Saturday, November 1, 2008

Strasburg, PA

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Lancaster County, PA. I go there often, but rarely stay over. This was a treat. I was working on an article about the railroad destinations in Strasburg, but I found time to hit my favorite quilt fabric stores and I dropped a little cash at the outlets, too.

I drove out Friday evening and checked into the Red Caboose Motel. I've always wanted to stay at this motel where you get to sleep in a real caboose. I was actually in a part of the mail car and it was very comfy. I had French toast the next morning in the Victorian dining car which was doing a brisk business. There's a button behind the hostess station that makes the car feel like it's moving. With my camera I walked around the motel's grounds to check out all the clever activities for kids. There's a petting zoo and buggy rides around Amish country, and a 72-step viewing tower that used to be a silo. I got some great shots of the surrounding Amish farmland from the top.

I also visited the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania just down the road. This huge museum features huge locomotives and "rolling stock" representing the railroad history of Pennsylvania. This photo was taken from the bridge over the display. Out in the restoration yard I got a couple of photos of some old rusty cabooses waiting to be restored. Although I was supposed to be learning about railroads in Pennsylvania, I bought a book on New Jersey railroads in the bookstore.

Right next door to the Red Caboose Motel is the National Toy Train Museum. This place has displays of antique and contemporary American and European toy trains and three huge layouts. Each of these has buttons visitors can push to operate the trains and accessories. There is even a display of toys other than trains made by the famous toy train maker, Lionel: a little electric stove and and airport among other things.

The Choo Choo Barn is another attraction just down the street. It started as a display in Mr. Groff's basement, and has grown to a huge layout featuring scenes of Lancaster County. Periodically, the lights go down and it's all lit up with twinking stars above. There's a house that catches on fire, a fire engine that drives over, a ski lift, and a tiny Strasburg Rail Road. This display is in a large room at one end of this mini-complex with train-related stores featuring books, videos, and Thomas merchandise.

I stayed at the Rose Garden Bed and Breakfast in Strasburg Saturday night (the Red Caboose was booked solid!) and then went for my ride on the Strasburg Rail Road. This is the attraction that was here first: it's America's oldest-running short-line railroad. All of the cars are restored (beautifully) to be correct to the 1930s even if the car is actually older. I road in a coach car, but for a little more $$ I could have ridden in the posh first-class car or the fancy dining car for a meal. I'd ridden this train before, but I hadn't noticed that the locomotive pulls the train backwards for the first half of the 45-minute ride, then pulls around the train on a different track to the other end of the train. Now it pulls the train frontwards back to the Strasburg station. It has always done it this way. Huh. Even though this wasn't one of the weekends that the famous Thomas the Tank Engine visits Strasburg, the place was packed! I noticed other people visiting multiple train destinations, too.

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