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Items From The Coraopolis Record Archives.....

November 1953

Apparently women were suffering from Automobile Nerves back in the early 1950s. Fortunately, as this ad from the Coraopolis Record shows, local drugstores had the solution.....

Granite State Is A Great Getaway
Start Planning Now For New Hampshire Trip Next Fall
One of the classic trips everyone in America has always talked about taking is a Fall Foliage trip to New England to see the tree leaves in full color. And the center of this color is North Conway, New Hampshire. The town is a two day interstate drive from Pittsburgh. Exactly halfway is the All American village of Milford, Pa., and the Tom Quick Inn (photo right). The town is a cross between Walt Disney World, Norman Rockwell and Hollywood. It just looks like a movie set for films about an ideal American small town. The houses are meticuloualy kept, the streets tree lined, and the downtown still thriving. In the middle of this charm and nostalgia, the Tom Quick Inn is a perfect place to begin and end a road trip. It is a historic inn recently restored and updated. Rooms are quaint and classy but very functional, with excellent beds, bathrooms, TV, refrigerators and wifi. The restaurant is outstanding, widely known in the region for its Bread, Lobster Bisque, Red Oak Leaf Salad, Lobster Mac & Cheese, Crab Cakes, Amish Chicken, various Steaks, and locally sourced Pork Chops. They serve a fine Cider, but their signature drink is a Maple Bacon Old Fashioned
We recommend the Tom Quick Inn as your halfway stop on the way up and back, but you might to want to stay a second night and explore the area. Because this area is spectacular. Milford is in The Poconos, so there are lakes and mountains all around. It's not quite the famous resort area it was back in the 20th Century, but it's still popular enough that in the Summer it's hard to get a reservation at any of the resorts, especially on Lake Wallenpaupak. But even more important, Milford is the northern entry to Delaware Water Gap National Park, a magnificent mix of forest and water sitting at the intersection of New York, New Jersey and Pennsyvania. As the photos at left and below show, there's plenty of Fall color right here, mixed in with waterfalls, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, camping, historic sites, old French & Indian War and Revolutionary War battlefields, and even a couple of ghost towns. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, and there are enough shorter hiking trails to keep you busy for a few weeks. There's plenty of wildlife, too, including Wolves, Deer, Wildcats, Black Bear and Pheasant. Moose are here but rare and stay well hidden.

On a one day visit to the park you can drive through it and stop and hike a few of the shorter trails to waterfalls, one of the old mills, a ghost town, or a historic site. You could easily make this a week or two week visit by hiking some of the longer trails, fly fishing, swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, camping and photographing wildlife.

The drive from Coraopolis to Milford is simple : straight up I-79, then straight across I-80, I-81 and I-84. It takes about six hours more or less, depending on traffic, construction and stops for gas or lunch. The drive from Milford to North Conway also follows interstates but keeps switching from one to the other as you cross New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont. You'll drive on a few toll roads but there are no toll booths. A camera takes a photo of your license plate, they track your home address and send you a bill. We paid $5.60 total both up and back on our last trip. From Milford to North Conway also takes about seven hours.

As you enter New Hampshire, you'll turn north on NH Route 16, which will first be a toll road called The Spaulding Turnpike, then the toll free White Mountain Highway. You'll enter the state down on the coastal plain near Portsmouth, but as you drive north you'll quickly see forests, hills and then mountains rising around you. You'll be on a four lane highway driving fast, but you need to keep your eyes open for Moose and Black Bear, which are common everywhere. Collisions with these two large animals wreck hundreds of vehicles every year as well as injuring and sometimes killing occupants. Particularly when you see Moose and Bear Crossing signs, slow down and be careful. Even away from these signs, be careful. Moose tend to stay low, near streams or marshy areas. But Black Bear roam everywhere. Be especially wary as you crest the tops of hills, where if an animal suddenly appears in the middle of the road you may be going too fast to stop quickly. And if you do see one, be careful how you proceed. If you slowly approach a Bear and toot the horn, it will usually amble off the road. But if you do that to a Moose, especially a large male with a full rack, it will see it as a challenge to its territory, and is quite likely to lower its head and charge. An adult Moose can do a thousand dollars of damage to the front of a vehicle with one hit. So if you find one in the middle of the road, better to pull over to the side (so a vehicle coming up from behind doesn't hit you), sit patiently, and just wait. The Moose will meander off the road in a few minutes and you can resume driving.

In North Conway, we recommend Stonehurst Manor (photo, left). This was a mansion built in 1871 by Erastus Bigelow, inventor of the power loom, which was used in weaving. Using advanced versions of the loom he became a founder of the American carpet industry. Most of the important financial, political and industrial tycoons of the late 1800s visited Stonehurst at least once, often staying for a week or two. In 1907, while the owners were in Europe, British Ambassador and Viscount James Bryce used it as his Summer Embassy, during which time most of the international figures of the time visited, and several negotiations and agreements were worked out here. In 1946 Stonehurst was converted to a country inn, complete with bar and restaurant. Its English Oak woodwork and leaded glass windows are still intact. We think its package of room, breakfast and dinner is the best deal in the White Mountains. Rooms with fireplaces and jacuzzis are available. This Wild Rose Restaurant is outstanding and portions are large. Some mornings for Breakfast all you'll want is a fruit plate, cup of coffee, and bread, but there's a full menu available. At Dinner their soups and salads are excellent and sometimes those plus an appetizer or two will suffice, but there's a whole page of great entrees. The wine list, mixed drinks and desserts are also excellent.

Stonehurst Manor is central to everything you'll need for two weeks. The first day you're here you should take the Conway Scenic Railway to Crawford Notch and back. You should call before leaving home, or go on the website, and make reservations, because during Fall Foliage Time the train sells out every day. You'll have several choices. You want seats up in the Observation Dome, but you don't need the meal, which is over priced.

The Conway Railroad station is on the main square in the center of town, about a mile from Stonehurst Manor. You need to get there at least an hour early to find a parking space, but you can browse in several shops while you wait.

This is the greatest Fall Foliage train ride in the country. You'll spend four hours winding through steep canyons filled with bright reds, yellows and oranges. At Crawford Notch the train will stop at the station and you can get out, stretch your legs and take some more photos. They reverse seat assignments on the return trip, so you'll be sitting on the opposite side, with different views.

Make sure your cameras are fully charged because you'll be taking a lot of photos for four hours.

There are rest rooms on each car plus at the Crawford Notch Station.

There is a snack bar on the train and there are attendants coming around to ask what you might liike. But the drinks, sandwiches and other items are overpriced. Many veteran riders just eat a big breakfast and go four hours without anything.

This is also a great experience for train fans. These are beautifully maintained 1950s engines and cars and the seats are very comfortable.

The second day you're here you should drive the famous Kancamagus Highway. This is a 34.5 mile long road which connects Conway on the eastern side of the White Mountains with Lincoln on the west side. This is very difficult terrain and the road was not complete until 1959. There are no gas stations or other commercial stops along the road so you need to fill up with gas before leaving Conway and take along whatever drinks or snacks you want. There are, however, numerous scenic stops, so you need your cameras fully charged. This is the prettiest Fall Foliage drive in the country. Immediately after turning onto the road, a ranger station will be to your right. You need to buy the $5 parking pass (you'll need it at each stop) and pick up a map. Your cell phone and GPS will be out of range. There will be rest rooms at several stops. You should wear good hiking shoes and bring a hiking staff or pair of hiking sticks. There will be many trails leading off from the road, some short, some quite long. Many lead to spectacular waterfalls or overlooks. You need to leave early --- 10 a.m. is ideal --- because this will take longer than you think and there are things to do at the other end.

There are stops all along the road, but the first one is the Albany Covered Bridge (photo right). It was built in 1858 and is 120 feet long. New England is famous for its covered bridges but this is one of the best. These are not museum pieces. They're part of the road system. Vehicles of all kinds drive across them every day. They're maintained just like other states maintain steel or concrete bridges. People assume the coverings were to protect the vehicles crossing them but that's not correct. The bridges were covered to protect their own structure from the hostile Winters these states have, and to prevent ice and snow from causing accidents halfway across. The fact that these bridges have lasted 150 years or more proves that the coverings were wise. Before steel girders were available, for strength the bridges used trusses made of arched, laminated wood, usually oak. In the North Conway area there are 12 of these. The Kancamagus Highway also takes you past several spectacular waterfalls. Next to the road are Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge Falls. Short hikes take you to Chocorua Falls and Sabbaday Falls.

If you make these stops it will take 2-3 hours to reach Lincoln at the western end. You should take Route 93 north to Franconia Notch State Park where you should spend the afternoon at two must attractions.

Understand that New Hampshire proclaims itself the "Live Free Or Die" State. It takes great pride in having no state income or sales tax. Hampsters believe the only people paying for something should be the ones actually using it. So the state has toll roads, trailhead parking fees, state park admission fees, and even fees to hike trails requiring heavy maintenance. You already paid for the trailhead parking pass.

Now you're going to pay to hike the Flume Gorge Trail (photo, left). Follow signs to the Flume Gorge, where you can visit the Visitor Center and buy tickets. This trail will take you about two hours to hike. After you hike it, you'll understand why you have to pay. You'll cross two pedestrian covered bridges over deep canyons, and hike along a series of ramps, catwalks, stairs and bridges. Every Winter, the deep ice and snow destroy and/or damage all of these, and every Spring they have to be repaired or rebuilt. Since water is continually flowing under, over and past these structures, maintenance men are kept busy all Summer checking and working on all this wood. The Gorge is an amazing geologic feature, a deep narrow knife slice through solid granite with water cascading down falls, rapids, whirlpools and chutes. You'll climb the Flume upward, to an observation deck at the top which makes a good lunch stop. The second half of the hike is a long, winding descent through a beautiful forest, across the second covered bridge, and past boulders, rock formations and gnarled trees. You'll begin the trail complaining about having to pay and finish it saying it's either the best or one of the two or three best trails you've ever done. Keep your camera handy. You'll take a lot of photos.

You need a rain parka (it will be both cool and wet in the Gorge), water, a good pair of boots (in a pair of sneakers or fabric shoes your feet will get very wet), snacks, a day pack and a cover of some sort for your camera (a zip lock bag works fine). You won't need hiking sticks or staff going up, because there are plenty of railings and rungs, but you might want them hiking back down through the forest.

There are many hiking trails and other attractions at Franconia Notch, but the other must attraction is the Cannon Mountain Tram (photo, right). It takes you up 4080 feet in 10 minutes. You can spend quite a while up there, because there's a 360 degree observation deck, hiking trails, a cafe and rest rooms. From that observation deck you can see into four states and Quebec. We highly recommend making advance reservations online to avoid lines, especially during the first two weeks of October. This Tram first opened in 1938 and was the longest in the U.S. but two others have since opened out West which are longer. However, it is still a spectacular ride up and back and a pleasant hour or so on top. Try to sit or stand at the very front or very rear of the Tram. The car holds about 40-50 riders, and on a hot day the open windows offer cool air.

You could spend a whole day at Franconia Notch because there are other attractions. However, when you head back, we suggest turning off the Kancamagus Highway and driving Bear Notch Road back to North Conway. It's an alternate route also through dense forest.

The third day of your visit you should ride the Cog Railway up to Mt. Washington. This is an amazing engineering achievement and it's worth riding just for the train. It was completed in 1868 and is still the steepest railway in the world, climbing at 38% in several spots. You definitely need advance reservations. At the top is a weather station, observation deck, cafe, rest rooms, gift shop and --- yes, really --- railings to hold onto when the wind howls at more than 100 mph. You should prepare for Winter weather up on top no matter how warm and sunny it is down in the valleys. Mt. Washington has the highest winds in the world --- they hold the record at 231 mph --- and some of the worst weather. You may encounter snow, sleet, hail and ice even in July and August. Figure on half a day for this experience.

As you leave the Cog Railway Station at the end of your visit, you may want to circle through the Britton Woods Lodge (now an Omni property), where the treaty to end World War II was signed.

On the way back from the Cog Railway, once past the villagw of Bartlett on Route 302, you should turn right (south) onto West Side Road. In 4.1 miles this will bring you to the parking lot and trailhead for Diana's Baths (photo, right). Remember to place your parking permit on your dashboard. The trail gently rises through a beautiful forest, then comes to the Baths, a long series of cascading pools and waterfalls of which the photo shows only a part. In Summer locals spend afternoons sitting in the pools and letting the water cascade over and around them, or sitting on the rocks with their feet dangling in the water. There are benches and even a few picnic tables. However, charming as this scene is, the trail continues past it for 4.0 miles to North Moat Mountain, with spectacular views beginning at 3.7 miles and continuing.

As the photo below shows, you'll climb above treeline and see out over Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. You need hiking sticks or staff, good boots and a day pack, but this is a beautiful hike.

After leaving the summit, you'll come to the junction with Red Ridge Trail. Turn left on this trail and follow it back down to the stream and Diana's Baths. You'll see different scenery on the way down than you did on the way up.

If you just wanted to visit Diana's Baths, this would be a good sidetrip on the way back from the Cog Railway. If you wanted to hike to the top and back, it would make a good day trip, with lunch up on the summit.

If you do it as a day trip, there's an optional side hike off the Red Ridge Trail over to White Horse Ledge. This is a favorite rock climbing crag, so you could stop for a while on the Ledge and watch the climbers below you.

The main Moat Mountain Trail continues on past the junction with Red Ridge Trail for eight miles to Dugway Road, not far from the Albany Covered Bridge on the Kancamagus Highway. It crosses the summits of South Moat and Middle Moat Mountains and penetrates deep into the White Mountain National Forest. You'll have to either leave a vehicle over at the Dugway trailhead or have someone pick you up. The steep terrain will take longer than you think, making this a 2-3 day hike.

If you didn't hike the Moat Mountain Trail on the way home from the Cog Railway, today (the fourth day) you might hike it. If not, you might hike the Cathedral Ledge Trail. To reach it, drive into town, turn right onto West Side Road, and follow it to Echo Lake State Park. You'll pay a $4 admission fee. The trail begins by circling Echo Lake (photo, right). In Summer this is a popular beach. The lake has a sandy bottom and crystal clear water. At the back of the lake the trail heads for the formation seen here. It circles around the back and climbs slowly, so it's not steep, but will take about an hour. The views from the top are spectacular. This is a popular rock climbing spot, so you can sit on top, eat lunch, and watch the climbers inching up toward you. Combined with a leisurely time up on top, the round trip should take about four hours. It could take even longer if, on your return, you choose to wade into the lake and cool your feet. A hiking staff or hiking sticks, good boots, lunch, binoculars, water and a jacket are advised. If you're not into hiking but want the views, there's a steep, winding state park road to the top.
Another day hike very close to Stonehurst Manor is the Kearsarge North Firetower (photo, left). The trailhead is 1.4 miles out Hurricane Mountain Road, which turns east off Route 302 just north of the Stonehurst entry. The trail up to the firetower is three miles. This is another high peak with spectacular views eastward across Maine, west to the Moat Mountains, and north across the Presidential Range. You can eat lunch in the 1909 firetower, which was updated in 1950. There's no road here, so if you want the views you'll have to hike it.

There are dozens of other great trails to hike. Favorites a little further out from Stonehurst are Aretha Falls (photo right) out Route 302 toward Crawford Notch, Wildcat Mountain off Route 16 toward Gorham Notch, and Tuckerman Ravine at the Appalachian Mountain Lodge also off Route 16 at Gorham Notch.

However, be forewarned. The kind of "hiking" people do in the rest of the country, over relatively smooth trails with relatively gradual gradients, is called "walking" in New Hampshire and is done down in the level, forested valleys. Up here, "hiking" means climbing to a summit or lookout, and involves steep gradiants and lots of rocks, boulders, granite slabs and gravel. Whereas elsewhere a typical day hike covers 8-10 miles, up here a typical day hike only covers 4-6 miles because the rugged terrain slows you down. The hiking up here is magnificent and definitely worth it, but you have to adjust your thinking about time frames, distances, type of boots, the need for sticks or staffs, and a lot more attention to footing.

New Hampshire is unique in that due to the high winds, there is no camping above treeline. Back in the 1800s, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Dartmouth Outdoor Club and Harvard Mountaineering Society built a series of huts across the White Mountains and the Presidential Range. These huts are a day's hike apart, powered by wind and solar, serviced by helicopters and "sherpas," and offer meals, bunk beds and bathrooms (but no showers). So you can hike up, spend a night, and hike back down; or hike up, spend several nights and each day hike out in a different direction; or hike across the range spending each night at a different hut. Hikers pay for accommodations, and advance reservations are necessary in peak season. Memberships in the clubs are wise because members receive discounts. You can schedule work stays, providing manual labor in exchange for room and board. There are dishes to wash, meals to cook, beds to make, bathrooms to clean, groceries to backpack up the mountain or trash to backpack down. So you don't need to carry tents, pads, stoves or food, only clothes, sleeping bag, water, snacks, camera, binoculars and first aid kit.

If you stay in New Hampshire a week or 10 days, you're almost certain to have one rainy day. But that's OK. The town of North Conway is worth a day. There are four big time outdoor stores (L.L. Bean, R.E.I., Eastern Mountain Sports, and International Mountain Equipment), the best Christmas Store you've ever seen, a great bookstore, several coffee shops and restaurants, three art galleries, a very good chocolate store, a leather goods store, and of course a classic New England General Store.

The General Store is Zeb's (photo, right), and it alone is worth an hour or so. Zeb's offers 73 kinds of Mustards, 61 kinds of Maple Syrup, a whole room of Apple products, 65 kinds of Pretzels (with a whole shelf of dipping sauces, which seem to be a thing up here), two floors of various other items, and an old fashioned Coke machine which dispenses those small bottles for a dime. It also features a great ice cream counter and a huge selection of jellies, preserves and relishes.

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Items From The Coraopolis Record Archives

November 1940

Nation Preps For War As First Draftees Report

As Coraopolis and the nation prepare for war, the area's first draftees reported this week for military service. All eligible males ages 18-35 have received questionaires to fill out and those have been returned to the local draft board. Based on the information received, the first group of five was selected by random draw. They are Lawrence Terrenzio, George Konchar, Charles Paliani, Guerrino Terralo and Joseph Littanzio. They were given physical exams Sunday night. At 8 a.m. Monday the men reported to the Mill Street Station where they were met by members of the draft board, who gave each man a pen and pencil set and a box of stationary to allow them to write letters home. They then boarded the train for the trip to Fort Meade, Md. for basic training. All of this first group will be assigned to the Army. Later draftees will be assigned to the Navy, Coast Guard or Marines as needed. Any man who enlists before he is called will be allowed to choose which branch he serves in.
Browsing 100 Years Of Record Archives
New Time Machine Feature To Run Weekly
The idea of a Time Machine has long fascinated people. Movies and novels have been written about someone inventing one and going back to previous time periods. No such Time Machine actually exists, and we have not invented one. But we may have the next best thing. When we purchased The Record, along with everything else came 140 years of archives. The entire 20th Century plus the last two decades of the 1800s are preserved in these archives. And they're fascinating reading. World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the building of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport and the Parkway leading to it, the paving of local streets and highways, the introduction of the automobile, the laying of local phone lines, the first movie theaters, the first local schools, the days of Neville Island being the truck garden and supplying the city of Pittsburgh with fresh fruits and vegetables, and the building of the local trolley line and the replacement of the century old Stoops Ferry with the new Sewickley Bridge are all captured on the front pages of old Records. Even the old ads are fascinating. Beginning this week, we'll share these pages with our readers. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

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The Big Top Is Back
Once Again, The Circus Comes To Town.....

Once upon a time, every Summer, the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus rolled into Coraopolis. It came by train then, arriving in the middle of the night. Parents took their kids down to the Mill Street Station to wait for it. Older kids got to carry water for the elephants and other animals in exchange for free passes. Workers fitted the elephants with harnesses so they could haul the poles into place, raising the Big Top. After a parade through town, the Circus offered two shows a day for four days. It was one of the highlights of the Summer. Then, suddenly, it disappeared. The Circus folded the Big Top for the last time and began using only indoor arenas in big cities. It abandoned small towns. The magic was gone. Crowds fell off. Eventually, Ringling Brothers itself shut down.

But the idea of the Circus didn't die. Several companies persisted. One of those, Garden Brothers, brought its show to town this week. And, like a ghost rising from the past, it brought a brand new Big Top with it. Designed and built specifically for Garden Brothers, it takes 60 men 13 hours to raise and six hours to take down.

This isn't the same Circus as back in the 20th Century. It doesn't have the Elephants, Giraffes, Gorillas, Lions or Tigers.

"States kept passing laws, and regulations," Michelle Wiertella explains. "Every state was different. We could use all of them one place, none of them another place, some of them another, and then there were different rules. In some cities we visited we had protestors picketing opposing our using animals. So we stopped using all exotic animals. The only animals we use now are horses and dogs."

Even those cause problems. "A week or so ago we were not allowed to use our dogs or horses. We found a farm outside town and left them out there for the week."

It also doesn't have the Tattooed Man, Bearded Lady, Fat Lady, Thin Man, Snake Man or Siamese Twins. Modern sensibilities frown on putting such people on display.

But it's still quite a show. The 2022 Garden Brothers Circus features unique performers from 22 nations. High flying acrobats keep crowds on the edge of their seats. Revolving steel wheels fly through the air with performers dancing, somersaulting and swinging inside (photo, above). Trapeze artists swing high above the crowd (right).

The Garden family founded this circus 100 years ago in Toronto but now operates only in the U.S. and spends the offseason in Sarasota, Florida. They had multiple units but the Pandemic shut them down entirely for a season and they've reopened with just one unit. They hope to add a second unit by 2023 or 2024.

They spend 10 months on the road, then take six weeks off beginning with the Christmas break.

Wiertella is from Virginia and will probably go home for a while, then spend several weeks visiting friends in Florida. She lives in a small apartment built into a Mayflower Moving Van sized unit hauled by a tractor trailer truck. Her unit contains several such apartments, and there's a whole row of such units parked behind the Big Top.

Married couples usually travel with the caravan in RVs, but Wiertella prefers living in her unit. "We'll pull out of here and drive all night to our next location. I can sleep. I don't want to be driving all night."

When the Circus is on the move, it's quite a caravan. Garden employs 160 people. Before this stop they were in Lancaster, Pa., and their next stop is Talmadge, Ohio. Many of the 160 are related. Over 100 years, Garden sons and daughters have married so the extended family has grown quite large.

Even the Garden Brothers Circus gave up the Big Top for a while and peformed only in large urban arenas. "But there was no magic. We had to get back to the tent."

It wasn't easy. No company routinely builds such large tents. They had to find one who would work with them in designing one, then build it.

The risers inside, and even the seats, had to be custom designed and built.

Efficiency becomes critical. At the last performance at a particular location, as soon as intermission is completed, crews begin dismantling the Circus. The audience is still inside watching the show, but the ticket booths, games, rides, concessions and entryways are being taken down and loaded onto the big trucks. Equipment used in acts during the first half but no longer needed is wheeled out to the trucks and loaded.

Customers are still driving out of the parking lot but inside the Big Top the chairs are being folded up, the risers and railings taken apart, and the lights and trapeze equipment are being pulled down. The crews have been doing this once a week for so long they've become fast and smooth. The only time the process becomes difficult is when they have to take the tent down in the middle of a major storm.

In the photo at the top, you can see the large white air conditioning units and the yellow hoses carrying cold air into the tents. Giant fans blow it across the crowd.

On a hot, humid, sunny Summer day, with all the people inside, the tent can really heat up. Air conditioning is essential. It doesn't take temperatures down to 70, but it keeps it tolerable.

The company also runs the Monster Truck shows which perform at Greater Pittsburgh Speedway every year.

The business model for a travelling Circus is difficult. Living entirely on the road is expensive. The trucks are probably the biggest cost.

