Saturday, 14 July 2018

Waterfall Chasers: The Red Caboose Motel

While I came very close to cancelling the Red Caboose Motel altogether, I decided to leave it in an itinerary as a weird little offshoot. As it turned out, the children were furious with me for not staying an extra night.

The Red Caboose Motel is a group of vintage train cabooses that have each been refurbished as a hotel room. Although no longer running, they're still hooked up in a train and on tracks to nowhere in the middle of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I figured it would let us get a taste of some Amish farmland on our trip, and the kids would appreciate the novelty of sleeping on a train. In this, I was absolutely correct, but we got a lot more out of it than that.

There were rules against climbing on the cabooses, so we missed out on some amazing parkour opportunities.

By this point in our trip, we were all getting tired and missing our own space. Our sleeping arrangements were usually split between two beds, and we had been taking turns for who got to sleep by themselves. For this night, I had been able to book a caboose with bunkbeds, so we could each sleep alone. Of course, the downside was that the kids started arguing about who got the top bunk... until we got to our caboose and discovered that after the top bunk you could climb further up to a loft bed, set in the raised portion of the caboose roof. This was something of a heat trap during the day, but cooled down rapidly during the evening.

Loftbed, complete with rooftop view

My son readily conceded this loft bed to my daughter, while I luxuriated in a queen bed to myself that was divided off from the children's sleeping area—I could finally have my own space in the evenings after they went to bed.

The typical downside of the non-typical motel is that breakfast would not be included, but the on-site restaurant, Casey Jones, was actually very good, and came with a view of the nearby Strasburg Railroad, a fully operational steam railroad, as well as passing horse and buggies from the Amish community.

View from the restaurant window, as a steam engine pulls out of the station.

Better yet, the small resort area of the motel was quiet enough for me to trust the kids to play on it unsupervised. There were a few small playgrounds scattered around, a tiny but free petting farm and a barn in which they showed movies every evening. So after dinner, the kids took themselves off to watch Finding Dory, while I returned to our caboose to type up some of our travels.

Going outside to play—we definitely got lucky in our caboose's location.
I was engrossed in blogging when my son came rushing in to tell me to come and see the fireflies. I'm so glad he did... We get fireflies down in Norfolk VA, but we don't see many at a time, and we don't have a lot of open space. It had been a long time, if ever, since I had seen so many fireflies over an open field: it was literally sparkling in the twilight. For the kids, it was a revelation. I showed them how easy it was to catch them, and they 'made friends' with several before I finally made them go to bed.

In the morning, my daughter was clamouring for one of the Amish Buggy Rides offered on site while my son was eager to visit the neighbouring toy train museum. Technically, we had a long way to go that day, but the idea of seeing stuff that we didn't have to drive to was really compelling and I indulged them both.

The first buggy ride was at 9:30am. We took the short option which was just 25 minutes and carried us and another family up the road and back with a stop at an Amish farm where a woman brought a tray of home-made cookies and lemonades to the buggy for purchase. As we left, one of her son's piled down the driveway on a scooter, pushing furiously in barefeet to catch up to us. He caught hold of the buggy with one hand and let it pull him up the hill. In the scooter's basket were two empty gallon bottles: he was on the milk run.

It was little moments like these that provided a more memorable insight into Amish life than passing farm machinery pulled by mules (though I did appreciate the contrast between that and the motorised tractor spreading pesticides/herbicides (?) on the other side of the road). The driver of the buggy explained how he had been born here and had ten brothers and sisters still in the Amish community. He had left decades ago and now lived in Florida, except for the four months of the year when he returned to do these buggy rides.

I talked to the children about how it was a harder way of life, but a more environmentally friendly one. I didn't get into the religious aspect, although there were bible verses printed around the caboose site. But this was very much just a taster... An opportunity to learn rather than the purpose of the trip. We could probably have delved more into it had I granted the children's wish to stay an extra day.

The buggy ride finished at 10, which was when the National Toy Train Museum opened, so we walked across the motel to that. This was a small museum with a proportionate entry fee, but very nicely done. Essentially, it was a room full of model train displays, with some historical exhibits around the walls. We were thrilled to discover a LEGO train layout, the Hogwarts Express chugging from country to city.

The trains started at the push of a button—as did other powered models on the display... We got a lot of mileage out of pushing "Accessory" buttons and seeing what happened. It might just be a sign lighting up, or an entire firehouse would burst into life, with a fireman sliding down the pole and an engine driving out to the road.

The Drive-In was showing Thomas the Tank Engine Episodes. Perfect.

As fun as it was, it didn't take long to see everything, and while the children would have happily stayed in the foyer to play with the Thomas train tracks and LEGO table that were there, I hauled them away to check out. We were on the road again by 11am, making our stay at the motel a scant 17 hours. Not long enough for the kids, but it was a much needed respite from our travels.

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