It’s a pleasant 60 or so mile drive from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We have just spent the last week in two of the largest cities on the east coast, loving our time in both of them…as long as you discount the bad time we had with our original Philly area hotel. As fun as that was, what we’d like…at least my wife and I…is a little slower pace to decompress before we return home.
Our hotel will actually be about 20 miles beyond Lancaster in the town of Mountville, about half-way between Lancaster and Columbia. We are staying at the MainStay Suites and get a wonderful, two-room suite with a roll-in shower overlooking the swimming pool. Next door is a miniature golf course and snack bar.
After unpacking, we hop in the car to do a little exploring and get some lunch. I had read about the bridge connecting Columbia to Wrightsville on the other side of the Susquehanna River. It’s the longest, multiple arch concrete bridge in the world, stretching in excess of 7,000 feet. Alongside it are the remains of a previous bridge that was destroyed by the Confederates
during the Civil War.
We made our way over there under darkening skies and stopped at a park next to the bridge to take in the view. It started to rain a bit so got back in the car and decided to drive to the other side on this old (1930) two-lane span. Then came the deluge.
A thunder storm of biblical proportions hit. Lightning was flashing all around us. By the time we got to the middle of the bridge, visibility was less than 100 feet. We had nowhere to go so we kept going until we got to the other side.
Tim’s going bananas at this point and my wife just wants to turn around and go back to the hotel. The rain eased up just a bit, so we make the U-turn in Wrightsville and go back.
That letup was just temporary as the downpour returned. We made it back to the other side and started back towards Mountville. Lightning still crashing around us. A bolt struck a utility pole as we passed, showering us with sparks. I pull into a shopping center and park under a covered drive-through lane in a closed bank for a few minutes.
The storm is not letting up. Eventually, we decide to push on, slowed by the lack of visibility when I see such a sight. With the rain coming down in buckets, lightning crashing, and thunder roaring, I see a twenty-something lady walking along the side of the road in a halter top, cut off shorts, barefoot, and smoking a cigarette without a care in the world.
They must think us Californians are such wimps there.
After a couple of hours at the hotel, the storm has passed and we decide to get some dinner. My wife had seen what looked like a fast-food seafood place on the way back and she was craving some crab cakes. We went there but they wanted an arm and a leg. With a kitchen and dining area, we decide to go to the local supermarket…Weis…and get some food to make in our room.
Pretty quickly, my wife finds some crab cakes in the seafood department. They were delicious and only $5.
The skies have cleared and the next morning we drive east of Lancaster into Amish country. Lincoln Highway, also known as highway 30, turns from expressway to four-lane road. According to the map, we’re there but instead of seeing bucolic farms and wooden bridges, it’s shopping centers, fast food restaurants , and tourist stops. Well, I take part of that back. An old wooden bridge sits in the parking lot of Dutch Wonderland, a local amusement park and miniature golf course.
A little farther down the road, we see Dutch Haven. It’s another very touristy place with antiques, blankets, crafts, jams & jellies, and more. We pull in because the sign says “free shoofly pie.” Why not?
We make our way in, which is a little tricky because they have a seldom-used wheelchair ramp at the entrance, and find the pie counter. We are indeed each given a generous slice of pie. It is redolent of molasses and delicious with whipped cream on top. That’s it…no sales pitch or making us feel guilty about not buying a pie. Just “thank you for coming in, we hope you enjoy your trip here.”
As good as the pie was and as friendly as the people were, something is not right. It’s like being in Anaheim by Disneyland or Kissimmee near Disneyworld. Just a long stretch of tourist inspired businesses. Where are the farms? The wooden bridges? The countryside?
Before leaving, I pulled out a list of the bridges of the county (sounds like it should be a book) and a map. I made up a route of the half-dozen or so bridges nearest to us and started on our way. That was the trick!
As soon as we left highway 30, civilization melted away. Little two lane roads lead through green pastures, farms with fields of tall corn, and people driving little black horse-drawn buggies. Farmers were harvesting the crops with horse-drawn harvesters. It’s a beautiful sight.
Our first stop is Bitzer’s Mill Bridge, a long, wooden bridge spanning the Conestoga River. Still in use, it was built in 1846. You can drive across it. We did.
We found a pull out on the road and got out to take pictures and a closer look. There are two pretty houses with nice flower gardens next to the bridge. We saw no evidence of their occupants, however.
Continuing on, we saw a few more small bridges and many farms. It was time for the next planned adventure.