Back behind the Big Top, drivers agree with that. "The high price of gasoline is killing us. Oil, tires, just regular upkeep on engines and transmissions, is always a problem. Just one new tire on these big trucks runs about $500-600."

Insurance is another huge cost. Health insurance of any kind is expensive, but insurance companies are really skeptical of people flying around 100 feet above the ground, getting shot out of cannons, riding motorcycles in a steel ball, and performing acrobatics on the backs of galloping horses. But a Circus also has to have insurance on its customers, in case something goes wrong. The odds of a piece of equipment falling or a horse charging into the audience is extremely low, but insurance companies insist those possibilities be covered. And of course there's insurance on all those vehicles, on the Big Top itself, and on the various pieces of equipment.

Circuses have to pay high prices for the land they set up on and have to buy permits to operate in states, counties and towns.

And, of course, the performers have to be paid. They're highly skilled professionals and Circuses compete with each other for them.

All those costs have to be recovered somehow, and the only way a Circus has to recover them is through ticket prices, parking fees, concessions, games, rides and souvenir sales.

Unlike professional sports, a Circus cannot generate TV revenue. So a typical adult ticket to Garden Brothers Circus is $24. Concession prices run about $10 per item. But these are in line with Steelers or Penguins tickets, and the prices at concessions at pro or college games. And enough customers are willing to pay them that Garden Brothers draws good crowds, as seen at right. The photo shows only a small part of the horseshoe shaped seating area.

The show itself is surprisingly impressive. The gymnasts, acrobats and trapeze artists are the stars and they dazzle with skill and daring. There are jugglers, trained dogs and horses, motorcyclists speeding around inside a giant steel ball, and human cannonballs. Filling in while acts are changing is a troop of dancers and a clown.

The show lasts two hours, which includes a 15 minute intermission during which children are invited down to ride the horses used in the Khazakstan act.

The gigantic Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus was famous for its three rings. Garden Brothers only has one ring, but they cleverly compensate for this with a horseshoe shaped arena and two stages on the fourth side. Various smaller acts, including dance routines, juggling, and minor acrobatics constantly fill these two stages, so there's never a break in the action.

It may not come on a train and may not have the animals, but Garden Brothers does a great job of keeping the Circus alive in the 21st Century.


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Rousing Musical Showcases Real Talent
Bye Bye Birdie Opens Friday Night At OLSH

Bye Bye Birdie, a rousing 1950s musical, opens Friday night and continues for two weekends at Sacred Heart High School Theater. Performances will be Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, Sunday (this weekend) and Saturday (next weekend) at 2:00. Adult tickets are $15 and student tickets $10. Due to limited seating capacity, advance ticket sales are recommended at 412-264-5140.

Bye Bye Birdie was a satire on Elvis Presley. A rock and roll star, Conrad Birdie, has received his military draft notice and is to report for induction in two weeks. His last concert will be in the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. As a promotional stunt, one of Birdie's hysterical teenage fans will be selected to kiss him goodbye as he heads off to the Army.

But Birdie isn't even the main character. That would be Albert, his manager, who is soon to be out of a job with no rock star to manage. Peterson would like to marry his long time assistant, Rosie, but his overly possessive Mother, Mae, objects. The real plot line is whether Albert can free himself from Mae's clutches and marry Rosie.

And then there are the hordes of out of control teeny bopper women who flood the stage and entire auditorium, screaming and swooning whenever Birdie appears. Even the Mayor's wife faints when Birdie winks at her.

Birdie knows how ridiculous this all is, and, in a way, will be glad to escape into the Army and away from all the hysteria. He is sort of impersonating himself, playing a role to placate his followers and fulfill his contracts. In several scenes, he stands off to the side and watches the girls carrying on with a bemused expression. He sees that his music has become lost in the hysteria. But he quickly steps back on stage and continues to play the part.

This is a great musical, and under Director Dolores Manuel OLSH does another great job of staging it. Sacred Heart may be a small private academy but this is no small time drama program. In 25 years as Director she has built one of the strongest drama companies in all of Pennsylvania. This is no idle claim. The facts back it up. 10 times during those 20 years OLSH has won awards in the prestigious Gene Kelly Musical Theater Festival, including Best Musical in 2019. OLSH has already been invited back to the exclusive Edinboro University Fringe Drama Competition. Four years ago, at the Fringe competition, OLSH qualified five students to spend two weeks in Scotland, where they performed a Thornton Wilder play. In past years, OLSH has won Gene Kelly awards for Scenic Design, Costuming, Actress, Supporting Actress and Lighting. Manuel's company has been a finalist in Crew, Technical Support, Ensemble, Actor, Direction. Choreography and Best Overall Production.

Manuel has a strong supporting staff. Michelle Nowakowski handles costuming, David Sykut handles the sound system, Heather Taylor and Heather Feldhues choreograph dances, John Wojtechko runs video production, Joe Sible handles lighting, eight parents supervised set construction, Ryan Parker is Stage Manager, Nathan Walter is Production Manager, and Missy Nowakowski and Kate Manuel and Jessica McGunigle handle music. Many of these adults have been with Manuel for years, some since the beginning. They're a tight knit team.

And Sacred Heart's depth of program shows results. Many of these actors and actresses are in their 10th, 11th or 12th production under her. That's Mario Williams seated on the floor in the photo below. Williams does a solid job portraying the frustrations, longing, exasperation, befuddlement and final triumph of Albert. Zoe Blankenship is great as the crotchety old, stooped, arthritic Mae. Several actors and actresses play multiple roles, and the master at this is Bernie Komoroski, who plays seven roles, including the Mayor and Ed Sullivan, all of them well. Bruno Williams has a niche role as Hugo, the boyfriend who is jealous of Birdie kissing his girl. He's seated on the staircase behind Manuel, two photos down.

Haley Messner is Kim MacAfee, the lucky teeny bopper chosen to receive the last kiss. She's in the red dress in the photo below.

But for all of her veterans, the stars of the show are Emanuella Sever and Mason Prevuznik, both in their first ever play. Prevuznik is Birdie. He doesn't look anything like Elvis. In fact, he looks more like Buddy Holly. But he wears that gold lame' suit with style and pulls off the role with the calculating detachment it demands. It must be a high school boy's fantasy to play a role in which girls all around him are screaming and clutching at his clothing, but Prevuznik maintains his "these people are crazy but this is how I earn my millions" expression throughout. In real life, Prevuznik is a very good baseball player who will graduate in three months and go on to Washington & Jefferson, where hopefully he can squeeze in a few plays during the Winter off season.

Sever, an exchange student, comes close to stealing the show. In her white and blue dress in the telephone scene (second photo) and to Conrad's left (first photo) and with Manuel below, she played her usual role as The Head Teeny Bopper. But she has also been the understudy to Emma McGrath in the role of Rosie (Albert's assistant and girlfriend). McGrath was at a swim meet Thursday so Sever played the role. She did a great job both as a teeny bopper and as Rosie.

Manuel staged a special performance of the play Thursday morning for several area grade schools and middle schools. At key points in the play she would stop the performance and explain to the young audience what was happening or give them insights into the characters. When the play was finished, she brought the cast out on stage and allowed the students in the audience to ask them questions. She then answered questions herself.

This is not a low budget production. There's a lot of high tech equipment and professional expertise backing up what happens on stage. But the truth is it's sad that this outstanding drama program has had to operate within the cramped confines of a small, old auditorium that was never really designed or intended for stage productions. The stage is too small and there is zero backstage. There's nowhere for the computerized control boards that modern drama demands, so as can be seen in the photo below they're just placed at the rear of the audience. There are no side stage wings, so exits and entrances are distorted. Actors and actresses either have to exit and enter through the audience or by going upstairs and downstairs using the main hallways and staircases of the school, which is not always easy in costume and takes too long for quick changes. There are no storage facilities for costumes, props or sets.


To remedy this situation, a campaign named FundRaise The Curtains has been launched. It's a crowdfunding effort to raise money to refurbish the stage, which will cost $60,000.

Once the stage is upgraded, additional money raised will be used to endow the theater department, which has been self funded since its 1998 inception. Although the auditorium is surrounded on all sides by the school, so knocking out walls is not possible, the additional funding will allow for improving facilities inside the existing framework, especially in providing a permanent, secure electronic control center at the rear. It will also provide funds to pay royalties on plays, buy costumes or materials from which to make them, buy materials for set construction, pay for printing of programs and flyers, and other expenses.

The website for the effort is https://p2p.onecause.com/raisethecurtains/challenge.

Robin Gilligan

Custom Home Remodelling



The Western Hills' Premier Custom Remodeller

An Ideal Weekend Getaway
Louisville Is Far Away But Close Enough...

If you're tired of being cooped up all Winter with cold, ice and snow, and looking for a three day weekend or midweek getaway, consider a city in a totally different region but an easy day's drive away --- Louisville.

It's an entirely different kind of city with lots of Southern charm but only six hours away out I-70 and down I-71. Don't even think of going down during Derby Week, one of the nation's great festivals which includes not only the famous horse race but a riverboat race, concerts, parties and an incredible fireworks display ("Thunder Over Louisville"). You need reservations a year ahead for that. But you can go any other time. We'd recommend April or May, when everything is in bloom but the Summer heat and humidity have not yet set in.

Any trip to Louisville should begin at The Brown Hotel (photo, right). One of the South's truly great hotels, the Brown was J. Graham Brown's life masterpiece. An eccentric genius, he pinched pennies in his personal life but lavished spending on the hotel, museums, art galleries, Mammoth Cave National Park and Hanover College. He lived on the Brown's top floor. A statue of him with one of his dogs adorns a 4th Street sidewalk.

The Brown has been a Louisville icon for a century. Its walls are filled with photos of celebrities who have stayed here, Hollywood movies filmed here, and, during the famous Louisville Flood, locals rowing boats in the Broadway entrance, through the lobby, and out the 4th Street entrance. The Brown reeks of Old South, Gilded Age splendor. You can wander around lobbies, hallways, staircases, store, bar and various nooks and crannies with a camera. There are plenty of comfy couches and chairs to sit and people watch, relax, converse, or read the day's Courier Journal, published just two blocks away.

The Brown is on 4th Street, the cultural and historic heart of Louisville. You're in walking distance of downtown restaurants, the waterfront, the Yum Center, concerts, museums, games, theaters and historic sites. And it's easy to get to. I-71 coming south merges with I-64, which you follow one mile to the downtown exit. You come south on either First or Fifth Street (4th is blocked off as a pedestrian mall), turn onto Broadway, and follow it 1-3 blocks to the Brown.

The Brown contains three outstanding restaurants : The English Grill, J. Graham's Cafe, and the Lobby Bar Grill. They offer various items from the same kitchen, and they all offer the famous Hot Brown. One of the things you must do while visiting Louisville is eat a Hot Brown where it was created, in the Brown Hotel. If you've never eaten a Hot Brown, order the Petite Hot Brown the first time. It's a more manageable portion. You still may have a hard time finishing it. A Hot Brown was created by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. It's a variation of traditional Welsh rarebit. It's an open faced sandwich of turkey, ham, bacon, cheese, paprika, parsley, tomatoes, toast and creamy Mornay sauce, baked until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. It is a very filling entree, best eaten with a Woodford Reserve Double Oak on the rocks, shaken not stirred, or with a classic Brown Hotel Old Fashioned. To be sure, the Brown restaurants serve many other entrees : Filet Mignon, Crab Cakes, Shrimp & Grits, Scallops and Pasta Primevera. They offer two Salads, six Appetizers, and four Desserts. But you come for the Hot Brown, Louisville's contribution to the world of high cuisine.

If you're coming to Louisville, you need to adjust your taste in beverages. This is not Beer or Wine country. Louisville is the Bourbon Capitol of the World. The famous Bourbon Trail includes two dozen distilleries between Louisville and Lexington. By law, only Whiskey distilled in Kentucky may be called Bourbon. They've been perfecting the process for three centuries. People here understand and appreciate Bourbon, and bars and restaurants stock as many as a thousand different flavors. They know how to serve Bourbon here, and they know how to mix it in other drinks. So while you're here, forget about Budweiser, Coors, Merlots, Pino Grigiots and Ports and try Woodford Reserve, Old Forrester, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and other famous Bourbons.

After your drive down, that first evening can be devoted to settling in, exploring the Brown, and enjoying a fine dinner. The next morning you can have breakfast, either downstairs or with room service. Then it will be time to explore 4th Street.

Immediately in front of the Brown, it's still a street, but as you walk north, it's soon blocked off as a pedestrian mall. Louisville has invested a huge amount of money, effort and marketing into making 4th Street Live a destination. COVID dealt the venue a heavy blow, since for two full years no concerts could be held and people stayed home. Many of the bars, night clubs and restaurants closed. 4th Street is only now coming back. But there's still plenty to see.

4th Street is the soul of Black culture in Louisville, and as you walk north you'll pass one historical marker after another. All of the famous figures in Louisville, Kentucky and national Black history have passed through 4th Street. Famous sit ins, demonstrations, marches and rallies have been held here. And they have not just been back in the 1960s and 1970s. A few years ago, another round of riots, demonstrations, marches and rallies were held in the aftermath of the Breanna Taylor shooting.

As you walk along 4th Street, you'll come to the Seelbach, another iconic local hotel. The Seelbach stands as a grand symbol of the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. You need to go inside and explore. The Seelbach has been beautifully maintained. Now a Hilton, it was built in 1905 in the Spanish Renaissance style. A century of Presidents, foreign dignitaries, executives, movie stars and athletes have stayed here. Its green and white marble came from Italy, the rose marble from Switzerland, the bronze from France, and the mahogany from the West Indies. The magnificent murals in the lobby were painted by Arthur Thomas, then the world's most famous painter of historical panoramas. They depict key scenes from Kentucky history. Two massive five tiered bronze and crystal chandaliers hang over the lobby. The Oak Room, which in non COVID times is a five diamond restaurant, was originally a billiard hall. Paneled in hand carved American Oak, its southwest wall contains a secret escape passage for Al Capone and the other famous gangsters who frequented the Seelbach.
The Seelbach is beloved by American Literature teachers, scholars and readers of the novel and movie The Great Gatsby. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at nearby Fort Knox. On weekends he stayed, ate, drank, partied, danced, played pool and three times got so drunk he was thrown out here. Later, he used the Seelbach as one of the key settings in his famous novel. He met George Remus here, and most literary historians are convinced Remus was the basis for the character J. Gatsby. In the novel, Gatsby met Daisy Fay here, and Daisy married Tom Buchanan here. The Seelbach became the lens of extreme wealth through which Fitzgerald viewed the world. You can eat at the restaurant just off the lobby, J. Gatsby's. The Shrimp & Grits, Steaks, Soup of the Day, and Salads are all very good. On your second morning in Louisville (even if you're leaving for home afterward), you might eat breakfast here. The Caprese Egg Fritatta, Cinnamon Roll French Toast, Oatmeal Almond Pancakes, Malted Belgian Waffle, Power Oatmeal, and, especially, the "Legendary Seelbach Kentucky Benedict" (poached egg, country ham, buttermilk biscuit, hollandaise sauce) are all unique and outstanding.

Also unique is the Rathskeller (photo above), the basement of the hotel. You must go downstairs and see this. Modelled after a real German Rathskeller, this is the only surviving Rookwood Pottery room in the world. All the tile work was made by hand at the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati. The designs on each tile were drawn by hand and then fired. Each color was added and then refired, once for each color. Designs on the walls depict the Rhein region of Germany, where the Seelbachs were from. The pelicans which adorn the columns are a sign of good luck. The celings are made of fine tooled leather. This was where, in the novel, J. Gatsby met and danced with Daisy.

As you continue along 4th Street, you come to the Galt House, another of Louisville's historic and iconic hotels. It's worth exploring. It first opened in 1835 as a classy waterfront hotel. During urban renewal the original building was torn down and this new one built on the same site. The glass bridge across 4th Street holds a bar and snack bar. Walker's Exchange, a casual restaurant, is on the third floor of the left (west) tower. It serves a great breakfast and lunch, especially the Hot Brown Omelette. That octagon you see atop the right (east) tower is Swizzle, an upscale dinner restaurant that rotates every 25 minutes with spectacular views of the river and city.

The Belvidere is a waterfront park honoring Lewis & Clark and various other historical figures. In April and May, when everything is in bloom with the waterfalls and river, it's spectacularly beautiful. It's right next to the Galt House.

You can pick from 10 outstanding restaurants on or near 4th Street. Addis and Abyssinia are Ethiopian restaurants, famous for their Coffee, Injera, Hummus, Sambusas, Kosta, and Chana Masala. Doc Crowe's is a classic Southern BBQ place, stocking over 2,000 Bourbons. Breakfast In The Bourbon Room is an iconic Louisville experience, and The Derby Skillet (roast turkey, tomatoes, two eggs, bacon and Mornay sauce) and Kentucky Breakfast (Doc's smoked brisket, two eggs, two sausage patties, Doc's Hash and toast) are epic. Brazeiros is a very good Brazilian Steakhouse. Guy Fieri's Smokehouse is the famous Food Channel host's BBQ outlet. Jeff Ruby's is Louisville's best steak house. Vincenzo's is the city's best Italian restaurant. Locals go there for their Linguini, Ravioli and Spaghetti. A really special restaurant is La Bodeguita, a Cuban restaurant set in pre Castro 1950s Havana. Their Soups, Corn Tamal, Potato Balls, Tarot Roots, Rellenos, Cuban Coffee or even a Cuban Sandwich are worth the walk (or short drive) up East Market.

Within walking distance of the Brown, there are a week's worth of attractions. You can take a two hour ride on the Belle of Louisville. You can explore five museums along Museum Row, including the Kentucky Science Center, Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, Muhammed Ali Center, KMC Museum, and Frazier History Museum. Actor's Theater is one of America's finest playhouses, with performances year round. There are three concert halls, including the Brown Theater next door. There are three art galleries plus the Flame Run Glass Studio, where you can watch glassblowers creating glass artwork, learn about glassblowing history and take lessons in doing it yourself. On 5th Street you can see the Cathedral of the Assumption and learn about its two century history. The Yum Center hosts University of Louisville basketball games, NCAA Tournaments and many other events. You could make the short drive to Churchill Downs, visit the thoroughbred racing museum, walk the grounds, see horses in training, and in season attend a day's racing. You could drive across the river to Falls Of The Ohio State Park and the Falls Of The Ohio Fossil Beds, one of the nation's great paleontological sites.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

State Of The Art Machines, Open 24/7
Planet Fitness Opens Center In Moon Township

Planet Fitness, the chain with 2000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, has opened a center in Moon Township, next to Robert Morris University, in the former KMart location.

It's open, fully staffed, 24/7, and in only a few weeks has already enrolled 2500 members.

Planet Fitness, which began in Dover, N.H., in 1992, is famous for its monthly payment plan. New members do not have to pay for six months or a year in advance. Memberships are as low as $10 a month, but more than half its customers choose the Black Card plan, which allows them to use any Planet Fitness location, bring a guest at no charge, and gives them access to amenities like the massage beds, tanning beds and booths, and massage chairs (see next three photos, below).

Even with the basic card, members have access to dressing rooms, locker rooms, showers, classes, consultations with a certified trainer, and the full range of high tech machines.

The classes cover topics such as core development, circuit training, upper or lower body development, stretching, cardiovascular conditioning, ab development, weight loss or strength training. Clients with more specific issues, like lower back issues or muscles for a particular sport, receive a personal consultation.

Assistant General Manager Morgan Deeb (photo, left), explains that peak hours are 4:30 - 8 pm. "Mornings and afternoons are the ideal times to come," she says, "if you can get around your work or school schedule."

The Hydro Massage Bed shown at left is the piece of equipment she's most proud of. "This is really wonderful," she explains.

She shows how a customer lays down on the bed and adjusts the controls to target a specific body area, like the lower back, or shoulder. The bed then focuses its warm water massage on that area. "You walk out of here with a lot less pain or stiffness," she promises. "It's like spending half an hour in a whirlpool bath, or getting a massage. But you don't actually get wet or have anyone working on you."

Customers who don't have any problems but just want to relax after an intense workout use the massage chairs. There are tanning beds, and there is a tanning booth, shown at right.

Most customers work out for about an hour a day, and then may spend an additional 30 minutes using the massage beds or chairs, the tanning beds, or the hot showers.

General Manager Joseph Flemming is a Business Management graduate of North Florida University. He worked at a local Planet Fitness while in college and was offered a manager's position on graduation. He was asked to come north to help with the opening of the Moon location. He was then asked to stay on as the manager. In his short time here, he's become a Steelers fan and is eagerly awaiting his first big snow.

There are currently 18 staff members but he hopes to hire more.

Equipment includes the usual rowing machines, stairmasters, bikes, treadmills and ellipticals. There are the usual free weights, kettlebells, ropes and exercise balls.

But the machines Planet Fitness takes great pride in are the Matrix lines. These are wonders of modern Biophysics, scientifically designed to focus on a specific muscle or group of muscles.

There's a line of Ab machines, which specifically target the abominals. If a customer used all five of them daily for just two months, they would at the least lose weight on their abdomen, or, if they set the weights to do so, would begin development of a six pack. (It would probably take another two months for full six pack development).

There's another line of machines specifically targeting leg muscles. At the least work on these would tone and firm thigh, calf and glute muscles, but consistent use would result in weight loss and strength development.

Not everyone using these machines is interested in bodybuilding.

Many older adults want to keep weight off their abdomens, or lose the pot bellies, inner tubes or love handles they have, because their doctors are advising them to do so to avoid potential heart attacks.

One problem older adults begin having is the inability to stand up from chairs or sofas. This is because they've allowed their leg muscles to atrophy from disuse. Two months on the leg press, leg extension, leg curl and calf curl machines rebuilds those muscles and allows those adults to wave off helping hands and stand on their own.

The line of upper body machines develops the chest, arm, shoulder and back muscles.

One machine Deeb loves is the Synergy 360, shown at right. This one machine offers 30 different prescribed exercises, and many customers have devised new ones. It's a total 60-90 minute workout on a single machine.

One of the most clever machines is the Ab machine shown below. It's one of the Ab line. The other Ab machines target the center abdominals. This one targets the lateral abdominals. The user kneels on the platform, holds onto the handles, keeps his or her shoulders and chest facing straight, and rotates the platform to the right or left 20-30 times by twisting their abs. If a person's core has been allowed to grow weak, the first week on this machine can leave their abdomen stiff, but by the second week they will already begin to see results.

Both Deeb and Flemming have noticed that males in their 20s, 30s and 40s mainly focus on the upper body machines, whereas females of all ages and males aged 50 and above mainly focus on the abs, lower body machines and cardio machines.

Masks are not required of customers.

Customers are asked to clean each machine before and after using it. The paper towels and spray bottles are provided at convenient locations.

Many of the machines are self powered. When you start pedalling the bike, or the elliptical, the screen lights up. Your own motion provides the energy. The machines are electric, but are not plugged into a circuit.

Staff members circulate constantly cleaning the machines even though customers are already cleaning them.

"The customer sprays and wipes down the handles and seats," Deeb explains, "but we come along with vaccums and clean under, behind and on top of the machines. Customers are paying to come here and expect sparkling clean equipment."

The staff also checks every machine twice daily to make sure it's working properly. If any problem is found, Flemming contacts Planet Fitness, and the machine is usually fixed within 24 - 48 hours. Theoretically, it could be replaced, but with all new machines, that's not expected to happen.

However, in older Planet Fitness facilities, the line machines are usually replaced every 6-8 years. Strength machines are replaced every 7-9 years.

Planet Fitness can enter into "partnerships" with local sports teams under certain conditions.

"Obviously there's no way even the wealthiest high school or AAU team could afford all this equipment," Flemming points out. "So they might bring their whole team here, especially during the offseason, to build strength or sport specific muscles or general conditioning. But one problem is their ideal time would be in the afternoon, right after school. Once the evening rush arrives, a whole group would have trouble finding a row of empty machines to use."

