The train ride is without a doubt the centerpiece of Tamaqua's Heritage Festival. Whether people come for the journey down memory lane, to see the beautiful fall colors, to experience the slightly terrifying stop on the High Bridge, or just because it's something different to do, the train cars were packed for Sunday's ride.
As my family and I waited for the 3 p.m. departure, the nearby antique steam whistle display added to the feeling that we were actually in a busy, bustling train yard, rather than the busy, bustling Tamaqua train station.
Every year, when I ride the train, I am amazed at how many people have never taken the excursion before. Luckily, many of these people are accompanied by seasoned pros, who helpfully point out many of the sites along the way.
The train ride is a wonderful way to celebrate Tamaqua's heritage. First of all, it starts at the historic train station, which is both a testament to Tamaqua's past and the hard work and dedication that its current population has to building on that past for the future. I love to hear the exclamations of surprise from former residents of the area who moved away before the restoration was completed.
As the train starts chugging out of the station, we immediately pass another landmark, the Tamaqua Italian bakery, where proprietor Mickey Padora is sitting on the porch. A warm loaf of that bread would have made a wonderful snack for the cool fall afternoon.
Pretty soon, we hit the Tamaqua Tunnel. The teenagers on the ride treat it as they would any amusement park ride, whooping and yelling, which adds another element of scariness for the youngest riders, whose eyes have gone as big as saucers.
The leaves have fallen from the trees around the old Lakewood park, and the ruins of the park are a stark reminder of the past. I remember attending what must have been some of the last years of the Bavarian Festival, but many of those around me are busy telling their traveling companions of the grand times they had at the park in its heyday.
After passing through more scenic fall foliage, we come upon the Air Products' Hometown facility. The facility is another surprise for many who haven't been through the area before or recently. It has expanded several times since being built in the 1970s and is now an impressive industrial complex. What really catches people's attention, though, are the deer within the fence. Several moms point them out to their kids, while several dads size up the racks in anticipation of deer season. The deer don't seem bothered by their audience in the least and continue grazing without interruption.
Finally, we are heading onto the famous High Bridge. I don't care whether you are a bridge pro, like me, who grew up only a few hundred feet from the bridge, or if it's your first time crossing it, it is more than a little intimidating. A collective gasp goes up from the crowd on the train. The thrill seekers are all pressed up against the windows, while the big chickens, like me, nervously move to the center of the car. For you other chickens out there, the same foliage and breathtaking view can safely be viewed from the Dry Dam, which is accessible through the state game lands, and allows you to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.
I do love to hear the estimates of how high the bridge is, though. The kids behind me are sure that it's at least 500 feet. Some of the adults assure them that no, it's only about 300 feet. I let them enjoy their moment and don't tell them that it's only somewhere between 150 and 170 feet.
Finally, we're heading back into town. Another train ride brings another Heritage Festival and summer to a close.