Monday, October 17, 2011

Switchback Railroad Hikes - 2010 and Onward

A beautiful fall day in 2014 - our 5th, bi-annual hike.  We will repeat this
in March 2015.

The Fall 2014 is now in the books.  We were a bit behind the foliage turn this year, but the day was perfect.
 (As opposed to two years ago when we had to cancel due to snow!)

Jordan Cook and Mrs. Focht were on the 2010 Fall hike.

For more of a historical account of the Switchback Railroad, including rare photgraphs, please click this link to take you to "Students Descend Upon the Switchback Railroad" post on this blog.

Once again, students, family and staff of the Lehighton Area Middle School took part in a 3-hour hike of the remains of the Switchback Railroad engine house atop Mt. Pisgah in Jim Thorpe (formerly Mauch Chunk.) 
The adventurers marveled at the view and the rich history of this forgotten place, which is perhaps the most important link in the early development of coal production that fueled our Industrial Revolution.
The 50-plus hikers even ventured out to the former Hacklebernie Tunnel that was first driven in 1824 by Josiah White himself in an attempt to bring a source of coal closer to the shipping terminus at Mauch Chunk and the Lehigh River.
Here is one of the few pictures (albeit a drawing based on photos) that illustrates the entire 18-mile expanse of the
Mauch Chunk Railroad, otherwise known as the "Switchback."  You can see the dam on the Lehigh River, constructed
to create a "harbor" for canal boats to load up with coal.  To the right of the river, just above the dam, you can see the
beginning of the Lehigh Canal as it circles the bottom of "Mauch Chunk" Mountain, so named by natives as "Land
of the Sleeping Bear."  Though the "chutes" are not depicted here, you can see the red roofs of the Switchback
Station at the rightmost terminal arc.  The great plane above that is the Mt Pisgah Plane and engine house.  The
other plane is the Mt Jefferson plane and engine house that leads to Summit Hill. The straightaway from the base of
Mt Jefferson all the way to Mauch Chunk was originally a one-way "Stone Turnpike" in which the cars descended by
day and pulled back up empty by mules at night.  The planes, engines, and "backtrack" were constructed for operation in 1846.   The original "Stone Turnpike" was constructed over the winter of 1818-1819.  The entire system runs at a steady four to six percent declination or four to six feet per running 100 feet.  The one and only and entire model of the Switchback can be viewed at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, West Broadway, Jim Thorpe. 
The mine was not extremely profitable and was used intermitantly over the years.  Eventually it was driven clear through to the Nesquehoning side of the mountain.  Keith Bellhorn's grandfather, a miner who lived in Hacklebernie around the 1930s walked through the tunnel each day coming and going from his job as a miner in Nesquehoning.
Students gape at the view of the Lehigh Gorge - With all our recent rain, the
Glen Onoko Falls were quite visible, a rare treat for this time of year.
The Lehigh River is about 800 feet below.

The March 2015 hike was coldest one yet!  Here Emily Snyder, Hailey
Anthony, Taylor Mickley and Ricky Houser.

Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and many students have enjoyed these hikes
over the years.  This one from Spring of 2011.

Here, Miss Finkboner makes her way across the top of the collapsed tunnel.
Since the tunnel was driven in 1824, 24 years before the construction of the
Switchback's "backtrack," a short trestle was built to traverse the mine.
This is also the place where the Switchback actually got its name from the Y-
switches that allowed descending coal cars to zig-zag down the mountain
side, each time it reached a terminus or switch that kicked the car onto the opposing
section, "switchbacking" down the mountain, eventually connecting to the "downtrack"
and on down to the coal chutes to the Lehigh River.

Parents and students were eager to see the mine's entrance, defying the steep
30 foot drop.

TOP: Ryan Graver and his father on the flat in front of the mine March 2015.  Students (above) hike across the top of the tunnel in the Fall 2014 hike.  Though many find themselves scaling this narrow ledge, one need not cross it to continue on this hike.  Madison Brown and her father enjoyed the challenge.  Students from 2010 (below) were enthusiastic to find the entrance of the collapse tunnel, the first coal
mine tunnel ever driven in North America (1824).

Emily Snyder and Gabi Steigerwalt in October 2014.
Students even scaled the side of the mountain to reach the nearly closed opening of the collapsed mine tunnel.
Fall 2014 - Looking out from inside the Hacklebernie Tunnel - first driven
in 1824.
Among the students attending the hike, along with parents, grandparents and siblings were: Shain Hrusovsky, Emily Miller, Haley Nahf, Sam Maholick, Jordan Cook, Gavin Sherer, Grace Lienhard, Emma McClafferty, Lily Hutton, Scott Kuzma, Cameron Zerbe, Lindsay Carrigan, Kelsey Knappenberger, Daniel Brown, Ryan Nametko, Trent Derhammer, Daniel Thomas, Isabelle Meckes, Justice Schlier, Amanda Mathisen, Gage Whiteman, Seth Nace, Mark Solt, Brooke Focht, Benjamin Mathisen, Emily Bartron, and Alex Hawk.
Everyone had a blast.

