Monday, April 19, 2010

Pennsylvania Canal Society Visits Carbon County

Carbon County was the site of the 2010 Pennsylvania Canal Society's Field Trip.  The weekend included touring the Upper Grand section, from Stoddartsville above White Haven on down to old Mauch Chunk, Jim Thorpe.

The friday evening orientation included a presentation of the Richardson glass plate slides by Lance Metz, and a presentation of modern views by Gordon Perry.  American Canal Society President David G. Barber also attended.
Sunday morning, a group of over 30 descended on the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center (MCMCC) for a 15 minute video on the history of Carbon County and a presentation by Mike Nunemacher on the Switchback Railroad model.  They then proceeded back to the Upper Grand terminus at Stoddartsville.
Late Spring on top of Mt Pisgah - The green notch at the 1:00 O'Clock position is the Glen Onoko Falls. 
Members were led by John Drury meet Saturday morning
before the hike.
Hiking up the Wagon Road, the old service
road to the top of the Mt Pisgah Plane.

Among the most spectacular views in Carbon County between the Mt Pisgah
Engine House and the Trestle.  Seen below: the Nesquehoning Trestle traversing
the Lehigh Gorge, Lehigh Gorge access road, at least one of the three turntables
are also visible.  (And don't forget those Turkey Vultures!)
On Sunday afternoon, a smaller group pictured here, including PA Canal Society officers and Field Trip co-odinator Bill Lampert, made the ascent of Mt Pisgah up the Wagon Road to view the ruins of the engine house.  (Check out my YouTube video from opposing mountain...Mount Pisgah plane is quite visible .)

John Drury, founder and director of the MCMCC, lead the group on a detailed tour of the area.  Mr. Drury discussed the house foundation built for the engine house operator, the pipeline from Indian Spring, the orignial stone cistern and how it was replaced by the smaller cement cistern inside.  At the engine house itself, the group found the remains of the smokestack and the large cinder pile that cascaded down the hill side.

John Drury explains the 90-year-in-the-making ash pile
seen as a bulge in the mountain directly below the Engine House.

The group was awestruck by their birdseye views, particularly looking toward the Lehigh Gorge, and the vantage point of Coalport's Turntable and Lock #2 of the Upper Grand.  

Mr. Drury even entertained the group with an interesting turn of the century newspaper story that related an evening's stay atop the mountain.  At one time, a restaurant was located just over on the other side of the Mt Pisgah Trestle.  The Victorians enjoyed a night of dancing in the moonlight, fueled by clear hard beverages, and descended from the mountain by train at 6 AM.  A trail leads to the location, though no trace of the building remains.

John Drury explains the use of the cement cistern
used for a steady water supply to the engine.  Water
was piped in from "Indian Spring" about a mile west
along the ridge.  That's then PA Canal Society
President Bill Lampert in his trademark hat.

The Pennsylvania Canal Society is associated with the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA (

A beautiful view from the west end of the trestle looking
down on "the Hill" or upper Mauch Chunk.  The cemetery is
the final home of many of Switchback and Mauch Chunk
notables such as Chapman, Packer, Liesenring and others.
The Society has tentatively planned on returning here next year to continue down the Lower Section of the Lehigh Canal.  For further information about future events, contact Bill Lampert at or call 215-262- 5506.

Drury points out the engine house foundation.

When walking up the Pisgah Plane, it is known as the
"Direct Assault."  When walking down it, it's known
as a knee-killer.  The Engine house would have been just out
of view at the top.  This shot taken about halfway down of the
over 2,500 feet of plane, giving a 660 foot elevation rise.  The
barney pits were buried when fill was added
to create Sam Miller field.  The pits are about 30-40 feet below
third base.  The Mt Jefferson barney pits were recently excavated
at the bottom of Summit Hill at the stop sign from Lentz Trail.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ira Smith UPDATE

For anyone who read my March 31, 2010 post on the humble man's journey through the depression and WWII, I invite you to revisit it.  I recently spoke to his daughter and learned some new poignant insights, though ever so small, shed more light onto the character of this wonderful man, whose story reads more like the adventures and travails of Odysseus than real man that I know and love.

