Allentown & Auburn Railroad’s Santa Train Rides in Kutztown sold out this holiday season, with the final weekend rides Dec. 21 and 22 completely full, even the spare caboose.
“We had a really good year this year. All of our trips have been sold out,” said Allentown & Auburn Railroad President Mike Bast. “It’s fun for the kids. Santa comes out and visits with them and Mrs. Claus is with us this year, along with some elves… they enjoy it immensely.”
Families visited with Santa and Mrs. Claus during their train ride from the Kutztown Train Station on Railroad Street to the Allentown & Auburn Railroad’s train yard in Topton.
“It’s great talking to all of the kids and finding out about what they want for Christmas,” said Santa during his visit in a caboose.
“They get to enjoy the local culture as well as learn about the train,” added Mrs. Claus. “We like that Santa can spend time with each child; none of them get overlooked. It’s a good time.”
“Merry Christmas!” said Santa and Mrs. Claus as they waved farewell, heading out to greet more families on the train.
Then, during a stop at the railroad’s picnic grove, there was an opportunity for pictures with the duo from the North Pole and a chance to warm up by a campfire to the sounds of holiday music playing on a speaker. The picnic grove was lit up with white Christmas lights adding a sprinkle of Christmas magic to the setting before heading back to the Kutztown Train Station.
“It’s a neat way to connect with the past,” said Bast.
Jan. 10, 1870, the first trains left Kutztown. This coming year, 2020, marks the 150th anniversary.
During the Industrial Revolution, there were many businesses in Kutztown that depended on the railroad, including the foundry, three shoe factories, two knitting mills, two print houses, two grain mills, a lumber yard, and two coal yards.
“They all used the railroad at one time,” said Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel, a train enthusiast. “Plus, people could get tickets at the Kutztown Train Station and go anywhere in the United States by train. They would go to Topton and change trains to head west, or stay on the train into Allentown and change trains to get to New York or up to New England.”
The 150th Anniversary of Passenger Service train rides on Jan. 10 and 11 will celebrate the anniversary: Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m. train ride followed by light refreshments and Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. Doodlebug ride, followed by a noon lunch presentation, and a 2 p.m. train ride. For tickets and more information visit www.allentownandauburnrr.com.
“I think the Allentown & Auburn Railroad is a super asset for the Borough of Kutztown,” said Schlegel. “It brings people from all over to enjoy Kutztown. Not only do they ride the train, they go into the shops and they eat here. They just get to enjoy the Borough of Kutztown.”
Schlegel noted that in addition to the tourist events, the Allentown & Auburn Railroad is beginning to bring back freight trains. A local farmer unloads organic grain from the train onto trucks and transports to a feed mill on Long Long and that organic feed is sold to organic cattle farmers. Also, train car loads of clay from Tennessee are delivered to Kutztown and transferred to trucks for transportation to a company in Trexlertown.
“The railroad does have a new purpose,” said Schlegel.
Families could continue their train experience in Kutztown by going to see the free H-O Train Display at the Kutztown Historical Society’s 1892 School Building and Museum at the corner of Normal Avenue and Whiteoak Street.
The display is open Sundays 1 to 3 p.m. the middle of November to January, with the final date on Jan. 19. The train display features Kutztown-area history.
“Since the early 1900s, model trains have always been a part of the Christmas celebration and it’s just been expanded upon over the years,” said Schlegel, who is also a volunteer at the Historical Society. “There’s many people who never grow up and are still kids at heart and still want to do stuff like this.”
Model railroading involves skills like electrical work, carpentry, and artistry. He pulled back a black curtain to reveal the model train workshop, where much of the work happens on the scenery and the trains.
“It’s an all-around hobby for many different interests, but in the end you have something really neat like this,” said Schlegel.
Schlegel, who was a conductor for the Blue Mountain and Reading Railroad until the early 1990s, was on the team who built the model train display 10 years ago. Others on the team included Bill Manweller, Malcolm Eidel, and George Bryde. The landscape painting on one of the walls is by Sara Stahl for her Brandywine Heights senior project in 2010.
“I come here because I enjoy doing it,” said Schlege. “As for the historical society, local history is always fascinating and people are always asking me about the history of Kutztown so I guess that makes me a bit of a local historian.”
Andy Schlegel (Jim’s son) operates the trains.
“It’s just fun,” said Andy, wearing a big smile. “You’re in control of everything… make the trains go backwards by the push of a button. It’s just great seeing a bunch of smiling faces.”
Among the smiling faces to was Virginville native Chris Skipper and his son, Turck, age 1, and his mother Connie, who all traveled from New York to visit Kutztown.
“This is our first time here. We love the whole setup,” said Chris. “It’s fantastic. And it’s neat that the kids can interact with everything by pushing the buttons. It’s great.”