We left William by mid-morning and since William’s car was still in the shop (it would be another couple of days before he got the work completed), he saw us off and we were off to Philadelphia. The closest RV campground to Philadelphia is actually in New Jersey, across the Delaware River, which turned out to be a good thing. The trip was surprisingly easy, being only a couple of hours and the traffic on the Interstate was not too heavy between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Before the traffic picked up around Philadelphia, we turned east on I-295 and crossed into New Jersey. Except for the hefty toll of $10 for RVs (cars were only $1). In New Jersey, there was very little traffic on I-295 and we quickly found Timberlane Campground. It is a nice campground with all the facilities and we were quite satisfied with our pull-through campsite. In addition to the usual amenities of a swimming pool and laundry, this campground had batting cages, which was certainly unusual.
We unhooked the RV and ran into a problem. The hydraulic leveling jack on the front left would not retract. We could raise the RV on that side, but could not lower it! This was not going to work since we could not level the RV or put out the slides. All the other jacks worked fine, so we decided it must be the switch itself. Not being sure of this, we contacted our Roadside Assistance and they contacted a local RV repair shop that could get there by 5:00. He actually showed up at 4:00, which was great and quickly determined that we were correct. It was the switch. He easily jumped across the switch and helped us level the RV. This left us with having to replace the switch. We drove back out to the Interstate where we had passed a Camping World to get a replacement switch, but they did not have one. I left a phone and email message with Peterson Industries as this should be covered by the warranty, even though the repairman only charged us $75 for his time. By the next morning, we had still not heard from Peterson and Kal could not find their webpage. She started checking and come to find out they were out of business!!!!!!!!! We had a two year bumper-to-bumper warranty on the RV which was now worthless. I called Tri-Am and found out that the warranty was now gone. They had not been informed either of the financial difficulties at Peterson Industries finding out themselves they day after they closed their doors. They are now stuck with some Excel models that they will have to sell as used units. Unfortunately, they also did not have a replacement switch in stock and would have to order one to ship to us. Before we did this, Kal checked the internet and found we could order the switch ourselves and have it shipped using two day shipping (which more than doubled the cost of the switch) so we would have it by Friday. This worked out fine as the campground had no problem accepting the package and we replaced the switch ourselves on Friday. Thankfully, everything worked fine and we were ready to continue the next week. However, this still left us without a warranty, so Kal began checking on the Excel RV forum about a good extended warranty. They recommended Wholesale Warranties and we began the process of checking into it. We agonized about it for a week before Kal contacted them to obtain a quote. Then we thought and discussed it for two more weeks before buying it. On the surface it will be a good deal. For just under $3000 we now have a 6 year warranty on all electrical and mechanical systems in the RV (the roof and structure are covered by our RV insurance just like you home is covered). It is a 6 year warranty because even though we lost the Peterson warranty, all of these systems are still covered by their individual manufacturers for the rest of the first year. Therefore, this extended warranty will only be effective after our first year, but we are getting it as if the RV was brand new, so we are picking up about 7 months on the life of the extended warranty. In addition, Wholesale Warranties is like an independent insurance company, which means they have researched all the extended warranties and have selected the best company for us to work with. They will also stand by us as our advocate if there is any issue in the future with the warranty company. I really like the idea of having someone assisting us with the actual warranty company in the future. I just hope we have not spent an additional $3K on a warranty only to have this company go out of business now that they have our money!!
What with the problems with the RV and bankruptcy of Peterson Industries, we had a late start on Tuesday, so we just stayed in the campground and did laundry. I also got started on the big job of catching up with this blog. We had also made a dinner date with my first PhD students, Sunil Nepal. He dropped by the campgrounds early in the afternoon and we had a few hours to get caught up on each other’s life. He is following this blog so he was already aware of what we were up to, so most of the conversation centered around his family and changes at Auburn University since he graduated. He then took us to dinner which was very nice. I hope to get together with other old friends on our travels.
