Monday, April 30, 2018

My month in Pennsylvania

My take on Pennsylvanians

Pennsylvanians are some of the most polite drivers I've ever seen.  Everywhere.  Statewide.  I can think of only one time in this whole month when I needed to merge and nobody would let me in.  This despite me driving a larger than usual vehicle that most people hate to be behind.  People would see my signal and intentionally stop to make room for me.  Over and over.

While they generally drive faster than the speed limit, they aren't a state of speed demons.  They didn't seem too upset at me going at or below the limit - they just went around me without making ugly gestures or even bothering to give me an ugly look.

They were tolerant of my parking needs, as long as I played fair and paid for the spaces or didn't use up too much room.

I've had a little experience with New York City drivers and I guess I assumed that attitude was spread over the region, but I was really wrong.

The People
Most Pennsylvanians are here because they want to be.  They're proud of their state, their weather, their sports teams, their colleges, their cultural backgrounds, their history and their place in history.

I had assumed they lived here despite their weather, but I was wrong.  They take a sort of pride in the squirreliness of their weather, and they enjoy it.  They go fishing and hiking when the temps are in the 40s.  They go snowmobiling so much they have clubs around the state and designated trails on state grounds.  They have ski resorts.  They're big on water sports.  They go camping a lot.  Equestrian activities are all over the state, and state campgrounds have specific camping areas and trails for them.

Politically, PA seems to be a swing state.  They voted for Trump in 2016, but only by a slim margin.  Generally here, as in many other states, the Democrats concentrate in the cities and Republicans dominate the rural areas, which is why I kept seeing so much Trump support in the farming communities I passed through.  But though PA ranks #5 in population among US states, only 3 of its 10 largest cities have more than 100,000 people.  So "city" here is a relative term.

My impression is that Pennsylvania's identity is formed around railroads, coal mining, farming and history.  Some of those things are influences from the past, but they're still very much here.  I found train tracks in the middle of almost every town of any size at all.  There are museums and historic sites dedicated to railroads statewide.  Trains were pivotal to development in most states but here, they're part of the identity in a deeper way.  Regarding history, PA has its own, of course, and is proud of it, but Pennsylvanians also are proud of the significant role they played in the formation of the US and in their continuing importance to the nation.  They say so.

I met almost nobody who was rude.  Everybody was at least polite and most were happy to talk about their town or their state.  People often went out of their way to be helpful.

What I didn't see that I wanted to see

The artificial construct of having only a month in each state means for most states I'll be missing quite a bit.  In the case of PA, the bizarre weather meant I missed even more.  I'd hoped to be able to see PA in the springtime, and I've seen tantalizing suggestions that it would have been lovely.  The extraordinary staying power of this winter, though, has meant I've seen mostly bare trees and little undergrowth.  I'll have to come back sometime and see PA looking more dressed for company.

The Pittsburgh area
I didn't learn until I was on my way out of town that pierogies are considered the signature food of the town.  I heard it on the radio as I was driving out of town.  I'll have to come back sometime for them.  Also there's something called the Heinz Pittsburgh Regional Historic Center, run by the National Park Service, which I understand is worth seeing.  I just had too many problems trying to figure out their roads to make it to that part of town.

The Tour-Ed Coal Mine has tours, and I wanted to go, but they're only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Southcentral PA  
It'd intended to visit Pres. Buchanan's birthplace near Mercersberg - there's a state park there - but the weather kept me from going into that area.  Ditto Jimmy Stewart's hometown of Indiana and a museum there.

In Harrisburg I wanted to visit the State Museum of PA, but the only real drawback to using my RV as my only transport is that it's too tall for parking garages, and in downtown areas that's about the only kind of parking there is.  Harrisburg also has a National Civil War Museum that I wanted to see but didn't find.

I had to miss spending time in York, where there's a Harley-Davidson Museum.  Doesn't that sound like fun?  York was the first US capital and many of the buildings are from colonial days.

In Lancaster, which I also had to bypass, is Lancaster Central Market, the US's oldest continuous farmers market.  There's also the PA Farm Museum, which I would have liked to see.  Mr. Woolworth opened his first store here.  In this general area are the National Watch and Clock Museum, which I would have loved to see, and the People's Place Quilt Museum.  This being Amish country, I expect there are many outlets for crafts that I'd been looking forward to seeing.  I just kept running out of time.

The nearby town of Lititz has the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and offers tours.  You know you want to go too.

