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The Perkiomen Line Through the Eyes of a Father and Son
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2014-11-05

Robin Held of Allentown climbs aboard East Penn Railways' recently refurbished GP-18 locomotive, which now operates on the former Perkiomen Branch of the Reading. Held took his last trip on the line on October 29, retiring after working 26 years in railroading.

        Those of us who remember the soothing effect of the clickety-clack sounds of the trains passing through the Upper Perkiomen Valley can reminisce about the days the "iron horse" ruled the way freight, and even passengers, traveled from one point to another around here. 

        But recently retired railroad engineer Robin Held got to see and experience a ride on the Perkiomen Line from a whole different perspective.

        Held officially retired last Saturday from East Penn Railroad where he's worked for the last three years.  His official time working on different railroads spanned 26 years.  Two bum knees greet him on his retirement, but a lifetime of memories behind the throttle help to ease the pain.

        Construction on the Perkiomen Railroad saw the tracks inch their way from Perkiomen Junction south of Collegeville, to Emmaus Junction in the Lehigh Valley from 1868 to 1874.  After Perkiomen, the railroad became the Perkiomen-Reading Railroad, then the Reading took over the line until the mid-1970's followed by a host of smaller railroad companies up to present-day operators, East Penn Railroad.

        The railroad left the Upper Perkiomen Valley the same way it came; in stages.  Passenger service on the Perkiomen Railroad officially ended on July 11, 1955.  Freight service continued until the mid-1960's.  The line was abandoned between Collegeville and Green Lane in 1973.  A few years later the railroad line was abandoned to Eighth Street in Pennsburg, and eventually to Fourth Street.  A freight line still operates from Pennsburg to Emmaus.

        The brief history lesson of the Perkiomen line is important because, when I asked Held why he became a railroad worker, his answer was simple; "because my father was."  

        Not only was "Pop" a former railroad man, he too worked on the Perkiomen Line.  It opened a whole new opportunity to share information when he told me that his father, Winfield Held, was just 18 days shy of celebrating his 100th birthday and that I could talk to him.

        Robin Held, who is a resident of Allentown, met me at the Cedarbrook community, just outside of Allentown, where we visited with his father.

        Like any true railroader, Winfield' Held's eyes lit up when talking about the golden days of the Perkiomen Line.  I asked him why he started working on the railroad and he told me that "his father worked on the railroad."  Not only that, but the elder Held has a grandson working on the railroad too – that's four generations.  For good measure, Robin added that he has "four uncles and one cousin working on the railroad as well."   

        Winfield started working for the railroad in 1942 as a fireman and later as the engineer.  When asked what his favorite engine to pilot from Perkiomen to Emmaus Junctions, he was quick to answer with Reading's T1 2100 model rebuilt and upgraded to a 2900, 4-8-4 steam engine."  Robin's first railroad experience was a ride with his father on the railroad to deliver carloads of building materials to what is now the State Correctional Institute at Graterford.

        I asked Robin about his favorite train to operate and he said, "They were all pretty much the same to me but a favorite was "EMD's (Electro-Motive Diesel) before they became part of General Motors."

        The chat with the father-son combo was a delight for this model train buff until I was blown away when Robin told me that he had over 200 engines and 2,000 railroad cars as part of his layout that "takes up the whole attic."

        Winfield reminded me that back in the day, "Reading operated more than 1,300 miles of track in eastern Pennsylvania."  In addition to freight, coal cars loaded with Pennsylvania anthracite rumbled through the area; sometimes with as many as 80 cars behind the engine.  Robin told me that the most you'll see today is 18. 

        Both father and son shared their respect for the beauty of the Perkiomen Line from the "slow 'S' curves that led you out of town to the beauty of the trees near the Dillingersville Tunnel."

        Neither Robin nor Winfield had any bad memories to share.  To railroad enthusiasts, that's easy to understand.

        To Robin, best of luck in your well-earned retirement and to Winfield, a happy, happy 100th birthday!


 

 

 

 

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