'I hear the train a comin'
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Rev. Joseph Kean of Cherryville, retired priest and former pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Lehighton, looks over buildings which will be part of a huge model train display in Allentown.
Rev. Joseph Kean can't wait to blow his own horn - literally.
The retired priest has model trains galore and he's working on a display at a small Allentown mall where the public can enjoy them as much as he does.
In fact, the reason he retired as a priest was to devote full-time to putting the exhibit together.
The display will have such things as a miniature amusement park, a large lake with thunder and lightning over it, several gauges of trains - with working horns, and many, many other additions you'll have to see to believe.
Rev. Kean had supplied the trains for the former "Pocono Museums Unlimited," a sprawling model train museum in a building along Route 443 in Mahoning Township across from the Carbon Plaza Mall.
That museum, with 2,006 total feet of track and scores of "O-Scale locomotives, opened on Dec. 4, 1992, in a building owned by the late Herman Steigerwalt. Just recently, the facility which had housed the Lehighton area museum was demolished and the site will be part of a new Lowe's Store.
A former teacher at Marian Catholic High School and a priest at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Lehighton in the late 1980s, Rev. Kean is assembling the museum in the Merchants Square Mall off Vultee Street next to Queen City Airport in Allentown.
He has amassed a huge collection of trains and auxiliary items over the years, a trait that he inherited from his father, also a model train enthusiast.
"I've always wanted to do this as a tribute to my mom and dad," he said.
Rev. Kean said he has 9,000 square feet available in the mall to put together the display. There will be five guages of trains exhibited.
Merchants Square Mall doesn't have any anchor store or large box store. It's primarily manned by independent merchants who hold hours each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
It is Rev. Kean's hope that the train setup will attract people to the mall so that it can eventually be open daily.
A handful of volunteers, working under the direction of Rev. Kean, are turning the project into reality.
One volunteer, Ignatius "Iggy" Sakasitz of Kutztown, said the amusement park on the platform will have numerous working rides, including tea cups, a roller coaster, and a merry-go-round.
Rev. Kean said the first public phase to open, hopefully by the end of next month, will have HO trains. The overall platform, when completed, will have a larger lake than the one featured at the Lehighton museum.
It will measure 26-by-14 feet, have about three or four inches of water, and weigh about 6,000 pounds.
Like the Lehighton setup, there will be overhead clouds which drop rain into the lake.
Included in the exhibit will be individually hand-crafted Steinmacher Buildings - structures built by Bernard Steinmacher of Muncie. Rev. Kean owns about a dozen of these buildings.
The overall setup "will have a lot of creativity that we started in Lehighton," Rev. Kean said. "We will have a grand opening."
When the Museums Unlimited display opened, it was regarded as one of the largest such displays in Pennsylvania by the Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau.
Rev. Kean won't give his current project such a distinction, but remarked, "It's going to be something to see."