Thorpe's model train whistle to soon go silent
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Model trains have been a passion for Michael and Erica Heery, shown with their Old Mauch Chunk display, which has been a Jim Thorpe tourist attraction for 26 years. The display is closing on Sunday.
A popular tourist attraction in Jim Thorpe is nearing its final whistle.
The Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display, located in the historic Hooven Mercantile Building along Susquehanna Street, will have its final runs on Sunday, Jan. 15.
Michael Heery of Lehighton, who operates the display with his family, said the decision to close the display was made because the building housing the trains is for sale.
The closing is a tough decision, considering Heery's passion for trains.
"My grandfather, Joseph Heery, was a ticket agent for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Mauch Chunk and Lehighton," said Heery. "He made sure dad and my siblings always had trains at home. My dad kept the trains set up year round."
The Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display was originally located in the train station next to the Hooven Building. It had been a project of the Rev. Joseph Kean, who was at that time pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Lehighton, and the late Agnes McCartney, who was the Carbon County Tourist Promotion Agency director. Heery was a member of Kean's congregation.
Kean's model train collection is one of the largest in the region. Originally, at the railroad station, only G scale trains were displayed. When the display kept growing, it was decided to move it to the Hooven Building.
"Everything here is from Father Kean's collection," said Heery. "He designed the entire thing. He had a blueprint listing where he wanted everything."
Heery and his family were among the volunteers who helped create the Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display in the Hooven Building. It consists of 1,087 feet of track and over three miles of wiring.
There are 13 separate lines, which currently have 12 trains and one trolley. The longest train has three engines pulling 50 cars.
Over 200 buildings are in the layout, including three which are replicas of structures in Allentown. They are the Americus Hotel, PPL Building, and Episcopal Hi Rise.
Some of the trains have familiar markings, such as Lehigh Valley Railroad engines.
"Originally, my family and I were some of the volunteers who set up the display (at the train station)," said Heery. They also helped with the Hooven Building project.
In 1993, Rev. Kean sold the trains at the Jim Thorpe site to Heery's parents, Francis and Catherine Heery of Mahoning Township. The Heery's have been running the trains since then.
Beside Michael and his parents, the trains currently are being operated by Michael's wife, Erica; his brother and sister-in-law, Christopher and Gretchen Heery, and their sons, Joseph, 14; Ryan, 13; Sean, 12, and Stephen, 11.
"It's definitely mixed emotions closing this," said Michael. "We'll miss the guests. Some of them we see year after year, like a tradition."
He said the display has been around so long that grandparents who used to bring their children are now bringing their grandchildren.
Heery said when the train display is taken down, the components will be put into storage. But he's hoping this isn't for long.
"Why have trains and buildings in boxes where people can't enjoy them?" he asked. "People tell us how the trains have sparked memories of them growing up especially around Christmas, or the trains they had growing up."
He said he's hoping to find a location where a display can be put together for the Christmas season.
The Old Mauch Chunk Model Train Display is open daily through Jan. 15 from noon to 5 p.m. There is an admission fee.