Over the years, I have written a number of columns on the Penn-Dixie Cement Company. The company operated three plants in Bath and Nazareth and employed many area residents. One of my former students, Blaine Hoffmeister, of Bath, gave me a rare Penn-Dixie paper named Penn-Dixie Cementer, dated April/May 1941.
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.
Mr. Michael Jablonski was reared in Reading and attended St. Peter’s Elementary School, later graduating from Holy Name High School in 1984. He especially remembered Mr. Reardon and Mr. John Gallagher, former teachers who influenced him. Michael also played baseball at the high school.
He recalled, “Computers were in their infancy, so I decided to enroll in a Reading computer-technical school to learn the basics of programming. I felt there was opportunity in this relatively new technology.”
In this fourth column, I am down in Darktown, Hokendauqua, Whitehall Township, visiting with Mike and Donna Bednar. Mike is a well-known railroad historian, a former railroad worker and engineer. He has authored a number of railroad books and magazines. Mike has had 41 years of experience with the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Conrail and Reading and Northern Railroad. Mike knows his railroads!
He traces the Lehigh Railroad back to its roots when the first tracks were laid in 1851 to link Allentown and Easton.
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.
In our last column, we wrote about railroad memories when the Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Northampton and Bath Railroads served Northampton, Coplay, Catasauqua and Cementon.
My first railroad trip took me to Allentown to shop in their popular stores, but a great thrill was a trip to visit my aunt in New York City. It was the first time I left Pennsylvania; she resided in the Bronx.
Recently, I received a call from Mr. Jim Rowland, editor of Lehigh Lines, official publication of Railroad Historians of the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Chapter. Jim requested some information on the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum and the railroad network at the Atlas plants.
Jim, a former Egypt resident, today resides in Maryland. Two friends, both railroad buffs in the chapter, are Mike Bednar, of Darktown (Hokendauqua), and a former student, Kermit Geary, of Lehigh Township.
A few years ago, I visited my friend Mrs. Grace Bonser in Moore Township. Grace had a long career in banking and was very active with the Northampton High School Band Boosters. Besides being a banker, she is an excellent seamstress and made many uniforms for band members.
She had a wealth of historical information, which she has graciously shared with me over the years. As I am interested in everything, she had a treasure of old bills and invoices, giving us a picture of a bygone era.
Mr. Frank Fassl Jr. was reared in Nazareth, graduating from Nazareth High School in 1974. Two weeks after graduation, at the age of 18, he was hired by plant manager Stanley Becker to work at Nazareth Cement. Frank’s grandfather, Joseph; his father, Frank Sr.; and three uncles worked for the company, logging in over 100 years of service.
He started as a laborer at $3.80 an hour and later moved to the quarry as a loader and was trained as a diesel mechanic.
I found a 1941 copy of the Cement News, a weekly newspaper serving Northampton, Coplay, Catasauqua, Cementon and the Cement Belt.
On Christmas 1941, we were a nation at war. The Cement News edition was a mixture of both Christmas news and alarm. We had traditional greetings from our local businessmen, Northampton Lumber, Roth Brothers, Northampton and Howertown dairies, Lentz Motors, Lahovski the tailor and many others. They are all gone — just local memories.