Catasauqua - Crossroads of the Anthracite Railroads
By Joe Yurko
Ed., This article was published in Flags, Diamonds and Statues, A Publication of the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society, Inc. Vol. 6, Nos. 3 & 4, 1986. This excellent and thorough account brought back memories of our flattening coins on the tracks of the L&NE while the engineer of the switcher gave us a friendly wave, of running through the Second Street tunnel before the next train came along, and of hearing the rumble of the trains as they passed beneath the Lincoln Jr. High School. J. McV, Feb., 2009
The Early Years
The Later Years
As one follows the tracks of existing railroads and walks the weed-grown roadbeds of what has been left in the past, places of interchange (or interaction) between different railroads for the most part generate curiosity and interest. Along the lines of the Anthracite Railroads, many of these locations were similar enough so that they could be placed into groups of only a few types of interchanges. Some were major points of transfer, found in most of the cities of eastern Pennsylvania. Others were those places where the unremarked branch of one carrier met the busy multi-tracked mainline of another. In the anthracite coal region, spurs of different companies to coal breakers crisscrossed each other with wild abandon. A similar situation existed, though at a very much smaller and less fierce level, in the Cement Belt just north and east of Allentown-Bethlehem, Pa. At the western end of this area, along the Lehigh River, are the twin towns of Catasauqua and West Catasauqua. The interaction which took place here among several of the Anthracite roads was something special. It was a blending of some familiar elements resulting in a unique place of Anthracite railroad activity. The characteristics and personalities of the railroads involved were essentially the same as elsewhere, but the particular mix of mainlines and branchlines of the roads at "Catty" was not to be found anywhere else.
An eastbound on #4 track passes by Catasauqua interlocking in the bright morning of Sept. 15 1946. (Donald W. Furler)
Catasauqua (a compound Indian word meaning "dry ground") is located on the east bank of the Lehigh River three miles north of Allentown. The village of West Catasauqua on the opposite bank is actually part of a township. The railroads which operated on the west side generally identified the location as just Catasauqua. Four of the anthracite railroads plus a shortline passed through or interchanged in the area. The mainlines of the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central followed the west and east banks of the river respectively. From the east came a branch of the Lehigh & New England, which passed under part of the town in a tunnel. A branch of the Reading came in from the west. The Lehigh & New England crossed the CNJ, Lehigh River, and Lehigh Valley to physically meet the Reading. All four railroads maintained yard trackage. Just west of town, two lines of the Ironton RR came in to meet the LV and RDG, the two railroads which owned the Ironton. Catasauqua was also served for many years by a trolley line; a narrow-gauge at one time was operated by the Crane Iron Works, the industry which, for many years, was the heart and soul of the community.
A new platform is built at the LV Catasauqua depot with four tracking of the main line recently completed. (J. Yurko Collection)
A postcard view looking upriver about 1912. The rebuilt Lehigh Valley is at left, the CNJ main with the curve and canal bridge at North Catasauqua is to the right. The Thomas Iron Co. at Hokendauqua is seen a short distance away to right of center. (J. Yurko Collection)
A trolley for Allentown crosses the CNJ main at Race St. about 1951. View is looking west on the CNJ. The railroad owned the elevated shanty which controlled the gates. The transit company had a derail at the crossing maintained by a watchman from the other shanty. Automatic gates were installed here prior to the end of trolley operations in May, 1953. (Lester K. Wismer)
The significance of the original Lehigh Crane Iron Co. facility, located at what would later be called Catasauqua, is not well known to most rail historians and, for that matter, not known to most historians outside of the Lehigh Valley. The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. greatly contributed towards making anthracite coal a viable fuel. The "Old Company" had a near monopoly in certain markets but still wanted to sell more coal. Possessing the Lehigh Canal, they practically had a monopoly on transporting their treasured product. The company undertook efforts which resulted in the aforementioned facility, this nation's first truly productive anthracite iron furnace. As ore was available locally, many furnaces would come to dot the Lehigh Valley landscape. The Industrial Revolution was considerably sped along thanks to the LC&N Co's. actions. But it was the Bethlehem Iron Co. (later Bethlehem Steel), a few miles downriver from Catasauqua, which would end up being the survivor of this era.
LV 4-4-0 camelback #656 brings what is likely an early run of the "Black Diamond Express" westward under the Race St. bridge. Steps leading to the Lower Catasauqua flagstop are seen above the first car. Four-tracking of the main line was still several years ahead of this circa 1898 scene. (Collection of Lehigh County Historical Society)
As the furnaces in and around Catasauqua grew silent, the production of Portland cement was on the rise. No-cement mills were located at Catty but one did not have to go far out of town to find one. With room for small yards west of town, the railroads developed a place of interchange and classification. Serving the cement industry along with routine mainline activity would be the railroad scene at Catasauqua until trucks took away much of the cement business almost overnight. This greatly contributed to the decline of the anthracite roads. Very quickly, Catasauqua became a "formerly developed" rail locations
Crane Iron Works, Catasauqua, Pa. from the West Side (Herbert J. Kleppinger). This view of the Crane Iron Works is from a postcard taken about 1905. Recently completed is the girder bridge for the Crane RR. The CNJ tower and the Crane slag dump branch (in later years to a scrap yard) are seen at left. Roof of LV tower is at lower right. CNJ main crosses from left to right although is not very apparent.
Much of the appeal of the Catasauqua area lies in the realization that it was once a tremendous place to enjoy the anthracite roads in action. Relatively few railfans visited there in the glory days; the location offered much of what has come to be held in high esteem by today's enthusiasts, and if it were the same today, we know the LV and CNJ towermen would see their share of railfans! There was plenty of public access to the railroads: overhead bridges, stations, etc. It was one of the few places where the four-tracked portion of the Lehigh Valley mainline was visible and apparent. Imagine a late spring evening about 1959, standing by the old Reading scale house. We caught the Reading road-switcher as we arrived, now we're watching a pair of LNE RS-2's working the weed-grown yard. The LV's PM pullout from Allentown arrives and spends about half an hour at Biery yard. LV freight BP2 surprises us heading east, then we try to make the most of ASA 10 Kodachrome shooting LV#29 as the light fades. The PM pullout departs after #29 and, as darkness falls, the LNE is ready to return to Tadmor. He must wait several minutes for the CNJ Siegfried road drill to go east. Not too far off, we can hear the distinctive horn of one of the Ironton Baldwins. If we choose to wait in the darkness, we should see the Cementon drill returning to Biery yard, plus LV #7 and hotshot freight FFW I flying west, as well as several CNJ eastbounds all before midnight.
The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company first investigated using anthracite coal in iron-making during the mid-1820's. In the late 1830's, the LCN's Erskine Hazard went to Wales to visit iron maker George Crane. Crane's colleague David Thomas agreed to come to America to try to construct a good working furnace fired with anthracite. Thomas had explicit arrangements with Hazard for his work. Building of the furnace began in 1839 and was finished the following year. The combination of Thomas' skill and LCN financial backing created swift progress in ironmaking technology. The industry grew at a fantastic pace as larger and improved furnaces were built through the next decade.
The first railroad in the locale was a very rudimentary setup established by the Lehigh Crane Iron Co. probably in the late 1840's. The Lehigh Valley RR, establishing its mainline between Easton and Mauch Chunk, became in July, 1855 the first of the major carriers to reach Catasauqua, (The town, which formed around the iron works was so named in 1853.) Festivities were held on the occasion of the first run into town. As in recent years, the LV was on the west bank of the river. A bridge across the Lehigh which had been built by the iron company in 1847 permitted business between the LV and the furnaces, via either the primitive railroad or "natural" horsepower.
There were several accidents over the years at the Crane Co. grade crossing of the LV and CNJ. This Lehigh Valley wreck on the morning of October 3,1893 was one of the more tragic. A coal extra with LV #543 eastbound struck a Crane Go. locomotive, killing that engine's fireman. The Crane Co. engine #12, (visible in the center of the photo) was backing six empties west through the covered Lehigh river bridge with the signal supposedly in its favor. A westbound local (with its caboose almost on the crossing) was stopped in front of the station blocking the views of the opposing trains. The Crane crew reacted when they saw the steam from the Valley engine. The LV crew reacted when they saw the empty coal cars tracking through the curve ahead of them! The 543 caught this Crane #12 at the rear driver, knocking it onto the westbound main, while the 543 went, into the wall. In addition to the death of Crane Co. fireman, the watchman on duty at the crossing at the time left and committed suicide. (H.P. Sell/Railways to Yesterday Collection)
A Reading 1-8 at Eberhart Road crossing, September 1938. Boxcars to the left are in the Lehigh Valley yard. (Kermit Geary, Sr.)
