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Steamtown's Two Stories: Hardware and Humans

By Steve NashSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 17, 1989



SCRANTON, PENN.

STEAMTOWN National Historic Site may prove a joy to ``railfans,'' who are sometimes avidly preoccupied with the details of steam-era hardware. But US Park Service personnel say the exhibits will be interpreted for visitors who have only a passing interest in railroads. Trains ``basically transformed America from an agricultural nation into an industrial superpower,'' park planner William Koning says, and their impact resonated in songs and stories on much of the national culture. For example, the railroads' inability to get a coherent schedule before the public forced the adoption of standard time zones.

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``We'd like to bring the human story to light,'' he adds, with multimedia displays and performances. ``What it was like to work on a railroad, what it meant, who these people were.''

One of them was George Karabin of nearby Taylor. He worked on the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad as a laborer, machinist, fireman, and engineer for about 40 years.

The fireman's historical view of the haul over Pocono Summit, from Scranton to Hoboken, N.J., is fresh in Mr. Karabin's mind:

``You might shovel eight or nine ton of coal each direction. There were hot cinders coming out of the stack, and you kept your rear end up against the coal tender ... or you were liable to get unloaded on a curve somewhere.''

The tracks, he says, hugged the streaming walls of a gorge close enough to feel the spray.

``You'd throw a No. 6 shovelful of water over your head to cool yourself off going along the side of the mountain. It was tough, mister, believe me. At the end of the day you'd get yourself something to eat, and go right to bed.'' -30-{et