The town of Kennett Square is the center of mushroom farming in the state, and PA produces a LOT of our nation's mushrooms.

I was sorry to have to bypass the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall and the nearby US Mint.  It was the parking problem that got me.  I've seen them all before, but it was many years ago and would like to come back sometime with the transportation problem worked out.  Elfreth's Alley is the US's oldest continuously occupied neighborhood - anything that has that kind of staying power deserves a visit.

Southeast PA
Near a town called New Hope is Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve; it's the only botanical museum in the US that's exclusive for native plants.

At Doylestown is the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a national historic site and museum that I think sounds fascinating.

Northeast PA
It may sound odd but I'm sorry to have missed the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton; given the extreme importance of coal mining to this region, this museum probably explains a lot about why things are now as they are.  I have no experience that helps me understand why coal mining is a calling, as it seems to be in many parts of the country, rather than just a job and hoped this museum would explain it.  Maybe I'll learn more when I go to West Virginia, where I hope they have something similar.

Also in Scranton are the Scranton Iron Furnaces and the Steamtown National Historic Site and Museum, both of which I looked forward to.  A good reason to come back

Ricketts Glen State Park has 22 waterfalls; I'd hoped to stay a night in the park but ran out of time.

The town of White Mills is home to the Dorflinger Glass Museum, apparently a good one, and I could have squeezed it in except it won't open until May 1.

Northern PA
The week I ended up spending in Erie was time I'd planned to spend poking around the forests and parks and small towns all across the northern part of the state.  But the weather that kept me in Erie was much more severe in these areas - I heard it on the weather reports - and I just couldn't get to them.

I wanted to see the Allegheny National Forest, for instance, the Tom Mix Museum in Driftwood, and the PA Lumber Museum in Galeton.

The tiny town of Benezette is home to the largest free-roaming herd of elk east of the Mississippi River - as many as 300.  In Alaska I've seen large herds of caribou which, to me, are indistinguishable from elk, but that doesn't mean I get tired of looking at them.  I'd have had to leave Dexter in the RV, for sure.

I've clearly got another trip in Pennsylvania in my future.

Pennsylvania - Day 30

Lackawanna State Park
Monday, 30 April 2018

There was, in fact, a little flurry of snow today, but I could tell nothing was going to stick, and sure enough it didn't.  But I'd already decided I needed to spend the day catching up before I moved to another state.

Mostly I made some changes to previous entries, since I'm making this up as I go along.  In another state or two I'll have come up with a formula I'm comfortable with.

I also wrote a summary of my impressions of my month here, to be posted separately.

I got a great email today from a woman I met several weeks ago at Laurel Hill State Park.  She and her husband are from New Jersey, and they were bravely driving a Mini and camping in a tent.  It was way too cold for me to want to consider that, but they seemed to be pretty well set up.  Anyway, she took a photo of my RV that night and has sent it to me.  Isn't it great?
This is one of those "taken with an i-phone" moments.  You can even see the stars.  I love this picture and am very grateful that she thought to take it and to send it to me.

I've also taken a look at a New York map and my list of things I might want to see there, and I've got reservations for the 1st 3 nights.  I think the tourist season may be delayed because of the weather, but pretty soon it's going to be hard to get reservations anywhere.  But I'm set for now, and that's what I want.

Pennsylvania - Day 29 - Scranton

Lackawanna State Park, near Scranton
Sunday, 29 April 2018

Our campsite the previous 2 nights was near what's called Lower Lake at Promised Land State Park.  This morning the dogs and I walked down to the lake and learned that boaters are prohibited from going beyond a certain marked area because there's a pair of nesting Bald Eagles near there.  Apparently they've been returning to nest there since 1999 and most years have fledged at least one chick.  Pretty neat, huh?

We drove into Scranton to the Electric City Trolley Museum.  Scranton got the nickname Electric City when, in 1886, it began using the world's first electric streetcar.  Before that, all streetcars were horse-drawn.  
By 1903 they'd figured out how to use AC power to transmit electricity over long distances without too much resistance on the lines draining all the power.  Then substations were set up to convert the AC to DC, which is what the streetcars used, but DC can't travel more than a few miles without losing steam (so to speak).  The AC use allowed electric trains to spread way out to the surrounding area, allowing suburbs to grow because people could now commute easily.  And the coal industry relied heavily on the trains to bring the coal out of the mines and then ship it into town.

In 1913, I think, the Wilkes-Barre and Hazelton Railway was built.  It stretched for 30 miles and was a remarkable railway: over that 30 miles it covered a 1200' change in elevation, crossed 3 valleys and 2 mountains, plowed a 2700' tunnel through a 3rd, and never had more than a 3% grade.  Now that sounds like something the highway department needs to study.  How come I've been dealing with 10% grades almost daily if the railroads had it figured out more than 100 years ago?

One of the other remarkable things about the W-B and H Railway is that it used 3rd rail power rather than overhead wires and, for the first time, it covered that 3rd rail so it wouldn't be subject to power outages due to snow or ice, and so it would be safe for pedestrians to step on - because they didn't touch the rail, they stepped on a wood plank that covered it.  It worked so well that the next year the New York City subway system adopted it.
Operating steam train at the museum

It was all very interesting and I enjoyed it a lot, but when I got back to the RV I found the temp inside had dropped into the 50s.  And by the time everybody ate lunch it was even colder - the wind was blowing, increasing the wind chill.  I'd intended to go to the Steamtown National Historic Museum just across the parking lot but decided to skip that and the Anthracite Heritage Museum nearby and head to our campground.  But honestly, if the weather'd been better - both museums offered rides on trolley and train, respectively, and I think it'd've been a hoot to go.  Just way too cold today.

This park is only about 15 miles north of downtown Scranton and - yea! - I've got a wi-fi signal and multiple TV channels to get weather reports.  There's talk of some snow showers tonight and temps in the low 30s, so I'll wait and see whether I go back into Scranton tomorrow to pick up the things I missed.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 28 - Delaware Gap

Promised Land State Park, near Scranton
Saturday, 28 April 2018

Not only does Pennsylvania have seasons for various kinds of hunting, it has a season for dog training, which has recently ended.  I’m guessing it’s training for hunting dogs, but I’ve never heard of an official season for it.

At least this section of PA appears to be solidly Trump country.  Today I saw a sign in someone’s yard saying, “Trump in 2020.”  Yesterday I saw a sign in someone else’s yard saying, “Thank God for Trump.”  And of course, many other Trump/Pence signs.

I can get 2 TV stations at this campground – the local PBS station and a FOX affiliate.  I know there are other stations available with a cable or in the bigger cities, but out here maybe the choices describe the situation.

Today I took some small state roads to go southeast from the park over toward the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area.  On the way I got stopped in the middle of nowhere by a traffic light, and sat for a while till it turned green.  Seems there was a 1-lane road ahead around a blind curve and this is the highway department’s way of keeping people from killing each other when they’re not around.  But it felt weird to be sitting at a red light with nothing around.

Along the road I saw what looked like official street signs (green with reflective lettering) that were clearly personally named: Annie’s Place, Uncle Sam’s, Deer Lodge Road.  Then I saw one that said Notta Road, and I looked down it and sure enough, it wasn’t a road, it was a driveway.

The village of Analomink (okay, that’s creative) should be renamed Forsythia Village.  Some years ago the entire town (apparently) planted forsythia bushes and today it’s a blaze of bright yellow and gorgeous.

In the small town of Canadensis I found St. John the Beloved Coptic Orthodox Monastery.

Canadensis is clearly a resort town in an old-fashioned way (nothing shiny, just motels and restaurants that have been there for some years), even though it’s 20 slow miles from the attractions.  As the day went on, I realized this whole area is geared for tourists.  And then I realized it’s in the Pocono Mountains, separated only by the Delaware River from both New York and New Jersey, and that’s been a vacation area for the city folks for decades.  Movies from the 1960s mention it.

The azaleas have started to bloom in the Delaware River area.

I’d thought about going to Bushkill Falls, which are part of the Natl. Rec. Area and are supposed to be magnificent, but got stopped by two things: one is that today is a warm sunny Saturday and many many people are out enjoying it; the other is that the Falls (according to its website) has been turned into a sort of destination with fake gold panning for the kids and playgrounds and stuff – lots of stuff – that has nothing (in my mind) to do with the glory of waterfalls, and they charge a lot of money to get into it.  I guess if it had been a dreary Tuesday, I’d have paid the money, figuring I’d be able to hike to the falls and have them much more to myself and the way Nature intended.  But not today.

In one town traffic got stopped by police escorting a funeral procession that was made up almost entirely of motorcycles.  That was a new one on me.

Dunkin Donuts are everywhere, throughout Pennsylvania, even in very small towns.

