Passengers settle into Colebrookdale Railroad's opulent passenger cars for a two-hour trip to an era of bygone opulence.
The nonprofit railroad recreates the style and refinement of travel during the Edwardian era, 1901 to 1910, and the pre-World War I years, said Nathaniel C. Guest, executive director.
“During the period that is sometimes called the Titanic era, the baseline (traveling) class had hallmarks of elegance that we don’t see today," Guest said. "Even when riding in coach, it was more elegant with more attention to detail and a higher quality of service than in later years."
The trip through the forested countryside of Berks and Montgomery counties from Boyertown to Pottstown and back takes riders through the Secret Valley, scene of the first iron industry in the U.S., Guest said.
Excursions are continuing with social distancing and other mitigation efforts in place.
The railroad has much to teach, and the lessons go beyond the aesthetics of the gleaning brass, art glass and polished mahogany trim in the exclusive parlor car.
“There are lessons about class, equality, labor, workers’ and women’s rights, environmentalism and the place of persons of color in history,” Guest said.
By the start of the 20th century, the U.S. was well established as an industrialized nation. Huge corporations, financial institutions and transportation networks propelled a new class of ultra-wealthy business tycoons to power.
At the same time, industrial growth was transforming American society. Laborers poured into cities from rural farms, organizing in factories and fighting, along with women, for their rights and a place in politics.
It also was a time of great technological advancement with thousands of new inventions, including the telephone, electric power and new production methods.
“There are important lessons of history and of the future that the Colebrookdale Railroad can teach,” Guest said. “Over the past six years, we built the experience to be recreational, enjoyable and educational.”
Earlier this month, the railroad received donations of $15,000 from J.P. Mascaro & Sons and $2,500 from Ambler Savings Bank for student education initiatives.
Made through the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, such donations allow students to participate in the railroad’s educational excursion program at no cost to the students or school districts.
“We are proud to support the Colebrookdale Railroad year after year because of their commitment to the community and children’s education,” said Bonnie Eckenrode, Ambler Savings Bank Bally Branch Manager.
J. P. Mascaro & Sons announced in a release that the company “has always and continues to provide a long and deeply-rooted history of quietly and substantially supporting a broad array of community programs, events and organizations.”
“As a family business, the company views such support as a corporate responsibility and as being consistent with its philosophy of operating as Your Friend in the Community.”
J. P. Mascaro & Sons is particularly proud of its company-initiated RESPECT Program which each year is presented in schools to more than 50,000 elementary school children. As part of that program and others, Mascaro has made a 10-million-dollar commitment to education over the next five years.
“The train cars look beautiful! I truly mean it when I say it is the most anticipated excursion of our year,” wrote Lindsay Ptaszenski EIO. “The railbikes and education site are such exciting new additions! Thank you to you and all of your staff and volunteers for the wonderful work you do.”
Guest said plans for a dedicated Educational Center also are underway. The center will enable the railroad to expand its art, history, science, technology, engineering and math education programs.
Other plans to expand the attraction, include the pioneer Railbike Explorers Program, he said. The pedal-powered rail vehicles will provide those of all abilities access to the nature and history of the Secret Valley.
“Donations like the ones from Ambler Savings Bank and J.P. Mascaro & Sons make it possible to continue providing STEM learning experiences and history lessons that many children may not get otherwise,” Guest said.