Sunday, April 27, 2014

Penn Haven: Epicenter of Wrecks - Post 1 of 3

Awareness.  Taking everything in.  Then, in a flash of time, a lapse of focus, it’s all set and you’re all in.

The accounts are full of people who, failed to recognize the situation that would cost them a limb, their life, or the multiple lives of others.  This post will examine the more than 120 deaths that occurred from 1874 until 1910 in the Penn Haven area, the epicenter of wrecks for Carbon’s rail history. 
News of the Mud Run Disaster, killing around 60 people made front page
of Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper in New York.  It is one of the
deadliest accidents in our nation's early rail history.



The dangerous curves and steep grades combined with Penn Haven’s paradoxically busy yet remote location to create unparalleled ruin and heartbreak among the many rails of Carbon County.
This junction hosted the confluence of rail traffic from the mainlines of the Central Jersey Railroad (The “Central”) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad (The “Valley”).  It also merged with the Mahanoy and Hazelton Railroad’s (the “M & H”) branch-line (later absorbed by the LVRR). 
An early picture of the Penn Haven Junction looking northward or to
rail workers as a "westward" direction, as these lines of the L.V.R.R.
on the right are heading toward Buffalo New York.  The mainlines of the
Central Jersey appear on the left.  The peaked shadow of the L.V.R.R.
Hotel at Penn Haven, the home of workers and occasional hunters, can be
seen in the Central tracks. 

Junctions are notoriously dangerous places.  But this junction has proven to be a challenge for both man and machine.  Trains of 125 cars or more, filled with the world’s most desired anthracite, rumbled through the twisty Black Creek at grades of nine-percent, to join with those of the Central and the Valley from Hazleton and Weatherly. 

It wasn’t any easier on the main-lines of the Central or the Valley that ran through the Lehigh Gorge with equally challenging grades and curves so severe they nearly turned back onto themselves, almost 180 degrees.  Full trains going upgrade, or westward, sometimes needed special assistance from an extra engine to help in the towing.  
Here is an official railroad map showing the twisting curves of Penn Haven at right to Rockport at left.  Notice
how close Penn Haven and Rockport are "as the crow flies."  The critical, nearly 180-degree tight turning radius
in between these locations is the Stony Creek Curve.  The narrow turning radius of Rockport was lessened
by the tunnel driven by the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1884, the Valley's first tunnel.
Because of the coal wharves and inclined planes that existed here until of 1862 flood, the "old Penn Haven Junction"
was much farther down the river.  After the floods and the legislation forbidding the LC N C from rebuilding the canal, the junction was reconfigured to its more modern layout.  Today it exists as it once did but with the absence of the Central Jersey lines now being the bicycling/snowmobiling trail of the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
Here is a real photo from the 1950s or earlier of the Penn Haven Junction with annotations.  Courtesy of the Central New Jersey Railroad.

Likewise, loaded trains coming down slope, or eastward, sometimes had problems with seized brakes or brake failures resulting in a car being sided as a “hot-box.”

Overcoming these challenges wasn’t always easy.  Mishaps due to equipment failure, the severe winter weather, and simple human error turned deadly.  One accident alone, the Mud Run Disaster of October 10, 1888 accounts for about sixty, or nearly half of the total rail associated deaths here.
An early steam engine, replete with a "cowcatcher" front apron,
is seen here traveling north or "westward" toward Penn Haven.
Photo courtesy of Richard Palmer.

The wreck at Mud Run is considered to be among the worst of the early national train wrecks.  (The Library of Congress even gives it its own title in its card catalog system.)  The initial reports lit up the telegraph wires with over sixty killed and over 200 injured.  (This wreck will be examined in a future post.)

Doctors were on call up and down the entire Lehigh Valley, wherever the tracks of commerce were located.  They stood ready to be pressed into service at a moment’s notice.  The railroads also had wreck crews who similarly were on call awaiting dispatch. 

Each station had a telegraph operator who could relay urgent messages of need to the towns like Lehighton where the specially built and supplied rail cars stood ready.  These had the latest medical equipment such as stretchers and tools the surgeons would need to deal with life-threatening injuries that many times involved the loss of limbs. 

Often times the only assistance the surgeons could provide was to buy the worker enough time to simply say goodbye to friends and loved ones who would gather in bated vigils at their home stations.

If need be, these same cars transport the injured to St’ Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem.  St. Lukes was the nearest local hospital then.  It was built by Asa Packer and his Valley Railroad for that explicit purpose.
The John Wilkes engine as it approaches Penn Haven Junction
on the Central Jersey line.  The photo was taken from the L.V.R.R. station tower.
Tracks to the left are "Valley" tracks and those bearing off to the right are
headed toward Weatherly/Hazleton on the old "M & H" line.  

Likewise, Coaldale’s Miner’s Memorial Hospital (originally named “Panther Creek Valley Hospital”) stood ready near the mines of northern Carbon County for the same reason: railroading and mining were both highly dangerous jobs.  (Which makes it all the more fitting that St’ Luke’s Hospital has taken over the Coaldale Miner’s Hospital.)

There was a medical society known as the “Association of Lehigh Valley Railroad Surgeons.”  The Honorable Dr. Jacob Gilbert Zern of Weissport served as it’s secretary in the 1880s. 

Dr. Zern was originally from Montgomery County and was a veteran of the Civil War.  Certainly, his war experience helped prepare him for the wounded horrors he would encounter as a railroad surgeon.     

Besides serving as the first president of the Carbon County Medical Society, Dr. Zern held several local and state political posts.  He was postmaster of Weissport, mayor of Lehighton, and state representative.  He was an associate judge of Carbon County in 1894 and a state senator in 1902.  