A nice broadside profile of one of the Ironton's ex-RDG 1-7 2-8-O's seen at work near Hokendauqua on October 23, 1946. (Charles A. Brown)
The mills of Catasauqua (and those of the Thomas Iron Co. just upriver at Hokendauqua) got much of their ore from pits in western Lehigh and eastern Berks counties. It was, moved from mine to furnace by very long teams of horses and carts, the 19th century equivalent of a unit ore train! A team waiting at the west end of the iron company bridge would stretch out towards the small village of Mickleys, creating an odd parallel to similar later rail activity. The passing of the teams, especially in wet weather, would nearly destroy the roads. These conditions encouraged the building of a railroad. Even before the arrival of the LV, the Crane and Thomas Iron companies together proposed building a railroad to bring in the ore. There was considerable resistance to this idea - Heard were the familiar arguments of big business/big profits for, a few against destruction of the land, inconvenience, possible dangers, etc. for others. The opposition eventually backed off largely due to the reality of how the ore teams were damaging the roads, Even so, the initial incorporation on April 5, 1853 was only for a wooden "plank road". Work on the plank road started; as completed portions were quickly destroyed by the ore teams creating a still messy and now treacherous roadway, the need for a railroad became apparent. The charter for the Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad was granted April 20, 1854. The C&F would become the railroad most associated with Catasauqua for the next few decades.
Work on the C&F did not start until Spring, 1856. The LV located their station between its track and the river next to the iron company bridge (which received a much-needed strengthening in 1857). The C&F station was directly across the LV main from the LV station. This arrangement continued even after the LV was four-tracked.
West Catasauqua was the center of operations for the C&F railroad. A small barn-like roundhouse and a shop were soon located nearby. There was an extremely sharp curve, running in back of the C&F station, and turning hard to the left over the LV to the river bridge; this curve is thought to be part of the original C&F. (This is the same curve more associated in later years with the Lehigh & New England. The Reading, which acquired the C&F, actually owned the sharpest part of the curve, their right-of-way going to the western edge of the LV main.)
The iron bridge on the C&F seen from the west end of the bridge. A local landmark for decades, it was between Guth and Metamora stations (the latter place today's Trojan powder works). (J. Yurko Collection)
The original C&F route was laid out by the Chapman brothers, hence the naming of the station 8.5 miles west of Catasauqua. This was more or less the end of track for the original line which opened July 14, 1857. At just about the half-way point on the line, a large iron bridge spanned the Jordan Creek valley. The bridge was 1165 feet long and 104 feet above the creek. Considering that the purpose of the railroad was to haul iron ore and also that it was owned by two iron companies, the large spidery structure was somewhat of a showpiece. The bridge would create weight restriction problems in decades to come until the World War I era when C&F successor Philadelphia & Reading filled over the structure in a project that took several years to accomplish. (To spot the tree-grown fill today, go north on Cedar Crest Boulevard from the Route 22 interchange near Allentown. About a mile and a half beyond is a bridge crossing the Jordan Creek. The fill is to your left at a 45 degree angle; you'll see the C&F on an overpass up on the hill ahead of you.)
On the heels of the C&F, the Ironton Railroad was opened on May 24, 1860 to mine sites about seven miles from Catasauqua. The Ironton was backed largely by the Thomas Iron Co. The trackage which connected the Ironton with the C&F and LV at Catasauqua was for a time known as the Thomas Railroad.
In 1864, the C&F reached Alburtis to meet the East Penn RR. That same year, the Lehigh Coal & Navigation received permission to build a railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, an expansion of their Lehigh & Susquehanna RR. The line was completed by 1867. At Catasauqua, it ran between the river and the LC&N's canal. The railroads during this time were rapidly developing into our familiar regional anthracite roads. The East Penn RR became part of the Philadelphia & Reading in 1869 and the long lease of the Lehigh & Susquehanna to the Central RR of New Jersey began in 1871.
The anthracite furnaces of the Lehigh Valley thrived, but by the mid-1880's they were very rapidly losing ground to the bituminous- and coke-fired furnaces of the Pittsburgh area. Responses were made with the result of many furnaces closing, the Crane and Thomas facilities remaining as small operations for some years into the twentieth century, and the Bethlehem Iron Co. becoming the giant Bethlehem Steel. Both good and bad times were experienced at Catasauqua during the latter years of the nineteenth century. The first cement mill in the area was built at Coplay in 1871. The Crane Co. expanded its plant railroad, which eventually included a narrow gauge line running along the CNJ next to the river to a slag bank south of town (where Route 22 now crosses the river). Both the CNJ and LV had small flag stop type stations at the lower (southern or eastern) ends of the twin towns. The P&R influence was felt through the C&F and CNJ; for a time the P&R maintained an express office in the heart of town. This was some years before they gained the Crane Co.'s controlling interest in the C&F in November, 1890. In 1892, the CNJ built a short branch from just below Race Street, running east and slightly northward along the Catasauqua Creek. This was to reach several industries, the most important being the Davies & Thomas foundries.
A humorous incident occurred as a result of a heavy snowstorm on February 12-13, 1899. The Lehigh Valley was using a rotary plow for snow removal. As it passed Catasauqua, it produced a stream of snow so severe that it broke two windows on the C&F passenger train parked next to the LV main! The stream was stopped before any further damage resulted. When the rotary returned, the stream was, of, course, headed in the opposite direction, into the river.
The LV's new Catasauqua depot is nearing completion, as demolition of the old station continues. Part of the old building is still open for business in this circa early 1907 scene. (Collection of Clinton T. Andrews)
A good look at the Lehigh Valley's Catasauqua depot and the town across the river. ( J. Yurko collection)
A postcard view of the same image as above. (J. Koehler collection)
The CNJ station shared similar features with others on the Lehigh and Susquehanna Division. (J. Yurko collection.)
Early 20th Century
The early years of the twentieth century brought several physical and operational changes to the area. And once established, the railroad plant at Catasauqua would change very little until the post World War 11 decline of the anthracite roads. Streetcar service to Allentown had begun back in 1892 causing a drop in local passenger business for the LV and CNJ. One area where the LV had an advantage was its convenience to iron workers who had lost their jobs as the local mills declined and were now commuting to the Bethlehem Iron Works. In April, 1899 the LV announced plans for a new interlocking plant at Catasauqua. Work on the plant and ÒCQÓ tower began in November, 1899 and was complete in early March, 1900. This classic railroad structure would end up being familiar to several generations of local residents. It had 36 levers when originally built.
In 1899, the Crane Iron Co. received a new corporate identification as the Empire Steel & Iron Co., the name Crane Iron Co. however remained in common use until the furnaces closed. In December, 1904, they rostered seven steam engines, four standard- and three narrow-gauge. At this time they built a new through plate girder bridge across the Lehigh river (a new small bridge over the canal had been installed the previous spring). This was to replace a covered bridge which had replaced the 1840-era structure after it was destroyed by a flood in 1862. The covered bridge was becoming obsolete as larger and heavier equipment was developed. While the old bridges could accommodate pedestrians and horses, the new bridge was "railroad only". This is the same bridge which was used by the Lehigh & New England until 1961, and is still in place in 1986.
Until a road bridge could be built near the now railroad bridge to serve the heart of town, the LV and the iron company ran a small shuttle train. The LV provided a combine car; locomotives were either LV or Crane Co. LV 0-6-0 #926 is known to have been used on this train. The shuttle ran from early December, 1904 until mid-September, 1906, from the closing of the old bridge until the opening of the new Pine Street road bridge. The girder bridge was built on the piers of the covered bridge a section at a time. The bridge would be closed a few days to do a section, then open several days, etc. For a couple of days around Christmas, 1904 while the bridge was closed, a sleigh took passengers to the LV station via the Race Street bridge at the lower end of town. To us this is a very romantic scenario, but at the time it was remarked to be a large inconvenience.