Planet Fitness is thriving everywhere. A center will open in Shaler in January. Centers are already open in Crafton and Bridgeville. 11 are in the Pittsburgh area. The company is expanding into Mexico in 2022.

At every location, a full time ISSA (International Sport Science Association) licensed trainer is on staff.

Even though the Moon location is next to Robert Morris University, few RMU students are members. They have their own fitness center for free.

Help Wanted

Graff's Auto Service Center

Auto Mechanic ---------------Must Be ASF Certified

Brakes, Tires, Emissions, State Inspections, Etc.

General Auto Repair Services


Mummies, Skulls, Shrunken Heads, Tarot Cards, Oils, Herbs, Textbooks.....
Mystic Embers Offers Witchcraft & Occult Items

If you're looking for something very Halloweenish to do during the week of Trick or Treat, consider dropping by the Mystic Embers Store near the Cash Market on Fifth Avenue.

This unique Coraopolis business sells Witchcraft supplies.

As a matter, owner Ash Robles is a Witch.

She was born and raised in a Christian church, but by age 12 had begun to realize the church wasn't making much sense to her. So she started researching other religions, and came across Wicca. She learned that Wiccans, aka Witches, were people who harnessed the forces of Nature and the Universe for good. So she started sending away for books, which arrived in plain brown wrappers from England, Ireland and Scotland. By the time she graduated from McCaskey High School she was a confirmed Wiccan.

Robles attended the Pennsylvania College of Art, pursuing her other interest. She does oil painting, drawing and sculpting. Eventually, as she learned more and more about Wicca, she began having concerns. Wicca is like any organized religion, with rituals, set ways of doing things, and certain expectations. To her, the value of Witchcraft was that it allowed a freedom, an independence, an individuality. So she drifted away from Wicca and became an Independent Witch.

She had always loved horror movies and was especially fascinated by the makeup of the monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman. That seemed to be a natural outlet for her artistic abilities. So after the College of Art, she enrolled in a Makeup and Special Effects school, dreaming of going to Hollywood and becoming a makeup and special effects artist on major films. But she and her childhood sweetheart, Nelson, were married by then, and she became pregnant. So she contented herself with painting, drawing and sculpting. Then her husband's job was eliminated, so he enlisted in the Army, and they were sent to Korea. The Military tried to make life on the base as normal as possible, and one way to do that was by recreating the American holidays, like Halloween. She began helping people with costumes and makeup. Once the officers learned of her skill, they hired her to do makeup on pretend victims in mock disaster rehearsals. That reawakened her love of horror movie makeup.

As far as she knows, she was the only Witch on the base in Korea. But she kept refining her Witchcraft skills, ordering books and studying the craft.

Ash also kept creating art pieces : paintings, drawings and sculpture. She was selling them to individuals and galleries in Korea and back here in America.

Eventually, her husband was transferred to Colorado. Ash began creating skulls for Halloween decorating, and people were so impressed they began buying them. So she focused on those skills, found mentors and tried to learn as much as possible.

Her husband was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, which proved to be the final straw for Ash. "I absolutely could not stand Fort Hood," she recalls. "It was just so flat and barren and ugly and hot. I felt the energy was all negative. I had to get out of there."

He was nearing the end of his 10 years in the military, so they began exploring places to live. They looked at the Philadelphia area, but housing prices were too high. So they began looking at the Pittburgh area. Once they started looking, various real estate services began sending them listings around Allegheny County.

One of those was a former medical doctor's house on a tree lined street in Coraopolis. It was Dr. Frank Braden's house on State Avenue.

"I swear that house chose us," Ash says. "The first time I saw it on the computer, I said, 'This is it.' I just felt the positive energy in that house. I fell in love with it."

They bought the house sight unseen while they were still in Texas. When her husband's time at Fort Hood was up, they came to Coraopolis to see what kind of town they would be living in.

"I fell in love with Coraopolis just like I had with the house," she recalls. "I just sensed the energy that had once been so strong here, and had been laying dormant for a while, but was ready to burst forth again. I could tell this town had once been a place of great pride, had been asleep for a while, and was ready to wake up and do great things again."

Dr. Braden had built an office and waiting room on the side of his house. Ash converted the waiting room to an art studio, and Nelson, who now works for the Veterans Benefits Administration, took over the office as his own home work space.

Her art continued to sell well, and she had a one person exhibit at the Gilberti Gallery on Fifth Avenue.


"The problem was, very few artists make a living from their art. Mine was selling but it takes a while to create a piece, and I wasn't bringing in enough money to survive on."

So she told her husband she was going to have to open some kind of business. "We really looked at a comic book store. But when we researched it we found out comic book stores weren't making enough of a profit. So I thought, Well, I certainly know Witchcraft inside and out. Maybe I can open a Witchcraft store."

They explored the idea carefully. "This town is full of beautiful big churches. This is a fairly conservative area. Would they accept such a store? Would there be customers?"

Ash had seen other Witchcraft stores. She was not happy with them. "They treated new customers with condescension. They acted like this was some secret cult and it would take you years to be accepted. If you weren't a pure, dedicated Wiccan, they really didn't want you."

She had a different vision, one of a store that offered a wide variety of occult books and items. Norse, Druid, Voodoo, Egyptian, even Mexican Day Of The Dead and Catholic items would be offered.

"And I wanted a store that would be very welcoming. I, personally, greet customers at the door. I, personally, want to answer their questions and guide them around."

So she found a storefront just down from the Cash Market on Fourth Avenue. She didn't even take out a loan. They invested $5000 and did all their own work. They painted the walls black and began searching for items to sell.

The mummy, only partially out of its sarcophagus, is one of her centerpieces (photo, right).

She has lots of skulls, some of them real, some human, some animal, and some carved out of stone. She has books on every kind of Witchcraft imaginable. And she can't keep them in stock.

"I order a new set of books and they're gone in a week," she says.

There's a whole shelving unit full of candles, some plain, some scented, some carved as humans, crosses, pyramids, or human sexual parts.

It turns out Candle Magic is a whole specialty within Witchcraft. You can burn a candle in someone's image, waft the smoke in their direction, and send blessings or curses to them. You can burn candles to cure infertility, to bring prosperity, to bring two people together, or to drive them apart.

A trained Candle Witch can also burn a candle in the presence of a client and interpret the wax meltings. "One thing it will reveal is whether the client is being truthful. If the wax forms an ear, then more wax covers up that ear, it means what you're hearing is not the truth. You can turn to the client and point this out, and they'll almost always admit it, then break down and tell you the rest of the story."

Ash has an assistant, Misty Hooper, who packages their herbs, essences and oils. "These are very powerful," she cautions.

The shrunken head is a major attraction. Ash enjoys explaining to people the history and uses of shrunken heads. "It and the mummy get the most questions," she explains.

The collection of small animal skulls was a valuable find. "A school was closing and let it be known they had these for sale. We rushed right up there and bought every one of them. These are hard to get."

Her art hangs in several places. She's having a hard time creating much of it these days. "I don't have the time I used to. Running this store takes up my entire day." When she does have time, her art focuses on two goals. About 40% of it tries to show the exact moment a person reaches their breaking point. "The stress builds and builds until a person cannot take it any more. That moment is what I find interesting."

Another 40% explores the very thin line between real and artificial. "A mummy, for example, is a once alive real person now artificially preserved. So is their skin, their hair, real or not? Or take makeup. When a person is all made up, is their appearance real or artificial?"

This is why skulls and mummies so fascinate Robles. She also thinks created mummies and skeletons can serve a purpose. "People seem to really want these, and they're buying them on the black market from unscrupulous dealers who dig them up and ship them to developed countries. I think that's terrible to do to a person who has died. So if I can create an artificial skeleton or mummy to satisfy a person's desire to own one, I see that as using my art for a very worthwhile purpose."

She opened Mystic Embers in 2019, and has been amazed at how well she's done. Word spread fast. She now has customers coming in from all over Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

One of her lines is Mexican Day of the Dead items. With more and more Mexicans living in this area, she sees more and more customers. Mystic Embers is not the only place selling these items, but it's the only one in or near Coraopolis with such a large selection. The holiday is November 1, the day after Trick or Treat.

"Day of the Dead isn't part of Witchcraft, but it fits right in. Witches believe that death is not the end. Your energy is simply redirected to another plane, another level."

Robles is a Medium, meaning she can communicate with those who have gone on to the next life, and they can communicate back to her. She doesn't hold Seances, but she'll receive messages and relay them on to customers.

"The dead will usually include a few very private details so the living recipient will know it's really them. Like I'll be able to tell them where something is hidden, or remind them of an experience they and their parents had long ago, things there is no way I could ever know on my own."

COVID restrictions are beginning to interrupt her supply lines, but she does have some locals she buys from. She has jewelry and other decorations she sells which are made in Coraopolis or nearby.

One of the most striking displays in the store is the Altar, seen in the second photo above. It has great meaning for some of her customers, who place small objects from deceased loved ones at its base. Others leave money as a token sacrifice.

"That money doesn't go into the store cash register. It stays with the Altar."

Robles says there are more people in Coraopolis and the surrounding area interested in the occult than people realize. On a typical afternoon customers kept arriving, some of them in cloaks or other Gothic clothing.

She has a facebook page, a web page and an online store. "We ship all over the country and even to some buyers abroad."

Her daughter, Angie, recently graduated from Cornell and is still deciding what she's going to do next. In the meantime, she's working at Rite Aid.

Ash wants to find time to promote Art in Coraopolis. "Even though I'm here in the store a lot, I still see myself a professional artist, and I feel Art is important. There are kids in this town who need Art as an outlet. When I can find time to spend in my studio, about 20% of it I like to just start painting and see what appears. There's a spontaneity in that, a magic. I want to help kids experience that."

Before COVID, Mystic Embers sponsored a Halloween costume event. Once COVID is past, she'd like to do more of that, perhaps a Halloween Art event. But for right now, Halloween is approaching, which is her favorite holiday.

Robin Gilligan

Custom Home Remodelling



The Western Hills' Premier Custom Remodeller

Halloween Decorating Now Rivals Christmas
Thursday, Oct. 28 Set For Trick Or Treating

Coraopolis and Neville Island have set Thursday, October 28 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm for the annual Trick or Treating. Homeowners wishing to participate should leave a porch light on, although many homes are so decorated they are already aglow with lights.

In many areas, Halloween has been deemphasized and Trick or Treating is no longer allowed. That is certainly not the case in Coraopolis, Neville Island and the Western Hills, where residents have invested signficant money, time and effort into decorating homes and yards for the holiday. On some blocks, Halloween decorating has now come to rival Christmas. Some of these photos, like the one at right, were taken in pre-COVID years. Last year, during COVID restrictions, there were fewer homes decorated and fewer children in costume. But from early indications this year more homes than ever are decorating.

Many of the decorations can be enjoyed during daytime, but some must be seen after dark. And some seem to be designed specifically for those children coming up to the front door Trick or Treating.

In Coraopolis, Ridge, Vance and Hiland Avenues seem to be the center of Halloween activity, although there are houses elaborately decorated in all corners of town and out on Coraopolis Heights, Charlton Heights and areas of Moon Township.

The holiday has evolved over the years. 100 years ago, headless horsemen, witches and skeletons were the most common costumes. Recently, characters from movies and cartoons are the most popular.

In the early and mid 20th century, Trick or Treating was for children up through age 18. At some point, the limit was moved down to age 12.

Trick or Treating used to be two nights, one for your own neighborhood, the second for the other parts of town.

Coraopolis used to hold a Halloween Parade. It was a big event, with all ages participating. Area high school bands marched. In between the bands, everyone walked in their costumes. A judges stand was erected in front of the Boro Building. Contestants walked up stairs, across the stage, turned around, and walked down stairs on the other side. They each had a number pinned to their front and back. There were categories for adults, high school students, and younger children. First, second and third place honors were awarded, with prizes of $100, $75 an $50 given. It was common to begin in September preparing costumes. People went as cars, rocket ships, airplanes, cereal boxes, flying saucers, aliens, sherman tanks, fruits, vegetables, animals, insects, various containers like ketchup bottles and pickle jars, robots, TV sets, telephones, and anything else anyone thought they could make out of cardboard, paper mache, aluminum foil, canvas and plywood. Some entries were teams of two, three, four or five people inside a horse, octopus, millipede or dinosaur.

Schools also celebrated Halloween. In Art classes students worked on window decorations, masks, pumpkin carving and hanging items like skeletons, witches, bats and black cats. On the Wednesday afternoon of the first Trick or Treat night, students would wear their costumes to school and have Halloween parties. They usually picked the best costume in each class, too, so there were multiple chances for someone to win an award for their costume.

Down at the YMCA the weekly Friday Night Club (for junior high) and Saturday Night Club (for high school) dances became Costume Balls. Some of the fraternal orders, like the Elks, Moose and Wolves, would hold Costume Balls for adults.

Even churches participated. On the Sunday evening before Halloween, youth groups would hold Halloween parties. They'd play games like bobbing for apples and have refreshments like Cider, Butternut Squash Soup and Fried Apples.

Toward the end of the mid century period, groups would create Haunted Houses as fund raisers.

During some years in the 1940s, 50s and 60s there would be downtown Art competitions. Students in Art classes would decorate downtown business windows, with prizes awarded to the best. This depended on the Art teachers to coordinate, and as Art teachers came and went, some did it and others did not.

For many years, Michael's Hobby Shop sponsored a Pumpkin carving competition. Contestants would buy a pumpkin carving kit from George Michael and show off their artistic skills. The winning pumpkins would usually be displayed downtown.

Docorating houses was not nearly as big back then as it has become now. Almost everyone had one, two or three pumpkins displayed on their front porch or steps. They used candles inside the pumpkins to light them. A few houses would hang bedsheet ghosts from trees, or string spider webs from the porch roofs down to the yard. But all this had to be homemade. The inflatables and other decorations could not be bought in stores.

Except for preschool children, parents did not accompany their kids Trick or Treating. The kids simply left home at 6 p.m, roamed the neighborhood til 8, then came home with a pillowcase filled with candy. The second night, when kids went Trick or Treating in the other parts of town, parents might drive them over there, then sit in the parked car until the kids returned at 8. But not all parents did this. Some kids had to ride their bikes to the other parts of town, then pedal home two hours later steering the bike with one hand and holding the pillowcase filled with candy with the other.

Part of the Trick or Treating ritual on the first night (the one in your own neighborhood) was for the adult at the door to try to guess the kids inside the costumes. Sometimes there was a reward attached. If the adult guessed correctly, the kid got one Three Musketeers Bar, or one Brownie, or one Candy Apple. If the adult could not guess, the kid got two.

The treats handed out on Trick or Treat nights have changed, too. Back in midcentury, the traditional store bought candies were Three Musketeers, Nestles, Hersheys, Bit o Honeys and Butterfinger Bars and packages of M & Ms. But many residents made their own treats : Brownies, Sugar Cookies, Fudge and Candy Apples. And some simply handed out fresh Apples and Oranges.

But all this changed in the 1970s when a few adults slipped razor blades or hallucinogenic drugs into the treats they were handing out. Even though it only happened a few times in a few places, and those places were in California, New York and Michigan, the media gave the stories huge play nationwide because it was such a horrific thing to do to innocent children. So from then on, homemade treats became suspect. Police in every community advised parents to demand their children bring all their treats home and empty them out on the kitchen or dining room table, where it could be inspected. Any homemade treats or any storebought candy which looked like the seals had been slit open were thrown away.

That was when parents began accompanying their children on Trick or Treat rounds. And the two night Trick or Treat routine was reduced to one, because it was felt you could more easily know and trust your immediate neighbors.

By the 1980s, the Religious Right began focusing its attention on Halloween. They found the holiday disturbing. They saw it as promoting witchcraft and superstition and demanded churches stopped hosting Halloween parties. They also demanded schools stopped participating in it. In many towns today, they have succeeded in shutting down the holiday altogether. Fortunately, in Coraopolis and the Western Hills, it has survived. Moon and Robinson will offer Trick or Treating Sunday, and Kennedy's is Saturday, so children could still participate in two or three nights if they can talk an adult into driving them to the neighboring communities.

To be fair, those mid 20th Century Halloweens occurred when Coraopolis was a different place. It had three times the current population, slowly declining from an 18,000 World War II peak. There were steel mills, Codo (an office supply company), the Glass House and three rail roads combining to provide 23,000 high paying jobs. Men who had spent four years in European foxholes or aboard ships in the Pacific or fighting on islands like Iwo Jima or Corregidor were happy to come home, start a family and spend tremendous amounts of time with their children and contributing time and effort to community projects. That Halloween Parade required year round planning and work by a large number of men from the Coraopolis Junior Chamber of Commerce (The "Jaycees") and the Kiwanis. A large number of those men were machinists, engineers and technicians, so designing and building the scaffolding for judging costumes, or helping their children design and build elaborate costumes like robots, airplanes or rockets was easy. Very few women worked outside the home. So they had the time to help with costumes and prepare for Trick or Treat. Today, local jobs don't pay as well and half the households in town are single parent families.

Yet Halloween is still here, and in some cases is better than ever. Home decorations are much more sophisticated. Stores now sell huge inflatables and various technologies to run them. There are electric motors, computerized light shows, You Tube videos teaching people how to carve pumpkins, and holograms projecting ghosts and skeletons into the night air. Giant Spiders not only lurk on large webs, but in some yards are motion activated and begin crawling down the web toward anyone walking up the front steps. Not only are there several yards with 10-12 foot high skeletons, but many also have skeletal dogs, cats, rabbits, raccoons and deer.

Some homes, like at Christmas, get their decorations up early and turn on the lights for two weeks leading up to Trick or Treat. Others wait until the third weekend of October to put up all their decorations and don't turn on the lights until the Wednesday night before Thursday night Trick or Treat.

The Fire and Police Departments still monitor Trick or Treat carefully, aware that children in masks and elaborate costumes have a hard time navigating curbs, steps and uneven brick streets. It is therefore essential that motorists drive through neighborhoods slowly and carefully, and the flashing lights of fire engines and police cars reinforce this message.

The decorations range from tasteful blends of Harvest decorations (sheaths of corn, scarecrows, etc.), early Thanksgiving (Turkeys, Pilgrims, etc.) and Halloween (pumpkins, black cats, etc.) to outrageous light shows with graveyards, flying witches, hordes of spiders and corpses trying to crawl up out of the ground. Some yards have smoke machines wrapping the area with clouds of whitish mist.

Halloween 2021 is a sensory overload for Kindergartners and First Graders gazing with dropped jaws and wide eyes at Dinosaurs, Zombies, Frankenstein, Dracula and Trees waving their arms.


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Lightweight Camping Tarp Offers Several Options

Camping trends change. The newest fad is an item last popular 100 years ago : the Tarp. One of the new, state of the art Tarps is by Jacob's Well in Texas. It's a 9' x 9' square of Silnylon, itself a new material. Silnylon, a blend of silicone and nylon, is a synthetic fabric designed specifically for lightweight outdoor gear. It is made by impregnating a thin woven nylon fabric with liquid silicone from both sides. This makes it strong for its weight, as the silicone substantially improves the tear strength. It is also extremely waterproof and long lasting.

Tarps are coming back into fashion because of the current move toward ultralightweight backpacking. The days of carrying 50 or 60 pounds are long gone. Today 30 pounds is considered the maximum and many are getting their weights down to 20 pounds or even something in the teens.

Doing this means lightweight stoves, sleeping bags, rain gear and tents. And many hikers, bikers and canoeists are leaving tents at home and carrying only a tarp.

Used as a replacement for a tent, a tarp can be pitched in five different ways : as an A frame, a Lean To, a Wedge, an Adirondack, or a Teepee. With a groundcloth and a "bivuoac," a coccoon a sleeping bag slips into, a tarp works well enough. The "bivvy sac" includes mosquito netting.

But tent lovers and the new hammock campers also love tarps. They offer an increased layer of rain protection in this time of increasingly ferocious storms. They also add years to a tent once its original waterproof coating begins to wear. Buying a tarp for $50 - 70 is better than buying a whole new tent for several hundred. The tent continues to provide privacy, protection from insects and various creatures, and warmth, and the tarp deflects rain and wind. During clear days in the open, it also provides shade and a cooling effect.

Several companies offer modern tarps, but Jacob's Well, a new American company, offers one of the best. As the photo below right shows, it comes with eight coils of cord, seven heavy stakes and eight light stakes. Two of the cords are 8' long, two are 6', and the rest are 4'.

This mix of stakes and cords allows flexibility in how one pitches the tarp. You can hang it from trees or hiking sticks or stake corners down to the ground. At the top right we've pitched it over our trusty 1970s Gerry's Lodgepole tent. Above left we've removed the tent and hung a hammock underneath. Normally, you would raise the tarp and hang the hammock higher. We also know campers who use the tarp as a dining fly. They pitch it well away from their tents and cook and eat under it. As long as it's 6-8' high, a backpacking stove or reasonably sized cooking fire isn't going to threaten it. If you want a bonfire or larger fire for heat, you can build that under the open sky.

The photo below shows how well the tarp is made. Notice the extra stitching coming across to strengthen the corner, which has to absorb tugging and pulling in high wind. This photo also shows the fasteners attached at each corner and down each side. We've added loops of string because we usually pitch the tarp as an A frame, using the larger stakes to fasten the corners down to the ground.

Also notice the double stitched edging at left. This extends all the way around the edge of the tarp. Finally, notice the classic ripstopping in the silnylon fabric. That's the grid of tiny squares you see across the entire surface. This is a pretty tough fabric, but if you did find a way to puncture it, this grid would prevent the hole from extending anywhere.

So this is a particularly durable tarp.

Many campers will figure out their favorite way of pitching it and only take those stakes and cords for that way. And some leave all the stakes at home and find branches where they camp, cutting stakes from them. We take the whole bag, because we never know what kind of campsite we may encounter, and this gives us maximum flexibility.

The tarp, stakes and cords combined weigh two pounds, reasonable for the value they provide.

You can order from jacobswelloutfitters.com.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

Swanndri Bush Shirt Is The Best Of Its Kind

In the world of outdoor equipment, certain items have become legendary. The Svea Stove, Vasque Sundowner Boots, Universal Loadmaster Packs, Walrus Tents and Camp Seven Sleeping Bags are iconic. They have proven themselves around the world for half a century and are the gold standard to which all other equipment is compared.

Add to that the Swanndri Bush Shirt. Made in New Zealand, this is the ultimate cold weather garment. It doesn't resemble anything modern, but harkens back to Native American, Viking, French Voyageur and other historic adventurers' clothing. William Broome designed it in 1913 for Australian and New Zealand farmers, hunters, loggers and adventurers.

It might be described as Low Tech. It's made of Wool. But this is not any wool. It's Merino Wool, woven from the wool of New Zealand sheep, which evolved long ago to produce a wool that is more water resistant, thicker and more flexible than other wools.

As a result, if you get caught out in a rain or a very wet snow, the water will simply bead up on the outside of the Swanndri and you'll stay dry and warm inside. Yes, the garment will get somewhat heavier with the weight of all those tiny drops of water, but as you hike, shovel snow, ski or move about you'll shake some of them off.

The Swanndri Bush Shirt comes in red, blue or green plaid, or in solid green. It's 3/4 length, coming down to or just below your knees.

It's made roomy, so you can wear a turtleneck, sweater or shirt underneath. Everybody's metabolism differs, so you'll need to experiment a few times to figure out your ideal combinations.

But we've shovelled snow and gone hiking with just a t shirt inside and stayed warm in 40 and 30 degree weather. We add a turtleneck as temperatures drop into the 20s, a regular sweater down into the teens and a ski sweater into single digits. But activity level matters. Sitting still at a football game or while fishing requires an undergarment earlier, while hiking, skiing, sledriding or shoveling snow generates enough internal heat you won't need one as soon.

The Bush Shirt utilizes a trick the Eskimos stumbled onto a couple of thousand years ago. It has a second layer which hangs inside like an internal sleeve.