Unlike today’s rail travel that is dispatched and controlled from one station in Harrisburg, each junction was manned to handle these duties.  Penn Haven itself rests on an inside cleft or curve of the mountain.  Many workers lived on site to do a number of jobs, from hitching and unhitching cars and engines, to making safe switchings for the many trains passing through Penn Haven. 
A reverse modern view of the above photo of Penn Haven Junction.  The M & H branchlines are going off to the left,
while the tracks on the right are Norfolk Southern lines, formerly Conrail, formerly L. V. R. R.  The center path,
now the Lehigh Gorge Rail-Trail lines, were at one time the Central Jersey lines.

Worker Deaths Around Penn Haven:

Abram Arner and his wife Mary originally of Lehighton lived there for a time in the 1880s.  Perhaps God was testing him as the proverbial Job of the Old Testement. 
“Abe’s” trouble began around 1881 when he lost his foot in a rail accident (most likely precipitating his move to the junction to be closer to his work).  Troubles continued when in April of 1883, he buried a young child due to illness, had a second child with both legs broken, in addition to his wife being “at the point of death.”

Then, about a month later, infant Carrie May Arner died.  Five years later, their seven year old son Robert William died.  Also living there was another Arner, Andrew, who buried an infant child.  (No other record of these Arners exist, therefore a relationship of Andrew and Abram is not known.)

In October of 1879, the little girl of the Gallagher family living at Penn Haven was struck and killed by a passenger train there.  The child was “thrown high into the air, falling down the embankment, breaking both legs, neck and arms.”  The mother was said to have stood in her doorway of the hotel, watching in frozen, helpless shock.

Both a woman and a two year old young toddler drowned at Penn Haven in separate incidents.  In 1891, a woman from Alden, PA, apparently passing through was said to have fallen into the river.  There was no description of how she could have fallen, nor was there any speculation of foul play or signs of self-destruction.  

Her body was never found.  (There are records of people who traveled to Carbon by rail, purchased poison at local pharmacies, and drank themselves to the netherworld here; more on these in future posts.)
Another view of the junction from the M & H junction lines.  The twin
Valley line station towers hide the Valley Hotel behind it.

In 1886, the toddler daughter of Frank Eck drowned behind their home at Penn Haven.  Eck was the section boss of the repair department on the Valley.  They made their home in the hotel built by and for the lodging of railroad employees.  Some stayed temporary, others, such as “deadheaders” only stayed temporarily when passing through to another assignment. 
A newer picture reveals the ravages of time to these remote buildings.  The dual tower reduced to one.  The roof
of the dilapidated hotel to the rear.

The twenty-room hotel was nestled inside the “Y” of the tracks at the junction, between the dual Valley control and telegraph tower and the Black Creek to the rear.  Across this swift, rocky-bottomed clear watered stream rested a board about eighteen inches wide used to cross the stream.  In the briefest of moments, the child was upon the plank, and with the unsteadiness of her age, wobbled into the waters.  The forceful current washed her into the Lehigh. 

That was one of many sad tragedies to occur here.  Thomas J. Hogan, originally of White Haven, worked as the station agent and operator at the junction for about four years.  In April of 1885, a recently fired and disgruntled “gandy-dancer” (a section-gang or track hand) named Michael Colyer (a “Hungarian” as the paper reported) decided to take out the frustrations of his unemployment on Mr. Hogan. 
A slightly older shot, possibly around 1958, the last year of
when the Richard "Reds" O'Donnell family lived in a ten-room
half of the hotel.

He harassed Hogan by repeatedly entering the station and messy up the paperwork and time tables.  The taunts increased until Hogan tried to physically force Colyer out the door.  To which, Coyler fired two shots from a concealed revolver.  The first shot landed in Hogan’s left breast, causing him to exclaim, “Oh! My God.”  Hogan was able to push him aside as the second shot missed, he left the station, and entered the hotel.  He placed both his arms on the bar, tried to speak and could not.  He sank to the floor dead.

A fireman from a shifting engine heard the commotion, tricked Coyler to come toward him, to which the fireman was able to knock the murder to the floor with a “blow of his arm.”  He was taken to jail in Mauch Chunk (Jim Thorpe).

In September of 1887, the skeletal remains of a man were found beneath a large pile of rocks at the junction.  Evidence that the man was “foully dealt with” was arrived at by the bullet found lodged in his cheek.

Further examination of accidents occurring around Penn Haven Junction from 1874 to 1910 finds an additional thirty people who lost their lives in falls from trains and from mutilations of being run over at this busy rail hub.

Thirteen of them were rail workers while another seventeen were passengers died at and near the junction.  All of the following died at Penn Haven unless otherwise noted.  It should be noted though that nearly all of the “civilian” causalities were those illegally traveling or walking along the tracks.
The Penn Haven tower after the hotel was razed.

Jacob Booterman, a brakeman for the Valley was run over and cut in two while shifting cars at the junction in February 1876.  Another brakeman, twenty-four year old Bernard Devers who lived at Penn Haven with his parents slipped between the two oil tanks he was coupling and was “crushed in a terrible manner.”  He survived long enough to be taken home to
Here is a modern view of the Jersey Central interlock
control tower at Nesquehoning Junction.
die in the company of his parents (August 19, 1879). 

On September 14, 1880, brakeman Jeremiah Rockwell fell off his train at the junction and killed instantly. 

Martin Gauley/Gawley (b. 1861) and his brother James (b. 1859) both lived and worked out of Penn Haven as the sole support of their widowed mother Mary and their sister Bridget.  (Prior to their father Owen’s death in the 1860s, they lived at Lehigh Tannery).  Martin, a brakeman on a coal train, was killed in Catasauqua when he tried to signal another train and was struck by the No. 1 passenger train.  He had one arm and both legs severed and he “survived but a few minutes.”