Changes in the posted story are highlighted for your reading ease!

THANX!!...Ron Rabenold

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

McCarty, Finsel & Ruch Rock the Ballroom with some Old Timey Sound

There's a little Elmer in all of us, now that we heard Finsel's ballad of the old backwoods quarryman & mountain dew man.

Sean's fingers put a hurtin' on those mandolin'd swear you were hearing two playing!!!

The boys ripped up "No More Cane on the Brazos."  I heard Robbie Robertson's shrills and Leadbelly's thump.
This was all part of the "Long Hunter Festival" this past weekend at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center.  Featured speaker was reknowned author, farmer, and modern day frontiersman, Mr. David Ehrig, also known as "Mr. Black Powder."  A must hear by any outdoor enthusiast.

David told of how German farmers in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s to early 1700s, went "long hunting" after the harvest in October through to Christmas.  A sharp eye with their Pennsylvania Longrifle could get enough "buck skins," skins sold for a dollar, to buy themselves more land for their growing families.  Children and adults alike, wrapped themselves in Dave's many furs: river otter, blackbear, skunk, porcupine, and more.  A great event for a great cause.  Proceeds helped the "Friends of the Dimmick Library" and for furthering the educational outreach of the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center.

Below find some shots taken from the Museum out to the street: The Three Towers building, formerly Mauch Chunk school building. Stained glass from inside the bell tower of the Museum, formerly the Methodist Church.  Looking down toward the Opera House.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Old Road and Cold Storage along the Lehigh Canal

I've often stared at what I thought was an access road to the Lehigh Canal until one day I bumped into Micah-John Kerschner (see him on Facebook).  He has links to Penn State aerial photography over the area in the 1930s and 1940s.
This road came down over the embankment to the Lehigh Canal just below Weissport at the crossroads at Blocker Enterprises.  The road was abandoned after the construction of Route 248.

Here we walk along this incline as it rises above the Lehigh Canal and Lehigh River in the distance.  This is in the area where the cold storeage houses can still be found built into the bottom of the embankment at the locks, used by locktenders for their own use with enough room for storage and resale.

This closeup shows the tar and chip composition of the road.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lehigh River Turnpike Bridge Progress

Here are some shots I took back in March of how the new Turnpike bridge is coming along.  Since these photos were taken, about six additional support columns have been poured.  The Rockhill Cement mixing facility on this site makes me wonder if it was originally built when they poured the cement in building Route 248.  The Rockhill truck loads up, drives about 100 yards, connects to a cement pumping truck and the pour begins with a construction worker atop this platform to guide it in.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Like Stones - Poetry By Ronald Rabenold

The other day while I was cleaning clams on our porch for my son's birthday dinner, over my shoulder I spied a bird's quick descent onto Whistler's Ice Dam.  It was much too rapid for a goose or a duck.  The Osprey emerged with his catch, struggling to fly straight before it could  streamline the fish in his grip.  The following words are inspired by that scene mixed with a bit of my wobbly walk along the Middle Path. 

(I do not have my own pictures of an Osprey.  The bird in this picture is a Turkey Vulture, a cousin to the California Condor, kettling in the thermals of Mt Pisgah, along the Lehigh River.)

When Hawks take rabbits, Osprey take fish.

On your walk today, what questions came to mind?
No doubt the Mallard pairings stirred and made ripples,
There was enough forsythia scent to charm this bee.
Did you question this world without them
Never now, never at all.
What will bloom next from this?
What will we say when there are no more words, no more stones
Even those with plenty will wish they had stones.

When did you gently push those things away?
No doubt the Osprey snagged and dragged his meal from the depths
The ripples were beside the point.
He satisfied forward, into another day.
The Man in a hurry did not see the grab
He was holding, tightly on, to memories to fantasies,
With hardening, like stones.

