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Fun and history

Good things come in threes.

And because of it, attendees said there was triple fun Sunday at the No. 9 Coal Miners Heritage Festival in Lansford.The event celebrated the ninth annual coal region heritage celebration, enriched this year by the 140th anniversary of the Borough of Lansford, and topped off with the announcement of intentions for a gala 250th anniversary celebration of anthracite coal, which could put the Panther Valley front and center.The excitement drew crowds to the museum and mine complex on the Carbon-Schuylkill County line."And to think we have all of this in our own backyard," said Jane Lang of Hometown, visiting for the first time with husband Dan and daughter Emily, 9. The Langs said they were delighted to embark on an hourlong adventure, riding a train car 1,600 feet into the mountainside, the world's oldest continuously operated anthracite coal mine. Opened in 1855 and closed in 1972, it was reopened as a heritage attraction in 2002.Others said they return to the site every year to remember their roots."Oh yes, I've been here before," said Bernie Lazarchick, a Tamaqua native now living in Kittatinny.Some drove hours to be on hand, especially to pursue hobbies or honor their ancestors."I'm here because I'm a train buff," said Timothy Barletta McRea, a railroad photographer from Media, accompanied by friend John Daley of Clifton Heights.McRea's family has deep roots in the region."My uncle, Patrick Gallagher, worked in this mine," he said. "And my grandfather made custom suits for the miners."Up-tempoAn upbeat mood was pervasive throughout the day.For instance, Bill and Jamie Solomon of Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway welcomed visitors and handed out small American flags as mementos.Tom Curney of Drums, Dan Bobby of Freeland and Ruthie O'Dell of Plains dressed in period costume and entertained crowds. All three are associated with the Sophia Coxe Foundation.Another re-enactor, James Issermoyer of Hazleton, appeared fully dressed as a member of the 5th Texas Infantry, Company F, a role he's portrayed for 23 years.Visitors also were greeted by uplifting words from Naturally Jim, a tall, bearded, modern-day disciple of Christ who carries a chimpanzee puppet named Silly Willy."God bless you," he offered to all who stopped to chat. Naturally Jim has been a fixture in the Panther Valley for years.He doesn't reveal his full name, but refers folks to Internet sites where he's identified as James Becker, also known as the Mountain Man of Ashland, Ohio.Tom Scharpf of Palmerton arrived in his vintage 1929 Model A Ford. The vehicle is old but arrived with something new."I just put a motor in it on Tuesday," he said. Scharpf displayed his vehicle on the midway and answered questions about the early days of motoring, joining a few other owners of early 1900s vehicles.A crowd favorite was a 1951 Ford Custom four-door sedan owned by John Poko of Summit Hill. The car was configured to resemble an old-time "radio car" for police use.Variety"There's a whole lot going on here that's entertaining," said Jayne O'Donnell of Nanticoke as she listened to traditional folk tunes by string-instrumentalist Dave Matsinko of Lehighton on banjo and mandolin player Phil Voystock, 89, of Freeland.Coal sack races were a hit with the kids, an activity arranged by volunteer Jan LeVan of Tamaqua.For grown-ups, the strongest and most daring of guests met the challenge of a grueling coal-shoveling competition, monitored by judge Bill Harleman of the mine and museum board of directors.Contestant Bart Macconnell of Lehighton was among the top performers."I was a farmer for many, many years," he said, noting that the act of moving coal at a fast pace "will take the breath out of you."First place went to Dave Williams of Valley View; second place, John Bova of Shenandoah; and third, Robert Drobnick of New Ringgold.Interestingly, Williams performed the fete of shoveling an estimated half-ton of coal in 57 seconds despite having two broken toes from an earlier injury. Second-place finisher, Bova, son of lost Sheppton coal miner Louis Bova, shoveled at full strength despite a recent broken pelvis and ribs following an April motorcycle crash.Dave Kuchta, president of the Panther Creek Valley Foundation for the past 15 years, was excited about the success of the entire day."The weather held up and I think everyone's enjoying it. The food vendors sold out," he said.Volunteer Tammy Fisher of Coaldale said halupki and halushki were especially popular items and in demand."We sold out by 1 p.m.," Fisher said.Foot-tapping music included bluegrass and folk tunes of Coal County Express, WMGH Polka program with crowd favorite Polka Joe Manjack and all-time musical favorites furnished by DJ Shawn Frederickson, Tamaqua.The event takes place each year at 9 Dock St. and includes free admission and free parking.

Banjo player Dave Matsinko, a Nesquehoning native, serenades entertainer Naturally Jim at Sunday's No. 9 Mine and Museum Coal Miners Heritage Festival. DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS