Author Archives: Shawn Marie Mann

Shawn Marie Mann

About Shawn Marie Mann

Shawn Marie is a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania Dutch Country and comes from a family which still speaks Pennsylvania German at reunions. She loves traveling in and around Lancaster County discovering wonderful places for families to visit. In addition to writing for the PA Dutch Country Blog, Shawn Marie also shares everything you need to know about visiting Hersheypark and Dutch Wonderland on her website www.amusementparkmom.com.

My favorite place for PA Dutch Specialties

If you’ve traveled to Pennsylvania Dutch Country you may have heard about the custom of putting seven sweets and seven sours on the table at mealtime. The idea of putting such variety on the table is to provide a varied and balanced diet to a hard working family.

If you think it is hard to come up with seven sweets and seven sours for a meal, look no further than Intercourse Canning Company. Located at 13 Center Street, just off the Old Philadelphia Pike in Intercourse, PA, this store features everything you need to set a PA Dutch inspired table.

When you walk in the door you will be greeted by their helpful staff and rows upon rows of colorful jars filled with amazing new things to try. Intercourse Canning Company offers over 300 varieties of canned goods and other products and has samples for you to test of many of their top sellers.

My family is partial to their pickled beets and Jalapeno Pepper Jam. However, to get the true PA Dutch experience you must try the chow chow and the apple butter, two staples of Lancaster County cuisine. Boxes and rows of jellies, relishes and salsas fill the aisles just waiting to go home with you.

I can a little bit myself, but I learned even more on my visit. Did you know that Napoleon was a big part of canning history? Intercourse Canning Company offers lessons in canning history with their educational video which runs every day. They also have a demonstration kitchen which showcases their Amish canning kitchen cooks whipping up batches of homemade goodness for your table from April through December.

Not sure you have room in the car for that case of canned deliciousness? No worries, Intercourse Canning Company will ship to your home or a friend’s home. And if you eat up all that great Amish Meatloaf sauce (trust me, it is amazing) you can order some from your comfy couch using their online ordering at their website.

I highly recommend that you visit Intercourse Canning Company and plan to spend at least an hour browsing and tasting your way through the store. In addition to canned goods they have candy, homemade noodles, gourmet mixes, and delicious coffee (ever have Whoopie Pie coffee before?). If you have holiday shopping to do, Intercourse Canning Company makes it really easy on you with gift baskets and smaller sizes of jars if you want to make your own.

Though my family was just there in mid-summer, we plan to go again closer to Christmas since their stock and specialties change with the seasons. Next time I go I’m going to make sure I pick up two jars of their Amish Sweet Mustard. It goes great with my kids’ favorite snack of bologna and cheese. Definitely give it a try!

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Spring means AQS Quiltweek®

After such a cold and snowy winter, spring has finally arrived. The dreariness of winter made my trip to Lancaster for the AQS Quiltweek® event in March even more exciting this year. Even though the weather was still cold and gray, the Lancaster County Convention Center was blooming with warmth and color like a magical spring day.

It’s my tradition to stop at Lancaster Central Market before the event to grab a chocolate whoopie pie and a cup of coffee. I didn’t break with tradition. I enjoyed the moist cookie and creamy filling as I waited in line for the event. [NOTE: They do not allow food or drinks in the exhibition or sales areas, so be sure to finish your whoopie before you go in!]

For the second year in a row, Katherine Rupp, the Marketing Director of the American Quilter’s Society, gave me a tour of the exhibits and pointed out some local winners in the quilt contests. Pennsylvania is always well represented in the winner’s circle. It’s exciting to see my fellow local quilters do so well in the competitions.

One of my favorite quilts this year was by Sue Reno of Columbia titled “Jack in the Pulpit.” The quilt reminded me of spring when all the woodland plants come out of hiding. My favorite exhibit was Cherrywood’s “WICKED,” based on the book and Broadway show, Wicked. It showcased small quilts made with their signature green colored hand-dyed fabrics.  Seeing the collection hung together was striking.

