Facebook Page


By Jack M. Turner

After traveling north on Amtrak’s Auto Train, Christine and I enjoyed our first visit to the Manassas Battlefield Park where the Battle of Bull Run was a major event of the Civil War.  A quick visit to the Air and Space Museum Annex in Chantilly, VA provided our first close up look at Space Shuttle Discovery.  And a restful night at a nearby Hampton Inn prepared us for the next day’s easy drive to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

As expected upon reaching Pennsylvania Dutch country we immediately encountered a horse and buggy traveling along a rural Lancaster County road.  As we were arriving on a Sunday afternoon, the roads around Bird-in-Hand, Ronks, and Strasburg were well traveled by these conveyances as it was a Sunday for visitation amongst the Amish.  During the course of our four days in the area we came to appreciate the dedication these folks have for their traditional ways, avoiding ownership of motorized vehicles or use of electricity in their homes and businesses. 


A pair of horse and buggy conveyances ahead of us on the highway

IMG_2400 copy-2-2.JPG

We slow for a horse and open buggy

We drove to Strasburg in early afternoon to watch the passage of Thomas the Tank Engine over the Strasburg Railroad that weekend.  The fully operational Thomas was built at the Strasburg Railroad shops using a working 1917 0-6-0T steam engine with a Thomas exterior.  Five non-operational Thomas engines have also been constructed by Strasburg Railroad for use on assorted tourist railroads around the country including a narrow gauge version.  A recent addition has been a Percy replica which does not provide motive power and requires a working engine on the opposite end of the train. 

Our vantage point was outside the Red Caboose Lodge located along Paradise Lane east of the Strasburg Railroad station and we had a great view of trains climbing uphill from the station.  Before the tracks were clear for the train pulled by Thomas, the regular westbound Strasburg Railroad train pulled by steam locomotive # 90 passed with the 2-10-0 Decapod leading the way.  Moments after that train cleared, a train pushed by Thomas delighted onlookers as it headed to a point a mile or two to the east.  A third train trailed Thomas with a diesel switch engine in front and the Percy replica on the rear.  This train operated a shorter distance than the Thomas train which, in turn, covered about half the distance of the actual excursion train. 


Strasburg Railroad # 90 pulls an afternoon train past bucolic farms


Wooden coaches comprise most of the Strasburg fleet


The caboose leads the Thomas train as it backs along the rail line


Thomas The Tank Engine shoves a train past our vantage point


Thomas pushes his train past the Red Caboose Lodge


A Strasburg diesel pulls the Percy train on its short run


A non-powered Percy replica brings up the rear


Percy’s eyes have moved since the prior photo

During the course of our stay in the area, we observed the Strasburg Railroad from numerous vantage points as several back roads and county highways parallel or cross the right-of-way between Strasburg and Paradise.  We also observed the adjacent former Pennsylvania Railroad main line from numerous overpasses east of Lancaster.  On our final day in Lancaster County we would ride the Strasburg Railroad and tour the adjacent Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania as described later in this story.

The second day in the area proves to be a real highlight as we visit The Amish Village, an authentic former Amish homestead.  A tour guide provides an interesting tour of the former Amish home and we receive a great description of the furnishings inside the house and the clothing and traditions of the Amish.  After examining all of the rooms inside the house including the kitchen, we walk to the barn area where a variety of live animals represent livestock one would typically find on an Amish farm.  The grounds include a one room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, windmill, and various other structures common to nearby farms.


The Amish Village


The Amish Village features a covered bridge


  A one room schoolhouse at The Amish Village

Following our tour of The Amish Village we climb aboard one of the attraction’s 14 passenger minibuses for a 90 minute tour of area backroads.  The tour turns out to be the perfect introduction to Pennsylvania Dutch country as it applies what we learned in the village to real Amish scenes.  Our driver knows all of the most scenic routes through the area and regales us with a lot of interesting information.  We quickly learn how to spot Amish homes by the absence of power lines leading to the house and the laundry hanging out to dry in the front or side yard.  We also learn how to spot one room schoolhouses that dot the area.  Along the way we see a number of Amish adults plowing their fields, tending laundry, or riding in horse drawn buggies as well as youngsters playing or riding foot propelled scooters along the road.  Near the end of our tour we stop at a working Amish farm for a chance to shop for handmade items and homemade treats while interacting with the Amish workers.  Visiting The Amish Village and taking its Back Roads Tour is the perfect introduction to Pennsylvania Dutch country and the Amish culture.  After a visit it is well worth having lunch at Katie’s Kitchen, a nearby Amish restaurant, where the food is delicious and prices are reasonable.


A 14 passenger minibus used for The Amish Village Back Roads Tour


One of many Amish farmers seen mowing and conditioning hay.


The Amish can be found patronizing non-Amish businesses


The Amish Village Back Roads Tour took us past many Amish working the fields

IMG_2542 (2).JPG

Our tour guide showed us many Amish farms


The scenic highlight of our tour was this view of a valley filled with Amish farms and rolling fields


Laundry hung out to dry and the absence of power lines are indicative of Amish home and farms


Another man mowing and conditioning hay.

