Skip to main content

Southwest Airlines Community

Blog Boy's Most Excellent DING! Adventure

Aviator C
As Southwest Employees, we receive great travel benefits that include unlimited free standby travel anywhere on the Southwest system, but pass travel requires flexibility.  You can always be "bumped" by a revenue Customer (and rightly so), and this means you may not always get where you are going when you had planned.  That's why I jumped when I saw an outrageous DING! special of $99 roundtrip (plus fees and taxes) from Dallas to Philadelphia.  Of course, Philadelphia has so much to offer the visitor, but my wife and I like to go to more offbeat locales away from big cities, so Philly was our jumping off point. As David Evans mentioned in an earlier post, I am a train buff, in addition to being a total airplane geek.  Trains have always fascinated me, and maybe that's because I was born in the railroad town of Clovis, New Mexico.  Well, the state of Pennsylvania is heaven for a train buff like me.  We spent our first night in Lancaster, located in the lush rolling farmland that is the heart of the state's Amish communities.  strasburg-rr.jpgIt is quite common to share the road with one of the many Amish horse-drawn buggies, and the many Amish restaurants, like Good' N Plenty, serve wonderful home cooking, complete with the area's signature shoofly pie.  The Lancaster area also has two premier rail fan destinations in nearby Strasburg.  One is the Strasburg Railroad, which was founded in 1832 and still features daily train rides behind steam-powered locomotives.  The bookstore at the railroad has a huge inventory of railroad-related literature (my Visa card is still hurting). Across the streetpa-rr-museum-exterior.jpg is the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, which along with the California State Railway Museum in Sacramento, is one of the best in the country.  pa-rr-musuem.jpgIts artifacts are displayed with the proper interpretive viewpoint that helps the visitor place railroads in the context of their importance to our nation.  And oh those artifacts!  They include many steam locomotives, rr-museum-steam-engine.jpga Raymond Loewy-designed GG1 electric locomotive that ran on the electrified portion of the Pennsylvania Railroad between New York and Washington and between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, and a streamlined Pennsylvania E7 passenger diesel locomotive.  Many of the freight and passenger cars are open to the public, along with the locomotives. maam-m404-and-hangar.jpgAfter we finished in Strasburg, we visited Reading, which is home to the Mid Atlantic Air Museum at the Reading Airport. Although many air museums are larger, Reading has two truly rare airliners from the 1950s.  One is an Eastern Airlines Martin 404, and the other is a turboprop-powered Vickers Viscount in Capital Airlin...m404.jpgviscount.jpgThe museum also hosts a DC-3 in Navy markings, a World War II TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, and several other gems.  Another feature makes this museum unique is that you can walk right up to (and under) the aircraft. Our next destination was The Tunnel Inn bed and breakfast, which is in the small town of Gallitzin, just outside of Altoona.  Located in the mountains, Altoona is a classic railroad town, and the shops located there built many of the steam locomotives and cars used by the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The Tunnel Inn is in an old building that is just yards away from the Norfolk Southern's busy mainline.  (Norfolk Southern is the current owner of the line, originally built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which later became part of Penn Central and then Conrail.)  It sits next to a set of tunnels, tunnel-inn.jpgand a train passes by every 30 minutes on average.  The Inn has an outdoor viewing deck with a fireplace, and at night, there are floodlights that illuminate the tracks.  You can look down upon the engineers in the cabs of their locomotives and almost read the dials in the cab.  Because of the steep grade, manned helper locomotives are used on heavier trains.  The next morning, we visited Horseshoe Curve, a National Historic Landmark, which is located between Gallitzin and Altoona.  As the Pennsylvania Railroad was building west from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, it encountered a wide valley in the mountains outside of Altoona.  It would have been too expensive to bridge the gap, horseshoe-curve.jpgso the engineers who built the line curved the tracks up one side of the valley and out the other.  The National Park Service has a visitor's center and operates a funicular tramway up to the tracks.  Altoona is also home to the Railroaders Memorial Museum, which focuses on the men and women who built and run the nation's railroads. After the Altoona area, we hit the road toward Scranton and the Steamtown National Historic Site.  Steamtown is located in downtown Scranton on the former Lackawanna Railroad land that includes a restored roundhouse and other buildings.  steamtown-turntable.jpgSeveral of their big steam engines are kept in operating condition, and we saw one being prepared for an excursion the next day.  Several times a day, the park runs a shorter half-hour train ride that is operated either with a diesel or a steam locomotive.  Going to Steamtown is like stepping back in time to the 1940s. All too soon, we had to leave this rail fan's paradise and return to Philadelphia for our DING! flight home to Dallas (I checked in using my BlackBerry the day before our return flight) , but I plan to return to Gallitzin for several days of photographing the iron horses of Horseshoe Curve.