If you are not a quilter yourself, you still have plenty of reasons to visit a Quiltweek® event. Quilts are pieces of art and represent hand-craftsmanship at its finest. Like a fabric art gallery, a quilt event like this showcases the traditional bed quilt next to the modern art quilt and allows the viewer to think for themselves what the world “quilt” really means.

Not only are the quilts varied and exciting, the vendors have lots to offer as well. From jewelry and beauty items to household tools and the most up-to-date sewing machinery, there are sorts of things to try out, try on, and take home with you.

If you are a quilter or someone who loves working with fabric and thread in any fashion, you definitely will want to spend an entire day getting inspiration and ideas from these wonderful artisans. The supply of fabrics and threads is endless. Stocking up is always a good idea because with this special show comes special sales prices.

Every year I leave Quiltweek® with a renewed zest for my fabric stash and vow I’ll make more quilts than ever. I hope you visit AQS Quiltweek® next year and enjoy all it has to offer!

Steampunk Unlimited at the Strasburg Rail Road

If you are familiar with the Steampunk movement – a mix of past relics of the steam age and futuristic visions of airships and intricate machinery – then you know the Strasburg Rail Road is the ideal place to frolic with your friends in this most fascinating of lifestyles.

Imagine an idyllic countryside filled with horses and buggies rolling by as you enjoy a cocktail on the dining car pulled by a beautiful steam beast dating back to the early 1900’s. This is exactly what you will experience at the Steampunk Unlimited weekend at the Strasburg Rail Road.

For one weekend in the fall the historic Rail Road gives itself over to the fans of Steampunk bringing in purveyors of gadgets, gizmos, and books related to the movement. In addition to the shopping opportunities there are delights for your ears as well as musicians, including the popular Abney Park, take the stage to entertain you. With a large tent added to the property and vendors stationed alongside the tracks, it is easy to spend an afternoon enjoying the sights.

On this weekend your ticket entitles you to unlimited rides aboard the trains at Strasburg. Some folks just ride the rails to see the countryside; others stop at Groff’s Grove for a picnic luncheon. All regular attractions at the Strasburg Rail Road remain open during Steampunk Unlimited.

My children and I took a trip aboard one of the coach cars pulled by engine number 475, a gorgeous steam locomotive built in 1906. They loved seeing the farms as well as a sneak peak at Cherry Crest Adventure Farm as we passed by. The graveyard and ghost train whistle offered them a little Halloween preview too. On our return trip to the station we were visited by the Queen of Hearts who was desperately searching for a girl named Alice. She posed for pictures with the children and gave each of them a trinket before continuing on in her search.

Back at the station we shopped in the toy store and took a spin on the Cranky Cars. The Pint Sized Pufferbelly, Cranky Cars, and Pump Car were all included in our ticket so they could enjoy them as much as they liked. Also popular was the playground where they could climb and slide as long as they liked.

Even though Steampunk is the theme of the weekend, the Rail Road is open to regular guests as well. If you’d like to find out more about Steampunk or just do some people watching (you’ll be amazed by the variety of costumes) then plan a trip to Steampunk Unlimited at Strasburg Rail Road next year. There’s nothing else like it!

The Amazing Annual Whoopie Pie Festival

Are you a fan of the whoopie pie? If you aren’t then you most certainly will be after you attend the annual Whoopie Pie Festival at Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn. If you’re like me and are a die-hard fan of this tasty creation, you definitely want to make plans to attend this festival.

My family and I planned to visit the 2014 Whoopie Pie Festival on Saturday, September 6, but I have to confess I was dreading the parking situation. I was so relieved to read on the festival’s website that they would be providing shuttles from several locations. We decided to catch the shuttle from the American Music Theater. The shuttle bus was air conditioned and very fancy. My kids are used to school buses, so this was a big treat for them and got our day off to a good start. The driver told me shuttles run every 20 minutes to each location to make it easy to get back to your car when you’ve finished your day.

