Celebrating Double Digits in the Poconos

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My second oldest son turned ten this weekend.  Double digits is a really big deal so we decided to make a big deal out of it.  Since his birthday fell on a weekend, we decided to whisk the kids off for an overnight stay in a hotel.  We got a cheap – double digits indeed – room in a hotel just outside Scranton that had a swimming pool and breakfast included.

After a morning of card and gift opening, we piled into the car and headed off into the Poconos.  Saturday was a grey day of drizzle and chill winds so we focused on indoor activities.  First up was Country Junction, the general store we seem compelled to visit every time we are in the area.  It is a bizarre and entirely bonkers place and I highly recommend that you stop by should you ever be in the area.  The kids always have a blast wandering around and looking at all the weird and wonderful items of decor, popping in to watch a bit of a movie in the cinema room, pressing all the interactive buttons, collecting eggs for a treat at the end, and visiting the animals in the pet shop area – all by following the yellow brick road.  An indication of the randomness of Country Junction is the contents of my shopping trolley: I bought two non-stick loaf tins, four pots of cheap pick’n’mix and a squeaky rubber pig.  More indoor fun was had when we reached the hotel as the boys jumped and splashed around in the pool until they had built up an appetite for dinner.  There was a restaurant next door to the hotel so we did not even have to get back in the car to go out for the birthday meal.  We were all so stuffed by our main courses and salad bar visits that we did not even make it to dessert.

Sunday was thankfully much brighter and warmer so we were able to take the boys for some outdoor excursions.  First up was the outdoor section of the Steamtown  rail museum in Scranton, which can be accessed via the Mall.  This is a collection – gathered by one man in the 1950s I believe – of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars.  Mr Pict and I had visited there in April 2014 as part of a day photographing dilapidated and decayed sites but this was the boys’ first time there.  They moaned that they were not allowed to clamber onto every train and that they were not allowed to wander into the carriages but they had fun nevertheless.  They climbed onto trains, scrambled over piles of gravel, got grubby picking up lumps of coal, and raced each other while balancing on railway lines.

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From industry to nature, our concluding excursion was to the Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park.  Mr Pict and I first went there alone but then took the kids there on Father’s Day in 2014 and it is fast becoming a favourite spot.  The theory is that this unique geological landscape was formed in the valley by successive freezing and thawing processes that cracked the rock and turned it into large boulders.  My kids just love leaping from rock to rock and seeing how quickly they can get from the car park end of the site to the other end, quite a decent distance.  I meanwhile do not feel so confident on my feet.  The instability triggers the wobbliness I normally get from my fear of heights and I am frankly not as swift and nimble as my kids either.  I, therefore, chose to only wander so far out into the field and then find a nice flat rock to sit on while watching my kids becoming brightly coloured dots on the horizon line.

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Our weekend away was full of relaxed fun and worked well as a celebration of being ten years old.

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Redneck Festival

Something Mr Pict and I have always loved during our travels around America, on our various road trips when we lived in England and Scotland, is happening upon some example of “Roadside America”.  It’s serendipity of the bizarre, kitsch, random and weird.  Often those unexpected, chance discoveries became the highlights of our holiday.  For example, driving the wrong way through the drive-through liquor store owned by the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis and then ordering soft drinks has seared itself into our consciousnesses than our tour of a plantation house in Natchez on the same trip.

This past weekend, we decided to take a break from all the house moving chaos and take Mr Pict’s parents on a day trip to see the Poconos.  We did our traditional jaunt around Country Junction (the “world’s largest general store”) which never fails to delight the boys and then we headed off in the direction of Jim Thorpe as we had yet to do anything other than drive through that town.  However, on the way we drove through a town named Weissport which was holding a Redneck Festival.  Well forget Jim Thorpe!  We had other times when we could visit Jim Thorpe.  We had to stop and visit the Redneck Festival with its promise of some “Roadside America” fun.

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I don’t know whether this is a compliment or an insult but it was actually very difficult to tell the “fancy dress” rednecks apart from the genuine article.  No matter whether authentic, faux or randomly visiting, as we were, everyone was having some good-natured (if not politcally correct) fun.  There was a monster truck  but there was also a flotilla of racing portaloos.  I dread to imagine what those chariots use as fuel!  There were raffles stalls and auctions.  There were people selling redneck memorabilia and items every redneck needs.  There was a hick version of a “Mr & Mrs” quiz taking place on a roughly hewn stage while the audience watched on while perching on hay bales.  The participating couples were trying to win an overnight stay in a hotel.  One of the questions was where they had first met each other.  Two of the answers, held up on placards to see if each member of the couple responded the same way, were “At the Court House” and “In the line at Walmart”.  You probably could not script this stuff if you tried.

