The Iron Horse in Dutch Country, and then some pedaling..

16 Jul

Q. How do you fit 2 bicycles, 2 adults and their luggage into a tiny rental sedan?

A. Make sure one of them is a folding bike; hope and pray there’s a bike shop close on hand that can help detach the front wheel from the other bike; fold down the rear seats and begin workout! Repeat process four times over and you’ve successfully completed a two day road trip from the city!

Less than a 3 hr drive from NYC is Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country. The term ‘Dutch’ has almost nothing to do with Amsterdam – instead, it refers to 17th and 18th century immigrants to the area, who were German (Deutsch) speaking by origin. The language spoken by inhabitants of Dutch Country today is known as Deitsch, a dialect of West Central German, spoken only in North America!

Pennsylvania Dutch Country is, no doubt, a unique part of the United States – not just different in name or language spoken – but different in every possible way – and as soon as you enter it, there are signs to prove it!

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The inhabitants of Dutch Country are the Amish people who’s economy is almost entirely based on agriculture. They have resisted urbanization, retaining most aspects of their 18th century way of life. It’s not everyday that one gets to see 3 generations of Amish in a single frame!

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On their farms, the Amish refrain from using any kind of mechanisation and instead rely on horses and cows to plough their fields. To get around, they use smartly turned out buggies!

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If you’ve seen the movie ‘Witness‘ you sort of get the picture by now πŸ˜‰

Within Dutch Country, and more specifically around the town of Strasburg, are no less than 3 rail museums and a working steam railroad – almost all of them located on or near the very aptly named Paradise Lane! To put it mildly, Strasburg is nothing short of rail fan heaven!

Also on Paradise Lane is the Red Caboose Motel – touted by its management as a family / romantic / rail fan getaway – a destination in itself! Spread over 10 acres of prime Amish countryside, the Motel offers 47 rooms – each of them housed in an old caboose car!

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The ‘caboose’ was the North American equivalent of an Indian guard van – the ones you see at the ends of freight trains. They were bigger in size and a lot better appointed than their Indian counterparts. I use the past tense when referring to a caboose, cause they are no longer in use – having been replaced a couple of decades ago by a less charming equivalent – the FRED (Flashing rear end device)!

So for a little more than you’d pay in a standard Patel Motel, you get the rare chance to experience what it would have been like to ride on one of those cabooses through North America! No doubt, each of the 47 cabooses come with all the trappings one would expect from your everyday Motel. There’s one thing different though – they sway gingerly with the wind, reminding you that your still on rails! πŸ˜‰

The Red Caboose Motel is conveniently located alongside the Strasburg Railroad and our arrival there was timely enough to witness the passage of the last scheduled return working of the day.

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All from the comfort of the motel lawn which slopes down to track level! And if standing isn’t your form of rail fanning, chairs are thoughtfully provided as well πŸ˜‰

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Just like Dutch Country is not your run of the mill rural United States, the Red Caboose Motel is not your run of the mill hotel! If you’ve had your fill walking around the 47 caboose cars (each wearing the colours of a long defunct railroad company), there’s a lookout tower (utilising an old grain silo) with wonderful views of surrounding Amish countryside. The property itself is essentially a working farm – featuring an original farmhouse, pens full of sheep and fowl, and horses grazing in the wild!

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The gentle rocking motion of #47 ensured that we had a good night’s rest and were up early the next morning for what promised to be a long day ahead. We showered and then immediately proceeded to the dining car for some breakfast!Β  Yes, the Cafe in the Motel is aptly housed in a beautifully restored railway dining car! There are surprises aplenty at this Motel!

In case you hadn’t figured out already, the trip to Dutch Country was primarily to do a bike ride – Pedal to Preserve – an annual fund raiser organised by the Lancaster Farmland Trust, aimed at preserving farms in the area. Over a thousand bikers took part that day and enough money was raised to sponsor another farm for ’09!

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After having biked 20 miles through some spectacular, undulating and largely unspoiled countryside we realised that our 30 dollar registration fee was so well worth it. Better still, it would be put to good use!

I don’t know if I could word this any better but to me Dutch country is the antithesis of everything American! There is no industry whatsoever, no strip malls, no big box stores, no gaudy neon signs or hoardings, absolutely no signs of commercialisation! And the best part – there isn’t the slightest bit of motorised traffic, anywhere!

All you get is clean air, stunning vistas, the aroma of farmland, and the clip-clop of horse hooves as a buggy rolls by..

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Now Pennsylvania is known for its somewhat novel town names – Laboratory, Export, Economy, Deposit to name a few. Then there are the more explicit sounding ones such as Big Beaver, Jugtown, Bottom, Climax, Stalker, Lover and so on. On our drive back from New Holland (where the bike ride was centred around) to Strasbourg, the only notable town en route happened to be Intercourse!

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Back at the Strasbourg Railroad and there was a photo op in waiting. Not of a steam locomotive this time, but a 7 member strong Amish family!

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The Strasbourg Railroad is America’s oldest short line railroad still in operation. The station at East Strasbourg, from where the train operates, dates back to 1915 and the buildings that dot its platform resemble a military cantonment – uniformly painted and immaculately maintained! At the west end of the station is an even older structure – an 1885 built signal tower. East of the station is a miniature railway, operated by a 1920 built working steam locomotive, which many years ago operated at the Coney Island Amusement Park in NYC! To summarise, there’s plenty to do at East Strasbourg Station and never a dull moment!

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As a rail fan, if you’ve had your fill of the station – I said ‘if’ – head over to the viewing tower at the Red Caboose Motel to catch one of many scheduled departures out of East Strasbourg from a vantage point like no other!

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And finally, when your done freeloading, pay the Coach fare of 13 USD and ride the train! Just like staying over in a Caboose, this one to is anΒ  opportunity not to be missed!

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If you feel like a splurge, there’s always the First Class Parlor Car (20 USD) or the President’s Car (25 USD). The last departure of the day is the aptly named ‘Dinner Train’, where 42 bucks gets you a seat in the dining car, an elaborate 5 course meal and unhindered views of Dutch Country! Now we’re talkin πŸ˜‰

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For a full set of Dutch Country pics, click here.

For a full set of Rail pics, click here.

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3 Responses to “The Iron Horse in Dutch Country, and then some pedaling..”

  1. Ravi July 16, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    What an interesting place,Amish live so close to NY & still not effected?

  2. Aamir July 16, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    Nice, keep ’em coming… BTW, I just might become rail-intelligent by simply following your blog πŸ™‚

  3. aa July 17, 2009 at 8:05 pm #

    jeezus christ, what the HELL is up with your facebook profile pic?

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