When we arrive at the festival, my children and I couldn’t believe the sheer number of whoopie pies that were gathered in one place; everywhere you looked there were whoopies. Not knowing what else to do, we started off in the Whoopie Pie tent where over a 100 varieties of whoopies were available for purchase.

At first we played it safe by picking up the original chocolate whoopie pie with vanilla filling, then we branched out to coconut and strawberry fillings. Finally, we got brave with a vanilla cookie with sprinkles featuring cream cheese filling. My son, the most adventurous of us, got a root beer filled chocolate whoopie pie.

We wished we would have brought a cooler so we could have taken home the banana orange, marble salted caramel, chocolate chunk mint chip, and chocolate dipped whoopies… but without a cooler they’d wouldn’t have made it home without melting.

I didn’t venture into the “adults only” section of the tent, but I heard that some new special whoopie pies featured flavors like Bailey’s Irish Creme and Creme de Menthe. Bring ID if you want these extra special ones because they will card you!

We checked out the craft vendors selling everything from cards to stuffed animals. There was lots to choose from and all were friendly folks eager to help you make a selection. I would have liked tohave shopped longer, but my kids were pulling me to the Whoopie Pie Treasure Hunt.

The Treasure Hunt is a free activity where kids can hunt for up to ten mini-whoopies to take home with them, but it is the famous golden whoopie that gets them the prize. My daughter found one of the golden whoopies and she was thrilled with her prize – silly band bracelets in Amish themed shapes. There were two of each shape in the package, enough for her to share with her not-as-lucky brother which made life easier for me.

Next up we took pictures with the World’s Largest Whoopie Pie. Weighing in at 720 pounds, you’d need a lot of milk to get this one down. The cream filling would keep my sweet tooth satisfied for at least a year (OK, maybe just a month).

Next door was the Make Your Own Whoopie Pie booth. For $2 the kids were given a box with the chocolate cookies and decorating candy in it and filling was available on the decorating tables. I have to give the festival organizers bonus points here; the person working the booth asked right away if either child had a peanut allergy. My son is one of the lucky no-peanut kids, so he received an extra special box that was peanut-free. So often he is left out of food-related activities because people don’t think about food allergies, but here he was able to do the very same thing his sister did plus he got licorice which made him really happy. It is these types of things that keep me coming back to a food event year after year, the little touches that help my family have a good time even though we have some dietary limitations.

We didn’t get to see the Whoopie Yell Off, the Whoopie Pie Launch, the Whoopie Pie Eating Contest, or the live entertainment, but the kids did enjoy the bounce slide and seeing the farm animals.

When it was time to go home, we caught the shuttle bus back to our car. I was thankful the wait for our bus was less than five minutes. On a hot day even that length of time can seem forever. Despite the heat, my family enjoyed the Whoopie Pie Festival and we would visit again.

If your family would like to attend the 2015 Whoopie Pie Festival at Hershey Farm Restaurant, here are a few tips for you:

  • Use the shuttle bus service. It is so nice to have air conditioning and a chance to rest your feet and parking at the event site is limited.
  • If it is hot, bring a cooler with ice packs for your whoopie pies so you can stock up on your favorites.
  • Arrive early for the best selection. If you want some of the limited flavors like chocolate chunk cookies and cream or vanilla rootbeer, be sure to beat the crowds.
  • Bring small bills for the bounce house, decorate your own whoopie and checkers. They do not accept cards and the prices are minimal.
  • If it is a sunny day, be sure to wear sunscreen.

I’ve been to many food festivals, but this one by far is the best I’ve attended. If you want to do something unusual and tasty with your family on a nice fall day, definitely consider the Whoopie Pie Festival at Hershey Farm Restaurant. It’s a whole lot of fun.

