Neither Kal nor I were looking forward to the trip getting close to New York City. We expected the traffic to be heavy making it difficult and nerve wracking to pull the RV through the corridor between Philadelphia and New York City. The trip started out very well with little traffic traveling north through New Jersey on I-295 and even Trenton was not bad since it swings wide of the city. We cross I-95 south of Trenton to US 202 and head north. This highway stays west of all the major towns in New Jersey, so the traffic was not bad at all. This was the case all the way to Delaware Water Gap, which is just across the state line into Pennsylvania on I-80. Surprising the trip was easy with no problems and took only a couple of hours. The KOA we stayed at is actually located 20 miles north of I-80 on US 209 and is just outside of the southern end of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area which means it was a very nice wooded location close to the Delaware River. We were very impressed with this KOA for its cleanliness and modern facilities. The pull through site was easy to get into and surprisingly good space between the sites, unlike most of the KOAs which are glorified parking lots. The amenities were very impressive with a swimming pool, 18 hole mini-golf, sand volleyball, a large playground and basketball courts. It was obvious they had spent a lot of time and money in making a very nice campground. We even ran into a work-camper that was spending the summer there doing odd jobs in the campground that owned an Excel Winslow only a year older than ours. He was aware that the company was now out of business and was already having problems getting replacement parts for his rig. He dropped by during the week and we got to know pretty well. During the week he was busy putting a fresh coat of paint on the mini-golf course getting ready for Memorial Day Weekend. In fact there were crews there all week cutting branches, laying out new crushed rock on the roads, and other preparations for the weekend. It was very quiet in the KOA all week and not very full except for the long term guests. However, everything changed on Friday night, but more on that later.
I choose to stay at the KOA since it is relatively close to the commuter train line that could take us into the city. There are not a lot of RV campgrounds that I could find much closer to NYC. Our first point of interest was the Statue of Liberty, which we would access on the New Jersey side instead of Manhattan. However, when I pulled up the schedule and cost of the commuter train we had second thoughts. It was going to cost us over $100 to ride the train and take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and would take 3 hours to get there one way!! We could drive closer to the city to catch the train in order to save money, but I had no idea of the parking situation at the railroad station or the cost to park. Since there was plenty to see without going into NYC (which I was not excited about doing in the first place), we decided against it. The weather on Tuesday was cold and rainy so we decided to take care of the laundry and stayed in the campground. Our first National Historic Site was Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey on Wednesday. Of course, this is over half way to NYC, but they had parking available and it was not far off of I-80. The trip to the park was actually very nice since western New Jersey is fairly rural. We stopped at a scenic overlook along the Interstate because western New Jersey is also very hilly. We found the Visitor Center in Morristown with no problem except getting into the parking area is rather tricky with all the one-way roads. The Visitor Center is actually located inside the George Washington Headquarters Museum which is itself an historical building since it was built in the 1930s. We were just in time for the next tour of the Ford Mansion which General Washington used as his winter headquarters during the winter of 1779-1780. The Ford Mansion is well worth seeing and they have it furnished with mostly reproduction pieces from the colonial period to give the sense of his office and living quarters used by George Washington (yes he actually “slept here”) and Martha Washington who joined him for all of the winter encampments.