In May, 1904, the LV had begun conducting freight business on the east side of the river on Crane Co, sidings near Front and Bridge Streets. In mid-December, 1904, they opened a freight office at this location, concurrent with the building of the new river bridge. On December 23, 1905, a wreck severely damaged the station over on the main line. In 1906-07, the LV built a new station on the main (completed in May, 1907) and continued the arrangement on the east side.
Various track expansions went on during 1900-1914. Small projects known about include LV side track work in 1904 and RDG yard tracks in 1910. The Iron Co. formally incorporated their trackage as the Crane RR in 1905. The Ironton added a new line from the west with yard trackage about 1907. During 1910, two major physical changes were under way. The Crane RR dug a tunnel in town east of their plant, while the LV was four-tracking its mainline.
The 735-foot tunnel was ostensibly built to access a new slag dump site east of town. Rumors circulating at the time suggested that this was simply not a good enough reason for such a project. One story had the Delaware Lackawanna & Western involved behind the scenes, preparing to enter town from the east. Work began in March, 1910 and was completed in autumn. The tunnel was actually dug out forming a cut, a concrete arched liner was put in place then filled over. The Lehigh & New England would acquire the tunnel in 1914. With the town high school almost directly above, students could detect the rumbling of trains beneath!
The evening LNE turnaround emerging from the west end of the Catasauqua tunnel. The house above is on Second St. (Dave Augsburger)
Looking east on the LV mainline towards Allentown from CQ tower. (Charlie Bealer)
The levers and diagram board at CQ tower. (Charlie Bealer)
The view looking west out of CQ tower about 1940, just prior to the station being torn down. There is much to be enjoyed in this rare picture. The Reading coal dock is seen above the combine. Note the old street gate still in place. (Ken Beeler Collection)
In late June, 1910, the LV put into service all four tracks of its new mainline as far as lower Catasauqua (near the Race Street bridge). This section just completed saw a relocation of the line at Fullerton (just below Catty). It had previously run close to present-day Lehigh Avenue, now it made a broad arc following the river. In 1890, the LV had built its "Jordan Loop" through Allentown and established a tower at Dutch Gap where the loop rejoined the original route, calling the place Gap Jct. By early July, 1910, this tower was closed and operators were moved to temporary quarters at the Johnson Steel Works at lower Catasauqua. They were to remain here until the new line was opened to Water Street, Hokendauqua. The new Catasauqua station had been designed to include a tower, and it was thought that this would now be used. The right-of-way work on the section from lower Catty to Cementon went on from spring, 1910 right into the following year. At some point, the LV decided to continue using recently-built ÒCQÓ tower. It was moved closer to the river, and the four-track line was opened as far as Cementon in spring, 1911. Biery yard was put in at about this time as part of the overall upgrading project. It was built on the site of the Thomas Iron Co. cinder dump and was unusual in being directly perpendicular to the main line.
After its tunnel project, the Crane Co. built a double-track line to North Catasauqua to interchange with the CNJ near their milepost 93. This would relieve congestion at the small CNJ yard along their main between Race Street and the Crane Co. grade crossing. In March, 1911 a spur was built from near the east end of the tunnel to the Davis & Thomas works, This was by now a thriving plant which had received notoriety for the manufacture of large iron castings used in lining subway tunnels, as well as the PRR projects around New York City. Previously, the branch from the CNJ had been the only railroad into the plant. The Crane RR spur now permitted access to the LV and RDG.
By 1914, the cement industry in the area was very firmly established. There were ten cement mills in operation on the Ironton RR; the recent yard projects on the west side were all done to accommodate the cement business.
In 1914 the Lehigh & New England became the final anthracite road to arrive at Catasauqua. They built west from near Bath and acquired the Crane railroad. Once again, the "Old Company" played a role in the industrial development of the town. The LCN investigated building a canal port at Catty. It was a circuitous route from the Panther Valley to Catty via the LNE, and not much was ever heard of the plan. It was advantageous for both the Empire Co. to unload the railroad as they retrenched, and for the LNE to pick it up for the many industries served and for the interchanges. Ironically, the LNE ended up having more private sidings to industries in town than any of the other railroads. They ran an inspection special to town on March 23, 1914, arriving at about 4:30 PM. It consisted of end cab 2-8-0 #15, a coach, and a business car. Presumably around this time the Lehigh Valley RR lost their east side freight office. A new LNE freight station was built at Front & Pine Streets in 1916, and in 1917 a signal system for the tunnel was put in place. The Crane RR engine house was used for a time; it remained after its railroad days and stands even today, modified into a small factory.
The Years Pass By
As was mentioned earlier, the Philadelphia & Reading in the mid-teens began to fill over the large iron bridge on the C&F. Ash and other industrial wastes used for the fill would often smolder like an underground mine fire; it would, in fact, bum into the mid-30's. Part of the old C&F roundhouse and shop buildings would stand at least through 1925. Sometime around 1930 the Reading built a large modem concrete coal dock near the LV main.
In the twenties, time ran out for the remnants of the Crane Iron Works. The operation had been moderately successful with improvements and reductions to facilities made over the years as necessary to keep the furnaces going. By the late twenties, the owners considered the market for iron insufficient to continue, and the works vanished during the early years of the Depression.
On June 30, 193 3, the LV discontinued the agency at Catasauqua station. By mid-summer, 1938, the building was all but abandoned; the waiting room was open but no trains stopped regularly. The interior was dismantled in summer, 1941 and the building was torn down September 29th through October 31st that same year.
On March 9, 1942, LV train BJ4 with engine 5100 derailed nine cars at Catty. The train was on #4 track and derailed about 7:00 PM. All four tracks were blocked but only for a short time. Number 2 track was cleared an hour after the spill. Most of the wreck was cleaned up by the next day. This was the most notable accident to occur in the area in recent times.
LNE #206 gets a drink from the enclosed Reading water tank at West Catasauqua on October 20,1936. In the latter years of steam, the 206 and 207 were the only locomotives to go directly to the Reading yard as they were equipped with blind center drivers to take the sharp curve at the LVRR crossing. (Rod Dirkes)
An outstanding view of railroading at West Catasauqua during the quiet afternoon of May 21, 1949. New LNE ALCO switchers carefully drill in the curve as LV section men go about their work. The LNE crew had better be careful if they find a gondola a bit longer than those seen here. (Donald W. Furler)
LNE 0-6-0#207 sits just west of Eberhart's crossing in the Reading yard on October 23,1946. The engine faces east, preparing for the return trip to Tadmor. Ironton RR connection tracks are seen at right. (Charles A. Brown)
Looking east from the east end of the LNE bridge across the Lehigh River. The branch curves just to the left of the small girder bridge in the middle of the picture (it actually is on part of the same bridge). The track to the right leads to a scrapyard down near Race St. Note the switch stand on the bridge. (Dave Augsburger)
An LVT trolley climbs up the very unique Race St. bridge at the lower end of town. Very impressive is the four track Lehigh Valley main line. At extreme left is the CNJ Race St. crossing with the top of the gate tower visible. View is about the late forties. (H. P. Sells – Hallway to Yesterday)
A semaphore blade drops with the passing of a one-car train in the late afternoon of October 26,1946. This is almost certainly the Cementon Drill heading west with the priority being to Switch the mill before picking up. To the left, across the river is the Jersey Central station. (Donald W. Furler)
A T3 class LV 4-8-4 brings 91 cars west on Sept. 14 1946. Note the activity down closer to the LNE crossing. Track in lower right corner is west leg of Biery yd. wye, owned and used mostly by the Ironton. (Robert Collins)
A view of the Lehigh & New England girder bridge and LV tower from the Catasauqua side as the waters of the May 23, 1942 flood begin to recede. Despite the debris, the bridge was not severely damaged. (Collection of Russell W. Yeakel)
The Weeds Begin To Grow
The years following World War II saw several interesting changes at Catasauqua, and then, almost overnight, the rapid decline of the area.
The LV moved Biery yard office from inside the wye near the main line to up into the yard itself on September 30, 1947. Cementon interlocking, remote-controlled from Catasauqua tower, went into service June 28, 1949. Tracks 3 and 4 were now abandoned from Cementon to Treichlers with Treichlers tower abandoned June 29, 1949.