On Wednesday, it was time to start seeing what Philadelphia had to offer a tourist, obviously beginning with the historic district that saw the birth of our nation. As advertised, Timberland Campground is the closest campground to Philadelphia and being on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River turned out to be a big advantage. We were close to I-295 and only a few miles from I-695 that crosses the Delaware River at the Ben Franklin bridge, right into the historic district. You would expect the historic district to be along the river, however, the river and the state line have limited the spread of Philadelphia to the east. Of course there is Camden, New Jersey right across the river, but I-695 quickly passes through it with little traffic except at the bridge. Once across the bridge you take the first exit and quickly park the truck at Penn’s Landing. The entire trip took only 15-20 minutes from the campgrounds. It could not have been easier or faster. Of course there is the toll across the river (all the bridges across the Delaware River are toll bridges) and the public parking is $20 a day, but once parked it was a walk of only 4-5 blocks to Independence Hall. On the way to Independence Hall we came across the Ben Franklin museum. This is the location of Ben Franklin’s house, however, the house itself was torn down for a city street back in the 1800s. They have now erected a steel frame of the house at the spot and provided glass panels so you can see the excavated foundations of the house and privy. Although the museum is part of the National Park, it has a separate admission fee, so we did not visit. There is also an exhibit in the Print Shop, which was filled at the time with multiple groups of school kids, so we moved on to Independence Hall.
The Visitor Center at Independence Hall is a very large and relatively new building. They have a good set of exhibits about the many historical buildings that make up the National Historical Park and two movies about the city. We choose to view the movie about the critical period of the events leading up to the First and Second Continental Congresses that led the country through the Revolutionary War with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Articles of Confederation that formed the United States in 1777, the U.S. Constitution that formed our current government structure in 1788, the first U.S. Capitol and location of the Congress until 1800, and the inauguration of the first two US Presidents, President George Washington and President John Adams. The movie was expertly done using professional actors portraying the ghosts of the major players. The Visitor Center is also where you get tickets for the tour of Independence Hall, which are free, but are used to regulate access. Since the first available time was 2:30 in the afternoon, we decided to get an early lunch.
We ate at a small outside cafe in the park and both of us had to order Philly cheesesteaks since we were in Philadelphia. While good, I have had better other places, at least in my opinion. After lunch we stood in line to visit the Liberty Bell. As you know the Liberty Bell has a huge crack in that was due to imperfections in the iron when it was cast. There were two attempts to fix the crack, the first being a recasting of the bell by Pass and Stowe whose names are stamped on the bell. To protect the bell it is housed in an environmentally controlled building where you can get almost close enough to touch it. The building also contains excellent set of exhibits about the history of the bell and it’s importance as a symbol of freedom and liberty. I especially liked all the memorabilia they have included that has used the image of the bell for all kinds of political and marketing purposes.
The tour of Independence Hall is a must if you are ever close to Philadelphia. The tour begins in the East Wing of the Hall where after a quick introduction you are brought into the Hall itself. On one side is a large room that served as the Provincial Courthouse with a bar and cage for the defendant like you would see in England. On the other is the chamber where the colonial delegates of the Second Continental Congress met to discuss, draft, and pass the Declaration of Independence in 1776. For those of you that have seen the movie 1776, rest assured that they did an excellent job of recreating the room as it looks exactly the same. It is smaller than I thought it would be with the 13 small tables and chairs appearing crowded in the room. While this is the end of the tour, you should also take the time to visit Congress Hall where the first House of Representatives and Senate met from 1789-1800. You can easily see the expansion they made to the building to include the congressional delegates from Kentucky, Vermont, and Tennessee. They have restored all the rooms to what they would have looked like in the late 1700s. This is well worth the visit. Once we had finished with Independence Hall and Congress Hall it was nearly 4:00 and most of the other historical buildings in the were closed. So we walked by the exterior of the First and Second National Banks, the two colonial houses, and the City Tavern (which was still open offering ales brewed using period recipes). It was a full day and we had seen less than half what Philadelphia had to offer.
