Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Father Road

Happy motoring on the old Lincoln Highway

It was John Steinbeck who christened Route 66 “The Mother Road.” But years before we got our kicks on 66 the original American roadtrip ran from the footlights of Times Square to the grandeur of the Golden Gate. We come to think of this as The Father Road, the first cross-country two-lane, named for the Rail Splitter himself.

Welcome to the Lincoln Highway, where we’re looking for mementos from America’s original car culture. It’s here on the Lincoln where diners learned to sling hash. Motor courts grew up to become motels. Hotels took on the shapes of cruise ships. There’s a two-story shoe house. A restaurant built like a castle, “serving kings and queens.” And our first surprise: The Land of Little Horses.

Just west of Gettysburg dozens of mini-mares and waist-high stallions (not ponies!) prance and perform on a daily basis. They share a pristine farm with miniature mules, peacocks and even a single-humped dromedary. We coo at the camel and feed the little dobbins crunchies from the horsy gift shop.

A few miles past the micro-ranch a life-size baby-blue elephant poses outside Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Center. The aroma of roasting peanuts wafts over us as we explore a ramshackle candy land with thousands of elephant gewgaws. First, candy necklaces, molasses paddles and a zillion jawbreakers, each quite capable of doing the job. Then elephant bookends, banks, candleholders, and lookee here: pachyderm potty chairs!

With root beer barrels in our cheeks and a Jumbo table lamp in the ragtop’s trunk, we blow past Chambersburg, out where peach trees and fresh cherries replace strip malls by the bushel. Dairy farms reach for the Tuscarora Ridge, where we climb nigh on to 2,900 feet. This was the original trace for Conestoga wagons rolling westward-ho. Today we turn ridge-top hairpins and peel eyes for the signs with a big blue “L” that keep us on the Lincoln road.

For the most part, the Lincoln Highway is U.S. Route 30. But Route 30 isn’t always the Lincoln. We take the “business route” whenever the option knocks. It’s the old road, usually the main street for beautiful little burgs still alive with dress shops and drug stores, newsies and cafes.

The town of Bedford’s a perfect example, and a perfect place to explore the Lincoln’s living memory. We can’t believe our eyes when we spot the original Coffee Pot on the edge of town. Just past a dreamy art deco filling station, The Coffee Pot’s a two-story percolator that once fueled pioneering road trippers with caffeine and comfort food. Newly restored to its kitschy majesty, it has a dignified pedestal at the county fairgrounds.

In Bedford the Lincoln is a main drag lined with cheery shops and a vintage movie theater that takes us back a bit. We stroll into LIFeSTYLE, a former cigar shop with its dark mahogany shelves now full of rustic handmade pastas, olive oils, and colorful pottery. It’s all from Italy, including Stefano Ferrari, imported by his wife Sarah, a local girl who knows her way around rigatoni. They help us pick out some creamy pesto and we put on a couple pounds just thinking of supper.

A few miles later we check into the Lincoln Motor Court, one of the last of the 1940’s cottage collections to welcome happy motorists at the end of day. We’re in Number 6, with a firm queen bed, a small living area, a TV nook with a fridge, microwave and coffee pot. The bath has pink and black tiles that recall the best of times.

Debbie and Bob Altizer run the joint, and their labor of love keeps the knotty pine paneling tip-top. Color TVs arrived just a few years back. “I think there's something nostalgic about black and white,” Debbie says. “But people don't think like that anymore. Now they even want remotes." We flip ours off and enjoy a nostalgic nightcap in a little manicured grotto behind old #6.

Morning has us back in the saddle. Up the road apiece we see a sign for the Flight 93 memorial. In the middle of a rolling green meadow a spontaneous collection of flags and flowers, badges and banners pays tribute to the hijacked passengers who gave their lives on September 11, 2001. Bob Musser lives a mile from the crash site and he and his wife volunteer here just about every day. “We greet a lot of people who come to pay their respects,” Bob says. “This here’s hallowed ground.”

