We all know that it's terrific fun to ride and drive BMWs, and there's nothing like a twisty, up-and-downhill road. But what sits beside
these roads can also be very interesting. This report features a collection of streams, old cars, bygone railroads, and the like from central Pennsylvania. Oh, and a lot of snow for good measure.
I made the trip on Sunday, January 16, not long after one of the innumerable snowstorms that have descended on the Mid-Atlantic area in January. The route came from "Mad Maps" and is part of their "Atlantic" series of motorcycle journeys. Mad Maps are reasonably priced and have received high marks from both sport and touring motorcyclists. Their downloadable files are easy to use but inconvenient to convert into MapSource routes for customization. Many people seem to prefer the paper versions, rather than the digital ones. I found the route to be very enjoyable, even though I'd been on a number of the roads on previous Z4 and R1200GS expeditions.
Anyway, back to the current trip. Since it had been 5 weeks since my last full-scale opportunity for a Z4 drive, I was more than ready. First step was getting to Carlisle, PA, home of Dickinson College. On the way, just outside of Dillsburg, I couldn't resist a short detour to see how Yellow Breeches Creek was doing. As a longtime fan of log cabins, I instantly decided that I'd like to live in the one that is just visible on the far side of the creek:
The little town of Newville lies west of Carlisle. Among other features, it's home to the 1789 Big Spring Presbyterian Church, originally founded as a log meeting house in 1737. Actually, it's sort of the other way around: The town was laid out a year after Big Spring Presbyterian was built, on land owned by the church.
Newville is also home to the Laughlin Mill, which was originally a grist mill and was later converted to a pumping station to supply water to the whole town. The mill is fed by the Big Spring Creek, before it empties into the much larger (and much harder to pronounce) Conodoguinet Creek.
Other things by the side of the road? Well, sometimes you have to do a little off-roading to investigate and figure out what the things are
. As best I could tell, someone used to live inside this bus shell. I wasn't sure if it had been a school bus or possibly a prison bus—there was an awful lot of wire mesh in the windows… The accommodations looked exceptionally primitive, but there was at least a mammoth "Duo Therm" furnace inside to keep things toasty during the winter.
This 1960s station wagon sat a bit farther off the side of the road. With one glance, I was easily able to identify it as an early 1960s Buick Skylark wagon, based on its appearance and the three fender "vents." But it's not
: Let the identification begin!
The Mountain Road bridge over the Conodoguinet offered a good view of the semi-frozen creek. A small family of geese seemed happy enough, despite the very cold temperatures. But then, geese have been around North America for about 10 million years, so they must be fairly hardy.
I parked next to these trees to get the creek-n-geese photos. I heard an odd creaking sound, which I assumed was just me—after all, when you're my age, 6' 6" tall, and have to get in and out of a low-slung roadster, you're bound to make some creaking noises, right? Well, it wasn't me after all. One of the trees had fallen and become wedged in the branches of its neighbor. As they swayed in the wind, they produced quite a racket. Once I figured this out, I decided that this probably wasn't the very best place to park one's BMW…
The combination of snow and blues skies made for a lot of pretty vistas, as in this example. In addition, this shot features Yet Another Old Automobile off in the distance—but easily identifiable in this case (right John?).
In Pennsylvania, you really can't drive by "Covered Bridge Road" without investigating, don'tcha know? Sure enough, the road proved to be aptly named.
While I was pretty sure that I'd spotted this bridge before, I didn't remember the nearby barn that has apparently been converted to a home. Nice-looking place. (And you can look out the front windows and see the bridge. This dwelling is now rivaling the earlier creek-side log cabin.)
This Mad Maps ride was accurately titled "Ridges and Valleys," and it featured something like 4 or 5 major mountain passes. Good vantage points were a little hard to find, however; sometimes you had to settle for where the power lines crossed.
Before I knew it, I was on another
"Covered Bridge Road." And snow-covered at that. The Z4 is no good whatsoever in the snow on its normal low-profile, aggressive performance tires—but I figured it wouldn't be any worse than my R1200GS had been in the snow, so I gave it a shot.
