Which sites can't we miss on a road trip from Toronto to Portland (ME) via Orbisonia (PA)?
April 9, 2007 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Which sites can't we miss on a road trip from Toronto to Portland (ME) via Orbisonia (PA)?

A friend and I are planning a little road trip in August. We'l be leaving Toronto (or thereabouts) and heading south to Orbisonia, PA (to visit East Broad Top) before turning east and making for the 27th National Narrow Gauge Convention in Portland.

As you've probably gathered, we're afficionados of railways, especially of the narrow gauge variety.

Where else should we visit en route?
posted by Lionel d'Lion to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
South Dakota has the prettiest trains in the world.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:15 PM on April 9, 2007

Boston, even just to ride the trolleys if you like old railways. It's actually fun if you're not trying to get somewhere in a timely fashion.

As you might have heard, Boston has a bunch of other fun stuff to do when you're sick of the trolleys, too.

I heard that Philly just restarted a trolley line too, but I haven't been on it yet.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:16 PM on April 9, 2007

I asked a question a few (years???) ago that might have some answeres that interest you.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2007

When you're in Orbisonia, you won't be that far from Altoona, home of the Horseshoe Curve.
posted by librarianamy at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2007

Best answer: Off the top of my head in PA:

Orbisonia isn't too far from Altoona - home of the Railroaders Memorial Museum (which concentrates mostly on the Pennsylvania RR and is located in the former PRR Altoona shops) and the famous Horseshoe Curve. There are also the nearby Gallatzin and Allegheny tunnels and Allegheny Portage Railroad NHS.

Depending on the route you take to ME, you might choose to detour to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Lancaster County or Steamtown NHS in Scranton (say hi to Dwight Schrute for me.) Next door to Steamtown there's the Electric City Trolley Museum (but I haven't been to that.)

That's a lot just in one state so where to go depends on what you're most interested in. A railroad geek with broad interests could spend a couple of days just in Altoona. So here's a breakdown by interest category.

If you're into seeing trains in action, the Horseshoe Curve is kinda the key pilgrimage. It's on the PRR mainline where it crosses the Allegheny mountains and trains slow way down for the climb. Lots of folks there snapping pictures. Similar opportunities at the Allegheny Tunnels just up the line.

The age of steam? Getting up close to rolling stock? Steamtown probably has the most steam engines, along with a working steam shop and views of the ongoing restoration work (sadly, most of the collection is in pretty severe disrepair.)

Interpretive history exhibits? Steamtown and the Altoona museum tie here. Slight edge to Altoona if you're a PRR fan (great history of the company there.) Steamtown's bigger museum does a better job at covering the railroad's impact on America. Both are pretty US-centric. Penn State RR Museum is very good but unfortunately IMO a notch below the other two. Allegheny Portage Railroad carried canal cargo over the mountains and is very interesting but unless you are a total infrastructure weenie who likes to do a lot of walking or trek out to some of the more far-flung tunnels near Johnstown you probably don't need more than a couple of hours there (bonus - it's a very short drive from HS curve/Allegheny tunnels.)

If you do go to Scranton, there are two nearby sites that might be of interest. First, there's the DLW's incredibly massive Tunkahannock Viaduct about 1/2 hour north of town on US 11. The Wikipedia picture doesn't do it justice. There's also the excellent Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour in Scranton, where you descend 300 feet and walk around a former working mine (well, trains burned coal, didn't they?) If you choose to stay in town you might want to consider the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel in the former Lackawanna station. It's probably the best hotel in town (which isn't saying much - it's pretty much a standard corporate hotel accomodation-wise.) The bonus is that you're staying in a what was once a grand railroad station.

Have fun!
posted by Opposite George at 2:26 PM on April 9, 2007


(shoulda previewed.)
posted by Opposite George at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2007

Definitely make an effort to get to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. You can ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the Conway Scenic Railroad, which goes over the spectacular Frankenstein Trestle and then up through Crawford Notch, and some other scenic railways as well. The Cog, in particular, is really amazing.

Also, lots of trails in the Pemigewasset Wilderness run along the beds of the old logging railroads, and you can still see many interesting signs of the railroads along the way. Check out the and the Zealand Trail.
posted by dseaton at 2:35 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if sitting up all night watching trains sounds like fun, there are two B&B's near Altoona right on the PRR specializing in accomodating railfanners. The Tunnel Inn is right at the western mouth of the Allegheny Tunnel and the Station Inn is a few miles west of that (I haven't stayed in either one.)
posted by Opposite George at 2:58 PM on April 9, 2007

you really can't miss the Arcade & Attica RR


It's friggin awesome from what i hear!

if you head south from Toronto through western new york you should go right by it!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:53 PM on April 9, 2007

Best answer: OppositeGeorge has Scranton pretty well covered(!), but here's another possibly useful history of Scranton rails.

The Bucksgahuda and Western (St Marys, PA) seems to be right on the way down to Orbisonia.

An hour from Harrisburg PA, there's the Strasburg Railroad with working trains and a museum. (I haven't been to any of these train sites, so can't vouch for them, but have seen them advertised when driving around.)

From Scranton, a possible route would take you east on Rte 84 through Connecticut. You would be within shouting distance of the Railroad Museum of New England.