I’ve been seeing more buildings that were built in the late 1880s and early 1900s, and then I realized that’s about the same time frame as the older houses in Texas and what was the big deal.  And then I came across Dingman’s Ferry, which is now a toll bridge to New Jersey but was originally the site of one of the first ferries across the Delaware, circa 1750.  And farther up the road I stopped for a bit at Milford, founded 1733.  That’s old.

An establishment in Milford had a sign in front saying, “Botox and Brunch.”  What on earth do you think they’re doing? I  met a group of 7 women, maybe in their late 30s, sitting on park benches in the sun who wanted to pat the dogs.  They told me they’re old friends who get together once a year for a weekend, though most of them still live nearby, but one has moved to Massachusetts.  So far away.

As I was leaving Milford I saw a highway sign telling me Matamoras was 6 miles to the north.  Now, this was a little disconcerting because, as a born-n-raised Texan, I know exactly where Matamoros is and that wasn’t it.  Turns out there’s a town named Matamoras (spelled differently) that sits exactly at the junction of PA and NY and NJ.  A border town, of course.

The campground literature has a whole section warning about bears.  Seems PA has the largest black bears in the US, with most of them in the Poconos, and those in this county can grow over 800 pounds.  That is indeed pretty big for a black bear.  Fortunately, we haven’t met one yet – I’m sure Dexter would get himself shredded trying to capture it.

This park has absolutely masses of wild rhododendrons.  Makes me feel back home in western Washington.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 27

Promised Land State Park, near Scranton
Friday, 27 April 2018

When I was walking the dogs along Loyalsock Creek this morning before we left, a male Common Merganser flew along the creek and landed in the water not all that far from us. They’re pretty big birds, mostly white body so they’re very visible, and we couldn’t help noticing him. Dexter got really excited watching him float on the swift water, especially when the bird got to the rapids and flew farther downstream. Dexter was sure he could catch him and really wanted to try. In his heart of hearts he believes he can fly and climb trees. I don’t know how to break it to him.

The mountains we drove through when we left were called the Endless Mountains, and that’s about what it felt like. I guess we could have taken a more touristy route on bigger roads, but I’m starting to get used to these Pennsylvania country roads. It does take time to get around, though, at least for me because I’m afraid to take these twisty shoulderless roads at the speed limit.

I’ve noticed throughout PA they rarely use the term “city” but instead use “borough.” And they’re not using borough to mean “county” because they have counties. Borough apparently means something bigger than a “township,” which seems to be bigger than a “village,” but smaller than a “city.” Scranton is a city, according to the highway sign.

I guess it fits in with their “creeks” that look like rivers and “runs” that are actually creeks. Although I will agree that farther upstream the Loyalsock Creek looks to me like a stream, which is certainly not a river but which I think is bigger than a creek. But I could be wrong.

At the borough of Mahoopany I found a large manufacturing plant for Proctor and Gamble. I think PA manufactures a lot of chemical products.

When I was trying to find a radio station that was more than static (the mountains are tough for reception) I found a conservative talk radio program where the host was interviewing someone who I think is the star of the TV program “Kevin Can Wait.” Among other things, the star said the network hadn’t yet renewed any of its Monday night programs and that “Kevin Can Wait” is the most important TV show to America. Is that true? Do the ratings reflect that? I’d look it up but don’t have wi-fi at this park either.

Coming into Factoryville (didn’t I say PA has trouble naming things?) I saw a sign saying, “Welcome to the Boyhood Home of Christy Mathewson – Bucolic Factoryville.” Somehow that just struck me as odd. And they’re really proud of their hometown hero and have signs all over town saying so.

After I passed Scranton and headed east to this park, I saw a highway sign saying right lane for New York City, left lane for New England. I guess I’m getting farther north.

This campground is in the Delaware State Forest. It’s actually a PA state forest, but it’s named the Delaware Forest. Like I keep saying, they just aren’t too creative with names around here.

Every road I was on in the Scranton area – state roads, US highways, interstates – all were extremely rough. I finally had to slow down from the speed limit of 65 to near 50, just to keep the RV from shaking so much it’d cause problems for the kids. Bad enough for me and I have a steering wheel to hang onto. The roads were seriously beat up. I’d guess it was the result of winter weather except I haven’t found roads near as bad as this in the rest of the state and, let’s face it, Erie alone got a fair amount of snow this year without trashing the roadways.

