Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Blast From The Past - It All Started In Mauch Chunk

You might think the roots of the American roller coaster would have sprouted in New York City, perhaps Coney Island. Or maybe Lakemont Park in Altoona Pennsylvania. Well, you would be wrong on both counts. Although, PA is the right state.

The first "gravityride" was built in the small Eastern Pennsylvania town of Mauch Chunk in the heart of the Pocono mountains. Don't look for Mauch Chunk on the map, the town was later renamed Jim Thorpe.

More of a mine train ride, for good reason, than today's thrill rides the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway was a short railroad line built to haul coal from the top of Mount Pisgah to a canal below. Empty cars were pulled up the mountain by mules, the coal was loaded and then the train and the mules coasted downhill to the canal. This operation lasted until the mine closed in the early

While it's not known if the mules enjoyed the ride, some folks thought that people might. So, the old mine train reopened as a Pleasure Railroad with new passenger friendly cars. The mules were replaced with steam engines and the new railway used the same tracks as the mine train route. The cars were equipped with low booster wheels to assist in pushing them up some of the steep slopes.

There were plenty of sites along the route like a mine that had been burning since 1832. Riders were also attracted by lots of beautiful scenic views.

The Mauch Chunk Railway was a huge success, in 1873 35,000 visitors paid a nickel each for the experience. The railway ran until 1938, when the Central Railroad cancelled all further runs.

Surprising remains of the Switchback Railway can still be found in the woods near Jim Thorpe today.