Friday, August 25, 2017

2017-23 Altoona and Johnstown Pennsylvania


been on a lot of country roads lately

Altoona Pennsylvania

Campground: Noel's Trailer Park. 35 minutes from Altoona, $25 for 30 amp electric. No water or sewer at site. 6 over the air TV stations(poor), good Verizon signal. This is an old trailer camp, most sites are seasonal and a few full time live-ins. Overhead electric wires hang low and a worker directing me to my pull-thru site kept a watchful eye on the top of my camper to make sure I cleared each set of wires.  Electric cut out about 4 times and was weak.

It will do for a couple of nights, but I would not recommend the park.

Noel's Trailer Park, a really old trailer park
my campsite, behind the dumpsters
Noel's is a really old trailer park

lost electric power about 4 times
and it's a weak, the a/c didn't like it at all

anyone need storage?

Distance traveled: 102 miles

Stop! wait, proceed slowly
lots and lots of road repairs

I picked this campground mainly because it's approx. half way between Altoona and Johnstown. Both areas I thought might be interesting to tour. With that said, I headed into Altoona the next day. My GPS giving me good directions if a bit on the exciting side. The route chosen went on up over one of the many ridge lines of the Allegheny mountain range. And descending down the mountain on a 14% grade was quite a thrill as the road traveled along the edge of each heavily forested drop off. Thank goodness I didn't have my camper in tow. My fellow Rv-ers will understand fully what a 14% grade means. Even without towing the camper downshifting and breaking periodically are essential.

from detailed train layouts of Altoona
The Railroaders Memorial Museum 
to exceptional vintage photo's
and lots of innovative displays 
Altoona was once one of the main centers for the Pennsylvania Rail Road and still is. New train engines were built and tested here. The Railroaders Memorial Museum and the famous horseshoe Curve, approx 5 miles away are well worth the drive over the mountain. My first stop was at the Railroaders Museum and I wasn't disappointed. Exceptional displays telling the life of a railroad worker, the enormous man hours put in to research the best products to be used on the railroads. An example being the testing of various Florida oranges to determine which would produce the most orange juice for the diners, or the testing of light bulbs to determine which would last the longest and produce the most light. Constant upgrades to the rail road equipment for communications and safety were ongoing. Many of the displays described what impact the trains had on local lives.

I highly recommend the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum.

views from the Train Museum, into downtown Altoona

museum is on three levels

over 100 knobs, levers and switches 

comics hit on the popularity of trains

each display covering another
aspect of the train life and worker

The Chairman of the board
explains that he's got to make a profit
for the share holders

this is the era when everything was
tested for efficiency and maximum use
testing how much juice each type of Florida
orange produced, to be served on the trains
special devices created to test light bulbs brightness and longevity 

excellent displays

life in the late 1800's

The news boy is off screen, activated by motion sensors
he appears as you approach the display to tell his story

As a former Government worker I was taught early on that every job had it's fringe benefits. For the railroad worker, it meant their families could ride the trains often for free or for a minimal amount of money. Including being able to travel on other railroad lines as well, since many had reciprocal travel agreements. It was nothing for a wife and children living in Altoona to hop on a train and go into Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or even New York to shop and dine out. They could even take a vacation by rail all the way out west to places like Yellowstone National Park.  Now that's a good fringe benefit.

Train enthusiasts will recognize the Horseshoe Curve

trains pass through every twenty mintutes

just coming into horseshoe curve

it wraps around this reservoir and viewing park 

even Abraham Lincoln traveled on a train around this bend
still heavily used today

these cars are garbage scows sending trash from as far away
as Philadelphia and New York, heading west

and around the bend, eliminating the need for bridges
keeping the train at an even level for the tracks 

The horseshoe curve was and still is an amazing accomplishment in railroad history. Due to the numerous mountain ranges in Pennsylvania, the original design of the first railroads was to put down tracks where they could, transfer passengers onto canal barges and back again to trains just to travel across the state. The horseshoe curve enabled the construction of a rail line along the ridge of the surrounding mountains completing the rail line from one end of Pennsylvania to the other. In conjunction with the museum, there's a wonderful park in the center of the horseshoe curve for viewing the trains as they loop around the mountain range.

