Woodsman’s Ode

to the


Poet/woodsman Jeff Wartluft reads his poem Switchback Fever while sitting on a replica Switchback car at Mauch Chunk Lake Park. Wartluft says his 13-year-old Dalmatian beagle, Domino, likes poetry.

The Switchback inspires a forester/poet who loves history

“I’m excited about the fascinating history of the Switchback,” said Jeff Wartluft of Lehighton. “It made me want to write a poem.”

“I would have loved to have ridden the Switchback Gravity Railroad when it was operating, but obviously, I can’t do that now,” he continued. Wartluft is currently Treasurer of the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation.

Wartluft noted that the Foundation has worked for many years to keep alive America’s first significant railroad that was created in 1827 to link the Great Coal Mine in Summit Hill to the Lehigh River Navigation System at Mauch Chunk, current Jim Thorpe. The Switchback, actually a nickname for the Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill Railroad that later used switchbacks to descend into the Panther Valley mines, ran for over a century until it was sold for scrap during the Depression.

From its beginnings, the Switchback served as both a coal transport railroad—the first in the nation—but also as a tourist railroad. People marveled at this downhill-by-gravity railroad reaching speeds of nearly 50 mph for hour before discharging at Mauch Chunk and then, being pulled back uphill by a team of mules.

In 1843, steam engines were located on the summits of Mount Pisgah and Mount Jefferson to pull the empty cars to the top of the mountain where they could return to the mine by a system that is credited with being the first roller coaster in the US. In 1873, the Switchback ceased coal operations and concentrated on becoming the most popular made-made tourist destination in America.

Since its formation, the Foundation has helped maintain the Switchback right-of-way as a trail, worked to reduce erosion on the Mount Pisgah Plane, placed interpretive signs, and issued books and videos.

The Foundation is currently working with the National Park Service and the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor in a feasibility study of the Mount Pisgah Plane—where the remains of the Engine House, cistern and trestle foundations are still visible.

Wartluft, a consulting forester, canoeist and outdoorsman, began writing light poetry in 2000 while on a schooner trip in Penobscot Bay, Maine. “I enjoyed the trip, and while we were on board, I wrote the poem,” he said. “The last night when we got together to tell jokes and sing, I read the poem and everyone thought it was really neat.”

Since then, Wartluft has written poems to celebrate graduations and for dinner meetings of his paddling group, the Lehigh Valley Canoe Club

He is especially drawn to the Switchback because of its history and “knowing that it went through the woods makes it extra nice.”

For more information about the Foundation, see HYPERLINK "https://switchbackgravityrr.org" switchbackgravityrr.org, or call: 570-325-8255.


Switchback Fever
by Jeff Wartluft

In 1827, Josiah and Erskine opened a coal road called the Switchback,
moving black diamonds to market along a constant downhill track.

A renewable energy called gravity was the motive force used,
for the hilltop mines and riverside canal to be fused.

For people and donkeys alike, the 9-mile ride was a thrill,
but then the donkeys had to pull the empties back up the hill.

Some might say the dining car was initiated then,
for the donkeys were fed in their downhill rushing pen.

Critical link it was for the industrial revolution,
the Switchback helped provide the energy solution.

From the git-go people felt riding the Switchback was fun,
one of the best darn amusements under the sun.

For the Switchback to keep up with increasing demand,
White and Hazard added two planes and a loop to the land.

The planes via stationary steam engine and Barney car,
pushed the coal empties and passengers up the mountains so far.

Then by gravity they returned to Summit Hill depot and mine,
from whence on the downtrack to Mauch Chunk they did whine.

Now with the loop of 1842 trains ran any time of day,
allowing the line with cargo and passengers to pay.

In the 1870s coal went to market by more direct measure,
so the Switchback became a line for commuters and pleasure.

Second only in popularity to the great Niagara cascade,
in the 1880s and 90s it’s heyday the multitudes made.

Exciting they say it was, whizzing past hill and holler,
this 18-mile roller coaster cost just one dollar.

Eventually along came the depression and the automobile,
after 105 years, the Switchback’s life they did steal.

Since 1975 it’s been tagged a National Historic Landmark,
and the Switchback is now a Carbon County park.

From 1987 the Switchback Gravity Railroad Foundation,
is trying to interpret history for popular admiration.

The current effort is a feasibility study on Pisgah Mount,
striving to share this fascinating history to full account.

So catch the Switchback fever and climb aboard,
‘twould be a shame for this history to be ignored.