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Rather randomly, there was a whole tent dedicated to zombies.  It appeared to be a promotion for a forthcoming event.  People were paying to have their faces painted up as zombies and I must say that the face painters were doing an incredible job with their special effects.  Some folks leaving that tent looked genuinely undead.  Once made-over as a zombie, the people were posing for photographs using various gruesome props.  My kids, of course, being the ghoulish children of this zombie loving mother, were drawn like moths to the flame to all the grotesque props, some of which were genuinely disturbing.

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Of course, we had to sample the funnel cake because you cannot go to a fair or festival without eating funnel cake.  However, Mr Pict also decided to purchase some deep-fired Oreos.  Yes.  Oreo cookies that have been battered and deep-fried.  Of course, we all had to sample them just to see what this “delicacy” was all about.  I may be Scottish but I have never eaten any deep-fried confectionery.  This, therefore, was m very first deep-fried cookie (or biscuit for my UK chums).  It was surprisingly un-nasty.  An unfried Oreo still takes the win by a country mile but I had expected the deep-fried version to be rank.  It was actually OK.  Not something I feel the need to repeat but certainly not in the range of horrible.  What was rather appealing about it was the warmth of the interior of the cookie.  If I can find a way to gently warm Oreos, they could become a worrying addiction.  I might have found something to dunk in my tea!

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Next time you pass a celebration of all things Redneck, I do recommend that you pull over and join in the fun.

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Country Junction and Lehigh Gorge

Wanting my parents to see a different sort of Pennsylvanian landscape, we decided to drive up to the Poconos for the day.  The last time the Pict family visited the Poconos, the kids were disappointed that we arrived at Country Junction just as it was closing.  It was, therefore, determined by those four that Country Junction should be our first destination for the day.

Country Junction is a general store near the town of Lehighton that proclaims itself to the be “the world’s largest general store”.  Whether or not that claim has been verified, and it’s entirely possible, I can certainly testify to it being a quirky and compelling slice of Roadside America.  For Mr Pict and I, some of the fondest memories of our travels around America have arisen from those unexpected encounters, digressions and snippets of Roadside America – such epiodes of seeing a pet bison on Route 66, being given the key to Huntsville by the Mayor over breakfast, seeing the face in the window at Carrollton, Alabama, driving the wrong way through the drive-through liquor store belonging to the sister of Jerry Lee Lewis – so, on that basis, Country Junction really appeals to us.  Unsurprisingly, given that our kids love all things random, it also appealed to them.  Now we were exposing my parents to its wonders to see if they also fell for its strange charms.  The whole place is such a marvel I am not sure that I will be capable of adequately describing it – but I shall try.

When you first enter the store proper – past a serenading scarecrow and a barrel that laughs at you – you arrive on a yellow brick road.  The instruction is to follow this yellow brick road around the store which is sage advice since I am sure it is entirely possible to get utterly lost in the cavernous space and amid the higgeldy-piggeldy aisles.  Related to this theme, the movie of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ plays on repeat at the entrance to the store.  My kids were spellbound by the store in that instant.  Indeed, throughout the store there are things along the way to keep kids amused and entertained, including a singing cow, to an egg treasure hunt that leads to a reward and a cinema showing animated movies in the centre of the shop.  My boys all settled down on the comfy seats to watch some ‘Beauty and the Beast’ during our visit.  Immediately at the entrance, there is a counter where some of the best fudge I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a lot) is sold.  There are also pickles, pretzels and preserves, eggs pickled in a variety of hues, and varieties of meat jerky.  There are small kitchen appliances and there are kitchens.  There are handbags and a hardware section.  In what other store could you buy – all under one roof – a taxidermy diorama, a pet stingray, pickle jars, a full scale model Bigfoot, a mop and a mirror?  It is the diversity of stock that makes wandering around Country Junction such a treat as a tourist and actually I have always found something I needed while there so even I have been a customer rather than a tourist.  My kids loved it because every twist of the yellow brick road brought them to a new trove of potential treasures.  What I also love about Country Junction is the quirky logic that has determined where to locate items.  Perhaps you want to buy a new lampshade and you think to yourself that you should head off in search of the home decor section in search of a shelf full of lampshades.  But that is not how Country Junction works.  Instead you have to consider whether you want your lampshade to have a rustic, farmhouse style in which case you should rummage around the farm themed area; but if a nautical style is more your thing then you should search for that lampshade between the full-scale pirates and the wooden seagulls.  Every shopping trip becomes akin to a treasure hunt or magical mystery tour.  It really is quite brilliant.  And the fun does not even end at the checkout and the exit.  No.  Because opposite the store there is a small petting zoo and playground.  My kids loved feeding the goats and alpacas and introducing my turkey-phobic Dad to the large turkeys.  They also love playing on all the play equipment and guddling in the sand.  A giant statue of a gorilla (who they think of as King Kong) is a particular favourite.  Truly, the place is a marvel.