By Ronald Rabenold – April 8, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gargoyles! - Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery Memorial Chapel of the Resurrection

This internment chapel was built by Asa Packer's last surviving child, Mary Packer Cummings.  It is located in the "Hills" section of Jim Thorpe, previously Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery.  Jack Sterling, with the help of Keith Bellhorn, put together a webpage devoted to it if you wish for more information.  This chapel has an Otis elevator for lowering caskets into the crypt below.
The above photo is by Ronald Rabenold.  The following photos are by Keith Bellhorn.
  You can see the Otis elevator shaft in the center of this photo.
One of the 6 stained glass panels in this Gothic-inspired stone chapel constructed by Charles Neast of Mauch Chunk.

Friday, April 9, 2010

America's First Rollercoaster: Biking Along the Switchback Railroad

This is a view from the far trestle buttress atop the Mt Pisgah Plane.  Visible here, beyond the Flagstaff "Ballroom in the Clouds" at the tips of the branches on the right, you can see the Lehigh Gap through the Blue Mountain.  You can also see the many Dogwoods now in full bloom, along Route 209/The Mansion House Hill, entering Jim Thorpe, below that you can see the Lehigh River, snaking past St. Mark's Cathedrel, a European-style gothic masterpiece of architecture, endowed by Asa Packer.

The Switchback Railroad was the world’s first rollercoaster. It brought the coal from ‘coal country’ of Summit Hill, where coal was first discovered by Philip Ginter in 1791. It was the brainchild of Josiah White to bring the coal down to Mauch Chunk and the Lehigh River and on down to his and other factories of Philadelphia, eventually fueling the industrial revolution’s growing energy demands of the world.

It was the first man-made contrivance that allowed man to travel up to 60 miles per hour. An engine house atop Mt Pisgah, pulled the cars up over 2,000 feet of inclined plane, on down by gravity to the base of Mt Jefferson in Summit Hill and pulled over 1,600 up another plane, loaded with coal, and again down by gravity’s lure to the coal chute in old Mauch Chunk.

Today, one can bike this entire loop and see views from spectacular vistas. These views alone are worth the trip to Carbon County. But back in the 1870s to the 1930s, when this was the second largest tourist destination behind Niagara Falls, people flocked for the unbridled manifestation of White’s inventive mind. You can see the only working scaled replica of this railroad at the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center, Broadway, Jim Thorpe.

Seen here, is the 5-mile Crossover, looking downhill toward JimThorpe.  This buttress held the trestle for the tracks headed toward Summit Hill and the Mt Jefferson Plane, traveling from left to right.  By mountain bike today, you can head to the top of Mt Pisgah 4.5 miles away by heading uphill to the left of this buttress.  Going straight ahead into this picture, you can find a lazy 5 mile ride along Mauch Chunk Lake and Mauch Chunk Creek, into downtown historic Jim Thorpe.

Nature's Symmetry - Along the Old Lehigh Canal

Rip off the labels, and enjoy Nature's symmetry.  Anytime.

Here we are, at Lock #7 again.  "Lock" as in a man-made chamber along a body of water that raised and lowered boats from one level to the next.  It is how man overcame the elevation change along the 700 feet of relief from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania.  Most locks were around 15-20 feet in height, and were built so two boats could fit in one lock at a time.  Unlike the Delaware Canal, the destination of the boats on the Lehigh Canal, which could only accomodate one boat at a time.  Josiah White, ever the ingenious innovator, created a new type of door for the upper side of each lock.  The boat moving downstream with its load of coal only needed to nudge the door down, like an upside down doggy door to enter the lock.

The picture above though is about symmetry.  And how the eye embraces the symmetry, and indulges in the muted, blurred tones as if it were a sticky oil-base on canvas.  There is no trick to the photo, except what we accept as up is actually down, and what is down, is up.

This is Lock #4, about 1 1/2 miles north of Lock #7.  The dry masonry only held up for 190 years.  You can traverse this lock, as many along the canal and check out the Locktender house ruins, and here at #4, enjoy a rest and a view from atop the 20 feet observation deck.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Upper Grand Near Penn Haven Junction - Lehigh Gorge State Park

For an extensive look at the Lehigh Gorge River Trail click here for a virtual tour.