A cold front came through two nights ago, on top of me moving farther north, so it’s getting cold again. Tomorrow night it’s supposed to get near freezing. This winter is haunting me.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 26 - Williamsport

Worlds End State Park, Forksville
Thursday, 26 April 2018

As I walked the dogs this morning before we left, I saw a large flock of some kind of yellow warbler – they all look so much alike to me, and I didn’t have binocs, and anyway they were trying to stay away from us.  But they were really pretty. By the side of the road as I was leaving the campground, I saw what I thought was a marmot, and I can now say that a groundhog is a type of marmot so I was sort of right.

I was also right about being on something higher than a hill: I took a different route leaving the campground this morning and found myself at the top of a hill with a 12% grade for 3½ miles – of course with 90° bends and no shoulders while going downhill.   Oh well, I’m seeing Pennsylvania. 

Have I mentioned before that there are small wind farms scattered all over the state?  This area too.

Fred Waring, the bandleader, was born in Tyrone, just north of Altoona.  They have a historic plaque up saying so.  He started Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians while he was at Penn State.

Speaking of which, I headed north to the town of State College, where Penn State University is.  The highway seemed to run along the upper part of a hill, and I could see a long valley full of rolling hills (note, I know the difference between hills and mountains), covered with evergreens, and spaces where the trees had been cleared for farmland.  Very picturesque.

State College
Going into State College, the road has been cut through a ridge, leaving very steep slopes on either side of the road.  The highway dept. has covered the slopes with a plastic mesh, apparently to hold onto the gravel that covers it.  I don’t remember seeing that before.

I’ve come to think Pennsylvanians are either careless or overly challenged when coming up with place names – I’ll bet half the towns are named “-burg” or “-burgh” or “-ville.”  (There are 5 separate towns in the state named either Mechanicsburg or Mechanicsville.)  But it seems to me that “State College” is pretty low on the creative standard, besides making it hard for visitors to follow road signs (so hard to remember the sign is directing me to the town and not to the school).

Nonetheless, after making a few wrong turns, I found the college.  I was mostly going because I’d understood they have a creamery, and I thought maybe they’d sell dairy products like, say, ice cream.  They do have a creamery – I saw many signs directing me to it, but I never figured out which of the buildings it was.  Plus, parking is at a premium and my RV didn’t really fit in.  Trying to find the visitor center (also shown on signs) I stumbled on some kind of auditorium with short-term parking in front and green grass.  Yea!  Because all of us needed to take a bathroom break and leg-stretch time.

Penn State seems like a small campus – nothing like UT, for instance – but it spreads out because there are a lot of agricultural buildings, with cows and so forth.  In fact, knowing nothing about the school as I do, I’d guess the primary focus is on ag-related subjects, based solely on the buildings I saw.  And sports, of course.  Lots of sports buildings.

I went on up the road an hour to Williamsport, which is the Birthplace of Little League Baseball.  They say so at several points around town, including the baseball field where, I guess, the birth happened.  I stopped at the town because I’d read they have a Millionaires Row area, with mansions built by the timber barons of yesteryear.  And they do have some pretty nice houses, though it seems a little upstart compared with Bethlehem and Philadelphia.

Williamsport is spread out along the Susquehanna River, which has been running due north from Harrisburg (actually, I guess it’s been running south from Williamsport to Harrisburg), and here makes a turn to the northeast.  I’d thought of Williamsport as a smallish town but was really surprised to see how big it actually is.  I wish I had a wi-fi signal here so I could look up what accounts for its current size, since it’s not the logging that originally put it on the map.

Montour County, where Williamsport is, is known for its many covered bridges, a fact I forgot until I saw one as I was driving toward the campground.  The campground is in a different county, but there’s another covered bridge about a mile down the road.  I’ve seen signs pointing toward them before – near the Flight 93 Memorial there are two, for instance - but have avoided them because I was afraid I’d get there, find the clearance far too low to go through, and not be able to turn around.  Now that I’ve seen these two I’m certain that’s true – both have a clearance of about 8’, and the one in the photo is on a single lane road with (of course) no shoulder, or even a wide spot.

When I was in the Altoona area I was reminded I’m farther north than Harrisburg by the almost complete absence of signs of spring.  That persisted through the State College area.  But the house I shot at Williamsport shows a wisteria carrying on like crazy, and I saw a few trees with a little spring green on them.  But this campground still looks very winter-y, fortunately without snow on the ground.  I did see a star magnolia on the way, though – so pretty – and more probable skunk cabbage.

