Return to the Ghost Town Trail

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Almost every person in the entire world had a rough few months, or a rough few years, or a rough life.

I’ve worked from home full time since mid-March. I know that this takes me out of the running for “who had it roughest.”

I don’t want to get into a contest about who had it roughest. I won’t win. I don’t want to win.

Even so, I’ve struggled since March to make it through each work week – and that’s okay.

I heard through our aunt that my cousin K.G. and her co-workers decided to NOT call our current reality the “New Normal.” Instead, they refer to it as the “Temporary Weirdness.”

(Cousin K.G., if you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be F. Scott Fitzgerald as he plagiarizes his wife Zelda’s diary. Let me know if you want me to remove all references to “Temporary Weirdness” or else give you a writing credit for this blog post.)

So here’s two things that keep me going through this “Temporary Weirdness”:

1.) My “new” chair

My husband J. also works from home in our “Temporary Weirdness.” When this “started,” J. purchased a “new” chair for himself. That is, he purchased a chair from a company in Chicago that refurbishes office furniture and also manufactures Covid-19 masks. (The company was permitted to stay open BECAUSE they added “mask making” to their list of things that they now do.)

Meanwhile, I worked each day from one of our dining room chairs. I did this for several weeks.

I told myself that it wasn’t “necessary” for me to spend money on my own “new” chair because I should save up all that I could just in case I caught Covid-19 and got really sick or died. I know, that was stupid.

My back hurts even when I’m not sitting all day on a dining room chair. So, for several weeks, I snapped at J. all day, every day.

Then J. said to me, “Why don’t you use my chair today?”

I used J.’s chair that day.

That evening, we ordered a chair for me from the same company.

I really wish that I had just purchased my own comfortable chair back in early March!

See, I read the blogs of other people who work for long periods of time from home offices. A bunch of these people highly recommended that readers invest in comfortable office chairs. And it STILL took me weeks before I broke down and bought myself such a chair.

2.) Awesome podcasts, videos, and live-streamed events from extremely talented people

Ever since the global pandemic “quarantine” (it’s not a REAL quarantine) hit my world, I’ve entertained myself with podcasts, virtual tours, videos, live-streamed events, etc, from entertainers. Many of these extremely talented souls post links to their online tip jars since they haven’t been able to perform to live audiences since March. And of course I tip. After all, I’m privileged enough to work 40 hours a week from my “new” comfortable chair.

I consider many of these talents to be “essential workers” because they’ve helped me to function ever since the “Temporary Weirdness” started.

Actually, some of these talents helped me to make it through life as a semi-functional adult ever since my mom got sick and died two years ago.

And the thing is, almost all of these talents perform in places too far away for me to realistically visit in person. So, if the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the joy that they all give to me.

Here’s the thing that hurts me: I know that I will never be able to do for other people what these performers do for me. I will never be able to write a podcast, or take a photo or video, that will help somebody who just lost her mother make it through a stressful day of work. I will never give somebody a reason to get out of bed after nightmares about dying alone of Covid-19.

But, I can attempt to keep a single reader fairly amused for a few minutes.

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post isn’t actually about the Ghost Town Trail. Here is an actual post about the Ghost Town Trail.

(Just to recap: The Ghost Town Trail is a walking and bike trail in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school in the county that sits just below Cambria County. After college, I worked for Americorps in the nearby economically devastated city of Johnstown. I shared office space with several Americorps members who contributed to the Ghost Town Trail. )

Anyway, my husband J. and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail last month.

(Don’t worry, the trail was “legally” open that day. We social distanced. We brought masks. We hand sanitized. We did nothing during our bike ride that would cause you to blame us for killing your grandparents. )

I blogged last June about our previous trip down the trail.

Last month, we rode on a newly-opened trail spur. This spur took us past the spooky old train depot pictured in this post.

The thing reminded me of Stephen King’s short story “Willa.”

I told J. that the train depot just HAD to be haunted. I just HAD to grab a photo just in case I “saw a ghost”.

I didn’t see any ghosts. Still, I hope that you enjoyed these photos for a few minutes.