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After a quick bite to eat at Country Junction, it was time to go and explore nature.  We had been to Hickory Run State Park fairly recently so opted to go and check out Lehigh Gorge State Park instead.  This was probably an error on our part, which we put down to inadequate research, since it is a less scenic area and is not really designed for strolling or nature rambling in.  Instead it is definitely geared up to be more of a recreational area.  There were scores of people white water rafting in either inflatable dinghies or canoes.   As we strolled along the riverbank, catching glimpses of the people in the water through breaks in the trees, I couldn’t help but have “Duelling Banjos” start playing in my head but I did resist saying “Squeal like a pig” out loud*.  We decided to trek to see the waterfall, which is named Buttermilk Falls I assume because the flow of the water makes it look creamy-white to some.  We had to park quite some distance from the regular car park but that was fine because it afforded my kids the chance to explore a cave we passed on the way.  They were able to walk through the dark tunnel and pop out on the other side which they thought was fun.  The Falls were actually just a short and easy walk from the regular car park.  We tried to do some nature spotting along the way but it was too busy and the noise from the people in the water so loud that there were not many critters or birds to see.  I did see some beetles, dragonflies and caterpillars along the way.

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Buttermilk Falls is rather picturesque because of its double-drop and my children liked the fact they could really get quite close to the water because of the rocky plateau below.  Of course, they all then took things to far because my 11 year old, who was wading in the stream, slipped and got mud up the back of his shorts and t-shirt and then the 8 and 7 year olds also had a bit of a wobble which resulted in their new toys (bought from Country Junction) getting grubby.  Maybe next time they might follow my instruction to leave things in the car…

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*  I seem to be prone to recommending 1970s films lately, but if you have never seen ‘Deliverance’ then I think you should check it out.  Aside from the lurid details I alluded to above, it is actually a much smarter film than you might think if al you know of it is that most notorious episode in the movie.  The movie is actually an intelligent examination of machismo, primitivism, male camaraderie, and definitions of wilderness and civilization containing haunting images and disturbing ambiguities.

Father’s Day Weekend

The Pict family had a very busy Father’s Day weekend, so much so that we decided that Mr Pict should open his gifts and cards a day early because it was the only way to schedule it in.  In addition to various cards and treats made at school, the boys made up a hamper of fun foods for their Daddy and also gifted him a steel coffee flask plastered in their mugshots.

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Saturday afternoon was spent at a Scouting Regatta hosted at a nearby Swimming Club.  While Mr Pict and I have some reservations about our family being involved in the American version of the Boy Scouts movement, as of now we are very glad that at least one of our children (the seven year old) has committed to joining an extra-curricular activity of any kind.  The people in the local troop are nice and our son certainly gets a lot out of participating, both socially and in terms of experiences.  It is one of those examples of treacherous waters we have to wade through as parents, setting aside our own beliefs and politics in order for our child to benefit.  But I digress … The event was about bringing the families together at the end of the Scouting season, awarding the boys with the badges they had earned and having some friendly competition with racing boats in some guttering.  Meanwhile, the seven year old’s brothers got to benefit from his extra-curricular commitment since they were free to come along and devour barbecued munchies and play in the pool.

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Yesterday, Father’s Day proper, we got up bright and early (perhaps too early for our very tired children who were none too bright about it) to drive up to the Poconos for a day of hiking in the sunshine.  Mr Pict and I had been to the Poconos back in April for a child-free break so had scouted out the places we thought would appeal to our kids most.  We had considered going for an overnight camping trip as a way to extend our adventures.  Sadly (not really – I was nothing but relieved) the busy nature of our weekends meant we could only undertake a day trip.  We, therefore, decided to contain our exploration to Hickory Run State Park.