This creates an extra pocket of air which surrounds your body. After 5-10 minutes your own body heat warms this pocket and it becomes an extra layer of insulation. This layer is also made of Merino wool but is much thinner.

For this trick to work, the inner layer must hang loosely. This means you have to carefully put your arms up through to find the armholes and after you pull it on you have to pull that layer down since it will bunch up.

This requires a certain patience. There's no zipper down the front. It's a classic anorak style, so you pull it on and take it off overhead. It's awkward to get into and out of the first half dozen times, but eventually you learn to do it smoothly.

But once it's on it's like a fortress. You'll stay warm no matter what. The U.S. issues these to its forces in the Antarctic. Several other nations issue them to their forces who have to operate in cold weather regions.

It's great for watching football games. Since it comes down so far, it protects your legs and knees from those icy winds that often blow through stadiums in late October and November. You can lace the front up and pull the hood forward and be quite comfortable while fans around you are shivering or running for hot coffee.

The Bush Shirt only has one pocket, up on the chest. It holds binoculars or your cell phone or portable radio. We wish it had the handwarmer pocket common on other anoraks, but many of its users carry packs, and the belt straps from the packs block those pockets, so Swanndri omitted them.

If the wind quiets down and the sun comes out, you simply drop the hood back and unlace the front placket to ventilate your Bush Shirt. Unlike modern high tech polyester fabrics, the Merino Wool breathes quite well, so you'll still feel comfortable even as the sun warms the stadium.

With the fabric coming down behind you to your knees, you won't be sitting on cold steel seats. If you don't take your own cushion or blanket with you, the thick wool gives you a little cushioning to sit on.

If you're one of those people who are always cold, the Bush Shirt is roomy enough you could easily wear a ski sweater underneath to crank up the heat even further.

It's hiking or backpacking where the Bush Shirt really excels.

The pack strap, as mentioned, becomes a sort of belt. The loose fit of the Bush Shirt does not interfere with your legs moving, not even if you're climbing steep hills. As you begin to exert more energy and warm up, you can unlace the front placket and/or throw back the hood to cool down a bit.

Even though the Bush Shirt is water repellant, to avoid the extra weight of water droplets beaded up on its outside while hiking, we always carry a large rain poncho to pull on over it in case of rain.

When you stop for lunch or a mid morning or mid afternoon snack, you can sit down and tuck your legs up under you and be completely protected by the Bush Shirt.

The loose fit is ideal for heavy physical activity like skiing, sledriding or shovelling snow. This photo was taken on a 15 degree day. We've added a fur bomber hat, sometimes called a Russian hat, underneath the hood. You can see the fur sticking out around our chin and face.

But the loose fit allows us to easily maneuver the snow shovel. We've worn the Bush Shirt skiing and sledriding and it does not interfere with our movements.

The garment was originally designed for farmers, sheep herders, loggers and outdoor adventurers so allowing extensive movement was essential.

Stories of the Bush Shirt's durability are legendary. Families in Australia and New Zealand talk of handing them down for 2-3 generations. You don't usually have to clean it, but if you do, instructions are available for home laundering. Since it's wool, you do have to be careful of shrinkage. However, Do Not Wash It In A Washing Machine. It Will Destroy The Water Repellency.

Swanndri makes a separate model just for girls and women, called The Seattle. But it's not as good as the original Bush Shirt. Girls and women are better off to just order a Bush Shirt in a size Small or Medium. Men's sizes go all the way up to Large, X Large, XX Large and XXX Large. If you insist, there is a model available with a zipper down the front. But in cold temperatures, especially below 20 degrees, that zipper, like all zippers, lets cold in. To order, go to www.swanndri.co.nz. It's pricey, but remember this is the finest garment of its kind in the world, and will probably be handed down to children and grandchildren.

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Brakes, Tires, Emissions, State Inspections, Etc.

General Auto Repair Services


Local Author Writes Children's Book Series
Coraopolis and the Western Hills have produced a surprising number of authors in recent years. Four residents have published books, one has produced a movie script, and two more have novels now in progress.
Add to that the name of Lauren Scapellato (photos right and below).
The Imperial resident has produced a series of children’s books featuring the adventures of Cam Kablam, a girl with superpowers who helps a town named Blurgburg fight off a gang of monsters who emerge from cracks in the ground.
Blurgburg bears a certain similarity to Burgettstown and its surrounding stripmines. And Cam Kablam is a fictional portrayal, without the superpowers, of the author herself as a child.
This wasn’t where or what Scapellato planned. She grew up in Rochester, New York, and stayed there to attend Brockport State College, majoring in Theater with an English minor. Her plan was to become an actress.
Upon graduating, Scapellato moved to New York City, where for two years she supported herself with clerical jobs while pursuing an acting career. And she did obtain off Broadway roles. But she never landed any roles on Broadway.
A visit to a college friend living in Pittsburgh changed her life. She fell in love with the city, especially the views from Mt. Washington. Since her New York acting career wasn’t going anywhere, she moved to Pittsburgh.
“I was ready for an adventure, for something new,” she says.
She supported herself by working at a temp agency while trying out for acting roles in various local theaters. But all this time, in New York and now in Pittsburgh, she was writing. She wrote poetry and short stories for literary magazines, and articles for various newspapers.
Then she got married and moved to Imperial to her husband’s family home.
She was a long way from the city’s theaters and the temp agency’s office assignments, but for the first time in her life she was within a few steps of a major hiking trail (The Montour Trail), several side trails, farms, patches of woods, and the Pittsburgh Botanical Gardens. So she started hiking every day. And thinking.
Out there on the trail every day she decided to try her hand at writing a book. A series of books. Aimed at children. Young girls. With a girl superhero. With serious flaws. In a small town. Infested with monsters. Emerging from cracks in the earth.
“It came together slowly,” she recalls. “Every day out there on the trail, I’d flesh out a few more details.”
She struggled with the decision of which age group to aim at. “I came to the realization that my voice, my writing style, was best suited to grade school children.”
But then she had to decide how exactly one writes for grade school children. Many novels with child main characters, such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, are not written for young readers. Charles Dickens used child protagonists in all his novels. William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies with an entire cast of children. But neither author imagined children reading his novels.
Scapellato never had a college course in Children’s Lit nor a course in Creative Writing. She had to think through for herself how to write for children.
Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Lots of action and dialogue and as little description as possible. Simple thoughts. Short easy words. One basic plot with no side plots.
“I had to go back and rewrite the whole first part of the book and ratchet everything down to a beginner reader level.”
She also had no editor. Her husband and parents read each page and advised her on possible changes. She had planned to find several children, let them read parts of the book, and tell her their reactions, which she could use to make changes. But COVID restrictions prevented that.
Once she began actually writing, she wrote all day every day. “I treated it as a full time job.”
She wrote the entire series of 11 books straight through in three months. Each book is about 70 pages, although illustrations fill half of many of the pages.
Once Scapellato had the books done, she had to find a publisher. She spent all day every day for five months sending the manuscript for the first book to agents. Nobody was interested.
Deciding to self publish was a struggle. “There’s a stigma attached to self published books. Bookstores won’t sell them. Newspapers and magazines won’t review them. Libraries won’t buy them.”
Plus, authors of self published books have to do all the sales, all the promotions, all the advertising, themselves.

“I’m no salesperson or promoter. I’ve had no training or experience in those skills. I don’t know where to start.”
But after 50 agents turned her down, she had a decision to make.“I believe in these books. I think there are children out there who would enjoy reading them. I think these books belong in libraries and bookstores. So I decided to self publish and find a way to overcome that stigma.”
She investigated several “vanity publishing” companies and chose Amazon. “They are a large company with vast resources. They make life easy on their writers.”
As she expected, it’s been a struggle. COVID has made a difficult situation impossible. Most schools and libraries have been closed most of the time. Bookstores are limiting the number of people allowed inside, and authors promoting their books are not as important as paying customers. So sales have been modest during the five months the books have been available.
Cam Kablam suffers from ADHD, a condition Scapellato also had. Cam has superpowers which enable her to dispatch the monsters, but her ADHD often distracts her from that mission. Several times the people of the town become angry with her because while she’s off pursuing some trivial interest, the monsters are destroying whole blocks of buildings while they wait for Cam to arrive and stop them. “I thought it was time kids with ADHD had a character they could see was successfully dealing with their same condition.”

Scapellato does her own illustrations. There are plenty in the books, but they’re abstract impressionistic drawings and cartoons, not actual pictures. She refers to her artist in the third person, as “Lefty.” Critics have been mixed. Many give the author credit for creating a young left-handed girl heroine with ADHD, and a band of monsters who actually think and try to work out a peaceful compromise with the town. But others think the illustrations are too abstract to help children visualize what’s happening, some of the sentences are still too long for beginning readers, and the concept, while cute, is too basic to justify 11 books.
Scapellato is not discouraged. “As soon as COVID restrictions lift, I’ll try to reach out to grade school librarians and independent bookstores, and I’ll try to set up displays at some of the big book fairs.”
And she’s not done. On her daily hikes, she’s already plotting a second series with a girl main character, and then a series with a boy main character.
In the meantime, the Cam Kablam books can be ordered on Amazon. The paperback version of each book is $7 and the Kindle version is $4.

Robin Gilligan

Custom Home Remodelling



The Western Hills' Premier Custom Remodeller

"Daggerfish" Makes Fishing While Travelling Easy

Fishing has experienced a tremendous revival during this pandemic, since it can be practiced alone or, even if within a group, safely distanced along a shore or on a boat.

But carrying the reels and rods can be a problem for hikers, backpackers, canoeists and those flying to destinations. Many expensive rods have been broken during such trips.

Back during the Depression, when unemployed homeless Hobos were riding trains around the country, they popularized a device that came to be known as a "hobo reel." It could be carried in their packs or even their pockets. It could be made from a tree branch, a piece of pipe, or a long narrow olive bottle.

Adam Nelson of East Liberty has updated this idea. On a lathe, he shapes a piece of Sugar Maple, Cherry or Walnut (whichever's available from local saw mills) into a ten inch long spool he calls a Daggerfish. He hollows out both ends and closes them with corks. The compartments are used to store lures, weights, hooks, swivels, clasps and extra line.

The main line wraps around the "reel" end of the device. When not in use, a leather cover wraps and ties around the line to protect it.

The Daggerfish comes set up to fish for Bluegill, Perch, Sunfish and other small fish. But with heavier line, hooks, lures and a weight it can be used for much bigger fish, and everything still fits into the hollow stem.

The Daggerfish is ideal for fishing off a pier, dock or boat where you're just lowering the line into the water below, as seen in the bottom photo. Using a $1.00 plastic drink holder and length of PVC pipe, we easily rigged a holder that clipped onto the side of a canoe and we could stick the Daggerfish into.

Casting a hobo reel requires a slightly different technique, but it can be mastered in about 15 minutes. Casting short is a matter of swinging the rig back and forth a few times with one hand and holding the device with the other, keeping your thumb on the line. When you release the rig you pull your thumb off the line, and point the reel to where you want the rig to land. The line then unravels off the reel. After the rig sinks to the bottom you again use your thumb to hold the line from unravelling further. The photo below shows the reel pointing correctly, and the rig (to the left) just about to land on the water. We're using a Carolina Rig here, which is the heaviest and most complex rig you're likely to use, and the Daggerfish handled it with no problem. Short casts easily put your bait or lure anywhere on a stream or pond you want.

For casting long (photo below left), you need a heavier weight. You swing the rig either by your side (Eastern style) or overhead (Cowboy style) and let it go, at the same time releasing your thumb and pointing the reel to where you want the weight to land. With a little practice, you can cast anywhere you need to on the Ohio, Allegheny or Monongahala Rivers, or smaller lakes like Raccoon.

You need to keep a thumb or finger on the line to feel the fish biting.

Reeling in is another matter. You need to use one hand to gather the line and "lay" it onto the reel in a circular motion, with the line hand circling the reel hand. For larger fish, you might consider fishing gloves, since the line can cut your fingers.

As long as you have the heavier line and have the strength in your arms and wrists to pull against their pressure, the Daggerfish can easily handle Catfish (except for the huge ones which live below Ohio River dams or in Kentucky or Barkley Lake), Lake Trout, Bass and young Muskie and Paddlefish. Adult Muskie and Paddlefish are another matter. To bring one of them into the boat, you need a full size rod and reel. But remember, the Daggerfish is not designed for big time sportfishing. Fishermen who go after those fish understand they need specialized equipment. It's more like going deep sea fishing. The Daggerfish is designed to use on a mountain stream or lake or from a shore or pier.

We tried it along the surf on Hatteras Island. It could handle Flounder, Blue, or Pompano with no problem. But the problem in surf fishing is the Daggerfish does not give you the leverage to cast out beyond the sandbar where most of the fish are hanging out during the low half of the tidal cycle. For that, you need a surf casting rod. So if you use it for surf fishing, it limits you to the two or three hours of high tide.

Where it does excel is at pier fishing.

Fishing rods have always been overkill and awkward on the big commercial fishing piers. Casting long is not necessary because the fish congregate underneath or close to the pier posts. The Daggerfish is perfect for lowering the rig straight down and, if a fish bites, for bringing it straight up. The Carolina Rig, which most pier fishermen on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico use, fits perfectly with the Daggerfish.

It always works perfectly on a canoe or kayak, where, again, rods are often awkward. You don't need to cast long if at all. A Daggerfish allows easy trolling and can handle any fish you're likely to find on a creek, river or small lake or reservoir.

One problem with lugging a fishing pole on a hike or backpacking trip is that it needs to be broken down to two, three or four sections. Reassembling those is tedious and on a mid morning or mid afternoon or lunchtime break is too much trouble. But a Daggerfish could simply be pulled from a pack sidepocket and used for 15-30 minutes of fishing. It makes catching lunch a real possibility.

It does discourage live bait. Artificial lures fit conveniently into the two compartments. Digging or seining for live bait takes time and eliminates the spontaneity of the Daggerfish.

The spool holds 30 yards of #6 pound monofilament. If you increase the strength of the line the spool will hold somewhat less than 30 yards, but will probably hold 25 yards of even the strongest line.

You still need a fishing license to use a Daggerfish, and all the usual regulations apply, such as how many fish you're allowed to keep. The device itself is legal except for ice fishing.

Nelson tried Oak at first, but it didn't work. He starts with actual tree branches. Most of the Daggerfish display a beautiful grain finish.

Since it's all wood, the Daggerfish causes no problem at airport security if you're taking it in a carryon pack.

The Daggerfish fits right in with the current Ultralight trend in hiking and backpacking, which emphasizes carrying no more than 30 pounds even on a weeklong trip. Ultralight advocates use hiking sticks for tent poles, tiny compact stoves, and very high tech, collapsible equipment that takes up little space and weight. The Daggerfish can fit into a corner of a pack and weighs just five ounces.

It also fits in with the Bush Craft trend among Survivalists, who try to avoid high tech complex equipment and instead use older, handmade tools and study old books like Ellsworth Jaeger's Wildwood Wisdom. The Native Americans fished with handreels like this, which is where those old Hobos got the idea.

The Daggerfish is also a great way to start children in fishing. They can easily learn the underhanded casting technique and can grip the handle, keep their fingers on the line, and learn to reel in.

A Daggerfish costs $60 and can be bought at Three Rivers Outdoors on Regent Square, PG & H Downtown and Love Pittsburgh on Mount Washington. Or you can order at Daggerfishgear.com or Amazon.com. Nelson offers two models. You want the Deluxe.


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Nancy Drew Fans Celebrate 90th Anniversary

Nancy Drew fans are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the series of mystery novels, which began in 1930.

Supposedly, the novels were all written by Carolyn Keene. But Keene was merely a generic pseudonym under which several other authors actually did the writing. Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries, for which she received a flat fee of between $125 and $250 each. She gave up all rights to her work under her contract, which also specified that she could not reveal that she was the author for at least 30 years.  After those 23, five other authors rotated the writing assignments. The Nancy Drew series was a response to the wildly popular Hardy Boys series, which began in 1926. Girls, and their mothers and aunts and grandmothers, insisted a similar series for girls be published. Grosset & Dunlap Publishers tried one book. When it sold out all 6000 copies in five days they knew they had a hit and commissioned three more. Nancy Drew books, which are still available, have sold 80 million copies, been translated into 45 languages, and been made into five films and three TV shows. Nancy is a 16 year old girl whose father is an attorney. She, often with her two close friends and one boyfriend, get involved with various mysteries in and about their small town. To girls of the 20th Century, Nancy was a superhero, an ordinary girl who did extraordinary things, often facing real dangers along the way. The books' primary audience was girls in grades 5-8 but older girls also read them.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

American Hatmakers Offer A Classy Broad Brimmed Straw

Summers keep getting longer and hotter, and concerns over skin cancer snd cataracts keep increasing. Hats are back in style, both as a fashion and as a means of protecting the skin and the eyes.

American Hat Makers is now one of the the top hat makers in the United States. It is a handcrafting hat manufacturer founded by Gary Watrous in 1972. The company is based out of a 17,000 sq ft facility in Watsonville, California. It offers several different lines, including Freedom Hats, which makes hats actors and actresses have worn on various movies and TV shows.

American makes both felt and straw hats in Western and urban styles. But it has earned a solid reputation for its straw models. It presses its hats twice and infuses them with a coat of lacquer both times. And the lacquer they use is oil based. This double oil based lacquering makes the hats absolutely waterproof and gives them a durability beyond what any other hat can match.

The hats are hand cut, hand stitched, hand formed, and hand trimmed for a meticulous finish. They're not cheap (the Florence reviewed here costs $57), but such a hat is an investment. It will last a lifetime, and to make sure it does it carries an unconditional lifetime guarantee.

American's latest Freedom model, the Florence, is a classic. It features a 3.5" inch brim, wide enough to shield the eyes, face, ears and neck but not so wide as to become unwieldy or look extreme.

It's lightweight. The 4 inch crown with a 2.5" perforated area allows air to circulate to keep the head cool. There's a strap with adjustable slider to keep the hat snug in wind. If you don't want it you can tuck it up inside the crown.

This is not a cowboy hat or an Indiana Jones hat. It's a Panama style. It is not meant to be shaped into a rodeo style, or country music style. The lacquer waterproofing prevents you from bending up the sides or bending down the front and back. Steaming it fails to penetrate the lacquer.

Instead, it's a classy urban style, meant to be worn on a Kentucky horse farm or a beach vacation or on your evening walk. It's the style of broad brimmed hat that was worn by ranch owners and managers, not the cowboys who drove the cattle and did the manual labor. It's also very close to the level brim worn by park rangers and forest rangers and some law enforcement officers.

The brim comes precast with the front and back very slightly turned down and the sides ever so slightly turned up.

If you get caught out in a sudden Summer rain, the Florence is completely waterproof.

It comes in a tan color and, thanks to that lacquer finish, it's going to keep that color for a very long time. Anything spilled on it will just bead up and roll off.

The wind may tug at it, but the brim won't flop around.

The hats are sized accurately, but each hat comes with a pair of adjustable inserts, one half size, one full size. If needed, you velcro the insert in place.

There's a very nice, handsewn elastic mesh hat band that grips your head and helps keep the hat in place in high winds. The 4" crown will allow you to wear the hat in a typical large pickup truck or SUV. But you'll have to take it off in a sedan, sports car or small pickup truck. There's a dark brown vinyl decorative band circling the bse of the crown.

You can order yours at Americanhatmakers.com in either tan (shown here) or cream. The Florence ships out the day you order. Record readers who order the Florence should include the code Outpost15 for a 15% discount. On the shipping page, the code goes into the box in the right hand column.

Pysanky Lessons To Be Offered Fridays

The Coraopolis Presbyterian Church is once again offering its Pysanky lessons leading up to Easter. Jeff Lemley will be teaching the classes every Friday night at 7 pm. The cost is $3 per lesson and all supplies are provided. The last class will be April 3rd. Most people take all classes.

Pysanky is the art of egg decorating. Classic Pysanky uses traditional Ukrainian folk designs. Modern Pysanky uses any design the artist wishes.

Pysanky was developed in the years 100 A.D. through 900 AD., before Catholicism arrived. Early designs celebrated the sun god Dazhboh and his disciples, the Birds. Bird eggs were considered sacred, and decorating them was a form of worship. Ukrainians celebrated a Spring Festival, commemorating the return of warm weather, and Pysanky was part of that holiday. They gave each other gifts of handwoven baskets filled with grass and the decorated eggs.

Once the Catholic Church arrived, the basket giving and egg decorating were absorbed into the Easter celebration. The egg designs began to represent various Christian images. Archeaological excavations in the Ukraine have unearthed egg fragments with rhe designs and bright colors still intact. The very few complete eggs which have been found are shown by museums.

Updated L.L. Bean Anorak Is A Winner

Periodically, L.L. Bean releases its famous Mountain Anorak. The most recent was back in the 1980s and 1990s. Hikers, backpackers, fishermen, canoeists, football fans, outdoor workers, and people just wanting it to wear around town bought them up as fast as Bean could make them. Then, for whatever reason, Bean stopped making them, and for the next two decades people kept wearing the old ones or buying them used off EBay and Amazon.

Now, finally, Bean is again producing the Mountain Anorak. This one is an updated version, with several minor tweaks that make it better rhan ever. The photo at right shows the women's version of the new one. The photos below are all of the men's version. Both men's and women's versions are available in various color block mixes, or in a solid black.

An Anorak is an old Eskimo design that had been adapted by Native American tribes across the continent by the time White settlers began arriving from Europe. It's a pullover with a hood and a zipper extending a third of the way down the chest. The fact that there is no zipper, buttons, snaps or other opening down the front means an anorak is warmer and drier than a traditional jacket.

This particular anorak is a "shoulder season" windshirt. It is ideal in Fall and Spring weather, during milder Winter weather, or for short periods in harsher weather. Bean and other manufacturers make other anoraks designed for bitter cold or heavy rain. This one is described as wind and rain resistant, not wind and rain proof.

There's a reason for this. You can be active in this anorak without getting hot and clammy. Any garment that is made tight enough to seal wind and rain completely out traps body heat and perspiration in. In this anorak, you can hike, cast, chop wood, rake leaves, mow the lawn, cross country ski or pull a sled up a hill without getting uncomfortable.

To keep you warm and block the wind, L.L. Bean has lined the Mountain Anorak with Primaloft. As you can see in the photo at left, it's quilted into both the body and the hood.

Primaloft was developed for the U.S. Army as a synthetic down. It lofts like down but, unlike down, retains its loft and insulating properties when wet. So even if you get caught out in a downpour, and rain begins seeping in, you'll still stay warm.

Primaloft is also very light. This allowed L.L.Bean to make this updated anorak thinner and lighter than its beloved predecessor. So you can pack it, in a backpack or travel pack, very compactly.

The Mountain Anorak has a large Kangaroo Pocket for carrying a cell phone, map, gloves or whatever else. When hiking, backpacking, fishing or watching a football game, we prefer to pack a waterproof poncho. If we get caught in a downpour, we just put on the poncho, and everything is fine.

Behind the Kangaroo Pocket, is a large handwarmer sleeve.

There's a cinching cord around the waist so you can adjust it to seal out the cold and fit properly.

The cuffs are elasticized for a tight fit at the wrists.

The hood has a cinching cord which lets you adjust it. It's a generous cut hood which comes far forward to shield your face from rain. However, it can actually come down so far as to block your view. Some users wear a baseball cap. Others flip up the hood's outer edge.

If you get caught in a hard rain, the Mountain Anorak will hold it it out for about 15 minutes, then begin letting some in. So wearing it in town, where you'll move from car to house or store, or from one store to the next, will be fine. It works fine for a college student moving from one classroom building to the next.

But it's resistant enough to keep out snow. We've worn ours skiing and sledriding, for examples, with no problem. If you're going to sit at a football game in bitter cold, just add a wool sweater before pulling on the anorak.

