Lansford lokie tunnel filled
A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation worker is lowered by hoist into a tunnel 10 feet deep and 180 feet long on Patterson Street at Springgarden in Lansford early Monday. It was part of an inspection before filling the old lokie railroad tunnel with a special type of concrete mix. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Concrete mix poured into Lansford tunnel.
Inside the tunnel, PennDOT workers found and documented walls reinforced with iron rails.
Example of lokie can be seen at Number 9 Mine
A 130-year-old lokie train tunnel that helped Lansford gain prominence as a vital source for anthracite coal during America’s Industrial Revolution is being filled with stabilizing material 84 years after it was last used.
“It will help avoid problems down the road,” said Phil Vitale of Bear Creek, on Monday. Vitale is a PennDOT project consultant with CMC Engineering.
He said the four-day project is using a material called flowable fill, a concrete mix, to fill a tunnel measuring 10 feet deep, 10 feet wide and 108 feet long.
The tunnel is actually longer. The part being addressed is only the section running beneath Paterson Street, Route 209. Other existing sections travel beneath private property, said local historian Bruce Markovich.
“It was 175 feet long,” Markovich said, noting that it was sectioned off in later years. “They put walls in to close it.”
Vitale, himself a history buff, said the tunnel walls appear to have been well constructed.
“The side walls used vertical rails,” he said, explaining how the rails were spaced closely together for strength.
Historians say the tunnel roof was made of beams at one time. But then, in the early 1930s, when Lansford removed its trolley tracks, the wooden beams were replaced with stronger support material.
“They removed the wood and put in steel beams,” said Markovich.
“It was sealed up in 1934,” said Chris Ondrus, member of Lansford Historical Society and Lansford Alive. Ondrus was on hand to grab photos of the unique project.
“When the guys went in it, it was probably the first time in over 80 years that anyone was in there.”
Ondrus said the tunnel was illuminated at one point in its history. A light bracket found inside was saved and will be kept at the museum.
Vitale said workers inspecting the tunnel also found an old bottle. “It was a whiskey bottle. Golden Wedding pure rye whiskey,” Vitale said.
The bottle and other miscellaneous items will be turned over to the Lansford Historical Society. The lokie tunnel was built in 1888 by Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. A lokie was, essentially, a small locomotive used to shuttle coal around breakers and coal operations.
“The lokie ran from West End through Abbott Street and Kline Avenue, across Bertsch then around the back to the southeast under Patterson Street at Springgarden,” said Ondrus, describing a route that crossed through the heart of the community.
Markovich said the lokie served operations at Spring Tunnel.
“It went through Coaldale and Lansford, first to the Number 9 breaker then to the Number 8,” he said.
The old anthracite coal towns are known for their many tunnels.
In fact, spectator Don Gildea of Lansford said the project brought back memories of a hike he made with a buddy years ago through a similar tunnel that ran from the area beneath the former My Place Restaurant to the post office.
“We stepped over water pipes and came out at a manhole.”
Gildea said the expedition took place back in the 1950s or ’60s.
As for the lokie tunnel, Vitale said the fill material is removable. In other words, the filling of the tunnel is reversible. It can be reopened in the future if the community chooses to do so.
That idea is a plus for those who see potential in heritage tourism that spotlights the unique infrastructure that contributed to the growth of the country. For example, the stonework inside the tunnel is not only solid and noteworthy, but incredible, say those who saw it.
“We’re covering up the craftsmanship of the kind of work seen in this valley,” said Markovich.
Anyone wanting to learn more about the Lansford lokie and its route is welcome to visit the Lansford Historical Society Museum and view the old maps, Markovich said.