We started with the Boulder Field as we knew that was a unique landscape and that our mountain goat children would enjoy scurrying and leaping all over the rocks.  Their smaller feet, of course, are better suited to finding foot holds on all shapes and sizes of rocks plus they are pretty much fearless (our five year old is emerging as an adrenalin junkie) so the kids were soon on the horizon line of the boulder field while I was still slowly, very slowly, working my way from rock to rock.  As well as enjoying bounding all over large boulders, the kids also enjoyed finding various spiders basking in the sunshine.  Two of my kids have arachnophobia but they are still fascinated by spiders so long as they are not taken by surprise or have to make physical contact with them. My 8 year old also saw the tail of a lizard whip off between some rocks – so the tail was presumably still attached to an unseen lizard.

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We then took the kids on the Shades of Death trail, which was much more verdant and even more picturesque than when we had visited in April now that Spring has passed into Summer.  The boys loved scampering over all of the tree roots and leaping over streams and bounding over rocks.  The whole walk reminded them of ‘Lord of the Rings’.  What they especially loved about the walk, however, was all of the water since the trail follows the course of a fast-flowing stream and skirts past a weir with a roaring waterfall and then concludes with a large pond.  We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our trek.  Some birds, insects and some high-speed chipmunks were all we saw on the trail and we saw deer when we were driving.  My youngest sons were disappointed as they were totally up for a bear encounter.  As I have shared before, however, that is not an American experience I am keen on having so I am glad the bears gave us a wide berth.  What the boys did enjoy finding, however, were tadpoles teeming along the water’s edge, including some godzilla-esque tadpoles that must have been bullfrog babies.  The American word for a tadpole is polliwog.  I like it.

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We left Hickory Run State Park and detoured via the General Store called Country Junction that claims to be the world’s largest general store.  Mr Pict and I thought it would be a brilliant experience for the boys and sure enough they were spellbound as soon as they walked through the door, saw the yellow brick road, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ playing on a loop and the buckets of brightly coloured, bizarrely flavoured popcorn.  They loved the place!  Getting them to leave without a puppy or a pet ray might have proved a challenge but unfortunately no sooner had we arrived then a voice on the tannoy announced that the shop was closing so we had to abandon the yellow brick road, pay for our watermelon (!) popcorn and shoofly pie and return to the car – via the adjacent petting zoo that is also part of the general store.  My kids are already demanding to go back to Country Junction to see the rest of the store and have an adequate amount of time to poke around its incredibly eclectic wares so I think another jaunt to the Poconos will be in order this Summer.

Poconos Art Journal Page

Last week’s challenge for the Documented Life Project was to create a page inspired by a favourite pair of shoes.  As that was when my husband and I were enjoying our mini-break exploring the Poconos, the choice of shoes was obvious: my hiking sandals.  They are quite old now but I always take them on trips with me because they are just so comfy.  Although I have bought a newer, replacement pair, I always end up popping the old pair on because they have moulded perfectly to the shape of my feet.  I also have fond memories of trips, hikes and explorations attached to them.  Creating a page inspired by my hiking sandals also seemed like an appropriate way to document our trip in my Art Journal.

I used a mixture of peat brown ink and watercolour to paint the shoes, which I then outlined with black ink.  I used leaf shaped stamps and postage stamps to give the page a bit more texture and layering and added the washi tape border for added visual interest.  The quotation was borrowed from a former teaching colleague of mine as his words (and I don’t know if they were original to him) always stuck in my mind because I enjoy travelling so much.

Considering I am so new to art journalling, I was pretty pleased with the outcome of this page as I felt it was unified and was my most mixed media effort to date.

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Poconos Day 3 – Shades of Death

We got up early and packed up so we could fit in one more Poconos excursion before heading back to the Philadelphia suburbs and our four kiddliwinks.  Since there was so much more to see and do in Hickory Run State Park, we decided to head there and do a different trail.  The one we chose was called Shades of Death.  Thankfully the gloomy, doom-laden name was not indicative of the trail itself.