Diesels were replacing steam engines during this time on the anthracite roads. Fortunately, the dates of the first LNE diesels at West Catasauqua (through the curve) were noted and preserved. The first was S2 #612 on March 30, 1949. The first LNE RS-2, #651, showed up soon after on April 1st. ALCO FA's had already been seen across the river, but they could not come over to the Reading because of the curve. 0-6-0 #207, which was regularly assigned to the Catasauqua branch, was sold to a company in Dallas, Texas and would end up going to the Illinois Railway Museum.
A telephone line was finally connected between the LNE and the Lehigh Valley tower on April 25, 1951. It is doubtful that the LNE had a line into the CNJ tower also before this time.
Sunday morning, March 9, 1952 saw the dropping and removal of the span of the Pine Street highway bridge over the LV main. The bridge had been declared unsafe for traffic back in 1948. The design of the new bridge for the location and its approaches on the west side necessitated the removal of the Reading station. At this date, the station possibly could have been torn down for good. Instead it was moved to over along the Reading yard next to Water Street. By this time the station was the agency for the entire, Ironton RR which still had plenty of business. Nineteen fifty-two also saw the end of the freight agency across the river at the Jersey Central station. Passenger business formally ended in 1948; it is thought that trains occasionally would stop until passenger service west of Allentown ended. The CNJ depot was dismantled around late 1955/early 1956.
Next stop Lehighton: LV #9, "The Black Diamond" speeding past the interchange yards at West Catasauqua. CO interlocking tower is at right. (Kermit Geary, Sr.)
Train #28, "The John Wilkes" rounds the curve out of Hokendauqua approaching Catasauqua interlocking on March 28, 1957. (Mike Ringo)
The RS's return to the main branch from the scrapyard, passing behind the CNJ's interlocking tower in 1961.
The morning turnaround job from Tadmor in the midst of switching on May 19,1960. Building at rightwasthe Crane RR enginehouse. Spurtrailing off to lower left leads to FullerCo. plant which was built on the sight of the Crane Iron Works. Reading yard and interchanges are to right of hillside in background. (Randolph Kulp)
LNE RS-2's drill out the LV lower yard as an eastbound with PA's approaches. Track in between the engines is the LV leads into Biery yard. (Dave Augsburger)
The Reading's Catasauqua station as it appeared after being moved in the early fifties. Photo taken in June 1961. (Tom Biery)
The Cementon drill arriving at Biery yard in the late afternoon about 1965. The train is curving through the east leg of the wye (#6 lead). Not all the cars are brought in as the routine is to set up the train at Biery yard for working the mill at Cementon. First car of train is on the bridge over Water St. (Mike Bodnar)
By spring of 1958, time and technology were knocking on the door at 'CQ' tower. A new silver interlocking bungalow was placed just east of the tower. Effective April 16, 1958, Catasauqua tower was abandoned. The signals and switches were now controlled by the operator at Union Street in Allentown. Number 3 track (closest to the river) was abandoned west of the interlocking. Old Number 4 would remain from Catasauqua to Hokendauqua as a siding until about June, 1963. As of April 18, 1958 the very traditional scene of mail being thrown from a speeding LV passenger train was gone as well. The neglected tower would remain for only two more years. It went up in intense fire late in the evening of May 7, 1960.
A year earlier on May 8, 1959, the Reading operated a special school trip to Hershey from Catasauqua. About 550 youngsters experienced their first and, most likely, last train trip. With the space age at hand, it was nice that these children got a little taste of their grandparents' 'C&F'.
The end of the Lehigh & New England in October, 1961 gave a green light to the track removal gangs. The marvelous little CNJ tower, a. rickety "time machine", went quickly. The last side track remaining from the old Crane interchange yard came up. The Reading over the next few years tore up virtually all of their yard. By luck the station survived; it was sold in 1963 to the new Wanamaker Kempton & Southern tourist operation. It is their gift shop today at Kempton. The LNE tunnel was slowly buried, the west end of the tunnel today is quite unrecognizable. Their branch was partially ripped up but was soon acquired by the CNJ (it had not been included in the original 1961 CNJ/LNE deal) to about a mile east of town to access a new industrial park. It would provide a respectable amount of business through the sixties and seventies.
The Lehigh Valley began to really hack away at its main line. On November 2 8, 1961, Number 1 track through Allentown to Gap Jct. was abandoned with former #1 connected to #2 track 1100 feet east of Union Street interlocking becoming the Allentown Secondary track to Catasauqua. A realignment occurred at Gap Jct. which resulted in old #1 track becoming the eastbound main, Gap Jct. to Catty, and old #4 the new westbound main between the same points. Old #1 was connected to #4 eastward at Gap Jct. effective December 5, 1961 and #3 was connected to old #4 westward from Gap Jct. effective December 6, 1961 (see Diagram #1). Also on December 6th, #3 track from Catasauqua to Gap Jct. was abandoned. Removal of this track began almost immediately and was continued after winter in 1962. West of Catasauqua, old #1 and #2 were still the mains. No crossovers at Catty were changed. This all resulted in a bizarre condition whereby a double track main line was perpetuated, yet opposing trains could not pass at the same time at Catasauqua interlocking (see Diagram #2).
Looking out of 'CQ' tower shortly after it was closed as an interlocking station, we see some of the results of the first set of revisions made at Catasauqua. The drill is actually running opposite on what is still the #2 main. Four tracks are still in use east of the interlocking. Rods rust away in the weeds at lower left. (Neil Shankweiler)
This setup lasted only a few years with the late sixties seeing the last bits of surgery. About 1969 the westbound main (old #4 or new #1) was removed from east of the interlocking to Gap Jct. On September 12th that year, a Penn Central officials' trip using RS-3 #218, a LV coach, business car 353, and the PC business car "Queen Mary" visited facilities in the area, including Biery yard. More changes occurred after this special. As of November 12, 1969, Catasauqua interlocking was now controlled from Easton tower instead of Union Street, Allentown. Around this time, the Allentown Secondary was abandoned from Gap Jct. east to the switch with the Allentown West End branch. A switch was put in to reach the track just west of Gap Jct. This was only a temporary measure and the entire secondary as far as Catasauqua was abandoned by mid-1970. Double track remained from Catasauqua to Cementon into Conrail.
The Jersey Central main line continued to be double-track at Catasauqua throughout the sixties. Early in the decade, the Davies & Thomas branch was taken up. The November, 1965 coordination with the LV now saw diamond-logoed engines running up and down both sides of the Lehigh. And, as is fairly well known, the LV acquired the CNJ main line in Pennsylvania in 1972.
By the mid seventies and the arrival of Conrail, the town still saw a fair amount of trains passing by daily. Those on the west side "real" LV main often would still be flying at 50 MPH or better. The Ironton cement business was down but still there, the LV and RDG taking care of what was left on a very few remaining weed-grown yard tracks. Already the days of Catasauqua being a major interchange and shipping point seemed to be further in the past than they really were.
A youngster closely observes an eastbound LV symbol freight coming under the Pine St. bridge. Compare this picture taken about 1964 with others and you can see how quickly it beca_me difficult to pick out the exact location of the sharp Reading curve after it was taken up. (Mike Ringo)
A superb picture showing the LNE evening job working east across the ILV mainline. Train is not actually leaving town; pulling across was necessary because of yard work. The LNE crew has made a call to the operator at Union St. tower in Allentown for permission to cross. By this summer, 1961 scene, the ILV mainline at the crossing is down to two tracks.
The east end of the Reading yard is out of service in summer 1962. While these tracks will slowly be taken up, the Reading continued to maintain its Ironton interchange. Business was handled by the C&F local out of East Penn and also at around this time by another C&F job which ran out of Reading. (Tom Biery)
Freight Operations In Later Years
Let's take a closer look at some trains and operations practices around Catasauqua. We emphasize the later years because of the lack of available older material (although some details were found and are mentioned).
