Railroad memories continue
In this third column on train memories, we fondly “remember” when the Central Railroad of New Jersey, Northampton & Bath, Ironton and the Lehigh Valley Traction Company trolleys served transportation needs in our communities.
Old-timers recalled the impact of the Great Depression on their families. In those days, trains hauled millions of tons of coal.
If, for some reason, they stopped in a community, some folks would actually climb the coal cars and throw some of the coal on the ground for their heating needs.
Railroad detectives enforced the railroad regulations. On occasion, they would turn their heads to allow some coal to be pilfered. They knew times were tough on everyone.
You don’t hear the term hobos nowadays; when did you last hear the term?
We resided on Main Street with the C.R.N.J. practically in our back yard. My grandmother and other folks I have interviewed remember tough, poor-looking men knocking on the kitchen door and asking for something to eat. In most cases, you gave the fellow some food and a cup of coffee. My grandmother gave some of the men egg sandwiches. In those days, we had chickens in a coop in the yard. The men were very thankful for the handout.
Because of the bad times, my father, his cousin and friends as young men were desperate for work. The sign “No work today” was posted at the cement plants; many were idle for months.
They boarded a freight train box car for New York City to seek employment.
After a few days, they were stopped by a police officer, who said, “Boys, there are no jobs. Go back home.”
My father’s cousin “Sticks” Wolfer, former service station owner, did find work in a restaurant for a couple of years. The rest of the boys boarded another box car heading for home. In the car were a dozen men. The only possession my father had on his person was a gold watch given to him while working on a local farm. When the train stopped in Allentown, they jumped off and walked to Northampton. He was home again, unable to find employment, but the gold watch was still ticking in his pocket.
One of the social studies units I covered during my teaching tenure was the evolution of transportation in the United States. It traced transportation from the horse and wagon; the canal era that included our Lehigh Coal and Navigation Canal; railroads and the uniting of the United States with the transcontinental railroad joining east and west at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869; and the present interstate highway system.
One day, while speaking about my own railroad memories, I asked the students, “How many of you have ever been on a train ride?” To my amazement, the majority were never on a train, so I organized a train ride to Philadelphia. The whole school probably would have gone! We filled two or three passenger cars and boarded the train in Bethlehem for the students’ first train ride.
In Philadelphia, we toured Independence Hall and other historical sites. When we boarded the 5 p.m. train to return, two students were missing. The conductor held the train for 10 minutes but then had to leave.
Fortunately, my wife knew Philadelphia. By faith or fate, she found the truant girls and brought them home safely on a following train. So it was when there still was a Bethlehem to Philadelphia railroad link.
A special thank you to Mike Bodnar of Darktown (Hokendauqua), author of numerous railroad magazines.
See you on the “Black Diamond” in two weeks. Don’t be late!