Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Waterford and Meadville, PA

The Judson House

We are spending our week in the Erie area in the small community of Waterford which is about 10 miles south of Erie and just a couple miles north of Route 6. The campground, Sparrow Pond, is relatively new. Even though it is new, there are tall trees, it’s not just a gravel parking lot. There are back-in and pull-thru sites and also a few camping cabins. There is a small grocery in Waterford, but a Wal-mart and larger supermarket just 6 miles north at the interstate.

Yesterday, having rested until mid afternoon, we went to scout out Waterford. It is small, but it does have a claim to fame. It was here in 1753 that George Washington carried out his first official mission. George was sent by the Governor of Virginia to tell the French to move on along, they were trespassing on British soil. Perhaps the French felt like they had the right since they occupied the local fort, Fort Le Boeuf. The French finally left in 1759 and the British took over. The Indians didn’t like the British hanging around so they burnt their fort in 1763. Twenty years later the Americans built a fort here to protect the settlers. Today, the Judson House is located on the site of the old French Fort and across the street is a nice little park with the statue of old George.

We also found a terrific restaurant supply store. Since I enjoy cooking, I like places like this. You could get anything for cooking in here, new or used. I have one 9” pizza pan—it’s the individual pizza size. My microwave is also a convection oven but the space is small so my cookie sheets are too large. I use the small pizza pan for many things I prepare in the convection oven. I have been looking for more to use for individual pizzas. I also found a shake making machine. Just think of the fun we could have and the weight we could gain!!
A great mural in Meadville

Meadville is not far from here down Route 6 about 20 miles. We woke up to rain this morning so decided to check out the Meadville Market House said to be the oldest “continuous use market in Pennsylvania” having opened in 1870. The descriptions I had read made me think of the farm markets in the Lancaster county area with lots of Amish canned foods, fresh produce, and baked goods. Yummy. We were a little disappointed when we got there. It was not nearly as large as the markets we had visited earlier in the summer, but there was one stand with the last of the tomatoes of the season and some squash and potatoes. There were several booths of handmade craft items, but the artisans were not there—just pick what you want and take it to the cashier up front. All we found of interest was a cup of coffee.
Meadville Market House
Meadville's Village Green
Meadville street scene

Meadville is a sprawling community and much larger than the other quaint villages we have visited. Route 6 is even a 4-lane through here. We walked around in the few blocks near the market and were saddened by the deterioration of this once thriving community. The performing arts seemed to be flourishing, however, and we had great fun with their displays of ghosts and goblins. The village green was also quite nice.
Hanging out with the ghosts of Meadville

With the rain clouds getting heavier we made our way home. Perhaps the rain will let up tomorrow enough for a visit to Presque Isle on Lake Erie.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moving to Erie, PA

We spent Sunday on the road again. It was not a very good day to travel with rain most of the day. We knew the forecast called for rain Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was pretty messy, but mostly just a drizzle or light sprinkle which lasted all day. But at least we could dash to the truck and then into the diner without getting soaked. Saturday night it began to rain in earnest and did not let up. Anticipating a wet hitch up, Gene did all he could outside on Saturday afternoon. We did not actually put the Montana on the truck, however, because our campsite was on a pretty good slope and we didn’t want to spend the night trying not to slide out of bed.

A few showers on Friday, then the all day drizzle Saturday, and hard rain during Saturday night had left a saturated ground and standing water all around where we needed to be to hitch up. We were both soaked by the time we were ready to pull away. We changed into dry cloths and threw all the wet stuff in a heap in the shower. Not a very good start to a 260 mile day. The silver lining was the traffic. I guess everybody decided it was too nasty to get out. We had the road almost to ourselves until we got to within shouting distance of Erie.
The washboard they call US Route 15 detour.

We decided to go back to I-86 in southern New York to make the trip west. We are comfortable with that decision and, considering all the rain that had fallen, feel it was the best route. We saw several flooded areas and might have been in high water if we had taken Route 6. We only had one short half-mile stretch which was a hazard. Route 15 is under construction just north of the New York state line. I swear the detour went through a corn field. It was the worst dirt path we have ever traveled over and that includes all the roads in Alaska!

We plan to be here (just south of Erie) for a week. Things on our agenda are Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie, Meadville on Route 6, Edinboro also on Route 6, and a couple diners.

Today was my day to relax. Gene is busy with work today. It was still overcast most of the day so a perfect time to stay inside and vegetate. We both are pretty worn out from so much activity lately. Ever since we left the Adirondacks we have been on the go with sightseeing and traveling. We are craving some down time.