Jersey Central freight AC3 approaches Race St. crossing with 105 cars on February 17,1962. In the early sixties, you could count on AC3 showing at Catasauqua between 3:30 and 4:15 PM. And on many days it appeared right at or just about 3:40 PM. The units seen here were also typical power. Most common was a four-unit F3AB and two-, four- or six-axle ALCO road switcher lash up. Neil Shankweiler
JERSEY CENTRAL: In the late fifties and well into the sixties, the Northampton Drill and Siegfried Road Drill did what little work remained to be done at Catty. The Northampton Drill almost always had either the 1011 and 1012 (EMD SW I's; a Baldwin VO 600, # 1043, is also known to have been used) which were kept at Bethlehem specifically for this job and the Allentown Terminal Drill. The small engines were needed because of the restricted CNJ Coplay Branch bridge over to the Ironton. The Davies & Thomas Branch was also restricted and the Northampton Drill would go on this spur as needed, along with serving Sheftel at North Catty. This job in the early sixties would pass Catasauqua about 5:00 PM, crawling up the main with about 30 cars at 10 MPH! The Siegfried Road Drill went west around 2:30-3:00 PM and returned mid to late evening. Coming cast, they would occasionally set of or pick up a gondola at the scrap-yard siding just west of Race Street crossing.
The severe Lehigh river flood of May, 1942 caused a problem for the CNJ since part of the aforementioned bridge at Coplay to the Ironton was destroyed. For a few years afterward, the CNI made its Ironton connection via the LNE bridge and Reading yard at Catasauqua. A bobtail 0-6-0 camelback was modified to negotiate the curve. The late LV operator, Charlie Bealer, recalled that "there was no system to the thing" referring to when CNI crews came across the LNE bridge. On one occasion there was a Mexican standoff when a CNJ man decided to come over when the signals were set for a LNE eastbound. The two crews stared at each other for a while until the CNJ relented and backed into the clear. The final date for the CNJ detour was December 15, 1945.
The north side of the antique CNJ interlocking tower, early 1961.
SW-1 #1011 With southbound local freight about to cross the L&NE at Catasauqua, Pa., Aug, 13,1967. Neil Shankweiler
LEHIGH & NEW ENGLAND: After taking over the Crane RR, the LNE did work around Catasauqua using the ex-Crane Co. engines, storing them at their old engine-house. This practice ceased after some years with most Catasauqua work eventually being done by jobs out of Tadmor. In the early forties there were two regular Tadmor-to-Catasauqua turnaround crews, a morning job normally called about 6:30 AM, and an evening job called around 6:00 PM. Both of these crews as a rule would make two round-trips from Tadmor to Catasauqua. The 0-6-0-'s #206 and #207 were exclusive engines for these runs as they had blind center drivers to take the sharp curve into the Reading yard. They would come down the branch tender first, the engine in front of the train but facing east. The 207 had arrived in 1936 after several ex-Crane engines were scrapped, and it was the last steam engine bought new by the LNE. While the 200's were the only LNE steam engines to come over to West Catty, other LNE engines did come as far as the yard on the Catasauqua side. Before covering this, we'll look at the normal routine of the turnarounds as they arrived and did their work.
The 653 and 651 negotiate the curve on July 8,1960. The diamond (down to two tracks) required frequent inspection and maintenance. LNE trains were restricted to 10 MPH through the curve though apparently crews would often take the curve a little faster. Neil Shankweiler
The LNE had a car inspector's building on the east side near the Pine Street bridge. Shortly before a train was due, the LNE car knocker would set up switches for the train and stop at the CNJ tower, LV tower, and RDG station announcing a job's impending arrival. This could be done by hollering up at a window, banging on a tower door and shouting a quick car count, whatever just as long as the tower men knew a train was close.
Standing under the Pine St. bridge, we are at the very east end of the Reading yard. The LNE man has hold of several LV compressed air canister "bottle cars", a familiar sight in the area. The string of cement hoppers over on former LV #4 main indicate business may be good (or perhaps the opposite) with the cars being stored. July 23, 1958. Randolph Kulp
No doubt many of us would enjoy going back and spending sometime examining the brand new LNE#614 at West Catasauqua. This is the crossing in the Reading yard (Water St.) looking towards Hokendauqua. Note the lack of exhaust stack on the 614. Kermit Geary, Sr.
When the train appeared out of the Catasauqua tunnel, he would pull up to Front Street and call (blow his whistle) for the signal from the CNJ tower-man. This signal to cross the CNJ was visible from where he stopped. If a train was short enough, he could come directly to the signal. More typically though, he would be stopped to clear Front Street, it was a routine sight to see a LNE westbound waiting there. He would have to wait for both the CNJ and LV mains to be clear. In this steam-era routine there was no telephone; to let a train across, the CNJ and IV tower-men would communicate using hand signals during the day or a lantern or flashlight at night.
A thundershower is close by the W. Catasauqua yard as the evening turnaround crew drills out a couple of cars for the local industries served by the LNE. Dave Augsburger
The C&O covered hopper in the top photo is spotted at the Rockhill materials facility in Catasauqua, as the RS2's keep hold of a CNJ gondola for the scrap-yard down along the river. Dave Augsburger
Having left the covered hopper (seen to the right of the caboose), the crew will move west a very short distance to the CNJ tower where they will go down the short branch to the scrap-yard. Caboose will be left up on the main branch near the CNJ. Dave Augsburger
There's much of interest in this view looking west at the CNJ interlocking. The RS's are pushing a gondola down the branch to the scrap-yard backing off the Lehigh river bridge. Canal bridge on which the photographer stands carries road and railroad with sidewalk attached. The CNJ tower shows it has been modified over the years. Dave Augsburger
Looking southeast, the LNE crew has picked up their caboose and is returning to the Reading yard in W. Catasauqua. Dave Augsburger
The evening turnaround slowly crosses the railroads and waterways heading back to Tadmor. By the summer of 1961, the train normally was leaving town before dark. Dave Augsburger
There was a pattern as to how the LNE handled its interchange business. Each crew's first westbound trip was to bring in most of the connections to the RDG and LV. The trains were blocked with Reading cars first and Valley cars second. Pulling in at West Catty, the Readings were delivered, then the crew would back the IV connections into the LV "lower" yard. Available cars were taken from both railroads. In steam days the LNE could go into the LV's Biery yard. It was also common for the LNE to "foul" the LV main at the curve as a yard move was made. The crews would then return to their yard on the Catasauqua side. This yard was the old Crane RR connection to the CNJ at North Catasauqua, running about a half mile along side the Lehigh canal. In the forties, the yard was about three or four tracks wide. Here cars for industries were drilled out. The crews took cars to Tadmor and returned to Catasauqua with a shorter train. Cars received at West Catasauqua from the Reading were normally taken by the final eastbound trip of both crews. This was especially true of the PM crew which received cars from Reading symbol freight HCA2. The LNE crew would go up to Mickleys at the west end of the Reading yard to tack their caboose on to the large Reading connection.
A trio of LNE RS2s moves through the Reading yard crossing Water St. on May 19,1960. View looks west. Floodlight lower in LV's Biery yard is just visible above the 657's cab. Randolph Kulp
Bituminous coal for the cement mills was routed over the Reading to West Catasauqua to be passed on to the LNE. Quite understandably, there was a limit as to how much tonnage the regular jobs (pulled by 0-6-0's) could handle. In the forties (and certainly earlier) there were eastbound coal extras operated over the LNE Catasauqua branch. These trains brought locomotives other than the 206 or 207 into Catty.
The assembly of these trains was a bit of an achievement. The coal normally came in from the Reading during the night. The morning LNE job would take about 15-20 hoppers at a time from the Reading to the LNE yard across the river at Catasauqua. The 0-6-0 on the local would shove the hoppers as far west in the yard as possible, return across the CNJ and LV mains, and repeat the move about three or four times until all of the coal was over in the LNE yard. Soon from the east would come another LNE crew to take the coal out of town. Engines brought in for these coal extras included the large 151-154 series 2-8-0 camelbacks, the big 300-series ALCO 2-8-0's and even the Baldwin 2-10-0's. The decapods were probably not used too often since the curve along Front Street in town, while not as bad as the Reading curve across the river, was sharp enough to create problems. The local's 0-6-0 could assist in putting the train together. Staying at the hind end almost at the CNJ main in North Catty, the 0-6-0 would occasionally push the departing coal train up to Front Street, or all the way to Tadmor. It is likely that an additional yard engine was brought in on occasion to help assemble the coal train (the 111, an 0-8-0 carnelback was in town April 1, 1945) especially if either the 206 or 207 was in the shop.
When diesels came, the ALCO FA's made appearances on the coal trains. Examples, February 13, 1949 706/752/709; November 14, 1949 703/707/708*. The crew which had these trains around this time was likely to be the midday crew out of Pen Argyl, which, union agreement shows, could go to Martins Creek or Catasauqua. These "extra" coal trains probably disappeared from the branch during the early fifties.
*Note: Such examples of engine assignments, taken from company or employee records, are about seventy percent accurate. It has been proven that the sequence listed on a block sheet or in a time book can be scrambled, backwards or otherwise different from what really occurred.
Returning to the activities of the two regular local jobs, the dates for first appearances of other types of LNE diesels were listed earlier. Pairs of S-2's were occasionally seen in the early fifties. Trios of RS2's were more common during this time too, but much less so towards the end of operations. Three RS's were likely to be used when coal was heavy. Pairs of RS-2's were by far the most common regular power on the turnarounds through the fifties until the end.
The LNE RS's worked up towards Mickleys with their caboose as the crew did in earlier years. A LNE clerk from their Catasauqua station would come over to the Reading station to collect waybills. Both AM and PM jobs ran through October, 1961, the morning job was apparently, in later years, a midmorning call. Personal observations by several people indicate the LNE trains (at least the last eastbound PM trip) were substantial during much of the fifties. Towards the end, if Catty business was light, the crews would make only one trip to Catasauqua, and do work elsewhere such as drilling National Cement. A slight modification in interchange business with the LV likely occurred in the late fifties: as the LNE de-emphasized the west end of its main line, cars formerly received from the LV at Lizard Creek were probably now routed via Catty.
Excellent service was rendered by the Lehigh & New England right through October, 1961 despite their desire to quit. Even the odd sight of two RS-2's and a caboose pushing a gondola down behind the CNJ tower a half mile to the town scrap-yard could still be watched and enjoyed. After abandonment the LNE was most noticeably missed.
READING COMPANY: An item in the May 25, 1907 edition of the Catasauqua Dispatch, the weekly town newspaper, gives a bit of insight into C&F operations at that time. Four regular trains were mentioned: a "mixed", a "local", and two Catasauqua-Reading freights. Traffic on the branch had recently increased. Based on other information, the 1-7 class 2-8-0's were likely the engines most frequently seen.
Reading geep and caboose drift across Water St. as the LNE heads for the curve and river bridge. Look closely just to the left of 613, you can see an eastbound signal on the CNJ main across the river. The date is July 15,1961. Dave Augsburger
Data on the Reading around Catasauqua for the next few decades is scarce. It is known that by the forties there was a daily (except Sunday) Rutherford to Catasauqua (and return) train which we'll cover shortly, plus a daily (except Sunday) Catasauqua to Philadelphia (Port Richmond) freight. This latter train (symbol CAP-2) started March 10, 1941. Its consist was mostly cement and it was put on mainly to insure delivery of cement to new docks under construction at the Philadelphia Navy yard. The train started out of East Penn at Allentown, running west to Alburtis, then back east on the branch to Catasauqua, finally leaving west from there late in the evening. Counterpart symbol PCA- 1 was due to arrive at Catty around dawn, with the engine later tying up at East Penn. It appears that this train was at times routed directly to Allentown over the Perkiomen Branch. For unknown reasons, CAP-2/PCA-1 were discontinued for a short time in April, 1941. A brief item in the Allentown newspaper told that the Harrisburg train was running heavier, often with a pusher. The Port Richmond trains were reinstated in early May, 1941 and disappeared for good by about 1943.
The most important Reading train into Catasauqua in later years were the Rutherford to Catasauqua and return symbols HCA-2/ CAH-5. "The Cat" was the nickname for this train, it was a commonly-used nickname among employees (just like the Bethlehem Star, Gettysburg Digger, etc). At one time, both the eastbound and westbound runs would leave around midnight, arriving Catasauqua or Rutherford a little before or after sunup.
The HCA-2 would tie up at East Penn just like PCA- 1, this practice was later changed with the engine off HCA-2 laying over all day at the Ironton's engine-house in Hokendauqua waiting for that evening's CAH-5. By the end of the forties, an important change had occurred with HCA-2 leaving Rutherford in the late afternoon arriving at Catty around 10:30 PM. The crew would go on rest for a few hours, then turn on CAH-5 whose schedule was basically unchanged.
The Cats were good sized trains, running about sixty cars. The Reading used large steam engines on them (including T-1's). Around 1945-6, the I-10sa class 2-8-0's were the regular engines used. Doubleheaders were also seen such as:
Jan. 11, 1946 HCA-2 3010, 2046 (2-10-2, 2-8-0)
Mar. 1, 1946 HCA-2 3017, 2010 (2-10-2, 2-8-0)
May 31, 1946 HCA-2 2048, 2022 (2-8-0, 2-8-0)
After dieselization, all types of Reading first generation road units ended up on the job at one time or another. Reading Co. data shows their intention to assign a set of ALCO A-B-A units to the job about 1949. Because of HCA-2/CAH-5 operating regularly over the C&F branch at night, photos of RDG road power at Catasauqua are hard to come by. Extra freights (mainly coal) could be operated, these would be the photographers' only chance.
It is regrettable that Reading activity here could not have been better photographed. The Reading's West Catasauqua yard was somewhat of a visual highlight of the local rail scene. The entire yard area was a little over a mile in length from the LVRR main line to the state highway overpass at Mickleys. Looking at the yard, one realized the extent of interchange business with the Ironton and Lehigh & New England. Space was always at a premium. Even as late as 1960, looking across the cemetery from Route 145 at Mickleys one would see strings of freight cars sitting west of Eberhart's crossing. From up in Fairview cemetery above the relocated freight station, short strings of LNE cement cars, IV "bottle" cars, etc., were seen packed closely together in the middle of the yard beyond Water Street. There is no attempt to be deliberately morbid in describing these vantage points. Rather they're to be seen as relatable locations to help understand how the yard appeared in the absence of photographs.
Reading Baldwin #533, the only diesel to carry the "CATA'(Catasauqua Engine House) designation on her pilot, heads a local freight southbound on the C&F Branch near Walberts, Pa. August 8, 1958. Neil Shankweiler
When HCA-2 arrived at Mickleys, he would call the yardmaster at Catasauqua station for instructions. Reading operator J.W. Hulsman, Sr. filled in at Catty on occasion in the fifties; we are most grateful to him for providing much of the following on the yarding of this train. Essentially, it was difficult to assemble the westbound train and have it ready for the crew when they came in with HCA-2.
The Reading stored and serviced their West Catasauqua yard switcher over in Hokendauqua at the Ironton engine-house. Baldwin AS-16 #533 was the regular unit throughout the fifties; it was the only unit with 'CATA' assignment lettering. No other diesels were assigned at Catty; when the 533 was out for work, another AS-16 often took its place.
The yard crew came on duty late in the afternoon. As connections were received, through or online cuts were carefully assembled, keeping in mind enough room had to be left for HCA-2 to yard his train. Conditions changed from night to night. When the LNE man would leave, it would add room. On the other hand, the LNE would usually wait for HCA-2. This meant that HCA-2 might have to be broken up to take care of the LNE. On many occasions, HCA-2 had to be taken apart anyway to fully assemble CAH-5. When the Rutherford crew came in, they would turn their engines (if necessary) on the Ironton RR wye west of Eberhard Road and park them up towards Mickleys. They would take rest, anywhere from two to four hours, while the yard crew continued to work. The yard crew would take care of the caboose; the road crew would make the necessary doubles and go west. Since there was a grade leaving town, the yard crew sometimes would give CAH-5 a kick out of town. The grade dropped off near Walberts; it was another climb almost at the end of the branch up into Alburtis. Once in a while an actual helper crew was called. Normally, when a westbound had trouble, he'd cut his train at Walberts, take half to Chapmans, then return for the balance.
Besides the Harrisburg train, East Penn to Catasauqua turnarounds (EPCAT) were operated. These were also night trains, called at East Penn around 11:00 PM. In the late fifties they would run three or four nights a week as needed. The regular late morning C&F local out of East Penn could also come into Catasauqua. This was the job which worked the branch, most of its work being at the large Lehigh Portland cement plant out at Fogelsville. Back in the late forties, 1-9sc 2-8-0's were used on the local, often the same engine for days in a row. Dieselization brought GP7's and RS-3's.