The Continental Army was actually encamped a few miles away in Jockey Hollow where they once again built log huts for the winter. However, they had learned their lesson from Valley Forge and organized the camp better and the huts had to be constructed according to strict specifications. It was a good thing they did because the winter of 1779 was the worst in recorded history. They had at least two snowstorms every month from October through February with over 6 feet of snow on the ground and temperatures that did not get above freezing during the month of January. In addition, they still had not worked out the supply problems that plagued the army so many of the soldiers had no shoes and clothes that were little better than rags after the summer campaigns. Also by this point in the war, the citizens in New Jersey were tired of the war and tapped out for food and supplies and would not accept the worthless paper money issued to the soldiers. The soldiers did do a better job with sanitation and quarters so there was not the illness seen at Valley Forge, however, they very nearly starved to death. The situation was so bad that they nearly had a mutiny before the end of the long winter. Whereas, Valley Forge is remembered as the winter that nearly ended the Revolutionary War, in many ways the winter of 1779 was much worse. The museum itself has a great film about the winter and some very good exhibits. Following lunch ate in the truck (it was windy and too cool to eat outdoors) we took the driving tour of Jockey Hollow. There is another Visitor Center located in the center of Jockey Hollow that includes a very nice very nice mockup of one of the huts with part of the roof removed so you can look down into the hut to see how it would be arranged for 12 soldiers. Along the drive there are a couple of stops where you can see some of the reconstructed huts like at Valley Forge, although not as impressive. Since they were much better protected due to the ridge between them and the British in NYC, there was not the danger of an attack during the winter, so they were much more concentrated in the hollow in comparison to Valley Forge. The drive was nice and I only regret the weather wasn’t a bit warmer so we could have taken a hike along the paths.
On Thursday we decided to stay away from New Jersey and traveled instead into Pennsylvania to Scranton where you find Steamtown National Historic Site. This is located at the old Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad yards near downtown Scranton. It is also not the best part of town, although the immediate area has seen a resurgence in recent years with a fancy downtown mall and hotels. However, the National Historic Site has a nice parking lot and as you pull up the hill into the parking lot you can see the NPS has spent a lot of money on the rail yard. They have totally restored the roundhouse and turntable to its 1903 condition and use about half of it for two large museums. In one direction is an entire floor devoted to the history of the railroad industry in the US, focusing somewhat on DL&W. You could spend hours looking at all the exhibits that give the history from the point of view of major events, as well as, the employees. There is a mockup of a train station and you can walk into a Pullman executive car and a mailcar that have been restored. I did not realize that the mailcars of the time would pick up the mail on the fly, sort it on the car, and then deliver the mail packets all without stopping the train! The other side of the museum is devoted to the technology of steam travel from laying the track to the signal systems used to the locomotives themselves. However, even more impressive then the museums is the rest of the roundhouse where they have the largest collection of steam locomotives in the world. In the roundhouse you get to see a wide variety of steam locomotives that they have restored to operational conditions. The turntable in the center of the roundhouse is also impressive as it is the only working example of a large turntable that I have seen. You can even walk around the rail yard where they have even more steam locomotives, some in good condition and others that are nearly rusted away. There we saw the largest locomotive I have seen, which is over 100 feet long and is in essence two separate locomotives. For anyone who loves locomotives, Steamtown is a must see, but expect to take all day in both the museums and the roundhouse.
For Friday we headed back towards NYC to West Orange, New Jersey which is the location of Thomas Edison’s lab once he outgrew Menlo Park. The three story brick laboratory is immense, especially when you consider that the industrial revolution was just beginning in the late 1880s and large industrial complexes, much less research and development labs were non-existent. With this laboratory complex his scientists would be conducting experiments on 10-20 projects at a time with the goal of creating and improving products for manufacture. Edison was awarded over 1000 patents and he created over 175 companies all over the world to turn his inventions into commercial products. At one time, his operations in West Orange employed over 10,000 people working in multiple huge factories in addition to the laboratory. Across the street from the laboratory is the only remaining factory from that period and it is a huge concrete structure. While everyone is probably aware of his phonograph and light bulb, which started the recording and electric industries, how many of you are aware that he also started the movie industry? His inventions and companies covered a wide range of areas including telegraphs, electric cars, lithium batteries, mining, cement, typewriters, electric railroads and trolleys, telephone, domestic sources of rubber, electric meters, and many other smaller or novelty items. To be able to conduct research in biology, chemistry, physics, metallurgy, and mechanics AND turn them into commercial products would require an enormous and complex lab and that is what you find. Separate from the main building is a chemical lab with every know chemical available at the time and enough room to conduct dozens of experiments, a metallurgy lab with precision instruments and devices, a large blacksmith shop, a wooden form shop for making models and wooden forms, and a steam powered generator which was eventually changed to electric turbines. Within the main laboratory is a large library containing all the scientific material available from all over the world, a huge storage area where every conceivable item they might need was stored on movable shelves, a large metal working shop, a smaller precision metal working shop, conference room, offices, and an entire area devoted to the recording of sounds. Most of the third floor was used to store the enormous number of models and prototypes that had been developed, only a VERY few of which they have on display. The entire complex is totally mind blowing. One of the more interesting things we saw was outside the laboratory where they have reconstructed Edison’s Black Maria. This is a large, strange black box on a circular rail that Edison’s scientists used to record the first movies. The box blocked out all light but would be opened at one end to control the amount of light allowed into the structure. It would be rotated around the rails throughout the day to capture the sunlight. Within this structure was the birth of the movie industry. It takes only a couple of hours to see all they have on display, but it would take weeks to see and understand it all if you were given the opportunity.