Here’s something else that’s up with me and J.: My husband has been really busy with woodworking during our “quarantine.” He finished our downstairs bathroom medicine chest and he made himself a new desk. (You know, so that he can work from home during our Temporary Weirdness.) Here’s a blog post about the chest. He already wrote the post about the desk and he will post it next week.

Sidling Hill Road Cut, Maryland

Sidling Hill Road Cut, As Seen From Pedestrian Bridge. Southern Maryland. Sidling Hill Also Sits in Southern Pennsylvania. Allegheny Mountains & Appalachian Mountains. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Although this section of Route 40 & I68 belongs to Maryland, we have used this highway to travel from Western Pennsylvania to Central Pennsylvania as an alternative to the PA Turnpike. February 15, 2020. Fun fact: Route 40 was built in the early 1800’s as the National Road.

Redux: Punxsutawny Phil Tribute

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Circa early 1990’s. (Photo: Shirley Gaffron)

Groundhog Day happens this weekend.

My sister blogged about our family’s trips to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (Punxsy) and about her own meeting with Punxsutawny Phil.

Here you go: Happy Groundhog Day! My Brush With The Prognosticator of Prognosticators (Updated)

Lung Cancer

I started this blog in part to give my fantastic readers a respite. So, I won’t get hurt if you stop reading now.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

My mom, Shirley Gaffron, passed away in October 2018 from lung cancer. She passed away two days after her 64th birthday.

Mom never smoked or used tobacco products. She never lived with a chronic smoker. I don’t want to stigmatize smokers. However, I also don’t want to stigmatize lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease. ” Research into the causes of lung cancer should be pursued further.

We had extended family who smoked. Some of these family members smoked indoors around other family members. To be honest, I wonder if – and to what extent – this contributed to my mom’s illness. I wonder if I’ll eventually receive a lung cancer diagnosis.

Here’s another thing – mom lived in Pittsburgh from her birth in 1954 until her marriage in 1974.

Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a reputation for having had clean air in the early 20th century. For instance, my husband’s late babcia worked in an office in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. She told us that back then, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. She had to bring TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

My mom worked in an office, too. She also worked in a nursing home and a school. She lived in rural Pennsylvania for the last four decades of her life. She never worked inside a mill or a coal mine.

So, did two decades of life in Pittsburgh end up killing my mom?

I blogged today just to address some lung cancer stereotypes. I will return soon with more photos, ghost stories, and book recommendations. Please come back.

Glessner (Covered) Bridge

Glessner Covered Bridge
Glessner Bridge, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I visit the Flight 93 National Memorial during some trips to my hometown of Berlin, PA. I travel from Berlin to the memorial on a series of back roads. (These roads are a much more direct way for me than the posted route on U.S. 30 / Lincoln Highway.)

On each trip, I pass signs for the Glessner Bridge. Tobias Glessner built this bridge in 1881. The bridge sits on the National Register of Historic Places.

Only five miles separates the Glessner Bridge from the Flight 93 National Memorial.

I visited the bridge last weekend.

If you visit the bridge, be mindful that you will leave the “main drag” of Route 30. You will travel past working farms. Last week, I had to slow down for chickens on the road. I also saw an Amish buggy. In other words, PAY ATTENTION as you drive. STAY OFF OF YOUR PHONE.

(Sidenote: Both my mother and my mother-in-law lived in rural Pennsylvania at points in their lives. Both women told stories of having to stop their cars for cows sitting in the middle of various farm roads. It happens.)

Also, here’s the barn that sits next to the bridge.

Red Barn
Red Barn, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Fire History

A few years ago, my husband Jonathan and I visited the Michigan Fireman’s Memorial in Roscommon, Michigan. I took the above photo at this memorial. I post it tonight in honor of the following dates:

September 29 – October 6, 2019: Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters

October 6 – October 12, 2019: Fire Prevention Week

October 8-10, 1871: Great Chicago Fire

October 8, 1871: Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire

October 8, 1871: major fires in Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, Michigan

October 9, 1871: major fire in Urbana, Illinois

October 12, 1871: major fire in Windsor, Ontario

In honor of Chicago and its firefighters, here is a photo that I took of a Chicago fire boat:

FIRE BOAT

Here’s a little story for you: I learned on Wikipedia that a town by the name of Singapore, Michigan ONCE existed on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Singapore became a ghost town as a result of the October 1871 fires, but it DIDN’T burn.