Trains travel this route about every 20 minutes and I was able to see two pass through. The last one being a very long train of garbage containers, taking garbage from either Philadelphia or New York. I was able to see the entire trail as it looped around the big curve, completely surrounding us in a 360 degree view. What a fun experience, one that any train enthusiast must see.

Another day I toured the Mishler Theatre, built twice, the first time in 1906 and the second time in 1907. Although the first one built had many fire protection features including an asbestos curtain and sprinklers to put out any fire, it was a fire next door to the theater that quickly got out of control that took it down. The owner had already used most of his money and was not sure he could rebuild. Local citizens put up the collateral and it was rebuilt in record time.

Even though it was not a major city, because it was on a direct rail line from Philadelphia and New York, many entertainers, shows and plays would stop here first, before going across country. George Burns, the famous stand up comedian titled his memoirs “They loved me in Altoona”.

Unlike many historic buildings, this one did not remain empty but for a couple of years. It would eventually be purchased by a local non-profit group that has done an exceptional job renovating it and bring back live theater, music and other events.

downtown Altoona PA
Inside the Mishler Theater

downtown Altoona PA

The Altoona Trust, now a Comic book store 

The Mishler recently opened a bar in
the basement, with a really cool vibe

I even stopped in for a peak at the large cathedral on top of the hill close to the theater. A mass was being performed, but I was able to take a picture from the back of the modern day structure, with a picture of Pope Francis at the entrance. Grand yet understated in it's design.

light and airy interior

Johnstown PA

town wiped out in 1889 including two more floods

Johnstown PA

Well, what a mess I made of attempting to do a bit of touring in this city that has been devastated by three major floods. The largest one being back in 1889. The story goes that a number of wealthy industrialists had purchased land surrounding a man made lake, including owning the earthen dam that held back all the water. They built large cottages secluded amongst the treed shoreline and enjoyed the summers in their own little piece of paradise, away from the lower class workers.

The dam having gone through two previous owners before the new wealthy industrialists took over.  It was not well maintained. Heavy rains rapidly overflowed the dam and spillway, as a couple of feet had been removed from the middle of the earthen dam to make it easier for the cottage owners to travel across the top of the dam with their carriages. Creating a second point for the overflowing water to travel.

The dam burst and flooded all of the towns downstream with Johnstown being the largest town at the end of the valley where three rivers intersect. With the lake gone and the valley towns destroyed, the wealthy owners of the cottages would never return to their summer homes.

the Red Cross had it's first major event
in Johnstown, spending many months coordinating help

Well I started out saying what a mess I made of attempting to tour the area. I did of course tour the Flood Museum, but only after being directed by signage away from what looked like a perfectly good parking lot, over a bridge and to a dirt parking lot at the Amtrak station. It was under renovation, but conflicting signs indicated it was for museum parking and another sign indicating for Amtrak employees only. Being the museum was back across the bridge, I drove back over in that direction and ended up getting street parking/w parking meter. Once again limiting my time for touring.

My second attempt was to take a ride on the “steepest vehicular Incline plane” in the world. Well, my faithful GPS did take me to the site, but not to the base of the ride, no I ended up driving to the top of the hill 900 feet almost straight up. Turned out ok, because on Fridays and weekends, the venicular train doesn't run until late morning and afternoons. So I was able to enjoy the views and see this suburb in the sky before once again descending back to flood plane level.

By then I was eager for some lunch, but not being familiar with the town, I couldn't find any visitor parking in the busy downtown shopping district. I'm sure there were some places to park, but all I saw were parking lots designated for various bank building employees only and other businesses, none for visitors....

Though there were a number of very interesting places to tour in the area, my stomach won out and I headed out of town in search of a restaurant with a parking lot.

A note: I did download a Johnstown app to my phone that was supposedly designed to give a listing of all the interesting places to visit and a map showing ones preferences of places to visit. Unfortunately, after I selected my places of interest and retrieved the custom map, it had little dots on the map, that one needed to open to see what the location marker was for. After clicking on a few of them, I noticed the app added additional places of businesses and shops/restaurants along with my selections. Needless to say, it was not of any help.... good idea, just not helpful.
So a short report covering only a 4 day stay before heading out to an Army Corps campground, my last stop before exiting Pennsylvania.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017-22 Emporium Pennsylvania


Sizerville Pennsylvania
Emporium Pennsylvania
Port Allegheny

Campground: Sizerville State park. 50 amp electric. Water close to site. Heavily forested, campsites are nicely paved with mix of grassy sites and trees scattered around the campground and picnic area. Seasonal swimming pool. No cell phone service, no internet, no Tv signal.