 

Dairy Farming at Verdant View Farm

Summer is a wonderful time to take a trip to a dairy farm. My family did just that by taking the Farmland Fun Tour at Verdant View Farm in Paradise, PA. Located smack dab in the middle of Amish Country, Verdant View Farm offers visitors a chance to see what happens on a working dairy farm.

We met up with Patrick and Elise Fleming who give the Farmland Fun tours at Verdant View. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday in July. Our tour was at 3:00 PM and it began right on time. Patrick introduced himself, shared the history of the farm, and then took us to meet our first animal friends of the day, the rabbits.

Another farm friend showed up around this time. We all got to meet Scooby, the farm dog. Scooby is a four year old Border Collie born whoon the 4th of July. Everyone fell in love with him. We learned all about his important jobs on the farm like keeping the goats where they belong and protecting the chickens from foxes.

Next Patrick took us on a tour of the barn where there was a special surprise – a hay maze for the children (unfortunately I was too tall to go through). The barn, built in 1923, contains no nails and all the beams were cut from just one tree. The kids learned why barns have two stories and got to feed some cows in the process.

Then Patrick handed out some corn and we went to feed the goats. We met two-day-old goat twins named Gilbert and Sullivan plus quite a few others that we were able to feed. As we were visiting the goats, the steam train from the Strasburg Rail Road puffed by. The railroad runs through the farm, so it is easy to get a good look at the train while you are visiting.

It was hard to leave the cute baby goats, but it was time to take the tractor-driven wagon ride around the farm (the wagon is wheelchair accessible so everyone can take part in the tour). We joined the folks in Elisa’s “Farmer’s Apprentice” tour as Patrick drove us to the highest point of the farm to see the “Verdant View.” Though Verdant View is not an Amish farm, it has Amish neighbors and some of the farm land is rented out to Amish farmers for growing tobacco. Patrick gave us an overview of the farm’s crops and answered questions about dairy farming.

Their Farmer’s Apprentice Program is wonderful. If your family wants more hands-on learning, you can sign up for one of four apprenticeships: cheese making, animal care, backyard chickens, and homemade ice cream. Our family did the Farmland Fun tour and not the Farmer’s Apprentice, so I can’t give lots of details about it, but I can tell you that the Apprentice group we saw got to feed the baby cows with a bottle!

After the wagon ride we met the chickens and ducks. The kids loved the chickens and even got to pick them up, but eventually we had to leave all those clucking hens to visit the heart of the dairy operation – the cows! Our kids were fascinated to see the cows up close and feed them. There was some “cow-licking” of hands, but since cows don’t have upper teeth there is no way for them to bite. (Don’t worry, there are hand washing stations at the farm so everyone can clean up real good before going home.)Our kids had so much fun feeding the cows that they forgot that Patrick said they could milk one. Down into the milking parlor we went. Anyone who wanted to try their hand at milking a cow could. Afterward, we went to see the baby calves.

After our farm tour, my daughter decided that she wanted to hold a rabbit (she was too scared the first time), my son wanted to swing from the large tree in the barnyard, and I decided to snap pictures of the Strasburg steam train as it passed by. We all washed our hands before leaving and said goodbye to Patrick and Scooby. The kids said their favorite part of the day was feeding the cows and the goats.

In addition to offering the Farmland Fun tours, Verdant View Farm is also a Bed and Breakfast. They’ve given people overnight experiences since 1967. If your family needs a quiet place to stay while visiting Amish country or Strasburg which is VERY close, this would be the place to do it. Lots of room options and a full breakfast every day except Sunday.

My family had a great time taking the Farmland Fun tour at Verdant View Farm and meeting Scooby and all his friends. We absolutely would visit again, but next time we’d like to do one of the Farmer’s Apprentice programs.

To learn more, visit www.farmlandfun.com.

