by Mark Casasanto
File this one under the “things you don’t ordinarily get to do” category. Then, you can thank me later.
Back in the summer of 2017, I was doing a security site survey for a country music festival that was going to occur a little further along as the summer transitioned to fall. As I made my way around the pretty and well tended grounds of Memorial Park in Pottstown, I happened upon what looked to be a well worn train platform rising gently above what I assumed to be railroad tracks of days gone by…
You know what’s said of assuming, right?
Aside from disturbing a very territorial spider who defended his turf on the platform rather aggressively and with a painful bite, I found the foliage and the tracks that led to seemingly nowhere. Very charming, in a mysterious kind of way.
It was sometime during the festival weekend that my son came to me and informed me that the tracks I thought were long defunct were active with a train baring the markings of The Colebrookdale Railroad. I tucked the name into the back of my brain, and there it remained as life chugged along, full steam ahead.
At some point last fall, almost out of the blue, that little storage area of my cerebrum, the one that often flashes, “no vacancy”, managed to spit out a subtle reminder. It was then that I set out in earnest to find out more about what that train and those mystery tracks were really all about.
After some research, interest and intrigue, and about a year’s worth of calendar “can” and “can’t do” dates, my girlfriend and I locked into a date, and circled it on the calendar. This past weekend, off we went (finally) to Berks County, Pennsylvania to board the train and ride deep into the heart of The Secret Valley.
Now operated by the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust, these tracks were once leased and operated by the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad commencing in 1869 (through 1976 by Reading Railroad), and steeped in history. The Civil War era line, presently a tourist railroad with some limited freight loads sharing the tracks, was initially constructed to serve the bountiful iron ore industry and various furnaces that dotted the Schuylkill Valley.
For railroad buffs, you’ll move through deep cut rock formations while traversing a wooden trestle bridge, a wooden culvert and simple steel bridges. Visible along the 8.6 mile, two hour journey is a stone house where George Washington was said to be a frequent visitor, the confluence of the Manatawny and Ironstone Creeks, and if you’re lucky enough, you can also spy white tail deer, foxes, raptors and bald eagles in their natural habitats.
Let me be perfectly honest though, the absolute charm of this adventure are the rail cars themselves. Travel options include the locomotive, dining car (with a full meal), coach or first class parlor. Tickets are reserved through an on-line (will call pickup) process. Each car offers a quaint, throwback experience for the passenger as well as access to an open air car at the rear of the train that makes for spectacular views and photography.
Our preference for our little respite from reality was the first class parlor car. Complete with a shared small plate of meats and cheeses, warm, spiked drinks served in commemorative take home glassware and amongst an absolutely amazing ambience, it almost felt as though we were on the Orient Express, minus the drama, of course.
We were at least a couple weeks too early to truly enjoy the full splendors of the fall foliage. Still however, sitting in the lap of luxury, in a perfectly appointed train car, sipping Irish Coffee and Gourmet Hot Chocolate as the colorful countryside slowly rolled by flip book style, proved to be as relaxing as it was self indulging.
Full disclosure, I had forgotten the details of our purchase, which in actuality was probably the perfect scenario. It allowed for the trip to unfold in an unassuming fashion, with no expectations other than the basic knowledge that we were on a two hour, round trip excursion from Boyertown to Pottstown. Simply stated, it was a perfect way to spend an early autumn afternoon.
So back to assumption… Yes, I hit on something when I suggested these tracks were from a time of days gone by. I guess even the village idiot gets one right every now and again. But seriously though, these tracks are very much a part of the region’s present and future.
With that said, grab your Choo Choo Charlie cap, your conductor’s whistle and plan your visit. Just take this last bit of advice. Do your homework first. For instance, on board restrooms are very limited and there are children focused trips as well as adult only departures. You’ll want to purchase the appropriate ticket to ensure the perfect excursion experience.
Learn more by visiting: www.colebrookdalerailroad.com