After a few miles, the snow cover eased up, and I arrived at the St. Mary's covered bridge. I'd been here before, but from the opposite direction. I was glad to see that it was still in great shape.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find the East Broadtop railroad depot at Rockhill Furnace / Orbisonia only a little ways further up the road. I remembered it well, and on this winter day it was largely deserted. It was a narrow-gauge railroad that ran between Uniontown and Rockhill Furnace, PA, along with some other routes to coal-mining operations. It operated from about 1873 to 1956, closed, and was re-opened shortly thereafter as an historic site. At the time it closed, it was the last operating narrow-gauge railroad east of the Rocky Mountains. You can go for short rides on its steam-powered passenger line during May-October.
The EBTRR's considerable collection of locomotives was safely tucked away in the roundhouse for the winter. This is "Millie," a 1911 Baldwin "mikado."
These days, Baldwin No. 15 handles most of the locomotive duties. It's pictured here on the EBTRR turntable. (Both photos courtesy of the East Broad Top Railroad.)
Speaking of the locomotive turntable, it still looked perfectly workable. I've read that these turntables were so precisely balanced that an individual could turn a locomotive by hand (as appears to be the case in the EBTRR color photo). Amazing.
As I wandered the empty lanes between maintenance buildings, I couldn't help noticing two things: Fresh footprints in the snow and the sound of hammering.
Following both of these clues, I soon found myself inside the East Broad Top repair shops. I found several hearty fellows working to, well, repair the repair shop. I introduced myself and pointed out to them that they had neglected to turn on the heat. They responded that they, too, had noticed this oversight and invited me to look around the facility (which is open for tours during the normal season). They helpfully suggested that I try not to fall into any open pits in the darker corners of the shop.
Walking around (carefully), I realized I was in train-lover's heaven. There was rolling stock…
…original, belt driven drill presses, lathes, and other machinery (originally steam-powered, using the mammoth furnaces in the building)…
…wonderful collections of tools (I'm used to 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" drive automobile tools; the size and configuration of train wrenches and other Implements o' Destruction defy categorization)…
…an unending assortment of drill bits, reamers, taps, etc. …
…and a number of "speeders" being housed for the winter, along with old "M-4," a diesel-mechanical switcher that is used to move the locomotives and rolling stock around whenever there's no fired-up steam locomotive handy. It was a great tour (and I avoided all of the pitfalls, assuming there actually were any!)
Back on the road, I naturally had to find out whether "Jefferson School Road" still had any sign of an old schoolhouse. Well, I'm pretty sure that this
is it, but I'm not positive. Regardless, it made an attractive "roadside" photo.
Only minutes from the presumed schoolhouse, I encountered this apparent narrow-gauge train bridge over a frozen Aughwick Creek. Yep, I believe this was part of the East Broad Top route. (I'll consult with my vintage racing friend and railroad scholar Ron Polimeni to be sure.)
As I continued west of Orbisonia, I encountered numerous vistas, churches, and other enjoyable sites. Some of the best had to be overlooked, however, as I thrashed the willing Z4 up and over the mountain passes. It's a versatile sports car: It can trundle around at 1,800 rpm without protest, but it really comes alive above 4,000 (and produces a glorious exhaust note in the process).
At the former town of Joller, I tramped through the snow looking for any signs of the old mining town. I located some stone foundations, but that was it. The rest has been lost, bulldozed as part of a strip mining operation in 1979. Well, that's progress. Incidentally, the town was named by the U.S. Post Office, which combined the beginning and end of original mine owner John Miller's name. (The town was previously called Midvalley but was renamed to avoid further confusion with the other two
Midvalleys in Pennsylvania.)
Pennsylvania Route 994 is the only road running through Joller, and I was pretty sure that I'd never been on it. But then I spotted this stately old abandoned stone farmhouse and recognized it immediately.
Judging by the number of barns and other outbuildings, this had once been a large and prosperous farm. I was glad to see that nothing had deteriorated compared to my prior visit a couple of years ago. Since there was no one there, and no traffic whatsoever on 994, I took the opportunity to look around a bit. From the outside, looking in—and through—to the outside again:
This time, the roadside attraction included the Z4 itself.
The most interesting old roadside vehicle was covered up for protection from the weather (more or less). How about it, John—think you can identify this one??
