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.
When postal rates increase, there is a collective groan! Remember when you thumbed through your pile of stamps to find the exact postage for your mail? Thankfully, the dilemma for some of us was solved by the Forever Stamp, a great improvement from the past.
I found an old column written by my good friend Al Recker more than 15 years ago. It is very enjoyable, so we thought we would share it with you.
Fifteen years ago, the 37-cent stamp made an appearance at our post offices.
Al writes, “When the post office opened, it took on the appearance of a supermarket.”
Life in the ’20s and ’30s in Northampton, Coplay, Cementon, Catasauqua and our neighboring communities involved many of our families working in the cement, steel and silk industries. In Northampton, many residents were employed at the Atlas Portland Cement Company.
When Bill Heberling was a young man, his father said he should “dress up because he was going for a job.” They walked out to the Atlas and sat in the employment office. Coplay, Whitehall and Lehigh Cement were hiring in 1922.
In this sixth column, I am speaking to the governor of Burgenland, Austria, and a delegation on the Burgenland heritage in the Lehigh Valley. Many men who immigrated here worked in our cement plants. When they were hired at the plants, the Burgenlanders were working with many nationalities. For example, there were Hungarians, Slovaks, Croatians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and a majority of Pennsylvania Germans. The Atlas even had a group of Portuguese employees, who later moved to Palmerton and became key employees at the New Jersey Zinc complex.