On Thursday we decided to stay in New Jersey and explore the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve. As a forester I have heard about the pine barrens in New Jersey as the northern extent of the southern pines. I expected a few thousand acres of pine trees that due to poor environmental conditions are the remnants of the southern pine forest. However, the Pinelands National Reserve covers nearly all of southern New Jersey and encompasses over 1,000,000 acres. I was also surprised to learn that it is not loblolly pine as I had thought, but pitch pine which is not a common southern pine. The Reserve is a joint federal and state program that administered by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission that contains about 100,000 acres of federal land plus Wharton State Forest, Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, Bass River State Forest, and Penn State Forest. The Reserve is defined by the extremely poor and acidic soil, low elevation, and boggy terrain. The main commerce today are extensive blueberry fields and cranberry bogs. As far as I could tell, the Reserve did not have a Visitor Center, so we choose to visit the Wharton State Forest as one example since it was the closest to the campgrounds. Specifically we visited Batsto Village which is on the State Forest. Batsto Village began as an old “iron plantation” in 1766. Rather than digging iron ore out of the ground they “harvested” bog iron from the shallow bogs and used seashells for the source of lime. The extensive pine forests provided the wood needed to make charcoal to fire their cold iron furnace. The supply of easily accessible bog iron and higher yield iron ore in Pennsylvania made the operation unprofitable by the mid-19th century. The land changed ownerships a couple of times over the next hundred years and so did the commercial enterprises. There was a period of glassmaking, forestry, and cranberry production. Today the village has been restored by the state and includes the mansion, gristmill, sawmill, and living quarters. I especially liked seeing the water powered sawmill, which they still operate at times for visitors.
After exploring the village we ate lunch outside the Visitor Center and then took a 2 mile loop trail through the pitch pine forest and along the river. The pitch pine forest reminded me a lot of a young loblolly pine stand with short needles on the trees. In fact, the needles are so short that they would tend to collect on the lower branches when they were shed creating some massive collections of materials that looked like squirrel nests everywhere in the forest. The forest floor was carpeted with blueberries, or at least I think they were blueberries. All of these plants were just beginning to bloom and when they do it will be a spectacular sight. If this is common throughout the Pine Barrens, which cover well over half the state, then I can see why it is called the Garden State.
The next day, Friday, we headed west of Philadelphia to the site of Valley Forge. If you remember your American history you will certainly know that Valley Forge was the location of General George Washington’s winter encampment. Actually the Revolutionary War last from 1775-1781 so there were numerous winter encampments: Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1775, Morristown, New Jersey in 1776, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1777, Middlebrook, New Jersey in 1778, back to Morristown, New Jersey in 1779, and New York’s Hudson Highlands and Morristown again in 1780. Before Valley Forge, the Continental Army was a collection of state militia with short term enlistments, so the army would basically dissolve over the winter. General Washington’s army would be reduced to only a few thousand by spring. The same occurred at Valley Forge, although they also lost 2500 soldiers to disease due to the very wet and cold winter, poor living conditions, and lack of clothing and food. In addition each of the state militia had their own command structure and battlefield tactics and commands making coordination in the field nearly impossible. However, there was a big difference from previous years. First, enlistments were lengthened for most of the state militia, the Continental Congress was convinced that the supply problem had to be fixed, and most importantly, Baron von Steuben, a professional Polish officer, had joined the cause. Baron von Steuben increased the size of Washington’s Guard from 50 to 150 soldiers from all the colonies and trained them to fight as an organized unit. The Guard was then able to demonstrate coordinated tactics and commands and assisted in the training of the entire army. When the Continental Army left their winter camp in June, they were an organized fighting force that could match the British, the best soldiers in the world at the time. This was also the winter when France sided with the Patriots and began sending troops and supplies which greatly improved morale and the belief they could win. Today Valley Forge is a beautiful park, especially in the early spring and the NPS has undertaken the construction of scattered huts to reflect the living conditions and sheer size of the encampment. We purchased a Driving Tour CD that added a lot to our understanding of the area. Since this was not a battlefield, we thought we would be able to see Valley Forge in just a couple of hours. Due to its size and the number of stops on the Driving Tour it took all day. Of particular interest was General Washington’s headquarters along the Schuylkill River where he rented a house. The train station that brought visitors to visit this almost National Shrine in the 1800s and served as the first Visitor Center for the NPS is a beautiful structure and had some very interesting exhibits about Washington and his staff.
On Saturday so it was time to head back to Philadelphia. The traffic over the weekend was a lot less then during the week and we knew where we were going, so the trip in was easy and quick. Instead of heading back to the Independence Historical Park, we wanted to explore a couple of the other Historic Sites in the area. A nice walk along the Delaware River from where you can see the USS New Jersey (a WWII battleship) on the New Jersey side and a nice two masted Schooner that is today a bar and restaurant on the Pennsylvania side, led fairly quickly to our first destination, Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site. Gloria Dei Church is also known as the Old Swedes’ Church, since it is the oldest church in Philadelphia and the second oldest Swedish church in the United States. By modern standards it is a small church, but the architecture is stunning. Built in 1698-1700 with the tower added around 1733, Gloria Dei Church is a mix Medieval and Gothic styles. It was only 10:00 when we got there and it did not appear that there was anyone around yet. After taking a look at the cemetery, which has gravestones dating back to the 1670s (although you could not read them anymore) we tried the door into the sanctuary and found it open! The inside is fairly simple although there is a very nice chandelier and they have models of the two ships that brought the Swedish colonists to the New World hanging from the ceiling. In the floor are also the old graves of the first leaders of the Church which was a common practice back then. Even then it did not take more than an hour to explore Gloria Dei Church.
