As a child, I liked trains. I enjoyed, when riding with my parents, going over the railroad tracks (bumpity-bump). I liked the white crossbucks sign, and the yellow warning sign. I stared down the track at the crossings to see where the train track went. The track was elusive as I knew it was present, but it seemed to be hidden away between roads, though their presence was made known due to train whistles, crossbucks signs, and occasionally gates. I also liked the Chessie System trains themselves. Chessie was a cat found by the railroad years ago that for many years was the mascot of a company. For years Chessie System train cars were prevalent. I remember the Chessie boxcars sitting on the track along U.S. 30. Also, if a person had to wait for a train to pass, there was a good chance of seeing Chessie cars on that train. This blog will talk about two train trips I was fortunate enough to participate in when I was a child.
Gettysburg had a train station that offered scenic train rides for passengers. They had a large selection of offerings. They had two basic excursions-one where the train went to Biglerville, and turned around; and one where the train went to Mount Holly Springs, and turned around. Other packages included the train going to Mount Holly, and allowing riders to eat at the Deer Lodge (a fine dining restaurant no longer open,) but a great restaurant many years back. We went on two train trips one to Biglerville, and a second one to Mount Holly Springs.
Everything was new when we took the train ride to Biglerville. It was the shorter of the trips. Both trips were round trips; hence they started and ended in Gettysburg. Our first trip was in the summer of 1990, and used a diesel engine. For anyone wondering, this will prove to be an important detail later on. I remember sitting on the train with my brother, Dave, and looking out the window before it started. While waiting on the train, I looked the other direction towards the Majestic Movie Theater, and thought about how I would like to ride the train that direction sometime. The reason? Heading that way by train would head towards Hanover and York. Hanover was important back in the day because of Kiddie City (the toy store), as well as the North Hanover Mall. I had attachments to York since I was very young.
Finally, the train took off, heading north west. To the right of us was the rest of Constitution Avenue, the street with the railroad station in Gettysburg. On the other side of us were the backs of some buildings. Eventually I noticed the back of some very familiar places such as the Pizza Hut, we would eat at, in Gettysburg. When we arrived at the small woods separating the town from the Battlefield, the train veered north towards the Peace Light, tower and monuments where it crossed Mummasburg Road, the ride’s first road crossing.
The trip grew exciting as we crossed the road, and headed along the field to the right into the forested area behind the Peace Light. I always enjoyed roads, and have noticed details in them. The train steadily continued north in the middle of the forest between Mummasburg Road and PA 34. Later from on the left emerged Ridgewood Drive with its related roads which we drove on during Christmas light excursions. An exciting part was coming directly ahead of us. Instead of having to turn around at the end of the road, and return towards Mummasburg Road, the track pushed forward through the woods way beyond where I ever thought I would go!
We came to a clearing, and a crossing with Herrs Ridge Road. The train traveled between fields on the left, and a forest on the right, obscuring the backs of houses from PA 34. We entered a wooded area behind the two classic motels we traveled past on countless trips to Gettysburg along PA 34. Through another clearing I saw electrical wire towers appear, noted by their “v-shape” tops that the wires went through. With the appearance of these, I knew we were going to go over PA 34. These wires were in the clearing between two forests including the one seen along 34. We met PA 34 at what was Redding’s Auction, and then continued to follow PA 34 behind the trailer park. We came to an unfamiliar road. Ahead of us was a farm with large grain containers. I did not recognize it. The road happened to be Goldenville Road. I was on Goldenville Road many times, but on the other side of PA 34. After more fields and trees, we crossed the Conewago Creek on a bridge, and another unfamiliar road emerged, this time Rake Factory Road. I had heard of it, but this was before riding the school bus on it every day like I would do after moving to our current house.