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An afternoon stroll through Intercourse

One of my favorite places to visit in Lancaster County is the Village of Intercourse. Yeah, it has a funny name, but it also has some of the best little shops to visit, especially if you love taste testing great food and seeing beautiful handcrafts.

Kitchen Kettle Village is a huge draw to this location and, with over 40 shops, there is a lot to see. My favorite shop is the Jam and Relish Kitchen where they can, bottle, and jar jams, jellies, relishes, salsas, and more for you to take home. If you like to taste-test samples, this will be one of your favorite places since nearly every item for sale is open for you to try. Online ordering is also available.

A short walk from Kitchen Kettle Village is the Old Candle Barn. Don’t let the name fool you, they have much more than candles. There are tons of home decorations, lamps, and linens waiting for you to look through. The shop is changed seasonally, so no matter when you visit, you will find something wonderful to take home with you. The candle selection is marvelous and includes soy candles which are fragrance and dye free.

If you are a quilter you must visit Zooks Fabric Store. I’ve been getting my quilting fabric from them for over 25 years. They have a fine selection of popular commercial brands plus Kona cottons and the hard-to-find Amish solids you need to finish that Sunshine and Shadow quilt you’ve been making.

Cross the street and you can visit the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. A free tour is offered when the factory is in operation; otherwise, you can sample and buy a wide variety of freshly made pretzels. Both hard and soft pretzels are made in the factory and all are delicious.

If taste-testing is your favorite hobby, then you definitely want to visit the Intercourse Canning Company. A huge selection of canned goods waits for you in a rainbow of colors and flavors. Previously housed in an older building, the Canning Company has moved to Center Street, but is still within walking distance of the heart of Intercourse.Cooking demos are offered at certain times and a video history of canning is also available.

Near the Intercourse Canning Company is Stoltzfus Meats and Deli. This is a great place to pick up a snack of some lebanon bologna and farmer’s cheese and a nice cold drink. Be sure to pack a cooler in your car to take home a pound or two of their great meats and cheese for later. They also feature Amos’ Place Restaurant if you need more than a snack.

I know you are curious… so here’s the scoop on the village name. The Village of Intercourse was founded in 1754 and the word intercourse at that time was used to reference fellowship or a social gathering. Since the village is also the place where two main roads cross it makes a lot of sense that it was named Intercourse. But if you’d like to think that this piece of history is all wrong and it means something else, well, there will be a lot of t-shirts to support your theory in the gift shops, so have fun!

Cars, motorcycles, buses… and a Kissmobile

My husband and I recently made a trip to the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum and were totally amazed by the themed areas and the variety of transportation vehicles on display there.

I should say up front that I am not a car person. I like them as well as the next person I guess, but I’m not crazy into them (I prefer trains actually), so I was a little worried that I’d spend a couple hours being bored while my husband “the car guy” enjoyed the museum.

Let me tell you, I had no reason to worry. The AACA Museum has plenty to keep anyone fascinated. From a replica Drive-In theater (can you find the bathing beauty?) to a full size diner, the museum is full of the history that everyone can find something to enjoy.

The AACA Museum opened in 2003 as a separate entity from the Antique Automobile Club of America, but the two organizations work together to expand the knowledge and enjoyment of antique automobiles, motorcycles and buses. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute; it changes exhibits throughout the year and includes special activities for Halloween and Christmas.

On our trip we were lucky enough to see the Indian Nation: Indian Motorcycles & America exhibit and the Motoring Mysteries of the Far East – A Curious Collection of Asian & Pacific Vehicles display. Yes, you read that correctly, motorcycles and non-American cars! The AACA Museum prides itself on variety and wants to offer something for everyone. The special collections change several times a year so there is always something new to see.

The exhibit called From Sea to Shining Sea features a changing collection of American vehicles from the 1800’s to the 1970’s with dramatic scenery, a gas station reproduction, a drive-in, and the Floinn Cafe Diner. There are interactive features in many of them with sound and video recordings, and they are adding iPads to certain exhibits to provide even more interaction and information.