We headed over to the other close National Historic Site, the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, only to find out it did not open until 1:00. So we walked a bit more around the historic district taking in the historic homes, streets, and city market before we found a restaurant that was open for an early lunch, or brunch. We each had a terrific meal, which we took our time eating, and then walked back over to the Kosciuszko NM. Even though it suppose to be open, the door was still locked, but on the second attempt the Park Ranger heard us and opened the door. Obviously we were the first visitors of the day. This National Historic Site is actually the boarding house that Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived in after he returned from Europe after being a key figure in the Polish-Russion War of 1792 where he was captured and came back to America after being released. He returned to Philadelphia a National Hero for his valuable contributions in the Revolutionary War. Trained as a military engineer in Poland, he came to America in 1776 to join the American Revolution for which he strongly supported the cause of freedom from oppression and equality for all. He was immediately made a Colonel in the Continental Army and proceeded to make a number of contributions in both the northern and southern campaigns. Among these were delaying the British soldiers chasing the Continental Army after they abandoned Fort Ticonderoga, the fortification of West Point in the northern campaign. After the Revolutionary War shifted to the south he engineered the construction of boats that saved General Greene’s army from General Cornwallis in the Race to the Dan and engineered the siege war at Ninety-Six. If you have been reading my blog up to this point, you will know that we have already visited these southern sites and we have plans for the northern as well. The NPS has restored the room that he lived in when he returned to Philadelphia and have put up a couple of exhibits about his many contributions. It still took only about 1.5 hours to explore the memorial, so it was another early day back to the campground. While I was not too impressed with the Gloria Dei Church, I appreciated the Kosciuszko Memorial as it tied together some of the sites we visited last fall and I learned about an important contributor to the Revolutionary War that I had never heard of before embarking on this adventure.
Rather than going back to Philadelphia on Sunday, we got adventurous and made a relatively long drive into Pennsylvania to visit the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Like Batsto Village that we explored on Wednesday, Hopewell Furnace is an “iron plantation”. However, it’s time period is later and the main source of iron is the plentiful iron ore in eastern Pennsylvania. Along with the plentiful limestone and forests to make charcoal, eastern Pennsylvania had all the essential ingredients to smelt iron and Hopewell Furnace is just one of many iron plantations scattered through the countryside at the time. Unlike other iron furnaces we have seen in our travels, this site is much more than just the stone chimney of the cold furnace (meaning ambient air is used in the furnace instead of heated air). In fact, it is still a working furnace if they wanted to fire it up. The bellows are powered by a water wheel that forces the air into the furnace. Iron ore, limestone, and charcoal are added at the top of the furnace and the iron comes out the bottom. The water wheel still works and you can feel the air being pumped into the furnace. They had a couple of short films in the Visitor Center that give a good demonstration of the making of charcoal and sand casts for making stoves, which Hopewell Furnace was known for. The highest paid employees, outside management, were the cast makers who got paid by the piece, but only if it was perfect. Most of the employees worked cutting trees and making charcoal. It would take about an acre of wood to make the charcoal needed for a single day of operation! However, they did not clearcut the forest, since they only used trees at least 6″-8″ in diameter, so in about 20-30 years they would return to the same acre. They did not plant trees as there was sufficient advanced regeneration to reforest the land. Still it took thousands of acres of forest to provide for the furnace. Other employees worked as miners for the iron ore and limestone and there was a large number that grew crops, maintained the mansion, and dealt with other jobs, making Hopewell Furnace a self-sustaining community. This was true of the other iron furnaces in the area. Unfortunately, there were no hiking trails since the Historic Site is primarily the buildings and furnace. The forests are now part of State Forests and other private ownerships. Therefore, after lunch we headed back to New Jersey for a short day.