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I was initially disappointed as the trail was very close to the road, and even had us skirting along the side of the road at one point, but then the trail began to curve away from the roadside and we lost the traffic noise at the same time the walk became far more scenic.  The rocky trail meandered along the banks of the Sand Spring Run.  The rock formations created lots of attractive waterfalls and there was an appealing dam weir at the midway point of our hike.  Logging and tanning were once undertaken in these woods and whether from that period in time or some other, we could see the remains of various stone built structures.  These included a narrow flight of steps.  Despite my initial reservations, it was actually a very picturesque hike.

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Driving through a town named Lehighton, we came across Country Junction, “The World’s Largest General Store”.  Well, how could we pass up the opportunity to partake of that gem of Roadside America?  We parked up and entered.  When we entered, there was a fudge stall on one side and a screen playing ‘The Wizard of Oz’.  This was my kind of place!  It transpired that Oz was a theme throughout the store.  The instruction was to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” which was useful advice because I am pretty sure I could have become lost in the store amid all the amazing clutter had I not clung to the painted yellow bricks on the floor.

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The store was crazy.  It sold anything and everything.  Hardware and DIY items, elaborate taxidermy, garden sculptures on every scale and for every taste, jewellery, hand bags, pickles and jams, toys, pets …. Anything and everything you could think of.  There was even a petting zoo but we skipped that until a time when we would return with the boys.  It was ludicrous, brilliant, awesome and bizarre.  It was the perfect conclusion to our getaway in the Poconos.

Poconos Day 2 – Rustbelt Decay

I started the morning with a walk along the road from the cottage to see the cemetery that crept up the hillside at the junction with the main road.  The twentieth century grave markers were still legible, and seemed to largely belong to one family, but almost all of the others were too eroded for me to even be able to begin to read them despite the fact that none could be older than 1816 as that was when the cemetery was founded.  What was interesting to me, as a cemetery enthusiast, was the fact that gravestones were erected upon the steep slope as well as the top of the hill and the flatter ground near the roadside.  It made me wonder if the graves were dug perpendicular to or parallel with the gradient of the slope.  The village, Stoddartsville, had been founded to act as the terminal of the Lehigh Canal.  Mr Stoddart apparently saw this as an opportunity to make his fortune but instead he became bankrupt when the canal was terminated a few miles away and all of his investment in grist and saw mills and the like became largely redundant.  That was to set the theme for the day’s activities.

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As a contrast to the previous day’s rambles in the countryside, we decided to spend the day in a town and opted for Scranton.  I am afraid to say that the name Scranton made both Mr Pict and I think of the word “scrotum” which meant we did not have high hopes but were hoping and willing for the experience to exceed expectations.

Since this area was founded on coal mining, we decided to head to the Lackawanna Mining Museum.  The website had stated it was open; notices on the building declared it to be open; nevertheless it was decidedly closed.  According to some men working on machines in front of the Museum entrance, it was opening on Wednesday, despite the statements on the website and building.  We pondered pootling around the nearby Anthracite Heritage Museum but then Mr Pict had the genius idea that we should do some obscure stuff in the area.  We are rather fond of “Roadside America” so we decided we should definitely go and seek out some more offbeat sites to visit.

First, however, we decided to head into Scranton, the county town of Lackawanna County.  We had read there was a second-hand book store there and I absolutely love rummaging through old books so that was the draw for me.  We parked up in the town centre and had a wander around.  The County Courthouse in the centre of town was actually pretty impressive and had all sorts of memorials to veterans of various wars outside, all set in a square.  The main streets were, therefore, huddled around this central square.  Alas, when we arrived on the street where the book store was to be found, we learned it had closed down.  No rummaging through musty vintage books for me then.

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Scranton, it soon emerged, was a rather sad place.   Every third store was empty and there was absolutely no buzz or energy to the place, hardly anyone milling around.  Largely because we were in need of a restroom visit, we wandered into the mall.  It was even more moribund.  Metal barriers were more common than store fronts and either end of the mall was completely barren as the remaining shops had obviously been moved into the centre.  The soulless plinky-plonk piped music echoed around the empty space.  It reminded Mr Pict and me of the mall in ‘Eight Legged Freaks’.  Clearly what this mall needed in order to survive was an invasion of giant arachnids.  I already felt like we were among the mindlessly shuffling zombies of ‘Dawn of the Dead’.