Thomas Begley, Central Employee run over at Penn Haven, killed instantly, January 30, 1881.  Another worker, George Zimmerman fell and lost both legs and died en route to Hazleton in August of 1883.

Henry Winterstein, a veteran of the Civil War of 132 PA Regiment, Co G (though Patriotism of Carbon County lists a “Henry Werstein” in Co F), a car inspector on the Valley killed at Penn Haven June 5, 1887.

 George Clevell, a son-in-law of Lehighton native Owen Klotz was killed instantly upon being cut in half falling between two cars in October 1887.

Likewise Edward Green of White Haven was coupling cars at the junction and slipped beneath the wheels and killed instantly (October 1, 1889). 
Here you can see the elevated tracks of the
Lehigh Valley Railroad above from the current trail
and the former Central Jersey tracks just below
Hetchel's Tooth curve out ahead.  About 1 mile
above Glenn Onoko and about 5 miles below
Penn Haven.

Paulolo Zurick, a section hand on the Valley living at Hetchel Tooth (with his foreman Patrick Mulligan) received a visit from his brother he lived and worked at Penn Haven.  That afternoon, after walking his brother part of the five miles back to Penn Haven, Paulolo was struck by a westward near Bear Creek. The train “passed over the remains, mangling them in a terrible manner. 

The paper reported that the “deceased was a Hungarian of more than average intelligence.”  (The accounts are full of less than complimentary attitudes from the “native born” residents toward “foreigners” at this time, especially those from Eastern Europe, and specifically “Hungarians.”)
A postcard from near the water tank station below Penn Haven from
a postcard of about 100 years ago.  Note the finely maintained ballast
stone along these tracks.  The L.V.R.R. was known for keeping
their ballast in impeccable order.  Photo courtesy of Bill Schwab. 

August 24, 1893, Lehighton native and engineer William F. Hofford was cited for heroism, having the “presence of mind that the remainder of the section gang escaped death.”  Two workers were struck and killed. 

Hofford (b. April 1865) was married to Ellen (B. December 1864) and they lived on Third Street.  He remained as an engineer through the early 1900s. 

In 1910, at the death of Maria Culton of Weissport, Hofford purchased the large brick building from the Culton estate and built his own silk mill enterprise.  Hofford had a step daughter named Hellen Hofford (b. 1899). 

On June 2, 1901, conductor Charles Lentz of Hazleton, thirty-six, fell off his train at the junction.  His normal run was from Hazleton to Packerton.  Three cars plus the caboose “passed over his body severing it in twain.”  He left a wife and four children.

John Flick was originally from White Haven but had been living and worked as a flagman out of Lehighton for the Valley Railroad in 1901.  He was a widower of two years with three grown children at the time of his accident in 1910 (Son John and daughters Mrs. Robert Fritzinger and Miss Irene all of Lehighton).  

He fell from his train at Penn Haven on a Monday night on August 8th, severing his legs and other injuries to his body.  When the lights from the lanterns of his concerned comrades reached his face, he said plainly, “I’m all in boys.”

He was “tenderly” picked up by his crew, brought to the hospital car, where “local surgeons” dressed his wounds.  The car was dispatched to St Luke’s in Bethlehem where it was plain he wouldn’t last.  Shortly after 1:30 pm the next day he had passed.  

However he was “conscious almost to the last and conversed with those about him.” 
"I'm All In Boys" - John Flick's grave as he rests at Gnaden Hutten
Cemetery in Lehighton.












Civilian Deaths Around Penn Haven:

My youth was filled with stern warnings and examples of the many people who died along the railroad tracks.  We were told to stay away.  Rail traffic in my youth was greater than it is today, but it was nothing like it was 100 years ago.

The accounts of full of people who either used the rails as a pathway to walk from town to town, or who were tempted to try to hitch a free ride.  An 1880 editorial spoke of the filly of do so for the sake of a “few cents.”  The foolishness of “men and boys” who do so to “gratify a venturesome spirit of deviltry” was a “hazardous and dangerous practice.”

As sorts of characters could be found around the tracks of my youth.  And also into my mother’s youth, who filled my head with stories of “hobos” who passed through town and who worked the sympathies of my grandmother at the family store for ends of meat and other foods.

A stranger in these parts in September of 1877 was killed by the No. 6 train bound for New York known to be working his way to Mahanoy City just below Penn Haven.  His only identification was the name “Gill” “pricked upon his arm in India ink.” 

Later that month, another unknown man, a “supposed tramp” riding on top of the coal cars and somehow fell from the train and was run over and killed at the junction.

In February of 1880, William Phifer, a sixteen year old from East Mauch Chunk, was at Penn Haven and decided to hop a coal train home.  As he he hopped from car to car across the piles of coal, he misjudged and fell between two cars a short distance from the station.  “His body was terribly mangled and his death quick.”

 A traveling salesman from Pottsville was killed after his leg was severed by the passing cars at the Penn Haven station.  William Hadley got off his passenger train at the junction and went inside the hotel to “procure a cork for a medicine bottle that he had with him.”  (Many folks drank “medicine” for whatever ailed them in those days, most times as a thinly disguised motive to drink alcohol among those who had a distaste for intemperate people.)

While in the hotel, he thought he heard his train pulling out without him, in a frenzied rush to his train, he ran into the path of on oncoming freighter.  Drs Latham and J. B. Tweedle of Weatherly amputated his leg above the knee. He was taken to the Gilbert House, but he only survived until the next morning.  His wife arrived later that day and “took the corpse home.”  Hadley was only thirty-eight and left five kids (November 1881).