Sizerville St Pk, Electric only, though I got a site next to a water spigot

Distance Traveled: 79 miles

Time to move on after spending a pleasant two weeks in the Tioga Pa area. The drive across hwy 6, the northern route across Pennsylvania was uneventful, I didn't stop at the Pa Lumber Museum, but would have had time to do so. Traveling through a small community called Sweden Valley and then heading south into the Susquehannock State Forest. My ever faithful Google maps directed me as I half expected along more rural routes, as there aren't many major roads through this mountainous country. I ended up on narrower and narrower country roads with small cabins tucked deep in the surrounding forest. Finally driving two miles along a dirt road before coming back out to civilization somewhere around Keating Summit onto hwy 155, along with resurfacing the road, half of a bridge was being rebuilt directly in front of the entrance to the state park. Perhaps not as uneventful as the day started out.

lots of bridges being rebuilt in region
this one was next to the Sizerville St Pk entrance

Note; saw numerous bridges closed/being rebuilt and lots of State roads being repaved. Must have had some serious flooding in the region in the past year or so....

It felt good to get to my campsite and back onto a modern, nicely paved campsite, surrounded by grass and trees nicely spaced so as not to be hanging over the camper. The bad news, no internet (occasionally one bar), no cell phone and no Tv or radio signals. I'm really in the wilderness.

The closest town is Emporium, six miles away. I will investigate it this week, though can't imagine how a small town like this ever came to exist in such wilderness. Already unhappy that they have parking meters throughout town. Something I think is a disservice to the visitor and to the owners of shops. Though the fee for one hours parking is only 10 cents and two hours is a quarter. A very reasonable fee for parking. About a block south of the main street are free parking spots.

The old Sylvania Building
home of the original radio tube manufacturing
and lightbulbs

was hoping to get a tour inside the old
factory, but it wasn't in the cards

Some notes on Emporium:

Lady Justice, with eyes
wide open

  • Lady Justice there are actually two, one inside the courtroom and one on top of the Courthouse clock tower. She is two of only 6 known Lady Justices with her eyes wide open, not wearing a blind fold. So if you are traveling through Emporium, be aware, Lady Justice can see and judge what you are doing...
  • The dynamite used in the building of the Panama Canal was manufactured here.
  • Sylvania and the introduction of radio tubes had its start in Emporium and of course light bulbs. During WWII the town was known as “Girls Town” because Sylvania and other businesses were run by women. Sylvania left the area in the 1960's.
  • One of the few remaining businesses are two lumber yards that manufacture frames for furniture. Unfortunately the Chinese have over recent years been able to produce cheaper frames using composite materials. Only the Amish currently purchase real wood for their products.
  • Due to the low filing fees for divorce and the number of uncontested divorce filings, Emporium is considered the “divorce capitol” of Pennsylvania.

I must say I've enjoyed reading some interesting books as if my own travel adventures aren't enough. The most recent books have taken me to Maine which of course I was visiting at the time, The southwest a thousand years ago when the Anastasi populated the cliff dwellings and my most recent book, Love Potion Number 10 by Betsy Woodman took me on a journey to India in the 1960's. A delightful book with endearing characters.

I've also got a backup of Dvd's for times like this when I have no communication signals and I have to chuckle thinking of a time when my good friend Patrick and I would watch videos each week. He would usually pick them, but occasionally I would get one. Patrick would howl at how bad the movie was. I remember one movie that I had selected was about a Russian water polo team.... it really was a bad film.

Elk Country Visitor Center/ Benezette Pennsylvania

numerous blinds to view elk in the area

Well it's time for a little touring so I'm heading out to do a loop tour along the Elk Scenic Drive. Numerous maps, brochures and Elk State Forest maps all tout the story of Elk being re-introduced to Pennsylvania. At one time before the “white man” arrived, it is believed that there were over 100,000 elk in this region. Having been wiped out by the European settlers, along with eliminating the river otter, beaver, mountain lion, fisher, Osprey and falcon. We have not been good stewards of this land. Coal mining destroyed fishing along the rivers in this area and the forests were all cut down.

