As a follow-up to a speech given in October at the Waymart Historical Society about the D&H Gravity Railroad by local historian John Revak, a group of hikers recently explored one of the most famous spots on the railroad.
Following the upper portion of the old Gravity Railroad bed, the group hiked to the site of the famous Shepherd's Crook. The walk was hosted by Michael Yavorosky, a retired history teacher, who, along with his wife, is owner of the nearby Panther Creek Private Wild Plant Sanctuary.
The Shepherd's Crook near Panther's Bluff was a place where the railroad took riders on a nearly 360 degree curve. Other railroads typically had a horseshoe curve to help trains navigate a steep ascent or descent, but the D&H Gravity Railroad had a curve resembling a sheepherder's staff.
Historical sources state that the curve was so extreme that passengers on the railroad often assumed the portion of the curve that was visible below them was a completely different track until the train they were riding on emerged from the rock cut at Shepherd's Crook.
The Gravity railroad was constructed to transport coal 16 miles from Carbondale to Honesdale. The coal was then loaded onto barges on the D&H canal and carried over 100 miles to the Hudson River Valley and markets throughout the northeastern part of the county.
Construction of the narrow-gauge railroad was complete in 1829, and in subsequent years additional track was added south to Archbald, then Olyphant, and eventually to Scranton, where the train cars were hauled by steam locomotives rather than moved by gravity through a system of planes and curves.
The D&H reconfigured the tracks in the late 1860's and at that time they added the Shepherd's Crook on the mountain above Simpson. Passenger service between Carbondale and Honesdale began in 1877. The railroad switched a standard-gauge track and steam powered locomotives in 1899.
Excursions on the Gravity Railroad, with a picnic on Farview Mountain and a stroll to the observation tower on nearby High Knob, became a popular tourist attraction. The D&H ceased operations on the line in 1931.