In June of 1886, forty-five year old John Essling was on his way home to Weatherly from a day in court.  A carpet weaver by trade, he was a witness in a larceny case.  He jumped onto a coal train in Mauch Chunk and rode it until it stopped to take on water from the tank a mile and a half below Penn Haven. 
Another Bill Schwab postcard about a mile and looking
southward toward Glen Onoko.

Being thirsty himself, he jumped off and proceeded to the peaceful, cool water spring coming off the mountain side there.  As he crossed the double Valley lines, he failed to hear the No. 7 passenger train. 

The collision threw him up the embankment, from which he rolled under the wheels, “severing the head and legs from the body.”  Workers picked up the “terribly mutilated” body which presented a “ghastly sight.”  
A modern look at the spring near the water taking station about 1 mile
below Penn Haven.  This would have been the last scene John
Essling's eyes might have taken in before he was killed.
Photo by Ronald Rabenold.  

In August of 1886, two “Hungarians” were walking along the tracks near Bear Creek (about two miles below the junction), were run over and killed by the No. 18 train.
Another “unknown man,” this one about sixty years old was found dead with a “large hole in his head,” somehow affixed to the cowcatcher of a Valley train.  

He was presumed to have been walking between White Haven and Penn Haven and was struck without the engineer noticing (Sunday, December 4, 1887).  No one claimed the body and he was buried in an unmarked grave in “Laurytown” (A small community near Weatherly and Rockport.).

One Sunday afternoon, a “crowd of boys” had gathered to view a train wreck near Penn Haven.  The two o’clock afternoon express train from Hazleton to Philadelphia was running on time and “at a high rate of speed.”   The boys were walking home to Weatherly and they noticed a special train approaching them.  The engineer whistled and waved frantically at them, but they misunderstood. 

The competing sounds of the special train and the express train set the boys into a helpless position in the path of the express.  The men in the special train were “horror stricken” when the “two forms were dashed to instant death before their eyes…the mangled bodies of the two lads were taken by the special train to their homes.”  They were George Reese, age 17, and Albert Weeks, 13, of Weatherly (March 1891).

Similarly, two loggers were also walking along the Valley line between Weatherly who had been working for “Mr. Hawk on the Broad Mountain.”  They came off the mountain and took the track to their “lumbering tent near the Iron Bridge.”

They stepped away from an east bound train but stepped into the path of the No. 6 passenger train approaching from the other direction.  Both were killed immediately.  Both were from Monroe County and married.  One left two children, the other left six.  One of them was named “Dotter” (August 1891).
The Jersey Central refueling and water tending station
as it appears just above the current Jim Thorpe bridge 
near where the new bridge construction is taking place.

On July 2, 1892, two “strangers” were walking below Penn Haven near the water station.  They were walking along the train stopped taking on water, when the No. 6 again rumbled through, catching the boy of about fourteen unaware.  He had his “brains knocked out” and died instantly. 

However, the man, presumed to be his father of about forty-five years, got out of the way of the train in time.  The was severely injured though after being struck by the remains of the boy striking him.  They were found lying side-by-side.  The engineer could not see them due to the curve in the road.  They were taken to Mauch Chunk station and the father died several hours later.  They were believed to be recent immigrants, said to have been “Russian” or “Arabian peddlers.”
News of the death of Jennie Rex as it
appeared on the front page of the Lehighton
Press in August 1901.

Jennie Rex, the “estimable” young lady of the Mahoning Valley too was on an enjoyable Sunday afternoon enjoying the beauty of Glen Onoko one July day in 1891 when the sounds of two competing trains baffled her senses. 

Her friends were able to stand out of the way between the two tracks, but Jenny could not dash off to the side in time and made a vain attempt to outrun the train.  She nearly cleared the end of the bridge when she tripped and was horribly mangled.

Her remains were placed onto the second section of the No. 4 passenger train back to Lehighton where she was brought to the Lehighton station accompanied by her two friends, Frederick Long, Jr. and Miss Mertz.  Jenny was a first cousin to my grandfather, Zach Rabenold who both about the same age. 
Jennie Rex was my grandfather
Zach Rabenold's first cousin.
Jennie's grave in St. John's Cemetery in the Mahoning Valley.
One way the Rex's tried to assuage the grief from the loss of their only child was to take in my grandfather's youngest five year old sister, Myrtle "Mertie" Rabenold.  But Nathan and Alvena Rex once again had their hearts broken when Mertie died just a few years later.  Mertie, my great aunt, is buried next to Jennie.

I grew up intrigued by my grandmother’s emotionally vivid account of this and other deaths of her youth.  Though eighty years removed, her retelling felt freshly painful and I know these stories included here now appear in cyberspace because of the impact these retellings had on me in my youth. 
Jennie's adopted sister Mertie's premature
grave rests next to Jenie.  Mertie was Zach Rabenold's
younger sister.

Mamie was from another time, born in 1889 to German immigrants.  She’s been gone for more than thirty years.  And writing this story makes me miss her all the more.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Ups and Downs, Breaths In, Breaths Out in Carbon County - A writer in repose

Fall is certainly my favorite time of year to be in.
But Spring is the season that is hoped for.  On the tails of this Winter, it was yearned for.

At long last, in the past fourteen days, Spring finally arrived here.

It has been a productive winter as far as research for CulturedCarbonCounty.  Stories keep cropping up like a multi-headed hydra, as stories presented themselves and try as I might to finish one, three more would crop up in the midst.
My son Nate and his friend Cris Hess, the artist.  Atop Sleeping Bear above the Bear's Den.  Looking toward Flagstaff.
Lehighton is out of frame left, Packerton in view, Jim Thorpe out of frame right.

