Trainload of rail enthusiasts enjoy visit to Shamokin

Published: 5/19/2017 10:00 AM
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BY STEPHANIE BETTICK

THE NEWS-ITEM stephanie_b@newsitem.com

SHAMOKIN — It was an old memory for some and a new experience for others as a train stretching two city blocks made its way into downtown Shamokin carrying approximately 500 people Thursday afternoon.

Spectators lined the sidewalks from OIP to BB&T Bank to take pictures. Some waited the arrival with their cameras while others were taken by surprise, walking through town and pulling out their cell phones to capture the sight.

As passengers filed off the train, the streets were filled with foot traffic that is typically only seen in the city during parades and special events. As people made their way to the Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club display above the Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library, many stopped to take pictures of the sign at Coney Island.

The popular Shamokin restaurant had crowds lined up out of the door as people waited for a seat at the counter to enjoy a Coney dog and a glass-bottled soda.

Sharon Wichurowski, who has been employed at Coney Island for 42 years, said some people coming in said, “I can’t believe you’re still here!”

A lunch was provided to passengers on the train, but 225 still made room for a hot dog, which is all Wichurowski said everyone ordered. The peopple loved their visit to Coney Island, telling her they couldn’t believe how fast the service was, and waving goodbye to her as they left the building.

The greatest comments to Wichurowski were from those complimenting how nice they thought it was inside. People who have visited throughout the years told her they were happy that it has been kept intact, showing her that the preservation of the building meant as much to them as it does to her and the owners.

Caboose co-conductor Kyle Schu, of Kulpmont, had gotten to know some of the people riding in his car. He had one passenger from the Catskills in New York and one woman who had never ridden on a train before, and said they were all excited to be on the trip.

The private excursion was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society, Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum and the Reading Railroad Technical and Historical Society, and took train and history enthusiasts from Sunbury to the Route 54 crossing in Mount Carmel Township.

Teen impressed

Passengers were dropped off at the former location of the Reading passenger station on Independence Street during a two-hour stop in Shamokin on its return trip.

Passengers were able to walk around the downtown and visit the model train museum, where they were provided a railroad history lesson from club members as they made their way through the display.

Joshua Shaw stood out among the crowd as one of the younger people in attendance. The 13-year-old train enthusiast made the trip from the Philadelphia area with his father.

“I have a love of trains and my parents saw this excursion from the railroad museum in Stroudsburg, so they signed me up and I came along,” he said.

It wasn’t his first time riding a locomotive. After seeing a video 10 years ago, his passion for trains went full speed ahead.

Shaw said he is a model train collector and had seen large displays before, but none like the one in Shamokin.

“It’s impressive how it models history. I’ve seen a lot of them, but I’ve never seen one that models its town’s history so closely,” said Shaw.

David Bucher, of Downingtown, commented on the uniqueness of the display as well. As a model railroader, he said he found the display to be impressive and he learned a lot of history through his tour.

He said he was having a great day riding the rail line and stopping in Shamokin, a city he’s never seen before.

“It was a great way to show off the club and the town and the railroad,” he said.

Mayor William Milbrand assisted the train crew during the trip and welcomed them to Shamokin over a public address system, wishing them a friendly experience and recommending some of the local businesses, including Coney Island, OIP, Ale House Bar and Grill and stop at Chillers for some ice cream.

Speaking to the visitors as they left, Milbrand said their reaction was fantastic.

“The people thought our town was very clean and they were very impressed by the police. They thought it was wonderful that the police officers themselves came out and helped put the barricades up,” he said.

Milbrand would love for trains to visit from other areas to bring people into Shamokin more regularly. He said he's been striving to bring more people into the city to know that it is alive and well. He also believes that the more people who come into town will create more enthusiasm and potentially bring in entrepreneurs who will open shops.

The mayor hopes to have another excursion enter into Shamokin again, but this time have a street festival planned to allow visitors to experience the culture of the area from, food to polka.

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