Rail history is on the auction block and collectors are jockeying for a piece of the action.

The Houser family of auctioneers has joined with Atty. Joseph Velitsky of Summit Hill in liquidation of an estate expected to produce four or five public auctions of an extensive collection of railroadiana.

"I've been doing this since 1971 and I've never seen a collection of railroad memorabilia like this," said Doug Houser of Houser Auctioneers, Schnecksville and Allentown. The Houser family is rooted in West Penn Township and their auction business was sparked by family patriarch the late Curtis Houser, a pioneer in the industry.

Doug Houser believes contents of the Panther Valley estate have the potential to attract railroadiana fans from a wide region. In fact, insiders say it'll be a veritable feeding frenzy for those who collect all things choo-choo.

The first sale held on Jan. 11 drew 200 to Mahoning Valley Fire Hall, 2358 Mahoning Dr. W., Lehighton, on a rainy, icy Saturday morning.

That auction offered pickings from the first lot of possessions of the late Dave Stone, former resident of Lansford and Bethlehem.

Stone worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad for over 35 years. He reveled in the rich history of the line, a railroad which opened from Easton to Mauch Chunk in September 1855.

The LVRR was built for the purpose of transporting anthracite coal. It was known as the Route of the Black Diamond, named after its cargo.

On June 24, 1970, the LVRR filed for bankruptcy protection. Its properties were taken over by Conrail on April 1, 1976.

Stone worked in various capacities at the railroad and was one of the final employees to walk out of LVRR facilities before doors closed forever.

By that time, he'd amassed an extensive collection from various rail lines, including vintage advertising and signage, china, work clothes, lanterns, photos, paintings, paperwork, manuals, jugs, stoneware, stockholder reports and schedules.

Stone's collection filled three houses, including two sides of a double-block on Kline Avenue in Lansford and his residence in the Lehigh Valley.

See Friday's TIMES NEWS for a complete report on results of the first sale and a glimpse into items to be made available Saturday and in the coming weeks.