Friday, October 28, 2011

Sky High Scenic Drive - Allegany County

                 Second in our series of scenic drives, Sky High, was tackled in the rain. Sky High passes through the Village of Wellsville, just down the road from our house, so that’s where we started the drive. Of course, like all the tours, it’s possible to start at any point and go in either direction.
                We stopped at the Bradley Medical Arts building and peeked through the iron gates into the Bradley Gardens to get a glimpse of the pond, the plants, the lawns and the statues. In the past, a person could walk through the gardens but now it’s posted and private. Still, it’s one of the prettiest bits of Wellsville.
                Wellsville’s Main Street with stately homes, well-established trees and wide road all invite people into the business district where a few new stores are popping up. Two of them, Serendipities and Delinquent, are side by side at 175 N Main. Delinquent is Wellsville’s edgy, punk clothing store with band T-Shirts and bullet belts (sizes child through adult) while Serendipities calms the eye with work from several area craftspeople and Allegany Artisans with a few antiques tossed in.
                Worthy of note and holding vigil on Main Street for over a hundred years is the David A Howe Public Library currently hidden behind construction equipment as the entry undergoes a reconstruction. Fairly new to the community is the Wellsville Creative Arts Center with several food and drink choices, live music and clay instruction inside the reconstructed building of the much-missed Carter Hardware Store.
                Other eateries are Modern Diner, Pizza King and the Texas Hot. Our favorite choice for lunch is Better Days Pub serving local foods and weekly vegetarian meals along with seasonally changing decorations and a constant parade of benefit programs for community organizations and members. There’s also the Beef Haus, scene of weekly Rotary meetings.  
                Main Street is a shopping district. Buy antiques, get shoes at Hamilton’s, rock through the Music Alley, choose flooring, try on clothing, get your hydroponic growing supplies, order posters at Ink, or get the bugs out of your computer with help at Computer Clinic – Wellsville’s small business of the year.

                Passing through Wellsville we turned east on Route 417. Castaways is just outside of Wellsville and we looked inside to learn that they are having their first ever Halloween Costume Party with Bloody Mary’s for $2.50 and draft beer for $1.00 starting at 8 pm on October 29. The decorations are up and there will be prizes for costumes. Dress scary. Eat hearty.

                The next stop was Brown’s Marsh. Local birders love this place but when we stopped and waited all we found were ripples and water rings made by creatures hiding underwater. The reflection of the hillside was perfect though.
                Moving on toward Andover we stopped at Kelly Jackson’s stand for some squash.  In other years Jackson’s stand has overflowed with produce but this year just wasn’t good for their garden. A few bright pumpkins and squash are out there and Kelly walks down the drive when she hears a car. She’s thinking of putting out an honor system pay bucket since the crop isn’t worthy of regular hours.

          We struck out in Andover because both the Emporium and Paradise Café were closed that afternoon so we read the blurb in Sky High and splashed through the rain.
                Sky High offers a choice between Route 22 or 417 calling 22 a washboard road. “Washboard” sounded like a warning for a rutted dirt road. Not so. Route 22 is a roller coaster with high peaks that give a view of a ribbon of road plunging down and then racing up the next hill between fields of corn. On a clear day the view must be wonderful because even in the drizzle the sky felt high and wide. We guessed this road is what gave the tour its name.
                Here’s the treasure of this drive for us – Hill Top Deli. With apologies to Independence, this place is the essence of out-of-the-way, in the middle of nowhere, on County Road 22. The deli offers sandwiches on breads baked in the store but the grocery is what caught our eyes. We found: Organic Blue Agave, Organic Honey, Shoo Fly Pie Mix, Uncle Henry’s Handmade Pretzels, a 10 pound milk chocolate bar, Garlic Mustard Pickled eggs and dozens and dozens of spices – many hard to find. 
                 As a result of that stop I may have developed an Uncle Henry pretzel habit and a desire to say Sarsaparilla at odd moments.    