A flannel shirt or turtle neck under it is usually enough in 30-40 degree weather. A T shirt is enough on 50-60 degree days.

The zipper can be raised or lowered to regulate temperature as the day warms up or cools down.

One reason this anorak is beloved by so many is its durability. We've beaten our 1980 version around for almost 40 years and it still looks like new. We've taken it hiking, backpacking, fishing, canoeing, rafting, skiing, sledriding, bicycling, working in the lawn and garden, gathering wood, and working on the house. It still fits, still keeps us warm and dry, and is still wind and water resistant. One high risk spot on such garments is always the shoulders, as pack straps can wear fabrics pretty quickly. We've worn daypacks and long distance backpacks for 40 years with the 1980s version and the shoulders are still in great shape.

When it gets dirty, you wash your anorak at home, using delicate cycle, mild detergent, and tumble dry on low. It will take the Primaloft a few hours to fully dry but if you needed you could wear it right away as it stays warm even when wet and your body heat will help dry it.

The nylon shell is surprisingly soft. The anorak can be folded into a fine pillow on camping trips.

The 1980s-90s version, which used Thinsulate for its insulation, was made in Freeport, Maine. This one is made in Thailand, which offends some buyers. But assembling it in Asia is the only way to keep the price down to its surprising $50-60 range. Made in America under 2020 wage conditions would at least double the price.

The nearest L.L. Bean outlet to Coraopolis is in Ross Park Mall. We advise buying this anorak in an actual store, since you have to get the fit right for it to work. However, if you buy it online, most people prefer a size up, to allow for layering with a sweater or flannel shirt. Fortunately, if you buy it online, Bean has a generous return and exchange policy. The anoraks shown in these photos are Medium Regulars and we have a flannel shirt on underneath.

Coraopolis Youth Baseball

Signups at the Library

6:30 - 8 pm Wednesdays

10 am - noon Saturdays.

Signups will continue until mid April

Botanical Garden Is An Unfolding Treasure

Most Western Hills residents don't even know it's there. It's only been open four years and is still very much a work in progress.

But if you haven't yet visited the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden, you should absolutely make it a priority for one of the remaining sunny days in October or November.

If nothing else, it's an excuse for a two hour walk in the late Fall sunshine. But there's a tremendous variety of Nature to see here. Dogs and children are welcome, the trails are wide and well groomed, and there are plenty of benches, gazebos, huts and flat topped rocks for rest stops.

From Coraopolis, it's only a 12 mile, 15 minute drive (or a little more if you hit rush hour traffic). Go to Robinson Town Center, turn West on Route 60/22/30, and turn off at the Oakdale Exit. Turn left onto McKee road, then in less thsn half a mile turn left again onto Old McKee Road. Do a sharp right onto Gregg Road/Pinkerton Run Road, drive two miles and turn left into the parking lot.

Your visit begins at the temporary Visitor Center, located in the huge old barn (see photo, bottom left). There's a gift shop and admission desk, where you buy a ticket and pick up a map.

The second floor of the barn is available for weddings and other special events. There's an outdoor area with oversize fireplace for receptions. A tent provides cover in case of rain.

Right now and for all of 2020, the barn is surrounded by heavy construction equipment. They're building a new $10 million, 7500 square feet, state of the art visitor center, complete with restaurant, larger gift shop and classroom. Once that opens, the barn will become a full time events center.

While the construction equipment is there, they're also building additional garden areas, walkways, a lake, a 250 car parking lot, and other amenities.

The Pittsburgh Botanical Garden is adjacent to, although separately administered from, 1610 acre Settlers Cabin Park. In fact, the "settlers cabin" for which the park is named is part of the old homestead where you begin your visit.

The cabin was built in 1784 and as daughters married and changed last names has passed through only four families in the centuries since. In the 1930s during the Depression the family sold the mineral rights, although they had the foresight to forbid any underground mining below the 12 acres where the barn, homes, stables and other buildings were located. Due to the mining, the land today sits atop a vast network of tunnels where all the coal was removed.

By 1971 the land was held by the McGill family. The county bought it as part of the acquisition for Settlers Cabin Park, but as part of a land tradeoff sold it to a developer. But engineers declared the land unsuitable for development due to the risk of subsidence because of the maze of tunnels. So the land reverted back to the county.

Meanwhile, six people had formed the Horticultural Society of Western Pennsylvania and were seeking land for a botanical garden. County Commissioner Larry Dunn offered them the 460 acres.

But they got off to a rough start. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan dumped several days of torrential rain on the area. The abandoned tunnels filled with water. Several collapses occurred and water poured out onto the surface loaded with acid mine drainage. One consultant said the area was beyond reclamation and could never be used. Another said it would take millions of dollars and at least 20 years to reclaim the land.

The Society obtained state, federal and private foundation grants and hired Mashuda Corporation to remove the remaining coal, backfill the tunnels, and solve the acid mine drainage. Eventually, Mashuda sold its contract to Cherep Corporation.

By 2013 the area had been stabilized, and work could finally begin on the actual gardens.

But over 40 years, invasive species had taken over the abandoned fields. Volunteer groups were called in to help remove those trees and plants.

Finally, the actual development could begin. In a first phase, in 2010, 5200 native trees, shrubs and perennials were planted. Every year since, more have been planted, and efforts continue to remove invasive species.

The 1855 farmhouse has been updated and is now used as the administrative building. The old "settlers cabin" has been carefully restored (see photo, bottom right).

The basic trail through the gardens is now 2.0 - 2.5 miles long, depending on which sidetrips you make. It takes the average visitor about two hours, since there are a lot of stops to make and things to see.

The trail winds through different sections, Near the barn, as you climb the hill, there are formal gardens with many kinds of flowers.

Atop the hill is a large meadow (photo, three frames up), which in Spring, Summer and Fall is filled with various kinds of wildflowers. It is also alive with bees, butterflies and birds.

Dropping down the backside of the hill is a young forest (see photo two frames up on the left). As these trees age, this will probably become the most spectacular section.

Scattered along the trail are interesting structures and sculptures for the hikers to inspect. These are guaranteed to fire the imaginations of children, who can see anyone from Hagrid (from Harry Potter) to witches to hermits to Merlin (from The Once & Future King) living in them. One site (photo, above) has distinctly Scandinavian overtones.

Hiking the trail in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter will create entirely different experiences as different flowers and trees will be in bloom. The gardens are open all Winter.

Eventually, the trail winds down out of the forest to a beautifully designed Japanese Garden. It's new, so many of the plants are still small, but a bank of Cherry Trees will put on a spectacular show in April and May.

At every point along the trail, there are signs, plaques and handouts to educate visitors about the plants and entire ecosystems they're looking at.

The master plan is in place. What you see now is only one third of what is planned.

Memberships are available for individuals, families and seniors. Volunteers are always welcome as there is plenty of work to be done. There are a variety of activities for school and youth groups.

As botanical gardens go, this is one of the largest in the nation in total acreage. It has unlimited potential for development. Watching it grow over the coming decades will be exciting.

Robin Gilligan

Custom Home Remodelling



The Western Hills' Premier Custom Remodeller

West Point Ballet "Home At Last" On 5th Avenue

After five years at the corner of Main Street and 4th Avenue, the West Point Ballet Company has settled into its new home in the old furniture company on 5th Avenue.

It has taken almost a year of remodelling to turn the former show room and store into a state of the art ballet studio. And the work isn't done. There's still the upstairs to do.

But for Damien Martinez and Cynthia Castillo (photo, right), "This is it. This is Home. This is everything we need, everything we've dreamed of."

There are two large teaching rooms, two dressing rooms, a kitchenette, an office and a lounge area. Upstairs, although it has yet to be built, will be a complete storage facility for West Point's extensive collection of costumes.

"A ballet company has to have a huge collection of costumes for all the various shows we put on," Cynthia explains. "Down on 4th Avenue, we had them stacked up in the hallway, in corners of other rooms, even in my office. Here we'll be able to store them professionally. We'll be able to keep them in good condition and find exactly what we need quickly."

The two dressing rooms are also a huge improvement. "Before, we had girls crowded in one small room and the overflow dressing in the bathroom, in the hall, anywhere they could. Here, the studens have plenty of space."

They need it. The two full size teaching rooms have allowed West Point to increase its enrollment, especially among younger students.

During weekdays, Damien and Cynthia work with home schooled students. Beginning at 3 pm, they work with students from area public and private schools. On weekends they're busy all day.

"One thing our students love about this place is its location. During breaks, they can dart right across the street or down the street for something to eat or drink. Down on 4th Avenue we were a long way from any stores or restaurants. There's also a lot more parking here, which the parents love."

In the few short years since its founding, West Point Ballet has grown to become one of the most prominent ballet companies in not only Western Pennsylvania but the nation. Its students have performed at national and world events such as the European Auditions in Barcelona (Spain) and have gone on to study in major companies such as the Bolshoi in Moscow. In addition to local students from Cory, Moon, Robinson, etc., West Point pulls students from Washington, Butler, Newcastle, and towns in Ohio.

This is not only because Damien and Cynthia have become widely known as good teachers and coaches skilled at developing young talent.

It's also because they teach a unique style of Ballet. The Cuban Ballet they grew up in and now teach is a much more innovative, lively, cutting edge and athletic version than the traditional, "set piece" Ballet taught in most studios.

They already had over 100 students but with the larger facility can double that, and enrollment is already up. But it will never climb to more than 200.

"Ballet requires individual attention," Cynthia cautions. "We cannot allow more than 14 in a class."

Every new dancer begins at Level One and progresses up through seven levels.

"Level Seven is serious ballet," she explains. "It's for very dedicated students who intend to make a career out of it."

Many Level Seven dancers are home or cyber schooled so they can get 1-on-1 attention during the day before the larger groups come.

Damien and Cynthia both consider young children as a special category.

"In Cuba, they never start anyone in Ballet until age nine. We're happy to work with them, but we don't push them like we do the older kids. The goals for the younger ones are for them to have fun, learn to love Ballet, understand it, develop their muscle tone so they can make the basic moves, and to come to understand the personal discipline necessary to really develop their talents. If they grasp all that by age nine, they will have a really strong foundation. There will be plenty of time for them to get serious."

Damien has just the right mix of patience and a sense of humor to allow him to handle the younger groups, as seen in photos above and below.

"My leg won't do this," one little girl says. Damien calls her to the front and instructs her to take the correct stance. He places his hand under her calf and lifts.

"Does this hurt?" he asks. She shakes her head.

"Can you stand like this for several minutes as long as I hold your leg up?" he asks. She nods.

"So your leg is fine," he tells her. "But notice it's my muscles holding your leg up. Not your muscles. So the problem is not your leg. It's your muscles. We have to develop your muscles so your legs can do what they were intended to do. Right?"

The girl nods her head rather sheepishly.

"This is the beauty of ballet," Damien explains later. "It teaches muscle tone, balance, body control. It's not just fancy dancing. It's personal fitness carried to its limits."

Now that they have their dream training facility, Damien and Cynthia have to address the need for a performing site.

They put on several shows a year. But they have to do it at the Tull Theater in Sewickley, the Masonic Hall in the North Hills, and Burgettstown High School.

"We have all these local students and nowhere local for them to display their skills," Damien says, shaking his head sadly.

Cornell High School has a fine auditorium and stage but it's reserved almost every weekend all year except for the weekends of graduation and performances by Cornell's own drama program.

Moon does not rent its stage to outside groups. Montour's stage does not meet the technical requirements for Ballet.

"This is a huge problem for us," Damien says. "For the past several years, this new facility has been our top priority. Now that we have this, I have to turn all my attention to getting a local stage for our shows."

Once he achieves that, his next priority will be to attract more boys into their program.

"In Cuba, Russia, Spain, other nations, Ballet is seen as a very masculine activity, just as masculine as football or baseball. Somehow, here in America, Ballet has come to be seen as effeminate. That's just wrong. We have to find a way to change that. For one thing, we have male roles in our shows, so we need males to play them. But beyond that, Ballet would be the perfect off season training for the local football, basketball and baseball teams. It would also be THE training for track athletes in the pole vault, high jump, broad jump and hurdles. Those are all events with running and leaping, which is exactly what Ballet works with."

West Point Ballet has some boys enrolled, but not enough.

Very few West Point students realize the incredible story of their two instructors. It happened before rhey were born and neither Damien nor Cynthia talk about it.

The story began in the Cuban town of Matanzas. Damien and Cynthia were both identified as gifted and recruited to the Cuban National School For The Arts in Havana. They became outstanding dancers (see photo, above), but the story also includes escape from Cuba in a homemade boat in the middle of the night, and positions with the Miami Ballet Company, Columbia (S.C.) Ballet Company, and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

Ballet, like sports, requires young performers. As their performing careers neared an end, Damien and Cynthia began looking around for a location for the school they wanted to found.

"We fell in love with Coraopolis at first sight," Cynthia recalls. "The beautiful old homes, the river, the hills, the woods all around, the classic downtown. Property here was available and affordable. I do not see us ever leaving here."


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Cornell Robotics Team Gears Up For "Big Three"

Cornell's Robotics Team, now in its second season, has already completed tournaments at Aliquippa, Our Lady of Grace (Pittsburgh) and Canonsburg, and is spending this week and next preparing for its three biggest challanges.

Those would be tournaments at Sharon and Shadyside and the Regionals at Sewickley Academy.

With Shayley Barrett, Brooke Bennett, Julia Joranger and Julie Merryman back, the Robot Raiders are way ahead of this time last year, when they were trying to figure out the tournament format and how to design, build and code their one robot.

This year, they have two robots and have the basic code written for both. "We have so much more confidence," beams Coach Cristy Meinert. "We're communicating so much better with teammates and judges." But that doesn't mean it's easy. "The kids get stressed out at these tournaments. This is, after all, a sport. We win or lose. We score points or fail to. Everything is posted up there on the scoreboard, and everybody's watching."

Cornell is the smallest public school in the WPIAL with a Robotics team. There are smaller Catholic and private schools competing, but almost all the public school teams Cornell goes against are from 5A and 6A schools.

But the Raiders hang in there. That trophy in the photos is for first place, and Cornell hopes to snag another one. In addition to the four returnees, Meinert has sixth graders Nick Bennet and Nick Spienock and fourth graders Josiah Frantti, Clara Joranger and Eliza Wingo.

Membership on the Robotics team is open to any student, but the tournament roster is limited to nine.

Anyone who has never seen a Robotics tournament is in for a shock. These 10, 11 nd 12 year olds program their robots to carry out very sophisticated tasks. Each robot carries a "brain," a small brick with more computing power than NASA used to put the first men on the Moon.

And this is not a video game, with students controlling the action from the sidelines. The robot must be autonomous. Once it leaves the station, the students may not touch it or communicate with it.

That means they must write sophisticated lines of code to tell it what to do, and teach it how to think.

So far this year, Cornell's robots can function on their own for several minutes but cannot quite finish the tasks. The big priority this week and next is to finish coding so the robots can complete the tasks and return to the dock on their own.

Each season has a theme. This year's theme is Urban Planning. Robots have to build housing units, a garden, a park, a bridge, etc.

A Robotics team is like a basketball team in that every player must be able to do everything reasonably well and one job exceptionally well. The team needs students who can design, build, code and maintain a robot, plus present information to a judge and answer questions.

"Last year we learned the hard way not to specialize. We had a coder who was really good, but she missed a few key tournaments. We had no one to code. So this year we announced back in August that everyone would learn to code and do every task, so if someone is missing we can still function."

Cornell's current Robotics program grew out of the after school Pride program, which tries to enrich students' educational experiences. Tech Director Kris Hupp sent Meinert to West Virginia to observe and learn about the F.I.R.S.T. Lego League Robotics Competitions.

Cornell has a 21st Century STEAM grant to cover some of the costs. Kristen Bardelli, a Tech Ed teacher, helps out once a week. A FedEx team helps once a week. The Robotics kits come from Mindstorms. The students use Code.org for their coding, which they do on an Apple laptop (seen in the photo three frames up).

Teams in every state compete in Robotics, but the Pittsburgh area is one of the most competitive areas due to Carnegie Mellon, which is a world Robotics center. Meinert points out that many of the Robotics teams Cornell encounters in tournaments are coached by Carnegie Mellon Robotics students.

A typical tournament will attract 20-24 teams.

The Robot is obviously the center of competition, but it's not the only part. Teams have to appear before judges, show their coding (which printed out will take up several pages), explain their design and why they did what they did. Judges score all of this.

Once they advance to the actual playing arena, two members of the team place the robot in the "dock," a marked off square in one corner. Once the robot leaves the dock, they are not allowed to touch it until it returns. The robot has a certain number of tasks it must perform, and it is scored on how fast it completes them and how many errors it makes. Anything it knocks over or misplaces counts against it.

The Robots use Servomotors. These are much more precise than old fashioned motors. A servomotor can run at much lower speeds, control its speed much more exactly, and turn a gear or wheel in much smaller increments, like 1/64th of an inch.

At Cornell, Meinert's team has its playing arena laid out in the school's "Maker Space," which includes a 3-d printer and is used by students from any class working on projects of any kind.

Each season's playing arena is distributed to teams as a rolled up sheet. Once Cornell unrolls theirs and lays it out, it is exactly the same surface as will be found at every tournament. Cornell also receives a kit which includes the parts to whatever bridges, buildings, vehicles or other props will be included. So Cornell can program its robot on its own playing surface and go to tournaments knowing the robot will encounter exactly the same distances, objects and markings.

The robot must then be coded to leave the dock, proceed for, say, 10 feet, turn 53 degrees to the left, proceed nine inches, turn 45 degrees to the right, reach down to the floor, and pick up the blue box. It must then be coded to rotate 40 degrees to the left, carry the box, proceed 15 inches, and place the box on the shelf.

Building these robots is a much more precise task than building the old Erector Set models. The parts are much smaller and the fit much more perfect.

One Mindstorms Robot kit costs about $300. Most teams have backups but only one can be on the playing arena at a time.

The goal at Cornell is for the current Robotics team members to move up. Next year, the three sixth graders will be in seventh grade, so Cornell is hoping to start a middle school program. Three years later, hopefully, it can start a high school program.

High school robotics is where things get intense. The big engineering colleges, including Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T., Purdue, Georgia Tech and Stanford, scout the tournaments and recruit the best students, offering scholarships and perks. A basic high school robotics kit costs $8,000 and most teams add to it specialized parts like eyes and gyroscopes (to help the robot see and keep its balance). A typical high school tournament will ask the robot to play basketball or soccer, use a key to unlock a door, carry boxes up and down stairs, and perform other sophisticated tasks. A high school robot is about the same size as a human being.

But all of that is way in the future. Right now, Meinert is jusr concerned about getting Cornell's robots coded so they can move across the playing arena, operate a tall crane, pick up several shipping container sized boxes, move them to the opposite corner, dig a garden, plant a few trees, return a bat to its perch, build a bridge, and return to the dock without knocking anything over.

The Sewickley Regionals will be Saturday, December 14th.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

Tull Theater To Show All Is True Sunday

Sewickley's Tull Theater will show the 2018 Shakespeare film All Is True Sunday in a special 11:30 a.m. event.

Rather than being a film BY Shakespeare, All Is True is ABOUT the famous British playwright, considered by most as the greatest author England has ever produced.

The film focuses on a dark period in Shakespeare's life. After spending his career building the Globe Theater into the center of drama in England, Shakespeare's life comes crashing down as the Globe burns to the ground. To make matters worse, his only son, Hamnet, has died, and until now Shakespeare busied himself with his career rather than mourn. With that career now literally up in smoke, Shakespeare has time to deal with the loss of Hamnet.

In despair, Shakespeare returns home to his wife and two daughters in Stratford. The wealth he earned from his plays has been lavished on the home and its furnishings, but Shakespeare himself has been mostly absent for two decades.

As a result, his wife and daughters have become rather distant, and he faces the challenge of rekindling their relationships.

He also faces the accusation that while he spent his prime years developing the genius inside of him, he never took time to participate in the real life all around him.

This is a devastating idea. Is it possible the genius who taught everyone so much about human behavior actually knew very little about real people?

This is a quiet drama. There are no epic scenes. It stages one insightful conversation after another. Its value lies in the insight we gain into 1613 small town English life, and the insight we gain into the life and mind of one of the Western world's legitimate geniuses.

But the film is beautifully crafted. Lush filming and great acting make it worth seeing.

Judi Dench plays Shakespeare's wife. She is, as always, superb, "an English treasure" as the London Times puts it.

Kenneth Branaugh plays Shakespeare in a carefully controlled performance. This is a personal, meditative Shakespeare. Ben Elton wrote the script, based on long research into Shakespeare's personal notes and journal.

One of the great insights the film provides is the difference in London attitudes and small town attitudes. Shakespeare's loud, violent, raucous and often bawdy plays were a huge hit in London, but Puritanical small town residents thought them rude, crude and vulgar. So while Shakespeare was lionized in London, he was viewed as an originally goodhearted neighbor who had somehow been led astray by the big city.

Reservations are advised (412-259-8542)

Help Wanted

Graff's Auto Service Center

Auto Mechanic ---------------Must Be ASF Certified

Brakes, Tires, Emissions, State Inspections, Etc.

General Auto Repair Services


Ultra Adventure Storm Hat Is A Winning Design

With a warming climate giving us longer Summers, and everyone more concerned about skin cancer, hats are back in style. But a good hat, especially a good three season hat, is hard to find. Sunday Afternoons (yes, that's the company's name) has studied the hat idea and gathered together the best features of all the other hats out there into one model : their Ultra Adventure Storm Hat.

It's extremely light weight, only 2.9 ounces. The fabric has a UPF 50+ Sun Rating. It's water and stain resistant. There's a wicking sweatband to soak up perspiration and evaporate it up through the crown. The entire crown is porous, allowing for heat to escape quickly. A headband is adjustable, so you can cinch it perfectly to fit. A chin strap keeps it in place in any reasonable wind. The 3 1/4 brim is wide enough to keep all sun out of your eyes. A six inch nylon cape drapes down from the rear to protect your neck.

It's also a rain hat. It's 100% waterproof. The brim conceals three wire reinforcing lengths. The neck cape keeps rainwater from dropping down into your collar.

There's a clever seam in the crown which allows it to be folded so the entire hat can fit into the pocket of a pack or rain jacket. There's no rear brim to bump against your backpack or against the headrest in your vehicle.

We tested this hat in six locations : the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Appalachian Trail coming through the Peaks of Otter section, the Pennsylvania woods, Wyoming's Wind River Wilderness, and a high school and college football game. It worked perfectly in all locations with two exceptions: deep sea fishing and atop the Continental Divide in the Wind Rivers. The wind was extreme. The strap and tightened head band kept the hat on, but the brim flapped around to the point where the hat was unusable. However, you're not going to encounter gale force winds mowing grass, working in your garden, hiking a forest trail, fishing on Lake Erie, at the beach or watching a baseball or football game. In those conditions, this is the perfect hat.

You can order it online at SundayAfternoons.com.

General Laborers Needed

Moon Township Area

Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Pay Rate : $12 per hour

Contact Pauline at 412-221-4541-extension 2111

Try A Tour Of Liberty Pole Distillery

If you're looking for a late Summer or early Fall Saturday road trip, seriously consider the 30 minute jaunt out I-79 to Little Washington and a tour of the Mingo Creek Distillery, which produces Liberty Pole Whiskeys.

It doesn't matter if you're a whiskey drinker or not. The tour is about a third history lesson, a third science lesson, and a third a close up view of how alcoholic beverages are made. But by the time you leave, you may become a whiskey drinker. These are award winning flavors, and they're very tempting.

First, however, you learn about a chapter in American History high school textbooks mostly ignore. It's easy to appreciate this history because you're standing right in the middle of it. Just around the corner is the David Bradford House. Bradford was a leader of the 1791-94 Whiskey Rebellion. Your tour begins in the replicated Mingo Creek Meeting House (photo, four frames down), where the Mingo Creek Society, the local version of the Sons of Liberty, met. Hanging on the wall is an upside down portrait of Alexander Hamilton, locally considered a villain. Up the street is where they erected the Liberty Pole, a symbol of resistance to an unfair tax (photo below left). And there's even a Coraopolis connection. John Neville was the other villain. A close friend of Washington's after their days in the military, he was the Western Pennsylvania tax collector.