Raystown Lake was variously frozen and/or snow-covered. I, myself, was only partly frozen and snow-covered from tramping all over on a day when the temperature seldom made it to 30 degrees. I believe this was the only time I have ever done a trip in the Z4 without having the top down for at least part of the time. Next time, w
ill I m
At the uppermost reaches of Raystown Lake, I made a planned detour to see if there were any good photo op's. Little did I realize what a pleasant surprise lay waiting. Perched on a hillside, overlooking what was once a valley but was now the lake, I found the ruins of Jacob Brumbaugh's home, known as "Timothy's Meadow." Subsequent research indicates that it was built in 1804 and also served as a Friends meeting house. Jacob was born in Germany in 1734, immigrated in 1754, fought with General Braddock in the French and Indian Wars, and, with his two wives, had a total of 15 children over the years. One of his descendants, Martin Brumbaugh, served as Governor of Pennsylvania in the early 1900s.
These twin pillars sat a couple hundred yards away from the house, with no indication of their significance. Seeing no mailboxes, "Keep Out" signs, etc., I decided to see if the Z4 could make it to the top of the hill on the snow-covered, rutted, dirt road. It could, and it did. At the top, I discovered the "Valley View Cemetery," the Brumbaugh family graveyard. Martin's grave was there, along with many others, but it appears that no one is quite sure where Jacob is buried.
As best I could tell, the Brumbaugh home and cemetery are on public land. For my next adventure, however… Well, suffice it to say that if you're foolish enough to tramp around through snowy woods on a freezing cold day, then you're also foolish enough to investigate interesting-looking abandoned properties. I was led on by this large building set well off the roadside among some trees. Some of which are growing inside
Since the door was wide open, I decided to see what the inside looked like. The building appeared to have been a machine shop or small factory at one time. Now, it has an eclectic Collection o' Junk, including old theatre seats, cabinets, a stereo, lumber, pipes, and a thick coating of dead leaves, branches, and other detritus that has come through the holes in the roof.
It was not an appealing place, but it didn't become downright creepy until I came face-to-face with this malevolent, one-eared Easter Bunny. It was too much, and I beat a hasty retreat.
Further back on the property, I found more abandoned buildings, including this large house. Its door was not wide open, so I stayed appropriately outside. Besides, I was afraid of encountering the rest of the Easter Bunnies…
One of the newer buildings was made of cinder blocks and appears to have served as someone's living quarters for a time. Or at least the scene of sordid and depraved behavior involving Santa… (I report, you decide.)
By now, I'd reached the banks of the Juniata River. Its waters varied from partially to fully frozen and snow-covered, with no apparent reason for one status versus another. To get this photo—just for you all—I slithered down a steep access road (and lived to tell about it).
Continuing to follow the south side of the Juniata, I spotted Newton Hamilton on the north side and decided to cross over for some more spontaneous exploration.
N-H proved to be fairly typical of small Pennsylvania towns. My favorite discovery was this whimsical wooden snowman. The sign above his head said, "What happens on the porch stays on the porch."
Most of you have GPS's, I'm sure, and I'm also confident that you've occasionally discovered that not every road indicated on a GPS actually exists. I was looking for a good vantage point for another frozen Juniata River picture, preferably with the stone archway bridge that I'd glimpsedf in the distance. Following a series of "roads" led me onto a large, recently closed manufacturing facility. As the snow cover grew deeper, the roads became less distinct, and I found myself wandering around what was probably a parking lot, looking for the mysterious (and ultimately nonexistent) road bordering the river. Since the lot had a distinct downhill slant to it, I kept going until I found a small patch of bare pavement where I could park—and still get a running start to get out of there! (Those are my tire tracks in the foreground.) Honest, the things I do for you all!
Well, after all that, here's your crummy photo of snowy Juniata River, with no stone archway bridge in sight! (Mutter, mutter, grumble, grumble…)
Actually, it was kind of fun. It would have been the perfect place for Z4 donuts if I'd had any idea what was underneath the snow.
Having had all this fun, trekking through the snow and so forth, it was time to skip the last 80 miles of the route and take a more direct route home. Vowing not to stop for anything, I directed the Zumo to "Go Home" and pressed on. After a few miles, however, this old place cried out for attention…
…and then I discovered this privately owned covered bridge (originally called McCulloch's Bridge and then Mayer's Bridge, before being renamed Lehman's Bridge by Elkanah and Lucy Lehman, who went to the trouble of repairing the bridge after it was knocked into Licking Creek in 1972 by Hurricane Agnes and who therefore have every right to name it after themselves!)…
…and, finally, stopping to get a picture of the moon as it became more prominent in the evening sky.
Even without the last 80 miles of the official route, it was a great trip. But I'm already overdue for another one, so stay tuned for the next peregrination by BMW.