Article Courtesy of Carbon County Magazine, written by Al Zagofsky.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad’s Packerton Yards was its hub for coal and freight transport for over a century, and one of the largest employers in Carbon County before closing in 1976. Though gone, it is fondly remembered by many former railroad employees and their families.
Packerton Yards Remembered is bringing together these former employees, family members and historians to revisit those bygone days of Asa Packer’s Lehigh Valley Railroad yard. It will feature Lehigh Valley Railroad yardmaster, Al Feuerstein, and crew dispatcher, Ken Hurley, in a discussion moderated by Mike Bednar, a former Packerton Yards employee and author of eight books on the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Bednar will open the living history program with a 20-minute Packerton Yards slide show.
It will be held on Thursday evening Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Deaf Welcome Foundation Theater, 206 N. Sgt. Stanley Hoffman Blvd. (Rt. 209 Bypass) in Lehighton.
Packerton Yards Remembered is free and open to the public. Because of limited seating, reservations are required. The program will give priority to former Packerton Yards workers, LV Railroad workers, railroad historians and Carbon County historians. The program will encourage participation with the audience and the program will be recorded as a living history.
Refreshments will be served between an opening slide show and the discussion. The event will be videographed with the cooperation of Blue Ridge News.
“The railroad was good to me and I was good to the railroad,” said Feuerstein. “I enjoyed my work.”
Feuerstein worked as a yardmaster and a trainmaster during his over 39 years with the LVRR. He learned the LVRR’s system in Packerton, Catasauqua, Allentown, East Penn, Bethlehem, Coxton and Sayre.
“Ask not whether you will be working on the railroad; ask which railroad you would be working on,” said Feuerstein. “That was the attitude in my family’s East Mauch Chunk household when I was born in 1923.”
After service in WWII, the Lehigh Valley Railroad offered him a job as a clerk. “That’s how I started my career on the railroad,” said Feuerstein.
Feuerstein started on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. work shift at the Packerton Yards. The railroad workers didn’t have telephones—so, one of the duties of the clerk was to serve as “Call Boy” and give the workmen their morning’s assignments.
When Feuerstein started at Packerton the shops employed 200 to 300 workers—a far cry below the peak of 2,200 just before the Depression, but on a second wind of growth spurred by WWII—a growth that would not last for long.
Ken Hurley was one of the youngest workers to come out of Packerton Yards. “In 1971, I posted at Packerton,” Hurley, who was 23 years old at the time, said. “You had to know the position before you could get hired. Before the month was out, the night shift crew dispatcher took a night off. I worked it, and I became a night shift crew dispatcher.” Hurley called the crews to work, typically knocking on their bunkhouse door in Lehighton. He left when Packerton closed.
Mike Bednar worked on the LVRR as a Block Operator and a yardmaster from 1966 to when CONRAIL took over, and then also served as a dispatcher. From 1991, he worked as a Reading & Northern engineer until retiring in 2007.