Worlds End Campground
This campground is on the Loyalsock Creek, which to my mind is pretty dadgummed big for
Loyalsock Creek
a creek.  But what a name.  There’s even a town named Loyalsockville.  Where on earth do you suppose they got
this name?

Speaking of which, the reason I’m staying in this campground is the name.  I thought I’d see what Pennsylvania thinks of as a worlds end.  The park literature says the name likely came from the view to be had along the hiking trails, and that 7 mountain ranges converge in this area.  I knew I’d been driving around mountains.  They’ve got a whole section in their handout on the geology of the area that’s pretty interesting if you’re interested in millions of years of erosion, which I actually am.

Worlds End campsite
This is an odd park with a state road running right through it – in fact, about 5 trees away from my RV.  They limit pets to 10 campsites and tell us to walk our dogs on a trail on the other side of this state road, which has frequent traffic from hunters and fishermen and maybe locals for all I know.  Not just exactly pet-friendly, but they’re letting us stay, the dogs love the trail, and we’re just here for 1 night.  So who can carp about a lack of wi-fi.

Tomorrow I’m leaving Worlds End for the Promised Land.  Really.

Pennsylvania - Day 25 - Altoona

Prince Gallitzen State Park, near Altoona
Wednesday, 25 April 2018

I’ve been puzzling about why the state would name a park after royalty, so I finally looked him up. Prince Gallitzen was actually a Russian prince who came to the US in the 1790s and never left. To the horror of his family he became a priest, was assigned to the area south of where Harrisburg is now, and never left there either. He became known as the Apostle of the Alleghenies, and lately there’s work being done on making him a saint. So he does belong here.

This park is really big, one of the biggest in the state. It’s got 400 camping sites, and I think I’m the only one here besides the campground host in the next loop. Very cosy.

At the turning into the state park is a village named Frugality, and the name is descriptive. A low-income sort of place, as far as I could tell. I’m a little surprised they don’t change the name- maybe they could change their prosperity level along with it.

This morning, I really think I saw skunk cabbage growing by a stream. I haven’t seen that since I left Washington. It wasn’t blooming yet, which is why I wasn’t sure that’s what it was.

And I’m pretty sure what I’ve been seeing lately are ravens. I’m sure some crows and grackles, too, but ravens are substantially bigger and the bird book says that’s might be what I’ve seen soaring, rather than the vultures I thought they were, at least some of the time. I didn’t know they soared.

In Altoona, I went first to the Railroaders Memorial Museum. Because I can’t get a wi-fi signal in the campground, I was a little concerned it might not be open but figured no problem, it’s not a Monday or Tuesday so it should be open. Turns out it’s only open on weekends. Figures.
Railroaders Memorial Museum
But it being about trains, there was quite a bit outside with informative signs describing the history of the site and the use of the various cars they had parked around.

The Altoona Works was established in 1850, along with the town itself, and by 1925 had the largest concentration of railroad services in the country. Between 1866 and 1946, they built 6,873 locomotives here and many thousands of freight and passenger cars. In the 20 years between 1921 and 1940 alone they built 16,415 freight cars – and that was before WWII when they really started cranking.

The dining cars baked bread and rolls and pies from scratch on the cars each day. Just in 1941 they served 3.9 million meals, and 5 times that many during the war. I guess the comparatively small population back then balances with far more people using the railroads than they do now. I know my mom took the train from Rhode Island to Jacksonville to join my dad when he was stationed there during the war, and then she took the train to Texas after the war was over.

I saw a private car that was built in 1917 for Charles Schwab who, sad to say, died penniless in 1939. Fancy car, though.

I wanted to see a little of Altoona in memory of George Burns. One of his books is subtitled “They Still Love Me In Altoona,” and I wanted to see where that is. I drove around the old section a bit and saw a theater where he might have appeared, back in his vaudeville days. I think that because the theater was built in the 1920s, which seems about the right time for him to have appeared in it.

Altoona has a Greek Orthodox church. Trying to keep up with the big cities, I guess.

Later I drove out to Horseshoe Curve - “World Famous” according to their sign. The day was getting on and I decided not to take the tour, but the nice woman at the counter explained to me that the line I could see in the mountainside above us is where the train tracks are. They’re still in use. This section is in the exact shape of a horseshoe because it’s going around a mountainside that shape. Its significance is that it was built between 1850 and 1854 and was part of the first train tracks that allowed people to cross the mountains by train. They can’t just build train tracks like they do roads (with harrowing grades up and down) because the trains can’t handle it. Instead, they built a very gradual ascent that followed the curve of the mountains as it went up, I guess like s-curves do for cars.
I cribbed this photo, not being able to get this angle of Horseshoe Curve
I saw a sign outside a small town that said, “We have many children but none to spare so please drive carefully.”

