Pioneer Tunnel #1, ‘Henry Clay’ Keeps History Alive

The coal industry was booming in the early 1900’s, especially in communities like Ashland, Pennsylvania. Located just on the outskirts of Ashland on Mahanoy Mountain, there was the Pioneer Tunnel. Owned by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, the Pioneer Tunnel was a coal-rich mine that was dug straight in the mountain and went several thousand feet underground. But to transport both the miners and anthracite coal, the company had to use a steam locomotive. To meet the company’s needs, they ordered a new locomotive, Pioneer Tunnel #1.

Pioneer Tunnel #1, known as 'Henry Clay', is a Vulcan type steam locomotive that leads passengers through the retimbered Pioneer Tunnel in Pennslyvania.
Henry Clay sits idle between trips. (Photo: James St. Johns via CC by 2.0)

A Brief History of The Henry Clay

Pioneer Tunnel #1, popular referred to as the ‘Henry Clay’, is a Vulcan-type steam locomotive with a wheel arrangement of 0-4-0T. It was built by the Henry Clay Locomotive Works in 1927 to be used on the Pioneer Tunnel. But after operating for a few years, the Pioneer Tunnel suspended operations in 1931 due to the Great Depression. And given that the tunnel’s track was a unique 42” gauge track, the locomotive found itself sidelined without a track to operate. The locomotive would remain out of operation for the next few decades.

In 1963, the Ashland community was looking for ways to preserve the history of the coal-rich region and attract tourists to the area as a way of boosting the region’s economy. As such, the Pioneer Tunnel was reopened as a tourist attraction; a place where visitors could go to learn how anthracite coal is mined. For this reason, the locomotive was restored to transport tourists on the scenic three-mile track around Mahanoy Mountain.

A close up of Pioneer Tunnel #1 (Henry Clay)
Henry Clay sits idle between trips. (Photo: James St. Johns via CC by 2.0)

Current Status

Today, a ride on the Henry Clay is an attraction in itself. Owned and operated by Ashland Community Enterprise, this unique and historic steam locomotive will give you a ride through the retimbered Pioneer Tunnel. This steam locomotive operates during weekends from May to October and on major holidays. You can visit the Pioneer Tunnel website, ride on this train, and learn more about how anthracite coal is mined.

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