WK&S railroad celebrates 50th anniversary

Item photo by Shea Singley The steam engine rides down the tracks past the crossing which did not have bars the day before, but volunteers worked hard to have them there for the 50th anniversary.

Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 30.

The railroad, used for scenic train rides, began in 1963 and is entirely managed and operated by volunteers.

Despite the rain, many made it out for the train rides, entertainment and rarely seen archives belonging to the railroad. Families new and old to WK&S celebrated the anniversary. The Allentown Hobo Almost Marching Band performed on one of the cars during train rides.

Volunteers, past and present, caught up with old friends and reminisced about their years with the railroad. Two volunteers, Wally Ely and Ronnie Klinger, have been with the railroad from day one.

“It was extremely successful in the beginning. You wouldn’t believe the line of people,” said Ely.

He recalled being on the first ride ever which was to a coal dealer in Reading and back to get coal for the steam engine.

That trip was Thursday, May 30, 1963. At that point in time the train consisted of a steam engine and two passenger cars. Though at the time it was just a field that happened to have railroad tracks and few cars as well as an engine, Ely remembers many people talking about it and there being a lot of publicity.

The success slowly went away and the railroad was closed in 1969 only to be taken over by a group of businessmen from Lehigh Valley and reopened in 1970 and has been running continuously ever since.

“It’s a great place to volunteer, a great place to spend time,” said Ely who volunteered in the ticket office. “The railroad is always looking for volunteers.”

Ely’s sons and daughter were with him for the celebration and recalled their time spent at the railroad including a memorable birthday during which the family rented the caboose.

WK&S Vice President Larry Fisher recalls wanting to move to where he could hear a train whistle, drawn to the railroad.

“It’s five minutes from my house to come here and play with the trains,” said Fisher.

Joining Fisher in speaking at the presentation ceremony were General Manager Jim Krause, President Bill Hessler, Craig Lutz for Senator David Argall and Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach as well as a written proclamation from Governor Tom Corbett.

“Thank you for preserving this railroad,” said Leinbach. “It’s absolutely amazing and I am humbled to be able to be here today.”

Speakers thanked the volunteers and credited them for the railroad reaching this anniversary.

“It is a big accomplishment in this industry,” said Krause. “I hope for 50 more.”

The railroad is always in need of volunteers and no experience is required.

“I want to thank and honor all of our past and present volunteers,” said Hessler. “We are in need of many more volunteers.”

Fisher said the future of the railroad is dependent on volunteers. Many have been with the railroad for decades and are a variety of ages. For more information on volunteering or for upcoming events visit www.kemptontrain.com.

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