Singapore, MI was founded in 1836. The town included two sawmills. As one might expect of a town that has sawmills, a forest bordered Singapore.

Well, the fires produced such a great demand for lumber that the businessmen in Singapore deforested the area surrounding Singapore. With the trees gone, the town had no protection from Lake Michigan’s sand dunes. By 1875, the town was covered up by sand!

In my opinion, this is the premise of a Margaret Atwood story.

Stay fire safe this month.

“What Did the Romans Ever do for Us?”

The English language is inane. I just Googled the capitalization rules from three different style books in order to type the title for this blog post. I’m still not sure if I have the capitalization correct. I couldn’t just Google the phrase itself because this phrase comes from a much longer sentence in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”

Anyway, the ancient Romans engineered arch bridges.

You can picnic underneath the pictured stone arch bridge at Tunnelview Historic Site in Western PA (near Saltsburg).

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) built the stone arch bridge in 1907.

This bridge crosses the Conemaugh River on the side of Bow Ridge. This bridge replaced two other bridges and aqueducts at this river crossing. The bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1936. The Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam nearby in 1952 for flood control. This stone bridge no longer holds railroad tracks, but it now provides access to the dam’s east side.

The iron bridge that passes over the stone arch bridge IS a currently active railroad bridge. I took the above photo as a freight train carrying crude oil crossed the bridge and also crossed the Conemaugh River. Keep in mind that the Conemaugh feeds the Kiski River. The Kiski feeds the Allegheny River. The Allegheny feeds the Ohio River. The Ohio feeds the Mississippi River. Think about this as you watch a train full of crude oil traverse the Conemaugh.

Both of the bridges at Bow Ridge cross the Conemaugh River downstream from the dam.

If you cross the stone arch bridge to access Bow Ridge, you will see the remains of the Bow Ridge Tunnel. The ghost town of Livermore, Pennsylvania sits beyond this tunnel, on the other side of Bow Ridge. (The government partially flooded Livermore when they built the Conemaugh Dam and created Conemaugh Lake.)

This is very close to the boundary between Indiana County and Westmoreland County. You can reach this by driving through the Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, or from the West Penn Trail.

If you access the Tunnelview Historic Site through the entrance to Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, you will see this fantastic sign:

Drunk Elephant

Here- at the Tunnelview Historic Site – you will find a small pavilion, primitive restroom, parking lot, and canoe put-in. You will also see remains of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal.  This is where Jonathan and I put-in when we kayaked to Saltsburg twice.

Oh! I have to tell you about the FIRST time Jonathan and I kayaked from here:

We parked here at the Tunnelview Historic Site. We paddled downstream six miles, almost to Saltsburg. We stopped for lunch. It was June, and the current didn’t “seem” all that strong. As per our plan, we set off to paddle upstream back to our car.

Hey, I think that we have been paddling next to that same rock for the past ten minutes. What the – when did the current get that strong?

That’s right – we couldn’t paddle upstream. We portaged our kayaks upriver for a good part of the return trip. We smelled a dead animal rotting in the water. Jonathan didn’t tell me about the snakes that swam past us because snakes scare me.  I worried that we wouldn’t get back to our car before the sun set, that we would have to spend the night in the woods, and that somebody would find our car and report us as missing on the river. As I pulled my kayak over the stones on the riverback, I fantasized about the search party that would be sent after us, about our faces all over the news. (We did get back to our car and get the kayaks loaded right before it got dark.)

In hindsight, we should have paddled to Saltsburg, then hired the canoe outfitter in Saltsburg to take us upriver to our car. We talked about doing this when we realized that we couldn’t paddle against the current.  Why didn’t we? Because we’re stubborn.

On our second trip, we parked in Saltsburg and let the outfitter drive us to the put-in at the Tunnelview Historic Site. Then we paddled downriver to our car. Much better.

