Train Tracks – A Quarterly Column about STEAM learning and train education by Anthony D. Fredericks – Northern Central Railway of York

Ride along the same route that carried President Lincoln from Washington, DC to Gettysburg, PA, where he delivered one of the greatest speeches in American History!

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Train Tracks – A Quarterly Column about STEAM learning and train education by Anthony D. Fredericks

Train Tracks – A Quarterly Column about STEAM learning and train education by Anthony D. Fredericks

R is for Research

Whenever I do an author visit at an elementary school, I always devote part of my educational presentation to questions from students.  Sometimes, I get queries that are almost impossible to answer, including my favorite (courtesy of a 4th grader in Lexington, SC) – “You look kinda old!  How come you’re still writing children’s books?”

Inevitably, a student will ask, “How long does it take to write a children’s book?”  My typical answer is that it takes anywhere between one to two years to craft a 32-page children’s book.  With that response, students stare at me as though I might be some alien creature or, at the very least, the slowest author in the Western Hemisphere.  “OMG,” they’re thinking to themselves, “I can write a story in 30 minutes, why does it take him soooo long?”

I explain that a typical book manuscript will go through about 25-30 drafts before I send in to a publisher.  It must be checked for grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and interest.  Every word must be “pitch-perfect” and every sentence must be rich in both detail and consequence.  Drafting and editing for education are long (and necessary) processes for a book that will capture the hearts and minds of its intended audience.

But, the one factor that consumes the most time is research, particularly for STEAM learning, education and train related topics. As an author, I may not have sufficient background in a proposed topic and, thus, must seek out the information that will ensure every line is scientifically precise or historically accurate.  Checking facts, consulting with experts, digging into documents, and perusing books and journals are all critical to the eventual acceptance (and success) of a compelling story.

And, so, when I began to craft NCRs new children’s book – “All Aboard” Starts with A – I knew I had to do my homework even more because there was STEAM learning and train education involved.  Although I had some education of the railway, it was superficial at best.  I had to dig deeper, read broadly, and ask extensively if I was going to author a book steeped in both history, STEAM, and train science.

What I discovered was both eye-opening and eye-popping!  Here are just a few of the compelling   bits of information that found their way into my files; with some appearing on the pages of the book

  • At one time, 88 trains a day passed through Glen Rock.  They were primarily freight trains hauling anthracite coal from Williamsport, PA to Baltimore, MD.
  • The labor for constructing the railroad was mostly by Irish immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1830s and 1840s.
  • The Howard Tunnel (near Seven Valleys) is the second oldest active rail tunnel in the U.S.  It’s been in operation since 1838.
  • NCR trains travel at a speed of just 10 MPH.
  • The coach cars date from about 1920 (the passenger cabins, however, have all been rebuilt) and the NCR coaches reflect an authentic mid-19th century appearance.
  • With the diesel engine and three cars, the train is 214 feet long. The steam engine plus three cars is 211 feet long.  The addition of the new passenger car will add an additional 53 feet to the length of the train.
  • The railroad tracks used today are in the exact same location as they were 150 years ago. They are not the same tracks, just in the same place.  Over the years, the distance between the rails always remained the same: 4 feet, 8½ inches.

All Aboard Starts with AI hope you and your children enjoy “All Aboard” Starts with A.  It’s an enchanting ride through  history in concert with an assembly of amazing scientific discoveries, train education, and STEAM learning.  And, yes, it took a while to research and a while to write (after all, I’m “kinda old.”).  But it was, in so many ways, a most fascinating journey…just like a ride on the Northern Central Railway of York.


Anthony D. Fredericks ( is Professor Emeritus of Education at York College of PA and the Education Consultant for NCR.  In addition, he is an award-winning and best-selling children’s author of more than 50 children’s books including NCR’s “All Aboard” Starts with A ( [“This delightful ABC book about trains is chock-full of facts and information that will appeal to train lovers of all ages.” 5-star review.]


NOTE:  If you are interested in the latest tips, strategies, and ideas about creativity, check out Dr. Fredericks’ monthly newsletter: Creatively Speaking: Ideas to Ignite Your Creative Fires (  It’s a quick read packed with solid information and dynamic insights.



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