After the Revolution, America was deep in debt. The nation's first two major industries were whaling and whiskey making, so Alexander Hamilton decided taxing them was the easiest way to raise funds. Back East, the whiskey tax was no problem. The big commercial distillers dealt in such volume they could easily absorb it. But to the small Scotch Irish farmers of Washington County, it was a different story.

Hamilton had never been to Western Pennsylvania and did not understand the situation. He sent Neville out to measure the stills, which were crude versions of the photo at right. From the size of each still, Neville and Hamilton could calculate an expected annual output. The tax was based on that. But local farmers did not make whiskey all year. They raised livestock and other crops and only used their corn, wheat and rye harvests for a month or so distilling each October. The tax Hamilton and Neville charged was far too high. The farmers could not sell enough whiskey to pay the tax. So they met, agreed not to pay it, and raised a Liberty Pole in Bassett Town (which is now Washington) in defiance.

Neville showed up with a marshall and several deputies to collect the tax. About 500 men chased him back to his house and surrounded it. Neville shot and killed one of the protestors. In retaliation, the mob burned Neville's mansion to the ground. Neville and the Marshall and deputies managed to escape but back East Washington and Hamilton realized they had a Constitutional crisis on their hands. Either the new nation had the will and power to enforce its laws or it did not.

So Washington assembled a force of 13,000 militia and he and Hamilton led them to Pennsylvania. A few protestors were arrested and sent to Philadelphia for trial, the others dispersed, and order restored. Neville fled to Pittsburgh, and would eventually resettle on the island in the middle of the Ohio River that today bears his name. When Thomas Jefferson was elected President, one of his first actions was to repeal the Whiskey Tax. Anyone wanting to read more should buy or check out Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland, or Whiskey Rebellion : Epilogue To The Revolution by Thomas Slaughter.

To book a tour, go to the website Libertypolespirits.com, or phone 724-503-4014. A tour lasts about an hour and costs $20. To reach Mingo Creek Distillery, drive south on I-79, turn west on I-70, go off on the Jefferson Street Exit (the very first exit off I-70 West), bear right, and turn left onto Jefferson Street. Jefferson Street will become West Maiden Street. You'll come to Mingo Creek Distillery on your right. Parking is in the rear.

When you enter the front door (photo, below) you'll find yourself in the replicated Mingo Creek Meeting House (photo below left). Your tour price includes a pretour drink, either a straight whiskey or a mixed drink made with one of their whiskeys. The Meeting House is filled with various artifacts, including the famous upside down portrait of Hamilton.

Your tour guide will fill you in on the history we recounted above, then begin backgrounding you on the basics of whiskey making. If you're used to drinking Kentucky Bourbon, you'll need an adjustment. Those are made from a Corn base. Libety Pole makes theirs from a Rye base except for their Bourbon, which uses corn.

And there's a reason for that. In Colonial history, bread was critical. Pennsylvania was a key supplier of bread to other colonies, and during the Revolution was a key supplier of bread to the Continental Army. To protect bread production a government decree forbade the distilling of wheat or barley. Farmers could only use Rye for distillation.

Whiskey, you'll learn, is distilled from grain (as opposed to Wine, which is made from grapes or sometimes other products like Blackberries, Peaches, Dandelions, Watermelon, etc; or Vodka, which might be made from grain but is just as often made from potatoes or fruits).

They begin with one of those grains, bought from Washington County farmers. They grind it into a flour and add a Malt, which is produced by a farmer from young grain sprouts. This Malt arrives at Mingo Creek having been ground down and screened to remove husks and debris. They add water and heat to create a Mash and add Yeast and let it sit for six days. At this point the mix is very close to Beer. Then they begin raising the heat slowly. The mix turns to steam and rises in the copper tube. It has to be copper, which removes the sulfides. Then condensing tubes with cold water surround the main tube and cause the steam to form liquid drops and drip or run down into the collecting pot.

What is left in the original pot is given to local farmers to be hauled away and fed to livestock.

The "distillate" in the collecting pot can then be run through the distillation process a second time.

At each temperature point, different alcohols are stripped away. For instance, Ethanols come off at 165 degrees.

As can be seen in the photo below, even at this small craft distillery, the vats are large. Liberty Pole begins with 1800 gallons of mash and will end up with 180 gallons of whiskey, enough to fill four 53 gallon barrels. But, by comparison, a major distillery in Kentucky, such as Makers Mark or Jim Beam, would process this much every hour.

In a typical season, Liberty Pole will use a thousand bushels of corn and 700 bushels of rye.

Whiskey making is a blending process. When a whiskey is said to be a Corn Whiskey, that means it is at least 51% Corn. A Rye Whiskey is at least 51% Rye. Malts made from other grains are added to create unique flavors.

Almost every distillery in the world draws its water from special springs or deep wells. Liberty Pole does not. It uses Washington city water. And this, explains Ellen, has confounded experts.

Liberty Pole Whiskeys consistently win major awards. Judges always ask what Jim and Ellen are doing to create their unique tastes.

"It's the water," Ellen grins. "We're blessed here with great water."

That a distillery would use regular city water taken straight from a faucet seems unlikely. So last year an expert asked Ellen to send him a supply of the water. He had his lab test it.

"No," he said. "The lab screwed the test up. It shows your water is very pure except it's filled with several different minerals. This would be the kind of water a commercial company would be bottling and selling at a high price. That obviously can not be true. Send me another sample." The lab redid the test and got the same result.

"I'm no geologist," Ellen explains. "But what apparently is happening is our water is seeping along underground aquifers for long distances before emerging in local springs. While underground, the rock layers are acting as filters, and then the water is dissolving valuable minerals from those rock layers."

Washington and the Mingo Creek watershed are part of the Chestnut Ridge extension of the Laurel Highlands. Water falls as rain up in the mountains east of Uniontown, sinks into the soil and down into the aquifers, then runs along seams in the rock layers for 50 miles or so. The residents of Washington don't even know it, but they're drinking water that people elsewhere would pay a high price for. This water way back in the 1700s allowed the farmers in Washington County (then part of Allegheny County) to produce some of the nation's finest whiskey. They were selling it as far away as Boston for high prices.

Today, that same water is helping Liberty Pole Whiskeys win awards. The major distilleries have taken note. Representatives keep showing up at Liberty Pole tours. In July, one from Makers Mark was here.

But once they collect their whiskey from the distilling apparatus, Jim and Ellen and their sons aren't finished. They have to age it. As seen in the photo at left, whiskey is aged in toasted, charred oaken barrels. Oak wood contains sugars which the living tree used as antifreeze to survive cold temperatures in the Winter. Toasting the barrel caramelizes those sugars. The insides of the barrels are then charred by fire. Activated charcoal has long been used as a filtering mechanism by industry and chemistry labs. Here, it purifies the whiskey.

While the barrels sit for several years, and seasons change, temperatures rise and fall. When the barrels heat up in the Summer, it forces whiskey to expand, and some of it flows through the charcoal layer and deep into the wood sugar layers. Then, as temperatures chill in Winters, whiskey contracts back out of the wood.

During Springs and Falls, whiskey rotates in the barrels, with "fresh" whiskey moving to the outside. It, in turn, pushes out into the wood, then retreats back. This process is what produces the tastes of a whiskey. The longer a whiskey ages, the richer and smoother its taste becomes, and the higher a price it can bring.

As a small distillery, Liberty Pole cannot afford to age its whiskeys long. Until now, it has used small barrels and aged them two years. This year they're using 53 gallon barrels and aging them three years. Jim would like to get to the point where he can age at least some barrels five years. The major Kentucky distilleries age theirs seven years. However, three years is typical for Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey distillers.

The final stage of your tour is the tasting room, where you get to sample six Liberty Pole flavors, while Jim explains the differences. Several Western Hills restaurants, such as 412 on Beaver Grade Road, offer them by the glass or bottle.

Running a small batch distillery always presents challenges. The weather this year has caused a shortage of Rye. Rather than buying locally Liberty Pole has had to ship it in from further away.

But the biggest problem is the supply of Malt. Malt is created by soaking Barley (or any other grain) seeds in water to cause them to germinate (as seen in the photo at left), then drying them to halt the germinating. The tiny sprouts contain valuable enzymes and sugars which are needed to start the Yeast growing.

Once a large supply of germinated seedlings is created, it is then milled to remove the husks and produce a fine blend. This blend is critical. It is the foundation of the taste of the eventual whiskey.

But no local farmers produce Malt. Liberty Pole ships much of theirs in from Minnesota, and some from Inverness, Scotland, where they use a low peat flame to inhibit the germination. The Scotch Malt has a smoky peat flavor, which shows up in the taste of the whiskey. California State University has begun teaching classes in Malting, and the Houghs hope a few local farmers will begin producing it.

Mingo Creek Distillery produces six Liberty Pole drinks. They all use a 61% Rye base except for the Bourbon, which by law must use a corn base. It's the other 39% that determines the flavor. Distiller Jim Hough is very fond of Red Corn (see photo at right), which the Scotch Irish farmers called Bloody Butcher. Red Corn adds a nutty, earthy flavor to the whiskey. As a nod to Pennsylvania's whiskey history, Mingo Creek uses a 1794 recipe to produce Bassett Town Whiskey, which won a 2017 Bronze Medal from the American Distilling Institute. They add Red Winter Wheat to the 61% Rye base to smooth out the Rye flavor, and triple distill it to tame it a little further. If you're a whiskey conneisseur, you'll want to try this, because it lets you taste what people back in Colonial times drank. They didn't age their whiskey, so it was a raw, powerful taste. This was what Colonials had in mind when they said whiskey warmed them up on a cold Winter night. Their Corn Whiskey adds a heavy dose of Red Corn to the Rye base, and double distills it for added smoothness. The barrels add a vanilla flavor. The Rye Whiskey has won Silver and Bronze Medals. It adds a Winter Rye grown in Washington County and a Winter Wheat for smoothness. This is a rich blend, with hints of apricot, brown sugar, spearmint and caramel. The Bourbon has won three Bronze Medals. Instead of Rye, it uses a heavy dose of Red Corn and adds Winter Wheat for smoothness. Their most unique whiskey is their Peated Bourbon, which adds a Peat Smoked Barley to the Red Corn for a sweet smoky flavor. It has hints of butterscotch and gingerbread and won the 2017 Gold Medal from the American Spirits Association. The final Liberty Pole drink is a Bourbon Cream. Jim blends the Bourbon with a cream base to produce this dessert or bed time snack drink, good chilled, in hot chocolate or coffee, or poured over ice cream.

Robin Gilligan

Custom Home Remodelling



The Western Hills' Premier Custom Remodeller

Local Couple Now Running Hatteras Motel

Back in the mid 20th Century, most Western Hills residents went to Lake Erie for their vacations. Then they shifted to Florida. More recently it was Myrtle Beach. In the 21st Century it's North Carolina's Outer Banks, and particularly Hatteras Island. A full 40% of all Hatteras visitors are from western Pennsylvania, and many of those are from the Western Hills.

Now area vacationers heading that way can book a room with someone from this area. Laura and Robert Handlow have bought an old 1950s motel, totally updated snd refurbished it, and are in their first season of running it. Or, to be more accurate, Laura is. Rob is still back here in the Western Hills, running Commercial Construction Company, which specializes in office buildings, corporate headquarters and malls. But within a year or so he'll join Laura on Hatteras and their "retirement" will consist of being full time motel owners. "We just love Hatteras," she told the Record this week. "We've been vacationing here for years, and we decided this is where we want to retire."

They got a great price on the old Falcon Motel, but only because it had been badly damaged by a hurricane and needed extensive work. So far, they've totally redone the rooms and are open for business. They built kitchenettes into each room.

As a matter of fact, they've been sold out most of the Summer.

But they haven't yet finished the pool, a front building which will be an art gallery, a side building which will be a sandwich shop or deli, or a house at the rear which they'll live in. So it will be 2020 before the facilities will be 100% restored. They've renamed it the Swell Motel, after the famous swells which have long drawn surfers and wind surfers to Hatteras. For years, most of the world's most famous surfers and wind surfers stayed at the old Falcon because of its prime location.

The back of the property is a lawn leading down to Pamlico Sound.

The motel looks out on water known as the Canadian Hole, the greatest wind surfing site in the world. The lawn of the motel allows wind surfers to spread out their gear and set up for launching, then land there and disassemble when done.

Meanwhile, right across the road is Buxton Beach, the greatest surfing stretch on the Atlantic Coast. This is short board surfing, different from the long board surfing seen in Hawaii, California and Australia. But, as seen in the photo above right, surfers every day can be seen riding the high, powerful waves, especially during high tides.

Pamlico Sound is also a mecca for kite boarders and parasailers.

Hatteras Island is filled with rental houses, but surfers and wind surfers prefer renting the smaller and less expensiuve motel rooms. There are only five motels close to the Buxton beaches and the Swell has the best location. So Laura is certain they've made a great investment.

Three good restaurants are within a block. A miniature golf course and skateboard park is next door. A fresh fish market is across the street, with local seafood only hours old available every day. The island's top bait and tackle shop is just down the street. Laura has set up grilling facilities and picnic tables along one grassy strip. 20 minutes away, in Hatteras Harbor, is a 20 boat charter fishing fleet guests can use to go deep sea fishing. Those with their own boats can launch them right off the back of the property and fish in Pamlico Sound. The famous Hatteras Lighthouse, tallest in North America, is within sight and is a short bike ride or drive.

It stands 200 feet high and the light still operates every night after 150 years. Visitors can climb its 269 steps for a spectacular look at the island, sound and ocean. A rsnger at the top answers questions.

Laura has acquired kayaks and bikes for guests to use free of charge. The Sound is calm and shallow and ideal for canoeing or kayaking.

Anyone inspired to try surfing, windsurfing, kite boarding or parasailing can take lessons from Ocean Air or Fox Water Sports nearby.

She's already had a steady stream of friends and relatives spend a week or two with her. And the surfers and wind surfers have realized the motel has reopened and begun coming back.

But there have been aggravations, too.

Since the motel was damaged and sat empty for two years, the buildings and pool have to be brought up to 2019 code.

Rob's company is not licensed in North Carolina and that state has no reciprocal agreement with Pennsylvania, so he has to go to Raleigh and pass a written test, a time consuming detail he hasn't yet been able to fit in.

Remodelling the rooms was allowed, but the pool, house and gallery are defined as "structural" and require that license.

The Swell Art Gallery is already in business in a temporary building and is ready to move into her front building as soon as it's complete. Laura is an art appreciator and does some painting herself when she can find time. She anticipates her gallery emphasizing paintings and photography by island artists featuring island scenes.

Laura worries about the house. The hurricane completely waterlogged it and opened a hole in the roof. They've put on a new roof and are in the process of replacing the windows but there is a lot of structural work on the inside needing done.

Temporarily she's living in one of the motel units and using a few other units for staff. But of course that cuts into each week's profits.

She's been down there since January but plans to return "home" for a month or two in October. She and Rob own several rental properties in the Western Hills and haven't decided yet what to do with them.

Wanda Magness actually manages the motel front office while Laura tends to business and details. Wanda will manage the motel while Laura is back here.

Her peak season rates are $165 and $185 per night. Rates are lower in the Spring and Fall. Pets are welcome for an additional $15 per night, but only in certain rooms, so pet owners must check ahead of time.

Even the small houses on the island rent for $1500 a week. If someone stays at the Swell Motel that long, they'll pay a maximum $1300. And the houses rent only by the week. At the Swell, guests could stay for one, two or three nights. So Laura feels she is in a very competitive position.

swellmotel.com. 252-489-4484.


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Emily McCormick Completes Space Camp

A random trip with her grandfather to the Allegheny Observatory to look at Jupiter through their big telescopes set off a whole chain of events for Cornell eighth grader Emily McCormick.

The Fleming Street resident came home and started googling Hubble Telescope pictures. Her Earth Science class in school did a unit on the Solar System. She got to go back to the Observatory with her local Girl Scout troop. She got her own telescope. She held her birthday party at the Allegheny Observatory. And her grandfather, Bill Radocaj, decided that if she was developing a passion for Astronomy, she ought to take a real field trip.

"I grew up during the Apollo Moon missions," he explains. "Like almost everyone my age, I watched every minute on TV. In my mind, Houston was the center of it all. So I thought, let's fly down over Easter Break and visit Mission Control Center." On that trip, they became aware of the U.S. Space Camps at Huntsville, Alabama.

"I thought this sounded like a lot better Summer trip than going to the beach," Radocaj says.

But neither he nor Emily realized just how big Space Camp really was. The week she was there, more than a thousand others joined her. They came from every state and a dozen foreign countries. Emily's mission teammates were from North Carolina, California, Missouri and Maryland. And there are eight one week sessions.

Space Camp offers three levels. The middle school level is very basic but still includes a flight simulator (photo below right) and simulated missions to the Moon. Emily and her teammates had to plan the missions, build equipment like a heat shield, and leave the landing module to set up equipment on the Moon. She was the Pilot on the second mission, and while landed on the surface she also had to carry solar panels outside the module and set them up.

It wasn't all exciting. "Designing and building the heat shield was pretty tedious," she recalls. "It wasn't that difficult, but we had to pay attention to details. A flaw would destroy the mission. Then, while in Space, I had to read six small screens. They were hard to read and you had to keep looking back and forth from one to the other."

Emily's biggest challenge was the Simulator. Motion Sickness prevented her from successfully completing that test.

She wasn't the only one. Out of the thousand or so campers there last week, about a hundred found out they suffered from motion sickness. The photo at right is not of Emily. She couldn't get that far.

"We had a $300 million budget for our missions," Emily explains. "We had to account for everything and finish within that budget. Our team did. We had a little left over."

The Astronaut trainees could have no loose items : no keys, change, or cell phones. So none of them could take any photos. Instead, the school has its own photographers taking photos and making them available to students, their families or the media.

There's a lot of simulation at Space Camp, but the school has been there for 50 years and is extremely well funded. With cutting edge technology, the simulations are very realistic.

The Huntsville facility offers multiple programs. An Air Force Camp involves flight training, uses professional flight simulators, and requires students to escape from a plane underwater, which is the same test the Navy and Air Force require of their pilots. Emily participated in the younger version of the actual NASA Space Program. Then there are versions for high school students.

Advanced Camp is for high level high school students. It involves planning and executing a trip to Mars.

To simulate weightlessness Advanced Camp uses swimming pools and requires students to complete tasks underwater.

After her week of Space Camp, Emily has set being an Astronaut as a definite career goal. But it would be a steep uphill climb.

First, about 9000 students come through the Huntsville program every year and at least half of them dream about becoming Astronauts. So there's plenty of competition for the handful of spots.

Second, Astronauts have to have impressive resumes. Emily has a good start, having been a High Honor student for five straight years. But she'll have to complete math through Calculus. Many potential Astronauts are derailed because their math sklills are not good enough.

Third, there's the Simulator. Somehow, Emily will have to ride upside down roller coasters and other amusement park rides until she overcomes motion sickness. Whether one can get rid of motion sickness just by riding and riding and riding is uncertain. But she thinks she can.

Fourth, she'll have to have outstanding eyesight. Astronauts are advanced pilots, and pilots have to pass vision tests with near perfection.

Cornell High School does not offer Astronomy except as a short unit inside of Physics. But it does have an arrangement with Pitt through which Cornell students can take college courses for dual credit. The courses count toward high school graduation and then count for college credit. And Pitt has a whole range of Astronomy courses.

Another nearby university, Carnegie Mellon, holds the contract with NASA to build the rovers and other vehicles for Mars flights.

So if Emily continues her interest in the space sciences, the opportunities are available.

No one could accuse her of being a science geek. She has other interests. She's off this week to a totally different kind of camp, the outdoors camp run by the Boys & Girls Club. She's a member of the local Girl Scout troop, and plays flute in the Cornell Band.

But she definitely wants to go back to Huntsville, to the high school level camps, where she could receive flight training and participate in simulated Mars missions.

And she has a dream.

NASA is committed to landing Astronauts on Mars by 2033. That's 14 years away. Astronauts on that voyage will ideally be in their late twenties. Half of the crew will need to be women.

In 2033, Emily will be 28. She would have time for four years of college, a masters degree, and five years of NASA training and experience.

From her front yard high on Fleming Street, on a clear night, Emily can look up and see Mars shining brightly in the western sky.

"I'm going," she says. "I can do this."

Pittsburgh Motor Speedway

Pennsylvania's Finest Dirt Track Racing On The Big Half Mile

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Just Beyond Robinson Town Center On Route 22/30

New 4th Avenue Gym Will Offer Fitness Options

For much of the 20th Century, Coraopolis boasted one of Allegheny County's best YMCAs. In addition to its swimming pool, basketball and tennis courts, pool tables and other facilities, the Y offered a fitness center. It was small, located just off the basketball court. But it was in use constantly by everyone from high school football players to corporate executives to townspeople wanting a daily or thrice weekly workout.

Since the Y closed, Cory has had no general fitness facility. Cornell School has a weight room for its students, and there have been a few boxing gyms. But someone wanting a comprehensuve all round gym had to travel outside town.

Mike Reeves (photo, left) and partner Becky hope to change that. In May they opened Angry Mike's Gym in the old Talerico Motors facility on 4th Avenue.

They offer individually designed training programs. Their building (photo, below) is already larger than the old YMCA's fitness center or Cornell's weight room, and they're planning to enlarge it.

They have the usual free weights, rowing machines, treadmills, chinning bars and other equipment. They have a second floor Yoga room where they teach classes. They offer special sessions for younger and older members.

They have some specialized equipment, like the Russian Kettle Bells shown in the photo at bottom. The Kettle Bells are off balance cast iron weights. The fact that they're off balance forces the body to use different muscles than normal dumbbells or barbells. Working out with Kettle Bells thus works the core muscles, shoulders, hips and thighs rather than focusing on the arms.

And this fits in with Mike's overall philosophy. As Crossfit implies, he wants to develop a client's overall fitness, not just focus on a single aspect or a few aspects.

"We'll have people come to us and say they want to reduce their pot belly, or lose weight, or build up their arms, or whatever. We can do that for them. But we counsel them, and try to encourage everyone to develop their whole body, their total ability to move smoothly and efficiently."

CrossFit Gym is a much more individualized program. Most of the commercial gyms charge a monthly fee and then allow the member to come in and use the equipment on their own. Reeves designs a specific plan for each client and then works with them when they're in his gym to make sure the plan achieves the result they agreed on.

"If we tell someone we'll reduce their pot belly or tone their thighs or increase their stamina or whatever, we guarantee we'll do that."

Crossfit is no amateur operation. Reeves was a roving child, moving from place to place as his father was reassigned. He earned his college degree from High Point University in North Carolina, then went through CrossFit's own training program to get certified as a personal trainer and gym owner. Becky graduated from Fox Chapel High School and the University of Rochester. She showed up at a CrossFit gym to develop her own fitness, then got interested in the training and administrative side of fitness. She has a day job as a talent recruiter for Lunova Corporation, where corporations hire her to find them good employees. Mike has no other job.

As part of his training at Crossfit, he and they identified this area as one that had no CrossFit gym or any other such gym. Since Becky was from O'Hara Township, they decided to launch their first gym here. They met Bryan Diggins and John Lyons, who convinced Mike and Becky that Coraopolis was on the rebound and they could be part of its renaissance.

Their gamble seems to be paying off already. Mike's business plan needs 40 members a month to succeed. He already has 100. And they're not all from Cory. He has members from Moon, Robinson, McKees Rocks and Aliquippa.

CrossFit's main program is expensive at $150 a month. "The personal coaching we provide costs more," he admits. "Remember we guarantee results. Our rate is the same as any other personal trainer woulde charge."