You could then go north on Rte 8 into Massachusetts, where you could catch the Berkshire Scenic Railway, which is just off the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90, a toll road, most often called the Mass Pike).

From here, depending how slow and scenic a route you want, you could go directly east and around Boston (see traffic tip below), or you could go north to North Adams MA, a great little town with an unforgettable hairpin turn driving down a cliff to get there - it also has an excellent museum of contemporary art. Then you could travel east on Mass Rte 2. Rte 2 is one of the oldest highways in the US, very scenic.

If you follow it all the way to the east you'll eventually join 495, which will take you around Boston to the north and you'll join 95 to Portland. If you really have time, you could take a few of these detours:
- stop in the small town of Shelburne Falls, which has a small trolley museum, and go swimming at the Potholes, a cool glacial formation and local swimming hole in the summer. [Er - it looks like there may be no more swimming at the Potholes; I was last there many years ago. Still, a lovely little town.]
- visit the Quabbin Reservoir; I'm not sure where on the north coast you can go swimming, so a bit of research would be in order.
- head south on Rte 91 and visit the towns of Amherst and Northampton. (There are lots of nice historic towns along your route in PA and all the New England states; any could provide a nice place to break the trip, walk around, eat at a reasonable restaurant.) These towns are a little ways off the Mass Pike but a wonderful afternoon or weekend. If you can only go to one town of the two, go to Northampton. It has great resturants, the Iron Horse music club, a botanical garden and art museum at the college in town (Smith), all within easy walking distance. The towns are connected by a rail trail, and there is beautiful countryside nearby -- eg the Holyoke mountain range. You could also skip the detour through the railways mentioned above, come 84 to 91/291 through Hartford CT, and nip up to these towns for a nice afternoon and get right back on the Mass Pike.
- Then go south on 91 and head east on the Mass Pike.

Traffic tip: If you go through Scranton, your fastest route to Portland will take you onto the Mass Pike/90 (a toll road) for at least part of it. To navigate around Boston: Take exit for 290 to Worcester, then 495 north to I-95 (this avoids Boston commuter traffic - if you're going at a time with no traffic, you could also take the Pike to 95/128).

Another possibility would be to go north on 91 into Vermont. More nice little towns. Going through Vermont and New Hampshire would be more scenic and quite a bit slower than going on the Mass Pike.

One final train link: South of Boston near the coast is Edaville USA, a kiddie amusement park that boasts "American's oldest authentic 2- foot narrow gauge railway" according to one site (though that conflicts with the East Broad Top claim; I trust you're better equipped to figure it out than I am).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 PM on April 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

And I should say: Portland and the coast north of there is pretty great in its own right. If you rushed the road trip, adn had extra time to spend on the coast, you probably wouldn't regret that either!
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:34 PM on April 9, 2007

Lobstermitten, that's awesome! Well done!
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:54 PM on April 9, 2007

you could go north to North Adams MA, a great little town with an unforgettable hairpin turn driving down a cliff to get there

And a very important place in railroad history. That hairpin turn is on the western slope of Hoosac Mountain, the primary impediment to the development of a direct Boston/Albany railway route and responsible for the building of the landmark 4.75 mile long Hoosac Tunnel in the mid-to-late 19th century. It's still the longest tunnel in the U.S. east of the Rockies, and was the first significant project to make use of nitroglycerin for blasting.

The tunnel's still used, and you'll occasionally see a railfan or two parked at the eastern portal on the banks of the Deerfield River (tucked in one of the darkest, deepest hollows in New England.) It's an unforgettable spot if you get a chance to stop there.

North Adams hosts the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, a museum located in a former railway yard and concerned with the Tunnel's history (but I haven't been there.)
posted by Opposite George at 9:25 PM on April 9, 2007

Oh, and this dude's site has just about everything about the Hoosac Tunnel in one convenient spot.

P.S.: Lobstermitten has it right. The Rte. 8, Rte. 2 and Rte. 5 (I-91) corridors are wonderful (and my favorite destinations for aimless summer drives.)
posted by Opposite George at 9:31 PM on April 9, 2007

Thanks, MC. :)
And Opposite George, awesome -- I remembered dimly that there was some railroad story about the hairpin, but couldn't remember what it was.

And Lionel, obviously Boston itself has many delights, historic, culinary, and otherwise. Driving in Boston is kind of a bear - do your homework ahead of time and get advance directions from someone who is in the area of the city you want to visit, because traffic routing changes from time to time. (Or maybe this is less so since I was last there.) At any rate, I was thinking more of a "pleasant country drive" type of trip.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:19 PM on April 9, 2007

You might be early for this, but the Western NY Gas and Steam Engine show happens the first weekend after Labor Day (US). It is in Batavia, NY, only about 2 1/2 hrs from Toronto, and it's very impressive. No railways, but lots of really big antique steam power sources that were lifted from old factories and oil rigs in the area.

And I'll second what everyone else said.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:34 AM on April 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent suggestions. I think we may need to allow rather more time than I'd originally planned for the trip!

Thanks to everyone (but especially to Opposite George and LobsterMitten).
posted by Lionel d'Lion at 11:09 AM on April 10, 2007

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