We all have our hobbies. Mine writes about history. I know others. They are passionate. Like Betty Davis of Wrightstown, who collects historic Bucks County postcards, and Neil Wood of Levittown, whose inspiration is the history of the railroad.
Lately I’ve been in contact with Chuck Denlinger from Downingtown who reacted to my story of George Scott from Bucks County driving the famous John Bull locomotive on its last full run, passing Bucks on his way to Chicago as the star attraction of the 1893 world fair.
The locomotive, built in England in 1831 and shipped to Philadelphia on a sailboat, was one of the first steam locomotives to operate in the United States. The Pennsylvania Railroad carefully maintained and preserved the engine in Bordentown, New Jersey.
History of the railway:The last race of the John Bull, the world’s oldest working steam locomotive
Eventually it ended up at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC On John Bull’s 150th birthday in 1981, the museum lit the locomotive’s boiler and fed it along the Potomac River, making it the oldest operational steam locomotive in the world. Here is Chuck’s story about that day:
âYour article (published March 15) on George Scott was interesting. It brought back fond memories of a special day to me.
âMy connection to John Bull is that I was present for his operation on September 15, 1981. I had the idea of ââcreating a commemorative envelope for the event and after having discussed with Mr. John White, the engineer of this trip, I arranged for the envelopes to be carried on the train. Better yet, Mr. White invited us to go up on the âpress runâ (before the ceremonial run) to carry the envelopes. After the ride, I went to the Smithsonian post office and the envelopes were canceled while I waited. Back at the park, I went to the crew to get some signatures, ending with each of the crew having an envelope and exchanging signatures as keepsakes. Many were sold on the spot and all were transported behind the John Bull that day.
âAt the end of the day they released John Bull (no parking brake) and he went up the track. We hopped in our car to do the rail fans’ ritual of âchasing the locomotiveâ. A journey not lost. Somewhere in Georgetown it started to rain and the tracks on the street got slippery.
âThe John Bull couldn’t pull the coach, so it was decoupled and moved on. On many vehicles, fans leaked and we kept pushing the coach down the street until a tow truck is coming in. We caught up with the locomotive and a warehouse saw the fire slowly go out, I have beside me a piece of charcoal from John Bull’s last fire.
“I met crew member Bill Withuhn who left the Smithsonian to go to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. There he and Ben Stine relaunched the aftershock to operate on the Strasburg Railroad. Thank you for relaunching these. events that I had not relived for decades. â
‘The Bristol Stomp’ was immortal
In early April, I heard Gwen Shrift, former colleague and editor of the Bucks County Courier Times, talk about the mural being mounted in Bristol to commemorate the ‘Bristol Stomp’. The dance created by local teens at the Goodwill Fire House made the town famous in the 1960s (column published March 29).
Remember the ‘Stomp’:New mural will celebrate the song that put Bristol on the map
“I couldn’t help but respond to your column after reading Al Barnes’ reminiscence of the sheer physical power of the Stomp when performed en masse at the fire station,” Gwen began.
âWallflower heaven in the crowded dances of Bishop Conwell High School was the cafeteria. Directly under the gym and open for cold sodas and respite from the hot, blocked, noisy dance floor. When they played âThe Bristol Stompâ upstairs, it was like sitting in a giant drum being beaten by a thousand children. I mean, it rocked the ceiling; he shook the air himself. On the dance floor, he embodied what has been called the âyouth quakeâ of the 1960s. It was the baby-boom-boom-boom-boom in action.
âNow that was in the last two years of the ’60s. The Dovells and their ilk were cold mash on the radio then, but’ The Bristol Stomp ‘was immortal. Jimi Hendrix himself could have walked on stage with his guitar on fire and if the kids were Bristol Stomping no one would have noticed.
âI hope if they can muster enough Baby Boomers with the right knees and feet, Bristol will dedicate a new mural to them with a Stompfest, and they’ll dance in a storm.
They did it. The bank parking lot became a tarmac dance floor on Old Route 13 on April 27 with the unveiling of the mural on the wall of William Penn Bank. It gave just enough room for wallflowers to look at and locals from another era to show off the dance steps they made famous around the world.
Let’s do the Stomp:Borough celebrates ‘Bristol Stomp’ mural with good times
Carl LaVO can be reached at [email protected]