Extant Nature after a harsh winter - The cotton wood
catkin buds stand at the ready to spring forth across
from Tank Hollow near Stony Creek.

Today I actually said the word "hiatus" to myself, in regard to the works of this blog.  Covering local history here is an insatiable mistress.

Like this relentless winter that had still been lurking over our shoulder as of just days ago, I find writing the stories I do to be both gratifying and exhilarating but the hours it takes in front of a computer screen typing and searching away and rough drafts and checking and double checking sources, can be brutally harsh at times.  (I've actually developed an impinged shoulder from sitting here in this computer-human symbiotic relationship in delivering this blog to Carbon County.)
And here, on April 21 on the inside of the Stony Creek curve off the
Central Jersey rail mainline exists this severe overhang where
perhaps the last snow of Carbon County remains.

There are times when we take in pure mountain air, (like at Hawk Falls, along the water reservoir, of Stony Creek, or Tank Hollow) holding in its sweetness, in both mind and body.  But as I was reminded by a friend recently, we too must remember to breathe out.  Which is why the word hiatus from local history writing entered the vernacular of my brain today.

Taking in things of beauty is high on my lists of things to do to relax as the last two weeks show here.  Looking back in such as recent a proximity as today, tells me that these whirlwind- of-good-time-memories-in-nature are all blurring together.  In a few months and in the ensuing years, they will only be traces of dust in the boot treads of my memory.  So I ask for my reader's indulgences to place this little resting spot here, a post of reflection of one of the most hoped for springs in recent memory.

The following pictures are representative of some high points of beauty atop some well known peaks around these parts, Mount Pisgah, above the Black Creek, and Sleeping Bear.  Interspersed and linking them together were hikes and bike rides along the Lehigh Gorge from Lehighton to Mud Run over these last two weeks.  All of it culminated with a satisfying Easter dinner eaten outside on a grand porch of a secluded cabin in White Haven.
She is just right - My beautiful wife Kim at Hawk
Falls as it empties over the Mud Run Gorge.

I look forward to possibly taking some time to sit and read and think about something other than the multiple stories swimming around in my frontal and parietal lobes that are willing their way out onto my keyboard through my fingertips.  Balance comes to mind.

Life can be as sweet as the teaberries found all around this county come May.  It can be as harsh as the roots of horseradish in a Dutch wife's herb garden too.  It's important to take in what is freely given to us.  It too is important to freely give.

Happy Springtime Carbon County.  Thank you.
Lock #1 of the upper Grand is newly exposed as progress toward a new bridge is made.
Old and New - As piers for the new bridge are prepared, a silent testimony to the olden days of steam trains looms
rusted at the right of the frame - an old water tender for the thirsty locomotives of the past.

The Rimbey twins clowning around at Hawk Falls entertains Kim.
Ron and Kim Along the Mud Run Gorge

Ron, Cris and Nate atop Sleeping Bear.

The Nesquehoning Junction control tower winds around the curve of the
trestle as the lookout from Mt Pisgah hovers overhead.
The forty or so odd parents and students of the Lehighton Area Middle School Fifth Grade out for the annual Spring hike to the top of Mt Pisgah and on out to the Hackelbernie Tunnel.  The hike is also completed each Fall as well.  This year's Spring Hike was on a beautiful day before Easter, April 19th.
The Black Creek Ravine is at right and the Lehigh descends past Penn Haven Junction at left.  The view from Dr. Stanley F. Druckenmiller's front porch of his old hunting cabin.  Today the property is claimed by the Lehigh Gorge State Park..

One of the Rimbey twins proves Carbon residents are friendly as he says hello to a sportsman on the fly-fishing-only
Mud Run Creek beneath the highest bridge on the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike. 
The Writer in Repose - Breathing in, breathing out.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Carbon's Most Desolate Place: Penn Haven Junction...the story of Reds O'Donnell


The area around what is known as Penn Haven Junction was called “one of the most desolate places in Carbon County” in a 1905 newspaper account.  A visit there today reveals that little has changed in the 100 years since.

This shot is looking North or toward the west bound lanes of the mainlines of the Lehigh Valley and Central Jersey
lines.  The two lines on the left belong to the M & H branch which runs to Weatherly and Hazleton.  The double tower/depot of the
Valley railroad is in the center, obscuring the view of the 20-room hotel/residence that was home to Richard "Reds"
O'Donnell and his parents from the early 1940s until 1958 and the company abandoned residential workers at this most
remote spot.  The former incline planes, abondaned some 100-years earlier are still visible in the background.  The tracks on the right are following the Lehigh River while the Black Creek enters from the left of the frame, entering the river beneath the trestle seen supporting the passenger car at the right.  Photo appears courtesy of Bernard Krebs of Jim Thorpe.

Penn Haven’s location was the site of many floods, rockslides, and wrecks over the years.  With several mainlines running through here, the Central Jersey Railroad and Lehigh Valley Railroad, along with branch lines to Hazelton (Mahony and Hazleton) following the steep gorge of the Black Creek, this area was busy yet extremely remote.