Our day continues with a visit to Lapp’s Toys and Furniture, an Amish business where wooden toys and furniture are made by hand.  We purchase a few items for our little grandson and are glad to know they are high quality, handmade by expert craftsmen.  We enjoy browsing at various shops and enjoy the serenity of the area. 

We are delighted by our lodging for our three nights in Lancaster County as the Amish View Inn exceeds even our lofty expectations.  The front desk staff is warm and accommodating and our room in the adults only wing is exceptionally spacious.  The room contains a huge wall mounted flat screen television, a sofa, and a recliner without sacrificing space whatsoever.  The view from our windows is amazing as a cornfield and Amish farm stretch a couple hundred yards.  The view straight down from our window is into the edge of the cornfield and we enjoy watching the sun set over this beautiful scene.  Our room contains an oversized bathroom with enclosed water closet, a glass enclosed shower, and a claw footed whirlpool tub with a flat screen television mounted on the adjacent wall.  Mornings begin with a delicious breakfast featuring Lancaster County foods prepared fresh and included in the price of the room.  The Amish View Inn is family friendly as its family wing includes an indoor swimming pool and the same great views as the adult wing.  Throughout our visit we notice several Amish passing on the main road in their horse and buggy as they travel around the area surrounding the town of Bird-in-Hand.


The front of Amish View Inn


The breakfast room at the inn overlooks an Amish farm


Our comfortable room at Amish View Inn


Our room featured a claw footed whirlpool tub with wall mounted television


This wonderful view awaited us each morning


Sunset over farmlands behind Amish View Inn


Another Amish View Inn sunset


Chef made waffles are one of the great offerings during breakfast


Local products are used for breakfast at Amish View Inn


Nighttime is peaceful at Amish View Inn

Next to our hotel stands The Amish Experience which contains a theater that houses the multimedia presentation “Jacob’s Choice” which dramatizes the choice Amish teens must make concerning whether to stay in the Amish community or leave for the outside world.  This is an interesting look at a seldom remarked aspect of Amish life and a good introduction to a replica Amish house and school room depicting daily life in the Amish world.  A knowledgeable tour guide explains various aspects of the house and school room and patiently answers many questions.  Area tours of the area are also available aboard Amish Experience minibuses.


The Amish Experience offers a good introduction to the Amish culture


A replica of a one room schoolhouse awaits visitors to The Amish Experience.  Guests also visit a theater presenting the multimedia show "Jacob's Choice".


A typical Amish kitchen is presented at The Amish Experience


Girls clothing is displayed in one of the bedrooms at The Amish Experience

After a morning visit to The Amish Experience we head east to the town of Intercourse, PA where we enjoy lunch at a cozy little restaurant.  Later we visit Immergut Hand Rolled Soft Pretzels, an Amish business where you can watch fresh pretzels made right before your eyes.  The result is mouthwatering and it is hard to resist making another visit the next day.  After that we drive along some more back roads past Amish farms and drive through several covered bridges identified on a Lancaster County map we acquired through the local visitors bureau.


Fresh baked Immergut Hand Rolled Soft Pretzels in Intercourse are a treat


Herr’s Mill Bridge is located along Ronks Road


A covered bridge along Belmont Road


  An Amish woman plows a field late in the day near Bird-in-Hand

Our final morning in the area begins with another greatbreakfast at The Amish View Inn then takes us on the short drive to Strasburg where we visit the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.  This wonderful facility contains an impressive variety of equipment in its climate controlled building and outdoor rail yard.  Included are numerous Pennsylvania Railroad steam locomotives with varying wheel arrangements, a Tuscan red PRR E-7 diesel, a pair of PRR GG1 electric engines (including # 4800 nicknamed “Old Rivets”), a Pennsy GP-9, Conrail GP-30, and an assortment of engines from various short line railroads.  A Virginia & Truckee 2-6-0 from out west is included in the collection as it was built in Pennsylvania by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1875.  A pair of Amtrak electric engines, E60 # 603 and AEM7 # 915 are displayed outdoors.  In all, over 40 locomotives can be found at the museum.


View of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania from Strasburg Railroad


The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is directly across the street from Strasburg Railroad


One of many steam locomotives housed at the museum


Virginia & Truckee 2-6-0 # 20 was built in Philadelphia by Baldwin Locomotive Works


Pennsylvania Railroad E7 # 5901 displays its Tuscan red paint with gold pinstripes


PRR GG1 # 4935 painted in Brunswick green


Three generations of electric locomotives, GG1, E60, and AEM7 on the grounds of The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania

More than 20 passenger cars are located on museum grounds including Pennsylvania sleeper observation lounge car “Tower View” which brought up the rear of the famed Broadway Limited.  Additionally, PRR sleeper “Scioto Rapids”, Reading observation car # 1, a Lehigh Valley rail diesel car, and PRR Metroliner car are on site.  A well-stocked gift shop and numerous other displays are also available for guests to enjoy.


