Tamaqua's long railroad heritage will be celebrated during the 27th Annual Tamaqua Heritage Festival on Sunday, Oct. 9.
One of the top highlights of every festival are the scenic fall foliage train rides. The one-hour train rides depart from the Tamaqua Train Station, which will be open to showcase the restoration completed on the circa-1874 station by Tamaqua Save Our Station (SOS) in 2004 at a cost of $1.5 million. Passengers, touring in vintage restored Reading and Northern Railroad coaches pulled by deisel locomotives, will ride the rails through the Tamaqua tunnel to the High Bridge as they enjoy the sights and sounds of times gone.
There are three one-hour round-trip train rides set for 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m.
The first trip will head south to New Ringgold and back. The train will follow the original route of the Little Schuylkill Navigation Railroad and Coal Company, which opened in 1831. The Little Schuylkill Railroad was the first railroad in the nation to use steam power to haul coal, and is the third oldest railroad route in the United States.
The original line was only 21 miles long and connected the coal mines of the Tamaqua area to the Schuylkill Canal at Port Clinton, where coal could then be loaded onto canal boats and shipped to major ports, such as Philadelphia.
Heading south passengers on the train will see the former Tamaqua Railroad Yard of the Reading Railroad, which was once a sprawling railroad yard during its heyday. As the train heads towards New Ringgold it will parallel the scenic Little Schuylkill River most of the way as it winds its way past farm fields, and lush wooded areas.
The train will also pass through the former grounds of the historic Atlas Powder Company, which was a major producer of explosives and nitroglycerin for three quarters of a century. Wildlife, such as deer, wild turkey, and many other woodland animals are also visually abundant along this stretch of the railroad.
The second and third trips will each head north to the famous Hometown 'High Bridge' and back. As the train heads north from Tamaqua, it will also follow parts of the Little Schuylkill River. Just north of Tamaqua, the train will pass by the former remnants of the historic H.A. Weldy Gun Powder Works, which was located in Taggartsville from the mid 1800s through the early part of the 1900s.
The train will then pass through the Tamaqua Tunnel which was built in the 1850s. From there, the train passes through lush Laurel covered woodlands along the State Game Lands. Its journey continues past the former Mintzers Station on its way to the Barnesville area of Rush Township.
At East Mahanoy Junction, the train will cut northward on the former Catawissa Branch, passing the former Lakeside and Lakewood Parks, popularly known in the past as summertime destinations during the early 20th century. At the former Haucks Junction the train will switch to the Nesquehoning Branch where the train passes along farms and woodlands and eventually crosses the famous Hometown Trestle, also known locally as the High Bridge. The 185 foot high Hometown Trestle crosses a steep gorge where the train will stop to allow passengers spectacular views of the fall foliage in all directions from the trestle. The train then returns to Tamaqua.
Dale Freudenberger, Tamaqua Historical Society president, stressed, "Advance ticket purchases are recommended, but not required, for these highly popular excursions."
Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Chamber of Commerce office at 114 West Broad Street or by calling at 570-668-1880. Tickets are also available in advance at the Olde Station Candy Shop located inside the Tamaqua Railroad Station. Remaining tickets will be sold the day of the festival in front of the train station of a first come, first served basis.
"This is both a fun and relaxing trip your whole family can enjoy," added Freudenberger.