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» Tuesday, November 10, 2009Choo-Choo-Choo and Ho-Ho-Ho
I let James sleep a bit later this morning because he was sounding a bit hoarse last night, and it seemed to have helped. He consumed more orange juice with his breakfast and soon we were southbound and then westbound.
Much of our route today was on US-30, part of which is the original two-lane Lincoln Highway, and was more what I was expecting yesterday: some homes, and nice expanses of farms and fields. We passed several interesting looking places on the way, and the one place I was looking forward to seeing, the National Christmas Center, accompanied by eau de bovine (trust me, I'd rather smell cows than diesel exhaust).
Just as we were wondering if we had overshot our turn (we had), we stopped at a little outlet mall to use the facilities and discovered the road it was next to directly headed to our destination: the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum. This is a huge building with different train engines, cars, tenders and even cabooses end to end on rails. (It's a huge cavern of a building indeed. When you leave, a sign informs you that you have walked two miles and burned 200 calories.)
None of the locomotives or cars is open, but on some of them you can climb up a stair next to the windows and look inside. There is a reproduction of the earliest steam engine as well as one of the "John Bull" locomotive, and the others are authentic rail cars and engines, with both steam locomotives and diesel ones, boxcars, passenger cars from the original wooden one to the luxurious Pullman, and even a "business car," the one the owner of the railroad rode in. There were small displays of locomotive lights and bells, rail repair tools, the contents of boxcars, and also a station office from about 1880, complete with timetable rack, baggage cart, telegraph, and other accoutrements. There was a special display about "refer" [refrigerator] cars accompanied by a circa 1950 newsreel, and also a simulator where you could "drive" a train into the station. James tried it out, but braked too soon and did not make it into the station in time. Much better than allowing it to go out of control.
We even "met" Thomas the Tank Engine's American cousin. :-)
We also went outside to the "yard" to check out the other trains awaiting restoration, including a couple of cabooses. It was a good day for walking outside, cloudy and not too warm. Before we left, I just had to go out back and take some photos of the lovely farms spread out behind the complex: barns, silos, horses grazing, harvested fields harrowed for the winter.
We finished up about 2:10 and, hungry, went across the street to the Strasburg Rail Road (that's what it's called) to a little cafè onsite, but it was closed. Worst, we had missed by ten minutes the last ride of the day.
The last time I was in PennDutch country, in 1974, we were on a Collette bus tour. The bus driver took the older kids, myself (age 18) and three other girls on a bike ride around the area. We were out pretty late, after dark, and that's where I saw my very first fireflies, over a growing cornfield. Our parents were furious. Anyway, one of the things we saw was a parked rail car that had appeared in Funny Girl, from the Strasburg Rail Road. This was a former working line that was turned into a tourist attraction, a short-line route that offers a steam locomotive ride through the Pennsylvania countryside. They've moved a Victorian-era station there, and there's a restaurant, a train store, and even an attraction that features Thomas the Tank Engine.
Unfortunately the trains only run three or four times a day.
Instead, we had lunch at Bob Evans, then decided we did have enough time to see the National Christmas Center.
If you love Christmas, you have to see this place. They lure you in with three lobby exhibits even before you pay: a World War II scene with a serviceman decorating a tree with WWII vintage clear glass ornaments, with Bing Crosby playing on the radio and showcases of V-mail, WWII Christmas cards, paper houses, waffle trees, and more; an exhibit of Nativities; and a Santa Claus with a tree strung with even more vintage ornaments.
Their web site lists their exhibits, but I was really interested in seeing their Woolworths exhibit, a room featuring Woolworths Christmas ornaments and toys from the 1950s, using original display cases and shelves (although one corner is devoted to other Woolworths merchandise, complete with a salesman). Completely overwhelming: tin toys, dolls, stuffed animals, ornaments, Nativity figures, Christmas trees, and more. James sat outside while I immersed myself in Woolworth-anea and memories.
There is also a gallery of "Christmas in Other Countries"; a corridor filled with nothing but figurines, toys, and magazine and book covers of Santa Claus; a gallery of old-fashioned Christmas memorabilia including vintage kugels and dresdens [1800s Christmas tree decorations], plates, cookie cutters, tree stands, etc, including a display case showing how glass ornaments were first made in Lauscha, Germany; a depiction of Santa's workshop, complete with a huge quilted Santa profile, animated reindeer, and a workshop containing hundreds of vintage toys; Tudor Towne, a storybook Christmas tale about anthropormophic animals celebrating Christmas for the first time; a room decorated like Virginia O'Hanlon's 1908 parlor at Christmas, with a copy of her "Is There a Santa Claus?" letter; a 1950s Christmas exhibition based on a film; a train setup that looked like a huge tiered wedding cake, with an upside down tree as a "roof" hung with Christmas ornaments; a 1950s storefront walk, complete with Salvation Army lass; exhibits about different Pennsylvania Christmas customs; a collection of Nativity sets from around the world; and finally "a walk through Bethlehem," which illustrates how Mary and Joseph would have lived, how the announcement of the census would have been announced, of the dangers they faced on the way to Bethlehem, and finally to the Nativity itself, where you exit back into that tempting lobby.
And the gift shop, of course. It's a State Law.
I found a whole wall of bird ornaments, including clip on ones, and found two small budgies, one green and one blue, and also a plain chickadee ornament, a St. Nicholas, two autumn leaf ornaments, and a Belsnickel that's really a place card holder, but it was quite cute. Also bought a couple of postcards.
By the time we were done it was dark and so we headed "home." The ride back seemed much shorter.
The hotel offers these "meet and greet" things on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and we were in time for James to get some chili. I don't eat the stuff, so I had English muffins for supper, along with an apple, and we watched Wheel of Fortune and, because nothing else was on, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and Top Gun.
I did do a search on "Pennsylvania" and "electric candles" and it does appear to be a year-round custom. Apparently it's a sign of welcome. Very pretty.