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7.25.2021

Dreibelbeis Station Covered Bridge: Before and After Rebuilding, Berks County


I will start by saying that the first time I saw the Dreibelbeis Covered Bridge in Berks County, I was awe struck. It was easily my favorite covered bridge. It was huge and it still utilized its original structure, while also showing authentic weathering. The bridge looked like it had been there as long as it had, and the character looked great on it. Functionally though, the bridge needed to be redone so it could be utilized by ambulances and first responders for modern critical services within the region. So many times before, these bridges have just been torn out and replaced with a more modern span to achieve these ends. One of my favorite methods to achieve these ends is when a modern bridge crossing is built somewhere in the vicinity of the original covered bridge and the bridge itself gets converted into a pedestrian span. Instead of doing this, the community opted to create steel span and then rebuild the original structure on top of the new steel span and fully rehabilitate the bridge to look as if it were brand new. The end result looks fantastic. Part of me wishes they were able to preserve the original weight bearing structure, but aesthetically, it is very difficult to tell the difference for someone who is not a covered bridge nerd like myself. 
Before
After
The method of reconstruction that they utilized ensures that the heritage of the old bridge will never be forgotten, and it also ensures that the covered bridge will likely last forever and be suitable for modern needs. 
Before
And after....It just looks so fresh.
Before. I loved all of that weathered wood and the character it oozed.
Look at all of that fresh wood and beautiful stone pointing work. One cannot help but be impressed by meticulously beautiful work like this, especially with stone pointing. Stone and brick pointing like that is a difficult skill to master, with few people that can operate at that level. My feelings are mixed in that the classic construction of the bridge no longer remains, along with the aged character that it had before, but I am encouraged by the fact that the bridge will still be here for generations to come and that the span is now able to service the modern needs of the area it serves. Nothing lasts forever, but the work that they put in place with this rehabilitation will ensure that people will know this crossing as a covered bridge for many years to come. 
Ten minutes east of here, you can see a smaller version of this covered bridge with the Kutz Mill Covered Bridge. This stunning little covered bridge has an intact old mill along with it as well. This is beautiful countryside to drive around in and just soak in. Crystal Cave is also located within close vicinity. For more of a historic background on Dreibelbeis Station Covered Bridge and statistical information, check out this previous article. This bridge has also made our list of our absolute favorite covered bridges in the state

7.18.2021

Schaefer's Auto Art Erie: Awesome Sculptures Made From Scrap Cars

Occasionally I find myself walking through a U-Pull parts yard in search of car parts. It is a depressing experience to see a bunch of cars that have met their fate, never to be driven again, with them often having been involved in an accident or be so far gone that their best days are clearly behind them and long gone. 

Often, the first thing you see before you get to the car yard itself is the giant electromagnetic wrecker machine, picking up a full car by the roof and then putting it into the cruncher, retrieving it, and putting it into a tractor trailer once the vehicle has been completely flattened into a foot tall object that resembles a pancake.  I do not like get sentimental about inanimate objects like this, but cannot help but do so at the same time, thinking about how many memories have been made in those vehicles, or by feeling a sense of regret in seeing a potentially drivable vehicle get crushed and hauled away to be melted down. The thing that reassures me about this process is that the once the vehicle gets melted down, it will get turned into something new and useful again, like a refrigerator, a soda can, air conditioners, or perhaps even a new car. What is discarded eventually becomes new in this process, with people like me coming to the yards to pull off reusable parts before the vehicle gets crushed. It is reassuring to me knowing that I am able to pick off some of these parts when I go because I give them another chance to ride on a vehicle again.

In Erie, one place has come up with a creative way to reuse cars and car parts in their current form and create something new at the same time. Schaefer's Auto Art in Erie is a tremendously awesome and offbeat place to checkout some awesome creativity. 

Rocket, cop car, and bumblebee. The rocket, thanks to info from the family's own website, utilizes truck leaf springs, Oldsmobile Rocket V-8 engines, and you can see the passenger seat on the upper left of this photo, which was salvaged from a Subaru Brat Truck. 

Schaefer's Auto Art is a labor of love that has saved cars that were headed to the scrap yard and turned them and other automotive components into spectacular sculptures. 

Dino sparkplug teeth aka "Two Headed Dinosaur"

Public art is something that can be expensive to make. It is tough to find material that is affordable to use in large quantities let alone the will to be able to display such pieces. Muffler Men, a once common roadside classic, are slowly disappearing because the fiberglass that was used to produce them is deteriorating and it is very difficult and expensive to repair.  Similar to the PennDOT Road Sign Sculpture Garden, just south of here in Crawford County, this place uses vehicles that would otherwise be discarded and transforms them into sculptures of creatures that are larger than life. 

Richard "Dick" Schaefer worked at a scrap yard and felt that same urge to do something cool with cars and parts that would otherwise be crushed and melted. He started making this art in 1988 and this whole thing is a family operation. 

I think the coolest thing about this whole exhibit is that they have created something out of what would otherwise be considered nothing and discarded. Stuff that would literally be considered junk has been turned into fantastic art that attracts visitors from all over in a way that I have always contemplated but never had the wherewithal to execute. It is incredibly impressive. 

"Bumblebee," made from an upcycled old cement mixer from Warren Steel and an old Saab.

With welding skill, they have transformed scrap cars into art, while also preserving vehicles that would otherwise be gone to history. As an aficionado of old cars and hard work ethic and dedication in people, Schaefer's Auto Art is an absolutely must-see place. There is no reason to not stop by this roadside oddity if you are headed to the beautiful beaches of Presque Isle State Park, the rides and world class Ravine Flyer II wooden roller coaster at Waldameer, the Lake Shore Railway Museum and the wineries of North East and the Lake Erie coastline through Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY and the many other awesome attractions the region has to offer. Considering that this is also located along the major east-west corridor of I-90 and I-86, this is an ideal place to pull off for a rest stop for road trippers.

The Schaefer Family's website, https://www.schaefersautoart.com has a better background and rundown on their attraction and more information about visiting. Be sure to check out this awesome place. It is located at 3705 Hershey Road, Erie, PA

7.11.2021

Cascade Park and Big Run Falls: Picnic Grounds and Amusement Park Ruins: New Castle, Lawrence County

New Castle's Cascade Park has lasted as a picnic destination for more than a century. It started off as an amusement park that was built by a local streetcar company to boost weekend ridership. People would dress in their Sunday best to go and have a relaxing day at the park's groves, take a spin on the amusement rides at the park, and socialize with people. The amusement park was opened in 1897 and hung on through 1982. After the amusement park was abandoned, efforts were made to preserve many of the structures of the old amusement park. Thanks to this effort, the park sits as one of the most intact sets of amusement park ruins, while still being used for its initial purpose, as a popular picnic area. The old carousel pavilion, ballroom, coaster station, and more remain refurbished and intact, and used as picnic groves. The centerpiece of the park is a beautiful waterfall. Just beyond the drop of the waterfall, you can see the supports from the park's old roller coaster that used to drop right into the gorge. Sadly the coaster was removed when the park closed, but the old supports leave lots to the imagination. I can only imagine how neat it would be for a coaster to drop into a chilly gorge on a hot summer day in this park. As an amusement park aficionado and someone who seeks out waterfalls, this is something I really wish I had the chance to experience. Even without the roller coaster and rides though, this park is still a lovely and lively picnic area that is well worth checking out. 

For more background on when this place was an amusement park, check out this article on our other page. 





Cascade Park is a wonderful place to explore, take in a community event, and picnic. Well worth a stop if you are in the area, or to take a picnic to for a little afternoon relaxation.

6.27.2021

Skating in Center City Philly at the Rothman Skating Rink at Dilworth Park and City Hall

In the winter, the Rothman Rink has become a fine tradition for ice skating in Center City Philadelphia, in Dilworth Park and the shadow of City Hall. For 2021, they have added a roller rink, which is absolutely awesome. It is a place with a tremendous atmosphere that is a ton of fun. It was initially supposed to run through June, but the immense popularity of the rink has lead them to extend through July. I hope the roller rink becomes a mainstay for Dilworth Park, for it is as lively and lovely as the winter ice rink, and Center City Philadelphia is an awesome place to take in on a warm summer evening. 
It is cool skating is the shadow of City Hall and the Center City Philadelphia skyline. 