So, I am sitting in the easy chair planning the rest of the week. Wonder where we’ll go tomorrow?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Grand Canyon? Yes, but not what you are thinking. This is the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Over time Pine Creek has cut a gash a 1000 feet deep and 50 miles long in the landscape of central Pennsylvania. This natural wonder is a haven for the outdoor enthusiast. There is trout fishing in Pine Creek and its tributaries, moderate white water for rafting, large, still pools for canoeing, trails for hiking and backpacking, and the 60 mile long Pine Creek Rail Trail for biking (and cross country skiing) which follows Pine Creek through the gorge.

We are spending a few days at the Canyon Country Campground just outside of the picturesque village of Willsboro. We are within walking distance of the canyon rim by way of a trail from the back of our campsite. This short 1-mile trail leads to Leonard Harrison State Park which also has a campground and a wonderful observation deck overlooking the canyon. We were there early in the day before the sun had burned off the fog rising from the creek. It reminded me of the fog rising over the Smoky Mountains. The “canyon” is a deep gorge very similar to the gorges in the Plateau area of east Tennessee. The varied colors of the fall foliage made it a place to linger and mediate.

For an even closer look, we had planned to hike an additional mile down the Turkey Pen Trail to the canyon bottom and the edge of Pine Creek. However, the day we wanted to do that the weather turned a little wet so we were unable to make that journey. Guess we’ll save that for another trip.

Tomorrow is another travel day. From here we are headed to Erie, again by way of interstate and then backtrack along Route 6 to the most recommended places. We are hoping for another uneventful drive.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wellsboro, PA

We are settled once again in a small campground just outside of Wellsboro. We made the drive from Honesdale without incident. In fact, it was a pretty relaxing day and the scenery was beautiful. We drove along Route 6 to Scranton where we got on I-81 north. Back in New York we jumped on I-86 west for a great drive across to US 15 which we took south to pick up Route 6 just barely west of Mansfield. It was truly the better choice, rather than driving through all those tiny towns with narrow streets.
Main Street in the historic shopping district

Before I get started with Wellsboro, let me mention Mansfield briefly. Mansfield is about 15 miles east of Wellsboro on Route 6. We have tons of brochures on Pennsylvania and especially Route 6, but nothing ever mentions Mansfield. We couldn’t understand why because it looks like a fair sized town on the map. We had to go there because that is where the Wal-mart is and that is who had my drugs. We soon discovered why there was no mention of Mansfield—the old historic town (if there ever was one) has been torn down and a very utilitarian business and industrial district is in its place. Not very pretty to look at.
Center of Main Street (Rt 6) with
it's glass lights
A better view of one of the gas lights

Wellsboro, on the other hand, is the quintessential late nineteenth century village with boulevard type streets still with gas lights, a beautiful village green, a vintage diner and everything all decked out for fall. This is superb.
School Board
Village Green with fountain in the center
The fountain is Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod

As you have probably guessed, we stopped by the diner. It was built in 1938 (the 8th diner of the year) in Merrimac, Mass. It is porcelain inside and out and it just glistens. It is much smaller than the two other modular type diners which we visited. This is much more reminiscent of a rail car diner—long and narrow. I don’t know if you can actually see it or not in the photo, but the counter is a glass cabinet. As you sit at the counter eating your meal you can look down into the glass cabinet at the wide assortment of homemade cookies on one end of the counter or at the homemade pies at the other end. This is the best.
Wellsboro Diner
Inside the diner

Coming up tomorrow—the Grand Canyon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Views from Route 6

We are moving on westward so I thought this might be a good time to post a few pics of what we are seeing as we drive along Pennsylvania’s Heritage Highway. From Milford to Honesdale we didn’t find the route overly scenic. The vistas were not there from the road. This narrow drive was tree-lined obstructing any views. However, once past Honesdale the views opened up and we could really see the countryside. Also, during the week that we were at Honesdale, the fall foliage really started to turn. That, of course, helps liven up any view.
A very rare 4-lane section
Lackawanna Valley near Scranton
Near Honesdale

So, enjoy the photos while we get set up at our new campsite.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Steamtown National Historic Site