However, as we emerged from the restroom, we spotted that there was a walkway from the rear of the mall out over an old train yard.  We decided to investigate.  It turned out that this was the rear of Steamtown National Historic Site.  We did not enter the museum but spent a diverting hour wandering among the rusted carcasses of train engines, cabooses and other rolling stock, all serried along disused railway lines.  I am not especially riveted by industrial history but something about the rust and decay pleased me aesthetically so I wandered around taking photographs.  I am not ashamed to admit that I have a thing for rust.  It felt like the whole train yard was somewhat symbolic of Scranton: the decaying remains of industry, rusting away, going nowhere.

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Before we left Scranton, we popped to a mall on the outskirts of town to lunch at a Mexican restaurant called La Tonalteca.  The interior was very brightly decorated with the vivid paints of South American fiesta, the furniture all painted carved wood depicting scenes of rural Mexican life.  We shared nachos to start with and then my husband had the carnitas and I had chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce.  The food was good but it wasn’t great.  It lacked a bit of additional seasoning or some extra flavour kick to really make the tastebuds sing.  Some lime zest and juice, for instance, would have improved my meal.  We also took some amusement from the surliness of our waiter.  He was efficient enough in his own grudging way but very gruff and his mouth never once twitched into even the beginnings of a smile.  He appeared to be stunned when we left him a tip.

We decided that the theme of the day had been established: urban decay it was.  So we headed south to Wilkes-Barre – which is apparently pronounced Wilkesbury – to see an abandoned railway station.  The Lehigh-Susquehanna station was connected to the coal industry so when it declined and eventually died in the 1970s the station was abandoned.  It had then been converted into a cocktail bar, with abutting Pullman cars providing additional space, but that venture failed and so the station had just fallen into dereliction.  Boom and bust.  As soon as I saw it, I loved it.  It had clearly once been a splendid example of Italianate architecture, with scroll work wood supporting the hanging eaves and a decorative cupola on the roof.  Now, however, it was all smashed glass and plant growth spreading tendrils across and into walls.  We were able to clamber aboard the carriages but I could not find an obvious way into the station building itself.  Probably that is a good thing.  Exploring derelict buildings probably requires some sort of risk assessment.  Nevertheless I enjoyed scurrying around to find new photographs to take of the station’s exterior.

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The next stop on our itinerary was the Huber Breaker in Ashley.  It had operated for eight decades, breaking coal into the right size for domestic and business use.  The company then dyed this coal blue for no other reason than to identify it as their product, a bizarre coal marketing gimmick.  Apparently it could process 7000 tons of coal each day.  Abandoned in the mid-1970s, it was a massive industrial hulk which a group had been trying to conserve as a memorial to those who had worked in the local coal industry but ultimately the site had been sold for its scrap value and was literally being pulled down as we watched.  I, therefore, had to make do with distance shots.

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Our final stop on our themed tour of the day was in the town of Nanticoke, just a short trot down the road from Ashley.  We were there to see Concrete City, a ghost town.  Although there was a historical marker explaining the history of the site, there was no indication of where it was to be found.  Then I had the idea of looking up Google Earth on my phone and the aerial shot provided an indication of where we would find it.  So Mr Pict and I wandered off into the woods, along a muddy track, and soon we could see the ruined remains of houses peeking through the trees.  Twenty two-storey houses stood in a square around a plot of overgrown scrub.  Each house was identical, having been built as company houses for some employees of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Coal Company in 1911.  It turned out that poured concrete was not the most sound choice of building material as the houses were continually damp.  It must have been pretty miserable for the residents.  There was also a tragic story of a boy having drowned in the wading pool.  Ultimately the houses had only been occupied for just over a decade before they were abandoned.  When the Glen Alden Company took over, they didn’t want to invest the money required for sewerage improvements.  Attempts at demolition had failed: 100 sticks of dynamite had not even taken down a single house.  And so there they remained, tucked away in the woods, while houses grew up in the land beyond the ghost town.  Some were missing ceilings and floors; some had basements filled with water which, despite its murk, glinted in the sunlight pouring in through the glassless windows; all were vandalised, absolutely covered in spray paintings and graffiti and some even pock-marked by ammunition.  We were amused by the fact that one vandal had corrected the grammar of another.  It was a very poignant place, post-apocalyptic.  We felt like we were in a scene from ‘The Walking Dead’.

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On the way back to our cottage at Stoddartsville, we took one final diversion when we saw a brown sign pointing to the Francis E Walter Dam.  We thought we might be able to end the day with something a bit more scenic.  Unfortunately the dam was just a concrete carbuncle, doing its job perfectly satisfactorily but without providing any picturesque views of the surrounding landscape.

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