Old-timers still recall when cement dust was common in the “cement belt.” I wrote about this issue 18 years ago.
In 1999, two Northampton residents “remembered” dust in the Northampton, Coplay, Cementon and Egypt areas with letters to the editor.
They recalled when dust from the plants had to be swept from the sidewalks on a daily basis — sometimes, twice a day. The old Atlas plant’s 74 kilns had a squeaking sound, putting the residents of 10th, 11th and 12th streets in Northampton to sleep at night.
Mr. Bruce Keim was raised in Bethlehem, graduating in 1972 from Liberty High School, where he was a member of the track and field team. One of his favorite teachers was Mr. George Pavlinski, who taught math and motivated the students.
Upon graduating, he enrolled at Virginia Tech and graduated with a degree in civil engineering. During the summer, he was employed at Bethlehem Steel, where his father and relatives were employed.
Today, I am reading a new publication of the Northampton Press — the year, 1999.
Some things change; some do not. The Coplay-Northampton Bridge was a feature story. After years of pleading by motorists and residents, the bridge was closed to traffic in order to have the bridge milled and the deck resurfaced with a fresh coat of blacktop. It was to be closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic for four to six weeks. The bridge has detour signs on both sides in Northampton and Coplay.
In this concluding railroad history column, my friend Mike Bednar, railroad historian and Darktown resident, shares his memories in a special Konkrete Kid Town feature, which appeared in The Railroad Press in 2011.
Northampton had all the elements for a cement company to thrive: raw materials, a railroad system and dedicated workers. The world’s largest cement complex was constructed in 1895.
Mike writes, “The small town of Northampton got to become the global capital of cement production.”
Mr. Michael Fink, as a youth, lived in a company home in Evansville. The former house is now the site of the Lehigh Heidelberg office. He was born while his father, Dennis, was serving the nation in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He recalled, “After Dad returned home, we moved to Fleetwood. Soon, all the old company homes were gone; only a few old steps remain as a reminder of the past.”
Michael graduated from Fleetwood High School in 1988. A month later, he joined his grandfather and father at the plant.
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.
Today, I am over in Hokendauqua with my friend Mike Bednar, a Darktown resident and noted railroad historian. We are looking at what remains of the Thomas Iron Company and Ironton Railroad.
Both companies were very important to the residents, providing employment and company homes. Thomas even provided electricity for Hokendauqua homes — but forgot Darktown.
We recently wrote a five-part series on railroad memories, which resulted in a number of people sharing their own railroad experiences with us. So I called my friend Mike Bednar, a former railroad engineer and author of a number of railroad books, requesting more information. He graciously agreed.
Mike and his friend Ken Bealer authored the book “Trackside Around the Pennsylvania Cement District” in 2010. They write that seven railroads at one time served the area.
In this fourth column, we are speaking to the Rev. Jerry Mraz, a native of Czechoslovakia, who was the last full-time pastor at Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Northampton.
The church was organized in 1905, an era when many ethnic churches were formed by immigrants in the Lehigh Valley. Holy Trinity’s roots were laid by dedicated Slovaks, who constructed the church on land formerly owned by John Smith, a wealthy local property owner.
Mr. Ronald Silfies was born in Chapmans Quarry, graduating from Northampton High School and vo-tech in 1972.
He recalls, “I had good teachers at both schools; at tech, I completed the drafting blue print class.”
Ron was hired at Keystone in 1974 by manager Steve Hayden Sr. to work on the labor gang at a rate of $4.10 an hour. His grandfather and father were Keystone employees.
Always interested in electricity, he joined the electrical department.