N. WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Hitching a ride on a flatbed, a 1955 Plymouth Locomotive has returned home.
"This is going to be like the icing on the cake. We had 320,000 people that used the trail last year, and this is another attraction to bring people on," said Ironton Rail Trail Commissioner Ray Deutsch.
Deutsch led the effort to bring the locomotive, donated by a Texas company but built for Northampton's Dragon Cement, to the North Whitehall Township trail, which celebrates the industry's past.
"There are 12 cement mills along this 9.2-mile stretch. A lot of history in just a short period of time," he added.
Getting on the trail tracks was an indelicate dance at best, as two cranes had to be brought in to lift the 20-ton engine. Crews rocked it back and forth to set it on the track.
Train historian Kermit Geary Jr. says the effort was worth it.
"Neat thing about this, it's a survivor. It's actually lasted longer than newer locomotives built for the cement industry that have since met their demise and gone on to become razor blades," he said.
Geary informed Deutsch about the train that had been sitting in Texas. The Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua company donated it, and North Whitehall Township paid $10,000 to have it transported. IRT hopes to repay them.
The engine was a one-time visible staple in Northampton Borough, as its route crossed Main Street.
George Ruhf recalls seeing it as a kid.
"We were playing ball and watched it go back and forth. Two cars bringing stone out of the quarry," he described.
Jim Olesak, my father in law, worked for Dragon and spent a two-week stretch working on the train.
"It's a sorry sight right now because it's not what it used to be. It's not taken care of. This was our only way to bring stone from the quarry down to the plant," he said.
Olesak added he's glad it's back.
After a spring paint job, the locomotive's local legacy will be firmly cemented.