On and Off The Mountain-Stephanie Grubert

I love the month of July. The days are long and the trees and plants are in full growth mode. The grass cutters get a break too. Hot temperatures send the grass into slow growth. Animals, both wild and domestic, are smart. They sleep during the heat of the day and feed and hunt at night when the temperatures are more temperate.

With a house full of grandchildren in residence with their parents, our days are rockin’ with activity.

The highlight of our family activity last week was the Rotary Club of Mountain Top’s Steam Train Excursion ride from the Penobscot Yard on Route 437 in Fairview Township. Nine passenger cars each with a capacity of 72 were pulled by Steam Engine 425, manufactured in 1928 and acquired by the Reading, Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad in 1983. It was refitted and enjoyed runs for several years at a time, but was out of service for from 1997 to 2008. The 425 had three years of tourist excursion runs though the Lehigh River Gorge until 2011, when it was taken out of service for two seasons for extensive repair. The 425 was back on the track since the fall of 2013 and pulled the Rotary’s Steam Excursion Train from Penobscot to Jim Thorpe in 2014 and 2016.

There were many railroad fans on the train last Saturday. When I went on the excursion two years ago I saw many, many familiar faces. This time the riders had a wider base out of Mountaintop.

It is hard to convey the excitement that you feel as you go to Mountaintop Hose Co. No. One to park and take the shuttle to the Penobscot yard. Once at the yard you board the train and are encouraged to go outside until the train departs to take photos or mingle with the railroad personnel and other passengers. I enjoyed the day with Patrick, Kate and Maggie Dicus, ages 13, 11 and 8. They were the perfect age for imagination on the vintage train.

Patrick compared it to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express. He and his sisters wanted to visit the Rainbows End candy store in Jim Thorpe first thing. They said was similar to Hogsmeade’s Honey Dukes. Harry and his friends enjoyed candy on their adventures.

The ride from Penobscot to White Haven was 11 miles and from there to Jim Thorpe was another 25 miles through the unbelievably scenic Lehigh Gorge State Park. The 72 mile round trip was an hour and a half each way for a total of 3 hours.

I enjoyed the Mountain Top crossings at Kirby Avenue, Glen Summit, and at Church Road, where the track becomes a single lane for 8 miles to White Haven. The train whistle warns motorists to stop. Who of us of a certain age doesn’t enjoy the sound of the train whistle and he chug of the engine and the cars rolling along the track? We drive the roads near and across those tracks regularly in Mountaintop.

The view from the train as it crossed the Lehigh River four times was spectacular. We were surrounded by forest for most of the way and could see hundreds of whitewater rafters enjoying the hot summer day below. We waved at whoever we saw watching the train as we rode by and they waved back at us too.

The commentary on the train on the history of railroading in the region was very informative. And that was all before we got to Jim Thorpe.

Departing the train we were excited to see that there was a Woods Ice Cream store next to the station. Our family has often enjoyed Woods Ice Cream in White Haven and this appeared to be a new location for some rich frozen treats on a hot day.

We decided to head straight to Rainbows End, where the friendly candy storeowner Mike and his wife Sandy had everything and more for my excited grandchildren. The “penny candy” was now 25¢ and up, but each child found just what they wanted within their individual budgets. I eyed the beautiful dark chocolate confections in the case, but got away without yielding to the temptation.

The retail stores are on both sides of the main street up to the Mauch Chunk Opera House. The 100-year-old plus venue has 400 seats and regularly hosts concerts and programs. We went inside to check it out and the air conditioning was refreshing.

The street winds up to the old Carbon County Jail and most of the buildings are residential. The town is easy to walk. We did not venture up onto the high street parallel with the main street, but there are restaurants and unique small shops there too.

We stopped in several local boutiques, a “wear it again” shop, and from my view the blast from the past “Five and Dime”, and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Patrick was enjoying playing Pokémon Go as there were lots of historic sites, which were also Pokey stops in Jim Thorpe.

After we had enjoyed the town I suggested a walk past the train station toward the river. I had seen the bike trail and parking lots coming into town and wanted to explore on foot. My charges were not enthusiastic about a hike in the 86° weather so I promised only a short one. We soon came upon the Lehigh River access for rafters, kayaks and floats. Hundreds of people were queuing up for a ride on the white water. The guides shouted out instructions and dozens of rafts were launched into the water and were soon out of sight downstream on the Lehigh. It was a dam release weekend and the water was plentiful and flowing.

Before long with the temperatures at or near 90°, we were all wading in the water and Kate suddenly took the plunge underwater with her clothes on. Patrick and Maggie followed suit. How could they not cool off in the beautiful river on a very hot day? The hot air would dry them out in short order.

As the hour was approaching for boarding the train back to Penobscot we made our way back to the station area and got in line for some delicious cold ice cream at Woods. The line was long but the service was prompt and we ate our frozen treats in the shade of a tree near our boarding car, where our conductor Mr. Fisher was ready to welcome us.

Engine 425 pulled out of the station promptly at 4:00 p. m. with the diesel right behind to pull the huge train up the 2% grade back to Mountaintop. The ride back was just as beautiful and the children had their Rainbows End candy to enjoy. I love the motion of the train and the noise too. Travelling by rail in the early 1900’s was rustic compared to today’s air-conditioned and more comfortable options.

As we got back to the Penobscot yard, shuttle buses were waiting to take us back to parking at the MTHC1. Shane East welcomed the hot and thirsty travelers with ice-cold bottled water. The Rotary had topped off their day with us. I gratefully thanked him and it was the perfect refreshment in the 90° late afternoon.

The Reading and Northern Railroad offers a well managed on-time excursion that was enjoyed by all. Congratulations to the Rotary Club of Mountaintop for sponsoring another unforgettable experience.

Vegetable Explosion My vegetable garden is exploding

this week with beans, peppers, lettuce, broccoli, squash, cucumbers and the promise of ripe tomatoes only a couple of weeks off. The sunflowers are looking good and will probably bloom about the same time. Beets, carrots and eggplant will be ready then too. I had enough zucchini to put several out on the bench next to the road in front of the garden and by nightfall there was only one left.

The garden soil was parched where I had not mulched enough with the papers and the plants stressed. I usually don’t water much as we often get a good strong shower every few days, but the week between called for help. I checked the weather forecast and thunderstorms were coming Monday afternoon. We could all use a long refreshing drink.

Summer Coloring Contest There is still time to enter the

Mountaintop Eagle’s First Annual Summer Coloring Contest. The entry form has been in the paper for each of our July editions and is due by Thursday July 28. Children ages 3 to 8 are eligible. All entrants get a McDonald’s ice cream coupon and the prizes include tickets to Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, Turkey Hill Experience, and Railriders tickets in August. Prizes will be awarded on Friday July 29.