The museum doesn’t just feature cars; they also have motorcycles and The Museum of Bus Transportation. They have twelve full-size buses on display… it’s so fascinating to see how buses have evolved over the years. Also featured is a model train display of O Gauge trains, many with buttons you can push to make the scenery move and light up.

There is a children’s play area downstairs where toy trucks and cars are set up for kids to play with, and there are two antique cars they can have their picture taken in. Refreshment machines and rest rooms are available which make this the perfect place for families to take a rest before heading out to explore more.

The museum is planning several future exhibits such as 100 Years of Dodge beginning in September 2014, Lotus: The Art of Lightness coming in January 2015 and A Family Affair: Station Wagons coming in May 2015, but the real excitement is brewing over the Cammack Tucker Gallery being opened late in 2014. The AACA Museum will be home to the largest collection of Tucker automobiles in the world when this exhibit opens.

The museum has a gift shop full of items for every age and budget. From t-shirts to travel mugs, puzzles to postcards, and models to magnets, you can find it with a car or a bus on it.

I have to admit I highly enjoyed my trip to the AACA Museum and would recommend it to anyone. If you’d like to visit, the AACA Museum is open daily, but please check their website for hours, pricing and special events. Group events can be held at the Museum, and it is also a popular spot for weddings and car club events.

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Dinosaurs in Lancaster County?

Every year my family takes several trips to Dutch Wonderland, but this year we were doubly excited to make our first trip – we were going to see dinosaurs!

Dutch Wonderland is a 48-acre amusement park tailored for families with children under the age of 10. The park is themed around a princess named Brooke, the Knight of Safety, Merlin the Magician, and Duke the friendly Dragon. Built in 1963 the park has 34 rides including two roller coasters.

We normally ride the Wonderland Express train when we first arrive, but the thing my family couldn’t wait to do this year was visit the new Exploration Island. My children, ages 4 and 6, wanted to head there first, so we made our way to the back of the park. We couldn’t believe the changes Dutch Wonderland had made to the island which used to be a decorative garden area until last year when construction began.

They ran for the Dino Dig area which has three large sand pits with buried “fossils” for the kids to uncover. Shovels and brushes were there for them to play with as well as some digging machines my son fell in love with. Two of the areas were covered with shade which made nice spots for the littlest kids to play.

Nearby we could hear some prehistoric sounds, so we dropped our shovels and made our way to the Prehistoric Path. Here we met over a dozen dinosaurs that moved and made sounds as we passed them. The dinosaurs had signs which explained their official names and a little about them. There was even a dinosaur you could control yourself and a dino egg to climb in!

We tried out the Sunoco Turnpike at its new home on Exploration Island as well. Even my 4 year old was able to drive the car (with a little help, of course). We enjoyed the lengthened route around the island which went by the dinosaurs and along the water where the Gondola Cruise boats travel.

We spent a good hour on Exploration Island, but then went in search of something cold to drink. Dutch Wonderland offers refillable toddler cups which are a great size for smaller hands. We keep these cups all year long to use on car trips. They are a great value since they also come with reduced price refills – or you can get water refills in them for free.

Some of our favorite rides at Dutch Wonderland include: the Monorail where we love to sit up front with the driver or in the very last car, the River Boat which is now themed like a Jungle Cruiser and is a great place for the little ones to settle down if they are overexcited, and the Dragon’s Lair which takes you on a ride in a log through the lake near Duke’s home. There is a special surprise waiting there in the cave so be looking for it!

If you have never been to Dutch Wonderland before you will be surprised by the many things to do in addition to rides. There is Duke’s Lagoon water park open during the summer, many games with great prizes, panning for gems, pony rides, tiny buildings to explore, rabbits, chicks, a shooting gallery, and a silo slide. Oh, and don’t forget to milk Bossy the cow and get your picture taken with the giant pretzel!

