When I was a little kid, we would drive to see my aunt and uncle way out in Ambler PA. It was a boring ride. Nothing to see but occasional houses and farms. And a horse and a duck here and there.
I knew when we were leaving anything interesting when we passed the Huntingdon Valley train stop on Welsh Road. Once you crossed the tracks, that was it. Sticksville all the way.
The train stopped running in 1983. We can thank SEPTA and their hatchet skills for that.
It was on those tracks, that run along the path of the Neshaminy Creek, that Geo, Dinks, and I hiked last Saturday.
The goal of our hike - the site of the 1921 Woodmont Train Wreck.
The precursor to our hike was a stop at the Bryn Athyn Post Office. Geo had to mail something and he needed stamps. As always, my little chatterbox talked to the postal employee to dig for info.
"So, how long has this building been a post office?"
"It's always been a post office since it was built."
Okay, so the Bryn Athyn rail stop was also the postal mail stop. That little nugget went right into my memory bank.
We started off at the Pennypack Preserve entrance off of Creek Road. Geo wanted to start from the post office. I told him we could drive down Creek Road to get closer to the crash site. At least I thought we could drive down Creek Road. How the heck was I supposed to know that Creek Road was part of the Reserve? It didn't look that way on my Google map. Ooops.
So we parked the truck, hopped out, threw on the backpacks, and headed down the Creek Road trail through the "spooky forest".
Thank goodness Saturday was a hellaciously gorgeous day. The outside temperature was just right for hiking. It was perfect.
We started down the trail and the real fun began.
For starters, we were on the wrong side of the creek.
"I wanted to start from the correct side at the post office, but nooooo, we had to listen to you. Smart move, babe."
He's such a pain in the butt sometimes.
"I want to go fishing!"
Dinks saw a little girl and her mother sitting on the bank of Neshaminy Creek. The little girl was holding a stick in the water; hence, she was fishing.
"Dink, we're going to see the train tracks."
"I don't want train tracks. I want fishing!"
The episode lasted for about two minutes. It was settled by Geo grabbing a stick off the ground and handing it to her. "There's your fishing pole." She seemed perfectly satisfied. I thought Geo was nuts for giving her a long whippy stick. A Dinks with a stick is so not a good combo. Thankfully, the child never used her katana on me.
We walked down to the intersection of Paper Mill and Creek Road. There was a bridge at Paper Mill that allowed us to cross over the creek to get to the train tracks. Thank goodness for that.
These tracks were so grown over it was sad. Now, on Saturday, I didn't realize how long it had been since a train had used the tracks. From the looks, you would have thought it was over 40 years, not 20. The telegraph poles all along the path were either fallen over, splitting apart, or altogether gone. The wooden ties in some areas of the track were crumbly. A lot of spikes were missing. For anyone who has a love for trains and the beauty and nostalgia railways bring, it was sad.
One thing I get a kick out of is finding dates on objects. It gives me a feel for the history behind whatever the object is. I kept looking at the rails and the plates to see if I could find a date stamp. I was 99.99% sure the rails and plates were from Bethlehem Steel Co as were most tracks in Philadelphia. But I wanted to satisfy my curiosity by finding evidence. It was my own personal quest.
We actually ran into a few people walking the tracks. The passers-by would wave and smile and give Dinks a cheery "Hello". We'd wave in kind and Dinks would prominently announce she had a fishing stick. She can be as cute as a bug's ear when the moment suites her.
Along the tracks I kept seeing these signs posted on the trees stating to not trespass on the property for there was a private hunt in progress. Oh joy. We were wearing bright colors so I didn't fear any of us being mistaken for a white-tail.
We finally reached our destination. There was no mistaking where we were. We had walked the tracks on a straightaway that lasted a few hundred yards and were approaching a bend. We were heading north so the the tracks were straight through a cut of rock, now being known as "Death Gulch", and curved immediately after the rock. Looking at it from a distance, you can almost picture the accident in your mind.
Train one heading north at 30 MPH. It blows by us and heads into the rock valley. Train two is heading south at approximately 30 MPH and is coming to the bend in the tracks. The rock creates the perfect blindspot. It turns and meets head-on with the northbound train.
They collide in a deafening, sickening twisted metal thud.
For an accident in the worst possible location, it couldn't have been timed any better. A hundred yards in either direction and the locomotives could have simply rolled and fell taking the cars with them. But they met at the center of Death Gulch. The locomotives hit and, with nowhere else to go, went straight up in the air and crushed the car directly behind them. We're talking 1921, folks. That was wood cars with stoves for heat. They were moving tinder boxes. It was reported that you could hear the accident from miles away. And there they were, flipped, crunched, and burning.
We climbed the west side of the Gulch to the top. That is to say, Geo and Dink scrambled while I gingerly walked with paranoia in each step. I didn't forget about those hunting signs.
It was eerie. The bird's eye view.
Nothing is there. No placard. No makeshift memorial. Just tracks, leaves, and the occasional beer bottle and cigarette butt, probably leftovers from some teenage get-together.
We climbed back down to the other side of the rock. Geo and I hopped on the tracks and headed back south towards at starting point.
But not Dinks. She wouldn't budge. She screamed for us to get off the tracks. We never walked on the tracks in the Gulch. We walked over the rock to the other side and now headed back on the tracks. Dinks wanted nothing to do with the Gulch. She screamed and screamed.
"Daddy! Get off the tracks! Mommy! Get off the tracks!"
We kept telling her it was okay but she walked along the side of the tracks. She refused to touch the tracks while we were in the Gulch. Finally, there were some sticker vines in her path. She couldn't move. Boy, did she wail. Geo walked over, picked her up, and carried her. She writhed and screamed and kicked the whole time while we walked out of the Gulch.
Then he put her down on the tracks just on the other side. She was fine.
Geo asked the Dinks, "Dink, why wouldn't you walk on the tracks?"
She didn't answer.
"Dink, did someone get hurt on the tracks?"
She nodded and half whispered, half said, "Yes"
"Dink, did just one person get hurt or was it a lot?"
"A lot of people got hurt."
We never told her there was an accident at that spot. I doubt she even knows the word "accident" in the sense of people getting hurt. To her, an accident is peeing your pants.
The walk back seemed a lot longer than the walk to the site. Normally that's backwards. It takes forever to get where you want to go especially when you have no clue where it is, but the journey is much shorter on the way back home. Not in this case. It could be that we had an exhausted toddler on our hands that wanted ice cream. Yeah, that's it.
As we approached the end of the tracks for us at Paper Mill bridge, I looked down and found my goal. It was a plate and it read B. S. Co. S 1923. It was in perfect condition for an 83 year old piece of steel. I found my link to history.