A rare occurrence on the C&F: a 91-car unit coal train, powered by C424 #5206 and GP7's #634, 612, 625, arrives at Mickleys, Pa. just west of Catasauqua) bound for the Copley Cement Co. March 21, 1965. Neil Shankweiler
The Reading dropped HCA-2/CAH-5 and the second shift yard drill in the early sixties with the withdrawal of the LNE and the loss of cement business to trucks. By the mid sixties, unit coal trains for the Ironton had appeared. These trains ran as a HCAX with a unit train number such as "UT 1300" also assigned. Through the sixties and seventies, they ran with all types of Reading second generation power. Examples (all eastbounds):
Sept. 9, 1968 5306,3615,5301 C-630, GP30, C-630
Oct. 5, 1968 3613,3621,3601,3643 GP30, GP35, GP30, GP35
June 23, 1969 7602,5304 SD-45, C-630
June 29, 1971 5212, 3606, 3626 HCAX C-430, GP30, GP35
July 10, 1971 3606, 5303, 5305, HCAX GP30, C-630, C-630
Looking east at a portion of the Reading yard in about June, 1961. The roof of the RDG freight station is to the right. A pair of LV PAÕs works a cut of cars in the distance out of the LV lower yard. Shanty for the RDG scale is seen just in 'front' of the ALCOs. The old C&F roundhouse stood over to the left of the RDG GPIT The public street across this part of the yard was one long bumpy grade crossing often avoided by local residents. Hardly visible in this picture, its location is marked by the pole mast above the 613 and the high pole at the east end of the RDG station. Dave Augsburger
Even Conrail operated unit coal trains over the branch for a time after their takeover. To drill out a coal train, the C&F crew would have a larger four-axle for a day or so along with their GP7 or RS-3. During these years the C&F was normally a two-shift operation; the Ironton work was normally done in the evening. Through the seventies until Conrail, the C&F local would appear at Catty as often as the Ironton business warranted.
LEHIGH VALLEY: Between the iron furnaces and the cement mills, the Catasauqua area provided much business over the years for the LV. It appears there were always side tracks of some sort for locally generated business and the C&F interchange. However, they didn't keep or service locomotives at the location, at least in recent times. Even back around the turn of the century the local industrial switching runs came out of Allentown. At some point a regular Catasauqua drill was designated, with the engine always coming from Allentown.
LV symbol JM1 is about to hit the LNE diamond at West Catasauqua at midday on July 8,1960. Train is crossing from 3to 1 through the interlocking. The rock outcrop, diamond, and EMD and ALCO engines add up for some great noise. Neil Shankweiler
The LV's main interchange involvement at Catasauqua in recent decades was the receipt of eastward headed cement from the Ironton RR. After the turn of the century cement traffic grew to the point where yard tracks parallel to the main could no longer handle the business, and the Biery Farm yard was laid out a short distance away from the main. Short yard tracks along the main line were retained. This was the very small four-track stub-end "lower yard" near the Reading coaling tower. Because of its location and the Ironton's presence, Biery yard has been erroneously identified over the years as the "Ironton's yard". In fact, the only Ironton track was the one running along the northern perimeter of the yard. The Ironton did have a LCL transfer platform (with siding) for many years at the yard's northwest corner.
The jobs which regularly worked at Biery yard from the late thirties through the late fifties were the Catasauqua drill, symbol freight HJ2, Easton/Lehighs and the Cementon drill. A Fullerton drill is known to have existed in the late thirties and possibly during years before, but certainly gone after the war (it is known the Catasauqua drill did Fullerton work). Mack Trucks of Allentown took over a plant at Fullerton for a short time around World War 11; it required much switching as was typical of all factories and mills then. The engines commonly used on the drills at that time were the L51/2 class 0-8-0's.
An LNE crew waits under the Pine St. bridge for the LV to finish a move. Track work in the yards had seen few changes since installation in the early twentieth century. Dave Augsburger
The Lehigh Valley's cement train was symbol HJ2 (Hokendauqua-Jersey City) which actually started out of Lehighton. In recent decades there wasn't a corresponding westbound symbol. HJ2 would leave Biery yard with 50-60 cars received from the Ironton, the LV Cementon pullout, and the LNE (few Readings). The train went east from around 10:00 PM to 12:30 AM (except Sunday). During the war years a second section could run. He would stop for late business at Cernenton, and also at Biery yard; going east with a train of around 30 cars. Locomotives were usually 2-8-2's, though not all the time:
Feb. 3, 1941 1st HJ2 448 2-8-2
Feb. 5, 1941 1st HJ2 2024 4-6-2
Feb.10,1941 1st HJ2 4054 210-2
Mar. 13, 1941 1st HJ2 482 2-8-2
2nd HJ2 457 2-8-2
Mar. 6, 1946 1st HJ2 5001 4-8-2
Many tracks at Biery yard were off limits to larger steam engines. Number 12 track in the middle of the yard was considered the thoroughfare track and was not restricted. It is clear that up through the late fifties much cement was produced along the Ironton every workday with two symbol freights (RDG CAH-5, IV FU2) taking it away; also remember some went to the CNJ at Coplay.
An Easton-Lehigh turn passes the Lower yard at West Catasauqua in the early sixties behind a pair of FA2s. Note that the westbound semaphore blades are pointed while the eastbound ones have straight ends. Kermit Geary, Sr.
LV RS2s pickup at the lower yard on July 20,1957 Since this is a Saturday this could be the Cementon drill, it could also be an Easton/Lehigh picking up. Out-of-service Reading scale house is at right. Base for new eastbound signal is in place seen between the 212's trucks. Randolph Kulp
The LV discontinued H12 about 1958. In describing the activities of the Easton/Lehighs and the Cementon drill, the 1960's are emphasized, though both jobs had been running for years.
The Easton/Lehighs were the locals operated between and out of Lehighton and Easton. Prior to the late fifties these trains usually stopped at Biery yard. Up to that time there was normally a daily east- and west-bound run. A 2:30 PM boarded Lehigh often followed passenger train #26 out of Lehighton. After around 1960, these trains didn't necessarily run each way every day and would stop occasionally.
Catching the last rays of sunshine, a pair of "snowbirds" heads east past the site of the former LV Catasauqua yard office which was in the brush to the left. The track paralleling the train on this side is the Ironton Railroad; crossing it are overlapping legs of the two wyes. Dave Augsburger
In the sixties, and certainly before, a fascinating practice was the pickup of empty covered hoppers at Biery yard for salt loading in New York state. Destinations included Ludlowville and Cayuga, also Retsof on the Genesee & Wyoming via P&L Junction. Symbol freights would also take these cars. Examples:
Nov. 17, 1963 Extra West (611,602) 16 car pickup (I Buffalo, 15 LV covered hoppers for salt) Out of Catasauqua 9:19 AM
Nov. 19, 1963 Return of SJ2 (401, 304, 529, 520) 16 car pickup (14 W covered hoppers for salt, 2 C&O boxcars) Out of Catasauqua 3:07 PM
Dec. 14, 1963 Extra Lehigh West (602, 613) 29 car pickup (29 IV covered hoppers for Cayuga, salt) 12:15 AM
Jan. 14, 1964 JBI (540, 533, 539, 530) 19 car pickup (19 12V covered hoppers for Retsof, salt) Out of Catasauqua 5:45 PM
Nov. 2, 1965 Easton/Lehigh (584, 594) 7 covered hoppers for salt loading picked up from #26 track 3:45 PM (This was also one of the final appearances of ALCO FA's in the area.)
Before describing the Cementon drill, we'll mention several other noteworthy details and train movements to provide a better chronological perspective. The Catasauqua drill was abolished in the early sixties, it was most likely an extra drill before being completely eliminated. The final day for a yardmaster on duty at Biery yard was December 11, 1964. Certain tracks in the yard were specifically designated as interchange tracks. The AM and PM pullouts from East Penn yard at Allentown would quite often visit to collect cars set off by an eastbound symbol freight. These cars would be placed by a through freight on either main or yard tracks. The pullouts would grab these setoffs and take them to East Penn or Bethlehem, etc. Why were cars for these destinations set off at Catasauqua? Perhaps there were no tracks open at the actual destinations as the eastbound approached. Or the freight may have been inconveniently (or incorrectly) blocked for a quick setoff. As an example, a long eastbound with East Penn cars would have to make a cut at Gap Jct. (if not, crossings at Allentown would be blocked) go down to East Penn, set off and return to his train. Such a time-consuming move could be made some times, other times it was better to utilize the pullouts. The pullouts also could pick up or set off Ironton cars.