Students even were able to make 3 different GeoCache finds at the Fall 2010
hike included from left: Amanda Mathisen, Haley Nahf, Ben Mathisen, and
Isabelle "Belle" Meckes when they were in 5th grade.
Among the L.A.M.S. staff members attending the hike were Mark Maholick, Jake Molchany, Carly Finkboner, Mollie Llewellyn, Sharon Focht, and Ronald Rabenold.

A repeat of this hike is planned for April.  Part 2 of the hike, the "downtrack" and downtown Jim Thorpe tour ending at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center with its complete Switchback Railroad train display, is planned for early May for 3 evening tours.  (See The 'Essential Jim Thorpe Tour' is our Spring hike, Part II of the Switchback tour.)

Related links on this website:
Spring Hike 2011(This post has many vintage photos of the SBRR), Josiah White's Genius, October 2010 Hike, PA Canal Society Visits Mt Pisgah, and My Sunday Hike.

Haley Nahf and Belle Meckes return as 8th graders for the 2014 hike as
 Belle's 5th grade sister Abigail photo-bombs.
(Hailey even wore the same Lehighton hoody she wore when she attended
her first hike above. 
Also, if you are looking for a comparable site in the area, I suggest you look into the Penn Haven Junction inclines of the Beaver Meadow Railroad above the Black Creek.  In the "Virtual Lehigh Gorge" tour, about mid-way through, are pictures and some history of those dual inclines that once operated there.

CLICK HERE - For the Spring 2011 Hike with a more complete Switchback history and rare photos. 

April 2014 Hike Update -

We had another succesful, memorable and injury free hike this past Easter Saturday, April 24th, 2014.  The following are some picture highlights.  There were over fifty students, parents, brothers and sisters in attendance.  The late spring and lack of foliage offered a more unencumbered view than normal for late spring.  It allowed us to see Lock #1 of the Upper Grand and a swollen Glen Onoko Falls.  Any day in nature is a good day.  A day getting kids and their families connected with nature and each other is a great day!  Go exploring!  (One LAMS student was among our number.  Known as "The Kid in the Tent," he too writes a blog and it is well written.  He also documented the hike which can be read by clicking here.) 

The following pictures encapsulate the main points of the hike:
Some of the families from the Fall of 2014 hike gather
near the top at the foot of the trestle abutment.

The Easter Saturday 2014 hikers on top of Mt Pisgah one of the largest groups up to then.

A portion of the October 2014 group near the base of the trestle.
This group numbered near 80, the largest tour group to date.  Thirty-six 5th-grade students attended, many with both parents, some siblings and even a grandparent or two attended.

Pre-hike instructions and Switchback history overview Spring 2014.

The steep grade of the Wagon Road up the side
of Mt Pisgah always seems to catch more than a
few people unprepared.  Many were waiting and catching
their breath at the first of two hairpin turns - Spring 2014.
Perfect weather for "The Kid and the Tent" and his friends to take
in the view of the Lehigh Gorge as well as the Glen Onoko Falls - Spring 2014.
Outside the Hacklebernie Tunnel - Driven to a depth
of 790 feet from 1824 to 1827, it is said to be the oldest
coal mine tunnel in North America - Spring 2014.
"The Kid" explores inside the tunnel. - Lyle Cordes examines the rock formations
in the ceiling of the Hacklebernie Tunnel in Spring 2014.

End of the Hike - Going in reverse order - The hike
culminates with a quadricep-jarring descent down the
1/4 mile plane where cars were once pulled up.  Kurtis
Gustafson and Tate Sharrow enjoy the top of the descent
in Fall of 2014, while looking downward near the same
spot were hikers from the Spring 2014 hike.
(For more information click the link at the beginning
of this post or schedule a tour at the
Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center.  

Emily Snyder and her grandfather Captain Nick Waits, a retired Air Force dentist, enjoyed the Fall
2014 hike.  Thanks for the pictures Capt Waits.  There is also a pictureof Capt Waits and his family on the Lehigh Gorge post here.
Students who attended the Fall of 2014 hike were: Jayla Knight, Kendra Mosteller, Grant Rimbey, Tate Sharrow, Dylan and Kenneth Wallace, Madalynne Cerami, Kurtis Gustafson, Leilani McClure, Sherry Nametko, Ronald Snyder, Hailey Anthony, Dante Boni, Benjamin Slaw, Jaiden Unangst, Emily Graver, Emily Snyder, Gabrielle Steigerwalt, Mason Costenbader, Antigone Gonzalez, Kylee Schmidt, Shelby Heater, Madison Kemmerer, Shelby Kuzma, Alexis Amari, Marissa McNally, Callie Hayman, Hunter Hettler, Logan Kester, Autumn Madea, Abigail Meckes, Amanda Shaffer, Emily Tonkin, Austin Williams, and Josh Steigerwalt.

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