam ended on the railroad.

“When the Keystone Cement Company opened in Bath in 1928, the railroad had a new source of revenue. In 1960, the railroad attempted to purchase an old section of the Lehigh New England but was unsuccessful. The office was a familiar sight on Main Street in Northampton. The site is home to Newhard Pharmacy.”

In 1978, the N&B abandoned all but one mile of the railroad. This track is currently used by a number of businesses located on the Universal Atlas site. The railroad is operated by the Northampton Rail Development Company. Most of the old railroad bed today is the Nor-Bath Trail.