                Moving along through Hallsport we found an ATV trail and lots of evidence of the Penn York Energy Company.  After moving over roads we’d never see we ended up at the intersection of 29 and 19 at Yorks Corners where the old store is now a cute house and the Mennonite Church stands guard over the cemetery.
                Alma Pond is out there and if you are like us you want to know why Alma Pond is a “pond.”  This is not some little round puddle but a long, narrow body of water that seems to deserve a name fitting its size. There are parking areas for the public and there’s the Alma Rod and Gun Club which is for members.
                We watched the rain fall on the water and again found the hillside and clouds reflected in the water while tendrils of mist curled up from the water. I very much wanted a canoe and paddle.


                We came back through Petrolia, home of the Triangle #1, the first successful, commercial oil well in Allegany County. With those modifiers it does sound as if there were a few messy, failed attempts before Triangle #1.
                 With our side trips and the occasional wrong turn Sky High Tour took us over 65 drizzly and rainy miles.

See or call 1-800-836-1869 or 585-268-5500 for events, restaurants, brochures and local tourism. Find brochures Libraries, restaurants and banks. Brochure choices are Scenic Drives, Spring Summer Fall, Artisans & Galleries, Historic Trails, Hunting & Fishing, Fall Winter Spring and Festivals & Events. This driving tour is listed in Scenic Drives.

Elaine Hardman is a member of the Allegany County Office of Tourism Advisory Board. 

Scenic Drive: Oil Country

      If you like to ride on a twisty, curvy road or if you’re the sort who gets to the top of a hill and drinks in the gorgeous view, Allegany County is for you. The Allegany County Office of Tourism worked with motorists who trundled on back roads just for fun, bicyclists with strong thighs and lots of gears and leather-clad motorcyclist who enjoyed leaning into a curve then put together maps of 6 suggested tours.                   Enter the tour at any point from either direction though the brochure gives written directions for the favored route.  While you can jump on anywhere or turn 2 loops into a custom drive, we aimed to stay close to the trail with the occasional detour.
                We drove through Friendship to start South on Route 34 on “Oil Country.”  Before we got to cruising speed, we stopped at an old cemetery.  We didn’t see a sign for the cemetery but found it freshly mowed, clad with a flag surrounded by flowers. We searched out Babcocks, Coons, Wrights and Steenrods buried as long ago as 1822.

                We tried to read through the faded letters on stories for Anne and Tolcut. Anne’s stone read, “In Memory of Anne, consort of Tolcut Gold who departed this life February 15, 1827 aged 63 years four months.”
                It was the word “consort” that attracted attention. Was Anne his wife or his companion? Did the word favor one meaning over another in 1827? Anne didn’t have a last name on the stone.
                Then there was Tolcut Gold’s stone.  Tolcut died in September 1836 but his stone also gives details. “Tolcot lived 77 years. He served his country during the revolution. He was a good citizen and an honest man and departed this life…” The rest of it was buried in dirt and lichen. 
(NOTE: Tolcott's great, great, great, great grandson called me to say that his family was pleased to read that I'd found their stones and that they were, very surely, married. Consort meant wife.)
                Continuing south on Route 34 through Wirt, we passed a stone railroad support, fields, houses, cabins, fences, wildflowers, sheds, barns, an old wooden cistern, logging roads and then a pond. I asked Rick to go back to the pond so he stopped and turned around and parked about 2 feet from a very surprised blue heron.

                The bird accepted the car, the engine noise and our faces but when the camera came up for a shot that was over the line. The heron took a leap forward for a second and then pushed hard with huge wings.
                We also detoured onto Route 5B to the Hilltop Lodge. In the early 1800s William A. Dusenbury built Hilltop as his private retreat using part of the fortune he accrued by establishing the First National Bank of Olean and by investing, like many others in the area, in lumber and oil.
                Hilltop Lodge now offers glamping – glamorous camping. The owner/chef is Richard Fontana who retired from law enforcement in Erie County and bought the Hilltop Lodge in the 1980s. Driving the long, narrow private road into the area prepares glampers for the wooded quiet of the cabins and lodge.
                Glampers can find all meals at the Lodge but the restaurant is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday nights with private parties any time. Richard calls the menu "upscale with my home cooked Italian meals." 
                Leaving Hilltop Lodge we turned right and passed variety - elegant houses and rudimentary cabins, polished and proud homes and abandoned dwellings, boats and trucks, small bridges and miles of open fields alternating with extensive mowed lawns.

