The year was 1791 the event was the discovery of coal on Sharpe Mountain (renamed Pisgah Mountain). Life would never be the same again. In a short period of thirty years (1820) The Summit Hill-Mauch Chunk Railroad had been built by The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to haul coal from Summit Hill to waiting canal boats on the Lehigh River at Mauch Chunk (renamed Jim Thorpe).switchbackrr

The Summit Hill-Mauch Chunk Railroad was the first road built-in America using instruments and the scientific principle of never going up hill. (It was the second railroad built-in the country.) The ride from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk was all downhill. The coal cars were pulled back to Summit Hill by teams of mules who rode down the mountain in non-coal carrying cars.

The bottleneck caused by the return trip of mule hauled ‘lights’ was alleviated by the construction of stationary engine houses at the peaks of Mt Pisgah and Mt. Jefferson. Eventually, more track was laid from Panther Valley to the north of Summit Hill to haul coal from those mines and connect with the rails to the river. The grade was too steep to allow empty cars to travel straight down the mountain back to Panther Valley so a series of switch backs were created to allow the safe return of ‘lights’ to the Panther Valley Mines. This new expanded railroad was given the name Summit Hill-Mauch Chunk Switchback Railroad.

Today the railroad is known simply as The Switchback. I ventured up the lower section of the trail on a glorious sunny day. The hike began in thick woods full of Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel. Switchback2SwitchbackSwitchback5 Folks were fishing and joggers were jogging as I ascended the straight grade Switchback6  in the direction of Mauch Chunk Lake. Switchback10  I tried to imagine what this place was like when the railroad was in operation as I made the ascent then returned the way I had come. 

The construction of the Switchback was a major technological advancement which changed the way folks lived in the early 19th century. But, this railroad was only the beginning of the changes. By 1853 railroads had replaced most of the canal barges hauling coal from the mines to the cities. The Lehigh Valley Railroad was the major coal hauler in Carbon County. In 1976 The Lehigh Valley Railroad ended existence when in bankruptcy it merged into Conrail. In a time period of 156 years The country’s coal carrying railroads went from birth to non-existence. Technology replaced technology and the rate of change is increasing more rapidly each day.

Are some technological changes not good for us? Possibly! My Mother-in Law says,“These new-fangled things are causing all of our problems.” as she makes her morning coffee on her Keurig coffee maker.  Much of what we take for granted today is due to technological advances which I’m pretty sure we do not want to give up (Not even my Mother-in-Law.) My guess is we do not want to give up toilets, running water, cell phones, computers, electricity, GPS or air conditioning to name a few. If you believe life will be better by going back, you will be greatly disappointed. England has just made a serious mistake thinking they can ‘get back’ their country by leaving the European Union. I hope we in the United States do not make a similar decision. We can not go back. The technological train into the future is on the fast track and we cannot turn it around.

My sister, Linda, sent me some great stuff about technology and the changes it is bringing which illustrates my point. I do not know the source of the information but let me share, with you, just one thought from my sisters email. “3D printing: switchback3D  The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies (I only found three companies currently 3D printing.) started 3D printing shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D printed in remote airports. (So far only cabin parts are being 3D printed.) The space station switchbackstnow has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to have in the past. (Check out Made in Space out of Singularity University) At the end of this year, new smartphones will have 3D scanning possibilities. (Check out OLO on Kickstarter.)You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they already 3D printed a complete 6-story office building. (The Chinese have 3D printed several buildings using a modular process with the individual pieces being 3D printed then put together.) switchbackbldg  By 2027 10% of everything being produced will be 3D printed.”

There are many among us who believe we were better off in the past. These folks would have us believe the past has some magical ingredient that will make everything better. That is simply untrue and impossible to recreate. We cannot stop progress any more than we can stop the sun from coming up tomorrow. Life can never be the same as it was again. We can’t go back!

Moving right along-see you next time.