Pennsylvania is the state where the United States of America officially became an independent nation. It also has the chocolate capital of the world. (In case you are wondering, that is Hershey, the home of Milton Hershey. It is a suburb of the state capital, Harrisburg.) It is a state of many factory towns. It is also the home of anthracite coal. With coal comes coal mines. The town of Ashland was one of these mine towns until the local mine closed. Well, it is closed to those who mine anthracite coal, but it is open to those who want to take a tour of an old mine.
Welcome to the Pioneer Mine Tunnel and Steam Train in Ashland, Pennsylvania.
Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute. Mine tunnel and steam train?”
Ladies and gentlemen, if you are a rail fan, this place is the place for you. As you enter, you see an old mine train next to the parking lot. You walk over to what looks like an old office. This is the actual gift shop, snack bar and the place where you pay your admission. You have a little time, so you walk around. You get a closer look at that large chunk of anthracite coal. Then you have the coal car full of, of course, coal. You step into the short locomotive.
Then, it is time. You step onto the mine train. The mine train hauled coal and people, but today, it is hauling people. Where? You are going into the mine. No, you are not mining. You are on a tour. As you ride the train into the mine, you first experience… that the train ride is not smooth. It was not smooth during the days when the mine was active. By the way, you are only riding for the tour. The miners did this daily. What the miners did not have is a tour guide explaining everything along the way. When you stop at a vein of coal, the tour guide explains about the vein and how it is dug out. The miners on the other hand had to get off and work. You continue deeper into the mine until you reach the end of the track. You get off the train, and the tour guide walks you through the mine. You see the different places where the miners worked. You imagine the life they had and the dangers and difficulties they went through. You even get to set off some explosives. Worry not. The tour guides have everything set in place to keep you safe from the blast. The tour comes to an end, and you must take the not-so-comfy train ride out of the mine and to the outside. So, you are at the end of the tour.
Remember. It is called the Pioneer Mine Tunnel and Steam Train, and it is called that for a reason. You did the mine tunnel. Not it is time to do the steam train.
You begin on the great journey to the steam train. How long is this great journey? This great journey is about… twenty feet or six meters. Right in front of you is Locomotive Number 1 Henry Clay, a steam locomotive. The train runs on a track that is wider than a narrow gauge but narrower than the standard gauge most trains run on today. You board the train, and you sit back and enjoy a very scenic ride up the mountain. You reach the top, and the tour guide shows you other mining locations, and he tells you how the train transported the coal down the mountain. While there, you take in the great view from the overlook. Unfortunately, your time on top of this mountain comes to an end, and you take the train ride back down.
Now the tour of the Pioneer Mine Tunnel and Steam Train is over. Well, not exactly.
You may be finished with the mine tour and the steam train ride, bit just down the hill is the Museum of Anthracite Mining.
Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute. I rode on a mine train and a steam train. This place has no trains. Therefore, I will bypass this museum.”
It would be wise not to bypass this museum. Why? It tells the story of anthracite mining and how the coal is use in industry and in modern technology. The story includes how the railroad plays a major part of the coal industry. Although the railroad still passes southeast of the town, it no longer stops here.
Some of you are saying, “I am glad that you said that. Otherwise, I would have just driven past the museum. I see how why the town is called Ashland from all those ashes you get from the coal.”
That is a great observation as Ashland was a mining town. However, you are wrong. The name is derived from Henry Clay’s estate in Lexington, Kentucky. As you noticed, the name of the steam locomotive is ‘Henry Clay’ in honor of the man whose home is the name of the town. Ashland is also the home of the Mother’s Memorial which honors mothers.
Just north of Ashland is another former mining town called Centralia. What is special about Centralia? As you drive through, you will get an eerie feeling. You will find very few structures and a few houses. These empty lots were once a thriving mining town. Things tragically changed in 1962 when an accident caused a fire in the mine. That fire is still burning today making the town uninhabitable. Many attempts to put out the fire have failed. The few homes that remain are residents who have lived in the town when the fires began, and the government is awaiting the passing of the residents before claiming the property. Please note that if you do want to visit the town, you will want to observe from the seat of your car as fumes from the fire may contain toxic gasses, and the fire will be burning for many, many years to come.
The Pioneer Mine Tunnel and Steam Train is in Ashland, Pennsylvania at 2001 Walnut Street. It is just of Center Street (Pennsylvania Route 54 / 61) and it fifteen minutes from Interstate 81. Please note that the street from Center Street to the mine is narrow and may be difficult for busses. Parking is on a gravel lot that is on a hill. The mine and train and gift shop are all in a short distance. The Museum of Anthracite Mining is down a short hill. You can get more information on the operating hours, admission, directions and to read more into the history of the mine at http://www.pioneertunnel.com/.
When you hear about Ashland, you think a great estate. You think about Henry Clay. You think about an old mining town in Pennsylvania. You think about a place where you can ride into a mine and to a mountain top all in one place.