After Josiah White and Erskine Hazard built the canal from Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) to Easton, they worked to provide coal transport from White Haven on down to the harbor of Mauch Chunk. This was done by way of damming the Lehigh River, then creating gargantuan

A residence as was part of the once remote outpost along the CentralJersey mainline heading west.  For more in-depth look at the Penn Haven Junction and Planes, click here.

locks that dwarfed the height of the Lower Lehigh Canal.

These foundations can be seen just north of Penn Haven Junction on the Lehigh Gorge. According to one Central Jersey map, these walls were once part of a residence here at this lonely spot.  was the foundation of a large ice house or cold storage or perhaps it was a residence. I found old solid copper wire that could have been telegraphic wire or clothes hanging wire to the rear.

The spring carrying through this area over the years has certainly contributed to the notch the structure rests in. And currently with the Spring thaw underway, the spring is flowing well and through the remains. Whether this was the course of the spring years ago is uncertain. Higher on the hill and when facing west, the spring flows on the left side. As it approaches the foundation, it turns to the right. There is a large mound, covered in ferns in the summer that sits directly behind it. Whether it be man-made or a nicely rounded rock slide I cannot tell.

In this view, up the hill now, looking down at the remains, looking toward the east, you can see the Lehigh River in the distance, at the bottom of the east side of the Lehigh Gorge.  (White water can be seen in the swollen Lehigh River past the pine on the bottom left.)
It is a mystical place, with the greenest of green moss I’ve seen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How I Know It's Spring - Mallards, Bats and Golf

I know Spring is near when the skunks come out to mate in February, when the mallards are still in large groups. Then the warm days emerge in March, the pairing off of the ducks and geese, finding them staking out their secluded spots in lagoons and inlets along the Lehigh Canal. The itch of my sons, hitting golf balls all winter, devolves into an itch I too must scratch. The Pennycress and dandelion spread across a blanket of greening grass.

But look closely as the bat's dark arms are visible with dusk's light as he tilts to swoop down.
The bright burning yellow of the forsythia, our first flowering bush, erupts. The dull red of the silver maple new twiggy growth with its red blossoms, our first flowering tree, emerges. And lately, I’ve noticed the bats enjoying an early meal of bugs along the mucky mud basins along the weigh lock section of the canal.

I watched this one for close to one half hour. He flew his consistent figure eight over this small pool of a puddle long enough for me to crawl under his path, to lie on my back and shoot these shots above me. He didn’t seem to care about my presence until I tried to get up. Then his swoops came close and closer to me, pinning me down, with his dips and weaves. These flying mammals hold so much mystery and mystique with me.

But there are new old things to see, with the warm weather and lack of foliage, I can get inside this old water spillway leading from the Lehigh Canal just above the Weigh Lock below Jim Thorpe.


My Hero, Ira Smith

I am a lucky man to know Ira, he is not your prototypical hero, nor is he likely a Byronic Hero. I do know the Ira I know now, has integrity and a kind heart, a heart that has endured loss and pain unlike most stories one encounters. His sensibilities come from a time and place no one of our age can readily understand. His personality was forged under self-denial, rooted soundly in the soil of his Kistler Valley farm. In some ways that suited him to his brief career in the army, but it certainly was what gave him the stuff to endure his wounds and imprisonment.
Yes, we all have a downside to our personalities, and I'm sure Ira as faults like the rest of us. But I do know the Ira I know now. There’s a sense of wonder about him that is now hard to penetrate, for his age he is still sharp, but reflection beyond the straight forward details are small. He doesn’t wallow. He doesn’t appear to be anything other than a man who has happily endured a life, a man happy without questioning himself. Which is where the mystery of Ira lies: How did he arrive there? We only know some of his journey. Each of us has our own paths to walk.

Please go to my last post from Wednesday.  There you will now find more pictures and Part 2 of Ira's story.  I hope you enjoy.

Ira Smith passed away May 13, 2011 after a short struggle with a broken hip from a fall at his home.  He was 91.