Not far away is another story of inspiration with a much happier ending. It’s the site of the 2002 Quecreek Mine rescue, where nine trapped coal miners were brought out of the darkness alive and well. We peer down the tiny rescue shaft, now the center of a pretty little garden that celebrates the miners’ miracle.

We have a lot to ponder on the way to Ligonier, an old fort town with its feet firmly planted in the French and Indian War and its mind set on happy visitors. An effervescent Patty Campbell greets us at her Campbell House B&B. If you don’t feel welcome here it’s your own fault. She must be curator of the largest collection of Campbell’s Soup bric-a-brac west of Camden. She gives us a room with the Campbell’s Kids hanging over our bed and discount cards for two of the town’s better eateries. Then she sends us off for one wild pint of beer.

Joe’s Bar doesn’t look like much. A brick front with a red neon “JOES” gives nary a hint of the big game menagerie inside. We order pints of lager, wander into the back room and nearly drop our suds when we see the polar bear. And the huge horned ram. And the two-story giraffe. And by gosh, there’s a great elephant’s head looming over the taproom.

Spiral stairs lead us to more taxidermy trophies: scores of beasts that met their fate tangling with Joe Snyder of Ligonier. A bar-side local tells us Joe had no room for his stuffed animals at home, so he brought ‘em down the bar to keep everybody company.

We’ve not seen anything like it, nor expect to ever again. But one never knows what’s around the next turn of the old Lincoln Highway. Heck, the largest paperweight collection in Pennsylvania is a stone’s throw away. Not to mention a museum devoted to the Big Mac, invented for better or worse right here on the Mother Road.

Until then, it’s seared scallops and pad Thai noodles at Ivy’s Café, and home fries to beat the band at Ruthie’s Diner in the morning. As we head for what’s next along the Lincoln, we’ll look for you along the bends and back roads.

Get an illustrated map of our adventure along The Mother Road, complete with photos and other goodies, when you cruise over to And for more about what's happening along the Lincoln Highway, check out our friend Olga Herbert's wonderful work at The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor at

The Land of Little Horses
These little Falabella Miniature Horses (not ponies!) dance, prance and perform. The farm is a beautiful stop along the way.
125 Glennwood Drive, a couple miles south of Rt. 30 and just west of Gettysburg. 717.334.7259. See for yourself at

Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum
We hear there are 6000 elephant trinkets in Mr. Ed’s museum. We’re too busy stuffing our faces with fudge and peanut brittle to take a complete count. 6019 Chambersburg Road just west of Chambersburg.

The Coffee Pot
One of the landmarks of the Lincoln Highway heyday. Restored and resplendent at the Bedford Fairgrounds on the west side of Bedfore.

The Lincoln Motor Court
Why stay in a sterile chain motel when you can book a cottage at this little treasure? See what they meant by, “Happy motoring!” 5104 Lincoln Highway, Manns Choice PA. (Just west of Bedford.) Call Debbie for a reservation at 814.733.2891.

Old-world pasta, hand-made pottery, Italian coffee and chocolates. And fabulous tins of tuna in virgin olive oil. Ask about the family-style dinners at Stefano and Sarah’s communal table. Right in the heart of the main drag, Pitt Street ("business route 30") in Bedford.

The Igloo Soft Freeze
It’s an ice-cream stand in the shape of an ice-cream sundae. (We love the root-beer float.) Very Lincoln Highway! 42 E. Main St. (Business Route 30) in Everett. 814.652.2442

Flight 93 Memorial/Quecreek Mine Rescue
The 9/11 crash site is one big lump in the throat. Not far away is the rescue shaft that brought 9 trapped miners back to their families. Both places tell tales of triumphant human spirit.

Joe’s Bar
Lions, tigers and bears! A few stools are made of elephant’s feet and we drink beer out of jars. Look out for the stuffed jackalope. Maybe the best bar ever. 202 W. Main St, Ligonier.