I took a shortcut on the way back to the campground - got lost but a jogger helped me get found again - and generally got a good view of this area. Full of very small villages and very small towns built on the side of whatever mountain is here. I know the ranger said we’re in hills in a plateau, but just south of here is a mountain that has a 5% grade down the other side that runs for 6 miles – meaning it’s no little hill. My ears popped going down.

I can’t believe it. The whole 400 camping spots in this park and somebody is pulling into the site 4 away from mine. One of the behemoths that looks like a rock band would be traveling in it, towing a car besides. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to drive that outfit on the roads I’ve been on getting here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 24 - Harrisburg

Prince Gallitzen State Park, near Altoona
Tuesday, 24 April 2018

I had reservations at this park exactly a week ago until I heard the forecast for snow and ice. Now that I’ve driven the road that comes here, I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I made that choice. This park is in the forested hills of the Allegheny Plateau, according to the park ranger, and the road winds sharply and steeply for miles and there’s no shoulder at all. Fine in decent weather but no thank you in ice.

Except today isn’t exactly weather you could call decent, since the storm system that’s been dumping rain all over the southern US is moving up here, and what we’re getting now is a nice steady rain. But the nighttime temps aren’t supposed to go lower than the 40s so no problem. Tomorrow I want to go into Altoona to see what it’s got to offer.

This morning we spent an hour or so driving around Harrisburg. I’d wanted to go to the State Museum but it turns out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The capitol building is pretty spectacular, though.

those windows may be copper
There are several registered historic districts, with buildings mostly built around 1875. But what’s now downtown used to be farmland and there’s still a farmhouse - smack in town now - that was built in the early 19th century. Not as old a town as, say, Philadelphia, but not an upstart either.
near the Capitol Bldg.

the yellow house is the farmhouse
I stopped in town (causing a little traffic problem, I think) to take these photos of the Susquehanna River, the banks of which Harrisburg is built on. Based on what I’ve heard on TV and the radio and from people I’ve talked to, Pennsylvania’s rivers define the character of their areas. Allentown and Bethlehem note their location in the Lehigh River Valley; Pittsburgh has its 3 rivers but is considered to be in the Ohio River Valley; Philadelphia sits on the west bank of the Delaware; and the entire Harrisburg area - going a long way toward Philly - describes itself as being in the Susquehanna River Valley. I guess if you live here, you learn why that matters, but just passing through I can’t really tell the difference.

As I drove back down the turnpike, I tried to take photos of some of those farms I’ve been talking about. Mostly the photos didn’t come out because of going 60 mph making it hard to aim at something long enough to snap it. But I got a couple.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 23

Hilton Garden Hotel, Harrisburg
Monday, 23 April 2018

I waited till almost 10:00 this morning to leave, hoping the Monday morning traffic would die down, which it had, and also hoping any lingering ice on the highway would have dissipated, which it did.

I can’t remember if I mentioned before that going in to Pittsburgh from the SW (I was on I-376, a semi-ring road), you first go down a steep hill 1½ miles long, with signs telling trucks to limit speed to 25 mph, with a runaway truck ramp partway down, and zero chance to exit once they tell you about it.  Fortunately, it was completely dry plus traffic was nearly at a standstill in several places, so I didn’t have to worry about hurtling down this hill as I’d done when I went to town last week.  At the bottom of the hill is the Fort Pitt Tunnel (.6 mi long) and at the end of that is the Fort Pitt Bridge, which goes over the Monongahela River.  And then instantly you’re in Pittsburgh – no easing into it.  What an introduction.

I was able to stay on I-376 all the way through town, which made things less harrowing by not needing to change lanes or watch out for road signs.  On the left, I was pleased to see the Cathedral of Learning sticking up high enough for me to be able to see it from the highway, like an old friend.  On the right, I saw a large Russian Orthodox church.  According to the 2010 census, only 1% of the state’s population is orthodox so I’m surprised they’ve got such large churches in at least Erie, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  Leaving town we had another tunnel, the Squirrel Hill Tunnel (.8 mile).

