Mike Bednar, left, and Mike Creedon of Old Forge inspect their power at Falling Springs at the west end of Coxton yards. Below, the covers of two of Bednar’s nine books on railroads.
As a kid Mike Bednar, 63, of Whitehall, loved trains. As an adult he worked for the Lehigh Valley and the Reading & Northern Railroads for over 40 years. And as of today he is the author of nine railroading books.
On Nov. 5 he was at the Jenkins Township Hose Company for a slideshow and discussion attended by 100 local “railfans,” as railroad enthusiasts are called.
Why did he come here for the presentation?
Because the Pittston area, and especially the Coxton Yard, was a hotbed of Lehigh Valley Railroad activity. Consequently, Bednar’s books are peppered with stories and photos of Pittston area railroad scenes, engines and employees.
“It started with mining,” he said of the rail activity at Coxton. “All the coal that came out of Wyoming Valley was classified at Coxton Yard. It was a major classification yard until mid-‘60s when mining died out. The network of branches that ran out of Coxton was very extensive.”
Classification of coal meant it was at Coxton where coal was weighed and designated for destinations.
Bednar said he initially got interested in Coxton when he worked in Lehighton. “I used to work the Lehighton Tower and the Coxton crews hung out in the tower while laying over and talked about the operation in Coxton.”
Intrigued by the stories, in the ‘60s he visited the area two to three times a month to take pictures and meet railroaders face-to-face. “Everybody knew each other by phone,” he said. “I talked to train dispatchers at every office and tower and would always want to meet them.”
That’s what makes Bednar’s books unique among railroad books – people.
While most railroad books are filled with engine action and scenery, Bednar’s books are more about people. “There are scenes and engines in my books, too, but I concentrate on the people that ran the railroad.”
He said the LLVR was perfect for people books. “The LVRR was unique in that it was one big brotherhood from Buffalo to New York City. It was like a big family and that’s what I write about.”
But railroad books about people weren’t an easy sell to publishers. “Nobody wanted to put people pictures in railroad books.”
Yet he was determined.
“All these emotions ran through my head from hanging out with railroad friends and going to slideshows. Then Bill Kuehner, proprietor of Garrigues House in Laurys Station, said I should write a book about the LVRR men and what it was. The emotions were there and the time was right.”
His latest book, Lehigh Valley – 5 In Color, was released by Morning Sun Books on Nov 1. The book covers the Lehigh Valley from the end of World War II to the end of the Lehigh Valley in the late 1970s, when it was taken over by Conrail, which was in turn absorbed by Norfolk Southern.
When the Reading & Northern took over what was left of the LVRR in 1991 Bednar hired out with R&N. In 1996 he was the engineer on a regular run from Lehighton to the Procter and Gamble Plant in Mehoopany.
Many of the photos in his books are his own, but Bednar also includes photos loaned to him by railfan legends, the late Ed Miller and West Pittston resident Bill Ellis.
Bednar writes by hand on legal sheets. His wife, Donna, types the manuscripts.
Bednar writes a quarterly article for the full-color, national scope TRP (The Railroad Press) magazine. He is also treasurer of the Lehigh Valley Veteran’s Association and is editor of its quarterly newsletter.
Here’s a sampling of just some of the local men, some living some dead, in Bednar’s books: Joe Connors and Bimmer Donahue and his son Jim from Sebastopol; Arnold Embleton, Inkerman; Frank Krempa, Ray Donahue, Paul Doyle, Marty Quinn, and George Dructor Sr. and Jr., Junction; Bob Clark, Port Griffith; Tom Maughan, Pittston; Dan Bidwell and his father, Dan Sr.; Andy Thomas, West Wyoming; and Dave Hergan, Wyoming.
Bednar’s nine books are:
The Lehigh Valley Railroad the New York Division (Garrigues House)
Anthracite Rebirth; the Story of the Reading & Northern (Garrigues House)
The Lehigh Valley Railroad the Wyoming and Buffalo Divisions by Mike Bednar (Garrigues House)
LV Facilities New York Division (Morning Sun Books)
LV Facilities Wyoming Division (Morning Sun Books)
LV Facilities Buffalo Division (Morning Sun Books)
Railroaders in the Lehigh River Valley (The Railroad Press)
Alcos in Autumn (The Railroad Press)
LV in Color - 5 In Color (Morning Sun Books)
The books are available from the publishers at garrigueshouse.com, morningsunbooks.com and trpmagazine.com or at amazon.com.