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All Aboard for the Reading Railroad
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2013-12-31

More than 80 rail cars of various makes and 10 engines comprise the inventory at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum rail yard.  Most of the tracks on the museum’s property were laid by volunteers of The Reading Company Technical and Historical Society.

        If you’re yearning for a trip back in time to reminisce or learn about the era when the railroad was king in our region, then a ride to the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum should be on your agenda.  It’s a pleasant 45-minute drive through some of Berks County’s most scenic areas.

        Nestled next to a long-abandoned rail line in the once industrial and railroad-active town of Hamburg, Pa., treasures of the defunct Reading Railroad are on display.  The home of the museum was once part of the Pennsylvania Steel Company.

        Located at 500 South Third St., the indoor displays consist of hundreds of memorabilia from bells, whistles, lights and scales, to railroad uniforms, a switching console and even a fully furnished station office from long ago.  More than 80 railroad cars, in various stages of renovation, along with 10 engines are stored on tracks in the large rail-yard behind the museum.

        The museum is run by the volunteers of the Reading Company Technical and Historical Society.  Incorporated in 1976, the non-profit, educational group is dedicated to preserving the rich history of the railroad.  It has become a repository for knowledge, artifacts and memorabilia of the rich history of the Reading Railroad.  Currently, there are more than 1,000 members.

        The Reading Railroad ceased operations in 1976 but there are many folks around here who still remember when the trains ran through our communities on tracks that still exist and where trees or trails populate where rails once carried the mighty machines.

        What started out around here as the Perkiomen Railroad in 1854 was acquired by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1887 and was formally merged into the Reading Railroad in 1945.

        From Palm to Perkiomenville, the railroad once served more than two dozen industries that were located trackside.  They included coal and lumber yards, ice plants, foundries, furniture, trunk and clothing manufacturers, and even a casket factory.  Nearly three dozen more businesses and industries located throughout the towns benefitted from the service the railroad provided.  Businesses like cigar manufacturers, livestock auctions, retail farm goods and nearby parks and vacation resorts took advantage of the local train service as well.  Passenger service from here to Allentown and Philadelphia, and all points between, was also available.

        The trains even carried the local mail.  Back then you could mail a letter from Palm in the morning and have it delivered anywhere along the Perkiomen rail-line later that afternoon.

        With the exception of a single freight line that operates from Pennsburg to Emmaus, the railroad left our region the same way it came: in stages.  Passenger service on the Perkiomen line officially ended on July 11, 1955.  Freight service continued until the mid-1960s.  The line was abandoned between Collegeville and Green Lane in 1973.  A few years later the railroad line was abandoned to Eighth Street in Pennsburg, and eventually to Fourth Street. 

        The weather on Sunday afternoon was perfect for this writer’s third visit to the museum over the past few years.  Each time the exhibits and the number of cars stored in the railyard grow; there’s always something new to see.

        If you like train layouts, there’s one of every size and all feature Reading Railroad history.  In fact, the organization has a modular committee that operates a traveling HO-scale railroad layout that depicts various scenes along the Reading in miniature.   Depending on where the traveling exhibit is appearing, the layout can be more than 100 feet in length.

        There’s plenty to see in the museum, but for this writer, the money shots were out in the rail-yard.  To see the giant engines and rolling stock, with their weathered Reading logos in full sight, brought back memories of the busy railroad sidings that once dotted the region.

        Our docent for the trip was Bill Hodson, a knowledgeable and courteous volunteer.  During the walk among the giant cars, he had no trouble explaining the use of each one and answering questions. 

        “Did you know that most of what many refer to as diesel engines are actually powered by electricity?  The diesel runs the large generator that creates the electricity the moves the engine along the tracks,” he stated as a matter of fact at the beginning of our tour. 

        He pointed out that the generators burn about two gallons of diesel fuel per mile and that it takes around “$16,000 to fill the fuel tank on one engine.”  Every car seemed to have a set of facts unique to it, and everyone, young and old, listened attentively.

        The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.  Tours through the railyard are conducted at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

        Admission is $5 for adults, seniors 65 and older, $4, youngsters 5 to 12 are $3 and children younger than 5 are free.  Also free are active military personnel.

        The museum also offers group tours (schools, scout troops, civic groups, etc.) with a minimum of 10 individuals.  The fare for a group tour is $3 per person and groups can be accommodated on weekdays, outside of the normal museum operating hours.

        For more information call (215) 723-5848 or email tours@readingrailroad.org.


 

 

 

 

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