About a mile south of highway 30 and just east of the tiny town of Strasburg is the depot for the Strasburg Railroad. A steam-powered locomotive sits chugging on the tracks. Many families with small kids mingle in the station area with railroad enthusiasts and other tourists like us. We find the fare is $14 for adults ($7 for kids under 12). For just a few dollars more, we could ride in the dining car and eat lunch (NOTE: This option apparently is no longer offered. Now it is $2 extra to ride in the dining car, plus the cost of food which runs from $4 for soup to $14 for a prime rib sandwich). We chose that option.
It was just us and another couple in the really nicely restored dining car. A wheelchair lift was provided to get Tim’s chair on board, and then it was a bit of a tight turn to get into the car proper. All the noisy kids were in other cars so we had a nice, quiet ride.
We were offered an assortment of sandwiches, lemonade, tea, coffee, or soda, and dessert. We chose turkey and roast beef sandwiches which came with chips. For dessert, we had shoo-fly pie and carrot cake. All were very good and served by an attentive waitress.
On the ride, a tour guide noted points of interest and an explanation of Amish culture over the PA system. The ride goes through some spectacular country with rolling green hills of crops and the occasional Amish farm compound.
Several times, we could see men in the field harvesting with horse-drawn equipment. About half-way to our destination, there is a stop at Paradise. A small farm area where you can disembark to spend some time watching Amish demonstrations and having snacks is here. It is not an accessible location so we stay on the train.
After about an hour, we reach the destination…a siding next to a highway in Bird-In-Hand. The locomotive is disconnected and moved to the other end of the train. A conductor puts several pennies on the track to be flattened as the large engine passes. On the way back, he’ll hand these out to kids on the train.
Back at the depot – rested, fed, and educated – we take some time to see some of the other attractions here. Letty poses in an Amish carriage. A miniature version of the railroad carries kids around a small course. You can try your skill and operating a hand-powered cart (gandy dancer)…there’s even a mini version for small kids. And, of course, there are snacks and a gift shop.
We spend the afternoon just driving around the countryside, taking in the scenery and stopping now and again when something catches our eye. We stop in Intercourse to shop at the Kitchen Kettle Village, a kind of touristy shopping center, and buy some T-Shirts with double-entendre slogans (“Caught in the Middle of Intercourse”, etc…you get the idea). There are many antique shops here and Letty has a ball looking at the blankets and farm implements.
For dinner, we make our way back to Bird-In-Hand to eat at Good ‘n Plenty, a family style restaurant serving Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food. The dining room is huge, I’m guessing it can accommodate up to around 1,000, and there are long tables. We take our seats…and are told to scooch in close to the next party and not leave any empty seat. I’m guessing the dining room is about a tenth full so I don’t know why we have to crowd, but okay.
If you’ve ever eaten at a Basque restaurant, you can get an idea of what it’s like. It might also be likened to being at your Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving as servers bring out bowls of soup and salad, ham, roast beef, turkey, fried chicken, potatoes, green beans, bread & butter. Eat your fill…have seconds if you want but save room for the ever-present shoo-fly pie. It is very filling and delicious.
Waddling out bursting at the seams, we take some time to play with the animals in the little zoo out back before heading back to the hotel.
The next day we decide to drive the other direction towards Harrisburg. The capital is a medium-sized city on the banks of the Susquehanna. On arrival, we stop and take a little time to walk along the river in the pretty park that is there.
Driving south, soon we come along a modern day historical landmark…the twin cooling towers of the nuclear power plant sitting on an island in the river three miles south of Harrisburg. One is belching steam…the other quiet and not in use. The reactor, Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island power plant, suffered a cooling system malfunction on March 28, 1979…just a couple of months after I graduated from high school. This caused a partial melt-down of the core and released a significant amount of radiation in the surrounding environment resulting in one of the worst nuclear accidents in the country’s history.
An ongoing cleanup is still in process. It was recently announced that the undamaged generator will be moved to a power plant in North Carolina.
Not long after, we arrive back in Columbia and get to see the bridge, and the civil war era ruins, crossing the river in the sunlight. One last look as the sun sets. Tomorrow, it’s back to Philly to drop off the car and catch a train back to the airport. Then it’s back home.
Final Tally from this trip
New stadiums visited -3. Bringing our total to 16 for Tim, 17 for Letty and me (the two of us saw a game at Oakland without Tim). Since this trip, we also added Seattle so now it’s 16 and 18 respectively…that number includes two for San Diego (Qualcom Stadium and Petco Park)
New states – just New Jersey, bringing our total state count to 32 for Letty and Tim and 36 for me.
Copyright 2010-Darryl Musick