Formerly known as Mauch Chunk, Jim Thorpe is a Victorian village situated in the Pocono Mountains along the Lehigh River. It's also where Asa Packer, founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, built his mansion.

But this isn't a story about our visit to Jim Thorpe PA, or Asa Packer, or the fascinating tour of his mansion, or the scenic train ride there... no, this is the story of a short diversion we took on the drive from Jim Thorpe to our hotel.

An Afternoon at Packerton Yard

November 6th, 2004

(Click on the images for the larger picture)

It was a sunny but crisp Saturday afternoon, around 3:30PM, when I saw this impressive building set off in a distance, across a set of railroad tracks. The structure looked interesting and since we had some time to kill, I pulled off the main road, crossed the tracks and drove toward it on a narrow anthracite-covered road. I parked behind the building, alongside the Lehigh River, hopped from the car, and with the kids in tow, set out to take some pictures with our Canon EOS-10S 35mm camera (Catarina stayed behind to do some reading).

We entered the front of the building through the rightmost of the three large door openings.

The first floor interior was cavernous, with sleepers (wooden railroad ties) running the length of the floor and bricks cemented in the ceiling. Most windows and all of the doors are long since gone, and the late afternoon sun illuminated the interior. That's a bathtub there in the center of the room.

In the front corners of the building were two iron stairwells that led up to the second floor. One of the kids had discovered the stairs at the far end of the building and the three of us went up. There was no guard railing so we were careful to stay close to the wall.

This is the second floor view looking through the center of the building. Unlike the cavernous first floor, large brick walls were built to split the space into various sized rooms. Notice the holes in the floor set at measured intervals (along the right hand side of the photo)... since they were large enough for the kids to fit (fall) through, I made it clear that these holes were something to avoid!

We walked the length of the second level along a metal rail set into the floor. At the far end of the building, between the kids, you can see an unguarded opening that led straight down to the ground below... yes, something else to avoid!

Another view from the second floor, this one cutting diagonally across the building. I don't know how/why those holes through the walls were made, but there wasn't enough material lying around to fill them so maybe someone just needed some brick for a project. And yeah, someone wrote my name there on the wall in red paint... oh, and I should also point out that those words in black paint to the right of my name are clearly in reference to someone named "Bill 92!"

Here's the view from the far end of the building. You can see the unguarded opening up on the second floor, and the stairwell the kids discovered through the window on the right. The two larger openings were almost certainly used to get railroad cars into and out of the building.

"A train! What great luck!!" least, that's what I thought when this slow-moving freight train arrived on the scene. This picture was taken from the center door in front of the building. On the hill behind the train, you can see the main road and some of the Fall colors still clinging to the trees. It was around 4PM now, the sun was getting low in the sky and we were just about ready to leave when...

The train STOPPED!!!

We could no longer see the engines from where we were standing, but it was very clear that this train had stopped moving! I quickly realized the problem: this train has BLOCKED our route back to the main road! And, with the Lehigh River flowing behind us, it's quite possible that WE WERE TRAPPED HERE!

Looking for another way out, we went back to the car and drove in the direction of the engines, along the tracks, on even more narrow anthracite-covered trails. We passed the engines and the road continued through the woods (with the occasional branch hitting the side of our car), whereupon we came upon a man walking his dogs with a beer in his hand. I told him of our misfortune and asked if there was another way out of here. He said "Not really. There's just a railroad bridge over the river at the far end, and there used to be a car bridge on this end but they took that down." He continued, "You might be able to drive along the river to another crossing, but that will really scratch up your car." He thoughtfully added, "then again, that train may be stopped here until Tuesday..."

Oh fine! Now I've got a carload of people ready to panic. Clearly, our next course of action was to try and find the engineer and ask how long the train would be parked here! So, I drove to the front of the train and walked across the tracks to a pair of engineers who were looking at several tank cars on a siding. I explained our situation to them and, once they stopped laughing, one said "well... we've got to hook up these tank cars and that should take about an hour and then we'll be on our way." I thanked them for the information, and headed back to the car with my "good news," I mean, one hour is a lot better than three days!!

Since we had a little more time (and daylight), I drove back past the abandoned building and past the far end of the train in the hopes of finding another crossing. No such luck, because the tracks went over this bridge. You can see our car parked in the distance (with everyone safely inside).

This is the Lehigh River, as seen from the bridge, with the sun setting behind the mountains.

It was getting dark now, so I drove back to the abandoned building and waited for this train to vacate our railroad crossing. Also, we discovered that we were not alone in our plight... a couple of fishermen in a truck had also been trapped by the train. I talked with them a bit, and told them it would be another half hour or so. They ultimately decided to leave their truck, crawl under the freight car, and walk home. Yep, that's just what I wanted the kids to see!

With nothing else to do, we took one more walk around the site. This is a 30-second exposure of the first floor. The sun has set, the rays of light that earlier filled the structure are gone, and the remaining outdoor light made for this rather ghostly photo. I like how the light enters the building uniformly through every opening and how nothing outside the room itself is visible. Oh, I also moved the bathtub for this shot!

On our walk back to the car, I heard the air brakes in the train being pressurized. I kept the kids out of the car for one more cool experience. See, when the engines start to pull forward, the slack between the cars is taken up with a loud rhythmic clanking sound, all the way from the front of the train to the back (we were in the middle). So, when the train finally lurched forward, it was accompanied by an incredible auditory sensation, one which any surround sound system would be hard-pressed to match! Very cool, especially since we were in a valley which made for a nice echo effect.

So the train started moving... but then it stopped again!! And now we had a tank car blocking our railroad crossing. I remembered there was a signal light a ways ahead of where the engines were stopped, so I figured the engineer was waiting for clearance. We drove back to the engines and, sure enough, the train was waiting at the signal light. After another 20 minutes -- it's now nearly 6PM -- the train vacated Packerton Yard and we were free to leave for our hotel!

I turned up a couple photos of Packerton Yard through the years. Packerton Yard housed the car repair shops for the Lehigh Valley Railroad from 1865 until 1972. Railroad cars (a lot of coal cars) were built and maintained at this facility.

  • A photo, from the Library of Congress adds to the story:
    Once part of an extensive complex of railroad freight car construction and repair shops. This two story steel and brick building is the only survivor. It has a steel frame with brick curt walls, flat roof built of arched bricks set on steel rails, and a full-length clerestory monitor. Two very large Ingersoll Rand air compressors stand in rooms at the south end of the building. Recently used for construction of mobile homes, it now stands empty.
  • In this undated photograph (probably from the 1940s), you can clearly see our old building as the dominant structure in the yard. The photo was probably taken from the hill where the main road leads to Jim Thorpe, PA.
  • A postcard dated to around 1900 shows that many other buildings had surrounded the one that we explored. This photograph appears to have been taken at about the same location as the previous one.
  • Finally, if you were thinking of purchasing this property, you may be too late. According to a newspaper article, Packerton Yard is in the process of being sold ($350K) to Carbon County for industrial development. If the deal goes through, I suspect this old building won't be around for much longer...
  • The End.

    April 16th, 2007

    As evidenced by this photo, it would seem that the building which played centerpiece to our little adventure was leveled circa January 2007.

    September 30th, 2016

    Nearly 12 years after our original adventure, my travels took me through Jim Thorpe again. Naturally, I had to make a stop at Packerton Yard.

    Trees and brush cover the site now. So unless you knew an impressive structure once stood here, you wouldn't give the place a second thought. However, if you press on through the weeds, you may just come across the concrete wall and ramp that once led the way into the building.

    Really The End.