Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest Blog from Ray: Some Fall Adventures

Another guest blog from our buddy photographer Ray Beimel in St. Marys, Pennsylvania:

            In October this past year, I did some travelling in south central Pennsylvania on a lovely fall weekend. These are some of the interesting things I saw. In 1997 the Travelling Circus hiked the Appalachian Trail from Old Forge State Forest Picnic Area to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. In doing the necessary car switch, we went past the South Mountain Restoration Center. A huge building loomed out of the foggy rain and I always wanted to go back for a better look. This finally happened. Originally built as a tuberculosis sanitarium in the 1940’s it is little used today. There is a large campus with lots of buildings, some of which are in use. The biggest one was the hospital.

             The day I was there I could see no activity whatever. There were two cars parked nearby and not a soul to be seen. It was kind of spooky actually and probably much more so at night.
            Away from the big building was another one that once was a protectarium for children who were exposed to tuberculosis. This closed in the 1980’s and has been dormant (nice word for rotting away) ever since. Apparently the roof leaks. If you could get inside, it would be some interesting ruins. There is a website of pictures of the place in its ruined state. It’s kind of sad actually. A large well built building that serves no useful purpose any longer is never a happy sight. The grounds are still well kept.

            My next stop was Caledonia State Park. I have camped there many times but I never did any hiking there except for that cold rainy day when the Circus came by on our way to Quarry Gap Shelter. We did over 12 miles that day with rain the whole time. That happened to us a lot. Thaddeus Stevens, a well known abolitionist and Congressman had an iron furnace there until Jubal Early came and destroyed everything on his way to the battle of Gettysburg. The Park has an interpretive trail that takes you past a number of sites associated with the furnace. This is the mill race that brought the waters of Conococheague Creek to the water wheel at the furnace. It was carpeted with pine needles and made for pleasant hiking on a nice fall day.

             After some looking around there, I went over to the Michaux State Forest. I wanted to get a picture of the walls of the Hessian Barn that we passed so often while hiking the Appalachian Trail with Chris’ Backpacking Classes. The trail has been rerouted away from it and there is a nice little parking area adjacent now. However, there are no interpretive markers in place yet.
             I had a notion to come back at night to take some pictures of it lit by flashbulbs but that will have to wait for another time. From there is it just a short drive to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. As luck would have it, this was the weekend of the Furnace Festival. Always a sucker for festival going, I spent a few hours wandering around to see what was going on.
            There was the obligatory blacksmith but the authenticity was disturbed by his talking on a cell phone. Keen eyed pedants (like me) would also note that he was working with mild steel and not wrought iron. But of course, since no one makes wrought iron today, he and others of his trade have little choice. There also some charcoal making going on at a much reduced scale compared to historic times. Being a collier had to suck. You did a lot of manual labor to create the pile then got dirty covering it in mud and leaves. Then you had to keep an eye on the thing for days which meant you were camped out in a rude shack and didn’t get a lot of sleep because you dare not let too much air get in because that would start a fire. And you were surrounded by smoke the whole time.
             Most of the rest of the festival was the usual mix of demonstrations, craft booths, food sellers and such. One display had alpaca, the somewhat calmer cousin of the llama.

            There was a display of old tools there and I saw this little girl trying to do something with a bellows. After a few fruitless tries she gave it up as bad business.
             I always feel sorry for the entertainers hired for such events. This poor fellow has an audience of four and two of them are more interested in rassling around on hay bales. The real draw at festivals of this sort are the trailers like below. It is not really a furnace festival without your chocolate covered bananas and your hot sausage sandwiches.

             There were other mildly interesting sights. The Ironmaster’s Hostel was refurbished and they were holding open house. It looked a cut above most of the hostels I have seen. There was kettle corn and funnel cake and bottled water and baskets and cute stuff and a lady selling semi-good “art” photos. I tried to talk shop with her but I discovered she was getting her prints made at Walmart, didn’t have Photoshop, didn’t have a printer, didn’t cut her own mats, and wasn’t selling anything.
            After a few hours and another visit to the Appalachian Trail museum to see the decent docent I met there before (she was not on duty) I wandered back to the car. I saw this in passing. I had never encountered recycling cans lettered this way. I thought I knew what commingle meant. It was something I tried to do with a girl back in high school and got slapped for my efforts. Not sure what it means in this context. There were lots of people carrying aluminum things around and putting them in the hole but I saw not one person carrying any commingle.

            The next day I was in Gettysburg on my birthday. I spent little time on the battlefield and lots of time seeking out the real tourist draws there these days, ghost tours. Look forward to a rant coming your way soon. Meanwhile, I am wishing all a happy and prosperous New Year.   Ray

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