Saturday, February 19, 2011


Another Saturday roadtrip - destination - Jim Thorpe, PA, formerly known as Mauch Chunk.   This nifty little town is nestled in the Lehigh River Gorge only a few hours from home.  The town has a rich industrial and railroad history, making it an appealing destination for me, and for my better half, lots of unique little shops.  We left a bit early as we thought there might be some crowds as it was their Winter Festival weekend - for naught - as the town was mostly empty on a very blustery and cold February day.  Arriving early we first cased the joint, with my Weapon of Mass Consumption choosing her targets, and then sat down for a coffee and muffin waiting for the stores to open at 10am.   The plan was to separate - me visiting the Mauch Chunk Museum, and her, hitting the shops.   The extent of my historical knowledge of the town was:  I knew that it was an important anthracite coal center;  Asa Packer, the founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad lived there; the Lehigh Valley ran along the east bank of the Lehigh River, and the Central of New Jersey along the west bank; and the whole history of the name change and continuing controversy over that.   Some interesting other things I learned at the museum - 
  • The town was the original transshipment point for anthracite coal in the region
  • The coal was transported to the Lehigh River via a gravity railroad, one of the first railroads in America
  • Originally the coal was transported to Philadelphia in ark like boats - using a crude system of locks - the canal was a one way deal so the boats were dismantled in Philadelphia and the wood sold and the hardware brought back to Mauch Chunk for new boats - Much of historic Philadelphia is supposed to be built with this lumber.
  • Eventually a two way canal system was built
  • Once the Lehigh Valley and CNJ and others reached the mines directly, the Gravity Railroad was turned into a tourist attraction.
  • A variety of hotels and the Gravity Railroad and the reputation of the town as the Switzerland of America made it into the second most visited tourist attraction in America, behind Niagra Falls
  • Some of the Molly McQuires were tried in the court house (see pictured) and sentenced to death.  
With the loss of the Anthracite coal industry and then the railroads, the town fell on hard times, however, in the past 20 years or so it has been reinvented as an outdoor activity center and has been ranked as one of the top 10 "coolest small towns" by at least one magazine.  In addition to the shopping, food, and rich history, in the warmer months you can ride a tourist steam railroad, raft down the Lehigh River, or bike the old CNJ mainline.   We had a nice day there - my wife left with a half dozen bags or so under her arm, and I learned a few things, took some photos of the buildings, and bought a few railroad trinkets. 
 We took back roads on our return trip, following the Lehigh River for a bit, and then through cement country and eventually to Easton, PA.  We saw the remains of the former Lehigh and New England bridge at the Lehigh Gap - only some of the piers remain, but visually you can see it was a stunning setting for a railroad bridge.   We stopped in Easton - on our way back I realized that I had not yet purchased the new Bethlehem Steel Book - Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a photographic history, by Ann Bartholomew.   Put out by the Canal History and Technology Press, we made a quick stop at the Canal Museum store in Easton to pick up a copy.   I had some misgivings over buying this book as I feel, maybe wrongly, that not much effort has or is being made to make the Canal Museums massive steel related collections easily available to the public, ie digital images on the net.  I am glad I purchased the book as it is pretty darn good - maybe even better in a way than Steel Giants,   although I have a bias toward Bethlehem Steel.  For you steel mill modelers et al, don't hesitate, pick it up or order it - well worth the $35 price tag.  


vince altiere said...

I also have the new Bethlehem Steel book.I agree-well worth the price.I especially like the shots from pre-World War 2;
buildings, ingot operations, plant modifications/improvements over time,etc.Perfect for my period(about 1947)
Vince Altiere

Jim Musser said...

I'm still reading through - just looked at pictures before but captions and texts are full of info too. Just so you can't say you thought of it first Vince - I'm pretty certain I'm going to model something along the lines of Machine Shop #6 with the interior full of parts for the blast furnaces, coke works, rolling mills,...etc.

Anonymous said...

I bought mine in December.
HAH !!!

Vince Altiere

Anonymous said...

You may have thought of doing Mach.Shop6 first,but when will you actually get around to it??? As I recall,
I'm still waiting to see the finished models of your A furnace,by-products plant,gas producers,ete.,etc., blah-blah,....
Seriously,keep up the great work.
Vince Altiere