Back in 1850, the emphasis of coal transport rested mainly on Josiah White's Lehigh Canal.  This area became the crowded focal point of the Beaver Meadow and Hazleton Railroads, the first steam railroad built in Pennsylvania.  It terminated here from the Hazleton fields and shipped via Josiah White’s “Upper Grand” section of Lehigh Coal and Navigation’s Lehigh Canal.
A modern view from about three-fourth's the way up the newer of the two planes givens an idea to the viewer just how desolate and rugged this place is.  The plane descending on the left of this frame was built by the Hazleton Railroad in 1859 and abandoned after the June 6, 1862 flood.  The winding S-curves along the rockslide-prone Black Creek ravine looks beautiful, however the steeply graded decline of at time 9%, in addition to the curves, have proven deadly to both man and machine.  "Mauch Chunk" and Glen Onoko Falls can be reached about seven to six miles down the gorge at left and Weatherly is just over five miles up the ravine at the right.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

(The Switchback Gravity Railroad was the first railroad of consequence in PA, dating back to the time when rails were applied to the all downhill “Stone Turnpike” in 1827.  The “Back Track,” completed in 1845, created an 18-mile loop with two stationary steam engines atop Mt Pisgah and Mt Jefferson allowing cars and passengers to return to Summit Hill.)  

The first incline was built in 1850 to try to overcome the continual rockslides and floods of the steep ravine leading from Weatherly to the gorge.  The plane was 1,200 feet long and rose over 450-feet in elevation.  The first plane installed was the one on the right with two lines.  As one loaded car was lowered, an empty car was pulled up the hill.
The Penn Haven Planes and the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company's coal wharves as they looked from across the river just two years before the flood that ended this method of transport here forever.  It did lead to the modern
way of the rail the world was moving at that time.  Photo appears courtesy of Robert F. Archer.
This is how the junction looked previous to the 1862 flood.  Back then, the
Penn Haven Junction was further south or eastward bound down the line.
The Black Creek flows between the above mountain side and the tracks
curving left.  This photo and the following photo appear courtesy of
the Central Jersey Railroad website.
You can access this informative site by clicking here.

Looking straight up the 6-lines of the 1,200 foot long planes
rising 450-feet of elevation.  The Black Creek flows beneath
between the photographer and the workers shown.  Note
how narrow the engine house looks toward the right.
Compare this image to the latter modern image of the
stone foundations.

The second incline, a four-track plane, was built by the Hazleton Railroad in 1859 but it was to be short-lived.

A walk to the top of this plane today reveals a 30-foot high rock foundation over which the cars rode over and which housed the engines which operated the machinery.  Incredibly, hemp rope was used before the advent of metal rope. 

The June 6, 1862 flood proved to show a fatal flaw in White’s grand dream.  The Upper Grand contributed to its own demise in that the dams and locks necessary to allow the coal barges to travel on the river meant that huge pools of water sat at the ready.  Once the heavy June rains began, and dams began to be breached, devastating tidal waves of flood water burst dam after dam causing a great flood and loss of life.

John J. Leisenring Jr., then Superintendent of the LCN & Co. estimated that 200 people lost their lives from White Haven down to Lehighton.  The state legislature stepped in and prohibited the LCN & Co. from rebuilding. 

These two pictures of the engine house remains belie their height.  The exterior wall on the right exposes toward the Lehigh River is about 30-feet high.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

Thus once the LVRR took over this location in favor of direct rail access, the once inventive planes of Penn Haven were abandoned.  The Hazleton Railroad was absorbed into the Valley in 1868.  Another railroad that moved through this busy intersection was the Penn Haven and White Haven Railroad.  It too was taken over by the LVRR.

There is one man, Richard “Reds” O’Donnell, who can lay claim to being the last living person to live there.

His childhood there was chronicled by a two-part story in the Times News four years ago written by Al Zagofsky (Click here for the link to Part One.  Part Two.).

All lines had section gangs of “gandy-dancers” who maintained the lines.  But given Penn Haven’s location of being miles in the middle of nowhere, the rail workers often were held over in the company’s hotel.  One half of the building was a hotel of ten rooms. 

The other half with its identical ten rooms is where Reds O’Donnell and his family lived.  By the 1950s, the railroad starting its decline into bankruptcy, they were unwilling to put money into the home despite its dilapidated condition.   
This black and white shot of the hotel at Penn Haven harkens of better
days.  The picture below was taken sometime near the year the O'Donnells
moved away, as the house was in great disrepair. 

This color picture from the late 1950s shows just one of the interlocking towers remaining of the two that can be
seen in the earlier photo at the beginning of this post.  This picture appears courtesy of Robert J. Yanosey.

Reds has many fond memories of living there.  He recalls the common and dramatic rail incidents both, as well as of wild animals like black bear playing tag with each other.  And of course were the hard working men themselves, each with a good story from working the section.  But when these men, tucked into this steep and remote intersection of the Black Creek ravine and the Lehigh Gorge, began to unwind from their working day, much of them often times would revel into long rowdy nights of hard drinking.


This even later photo shows the lone tower after the hotel was torn down
shortly after 1958, a symbol of the decline of railroading in general and
specifically chronicling the Valley's demise.  Photo courtesy of the
Central Jersey website.
Reds was born to Margaret and James O’Donnell in 1943, the last of their nine children.  James was born in January of 1896 and Margaret in 1903, making them 47 and 40 when Reds was born.

James worked for forty-seven years on the “Valley” (Lehigh Valley Railroad).   He remembers fondly how the stories would pass from the “deadheaders,” other day labors, and during the winter months of big game season, the numerous hunters who collected themselves at the desolate depot along the LVRR and Central Jersey main lines. 

Many had extended stays at the twenty-room hotel the O’Donnells called home.  (“Deadheaders” refers to workmen who travel from one depot or work section in preparation for work at another.)

The O’Donnell family rented the once fine home from their railroad owner landlords for $5 per month.  Reds’s father often questioned the arrangement, often times saying most wouldn’t live in it if they were paid for it. 