But if someone just wants a place to come in 3-5 days a week and work out on their own they could pay $50.

Interestingly, 60 of Mike's 100 members are women. "Women's mindsets have changed," Becky explains. "They're watching TV and seeing all the women playing soccer, basketball, skiing and tennis, and they're seeing all those shows where women are running competitive obstacle courses, and women are saying 'Hey, I can do that,' and finding local gyms to get in shape."

But it's not all weight lifting. Mike and Becky are firm believers in Yoga.

They also like Planking, an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a position similar to a push up for the maximum possible time (see photo, below left). There's the forearm plank which is held in a push-up-like position, with the body's weight borne on forearms, elbows, and toes. Many variations exist such as the side plank and the reverse plank. The photo below shows a 45 degree angle plank using a wooden box. The plank strengthens the abdominals, back and shoulders. 

CrossFit Gym offers classes in Lifting (photo, left), Conditioning, and MonoStructural Strength (rowing, biking, etc.).

Because of the member numbers, Mike and Becky are already looking to expand.

There's a large area out back they could convert into a Kids' area. There's the old showroom they could convert into an Exercise Bike area, where they could hold "Spin Classes."

But there are other possibilities. Their 4th Avenue location is two blocks up from The Towers and two blocks down from the old YMCA apartments. Both facilities hold a large numnber of older residents. Mike and Becky employ a 60 year old woman coach who specializes in exercise, conditioning and strength programs for older customers. The gym is mostly empty on weekday mornings. There is no reason why Mike and Becky could not develop three or five day a week programs for those residents.

"We have older people who begin having trouble climbing stairs, or standing up after sitting in a soft chair or sofa, or pushing a lawnmower around their yard. What has happened is their muscles have atrophied. We can rebuild those muscles so they can move again. We also have people who want to walk a few miles each day but with snow, ice, rain, or heat, it gets difficult. We could let them walk in here, circling the downstairs gym and then walking up and down the stairs to the Yoga room."

He also has a large gym with very high ceilings in a town where baseball coaches have long sought an indoor facility for preseason conditioning and skill sessions when the weather precludes them working outside. Early season baseball practices involve a lot of running, conditioning, lifting, catching and throwing and don't need an entire baseball field to do it. Whether Little League, Pony League or High School, there is a potential market for CrossFit.

The CrossFit facility, as you can see from the photo above, has two huge garage doors which can be opened on good weather days. This will let everyone driving by on 4th Avenue catch a glimpse of what is going on inside. "We can't get much better advertising than that," Mike smiles.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

Mindful Ink Makes Your Body A Work Of Art

Michelle Hoffman and Amanda Cokewell were quite happy in Puerto Rico. Their tattoo business was thriving, they lived near a beach in a tropical paradise, and they had a laid back lifestyle.

Then Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. They lost everything and the town and island faced a decades long rebuilding job.

Both Michelle and Amanda had been sort of missing the changing seasons anyway. "Down there, it's Summer all year round, but you don't have Spring or Fall. And even Winter is kind of neat with the snow." So it was time to move back to the States. Since they'd have to start again from scratch, they decided the best strategy would be to move to a place they were familiar with.

Home for Michelle was Moon Township. For Amanda it was Imperial. So Michelle started looking. When the old Rechione's Cleaner's on Fifth Avenue became available, she grabbed it.

One factor which attracted Michelle to locate in Cory was the college population of Robert Morris. And there's a solid teenage and 20s - 30s population. Mindful Ink has been doing quite well since opening.

Its success is not all that surprising. The two women are extremely well qualified. Tattooing is, after all, a type of art. Amanda (photo, below) graduated from Atlantic University in Graphic Arts, while Michelle (photo, left) went to Pittsburgh Art Institute. They each have their specialties within tattooing, and they can also do piercings, eyeliners, lip liners, concealers, and microblading (using pigment injections to supplement sparse eyebrows). .

At its most basic level, tattooing is Art. They have books of designs clients can browse through to look for a design they like, be it flowers, birds, dragons, cartoon figures, planets, or just about anything. Or Amanda can use her IPad and design one, as shown below.

"She's really good at that," Michelle says. "She's more up on technology than I am."

Then the design can be printed onto a stencil. It's cut out, as seen below left. The client's skin is rubbed with alcohol and the form is pressed against the skin, so the design transfers to the skin. The tattooist then follows the lines with the tattoo needle.

Different states have different licensing and certification requirements, but nowhere in the nation is there a school or formal training for tattoists. First, an aspiring young artist finds a licensed tattoist to apprentice under. Michelle apprenticed under Sean McCarthy on Pittsburgh's South Side. Amanda apprenticed under Michelle . Then they have to pass rigorous tests, similar to nurses' tests, on disinfectants, sterilization, bloodborn pathogens, and other health and medical details. They have to retest every year on some items, every two years on others. They also have to pass personal blood tests every year to prove that they are not carriers of any kind, and they have to be innoculated, then receive booster shots, to maintain those immunities. New York, Puerto Rico and California have the most rigorous requirements. Pennsylvania is among the least rigorous, which is why there are so many tattoo shops here. In states with much stricter licensing, there are far fewer shops.

Even though it's not required locally, Michelle and Amanda maintain licensing and certification elsewhere should they ever want to relocate.

Michelle began her career in 1995, Amanda in 2005, so they've been around long enough to see tattoing trends come and go. Right now, smaller tattoos are in fashion, minimalist drawings with no colors, as shown in the third photo below on the left.

"If someone wants a big panoramic tattoo in full color we can do it," Amanda says. "But we get very few people any more who want one."

The cost varies according to size, intricacy, number of colors, location, skin type, whether it's a standard design or needs custom drawn, and other details.

A very small tattoo with no colors might cost $30.

One tattoo session usually runs 60 minutes. A very small tattoo might be done in one session, but a typical tattoo requires two or three sessions.

This is due to pain tolerance. "Almost everybody knows in advance the tattoing hurts," Amanda explains. "But how one tolerates that pain varies. Some people take it fine. Others ask us to stop after half an hour or 45 minutes. The average is an hour. I've had two clients quit on me. They just couldn't handle the pain."

What causes the pain is the needles penetrating the skin. A modern high tech tattoing needle is not a single needle, but multiple needles acting together, rapidly plunging in, pulling out, plunging in, etc. They have to penetrate below the first two layers, called the Epidermis, to the third layer, called the Dermis, as seen in the diagram below. The top layer is what you see and refer to as "skin." But skin cells are constantly being scraped off, rubbed off, or simply age and fall off. Below the "skin" is the replacement layer, the new skin, so it's ready to rise to the surface and become the outer skin. It's these two layers, the skin and the new skin, that the needles have to get below. On the other hand, it cannot penetrate any further, into the layers of fat or capillaries. If the ink were shot into those layers it would diffuse out and the tattoo might look smudged.

While a tattoist is basically an artist, their art is specialized in very odd ways. "Instead of drawing or painting on a canvas, or a computer screen, you're drawing or painting on a curved surface, a surface which stretches, a surface with imperfections, and a surface which can feel pain," Amanda points out. "Tattooing is part Art and part Customer Service."

A new high tech tattooing machine costs about $600-700. But that doesn't include the set of needles, inks, power source, pedals, liners and shaders. Juat like an artist will have a set of brushes or pencils, a tattooist needs a set of needles of varying shapes and thicknesses. However, unlike the set of brushes and pencils, tattooing needles are disposed of after each use.

New tattooists practice on themselves, which is why tattooists are usually covered with tattoos. Some people will allow tattooists to practice on them as a way of getting a free or inexpensive tattoo. And there's actually fake skin you can buy to practice on.

Michelle and Amanda avoid overscheduling. Mindful Ink is open daily from 2-10 pm. Each woman schedules an absolute maximum six clients a day. "You have to consult with a client, pick a design, fill out forms, explain to them how it works, and then do the actual tattooing. You have to take the time to do all this very professionally. You can't hurry the artwork. So to squeeze in six clients in one eight hour day is really pushing it. Most days we do less. I really prefer one or two a day."

Little details become extremely important. "One of the tricks a beginner has to master is where to place your hand. You could smudge your own work if you're not careful."

Amanda is particularly concerned with educating the client about taking care of their tattoo. "It's like buying a painting and bringing it home. You can't just hang it and forget it. You have to be careful. You can't hang it in the sun or it will fade. You can't hang it in the bathroom or out on the porch where moisture will degrade it. Notice museums with valuable original paintings don't even allow people to take flash photographs because the light will degrade the art. Well, a tattoo is like that. You can't expose a tattoo to sunlight. If you get a tattoo, your days of going to the tanning bed or laying out in the sun in your backyard or at the beach are over. You need to keep it covered with high powered sunblock just for regular exposure to the sun, like mowing grass or working outside. And swimming, especially in chlorine pools or saltwater, will affect tattoos. The colors will fade and dull. The details will become less sharp. All of this is especially true in the month right after you get the tattoo, but it's still true even after that."

They also need to discuss the client's skin. "Skin color affects a tattoo. The ink in a tattoo mixes with the pigment in the dermis. So a standard red may become a lot deeper red on a skin which is brown or olive. Yellows and blues in particular are altered by skin colors. We have to educate clients. For instance, they'll think we can apply a white and it will show up white. No it won't. White is the absence of color, so whatever color is in the skin will fill in that white space."

Many clients come in not wanting a new tattoo but wanting an old tattoo retouched, refreshed, updated. Colors can be brightened.

But Amanda emphasizes that they cannot remove a tattoo. "That's the job of a dermatologist, and the truth is, even for a good dermatologist removing a tattoo is a very difficult job."

The best Michelle and Amanda can do is cover an existing tattoo with a new tattoo. "We see a lot of tattoos that were done by tattooists who were really not professionals. The tattoo is not very good. Anyone can order the needles and equipment online. We see clients who did their own tattoos, or had a friend do them, or went to a cheap shop run by someone with no artistic skills. We can sometimes work on a tattoo and improve it a bit, but there's only so much we can do."

Michelle is excited about her Coraopolis location. "The town is seeing a major revival," she says. "And we're right here on the main street downtown. When I came back from Puerto Rico and saw the Rechione's ad, I walked up and down Fifth Avenue for a few blocks. Wow, I thought, look at all the new businesses opening up. The town was sort of declining for a while, but now it's coming back strong. And we're going to be right here."

Hydrangea Dominate June In Coraopolis

June's here, school's out, and all over Coraopolis and the Western Hills the Hydrangea are blooming.

These plants, ranging from 2-8 feet tall depending on species, have become one of the most popular landscaping elementa in this area.

There are giant Snowball Hydrangea and tiny Dwarf Hydrangea. Not all produce flowers that look like huge balls. Lacecap Hydrangea produce a flower like the one at right, with small flowers in a circle around a center of bead size blooms.

Once Hydrangea begin blooming in mid June they continue to bloom all Summer. The flower colors depend on the acidity of rhe soil. The more acid soils produce red, slightly acidic pink, and base soils blue. Pine needles in the soil tilt it acidic and usually produce pink or red flowers.

Some local residents use a row of the larger Hydrangea as hedges.

Hydrangea fans often wrap a fence section around their plants and cover them with leaves for the Winter, but the plants seem to survive without this.

Van Gogh Art Comes To Life At Phipps

The Phipps Conservatory has been presenting creative floral exhibits since 1893 but this Summer's is surely one of its most unique.

The horticulturists at Phipps have taken Vincent Van Gogh's Nature paintings and reproduced them as life sized scenes using flowers, leaves and stems on every surface.

Van Gogh saw Nature and Art as inseparably linked. "In Nature, in trees for instance, I see expression, a soul as it were," he wrote to his brother in 1882. Van Gogh came to believe that the only way to know and understand Nature was to live and work in the middle of it, in what he called "the unspoiled countryside."

He became famous for his use of vibrant yellows and blues, bright and intense. He found yellow in scenes no one else had noticed before : in fields of grain, buildings, starry nights. He contrasted his yellows with blues and reds.

As soon as you walk in the front door, you confront "Self Portrait" at left, recreated entirely out of flowers. Jordyn Melino, Associate Director of Exhibits at Phipps, chose Black Scallop and Burgundy Glow Bugleweed and Orange and Yellow Kalanchoe to match Van Gogh's paints.

But what awaits you inside is even more spectacular. As the next two photos show, Phipps has taken nine of Van Gogh's pastoral paintings and recreated them in a three dimensional life sized panorama. As you enter each room, a print of the original painting is displayed so you can easily compare it to Melino's recreation.

If you look closely, every detail---the green sweater on the farm woman, the red roof on the shed, etc. --- has been recreated in flowers that match the colors on Van Gogh's painting.

One problem was Van Gogh's "Sunflowers." Sunflowers don't bloom until late Summer so they weren't available to use in the recreation. Instead, Melino uses yellow Dahlias, Zinnias, Daisies and Bells to create the same bright yellows.

Another challenge was his "Night Cafe," in which he portrayed the Cafe de l'Alcazar in southern France. Van Gogh cast the cafe in dark colors to represent "the dark passions of humanity." The reproduction features two pool tables with sticks and balls, tables and chairs in the corners, and wine and liquor bottles. To capture Van Gogh's dark mood, Melino uses Deep Red Hibiscus, Daystar Yellow Trailing Begonia and Estrella Voodoo Verbena.

"Olive Trees" presented a different problem. Melino wanted to use Olive leaves, flowers and stems, but Olive trees don't grow in Pennsylvania. She finally found a few American growers to obtain the needed parts,plus several full sized living Olive trees.

Van Gogh's night time painting "Starry Night Over The Rhone" required more dark tones. They used Serena Blue Snapdragons and Dark Star Coleus.

The two most elaborate recreations are shown here. "Red Vineyards Near Arles" at right and "Houses at Auvers" are so detailed benches are set in place so you can relax and absorb everything.

In these two recreations some liberties have been taken. Van Gogh had the stream further to the right in his painting and had all the people on the left side. But the way the Phipps room is built required the stream be in the middle. There are more workers pictured in the painting. The scene stretches all the way to the horizon, with the shed far in the distance and much more distance between it and the cart. Obviously, the room did not allow that kind of depth, so everything was foreshortened, the shed made larger and the cart placed closer.

In "Houses at Auvers"below, there were more houses to the left of the main house and the brick archway was not shown. But the archway was an entrance to the next room so had to be included. And the wall is still there, and the red flowers on this side are still there. Notice the green roof of the houses is made of plant leaves.

One of Van Gogh's characteristics was his portrayal of the Sun as a large glowing ball. Melino echoed this with large floral balls of bright yellow. There's even a floral Moon of white flowers.

Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch artist born in 1853. He created 860 oil paintings, of which the landscapes are most famous. Van Gogh created the use of extremely bold colors and expressive brush strokes. He led the evolution of painting beyond Impressionism to a more lively, captivating style.

But he was not appreciated during his lifetime and has become the classic symbol of the poor, struggling artist. He was happiest when painting rural landscapes or scenes of peasants working in the fields.

Prior to Van Gogh artists tended to use the more earthy colors. He lifted the palette to the bright side, the intense reds, yellows and blues. Critics today give Van Gogh credit for his intensity.

He also developed a love for certain plants and used them in his paintings whenever possible : Olive and Cypress trees, Wheat, Grapes and flowers, especially large and bright flowers.

While the show is going on, the gift shop has stocked Van Gogh books, prints and other items.

There is also a Growing With Van Gogh series of classes offered.

The Phipps Conservatory maintains a series of rooms with permanent plant collections. While you're there for the Van Gogh exhibit, you can also wander through those.

One of the more spectacular is the Cactus Room. As seen here at right, it contains large and beautiful examples of Cacti, not only from U.S. deserts, but from around the world. Their Saguaro Cactus is only five years old, so is not the kind of giant you see in photos of Arizona, but many other species are huge, so big you have difficulty getting good photos.

There's a large rooftop vegetable garden, part of a display on sustainable living. They have some of the most impressive garden plants you've ever seen, including knee high Kale, Swiss Chard and Spinach. Most of their plants are growing in raised beds, which Phipps recommends for urban gardeners.

Another of their more spectacular rooms is the Cuban Collection. Phipps has a special relationship with Cuba. It sends researchers and interns to the island to catalogue and study the local plants, many of which grow nowhere else.

As part of this exchange, Phipps has created a Cuban Collection, which includes one large regular room and one multi level room.

There are labels and signs everywhere, explaining what plant it is and what food, medical or economic use it has. Especially prominent are the Palm trees, Ferns and large flowering plants. Waterfalls, gurgling streams and quiet pools add to the Cuban experience.

a Japanese room includes several examples of Bonsai, the art of growing trees in small containers and shaping them into unique forms.

Phipps offers a Spice & Fruit Room, filled with exotic scents and edibles.

A Butterfly Room contains hundreds of plants Butterflies like to draw nectar from. There are boxes containing butterflies in the egg, larva and pupal stages. As you walk through the room, butterflies are flitting all around you, lighting on flowers and sometimes on you. Shown here at right is a Leopard Butterfly. Different Butterflies emerge from cocoons st different times. Whichever species has recently emerged will be quite plentiful in the Butterfly Room. Right now, in mid June, the Leopards are the dominant species.

The Fern Room contains not only American ferns but ferns from around the world. Some are huge and some quite bizarre.

The Orchid Room shows the world's most impressive Orchids, many in full bloom.

Phipps has created a special Children's Garden where kids can learn more about plants while playing games or trying to solce puzzles. There are magnifying glasses and microscopes for them to use.

Phipps holds special Van Gogh exhibit sessions after dark Fridays. They use special lighting to show the recreations in more dramatic fashion.

There is a very good Cafe in Phipps. The Bean & Green Soup, Quiche of the Day and Cuban Stew are particularly worth ordering.

To visit Phipps from Coraopolis, take the Parkway and the Oakland exit, turn right onto Graft Avenue, go one block, turn left, and drive two miles into Schenley Park. Turn left across the bridge and the Conservatory will be on your left. Parking is on the streets.

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Looking For A Different Kind Of Vacation?

Planning this year's vacation and getting tired of Myrtle Beach, Disney World and Caribbean cruises?

Hit the rails. Try Amtrak. The national railroad passenger network offers all sorts of vacation packages. You can leave your car at home, take an Uber to the Pittsburgh station, and head out for adventure.

At first glance Amtrak trips seem expensive. But you're not paying for hotels or meals, gas, wear and tear on your tires and vehicle, or mileage on your vehicle when you trade it in. You don't have to drive, so you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

And you really get two vacations in one. Wherever you choose to go is one vacation. And Amtrak itself is a vacation. You bed down for the night with twinkling lights drifting by your window and wake up to the sunrise. The swaying of the car gently rocks you to sleep. Meals in the dining car are equal to a 3-4 star restaurant.

You can roam around the train to stretch your legs. Then you can sit in the Observation Car and watch America go by. You make friends with other passengers from other states and other nations.

You could travel by Amtrak dirt cheap by buying a seat in Coach. But you don't want to. You want to buy either a Roomette or a Deluxe Room. Both have seats, as seen at left, during the day, and the attendant converts them to two beds at night. The difference is the Deluxe Room contains a sink, shower and toilet. There are showers, sinks and toilets down the hall for roomette customers. Amtrak also offer Family Bedrooms with four beds.

Your purchase of any sleeping facility includes three meals a day in the dining car. On the shorter runs from Pittsburgh to Chicago, New York or Washington this may not matter, since you'll board late in the evening or early in the morning, so your only meal will be breakfast. However, on the longer distance trains the meals are one of the highlights of the trip.

The Amtrak sleeping rooms are clever pieces of design. Little storage nooks and crannies, nets, hooks and bars allow you to keep track of all your items and hang your clothes. Two steps built into the wall allow access to the upper bunk. Amtrak supplies linens, blankets, pillows, washcloths, towels and other items.

There is a problem, however. The rooms were not designed for huge suitcases. If you have one, you'll want to keep it down the hall in the luggage foyer. Frequent Amtrak passengers learn to pack concisely and bring either a small roller suitcase or one of the travel packs designed to meet airport carryon requirements, which are usually 28 x 20 x 9.

Showering on a moving train is an acquired skill, but the big stations offer shower facilities where you can lather up without keeping one hand on a side rail.

Do not let the Pittsburgh Amtrak Station discourage you from travelling by train. Pittsburgh has the worst major city passenger station in the nation. And this is especially sad since it had one of the best. It sold it to a developer who converted it to apartments. The building is on the National Historic Register but Amtrak now operates below and behind the beautiful old Pennsylvania Union Station with its famous Rotunda. You enter directly off Liberty Avenue, across from the Greyhound Bus Station. The waiting room is in the basement. Stairs, an escalator and an elevator lead up to the tracks. Where it once had 24 trains a day departing, Pittsburgh today has only four : the Capitol Limited, which runs from Washington to Chicago, and the Pennsylvanian, which runs from Pittsburgh to New York. You then connect with long distance Amtrak trains going everywhere in the nation.

The photo at left shows the entrance to Chicago Union Station, where most Pittsburghers travel to catch trains heading South and West. You board Amtrak in the evening, sleep through most of the trip, and arrive in Chicago just after breakfast. Heading to New York or Washington you board in the morning and arrive in the afternoon.

The four long distance trains most Pittsburghers take out of Chicago are The Empire Builder, which runs to Seattle; the California Zephyr, which runs to San Francisco, the Southwest Chief, which runs to Los Angeles by way of the Grand Canyon, and the Texas Eagle, which runs to Los Angeles by way of San Antonio and Yuma. These trains run directly through such national parks as Glacier and Rocky Mountain and close by a dozen others. The Grand Canyon Railway takes you on to the lodges at the rim of the Canyon and buses and Ubers take you to the others.

To give our readers a close up look at 2019 train travel, we are sending a team of three reporter/photographers on Amtrak's Grand Circle tour, which circumnavigates the U.S. by rail. They'll be filing stories daily on their experiences.

To explore your own travel options, go to Amtrak.com or to speak to an agent 1-800-USA-Rail or 1-800-872-7245.


The Place For Breakfast & Lunch

701 5th Avenue, Coraopolis

7 a.m. - 2 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays

Capitol Limited Is Gateway To Adventure

Compared to Amtrak's famous trains, the Capitol Limited is a quiet role player. Two thirds of its run is in darkness. It doesn't pass through or near any national parks. It doesn't have one of the elite dining cars for which Amtrak is famous. No movies have been filmed on board. It doesn't boast of a long history from back in pre-Amtrak days. Even in its own backyard the Broadway Limited and Twentieth Century Limited surpassed it.

But the Capitol Limited still holds a fond spot in Western Hills hearts. For it's where the great Amtrak trips begin and end. Just as the drive to and from the beach or to and from Disney World are often as nostalgic as the destinations themselves, so does the Capitol Limited share in the glory of great train trips.

Going to the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain or Glacier National Park? It's the Capitol where you move your luggage on board, grab your first night's sleep on a train, or eat your first meal while watching the country roll by. You learn how to shower on a moving train, walk down the aisle without falling into someone's lap, and figure out timetables.

Especially for first time train riders, the Capitol Limited forms their lasting impressions. It becomes their standard for comparison. The Conductors, Attendants, Baggage Clerks, Waiters and Engineers on the Limited will forever be their idea of what "normal" is.

First comes the assembling of the random group of people who will be travelling with you for the next several days. This group will include retirees, European visitors, college students, Amish or Mennonites, backpackers, train lovers, vagabonds, writers nd others. At left, a college student plays his Guitarlele, a cross between a guitar and ukelele. He entertained the waiting crowd at the station for over an hour. Then the building vibrated as the train pulled in.

Fortunately for Amtrak, the Limited generally creates a very positive first impression. It's usually on time. The big, muscular engine looks like it's ready for adventure, emerging out of the darkness, sitting there hissing and throbbing as passengers hurry to load. As the Limited crosses the river the view out the windows of the Pittsburgh skyline is dramatic. The Limited heads down the Ohio Valley, between the water and the boulevsrd, offering beautiful night views of Neville Island and Coraopolis. Picking up speed, it races past Sewickley, Ambridge, the Conway Yards and Rochester before slowing for the sharp bend where it turns north and heads for Ohio.

