The Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad
One of Pennsylvania's earliest railroad, The Mauch Chunk Railroad, commenced operations on May 5, 1827, hauling anthracite a distance of 9 miles from Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company mines at Summit Hill to to their coal chutes above the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk. The trip took loaded cars approximately one half-hour rolling downhill by gravity. Mules rode with the loaded cars and returned with the empty cars by the same route. The uphill trip required three to four hours. The novelty of the switchback railroad attracted tourist to Mauch Chunk and passengers were, subsequently, accommodated on a limited basis.
Mule power was eliminated in 1846 when a return track called the UP Track was completed. At this time the name of the railroad was changed to The Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad. Although still a gravity system, two steam driven inclined planes were required to surmount Mount Pisgah and Mount Jefferson. The return track construction incorporated an existing switchback line that ran from Summit Hill to the LC&N Panther Creek Mines. Two Panther Creek Planes, Nos. 1 and 2, became the beginning of the gravity car track unloading system at Mauch Chunk. Prior to 1850 four chutes 600' to 700' long fed coal from the railroad down to the canal boat landing.
The opening of the tunnel between Hauto and Lansford in 1872 ended the need for the gravity railroad. Up until this point all coal from Summit Hill and Panther Valley had been delivered to the Mauch Chunk canal landing and empty cars returned to the mines by the switchback railroad. Henceforth the locomotive powered Panther Creek Railroad would replace the switchback. This, however, did not end the gravity line's history
In 1874 the CNJ purchased the switchback railroad from the LC&N and leased it to Theodore L. Mumford who, with his brother H. L. Mumford, developed the property into a tourist attraction that became the inspiration for later day roller coaster rides. Around the turn-of-the-century the property came under the management of Asa P. and Alonzo Blakslee (brother-in-laws of LV founder Asa Packer). On May 24, 1929, the CNJ sold the switchback railroad properties to The Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway Company (Norman K. Putman, Asa P. Blakslee, and Charles A. Blakslee), who continued its operation until 1932 when it fell victim to the Great Depression. It was sold at mortgage foreclosure on September 2, 1937, to Isaac Weiner for $18,000 and later dismantled for its scrap value - ending an over 100-year history.
Note: Prior to the use of intertwined steel cable on the Ashley Planes (1850), the planes on both The Mauch Chunk, Summit Hill & Switchback Railroad and Ashley Planes used a double band of Swedish iron that wound itself upon two 28-feet diameter drums to pull the safety cars (barney) up the incline. The raised wooden rail with cog teeth between the two tracks in this view is a safety device peculiar to the Mt. Jefferson Plane that prevents the safety car from rolling back downhill.
All photographs on this page from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and Raymond E. Holland Collection
RETURN TO MAUCH CHUNK STATION or RETURN TO CNJ LINES IN PA