One of several locations the water supply pipe is
still visible along the plane.  Up to three times per year,
Reds and his father James would tote shovel and
rakes up the plane to clear debris away from the opening
of the spring that funneled into this pipe.  "That
water was cold and clear mountain water," Reds
recalls.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

The roof was beginning to fail and the ice cold water from atop of the Penn Haven Planes that was piped down the mountain side in a 1-1/2-inch pipe would freeze in the winter if they didn’t leave the water run full force.  He recalls on at least one occasion of how the spray from the splashing water caused an ice slick across the kitchen floor one morning.

Reds also remembers how about three times a year, how he and his father would climb the plane with shovels and a rake, and clear the debris out and away from the spring that supplied their water.

Reds recalls how much he favored the hunting season for the rowdy parties the men would have.  Hunters paid $3 per week to stay there and he recalls many large deer being taken and the stories he’d hear of their pursuits.  The men often sang, playing their accordions, fiddles and guitars.  Eventually Reds too joined them when he turned twelve.  These were some of the best hunts of his life.
Among the many hazards to rail traffic in this steep
gorge was the even present threat of rockslides.
James O'Donnell took his duty seriously and
walked the tracks of his section each time it rained
heavily to call in rock obstructions.

His father James was a “trackwalker” in constant pursuit of rockslides during the fiercest of storms, between Penn Haven and Rockport, which was about six miles west or up river.  But he also considered himself Mayor, Postmaster, Fire Chief and Police Chief all rolled into one.  Other official duties included ensuring the switches and “frogs” (the “X”-shaped connectors of the junction) were in working order and weren’t frozen in the winter time.

Back then, workers had to manually monitor canister switch heaters to keep switches working in cold conditions.  Reds said, “And you know when it’s ten degrees everywhere else, it was below zero at Penn Haven.”  This and many other situations made it necessary to employ a full-time resident at the junction. 
James O'Donnell's WWII Draft Card shows his simple address as "Penn Haven
Junction."

One story goes how James O’Donnell found been doing his due diligence and found a 12-inch section of track broken out.  When he called in the problem to stop the scheduled train, the dispatcher questioned his sobriety to which James answered, “I may have been drinking, but I still know when a foot of rail is missing.”

As chronicled in the Zagofsky article, as a very young boy, Reds would have to wake at 5:00 AM to catch the 5:31 train to Weatherly.   But school didn’t start until 9:00 so he finished his night’s rest by sleeping at the train station. 

And though it was a harsh and unforgiving landscape, Reds said they never felt cut off.  The passing engineers did their best to keep them supplied with newspapers from far and wide.  Sometimes they stopped to chat and other times they simply tossed them out to them from their moving trains.  Reds remembers up to twenty different titles including the Daily Mirror and the Wall Street Journal.  They also pulled in radio stations from Indiana and Chicago.

Another pastime for the young boy was to sit in the control tower with the tower-man/telegrapher.  To this day Reds can tell you about the signals and semaphores (the “boards”) and how things operated there.  Today, the complex system of switches all across Pennsylvania are controlled from a central dispatch in Harrisburg.
Here is towerman'telegrapher John J. Bittorf Jr. as he calls
in from his Ashmore tower near Hazleton which summons
a very similar scene to the scene Reds O'Donnell had
sitting at his tower at Penn Haven.  Photo appears
courtesy of Bill Baker. 

Reds remembers how the junction had a special siding used to rest cars dubbed as “hotboxes” from over-heated brakes from the steep grade of the main line along the gorge.  The decline from Weatherly was particularly brutal for both man and machine.  There were many runaway trains due to human error and failed braking systems most of which predated Red’s time there.  (These incidents will be explored in a follow-up post.)

Likewise, sometimes engines had trouble pulling their loads up the grade to Weatherly/Hazleton branch as well as toward Wilkes-Barre/Buffalo on the mainline.  “Pusher” engines were necessary to get the 100-car coal trains up the grade.  The engines would return solo, “deadheaded.”

The post-war uptick in rail traffic was winding down but the cold war was not.  This brought an influx of government geologists who were in pursuit of uranium that was said to be contained in the exposed rock along the gorge. 

Reds remembers accompanying them with their diamond-tipped drill head the size of half-dollars.  They’d bore into the mountainside to pull out samples, careful to have him step aside when they came out as to not get hit by debris in the face and to prevent him from potential radiation exposure.

The above to views appear courtesy of the Central Jersey website.  The picture here below shows the junction
when both the Central and the Valley were both operating and is looking northward, or toward west as the trains
ran.

He also remembers watching in frozen pantomime, how the passing mail train passed by from Lehighton to Wilkes-Barre of the men inside sorting the mail on the fly, and how those men knew to look and wave to him most days. 

He also recalls how the engineers and firemen would throw him and his family hot potatoes, baked atop their boilers, as a special treat, like manna from heaven.
By 1958, the Valley Railroad ceased to require a resident worker. 

Reds was fifteen and despite pleas from his son that he wished to stay, James knew it was time for them to move.  He sought a transfer within the company. 
A modern day view shows the tracks for the most part
remaining, except for the Central Jersey lines that are
now the rails-to-trail of the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
Beyond the port-a-john in the grassy meadow-like
area at the trees is where the hotel and tower/depot
once stood.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

The house was in major disrepair with no prospects from the railroad to fix it.  It was time for the O’Donnells to say good-bye to their remote mountain home.  They were its last permanent residents.  The building was razed shortly after.

Today, tanks of propane for heating switches and solar-power aided by generators that are now replaced by underground electric, in addition to the precipitous drop in rail usage since then, all together have afforded the rail companies the ability to remove all full-time station workers from these outposts.
How the above triangle of land of the junction appears from Druckenmiller's porch.
The Black Creek white-caps can be seen at the bottom left flowing up and left.
Photo by Ron Rabenold.