Ivy’s Café
Local boy marries Manhattan girl. Together they make beautiful kitchen music. We love the blue cheese and walnut wantons. Great wine list with good prices, too. 201 E. Main St, Ligonier. 724.995.1050.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

A Day at “The Office” in The Electric City

Where your favorite TV characters hang out in Scranton, PA

The fact is we don’t watch a lot of TV. Heck, we’re on the road so much it’s all we can do to catch a motel movie now and again. But whenever possible, we’re slaves to “The Office.” Maybe because it’s plain hilarious, and maybe because it takes place in Scranton, PA.

We cruise into “The Electric City” on old Route 11 just to check out the joints they talk about on “The Office.” We even have the radio in the ragtop glued to Rock 107 FM. (Remember the episode when Dwight calls the station: “Hello, Rock 107? Am I the 107th caller?”) An appropriate anthem, “Little Pink Houses,” rolls us past little brick ones built for the miners and millers and railroaders who gave this town its heyday.

Today, factories have become art studios. Old storefronts are unique boutiques. Antique pressed-tin ceilings look down upon lively pubs and steak houses. And next to the railroad yards – now the mighty Steamtown National Historic Site – is The Mall at Steamtown.

We park below and ride an elevator into the bells and whistles of a shopping paradise that often co-stars on our favorite show. Sneak a peek inside Victoria’s Secret, where Michael Scott, the office boss, inexplicably takes his female co-workers on “field trips.” Check out Nail Trix, a salon where Kelly Kapoor would totally spend every Saturday morning.

We’re tacky tourist shutterbugs until a security guard tells us no pictures inside the mall. “Except at the food court,” he points. “There’s a whole display of those ‘Office’ stars perfect for snapshots.”

Sure enough, there’s the whole cast, bigger than life. We click cardboard cutouts of Michael Scott, Kelly Kapoor, Creed (played by Creed Bratton – did you know he used to play guitar in The Grassroots?), the grumpy nerd Dwight (played by Rainn Wilson, who was made an honorary mall security guard when he came to Scranton for an “Office” convention) – even the original “Scranton Welcomes You” sign from the show’s opening credits. Among the food-court stalwarts of Arthur Treacher’s and The Lotus Express, it’s pretty cool.

Outside the food court we walk a skyway above the massive Steamtown train yards, and down into acres of boxcars, locomotives, cabooses, and lots of electric trolleys. For many years Scrantonians rode the first citywide electric trolley system in the world, hence its nickname “Electric City.”

Follow the tracks to The Trolley Museum at the other end of the yards. Inside, hop aboard an original wooden streetcar, with velvet curtains and leather benches. Imagine the clang-clang-clang. Sure beats walking.

Folks still ride these restored wonders along the edge of town, through the woods and over to the friendly confines where the Triple-A Yankees play. It’s a romantic ride through time to one gem of a ballpark.

Around the corner and high above, a blazing round sign illuminates the city’s happy heritage every night: “Scranton, The Electric City.” It’s a beauty.

Back in the ragtop, we pass the big green sign on the home of the Crystal Club Soda Water Company. (Seems there’s a can of Crystal Club Root Beer on every desk in “The Office.”) We spy the building on the corner of Adams and Mulberry that stands in for the fabled Dunder Mifflin paper company. It has a sixties kind of architectural cool, and we can’t help but snap a drive-by pic.

Swing down Washington and there’s Abe’s Delicatessen, just in time for lunch. (Have you seen the Abe’s menu stuck on “The Office” fridge?) We stand before a gleaming case of pickles, smoked fish and kosher salamis. On top, a cooling tray of noodle kugel and knishes fresh from the oven. A counterman (Abe himself?) catches our gawk and shrugs, “What’s not to like?” We go with matzo ball soup and the best whitefish salad this side of Second Avenue. Kosher deli in Scranton; who knew?

We walk a couple blocks to the Artists For Art gallery. It’s home to contemporary work from local artists, including – at least on TV - Pam Beesly, played by Jenna Fischer. AFA’s set in a row of restored brick storefronts, another intersection of hardscrabble and new-wave Scranton.