Reading observation car # 1 used on The Crusader


Lehigh Valley rail diesel car # 40


An original Metroliner coach


Broadway Limited sleeper-observation car “Tower View”

Directly across the street is the Strasburg Railroad, built in 1832 and billed as America’s oldest short line railroad.  We board train # 110, The Susquehanna Limited” which departs at 11:00am.  Immediately we pass through the railroad yard and shop area then march past the Red Caboose Lodge and other businesses located off Paradise Road where we watched Thomas The Tank Engine and Percy pass on Sunday.  A few minutes later we pass Groffs Grove where we will stop on the return trip.  There is a passing siding here which is used when two Strasburg Railroad trains operate at the same time.  By 11:20am we are in the midst of switching at Paradise (also known as Leaman Place).  Here 4-6-0 steam locomotive # 475, the oldest engine running on the Strasburg Railroad, cuts off and runs around to the opposite end of the train for the return trip.  The engine now will face forward rather than running backwards as it did on the outbound trip.  This leaves our coach as the rear car which offers some nice views behind us.


4-8-0 # 475 prepares to pull our train backwards on the run to Paradise


Our coach sits right behind the locomotive on the outbound journey


# 475 uncouples and runs by our train at Paradise right beside Amtrak’s former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline

During the switching we see no rail traffic on the adjacent former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline.  Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian and several Keystone trains pass this point daily and occasionally are seen from Strasburg Railroad trains.  There is an interchange track here as well that handles some freight and periodic movements to the railroad museum.

The return trip begins at 11:25am and soon we spot a few Amish residents walking down a road as well as others working on their farms.  With approximately 35,000 Amish residents in the region, it is not difficult to observe this interesting culture.  The train soon stops at Groffs Grove and a large group of youngsters and accompanying adults detrain.  The kids make a beeline for the picnic tables, swing sets, see-saws, and merry-go-round located beneath a stand of shady trees.  They will board the next train due in about an hour.  Just across Cherry Hill Road from this stop is a popular corn maze which is open during the fall as part of the Cherry Crest Adventure Farm which also features an apple blast range and many other family friendly activities during the summer and autumn.


Our coach's platform offers a nice view as we travel along the scenic route.


Kids head straight for the picnic tables and playground after detraining at Groffs Grove


Amish residents can be seen from the Strasburg Railroad

Our nine-mile round trip comes to a close at 11:47am as we return to the East Strasburg station where our ride began.  We join a 45 minute small group tour of the Strasburg Railroad shops which takes us behind the scenes in the engine shop and the running repair shop.  Inside those buildings we see a variety of railroad equipment undergoing repairs and restoration and learn about the purpose and operation of equipment used to maintain a working steam railroad.  We see a wooden coach that is being rebuilt into a first class car which will increase capacity in that popular service.  The Thomas engine that pulled a train on Sunday is parked inside the running repair shop as is the Percy replica seen that day.  There are a few pieces of railroad equipment from other tourist lines undergoing contracted repair and restoration.  This is a leading source of revenue for the Strasburg Railroad since it has an excellent shop.  With a roster of 18 cars, three regularly operating road steam locomotives, a steam powered switcher, a diesel, and the steam powered Thomas engine, the Strasburg Railroad shops are kept busy.


The shop tour offers insight into maintaining a working steam railroad


A former Baltimore & Ohio wooden coach is being rebuilt into a first class car


Percy rests in the shop at Strasburg Railroad after a Thomas The Tank Engine weekend


Another working Strasburg steam engine, # 89, undergoes maintenance in the shop

In addition to the train ride to Paradise and the shop tour, Strasburg Railroad offers numerous packages (including combination tickets with area attractions), special events, and various levels of service aboard the train.  Another unique tour allows participants to view the firing up of the steam locomotives and other preparations at the start of the day.  It is wise to consult the Strasburg Railroad web site linked below to verify operations as schedules do change seasonally.


A miniature train ride operates on Strasburg Railroad grounds


Wooden cars lay over between runs at Strasburg Railroad


Strasburg Railroad’s first class car

There are many rail options for reaching Lancaster County, PA.  Amtrak directly serves Lancaster with trains from New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh that connect with other trains from the north, south, and west.  Travelers from Florida can follow the routing that we took and ride Auto Train from Sanford to Lorton, VA then make a half day drive to Lancaster County.  This is also a viable option for Amtrak passengers coming from the south into Washington, DC as rental cars are available at Washington Union Station for the short drive to Lancaster County.  As detailed previously, there are many things to see and do in Lancaster County, many wonderful restaurants, good shopping (including a large outlet mall), and a choice of lodging headlined by the inn where we stayed.  It is worth noting that the city of Lancaster has little Amish presence thus those wishing to experience that culture should plan to rent a vehicle and visit communities such as Bird-in-Hand, Strasburg, Intercourse, and points in between.


Amish View Inn                       
Strasburg RR                            
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
The Amish Village                   
Lapp’s Toys and Furniture       
Katie’s Kitchen                         
The Amish Experience              



[ Top of this web page | Other reports by Jack Turner: | ]