Eventually, the train came out of the forest with Biglerville looming ahead. On the left-hand side were the backs of various businesses at the edge of Biglerville including, the local grocery store of the time, Jane’s Market. Water sprinklers and a field greeted the rider who looked outside of the right window. Way back was also a wooded area which was part of the American Legion in Biglerville. As we approached PA 394 (the road to Hanover from Biglerville), I continued to see crates, and other structures that belonged to Musselman’s in Biglerville, (now owned by Knouse Foods.) They were the business that made products from Adams County apples. Beyond PA 394 was the side of Musselman’s main building. We were approaching the final intersection with PA 234. We crossed the road at the corrugated box factory my dad worked at. Slightly beyond the factory, the train stopped. The engine was uncoupled, and moved to the back of the train, preparing it for the trip back to Gettysburg. That’s the only way to turn a train around! I thought this ride was enjoyable, though short. I still wanted to ride the longer train.
In October of the same year, I had the chance! Our church offered a train trip to Mount Holly and back for its parishioners. We jumped on the opportunity. Leading up to the trip, I spent nights in bed, while trying to get to sleep, thinking about the various railroad crossings I knew about up in that direction that we would cross. Another important note, though not mentioned earlier, is that the view of a railroad crossing from a train is interesting. It gives a different point of view compared to that of an automobile. It gives a new perspective on all places where the track intersects the road.
The trip finally arrived! This trip had some differences. Firstly, it was considerably longer, which would be expected as the train would go a farther distance. Secondly the train used a steam engine that would slow it down. It had to build up enough steam to travel down the tracks.
The beginning part of the ride was similar to last time, though now the train went a lot slower. I guess steam engines aren’t as powerful, though I don’t know for sure. The trip became different in Biglerville. I was surprised by some of the discoveries I made. I thought once we went beyond the box plant where my dad worked, we would see the back of the Upper Adams School District administration building as well as other houses and buildings along PA 34 north of Biglerville. In reality, the track followed a path parallel to East York Street (PA 234) through Biglerville. For example, I saw some houses from PA 234 from the train as well as the back of the box factory’s blue siding clad warehouse, and a sign shop with yellow siding, which could all be seen from PA 234. Then we went past the back of GVM which had agricultural equipment. Still no more signs of PA 34, but I did see the back of a clump of trees surrounding houses further up PA 234. The train then went along Guernsey Road. As we continued, I saw a big white barn with blue trim that wasn’t far from the road’s entrance. The barn appeared smaller and smaller as we headed away from it towards the town of Guernsey. For the town itself, it appeared to be a small town, and that is where I first discovered the train bridge that would become important in a ride with my maternal grandfather that was discussed in a previous blog!
Now the train headed into what seemed like the wilderness to me. We entered an unknown area covered with mostly trees. There was another creek to cross, this time the Opossum. We returned to civilization when the track went behind a farm along Center Mills Road by the Adams County Nursery. An interesting fact is that this crossing used to have the old-style railroad crossing sign. Instead of a crossbucks that stands up, it had a long skinny one. It was the only one of this kind that I ever knew of. Unfortunately, it has been long replaced with a normal style sign. There was also a house on the other side of the track that my parents talked about. My dad thought the house was interesting, and my parents’ former doctor lived there. Beyond was Duffy Motts, another apple plant and then the intersection with the main road through Aspers. Beyond the main road, I finally got to see (or at least I thought so at the time) what was on the other part of Center Mills Road. Actually, the track veered away from the road. What I did see was the back of large white buildings that I was told were townhouses. Next is where the major problem was.
Ahead of us was a large hill. Our train had trouble making it to the top! It took a lot of work on the engineer’s part including going back and forth to make it up the hill. This issue wasted a lot of time. Finally, we reached the top of the hill, and our next intersection with Pond Road. Dad told me that the road came out by Rice’s Fruit Company. We entered Gardners, and for the first time I was able to see the fronts of houses along Gardner’s Station Road that I had wanted to see for years. The main road, PA 34, actually showed the viewer the backs of the houses. I suspect the old alignment of PA 34 probably went through the town of Gardners. We rode past the house that I was taken home to after I was born. Though of course I don’t remember it, I do remember stories about it. We crossed PA 34 again, this time on a train bridge. The road actually went under the overpass. Our only stop of the trip was beyond this bridge.