On his way to the loading platform
The age of the steam locomotive is past, but this unit of the National Park Service is dedicated to educating the visitor of the importance of the railroad system in American history. In an effort to accomplish this goal, or perhaps in conjunction with it, the park service has older railroad men teaching younger railroad enthusiasts the skills of trade in the railroad business. At Steamtown they not only restore steam locomotives and passenger cars to their bygone glory, but they also keep them operational. Steamtown is not a replica of a rail yard—it is the Scranton rail yard of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DL & W), the work horses during the early 1900s.
The Round house
The Museum building

Although no engine was on the turntable when we were there, it is a working replica, used to turn engines around before they were capable of running in both directions. The roundhouse has been restored with 2 original sections built in 1902 and 1937 and contains several locomotives for close-up inspection. This was the place where safety inspections were done. A steam locomotive had to be inspected every 30 days. Having sat in the engineer’s seat with my leg against the fire box wall, that didn’t seem excessive to me. We also got a guided tour of the maintenance shop where engines were being repaired and restored.
The turntable
The largest engine we saw
A steam engine enthusiast trying to teach us.
A passenger car used for excursions.
What's this doing to our air we breathe?

The railroad was an important factor in the history of our country, moving goods across the land at a high rate of speed. The railroads led to the availability of fresh produce year round, the cattle drives to meat packing plants in Chicago, and the transport of coal to fuel the Industrial Revolution. It was great to see this American icon up close and personal.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lackwanna Coal Mine

One big lump of coal

Perhaps the word most synonymous with the Pennsylvania of old is coal mining. The Scranton area was dubbed the “Anthracite Capital of the World” for the enormous amount of Anthracite coal located in the Lackawanna valley. Drift mining began in this area in the early 1800s and by the 1840s shafts were beginning to be dug to access coal deposits deeper in the earth. Strip mining started in the early 1900s and by the late 1950s was producing more coal than any other method. Anthracite coal is much harder and burns much more slowly than bituminous coal making it the preferred coal for home heating and industrial use.
Lackawanna Valley Overlook on Route 6

At the Lackawanna Coal Mine inside McDade Park in Scranton we got a real feel for the excruciatingly hard work of the coal miners and the importance of coal in American history, especially the Industrial Revolution. We purchased our tickets and climbed (crawled might be a better word) inside the yellow mine car. Gene had mentioned wanting to go down in a mine, but on the day of the trip it was I who was more anxious to go. However, doubts began to fill my head as the doors to this little yellow cage were securely closed and we began our descent backwards into the black hole called #190 tethered to the surface only by a 1 inch steel cable. 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet into the earth. Is this the hole to China? Or is this just the center of the earth where that great big snake lives? Our tour guide was a former miner (I assume retired) and was therefore very knowledgeable. I put a whole lot of faith in him to get me out of there if something went wrong.
The Yellow Cage (Mine Car), our ride
Into the Mine
The type of car that carried the miners into the mine

At the end of our length of cable and when the mine car came to rest in the cold, damp earth we donned our hard hats and set forth on foot. We were deep inside an 1860 anthracite coal mine. It was a cool 50 degrees, damp and dreary with small puddles of water standing along side the planking we were standing on. It didn’t help my frame of mind that we had watched the short film which included a segment of when this very mine had flooded (killing 12) when the river broke through a thin spot at the surface. We followed our guide (I tried to stay pretty close) along the main gangway of the Clark Vein stopping to view artifacts of this once active mine and be amused by the mechanical movements of the mannequins dressed as coal dust-covered miners. Leaving the main gangway we took a low-ceilinged tunnel to connect with the Dunmore #2 vein. After passing through 2 sets of doors which create an air lock, we came to the end of this shaft and the end of our tour at the emergency “lift” which is used to rescue miners. I was practically holding hands with the guide by this point. Backtracking through the air lock, rock tunnel, and the main gangway, we crowded back into our mine car for the blessed ascent to the surface.
Mine art
Happy to be back on top of the earth again.

In all seriousness, mining was a very difficult and dangerous job, especially during the time when the mine owners were king. They owned it all—the mine, the coal, the land above, the house on the land, and the company store. Miners were paid just pennies a day for the 15 tons (3 car loads) of coal they were expected to produce each day. Those pennies were then spent on rent for the small house which the mine owner owned and groceries from the owner’s company store. Children began working for the mining company as young as age 6 at jobs above ground and by age 10 they were going underground. Long before Unions were established working conditions in the mines were brutal but in this area during the 1800s and the first half of the 20th century there were few other jobs. Our guide, after being discharged from military service and returning home to Scranton, went to work in the mines. He put it this way--“Nobody liked it,” he said, “but there was nothing else to do.”
Three of these car loads was expected of each miner each day.