Seeing Ghosts on the Allentown & Auburn

Sometimes I wish I was ignorant of industrial history. I could cross out of service railroad tracks without wanting to know where they went and why. I could pass an abandoned factory and not wonder about the people who worked there and the products they made. I could look at a rusty hunk of metal and see the decay rather than the machine it once was. I could live in the present, with all my energy directed to the moment I am in.

I could. But I can’t.

I see the ghosts before I see the living.

It’s an obsession that compels me to visit places and know people I would otherwise pass by. I accept into my personal circle men and women of vastly different backgrounds and beliefs, just because we share a passion for fighting Father Time and giving life to artifacts that would otherwise be lost.

By no means am I the best at this. In fact, I am not even close. There are others who spend one hundred times more hours and money preserving industrial history than I do. I find my place as a supporter, marketer and cheerleader rather than as a welder, machinist or boilermaker. It’s my lot in life; my brain contributes more than my hands.

This is the service the ghosts require of me. Others pay a different price.

As part of my allegiance to the past, I relish the chance to celebrate those who keep the flame lit. This is why I was drawn to the Allentown & Auburn Railroad: 4.2 miles of 150 year old railroad kept active by fellow spirit-talkers.

The complete story of the original A&A is tangled tale of high hopes. Suffice it to say that what was once planned to be a direct route to the rich anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania turned out to be a relatively inconsequential branchline of the mighty Reading Railroad, connecting the village of Kutztown with the mainline at Topton. 4.2 miles. Nothing less, but certainly nothing more. After a series of owners and operators, the line lay dormant until the new Allentown & Auburn began operations in 2015 as a heritage railway.

At a time when many faded railroads are being destroyed in favor of hiking trails, a small band of preservationists reimagined the moribund line as a haven for historic railroad equipment that had otherwise run out of places to turn a wheel. Against all odds, the A&A not only came back to life, but attracted like-minded individuals to contribute their own time, tools and even trains.

While the A&A offers excursions throughout the year with many events for families and for adults, my first foray on the line was via a private charter arranged for some friends and I to explore America’s newest heritage railroad in late November 2016. The photos and captions tell the story.

Your personal journey on the A&A should begin on their website: