Strasburg, Amish Country and Pickles: Day Travel With My Dogs

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Although I have been to Lancaster more times than I can count, I have never driven the parallel sideroad to Strasburg. With my Triple A map spread out on the kitchen table, I plotted my day travel. The easiest way would simply be to take 30 towards Lancaster and then make the turn off at Gap. But 30 offers little to see and is highway in its 202 portion. The other route would be to follow one of my favorite highways, route 372. Now, 372 will take me well south of Strasburg, but the drive is always a fresh pleasure. Route 372 twists and turns through Lancaster County. 372’s industrial gateway, Coatesville, gives way to the rolling hills and farmlands of the Amish and the Mennonites. The water bottles are filled. I have a plastic lunch bag of chopped carrots, my boys’ favorite treat. I untangle the leashes. We jump in the car and we’re on our way.

I’ve commented on Coatesville in my post “Mason-Dixon.” Coatesville is very much industrial Pennsylvania, the smoke stacks, the factory sheds, the steel buildings, the chain link fences. Its Main Street is somewhat bleak. It can only whisper of what it once may have been. Its houses are company houses. After the worker received his wage at the paymaster’s window, he turned to the company housing window to pay his rent or mortgage. The irony is that this mass of steel and brick sits in the heartland of the pastoral beauty of hand worked farms.

The road cuts sharply to the right then twists and turns to take us to “King’s Sweet Corn Produce.” Corn has just come in from the field. Onions, tomatoes, peppers, peaches and melons crowd the stalls. I make my selections for this week’s recipes. But, there is one thing that catches my eye, a box of pickling cucumbers for $5. I love a good kosher dill, but I have never tried to preserve them. This box of cukes proposed a new venture.

Christiana is our next town. To visit Christiana you have to make a very slight detour. Christiana is the site of a little known battle in the fight for the abolition of slavery. In 1851 an anti-slavery group defended with arms a group of fugitive slaves. The event is commemorated by a small obelisk on the far side of the town. You have to cross under the train trestle to find it. Banners hang from street poles with the notice, “Where Freedom Began.”

Christiana’s train station recalls the little “Plasticville” models that I had on my American Flyer model train platform back in the ’50’s. Turning out of Christiana there is a wonderful park where the boys can play. They do have such a great time in the open fields I find along our day travels. They would run themselves to exhaustion if I did not rein them in. All I need do is to cry “car,” and they’re back.

At Quarryville there is another wonderful park where the boys can play. It requires a slight turn onto 472. Then we head back to the main road. I turn right on to 222. There is a Turkey Hill gas station. I stop to refill and pick up a hot dog for me and one for my boys. They do love their road-side hot dogs. Back on the road, the rolling hills and vistas of farm after farm intoxicate. Like shimmering and misty jewels the white walls of the receding farmsteads stretch to the horizon in the valleys below. By the roadside, the farmers are gathering in the bright yellow fields of tobacco and the withering stalks of the fading corn. One thing I find curious is that while they use horses or mules to pull the carts, they all seem to use a mechanical hay bailer. The use of a machine for bailing is all the more interesting when I see the children on their foot propelled bike scooters that have to chain or mechanism. I have no picture of these foot bikes because it just didn’t seem right to stop and photograph. The Mennonite or Amish cultivation of tobacco I find very perplexing. Obviously, it poses no ethical dilemma for them. Field after field you see the woman and children harvesting the broad ripe yellow leaves. You can recognize the white washed tobacco barns immediately by the open slats that vent the space and dry the leaves.

There is something “otherly” about this drive. The hills and valleys, the distant views, the closeness of mules and people hand gathering crops confuses and settles. At the crest of a hill I pull to the side and just look. The boys sense the pause and collect in my lap. They also want to look. What do they see? Summer is closing. The farmers clear their fields. They store their barns.

At the intersection of Route 741, my Triple A map tells me to turn East. The main road into Strasburg suggests a fascinating town. While brick predominates, wood frame and even log cabin homes recall the town’s history. There is log home inscribed over the doorway with the date 1757. In addition to the wood cabins Strasburg’s main thoroughfare offers textbook illustrations of 19th domestic architecture. One private dwelling is a masterpiece of Victorian elaboration. The Methodist Church is a simple delight in brick medieval revival. As I drive out of the town, I come upon the most famous site in Strasburg, the railroad. Tourists gather to ride the old train line. Across the way is the Railroad Museum. The train engines are a wonder. I am content to see the engines and cars that are on public display. Then, too, I cannot go into the museum itself and leave my boys in the summer heat.

The drive home is the direct route along 30/202. The boys sleep. We are home by four.

write by Jena

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