On top of all those activities the park features many entertainment options. There are strolling musicians, Storytime with Princess Brooke, the music-filled Decades of Dutch Wonderland, and the not-to-be-missed Adventures of the Frog Prince in the Aqua Stadium. Not too many places offer high dive shows, so it is very likely your kids will be amazed by the antics of the divers – just be prepared to get wet if you are in the splash zone!

Dutch Wonderland is also a place to get lots of great treats to eat like Dole Whips, Potato Patch fries with cheese and bacon, Nathan’s hotdogs, Dippin’ Dots, and lots more. There is even a full service restaurant called Merlin’s which includes gluten free items on their menu.

We spent a full day at Dutch Wonderland and can’t wait to go back in the fall for Happy Hauntings when the park is all decked out for some not-so-scary fun and trick-or-treating. We’ll go one last time around the holidays for Winter Wonderland when we can meet Santa and do some Christmas shopping.

If your family includes smaller children and you’d like to visit an amusement park, I suggest you give Dutch Wonderland a try since everything is child-size and tons of fun.

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An exceptional historical museum

Most people hate to see the flashing red lights of a railroad crossing and that long black and white arm dropping in front of them when they are driving through town. Not me, I’m delirious with happiness as I watch that beautiful engine approach from the distance. I’ll open my windows to smell that oily smell of metal and to hear the sounds of the cars swaying gently on the track. I sit there grinning like an idiot and enjoying the trembling of the earth as tons of freight moves in front of me while everyone else is tapping their fingers on their steering wheels wondering when it will be over. I’d be happy if it never ended, but they always do.

My husband is not the train person that I am. He thinks they are “OK,” but nothing to go crazy about it. I was a little concerned when we made our trip to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania that he might get bored. He’s a car guy – the faster the better. So I crossed my fingers that maybe he’d catch the train bug.

Located in Strasburg, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is the state’s official railroad museum hosting more than 130,000 visitors a year. The museum is operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Friends of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania organization. It opened in 1975 and is the largest lineal train museum in the world! If you think it looks big from the outside, just wait until you go inside, you won’t believe what you will see.

My hubby and I went through the entrance doors and into the lobby area where we got our guide map and took a look at the model railroad set up for visitors to enjoy. As a former model railroader, I always love to see a carefully thought through layout, and I appreciate all the work that goes into maintaining one. On the lobby wall we found a timeline of railroad history in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States.

From the lobby there is a set of double doors that lead you into a hallway that opens onto the Rolling Stock Hall. I will never in my life forget the moment those doors opened. I know that sounds dramatic, but the smell of trains – oil, coal, iron – just overtakes you as those doors open and you know you are about to experience the real thing. Entering the Rolling Stock Hall itself is like stepping back through time. In front of you are over 100 pieces of rolling stock – engines, cars, cabooses – all just waiting for you to get up close and personal. If you’ve only seen trains from a distance it can be quite a shock to see how big they really are up close. Ever wonder what it’d be like to stand in front of an oncoming train? You can do it here. I did; I stood right in front of a classic blue Conrail Engine with its headlight on. Got a picture of it too. It’d be awfully scary if it was moving. Several of the cars are open for inspection and museum guides are there to explain the purpose of the cars and their history. We spent time talking to the guides about the museum, the specific cars we were in and about railroading in general. Be sure to ask questions when you see these guides, I guarantee you will learn something new!

One of the highlights of our morning was going into Stewart Junction which is the museum’s Railway Education Center. Here children 8 years and older, and younger ones with a little help, can use a model railroad to learn how trains move freight in different situations. I myself got to run a train carrying coal. Boy it was challenging, but it was also a lot of fun. Stewart Junction also includes many interactive displays that teach about rail history plus there are books to read, wooden railroads to play with, and an amazing Lego display that kept my hubby’s attention for a good long time.  (When you go, see if you can find something from the movie Back to the Future…)

I don’t think you could ever see all there is to see inside the Railroad Museum, but we did finally venture outside to the Train Yard where a real turntable and more rolling stock can be seen. You can also view pieces that are undergoing restoration in the Train Yard. The Museum is currently in the planning stages of building a new roundhouse which will allow them to put a lot more stock under cover. That will certainly be something to see when it is finished.