Many meets occurred on the LV main at West Catasauqua aftert he revisions made in late 1961. Three C420's are an the move west, the eastbound to the left will soon have the signal. Dave Augsburger
Still another job for them was turning piggyback flats on the wye at Biery yard. The arrangement of the ramp at Allentown for a time in the sixties required that certain trailers had to be turned. The East Penn pullouts were abolished November 1, 1965 when the LV/CNJ/RDG coordination went into effect. The Easton/ Lehighs acquired the job of turning the pigs.
While most of the coal for the cement mills at Coplay and Egypt on the Ironton came via the Reading, some was delivered by the LV (coming off the PRR at Wilkes-Barre). This was done by symbol freights setting off and details of at least two unit trains are known:
Oct. 19, 1965 (example) SJ8 (560, 527, 517, 572) Set off 22 coal for IRR on #28 track 8:00 AM
Mar. 9, 1966 unit train (301, 305, 304) Set off 105 coal on tracks 2, 26, 28 1:00 PM. The empties were picked up by train JB1 the three following days;
March 10th, 24 cars; the 11th, 49 cars; and the 12th, 29 cars.
Mar. 22, 1966 unit train (300, 303, 561, 510) 100 coal on 2, 26, and 28. Empties were again picked up; Mar. 24th, Xtra Lehigh (631, 630) from #26 track; Mar. 25th, Easton/Lehigh (213, 218) from #28 track.
Note how the Ironton worked quickly in getting the coal to the mills and the empty hoppers back to the LV. It is not known how many of these unit trains ran; there probably weren't many since the Reading had the lion's share of the business. Virtually all of this rare information on LV operations in the sixties came from LV employee Mike Bednar. As youngsters, Mike and his two brothers found that Biery yard made a good playground.
Finally, the Cementon drill (or Cementon pullout-symbols EB5/BE6) is thej ob most closely involved with Biery yard in later years. Three miles west of Catasauqua is the village of Cementon. The Whitehall Cement plant located here was the only mill in the region actually on the LV main. Cementon mills required a great amount of attention from the railroads which served them. Delivering coal and receiving cement sounds simple enough, but consider what is involved.
Hoppers from the B&O, P&LE, etc. which brought in bituminous coal had to be started on their way back to their home road as quickly as possible. Enough empty cement hoppers had to be provided at a plant to accommodate production. There were other raw materials delivered and by-products picked up. And there were only so many tracks available to do the work. There was plenty to keep a crew assigned and busy.
The Cementon drill had in earlier years operated out of Allentown but by the sixties it was running out of Easton. Previously a late morning call, it now went on duty in mid-afternoon, arriving at Biery yard about 5:00 PM. The normal routine was to set up the train for the mill at Biery yard, go to Cementon, spend two to three hours working the mill (and taking lunch), return to Biery yard for Ironton cars, then go east, usually between 10:00 PM and midnight. In the sixties the drill also did Fullerton work which required running the Allentown Secondary. Industries there were Sandura (linoleum products) Levine's (rag warehouse) and Fullerton Supply (building materials). Fullerton work was mostly done on the eastbound trip; if it was necessary to do the west end of the Sandura plant, this work was done going west.
There were variations to this routine. Often, the drill would go straight to Cementon as the plant might need switching in a hurry. If it was getting late at Cementon, Ironton or Fullerton cars could be left there for the next day's drill as no stop would be made going east. Occasionally, the drill would have pigs to turn on the wye at Biery yard. Sometimes a side trip from Biery yard was made to do the west end of Sandura. It would also work at Coplay on occasion. The operation of the Cementon drill was so closely tied to the mill that usually if the mill was off, the job wouldn't work. This applied also to the Ironton and their mills. When business was slow, the drill would spot empties and sometimes have to remove them a few days later as they were not needed.
In the mid sixties the job had a single EMD or Baldwin switcher. However, on a Saturday, it often ran with a pair of ALCO RS's which were used on weekdays on jobs into New Jersey. Some of the Easton engines regularly seen on the Cementon drill in die mid sixties include the 126, 145, 186, 250, 266, and 289.
Through the sixties and into the seventies, the cement business was slowly but surely tapering off. Trackage at Biery yard was steadily taken out of service and ripped out. In the early seventies, the Cementon drill operated out of Lehighton for a short time. The job went at about the time Packerton yard at Lehighton was closed (1973). Work to be done at Cementon or Biery yard was now performed by an East Penn local which was gradually inheriting all the work once done by numerous iobs out of Allentown.
(A detailed and entertaining history of Anthracite Iron-Making in the Lehigh Valley, written by Craig Bartholomew, appears in the 1978 Proceedings of the Lehigh County Historical Society. It was a reference for this feature and highly recommended.)
The 400's and their train (most likely Apollo 213) are on the move at Catasauqua interlocking. Switches into Biery yard and to the Reading are visible along the lead track at left. Dave Augsburger
I would like to humbly thank several people for sharing their knowledge, historical materials, and photographs which collectively makes up a great portion of this article. Tim Dugan, an ARHS member whom I have not met, provided the Society some years ago with the excellent Reading Co. diagram which clearly shows the track arrangement in the area. The late Charlie Bealer kindly gave reminiscences and data on all four railroads, information I believe could not have been provided by anyone else. His son Ken also helped immeasurably with data and photographs. Mike Bodnar kept extensive personal records on Biery yard and the Cementon drill in the sixties; I greatly appreciate having access to these notes. Mike's boyhood and teenage years were quite literally intertwined with the yard and the drill. James Hulsman, Sr. unlocked many of the secrets of the Reading side at Catasauqua. Thanks also to Dave Augsburger for being on the scene so frequently and his generosity in loaning pictures and to everyone else who granted permission to use their photographs. Also thanks to Randy Kulp and Russ Yeakel for encouragement and support.
The Allentown Morning Call (microfilm at Allentown Public Library).
Archer, Robert F. Lehigh Valley Railroad
Bartholomew, Craig L. "Anthracite Iron Making and Industrial Growth in the Lehigh Valley," Proceedings of the Lehigh County Historical Society Vol. 32.
Bartholomew, Craig L. "Anthracite Iron" Proceedings of the Canal History and Technology Symposium, Vol. 3.
Buchala, Gregory A., and Diebert Frederick, "King Coal, the L&NE Story"
Railpace Newsmagazine, September, October, and December 1982.
The Catasauqua Dispatch (microfilm at Lehigh County Historical Society)
Kulp, Randolph L. (editor) History of Lehigh & New England Railroad Company
Kulp, Randolph L. (editor) History of Lehigh Valley Transit Company
Kulp, Randolph L. (editor) Railroads in the Lehigh River Valley
Lambert, James F., and Reinhard, Henry J. A History of Catasauqua in Lehigh County Pennsylvania.
Lehigh & New England Railroad Company - Incidents Book.
Mathews, Alfred and Hungerford, Austin N. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Roberts, Charles R., et al. History of Lehigh County.
Discussions with Charlie Bealer, Ken Bealer, Mike Bednar, Floyd Dech, Winfield Held, and JW. HuIsman, Sr.
Mid morning of Oct. 15, 1963 finds the first trick Ironton crew just about ready to depart Biery yard. They will go up through Hokendauqua to Coplay on their track which followed the LV main. The horns on the two Ironton Baldwins would often be heard out in the distance all over the Whitehall township area north of Allentown. Randolph Kulp
CNJ - Industries at Catasauqua Served By Private Siding Circa 1918
Catasauqua Boiler Works
Davies & Thomas foundry
Lund & Foeth, silk mill
Mauser & Cressman, flour mill
Dan Milson, coal yard and building products
Wahneta Silk Co.
LNE - Industries at Catasauqua Served by Private Siding Circa 1930
Catasauqua Coal & Ice Co.
Davies & Thomas foundry
Duquesne Slag Products
Empire Steel & Iron Co.
Lehigh Valley Ice Co.
Phoenix Manufacturing Co., horsehoes & calks
John A. Williams, brass foundry
F.W. Wint, caskets and other wood products