With that familiar command, we eagerly boarded the Allentown and Auburn Railroad, an impressive diesel-powered connection back to a time when the rails commanded the nation’s transportation network. With two vintage cabooses, two coaches, one dating from the 1920s that’s been restored and appointed with original plush seating and mahogany woodwork, and a flatcar, it was a challenge to make a final choice on which one to board.
It was a classic October day for the Trick-or-Treat Pumpkin Train Ride, so my wife and I opted for the open-air flatcar, which was lined with wooden picnic tables and filled with friendly, talkative passengers and staff. Smoothly moving forward out of the Kutztown station, the train and its heavy steel wheels began their screechy rhythmic pulse across the tracks. We leaned comfortably against the wooden banister and soaked in the stunning countryside that only Pennsylvania’s Americana Region can offer.
Blasts echoed from the engine’s air horn as the train moved at a comfortable 10 mph pace. We passed rural railroad crossings, pumpkin and corn fields, and dairy farms with cattle grazing lazily in the warm sunshine. People stopped to wave along the way, even a distant Mennonite farmer and his children who stood on a knoll to catch a glimpse of the train. Just about everyone else on the train returned the gesture as if to say “join us” for the ride.
The train stopped outside Topton, where the engine was decoupled for the ride back to Kutztown. On the way home, the train slowed to a stop in a wooded grove, where passengers picked pumpkins, took photos and enjoyed a campfire. Hickory nuts and black walnuts dropped all around us. Enchanting.
Now in its third season, the Allentown and Auburn Railroad offers about six thematic train rides, including wine tastings, a year, plus private events such as birthday parties and weddings. It was started by Lindsay and Michael Bast after a member of Kutztown Borough Council began looking for someone to revive the old 4.5- mile passenger and freight spur route, which is owned by the Kutztown Transportation Authority.
“My husband has been into trains since he was a little boy and always wanted to operate a historic railroad” Lindsay says. “This fulfilled his passion and his dream.” Everything about the experience is historic and full of railroad nostalgia, starting with the big brown 80-year-old diesel locomotive, second-oldest operating diesel engine in the country. The original railroad was chartered before the Civil War to move coal between Allentown and Auburn in Schuylkill County. For the Basts, the best part of the running the railroad is watching the kids discover trains and life on the railroad.
“Some kids have never had the opportunity to ride a train or know about railroads,” Lindsay says. “It’s great to watch them fall in love with trains. We have a couple who comes for every event with their grandson. There are so many regulars who enjoy the experience.” Lindsay says trains are a way to get in touch with our history. “We’re family-based in this area, and people seek ways to get in touch with their own past and relive something that our grandparents lived,” she says. “For some, they like the mechanical end of it; others enjoy the romance of another era. There’s an all-around draw and magical quality to trains.”
Upcoming events include Santa weekends, which start in November and run until the Sunday before Christmas, and Valentine’s Day train rides the weekend before Valentine’s Day. We look forward to more train excursions on the A & A, and that friendly call of "All aboard!"
Blog by Bryan Hay