                Main Street in Bolivar hosts the Pioneer Oil Museum, closed when we passed. We found a variety of cemeteries and million dollar views. The overlook at the top of the hill on Route 5 between Little Genesee and Obi had a chain across the path so we respected that.
                Sloppy Joe’s Deli in West Clarksville caught our eye. Well, more honestly the barn sale next to Sloppy Joe’s caught my eye but since we were in the parking lot, we went into Sloppy Joe’s. It’s a take-off-your-coat-and-put-on-your-slippers sort of place. The sign inside invites people to “Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.
                Joree Tavano, who runs Sloppy Joe’s with her husband Joe, said that their lives changed the day they hung that sign. The café is comfy with plastic tablecloths and filled chairs. That’s where we learned that the overlook on Route 5 is on private property mostly open by chance but always open on Easter Sunday for prayer services around the cross on the hill.
                Sloppy Joe’s (open from 7 am till 8 pm) serves pizza, subs, wings and friendship. Fridays are for fish fries but Tuesdays are reserved for spaghetti, wings and - for the last 14 years - an open mic so head over with your guitar.
                It’s such a special place that after one of the regulars, Jim Holcomb, died his wife Debbie brought his farm boots in and put them among the collectibles on display.
                Ray Baker studied his coffee mug and said he’d been in the place so many times he couldn’t count that high. He said they all missed Jim and then said, “I buried my wife yesterday but I’m right back here again. It’s a big family here, you know. You get attached. You feel camaraderie and solace.”
                That makes Sloppy Joe’s an Allegany County gem. 

                By this time, Rick and I were near the end of Oil Country but we detoured again when we saw some odd signs labeled Mt. Irenaeus. Following the arrows up some dirt "roads" we discovered a retreat and home to Franciscan Monks, loosely tied to St. Bonaventure. Mt. Irenaeus occasionally welcomes guests for Sunday Eucharist (followed by a dish to pass meal). The area is not handicapped accessible and it’s best to call 716-375-2096 before venturing up the mountain.

The website for local tourism is Call 1-800-836-1869 or 585-268-5500 to request brochures or look for them in local Libraries and banks. Brochure choices are Scenic Drives, Spring Summer Fall, Artisans & Galleries, Historic Trails, Hunting & Fishing, Fall Winter Spring and Festivals & Events. This driving tour is listed in Scenic Drives.

Elaine Hardman is a member of the Allegany County Office of Tourism Advisory 

Friday, October 21, 2011


Scranton: American park, American history, American innovations –built on steel rails and packed inside of brick buildings. That’s one of our National Parks just about 3 hours from Wellsville – Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA, signed into existence by Ronald Reagan 25 years ago.

The park sprawls over 40 acres that years ago held the guts of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. In the 1850s, men crawled into brick lined pits under trains to service the steam engines. If they were lucky, they crawled out, went home and came back to do it again.

Countless limbs were lost in those pits but labor was cheap, worker safety was unknown and there was always another willing to pick up the wrench and keep the trains running. The rail lines were the circulatory system of the industrial revolution and the system grew for over 100 years.

Steamtown has 100 engines and cars that chug and thunder enough to shake the ground mildly or make the overhead pedestrian bridge shimmy.