Not far from AFA we discover the favorite watering hole of “The Office” denizens. Poor Richard’s Pub, with its spicy wings, local tap beer and a waitress who calls us “honey,” is tucked inside the South Side Bowl. The alleys are booming with bowling teams of all ages, and the bright lights and neon colors are a groovy shock after the brick streets of downtown. A mural of enormous bowling balls the color of grape soda and limeade loom over the ten-pins in a pattern that suggests 1950’s linoleum on 1960’s acid. It looks as loud as it sounds, and we lace up two-tones and throw a spare or two between gutter balls and sure enough work up a lager thirst.

Inside Poor Richard’s the lights are low again, and a popular local duo called The Girlz sway gently with electric guitars. We nurse our bowling-ball elbows by bending a few with some refugees from genuine Scranton offices.

One fellow is actually sporting a t-shirt, for sale here at Poor Richards, emblazoned with a slogan from “The Office” that seems oh-so true: “Ain’t no party like a Scranton party ‘cause a Scranton party don’t stop.”

We buy a double XL and strike out from the lanes into a beautiful mountain town evening. Time to check into the majestic Lackawanna train station. The grand waiting room, adorned with marble and amazing tile mosaics from a gilded time, is now a grand hotel lobby, and we’re made welcome with uncommon opulence.

Tonight, it’s dinner at Cooper’s Seafood, an “Office” favorite. (Remember when Michael wants sushi? Dwight tells him Cooper’s has calamari.) We giggle over the corny lobster beanie with its googly eyeballs and wiggly antennae and slurp just-shucked Virginia Salts. Fresh oysters in Scranton; who knew?

Tomorrow it’s a spooky séance at The Houdini Museum and a dark trek deep inside a real coalmine. Then more live local music at The Bog, a hipster bar across from Embassy Vinyl, one of America’s last great record stores. Like the t-shirt says, a Scranton party just don’t stop. Until it does, we’ll see you around the bends and back roads.

For an illustrated map of your tour of Scranton sites made famous on "The Office," hop on over to

Steamtown National Historic Site/Trolley Museum
What’s more powerful than a locomotive? Lots and lots of locomotives! Ride a steam train, explore the huge old train yards, and take a jaunt on an old electric trolley. Then fix your shopping jones at The Mall at Steamtown right next door. It’s where “The Office” shops for everything. Learn all about it at and/or

Farley’s Steakhouse
Oak, brass and Certified Angus Steaks. On the episode called “Basketball,” the warehouse team played the office team and the losers had to buy dinner at this popular steak house. (Check out the homemade old bay potato chips.) 300 Adams Ave. 570) 346-3000.

Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen
Hot pastrami, corned beef on rye, lox and bagels. What’s not to like? 326 N Washington Ave. 570-346-2946.

AFA Gallery
Exhibits from local artists rotate monthly. See for yourself at 514 Lackawanna Ave or take a virtual tour at

South Side Bowl/Poor Richard’s Pub
The favorite place to hang out after working at “The Office.” Bowl a strike, have a pint and try the spicy wings sampler. Life doesn’t get better than this. 125 Beech Street. (570) 961-5213

Cooper’s Seafood
Look for the lighthouse and welcome aboard. The corny gift shot is almost as much fun as tearing into those fresh oysters and twin lobster tails. 701 N Washington Ave. (570)346-6883.

Lackawanna Station Hotel
The lobby/restaurant is one of the most beautifully restored gilded railroad stations in America. The mini-suites have microwaves and refrigerators. 700 Lackawanna Avenue.
(570) 342-8300.

Nay Aug Park/Everhart Museum
At the top of Mulberry Street is a huge public park. There’s a pool, an animal rescue (with monkeys and an alligator) and a fabulous treehouse with a gorgeous view. The Everhart Museum has an art collection that blows us away.

Glider Diner
When you need a late-night fix of homemade corned-beef hash and eggs, remember The Glider is open 24 hours. 890 Providence Rd. 570.343.8036.

The Houdini Museum
Houdini in Scranton; who knew? Here’s the largest building devoted to Harry Houdini, with great magic shows, scary storytelling and spooky séances in “The Psychic Theater.” The website says, “not for the feint of heart.” 1443 N. Main Street. Call for reservations: 570.383.9297. or

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