The smoky gray clouds, like emissions from turn-of-the-century steam locomotives, floated over the otherwise rolling, green Northern Pocono Mountains on a recent Memorial Day weekend. Could they have been hints of the area's railroad past?
The weed-sprouting track, supporting a diesel engine, a stainless steel New York Central, and three maroon, Pennsylvania Railroad coaches next to the Wayne County Visitors Center, were poised for their 13:00, 25-mile run to Hawley and Lackawaxen as the "Lackawaxen Limited," operated by the Stourbridge Line's Delaware, Lackawaxen, and Stourbridge Railroad Company. From rail's past, apparently grew rail's present.
Having been operated by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, and inaugurating tourist train service as far back as September of 1979, the Stourbridge Line ran for more than three decades as an earlier rendition, ceasing operations on December 11, 2011, before the present Delaware, Lackawaxen, and Stourbridge Railroad Company, run by the Myles Group, re-plied the tracks as of May 9, 2015.
A 50-minute drive from Scranton to Honesdale, a peruse of Main Street, a poke in the Wayne County Historical Society Museum, and a collection of brochures, pamphlets, newsletters, guide books, and area-related literature deposited me here, on the wooden platform, surrounded by an increasing gather of the train's passengers.
The train's railroad history, although silently subtle, seemed to speak to me. A glance over the coaches revealed the town's Victorian architecture, which, as a preserved pocket, seemed to have withstood the tick of time, and next to the brick, ticket window sporting Visitors Center was a track-attached replica of a wooden coal wagon displayed on an incline. Rails clearly connected the town with its past.
A plaque outside of the historical society proclaimed, "Delaware and Hudson Canal. Terminus of the waterway uniting the Hudson and Delaware rivers. Built 1825 to 1828. A gravity railroad feeder reached Carbondale. For 70 years the anthracite trade outlet for the region."
As I heard the "All Aboard" wail of the conductor-a virtual tone- and pitch-perfect echo of the instruction given by trainmen for almost two centuries-and inched toward the coach with my fellow passengers, I realized that something about the area had drawn me to its past.
Where, for example, was the Delaware and Hudson Canal and what relation, if any, did it have to this "Gravity Railroad," with which Honesdale seemed synonymous?
Settling into my seat in car #1993, "Clinton Leech," which had once been operated by the New Jersey Central Railroad, I thought of the philosophy shared by Sir Arthur Pinero, an English actor, dramatist, and stage director who had lived between 1855 and 1934. "The present is the past again, entered through another gate," he had philosophized.
As the train would ply the tracks to its destination in the present, I would try to trace the area's history to its past.
A brief, locomotive-tugging jolt, preceded by the obligatory whistle, increased car coupling tension until the chain formed by the four coaches crept away in forward momentum cohesion, crossing Route 191, where automobiles had collected as witnesses of its departure.
A laborious lumber, amid the protesting shrieks of its wheels, propelled the Lackawaxen Limited into an arboreal tunnel of green, as it paralleled the approximately named Lackawaxen River, whose oil-hued surface, like a mirror, reflected the trees, before squeezing past coach and caboose cradled siding track.
Increasing speed manifested itself as coach sway, as the lateral rocking--excuse the rhyme-took the present away, transporting me to the area's past. Piece it together, I commanded my mind!
Canals and railroads shared both a geographical and logical origin here. In the case of Honesdale, they seemed to be the same.
Located in Wayne County, in northeast Pennsylvania, the town was 35 miles from Scranton (I had driven it myself) and 150 miles from Philadelphia. So far, that was not very significant.
Established in 1798, the county itself was named after General Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War hero who had gained notoriety when he ended Indian resistance and destroyed the Northwest Indian Confederation in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Separated from the County of Northampton in 1798, Wayne County was established, today encompassing 744 square miles.
Its seat of government varied over the years-from Wilsonville to Millford, Bethany, and, as of May 4, 1841, the very Honesdale in which the train originated. I wonder where its name came from, but, more importantly, what brought people to certain places to begin with? Perhaps a way in and a way out and something to transport in either or both directions.
A word on the Wayne County Historical Society's plaque, which I had jotted down in my notebook, struck me: "Anthracite." I do not know if this was a household word in Pennsylvania, but it seemed important-important enough for a dig into my laptop for its meaning. And, sure enough, "dig" was, unknowingly, a pretty appropriate word with which to associate it.
Because it was mined from the earth's oldest geological formations and was therefore subjected to the greatest amount of heat and pressure, anthracite, a variety of coal, was able to produce much more heat energy than its softer, geologically younger counterpart, placing it in significant demand in emerging America to fuel its home hearths, factory furnaces, and steam-powered machines and locomotives-not that there were any of these around-at least not yet.
Written by chulovision