 For more information on hours and visiting, check out their website at https://centercityphila.org/parks/dilworth-park/rothman-roller-rink 

6.20.2021

Route 88 Mon Valley Views: Joe Montana Bridges, Viaduct, California Overlook

Today we head out on a little journey up and downstream through the Mon Valley. We start off at the Joe Montana Bridges, named after the football hall of famer that went to nearby Ringgold High School. 
The Joe Montana Bridges cross over the Mingo Creek Valley and are the second highest bridges in the state at 250 feet. They are 2400 feet in length. They were completed in 2002 for the Mon-Fayette Expressway. They are internationally recognized as an engineering feat. The bridges are also amongst the tallest highway bridges in the country. 
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad trestle beneath it was no small feat either. This bridge crosses 200 feet above the Mingo Creek Valley, built in a similar manner to the famous Kinzua Bridge Viaduct. This spot is located almost adjurent to the cool Mingo Creek County Park, which is home to several beautiful covered bridges, great public gathering places, and access to nature. 

Just down Route 88, you are treated to a spectacular view of the Monongahela River in California, PA. Here you can see where the ferry ruins, which was the second to last river ferry crossing in the state, though it went away a number of years ago. You get a terrific view of the meandering river from this spot, though it is pretty heavily grown in.

We highly recommend taking a relaxing drive down Route 88 and the Mon River. The views are beautiful and the road is excellent for cruising from Pittsburgh. It is easy to launch off to places like Ohiopyle State Park, or Cooper Rock State Forest in West Virginia, and lots more. This is a great area to go for a lazy Sunday drive from Pittsburgh. 

6.11.2021

Coudersport Ice Mine: A COOL Roadside Oddity Along Route 6 in Potter County

The Coudersport Ice Mine is a quintessential roadside oddity. In the summer months, this strange spot produces ice. Last Memorial Day Weekend had the stars align for us in being able to visit, and I have to say that it was cool to see and feel. Our dog CeCe enjoyed it and the fresh icy water. This small attraction is family run, with the operation involving access to this ice filled hole, along with their little gift shop and picnic areas on a beautifully wooded lot. This is a great place to go and relax and have a picnic lunch. 





Due to the hot spells in April and May, the ice is exceptionally abundant this year, with the actual pit essentially sealed up from this year's ice "crop." 
This mysterious spot occurs because the cold winter air gets trapped within the mountain and the condensation from the hot and humid Pennsylvania weather gathers and freezes up when it comes in contact with the remaining winter cold of the mountain. 

The story of how this place initially came to be is comical in a way. In 1894 Billy O'Neill used a snake oil kind of device called a divining rod that supposedly told him there was silver in the mountains. He dug the 10 foot long, 8 foot wide, and 30 foot deep shaft that is now the ice mine. It eventually became a roadside tourist attraction, but it abruptly closed in the 80s. After 25 years, the ice mine was reopened in 2014.





"Tourist trap" has a pejorative connotation, but this place is along those kind of lines. It is as closest thing that Pennsylvania has to a place like South of the Border in the Carolinas, or Wall Drug in South Dakota, albeit this is much smaller. I personally love this kind of roadside stuff. They help break up drives and add excitement to the road. I am known to take the longer and more scenic route when road tripping. I live off of this kind of stuff and the Coudersport Ice Mine is quintessentially American with this. If you find yourself in the area of Coudersport in the summer, go and pay the five dollars and feel the crisp and cold air, stretch out your legs, and relax at this cool spot. It is located right off of Route 6 in Coudersport, about 45 minutes west of the PA Grand Canyon. For anyone heading to the PA Grand Canyon from west and southwest points, Central New York State on routes passing from the south and southwest, or to Kinzua Bridge State Park from the east, this place easily en route to visit and even worth a small detour. A few years ago I included this place within our PA oddities list. Since that list was published, five of those places have vanished. This place needs to be checked out and is well worth stopping at when you are in the area. The Ice Mine is generally open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. For more information on visiting, check out their Facebook page.  