Thanks to conservationists who began to realize the devastation that had taken place, a turning point took place around 1913 when the beaver (a pair of them) were brought over from Wisconsin. Later, the elk would arrive (starting with around 50) from the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area. The CCC's replanted trees and after the hunters organized and developed a plan to help the elk survive things are back on track. Well, with about 1,000 elk now living and surviving in Pennsylvania along with the usual hunting season taking place to keep the elk population at sustainable levels that is.

I think the elk are pretty smart because I sure didn't see any of them out and about. It may be the time of season, who knows. I was up pretty early and drove to numerous viewing areas. Pretty scenery, but no elk to be seen. The main visitor center is having a huge weekend extravaganza. With vendors, food, local crafts for sale, presentations on the elk of course, but don't expect with all those hordes of people and cars to see an of the famous elk. I don't think I'll be attending....

Oh I did see 4 white tailed deer as they gracefully ran across the road in front of me, climbing up a hillside in perfect formation. Relatively small deer but a joy to see. I'll wait till I get back out west to see the elk and buffalo and other big game animals in natural settings, or maybe even another trip through Alberta Canada where I saw lots of elk, bear, and moose.

Lynn Hall in Port Allegheny

Lynn Hall, under renovations

To me, this was the trifecta of touring experiences. Architecture, restoration in progress, personal tour by the owners/renovators. I couldn't ask for more. The builder/designer of Lynn Hall was Walter Hall who began building the structure in the 1930's. At the time, this was a fairly wealthy region. Walter designed in the Organic Architecture style, which would later be called the Prairie Style by Frank Lloyd Wright. And that's where the connection becomes so interesting. Wright designed the famous “Falling Water” Home but the owners were having second thoughts about building. The son of the owners of Falling waters happened to travel north through Port Allegheny where he first saw Lynn Hall. He knew the builder of it had to build Falling Water. And that's how Walter Hall became the contractor, along with his select workers ended up constructing Falling Waters. Frank Lloyd Wright visited Lynn Hall and one can see similarities in both designs. Of course Lynn Hall was designed and constructed by Walter before Falling Water was started. Although not an architect, he sure captured the Organic architecture style.

The new owners of Lynn Hall were kind enough to stop construction on their building efforts to give me a tour of the once grand residence/restaurant/dance hall. Any student of architecture would enjoy seeing the original plans, the current state of the building and the restoration efforts I was able to see.

the guest house, currently the owners using
will become a Air-B&B 

view of guest house overlooking main building

The horizontal lines, placement of long expanses of windows, built-ins and fireplaces, even a natural spring that once fed various water features inside and outside the house. All gradually went into deterioration over a 35 year period after the place closed in the 1950's. In recent years, two sets of owners have undertaken the restoration process. The current owners, two guys from Florida, have begun hopefully the final phase of reconstruction. Having put in 6 months of work installing a new roof and heating throughout. They should be in fine shape to complete inside projects well into the winter months. And with luck, it will be open to the public next year/Spring?

various shots of Lynn Hall

all new heating installed

so much work to be done on interior 
pictures of work crew used on Falling Water site

Walter Halls work crew at Falling Water

restoration project, in progress

Corning glass blocks used throughout

an experimental Corning Glass panel used in Lynn Hall

thanks guys for a great tour

future views from new bedroom project

future bedroom project, second floor

flooring got damaged in the ballroom
before new roofing completed... will become private living quarters

all new radiant heating installed

once the main ball room, dancing

an on-sight spring once fed this water feature 

great lines on building

already planting and redesign of outdoor water features

main entrance to the original dining room, ball room
hotel section was never completed

this was my kind of exploring and discovery

Needless to say, this was a fun week for me. Thanks to a great Pennsylvania Visitor Center (1st one on hwy 99 after exiting NY into PA) Experience back in Tioga Pennsylvania for directing me to Lynn Hall and many other great places to explore in Pennsylvania.

More photos:

Emporium and surrounding area

Lynn Hall photos