Sunday, May 15

Little Of Everything

First off, a big thank you to Kathie and Karl (van travelers I meet in Florida a couple of years ago) for their hospitality - parking for my van at their home in Bedford, PA. An extra bonus was a great dinner last night and breakfast this morning before I hit the road. We talked about our travels (Alaska is on their wish list and they had visited the Canadian Maritimes last year - so we exchanged information) and our vans. Nice visit, thanks again guys.

After breakfast I headed off to Johnstown, PA (Kathie/Karl's suggestion) to check out the area and specifically the Johnstown Flood Museum. Nice drive and a very informative museum about the deadliest flood in American history - 2209 men, women and children died on May 31,1889 when a dam broke above the town situated in a narrow valley. Highlight of the museum visit - a twenty minute Acadamy Award winning documentary about the disaster.

Also in Johnstown I stopped at the Heritage Discovery Center, which documents Johnstown's rich cultural diversity and what life was like for the many immigrants that came to Johnstown in the mid 1800s. Each visitor to the museum plays the part of an arriving immigrant (you get a barcoded I'd card when you enter) and at specific locations you are prompted to present your card - you then get a nice welcome, or a not so nice rebuke. The reception you get depends largely on your nationality/ethnicity and perceived status. Very interesting, I've never seen the immigration process depicted in this manner.


After Johnstown, I hit the backroads and stumbled upon The Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. Had never heard of the place, nor did I have any idea what it was about - I'd never seen the words "portage" and "railroad" used together - so you know I had to stop and check it out. Short version - in 1830 Pennsylvania decided to build a East/West barge canal (Main Line Canal) that would cross the entire state - the problem, the Alleghany Mountains were in the way. Solution, a narrow gauge incline railroad over the mountains (a series of 10 inclines) connecting the east and west canals - they would take the barges out of canal, put them on special rail cars, up over the top, and then back into the canal - the transit time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh went from two weeks down to five days, pretty impressive for the 1830s.

In addition to the sights, the weather has been interesting - first it got cold, down into the 30s in Bedford. Then, in the parking lot of the Portage Railroad Visitors Center, I had snow out one window, sun out the other and lightning strikes in the trees behind the van. Oh - it's also very windy!

Sun came out, so I stopped to get this pic