Short rides are offered Wednesdays through Sundays. 5 times a day the conductor yells his, “All‘ board” for the short trips. There are long excursions in the summer and duringthe October foliage season

An operating steam engine is the glory part of Steamtown but the hard, serious work is the historic preservation in the tool shop. Steamtown, like many parts of the park system, operates with bare bones staff - only 8 mechanics keep the excursion engines running. When time allows, they rebuild locomotives taking years and spending about $1.5 million.

Rebuilding is hard and repair is frequent. These old engines were slapped together ascheaply as possible. The rule seemed to be build ‘em fast, keep ‘em running till they’re scrap. The goal was to make as much money as possible moving things and people around the country.

There wasn’t any care to put clean water in the boiler. Sometimes an engine (depending on weight and landscape) would need to refill water in as few as 30 miles. If the only water was from a creek, that would do. It meant a serious build up of scale inside the boiler.

Coal was the other part of making steam and the cheaper it was the better the railroad liked it. Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal offered a cleaner burn so that was desirable but it often had shale mixed in. Boys as young as 8 worked grueling 10 hours shifts picking shale out of coal as it passed them on a conveyer belt. The fireman always hoped for clean coal. He might shovel 2 tons of stuff in the firebox in an hour and he wanted every pound of it to make steam.

Engines went to the roundhouse for routine maintenance and small repairs. That’s where they’d drive the engine over a water pit and drop the ash and where workers crawled over and under the engine before sending it back to the rails to earn money.

More serious repairs took place in the tool shop and the work done there was pretty impressive given that they used slide rules, hammers and sweat. Did you know that some engines have steel tires on their wheels? Changing a train tire starts with removing the axle and then moves on toward a ring of white, hot flame to expand and remove the steel tire.

It seems that while there were about 1,250,000 steam engines (2,000 remain) made, many were one of a kind made for a certain route or a specific task like moving lumber. Some were almost experiments to figure out a better, or more accurately cheaper, way to build the next one. Repairs then, as now, meant making parts by hand.

Sometimes the designers or railroad workers would invent a safety or labor saving feature but worker-safety and ease weren’t in the realm of interest for railroad operators. There was a ready supply of hungry people willing to work on any engine.

The steam engines died out quickly once diesel came in. The diesel didn’t need those water or coal stops. Diesel maintenance demands were lower, speeds higher and the labor cost was a fraction. A diesel needed one mechanic for every 40needed on a steam engine. Within a few years of their introduction, the diesel took over the rails.

My favorite part was the History Museum where a life-size figure of a paper boy, porter, tycoon, passenger, conductor, etc stood next to information about how that person fit into railroad society. The exhibit listed wages, hours, duties, traditions and clothing. It made history feel very personal. I was so absorbed by the exhibit I didn’t think to take a single photo there.

On the other hand, if I could bring one thing home, it would have to be the mail sorting car. I’m a sucker for organizers. My husband said he’d rather have the velocipede. I can see the allure.

BOX To visit Steamtown go to Entry is free to children ages 15 and under. Adults ages 16 and up pay $7. There is also a senior citizen pass that, for$10, allows entry to the holder and 3 companions, valid at any National Park Service facility for one year.

Steamtown has a railroad yard (be attentive for moving trains at all times), History Museum, Technology Museum, theater, roundhouse, tool shop and a gift shop. Train rides carry and extra fee. Find food across the pedestrian bridge at the Steamtown Mall.

Cut away view of inside a steam engine boiler.

Chugging with steam - the glory of the steam age
These pipes at the front of the image will go inside the boiler as it is rebuilt.
More of the cut away boiler to give an idea of what is happening.

Inside the caboose. See more of my photos on flickr.

To visit Steamtown go to Entry is free to children ages 15 and under. Adults ages 16 and up pay $7. There is also a senior citizen pass that, for$10, allows entry to the holder and 3 companions, valid at any National Park Service facility for one year.

Steamtown has a railroad yard (be attentive for moving trains at all times), History Museum, Technology Museum, theater, roundhouse, tool shop and a gift shop. Train rides carry and extra fee. Find food across the pedestrian bridge at the Steamtown Mall.