Life is easier when we aren’t stubborn.

Here is the sign that SHOULD have tipped us off that the Conemaugh River’s current “might” be sorta strong at our put-in spot:

Here’s another important sign:

(Here is a close-up of the artist names:)

We haven’t picnicked at Tunnelview or kayaked on the Conemaugh River for a while because we’ve spent so much time this year with the “new” sailboat. However, I really think that you would enjoy your visit to Tunnelview.

As I noted, the remains of the canal and aqueduct at this site were part of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, which worked in a system with the Allegheny Portage Railroad. From the 1830’s – 1850’s, this system hauled boats over the Allegheny Mountains. Pennsylvania paid to construct the entire thing. Then, after about only two decades, the system became obsolete! I WILL blog about this on some future day.

(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)

Mount Davis: Pennsylvania’s Highest Point

Mount Davis, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Early 1990’s. (Photo: Shirley Katherine Gaffron)

1.) Mount Davis is the highest point in Pennsylvania.

2.) The tallest rock shown in the above photo marks Pennsylvania’s true high point. This rock includes a metal plate noting this. In the above photo, my sister K. sits at the very top of this rock.

3.) A 50 foot metal observation tower / fire tower  sits a few feet away from this rock that marks the true high point.

Planning Your Trip to Mount Davis:

1.) Mount Davis belongs to Forbes State Forest. Here are the maps from PA DCNR.

2.) Jonathan and I sometimes come up here to escape Pittsburgh-area heat waves. Keep that in mind when you choose clothing for your trip.

3.) You can travel between the High Point and the Mount Davis Picnic Area by car or by foot on a CCC trail. The picnic area includes picnic tables, a pavilion, and a primitive restroom. However, note that there is no place to shop or buy gas on the summit. If you intend to travel south from Meyersdale to Mount Davis, note that Meyersdale is the closest place where you can purchase any of these things.

Watch your speed and watch out for Amish buggies. Be especially careful on Sundays. This area hosts many Amish farms, and the families who live here travel for Sunday worship. The first time that I brought Jonathan to Mount Davis, we missed the sign for our turn-off from Route 219 in our diligence regarding the buggies.

Enjoy your trip!

Cokie Roberts Inspired This Blog Post

FYI: NOT our boat.

Blogger’s Note: I originally posted this on July 6, 2019. However, today (09/17/19) I learned of Cokie Robert’s passing. So, I present to you my redux of the blog post that Cokie Roberts inspired.

My husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.

When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.

We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.

Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.

That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.

Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.

We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.

That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.

Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.

I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.

The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.

Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.

This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!

After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.

For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.

Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”

Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!

Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Jenny’s Recap of Tall Ships Erie 2019 Festival Weekend

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, my husband Jonathan and I spent this past weekend in Erie. We attended Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Saturday. We slept on our sailboat at our Erie marina on Saturday night. We cruised past Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Sunday. Then we sailed on the open Lake Erie.

Jonathan plans to blog a detailed pros-and-cons recap of the festival on our other blog, so I won’t go into much detail about the festival here.

This was our third one-day trip to an Erie tall ships festival. We attended for one day each in 2013, 2016, and now in 2019.

I want to be clear that in my experience, this festival involved significant crowds and significant walking. We even encountered large crowds in the lines for the shuttle buses and the ice cream stand. In fact, the ice cream stand ran out of waffle cones and several flavors. I was so relieved that I could still get my chocolate cherry ice cream!

For each trip, we purchased the one-day passes that permit us to walk past the boats but not to board and tour the ships. These are the lowest-cost passes.

During all three festival years, we observed significant lines to tour most of the ships. For instance, this year the festival included Santa Maria, a claimed replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. We heard someone at the festival say that a two-hour wait existed to tour that ship.

Here is the Santa Maria as it looked on Saturday:

Santa Maria

We also observed significant wait times to tour Picton Castle. Here is Picton Castle‘s bow:

Picton Castle

Here is Picton Castle‘s Stern:

Picton Castle

On Sunday, I took several photos from the water as we cruised on our own sailboat to Lake Erie. I will post my water photos shortly.