Monday, September 21, 2009

The Road to Paradise.

What is a trip to Lancaster Pennsylvania without a ride on the Strasburg Rail Road? I have made this short trip many times and when I return I shall surely do it again.

The railroad was founded in 1832 and was used for passenger and freight service. The main purpose of the railroad was to interchange freight with the Pennsylvania Railroad. After WWII highways were improved and truck transportation became more of the norm for freight and, as happened all over the country, the Rail Road's usefulness diminished. In 1957, quite a bit of track was destroyed or severely damaged by storms and the owners were unwilling to invest in the necessary repairs and so a petition to abandon the service was formulated. However, two rail fans, Henry K. Long, an industrialist from nearby Lancaster, along with Donald E. L. Hallock, led the formation of a group of interested individuals to save the railroad. After repairing 4 1/2 miles of track and acquiring locomotives and rail cars the Strasburg Railroad opened to visitors in 1958 and has been running ever since. Much more of the history of the Railroad can be found by clicking on the title of this post. Hours of operation, direction to the site, ticket prices and events are also listed there. The round trip ride usually takes about 45 minutes with a stop at the picnic area and a brief visit with the ghost of a long lost train. Yes, it's really there and you can hear it in the distance. Your conductors will be happy to fill you in on the details.

When we purchased our tickets we chose the open air car and the ticket agent directed us to the first or second car in the station. When we got the second car the staff was assisting a wheelchair patron board the train car with a lift designed for that purpose. (they are very accommodating here) so we went to the first car. I thought this might be a good idea because I would be able to see inside the locomotive cab and watch the working of the engine has it happened. Bear in mind when we boarded the train the locomotive was well behind us on the switch track. When the locomotive came along beside the train to switch over to our track I noticed it was facing the cars instead of away from them. So much for watching the engineer and fireman do their work! Instead we had the pleasure of all the clanking, and banging, and chugging of the engine, not to mention the fact we were very close to the steam whistle and all the smells of smoke and burning wood. It was really wonderful!

Once we arrived in Paradise the locomotive disconnected from the train and used another switch to get on a parallel track. Then he moved to the opposite end of the train and re-coupled for the return trip. This put us on the last car and the ride was much quieter but now I was 7 cars away from the engineer and still did'nt get to watch the operation in the cab of the locomotive. It's a beautiful ride through the Lancaster countryside where the old meets the new. You pass real Amish farms and modern housing. Cornfields and tobacco fields and barns, horse drawn farm apparatus and tractors, and if your lucky, while you are waiting for the antique locomotive do it's switch in Paradise a modern Amtrack will come roaring by with the engineers of each train saluting one another with whistle blasts. We missed the Amtrack on this trip but we did get to see one on a previous ride.

There are shops and a small cafe at the station back in Strasburg and barely 1 1/2 miles away is historic Strasburg with Lancaster just a few mile more. Directly across the street from the Strasburg Railroad in the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum. It is a huge building and it's easy to spend hours there if you wish. The museum is always a work in progress so there is always something new to see. Well worth trip anytime. I have also ridden the Strasburg Railroad in the winter when snow was on the ground and that gives all the sights an entirely different perspective. Going to Lancaster to shop the outlets? Figure in an extra day or even half a day for the railroad. You won't be sorry.


Anonymous said...

The Cap is right! This is a great experience that is both educational and fun. It will not only take you back in time from an historical point of view, it will take you back to your childhood and a time when things were much easier and less hectic.

Having ridden this adventure on a few occassions...Joe's words are absolutely correct...

"You wont be sorry."


Anonymous said...


I am a big fan of strasburg and if you really want to see the engineer in action on your trip be sure to get on one of hour trains during the summer (trains that run on the hour) and go to the Hello Dolly open car. They let you stand on the end platform of that car and if you stand on the running left of that platform as the train leaves you will have a good view! Hears a vid shot from that spot