6.06.2021

Yuengling: Touring America's Oldest Brewery

Yuengling Brewery is an American and Pennsylvanian institution. It is the oldest remaining and operating brewery in the country and has been owned by the Yuengling family since its inception. Through boom times and hard times, Yuengling has remained a constant in Schuylkill County. It is especially impressive that the brewery has not only survived, but flourished, as the economy of this region of the state has really bore the brunt of the nation's economic changes over the last fifty years. The company itself almost did not make it in the 1980s with the shift towards corporate mega brewers taking out the regional brewers, and the regional economy in a deep slump. In 1987, Dick Yuengling reintroduced the company's Yuengling Traditional Amber Lager, as consumer tastes shifted back towards craft brewing. This ended up leading towards a huge expansion for the company, with the construction of a new brewery nearby, and the purchase of an old Stroh's Brewery down in Tampa, Florida. This expansion, and consolidation within the industry and foreign acquisitions of the larger American breweries, Yuengling has become the nation's largest American owned brewery. 
Yuengling has always worked to be a staple in its two largest nearby metro markets, including Philadelphia and New York. They even invested in dance halls in both Philadelphia and New York, and they owned many regional bars and had exclusive distribution rights in many others. These shrewd business moves likely helped the company to continue in times when the majority of the country's breweries shuttered. Pottsville is a strategically decent location for sourcing ingredients, and for market access to selling their products, since it was located on the Reading Railroad. Chilled products from the brewery, and ingredients were shipped to and from Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. Additionally, the location of Pottsville also insulated the company from losing its skilled brewers when the brewing industry consolidated. Through Prohibition, the company survived by brewing "near beers" with ABV under 0.05%, the opening of a dairy and ice creamery across the street from the main brewery, and the brewing of full ABV beers for a "medicinal purpose" in which doctors would prescribe beer as a remedy for certain ailments. As soon as Prohibition finished, the company sent down a wagon with beer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to drink, though the wagon never made it all the way down.
Surviving the corporate consolidation of the brewing industry in the post-war economy, and the fall of the regional economy in Pottsville was an almost insurmountable feat for the company. Similarly incredible, the company has remained under ownership of the Yuengling family since its founding.

The founding of Yuengling is a truly American story. David G. Yuengling (J√ľngling) was born in Germany in 1808. He emigrated to the United States in 1823 and opened a brewery, then named the Eagle Brewery,  in the then booming anthracite town of Pottsville in 1829.
Our most recent visit is the first since they have built their new visitors center, gift shop, and museum. It is built in what was the old dairy building. The future of this building was unclear for as long as I can remember, as it sat abandoned for decades. The growth of the company, and the growing tourist draw to the old brewery, made the restoration of this building feasible.
The new bar and tasting room overlooks the old brewery from across the street. While the old tasting room in the brewery is missed, this space is still very nice. The bar for the tasting room was saved from a local bar that had gone out of business and been demolished. The new visitors center serves as the starting and finishing point for the brewery tour.
Now we are headed out for the tour.
The tour starts in the cellar of the brewery, with a knowledgable docent who tells visitors of the illustrious history and the brewing process from past to present.
Here you can see a collection of antique kegs.

Prior to the days of modern refrigeration, the cellar was a great place to keep products and ingredients chilled during the brewing process. The location of the brewery on a hill gave it great access to a natural spring. The brew cave complex is now fully included in the tour, which is definitely a great spot to cool off in the summer. 
This brick wall was built at the start of Prohibition, 100 years ago. The thought process was that if Yuengling could not access their cold storage area, they would be unable to brew. Wink, wink, the strategy was really effective. When Prohibition ended in 1933, they blew a hole in the brick wall and left a portion of it up as a reminder of that failed policy. 
The cave complex is really pretty impressive. The ingenuity of people to find cold storage prior to the days of refrigeration is really quite impressive.

Note the Prohibition wall which was built to prevent brewing by blocking access to the cold cellar.
Prior to the renovation of the old dairy building into a brand new tour hub and tasting center, this cozy bar area was used for sampling.
Now we leave the remnants of other eras from Yuengling and go into the portions of the plant that remain in use.
A brewing tank
This portion is one of the most breathtaking, with the stunning mural and stained glass ceiling.

Ghost signs on the old plant building. In this day and age, when you see ghost signs like this on the sides of buildings, more often than not, the activity in the buildings is long gone. These signs are often a reminder that these buildings were once thriving centers, but in the case of Yuengling, this remains the case. This place is truly a jewel
Yuengling cases awaiting filling
The bottling line is an awesome thing to see and hear.
A case coming off the line
The old dairy building, which now serves as a state of the art visitors center and tasting area.
Sampling at the end of the tour. Yuengling is an American classic that retains a quality niche in the macro-brewing scene. At its price point, its quality cannot be beat, and the story of the company is one that parallels American history and the overall American dream. The tour is well worth going out of your way to check out. For more information about specific visiting hours and information, check out their website at https://www.yuengling.com/visit-us/. The most important thing to remember for preparation is to have closed shoes on, for this is an active production facility. It is pretty close to Knoebels Amusement Resort, so we highly recommend pairing these two on a visit. 




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