After lunch we took the short drive to Edison’s house which was called Glenmont. You have to get tickets at the Visitor Center in the laboratory since it is within a gated residential community. Llewellyn Park was the first planned residential community in 1850 conceived to be a bucolic hillside refuge from NYC. Glenmont was finished in 1882 and has its own interesting history. Henry Pedder built this large Queen Anne Victorian style mansion and furnished using funds embezzled from his company. When discovered he gave ownership to his company who sold it to Edison for the ridiculous price of $150,000, even though it took over $2 million to build and furnish. Edison bought it as a wedding gift for his second wife, Mina, in 1887 and did not change the furnishings on the first floor, which do appear strange for Edison. Of course, Edison immediately had it wired for electricity with an underground cable from the laboratory and it continued to use DC power until NPS converted it to AC in 1958. He also had hot and cold running water, central heating, and flush toilets installed in bathrooms added to each bedroom on the second floor making the total count of 29 1/2 rooms. The NPS has continued with this tradition of using the latest technologies by heating and cooling the house today with geothermal exchangers. The house and grounds are certainly worth the visit and I would recommend taking advantage of the audio tour that you can access from your phone.
On Saturday, we kept close to the campground and drove through the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area to Milford, Pennsylvania, to the ancestral home of Gifford Pinchot known as Grey Towers. As a forester, Gifford Pinchot, holds a special interest to me since he was the first Chief of the Forest Service under President Theodore Roosevelt. He was also a two time Governor of Pennsylvania and a strong advocate for conservation. I expected this legacy to be continued at Grey Towers and indeed the Grey Towers Heritage Association continues his works on education, improvements, and the promotion of conservation. What I did not expect was this National Historic Site is administered by the Forest Service instead of the NPS, which I should have guessed. However, it does create a strange funding situation for the site, so even though we have a Interagency Pass to cover the admission price, we only got our tickets for half price. I am not sure what Interagency means since it does work for COE, but I guess not for the USFS? As the name implies, Grey Towers is an imposing L-shaped fieldstone French chateau with two towers at the front on the side of the hill overlooking Milford. Before taking the tour of the house, Kal and I walked the grounds looking at the trees that Pinchot planted with the aid of a brochure about them. I was surprised to see the number of exotic species represented on the property, but had to admit the addition of the European Copper Beach to the landscape added color. The leaves on this tree begin the spring with a copper color, turning to green over the early summer and then back to copper in the fall. This reddish color among the new green of all the trees was very nice. When you tour the house, the entrance hall is very impressive with the dark wood paneling, large fireplace, and antique furnishings. Since Pinchot would entertain very important guests as both his time in Washington D.C. and as Governor, his wife remodeled the other rooms on the first floor to open them up. She combined the original sitting room and library into a large room for entertaining guests. I enjoyed seeing all the books in the library, especially the old text books on forestry and conservation. I saw an original textbook on Forest Mensuration that I have heard about and would have loved to look at. She also combined the dining room and breakfast rooms into a large sitting room with paintings from Europe attacked directly to the walls and 3-D frames painted around them. It was an interesting effect. However, now there was no dining room. Since this house was only used during the summer, dining was done outside around a “water table.” This is a large basin of water around which you set and passed the food around by pushing baskets or bowls on top of the water. Very unique. There is also a stone swimming pool that has been filled in today creating a large area for outdoor events and two stone buildings. One is called the Bait Box and is a small stone building constructed as a playhouse for the children, impressive. The other is the Letter Box that Gifford would use to hold meetings and store his papers instead of using the house for this purpose.
