Monday, October 14, 2013

A Day on the Rails

Where can you find America’s oldest railroad operating under its original charter? Where can you eat a meal served in a bindle? What is a bindle?

As a student in elementary school I never really enjoyed those “what did you do over the summer” essays. Somehow it always seemed like everyone else had enjoyed a more interesting summer than had I. So as a father I find myself trying to plan vacations that are about experiences, looking for things that will make my children say “wow” at the end of each day as we return to our hotel. Last year’s vacation was all about fun with a trip to Orlando, Florida. This year’s vacation was about history.

We started our trip with a return to one of our favorite tourist locations, The Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. Located on PA route 74, about two hours drive from Philadelphia, the Strasburg Rail Road offers the opportunity to relax and enjoy a ride through the country on an assortment of vintage rail cars. Pulled by old steam engines, these cars travel along a part of a rail line that opened in 1832. The original purpose of the railroad, which still operates under its original charter, was to link the town of Strasburg with the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad which bypassed Strasburg threatening the town’s viability.

On our previous trip we rode in one of the railroad’s coach cars, enjoying the scenery passing by outside our window. This time we chose to ride in one of the dining cars where we were served a hobo lunch wrapped in a red bindle: the bag made with a bandana on a stick associated with the hobo culture. We each chose from the assortment of available sandwiches but I would have been fine with a very large bowl of the baked beans served as part of the meal. The beans made the extra onboard cost of the food worth paying. The only difficulty was in not letting the food distract from enjoying the view of the Lancaster countryside.

The train run is about 45 minutes round trip, worth the money as an opportunity for great family time. If you want you can disembark at Groff’s Grove recreation area located at the mid-way point of the trip. Add in a number of other attractions for kids, along with the gift shops and ice cream and you have the makings of a great diversion. For a little extra you can visit their workshop where volunteers repair and restore vintage train cars. And twice a year Thomas the Tank Engine stops by to visit with children. Combine your visit with a trip to the Pennsylvania Train Museum, located just across the street and you have a dream afternoon for anyone who loves the rails. (I’ll talk about the museum in another post.)

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