Down the Main Line

Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

For forty years I ran both freight and passenger trains down the Main Line of the Reading Railroad (later Conrail), from Pottsville, in Schuylkill County, to Philadelphia. I was hired as a fireman in 1941 and shoveled my share of coal to keep those old steamers rolling. After my stint in the Army in World War II, I returned to my job and was ultimately promoted to engineman, running steam trains, diesels and, finally, Budd passenger cars, which could be operated from either end.

Through all the seasons of the year, the Main Line run presented a panorama of nature of which I never tired. Here, too, was history. Rumbling along the rails at a fairly fast clip, dozing passengers were probably unaware that they were passing the towpath of the old Schuylkill Canal where, in the nineteenth century, mules played a major role in the transportation of anthracite, or hard coal, to the port of Philadelphia. Hidden by the dense underbrush were the decaying canal locks and rusting spikes.

The railroad tracks running parallel with the west branch of the Schuylkill River carried the train past the foot of the world-famous Hawk Mountain. Every fall spectacular flights of bald eagles, ospreys, broad­-winged hawks, and red-tailed hawks pass the lookouts and give one of the most outstanding pageants of nature ever witnessed by man. Thousands of migrat­ing birds use the updrafts in their flight south along the Kittatinny Ridge of the Appalachians.

It wasn’t unusual that on occasion I would see a bald eagle dipping down into the river in search of food, or that I should see Canadian geese and a family of swans nesting along the river banks. Ringneck pheasants, grouse, even wild turkeys, would often swoop over the train.

Deer crossed my path both in the early dawn and late at night. Sadly, many times they were blinded by the headlights of the engine and ran smack into the train. I was always on the lookout for them but even a pull on the whistle sometimes had dire results. Those beautiful creatures would stand perfectly still in their tracks before either bounding
away from or directly into the path of the train.

In the spring, during mating season, snapping turtles came up from the river to bask in the warmth of the ballast. One day I decided that we’d have snapper soup, so I gingerly scooped up a big one into a burlap bag and brought him home. At the sight of those gaping jaws my wife Jean shuddered and vehemently declared she had no taste for snapper soup!

On a hot summer’s day, as the train passed Pulpit Rock at Port Clinton, picnickers and bathers sunning themselves on the rock were a happy sight. It’s a fact that boatmen on the Schuylkill Canal paused here for Sunday sermons preached by itinerant ministers – hence the rock’s name.

In spite of my arduous hours on the railroad, break­downs, derailments, and the ever-present hazards of the weather, I can truly say I loved those exhilarating rides up
and down the Main Line.


Andrew Bazar of Cressona, Schuylkill County, celebrated his eightieth birthday in November 1999. He was employed by the Reading Railroad from 1941 until he retired in 1982 from Conrail, the Reading’s successor. Among his hobbies are gardening and following politics. He married Jean Trometter, of nearby Beckville, in 1944. The Bazars have four children and eight grandchildren.