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these tunnels are all well-lighted and completely tiled, no shoulders but the lanes are just about wide enough.  But I find them very hard to drive through because, at those lengths, they become hypnotic, making driving in them scary for me.  Closer to Harrisburg I again went through Allegheny Mountain Tunnel (1.2 mi), Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel (1.0 mi), Kittatinny Tunnel (1.0 mi) and Blue Mountain Tunnel (.8 mi).

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned all the cattails I’ve seen around the state.  I suppose where they’re growing is where there’s water, but that’s not what grows near water in Texas, so I’m not used to seeing them.

I decided to take the turnpike back to Harrisburg, hoping to avoid steep hills, and there weren’t any.  What there were instead were multiple s-curves and extremely strong crosswinds, and I can’t tell you how glad I am that I wasn’t trying to drive in those conditions with possible black ice on the road.

Once again along this road I noticed all the family farms.  At one point I counted 3 I could see at one time on the upcoming hillsides, and 2 more as we came over the next hill, and 3 more as we came over the next next hill.  Gracie was having trouble with carsickness so I opened the vents and a window for her.  After a bit I noticed a really strong smell of manure.   It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that if I closed the window and vents I might not smell it as strong, which worked.

A lot of the farms were dairy farms, and one had “DRINK MILK” painted on the side of the barn.  (Milk is PA’s most important farm product.)  Several of them were sheep farms, and at one I saw some lambs with one mama having twins – cute little guys - skittering after her. I really wish I had been able to take a photo of even one of these farms, and maybe sometime this next week I can.  But in the meantime, if you’ve seen the Harrison Ford movie “Witness” you can see what they look like.

Part way across I passed a sign that said we were entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed System.  Who’d have thought it’d start so far away.

I saw a clever billboard advertising services at the next town.  It showed 3 dogs sitting in the front seat of a truck.  The dog in the passenger seat was dreaming about a bone, the dog in the middle was dreaming about a bed, and the bulldog hunched over the steering wheel was dreaming about a fire hydrant.

All along the way I saw wooded hills – but I’m not sure I really noticed them the first time I went by because most of the trees are still bare.  About 3/5 of PA is still forested.  The farther east I came, the more I started to see spring green on a few of the trees.  Here in Harrisburg the cherry trees are blooming.  Spring is coming late, but it’s coming.

I had to get turned down by 3 other hotels before I found this one, but here the woman said yes quickly and with a smile.  I wouldn’t have expected a Hilton to say yes.  You just never know what you’re going to get when you ask a question.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pennsylvania - Day 22 - western lakes

Candlewood Suites Hotel, Pittsburgh
Sunday, 22 April 2018

KOAs have a deal with the CruiseAmerica (RV rental company) where those who rent receive a temporary membership with KOA which entitles them to 10% off the nightly charge.  I remember that from when I rented one, and it's clear they still do that because the whole time I stayed in Erie I saw a new rented RV every night, and last night there were 3.  It's a pretty smart thing for KOA to do.

We had a nice drive down from Erie today.  The sun came out this morning as if it were a regular thing and warmed everything up.  Of course, I'm not used to bright sun any more, and I guess that's what made me feel tireder than the number of miles I drove (160).

I had to go to 3 different hotels before I found one that would let us stay, but the guy was real nice about it so we're here.  Harrisburg tomorrow.

Today we got off the highway to see Pennsylvania's 2 most notable lakes: Conneaut Lake (pronounced cone-ee-ut in Erie) which is the largest natural lake at 1.5 square miles, and Pymatuning Reservoir, the largest manmade lake at 26 square miles.  The only serious hill today was on the way to the lakes - 11% grade but not a big hill and the road was dry so not scary.

The reservoir sits partly in PA and partly in Ohio.  I tried to take photos of it but couldn't seem to get a decent angle - they just came out looking like water, which everybody's seen before.  The state has a fish hatchery there.
Conneaut L. facing south

Conneaut L. facing north

Conneaut Lake is the center of recreation for the area, I state with confidence, based on the number and type of businesses around. 
Hotel Conneaut, built 1893 and still in use

bandstand in the park

To the right of the little park is a big water park with tall slides and so forth.  All around the lake are either homes or taverns and restaurants and little motels and cabins.  It looks like they get a lot of business in the summer and they were getting a fair amount of business today, I guess because it was a sunny Sunday.

I don't think I've seen one Chevron or Texaco station since I've been in PA.  And I guess Chase Bank isn't here either.  Seem like odd omissions.

It's nice to be warm enough that I have to open windows and skylights for air for a change.  Better than huddling around the heater as we have been all week.