We made our way back inside and after a last tour of the Rolling Stock Hall we stopped in the Whistle Stop Shop.  This has to be the best railroad gift shop ever with tons of books on railroad history, train related gifts and souvenirs for the kids. There was something for everyone of every age who loves trains.

So, did hubby become a convert?  Did he catch the train bug? Yep, he most certainly did! He is just as anxious as I am to go back for another visit. He still loves his cars, but he couldn’t deny the allure of a beautiful steam engine. (He really loved the Lego display, too.)

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is open year round and admission is charged, but their hours vary so be sure to check out their website for information. The main areas are handicapped accessible and there is a lot for children to see and do. Picnic tables are available in the area for lunching and the Museum is located directly across the street from the Strasburg Rail Road so it would be a great day trip for your family.

Riding First Class is something special

I love riding trains, especially steam trains. The slower pace lets you get a good look at the beautiful countryside as you move through; it a different experience than traveling by car on crowded interstates.

The Strasburg Rail Road offers an unusual experience to those who want to travel by train. Not only do they use steam locomotives, but they also pass through an area of Lancaster County that is largely farmed by the Amish. It is easy to imagine that you have stepped back in time when you board the train and see from your window farm fields being plowed with horses.

My husband and I took a rare trip without our children to the Strasburg Rail Road to treat ourselves. I’ve ridden the rails at Strasburg many times in my life, but I had never traveled in the First Class Parlor car before. I will be to be the first to say that there is nothing at all wrong with riding Coach or in the Open Air cars. It is a comfortable way to travel, and the fact that the windows are open thrills the kids. However, we wanted to do something different this time. This time we rode in the beautifully decorated, air-conditioned First Class Parlor car.

We dressed the part as well. We are both involved in the Steampunk movement so we have the formal attire once required for the Parlor car in days gone by. (Believe me shorts and t-shirts are just as welcome. Children are welcome too; we just didn’t have ours along on this particular day.) We got our tickets and passed the time until our 2 PM train by poking around in the various shops on the property.

The First Class Parlor car was at the end of the train; when we stepped inside we were definitely impressed. Gleaming polished wood, leather chairs and gleaming glass with fine details filled the car. It was just beautiful and on this trip we had the whole car to ourselves. At one end of the car there was a bar area where a smiling attendant waited for us to take our seats.

There were many seating options available with and without tables, for singles or pairs. We chose to sit at a small table facing each other, but we changed seats numerous times during the trip to see various things out the window and take pictures. The conductor stopped by to take our tickets and the attendant brought us a menu to review as we waited for the train to leave the station. We reviewed the menu, and though the whoopie pie appealed to me greatly, we opted for the fruit and cheese plate along with our favorite mixed drinks.

We rode silently just enjoying the time to relax and take in our surroundings. As parents of two young children, this type of quiet rest does not come often. The end of the first leg of the journey is in a town named Paradise; here the train stops so the engine can relocated to the other end of the train in order to take everyone back to Strasburg.

As our ride drew to an end, my hubby and I settled our bill with the attendant, finished the last grapes and bits of cheese, and we descended the stairs back to the real world.

If you travel to Strasburg Rail Road, I highly suggest you treat yourself to a ride in a First Class Parlor Car. It is a bit more expensive, but it is also an experience that you will remember for a long time. Children are welcome, food and drink purchase is optional and the air-conditioning can be very welcome in the middle of the summer. Check out the Strasburg Rail Road’s website for their operating schedule and more information on their special excursions.

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