It was in those last few years there that Reds became friends with Lansford physician Dr. Stanley Freeman Druckenmiller.  Druckenmiller owned a large section of land overlooking Penn Haven from above the abandoned planes of the Beaver Meadow and Hazleton Railroads.  His land also reached to the bottom abutting to the rail junction. He built a one-room cabin high in the clouds that remains there today.
This map courtesy of the Central Jersey Railroad website shows the configuration of buildings at Penn Haven from
over 60 years ago.  The Valley tower building is still two-sided as well as the lesser in size CNJ Depot.  A residence is
pictured beyond the Black Creek's entry into the river, is perhaps the stone foundation visible along the line
in a draw in the moutain.  (Click here to see photos of it on another page of this blog.)

Dr. Druckenmiller’s roots extend back to the Kistler Valley (New Tripoli) farm of his grandparents Charles and Maria (Kistler) Druckenmiller.  They were married at the Ebenezer Union Church in 1841.  Charles fought with Co I of the 176 PA Volunteers in the Civil War.  Dr. Druckenmiller’s father was Wilson, who was the sixth child of eight children born to them.  (He had five brothers and two sisters.).

By 1880, Wilson Druckenmiller was working as a carpenter but still living unmarried on his parents’ farm.  In 1883 his mother died and by March of 1894, his father has also died.  It was somewhere in this time that Wilson made his move to the coal regions of Carbon County.

From 1900 until the 1930s, Wilson and his wife Mary lived in Weatherly.  Wilson worked as a carpenter for the silk works there.  Among their children were Erasmus, Stanley, and Barton.  Though his brothers too followed their father’s laborer vocation, Stanley sought a lifetime of study of medicine.

The doctor and his wife Fan (Thomas) lived and conducted his practice at 35 East Ridge Street in Lansford.  They had a daughter named Gretchen who married William Kellow.  He was the son of Joseph Edgar and Alice Kellow of Lansford.  He was a musician at one time in Lansford and he and his wife are buried in Nisky Cemetery in Bethlehem.

William worked for Baldwin Locomotives at Eddystone outside Philadelphia for a number of years before relocating his family to Tuscan Arizona.  Even though he lived outside the area for a long number of years, he kept his ties to the Lansford Panther Valley Lodge #677 for over fifty years.

The Drukenmillers also had a son, Stanley “Thomas” Druckenmiller who was married to Eleanor (White) and had worked for DuPont in Delaware for thirty-seven years in employee relations before retiring to Lake Harmony.  Stanley died in 2005 and William Kellow died in 1997.  According to her brother’s death notice, Gretchen (Druckenmiller) Kellow was still alive in 2005 and would have been about eighty-nine.

Even though Stanley spent most of his life living outside of the area, when he died in 2005, he was buried at Weatherly’s Union Cemetery.  Perhaps there is a Druckenmiller family plot there.
Dr. Druckenmiller's WWI Draft Card.

Druckenmiller was fond enough of the outdoors to purchase the top of the former planes that were abandoned in 1862.  The property had an access road from the outskirts of his hometown of Weatherly.  The doctor had big plans for this remote hunting get-away and saw more work than he could do on his own.

That’s when Reds became Dr. Druckenmiller’s right-hand man (or “Golden Boy” as the doctor liked to call him).  Because there was no one else around, Reds was a willing helper and a godsend of help to the middle-aged doctor.
Here is Druckenmiller's privy as it looks today.  The chimney and left
side of the porch roof line is seen center of the open space to
the left of the outhouse.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.

Without a phone or any other way of knowing when Druckenmiller was coming to work, Reds would be summoned to the top of the mountain by the doctor with blows from the horn of the yellow army jeep.

Hearing the horn and Reds knew he had a 450-foot elevation climb to do some work.  He’d walk along the cast-iron pipe that carried water to his home on his way.  Together, Reds and Druckenmiller would make food plots, planting pine and oak trees, and wrapping the saplings in fencing to keep the deer from eating off the tops.
Richard "Reds" O'Donnell:
I have much gratitude to Kevin O'Donnell for providing
the impetus for me to write this post which, like many,
are long overdo.  And of course to Reds too, for
graciously allowing me to pick his brain and allowing
his story to be told here.  Thanks too to Al Zagofsky
for allowing me to use this photo of Reds.

Though Drukenmiller is long gone, his cabin remains and still affords the hearty visitor a breath-taking view of the Lehigh Gorge and the steep hillsides of the Black Creek ravine.  The privy is also still there along with a few other outbuildings, all now on Lehigh Gorge State Park land.

 “I wished I had stayed in touch with the Druckenmiller’s after we moved away,” Reds now relates.  “He meant a lot to me...I guess I just kind of lost track of him due to my youth.”

Visiting Penn Haven today, one can find the solitude that Reds and Dr. Drukenmiller once appreciated here.  With a determined climb of 450-feet of elevation over 1,200-feet of run of these nearly 200-year-old planes, one can take in the peace and quiet, and enjoy the view that these men too once found in their lives.
 
This is the view from Dr. Druckenmiller's cabin atop the Lehigh and Black Creek Gorges today.  Photo by Ron Rabenold.
(Given its sparse and remote location, Penn Haven today can only be reached by the State Gorge Rails Trails path from Glen Onoko by foot or bicycle six miles up-river.  It is also about six miles from Weatherly on an abandoned set of tracks though it is not as easy to ride and it is about seven-miles down-river from the Rockport access.


Part two of this story will detail the fifty or so deaths from accidents and murders that occurred in the Penn Haven vicinity from the 1870s until 1910.