There was a scenic lookout point where the train stopped, and gave riders a chance to leave the train, stretch their legs, look around, etc. The train continued through a forest before passing by the Peach Glen Knouse Foods Plant. The significance was that I remember seeing the tractor-trailers in a parking lot along the track as we were heading to Carlisle. This time I saw their rigs from the track itself besides what came before and after. We went by apple trees and forests until reaching Starner’s Station Road. Beyond this intersection, the track followed PA 34 through the small village along Old State Road (another old alignment of PA 34.) I remember looking at the railroad crossings here countless times on the way to Carlisle for both going to the mall, as well as Physical Therapy Appointments. I was finally riding the train through these crossings. Part way down the road was an old school, South Dickinson Elementary School. Before reaching the school, the track veered north towards the mountain before returning to Old State Road by its intersection with Myerstown Road. The train went closer to PA 34, and went around a curve before crossing Pine Grove Road by the Twirly Top ice cream stand.
Besides railroads and trains, another thing I enjoyed was “tree roads” which were roads that went through forested areas with trees on both sides of the road. During the summer months of some of the P.T. trips, I remember Mom telling me about various roads going to Laurel Lake which to me meant that they also went back to a tree road. The road at the Twirly Top was one of them.
We were on the home stretch to our destination of Mount Holly Springs. A few other things of interest involved Green Mountain Road, and an unnamed road with a railroad crossing sign at the beginning, and a long yellow gate that always seemed to be closed. Green Mountain Road seemed to follow PA 34 for a while from its interchange though it went back into the woods. The railroad track did cross it, but interestingly enough in a clearing and not in the middle of the woods. As it turns out, the track crossed the road before it entered the final woods before Mount Holly. There were some trees, but they separated the clearing from the housing area along PA 34. As for the road with the gate, the gate was closed. This was the only intersection that the train did not blow its whistle as the road was gated off. I always wondered why the road seemed to be gated off, and subsequently where the road led. Eventually I got my answer, it wasn’t really a road! It was a long driveway that led to a quarry. Since the driveway was long with the quarry out of sight, and had a stop sign at the end, I thought it was a road. Beyond the forest was a train bridge that Dave and I took notice to behind the factory in Mount Holly Springs at the intersection of PA 34 and PA 94. The train crossed PA 34 a final time, and followed the road where the passengers could see the Deer Lodge before stopping by the Holly Inn, where the train’s engine was switched around again for the trip back.
The trip to this point had been hours longer than it was supposed to be, due to the performance of the steam engine. The question is how did the trip back fare? Well, fortunately a lot better! While the train still traveled slower than its diesel engine counterpart, it had no trouble with the hill north of Aspers as we were heading down it this time.
Mom was glad to be back in Gettysburg when we finally arrived. The ride seemed to be a little long for her. It had been a little long to be on a train with a restroom that was out of order, especially with a little four year old child along. I enjoyed it, though I found the hill frustrating and long. One last thing we did after this trip was stop at the book store by the Majestic Theater. My brother and I had scrapbooks we made, known as Special Things books which were blue binders with sections put in filled with blank paper where we mostly glued in pictures of items, we found that were special to us. Occasionally stickers, or even loose pages were also put in. I once found a picture of a book, Scruffy, that I thought looked interesting. It was about a cat. Anyway, at the store, I found the book itself, and bought myself a copy of it.
All in all, both train trips were fun. In fact, I would later go on a third trip with a friend of mine that stopped at a different destination yet! I think Mom enjoyed the first one, but the second one was a little bit too long, especially with the breakdown of the train. I think the diesel engine would have been better for the trip to Mount Holly as it seemed to be more powerful, and thus the train traveled faster. It probably would not have had the problem with the hill which would have saved a lot of time and frustration. Years later, I rode trains for transportation such as to New York City a few times, and countless times in Taiwan when Dave and I took various trips to sight see, and go video game hunting.
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