After we finished the tour of the house we headed up the hill to hike through a white pine forest planted by Gifford Pinchot and to see the original location for the Yale School of Forestry Summer Camp from 1901-1926. While the canvas tents they used was not up to the standards of the facilities we had at Auburn’s Dixon Center for Forestry Education, the curriculum was very similar. Here the students would be taught how to measure and estimate the volume and value of the trees, along with lessons and field exercises on management and conservation. It was a nice hike through the woods and I appreciate they included a canvas tent, wooden floor, and cots that would have been used by the students of the time. We returned to the KOA to an ongoing party. As expected the KOA campground filled up completely the night before, as this was Memorial Day weekend. There were kids everywhere filling up the playground, basketball courts, etc just a hundred feet from our campsite. While it was noisy that evening, we could always go inside the RV which cut the noise to a low roar. While we did not participate in any of the activities planned for the weekend, we did enjoy sitting outside and listening to the live band Saturday night. They were a good band and played a lot of songs that I knew. I especially liked the medleys they did mixing different songs together using the same beat and chord progressions. It was interesting how they mixed them together.
For our last day at Delaware Water Gap, we figured we should spend at least a day exploring the National Recreation Area. What we did not figure on was this was Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the place was packed. The traffic on the highway was heavy with all the hikers, bikers, and water enthusiasts out enjoying the warm spring weather. At the Visitor Center we had to wait in line for over half an hour just to get a parking space. However, it was well worth the wait. We immediately joined a Ranger walk to Dingman Falls. While these falls were impressive at the end of the boardwalk trail along the creek, the most impressive fall was a small fall called Silverthread Falls. The small stream of water drops over 50 feet down through vertical channels it has cut in the rocks that do not look natural. They are so straight they appear to have been cut in the rock. At the main falls we climbed up the over 200 steps to the top of the falls where you can get a different perspective on the main falls and take a look at the cascades leading up to the falls. I was a bit disappointed with the Ranger walk as his canned speech was not very informative and he did not seem to know the answer to any of my questions about the hemlock or chestnut trees. I suspect he does not have a biology background even though that was the subject of his talk. Since the walk is less than 1/4 mile in length it takes only about an hour to view the falls and there was still a line of cars waiting for a parking space, so we left without taking any of the other hikes. We considered stopping at one of the other trailheads, but it was so busy we decided to return to the campground for the afternoon instead.
Before we left the campground on Monday morning, we had to deal with full grey and black tanks since our site did not have a sewer hookup. They did have two dumping stations on the campground, but only one for large rigs, which was at the back of the campgrounds. At other campgrounds this has not been a problem, since we leave on Mondays which is the day after most of the visitors have left for the weekend. However, Memorial Day Weekend is a long weekend, so most of the visitors were leaving also on Monday. This meant there was going to be a line at the dumpstation, so we decided to pay for their Honeywagon service where they come and pump out your tanks. However, when they showed up we realized we had a problem. Our RV has an optional sewer hookup where the hose is stored in a tube hung under the RV and is not detached from the RV unlike all other units. This has been great since we don’t have to mess with the sewer hose, however, it posed a problem for the honeywagon. Since we did not disconnect from the RV, they could not connect. I though about disconnecting our hose, but this would have meant taking out four bolts and I was not sure I would be able to manhandle the tube back into place. What we needed was a screw-in connection for our hose that would provide the connection he needed for the honeywagon. Unfortunately, the small store on site did not have such a connection. Thankfully, our friend that also owned a similar Excel unit, had the same set up and loaned us his connection. We were able to get the tanks emptied and get underway. We will have to stop at a Camping World in the near future to get a connection as I am sure we are going to run into this again, especially in the Northeast where honeywagons are more common then sewer hookups.