The Reading Company Technical & Historical Society (RCT&HS), was incorporated July 16, 1976 to preserve the rich history of a pioneering railroad. As an all-volunteer, non-profit, educational corporation, the RCT&HS is a repository for knowledge, artifacts, and memorabilia related to keeping alive the memory of one of America's greatest transportation institutions. Now over 30 years old, the Society is composed of about 1000 members in many areas of the USA and even abroad.
The seed for the Society was planted by Bill Witman in an advertisement he placed in the January/February 1975 issue of the Extra 2200 South Locomotive Newsmagazine. About a dozen members began meeting in a home in Reading, Pa. and started collecting Reading Company memorabilia. The group more or less adopted the Outer Station in Reading as theirs until the station was destroyed by fire in February 1978. Meetings were discontinued until Norman Rhoads of Morgantown brought the Society back to life.
The new group, which met in the former Reading Company Passenger and Freight Station in Elverson, PA, began publishing a magazine called the Bee Line. The idea for the title came from a slogan the Reading used to tout a new service offered its customers in the mid-1960s. The group also began removing Reading Company paper and photographs from the company's mechanical offices on Sixth Street in Reading. In 1982, the Society helped with restoration work on Reading equipment at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at East Strasburg. The group's first modular HO scale layout was constructed in 1983, the same year it held its first banquet to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad.
As the Society grew it worked to preserve the history of the railroad in many ways, including an archival collection of Reading Company documents, blueprints, rolling stock, equipment and locomotives. Until 1988 its collection was housed at the locomotive shops in Reading, PA. When the owners of the building wouldn’t renew the lease the collection was relocated to Leesport, PA along the Blue Mountain & Reading Railroad right-of-way. While at the shop complex, the Society’s monthly membership meetings were held in preserved MU car #863. Since the move to Leesport, the Society’s monthly meetings have been held in Grace Bible Church in Blandon. In 2001 the Society held a banquet to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Since its founding the RCT&HS has been very active in a variety of ways. It sponsored an open house at the Reading Shops September 7, 1985 to celebrate the return of former Reading T-1 steam locomotive #2102. Part of the celebration included a series of passenger excursions behind the 4-8-4 over former Reading Company rails in October, 1985. Most years since 1988 the society has operated a series of Moonlight Specials (usually three each year) over the Blue Mountain & Reading Railroad between Temple and South Hamburg using former Reading diesel locomotives for power.
The group has sponsored hikes along abandoned rights-of-way, sold Reading memorabilia at train shows, participated in parades (including the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia) with a replica of A5a steam locomotive #1176 mounted on an auto chassis, set up its HO scale modular model train layout in shopping malls and train shows throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, established a Website, sold model Reading locomotives and cars, continued to acquire an extensive collection of Reading motive power and rolling stock and maintained a museum site in Leesport, Pa. The Society continues to publish the Bee Line quarterly, a monthly newsletter called the Crusader (named in honor of the Reading’s most prestigious streamlined train), and an annual calendar with themes featuring some aspect of the Reading Railroad each year.
A bright future is in store for the Reading Company Technical & Historical Society. After a 30-year search for a permanent home, in April, 2008, the RCT&HS celebrated the grand opening of the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum in the former Pennsylvania Steel foundry complex in Hamburg, PA. The Museum provides a place where the Society's vast collection of Reading Railroad equipment, artifacts and documents can be preserved and shared with the public, and the story of how the Reading shaped the communities it served can be told.