By then, the adrenalin rush has worn off and riders are ready for bed. The seats are converted to bunks. Everyone draws straws or otherwise chooses who gets the top bunk. For the first time people realize just how small these roomettes are, and have to maneuver to change clothes. Some need help climbing into the top bunk. Kids usually love it. Adults may not have slept in a top bunk since Summer Camp and may view it skeptically.

Another way to do it is for each rider to purchase a roomette and use the top bunk for luggage, as seen in the photo below. This is more expensive than two riders sharing a roomette, but oddly enough, two roomettes are still cheaper than one Deluxe or Family Bedroom.

Very few riders wake in the middle of the night as the Limited stops briefly at Alliance, Cleveland, Sandusky and Port Huron. Early risers may catch Toledo at dawn. Most wake up somewhere in Indiana. By Elkhart and South Bend riders are finishing breakfast. They're packing up as the train passes through the industrial zone of Gary and East Chicago. Drawbridges pass by. Huge cargo ships sit along the shore of Lake Michigan, loading wheat, coal, corn, steel or soybeans. Railroads always pass much closer to major industrial facilities, sometimes right through the middle, so you get a better view of America's agricultural and manufacturing strength than you do driving or flying.

You also see corners of a city's residential neighborhoods you would never see by car. The tracks run through miles and miles of Chicago's Projecta.

Finally you enter Chicago's railroad center. Every kind of engine, freight train, and other passenger trains appear. There's Illinois High Speed Rail, Chicago's Elevated Railway ("The El"), Metro Transit, short distnce Amtrak trains heading for Detroit and other nearby cities.

Chicago isn't the only direction Western Hills vacationers can head on the Capitol Limited. You could also catch it to Washington, where you could catch the Palmetto to Disney World, Fort Lauderdale's beaches, or Miami and the Everglades.

You could also travel only as far as Chicago or Washington and spend a very enjoyable weekend or week there.

To make your own plans, go to Amtrak.com or call 1-USA-RAIL.

Pittsburgh Motor Speedway

Pennsylvania's Finest Dirt Track Racing On The Big Half Mile

Sprint Cars - Late Models - Sportsmen - 6 & 4 Cylinders

Every Saturday Night : 7 -11 pm

Just Beyond Robinson Town Center On Route 22/30

Chicago's Station A Well Maintained Treasure

A century ago, cities considered train stations their front door. Before car and plane traffic rose after World War II, trains were how most travellers arrived. The appearance a station presented and the services it provided created the first impression everyone received. Both railroads and cities took great pride in their stations and went to great lengths to guarantee that their appearances and services were the very best anywhere.

Chicago still thinks like this.

You could spend a day wandering around Chicago's Union Station, admiring its architecture and taking photos. The view from the street at right announces that this is a place of significance, where important people pass through and are provided with the proper amenities.

This is the hub of Amtrak operations. Trains depart here heading north, south, east and west. Every one of Amtrak's famous long distance trains begins here except for the ones running up and down the coastlines. It's more like an airport, with trains arriving and departing constantly. The El (the local mass transit), taxiis, buses, Ubers, and even watercrsft pick up and drop off here.

Inside, Union Station is cavernous. Shown at left is one of the waiting rooms. Works of art, especially sculpture and paintings, decorate each room and hallway. Staircases are wide, as seen in the photo below. There's lots of marble and brass. Murals depict scenes from Chicago history.

The station is busy 24 hours a day. There are snack bars, news stands, ticket counters and baggage areas. With your boarding pass you gain admission to exclusive waiting lounges offering comfortable chairs and sofas, work tables, plugs, wifi and a complimentary snack bar (photo below).

Chicago Station originally opened in 1925. It cost $75 million and took 10 yars to build. Including approaching and departing tracks, it covers nine city blocks. A total of 24 tracks enter the station area. Last year three million four hundred thousand passengers passed through the station, averaging 140,000 a day. Amtrak officially owns the station. 27 Hollywood movies have been filmed here. Several past restorations have kept the building modern and another series of renovations is about to begin, some involving trackage and some involving added customer services inside rhe station.

If your layover between trains is long enough, you're only a few blocks from the Willis Tower, Michael's Grille (the official beginning of Route 66), and Greektown, the largest Greek community in the world outside Greece and home to several of the best Greek restaurants and the world's largest Greek museum outside Greece.

Every 30 minutes or so a new train arrives, or the announcer calls for boarding a departing train, and a flood of riders fill the track area. It's a busy place, with a dozen tracks. Trains are arriving and departing, loading and unloading, and being cleaned and serviced in preparation for a departure in perhaps an hour or two.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

Empire Builder One Of World's Great Trains

Amtrak runs a lot of great trains. At the top of the list would be the Chicago-San Francisco Zephyr, the Chicago-L.A. Chief, and the Chicago-San Antonio-L.A. Texas Eagle. But nothing --- nothing --- touches the Empire Builder. Created and run for 100 years by the Great Northern Pacific railroad of James Hill, the Empire Builder was taken over by Amtrak in 1974. It has kept the run just as it was.

The Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle. It takes three days and stops at Milwaukee, St. Paul, Fargo, Minot, Havre, Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Spokane, Leavenworth and Everett. The train has 13 cars from Chicago to Spokane, where 'several of the cars are split off, coupled to a different engine and sent to Portland. The rest continues on to Seattle. On the return trip, the train stops while the Portland segment is coupled to the back of the main train.

The Empire Builder is the best of what Amtrak has to offer. It uses new diesel engines but the classic 1983 built cars. It has a dining car that if it were a brick and mortar restaurant would rank four stars. It has a beautiful observation car (photo, right), with heavily padded armchairs facing floor to ceiling windows so riders can enjoy the views. There's a snack bar for between meals. The train offers three different sleeping accomodations : a roomette, a deluxe room with full bath, and a family room that can sleep four. For those on a bare bones budget, there are Coach cars, with reclining seats and much more room than an airplane.

With the purchase of a sleeper compartment, three meals a day for each occupant come free. Those in Coach can buy theirs as they go.

There's no wifi on board (Congress won't fund it), but there's a workaround. . You can buy an IPhone with wifi module, then plug the IPhone into the computer. You'll be using data, but you can get online

The train itself is great but it's just as famous for the scenery it passes. The lush farmland of Wisconsin and Minnesota, the wide open high plains of North Dakota and eastern Montana, and then the mountains of western Montana, Idaho and Washington. Some riders do a round trip once a year just to sit the whole way in the observation car and enjoy the scenery.

Even if you're in Coach or a Roomette, the train includes surprisingly nice showers. Amtrak provides towels, washcloths and soap.

Be aware, though, that the train fills up, and Amtrak uses variable pricing, so the closer to train time you order the more you'll pay. For these two reasons, we urge you to make reservations early --- about three months early.

Remember to pack light. An Osprey Farpoint or a small wheeled pack is best. They have to fit in the bedroom with you and there's very limited space.

The Empire Builder is not without problems. It shares the tracks with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. This route is the most heavily trafficked freight rail run in the country. Much of the right of way is still double or triple tracked, but some sections were reduced to one track during the cutbacks and The Empire Builder has to take a siding and wait until the freight passes. This can slow it down. Even worse, the train has been stopped in Whitefish by deep snow and avalanches, and at Glacier Park once by a freight derailment. Staff and passengers waited patiently while the issue was solved, then continued on three days late. But such instances are rare and often the train is ahead of schedule.

O.C. Smith Has Ridden The Rails For 35 Years

Amtrak has billions of dollars invested in engines, cars, stations, tracks and other equipment. But its greatest asset is the men and women who work its trains, especially its long distance trains. And the longer they stay, the more valuable they become, because it takes a lot of knowledge, practice and insight to administer a three day train trip.

One of those veterans is O.C. Smith, a 35 year veteran who has worked the last 20 on the Empire Builder. He's a Passenger Attendant.

Smith presents a big smile and cheerful attitude to passengers, but this is an exhausting job. Smith lives in Seattle. He arrives at the station two hours early to prepare his car for departure. It takes three days on the rails to reach Chicago. Smith then has to clean his car. He gets a brief break at a hotel before reporting back to prepare for the return trip. Then it's three more days on the rails. That'a a six day run. He's on the train 24 hours a day.

Every morning, while passengers are eating breakfast, he makes up every room on his car, converting the two beds into seats and a table. Every evening, while they're at dinner, he converts them back and makes up the beds for the night.

Every time the train stops, at cities like Milwaukee or Minneapolis, at small towns like Minot or Shelby, or at Glacier National Park or the Cascades, he opens the door, sets out a stepping stool, and helps each passenger step down up.

Spending three days on a train is exciting, but passengers are usually eager to step outside for a smoke, some exercise or to check out the stations. It's Smith's job to make sure they don't wander too far, and that they get back on the train in time.

Smith didn't start on the Empire Builder. It's a prestigious route. Amtrak staffers bid for jobs, and the ones with the most seniority gets first choice. So it takes several years to work up to one of the major long distance routes. He lived in Chicago to start and was "on call," that is, he worked whatever he was assigned. He did sometimes get assigned to fill in for someone on a major trip, but there were a lot of shorter runs, too. Eventually he got enough seniority to get off call and be able to bid, and he finally landed a permanent Empire Builder position.

It taks a crew of 12 to operate the Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle. The rest of them travel a complete round trip. The engineers, however, specialize in segments. An engineer will drive the train for one shift of 8-12 hours, then step off while another steps on to take his place. The first one will overnight, then catch the next Empire Builder coming back the opposite direction and drive it back to where he started. So the crew is familiar with the whole route but each engineer knows one short segment like the back of his hand.

The crew includes Conductor, Assistant Conductor, Cook, an Accountnt, a snack bar operator, and five car attendants, with many of these doubling as dining car waiters. Each member does his or her own job, then helps out the others as needed.

It's not all routine, however. The Empire Builder travels some of the most mountainous terrain in North America. It's been stopped by avalanche or deep snow in Whitefish, Montana. It's been stopped by a freight train derailment in Glacier National Park. Both times, the crew stayed for three days, until the track was cleared, then continued.

One of the perks of working for Amtrak is the employee travel pass. Smith can spend his vacations travelling anywhere in the U.S. Amtrak goes. But he doesn't. "I used to," he says. "I took a few trips. But now, I've been on the rails so much, when I get some time off, I'm ready to go do something entirely different. Travelling by train would seem like another day of work."

Amtrak's Most Scenic 24 Hours

Ranking Amtrak's many trains for scenic appeal is hard. Sitting in the Observation Car watching deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, oceans and other landscaprs drift by is appealing no matter which train you're on.

But everything considered, the final 24 hours of the Empire Builder's trip West beats everything else in North America. Not even Canada's VIA trips match it.

You wake up the morning of your second day somewhere in North Dakota. For the next several hours you'll be crossing the high, wide, rolling landscape Conrad Richter named the Sea of Grass. This is where the Sioux, Crow and Blackfeet roamed for 10,000 years, and then White Men made famous as The Cattle Empire. Today they still raise cattle here and you'll see lots of them. But you'll also see miles and miles of Wheat, and a 21st Century arrival, the oil rig. You'll see hundreds of little "grass hopper" rigs and occasional much bigger rigs. The tallest are for fracking.

You're passing through the northern edge of the Bakken Oil Field, which has made the U.S. energy independent and postponed the day when we have to face the the full impact of the Energy Crisis. You'll see long trains of black oil cars sitting tn sidelines or rolling past.

A good pair of binoculars is useful here. You'll see Antelope, Buffalo, Mule Deer, Grouse, Fox, Coyote, Prairie Dogs, and maybe an occasional Wild Horse, plus if you're really sharpeyed Burrowing Owls, Hawks and near water Golden Eagles.

In the morning you'll see Tall Grass Prairie, but by afternoon you're in the rain shadow of the Rockies and water becomes scarce. You've entered the Short Grass Prairie.

In the Spring and after prolonged rains the Prairie will erupt in a display of Wildflowers.

Facing south, you'll see several small mountain ranges jutting up, but eventually you'll see one larger range to the north, covered with snow as late as June. Those are the Sweet Grass Hills, where the Blackfeet believed the Great Spirit emerged from the Underworld when he came to visit Earth. The Blackfeet sent their youth on their Vision Quests to the Sweet Grass Hills. Some of those with old school traditions still do.

Not too long after the Sweet Grass Hills you'll enter the Blackfeet Reservation, adjacent to Glacier National Park. The Blackfeet have always been one of the most hostile, protective and independent tribes. When the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition followed the Missouri up to Yellowstone, the Blackfeet met them with outstretched arms, welcoming them and offering hospitality. A French guide, Charbonnet, shot the leader of the Blackfoot welcoming party. The Blackfeet immediately decided White Men were unrtrustworthy and relations have been testy ever since. The Blackfeet were one of the few tribes who got to keep their actual homeland for a reservation, and it's one of the largest reservations, extending from the national park on the west to far out on the Montana Plains on the east They've become somewhat domestic, raising horses, cattle, wheat and vegetables. Most live in White style homes. But a growing number have rejected these and live all or part of the time in an original Tipi, as seen in the photo at right.

The "town" on the reservation is Unca-Powhat-Nin, meaning Where The Mountains Meet The Plains in Blackfeet. White men call it Browning, named after an early Indian Affairs Secretary. It has about a thousand population plus a high school and community college.

The next stop after the reservation is East Glacier, entrance to Glacier National Park. The station, shown at left, and lodge, are built of heavy logs in western national park style. The second floor of the station is an apartment for the Amtrak agent and his or her family. Amtrak usually reaches East Glacier about dinner time.

Glacier owes its existence to the railroad. Great Northern Pacific founder James Hill helped found the park and was one of its enthusiastic advocates, believing it would attract as many passengers as his rival line, the Northern Pacific, got from Yellowstone Park and the Santa Fe got from the Grand Canyon. He advertised it heavily in Chicago and Seattle. Even today, Amtrak is a major way to come to Glacier, and in Summer a huge number of vacationers disembark from the trains at either East Glacier, Essex or West Glacier, all of which have lodges.

You'll be riding along the southern edge of the park for about 90 minutes. The train has to climb very slowly to Marias Pass, where you cross the Continental Divide. You'll notice a tremendous volume of freight as the containers of everything from food to electronics to clothing are unloaded from Seattle and shipped eastward.

Snow is an issue here 10 months a year. Trains pass through a dozen man made tunnels (photo, eight) You"'ll also notice the snow fences mounted along the tracks beginning with the Blackfoot reservation.

When you reach the snow tunnels begin to look up, especially with a pair of binoculars. For along this area Mountain Goats scramble on the cliffs.

You'll pass the IsaaK Walton Lodge, originally built for railroad workers but they no longer need it so it's run as a bred and breakfast. It appeals to fly fishermen and hunters. In Winter it's popular with cross country skiiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers.

As you head west from Glacier, Amtrak makes a 20 minute stop at Whitefish, a resort famous for skiing, fishing and mountain biking. The ski resot is little known back East but is the ski resort for Washington, Oregon, and Montana. The only way to get here in Winter is by Amtrak. While all the other major Rocky Mountain ski resorts are on east facing slopes, Whiteface faces West. This means it receives much more natural snow and needs to make far less artificially. It's great for powder skiing.

The sun usually sets as Amtrak departs Whitefish so you cross Montana's Cabinet Mountains, all of Idaho, and eastern Washington in darkness. At Spokane you may be jolted awake by the uncoupling of the rear cars, as they head for Oregon with a separate engine. Then you'll sleep through another several hours and wake up as the train pulls into Leavenworth (photo, left). This would be a good place to come on a separate Amtrak trip and spend a week. Leavenworth is the largest Bavarian village in the world outside of Bavaria. It's high in the Cascade Mountains, so is a fine escape from Summer heat and humidity. It has several good restaurants and several more excellent motels.

Leavenworth is a hiking and backpacking mecca. One of North America's greatest backpacking destinations is the Enchantments (photo below), a chain of high altitude lakes. But other trails fan out in all directions, ranging from 8-10 mile day hikes to 30-60 mile backpacking routes.

Once you leave Leavenworth you'll be in deep forest for several hours. Yiou might keep a close eye out for Sasquatch, the hairy ape like creature often seen here but never captured. But Spotted Owls and other animals also frequent these woods.

You may be eating breakfast as you pass through North America's second longest tunnel, the Cascade Tunnel at seven miles.

You'll pass through Everett, home of Bill Gates and Microsoft.

Right after Everett the tracks swing down along the waters of Puget Sound and you're entertained for an hour of beaches, boats and waterfront homes . Then it's into the industrial section of Seattle.

The Seattle Station is a fitting end to this most scenic train ride. Opened in 1906, it is the heart of downtown Seattle, with an iconic clock tower and a very ornate interior. It's next door to new football and basketball facilities and close to major hotels. Greyhound and Thruway buslines and Seattle Metro Transit stop here, as do Uber and local taxi drivers. More on the station in the next article on a layover in Seattle.

Seattle's Great For A Day Or A Week

Seattle would justify at least a week's visit. It's a unique city, with lots to see and do. If you're going to spend only one day here as part of an Amtrak layover between trains, you need to get organized ahead of time.

Fortunately, Seattle is laid out in such a way that it allows a very efficient visit. The Amtrak Station (photo, right) is the very heart of downtown. It was built in 1906 and the city grew up around it.

Half a dozen major hotels are within a 20 minute walk or three minute Uber ride of the Station. We recommend the Kimpton Monaco, seen below. It is a new, very classy hotel, part of the Holiday Inn chain. The Kimptons were a separate company with locations on the West Coast. Since Holiday Inn bought it, they've begun expanding back across the country, but the only locations in the East are in Boston and Washington D.C.

The Kimpton approach is to acquire a historic property in the downtown of a major city, and carefully repurpose it while keeping as miuch of the original fittinga as possible for atmosphere. The Kimpton Monaco in Seattle was a telephone operators' exchange in the 20th Century. It has become a very elegant hotel, with more thoughtful touches than a typical Holiday Inn.

The restaurant in this Kimpton is The Outlier. It's a sleek 21st Century facility with a trendy but eccentric menu. Foraged Mushrooms. Beet Cured Salmon. Vandouvan Curried Carrots, Smoked Sheeps's Milk Feta, Crab Caccio e Pepe, Apple Mostardo. There are several Pizzas. We tried the Marguerita. It was thin crust with delicate flavors, but no tomato slices. It was pretty good but not quite what you would expect at a good restaurant back East. They do, however, mix a great drink, and offer a nice assortment of Seattle crsft beers.


There's a sports bar and restaurant right across the street and a Peruvian Gelato outlet on the corner. In a two block radius there are six more restaurants.

The Seattle Kimpton is the apex of a triangle, with one corner the Station and the other corner the Pike Marketplace. The whole base of the triangle is the waterfront. It is thus possible to walk everywhere.

The first place you must stop is the Northwest Tribes Store. The Native Americans of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia had quite a different culture than the Great Plains or Eastern tribes. Their artwork portrayed Salmon, Ospreys, Beaver and Bear, and they are most famous for their Totem Poles and Animal Masks. As the photo below on the right shows, you can buy various sizes of totem poles, some small enough for your desk, a shelf or a mantle, and others large enough to stand on the floor or out in the yard.

The Northwest Tribes Store offers an amazing variety of wall art, all meticulously carved and painted. Any one of thee pieces would be a striking addition to a wall back home. It would ceetainly become a conversation starter. And its bright colors would liven up a room. The larger pieces are pretty expensive but the smaller pieces are within a typical budget and would fit in a suitcase.

There is also a spectacular selection of jewelry : bolo ties, earrings, necklace pieces, bracelets, berets, etc. Most of them are strikingly beautiful. Again, some are very expensive, but some are reasonable.

A few items are so extravagantly priced the owner obviously does not expect to sell them but displays them to bring people in off tthe street. These include a Mastodon tusk ($25,000), a few giant Totem Poles ($15,000) and several ceremonial bird masks ($10,000). They're certainly worth seeing.

Right across the corner from the Northern Tribes Store is the Seattle Art Museum (photo, below). . It's a great museum and would easily justify a whole day. On this trip, a maximum of two hours ia all you can afford. It's one of the West Coast's finer art museums, containing 25,000 pieces. It is not merely a regional museum. Some of its more famous collections include Native American Art, Northwest Tribal Art, Ancient Mediterranean Art, Australian Aboriginal Art, Islamic Art, Oceanic Peoples Art, Vase Art, Tapestry Art and The Art Of The Moment (fleeting moments captured by rthe artist). Like any great museum, in addition to its standing collections, it brings in visiting collections for 3-6 month stays.

The museum maintains an outdoor collection of Sculpture, including both historic pieces and contemporary works by practicing artists.

Recognizing that your time today is limited, you might focus on the Northwest Tribal, Native American and Oceanic Peoples collections plus one more. To see the entire museum and perhaps attend some of the talks will have to wait for another, longer visit.

The major stop of the day, however, is the place Seattle is most famous for : The Pike Market. This is the largest market in the U.S. It long ago outgrew its original three block long facility and has sprawled across neighboring streets.

The Pike Market originated as a fish market in 1907. Seattle's fishing fleet would pull in every day and unload its catch, and people would come down and buy Salmon, Halibut, Scallops, Crabs, Octopus and every other kind of seafood.

Then area farmers figured out that since all the people were there, they could set up tables and sell fruits and vegetables, too. Next the flower growers joined in. Slowly the sellers increased. Mushroom gatherers. Wine producers. Cheese makers. Fern Fiddlehead collectors. Cider makers. Bread bakers.



Now, you could spend a whole day at the Pike Market. It's open 20 hours a day 363 days a year (it's closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas).

The fish you're buying is only hours out of the water. A Seattle resident can take it straight home and prepare it for dinner that night and be serving the best fish available anywhere. As a tourist, obviously, you can't do that. But it's entertaining just to wander around and check out all the selections and prices.

However, you can order from home and they'll pack it in ice and ship it to you overnight express.

At each entrance to the Market there are racks with Pike Market Pocket Guides. You should pick one up, to make sure you don't miss any of the side alleys, nooks and crannies of this sprawling district.


And there are five restaurants within the Market where you might pause for lunch. The most famous is the Athenian Grille, where Seattlians come for the Fishwich, a huge sandwich of fish wrapped in cole slaw. Two can easily share a Fishwich, which comes in two halves, either of which is larger than any fish sandwich you've eaten back home. The fries that come with the Fishwich are also excellent.

There are guided tours of the Market offered, but you don't need one. A copy of the Pocket Guide is good enough to guide your wanderings.

One of the more bizarre icons of the Market is Rachel the bronze pig. Rachel is the world's largest piggy bank. Put a few coins in Rachel and pause for a photo. Periodically, the money is emptied and given to local charities.


Just as back home entrepreneurs have started out with a food truck, then worked their way up to an actual restaurant, in Seattle people have begun with a stand at the Pike Market and advanced to a full scale business. Some of these have become national or even internarional successes. The most famous example is Starbuck's.

The photo at right shows the original Starbuck's, which opened in 1971 and still operates at Pike Place. Many customers come just to say they ordered a Coffee at the original location. It's between a cheesemaker and a baker.

Starbuck's was inevitable. It rode a Seattle fad. Before the rest of the nation caught on, Seattlers developed an appreciation for flavored Coffees. The idea of the coffee shop arose. Plenty of coffee shops opened before Starbuck's. It just did it best.

This original Starbuck's really celebrated 1970s Seattle's ecological vibe. The walnut used in the tables, chairs and bar was salvaged from a nearby farm. The signage used slate salvaged from a local school. The restroon partitions are made from recycled plastic laundry bottles. The tapestry on the wall is made from old coffee bags from the local roasting plant.

Starbuck's is at the northern end of Pike Place. The market runs along a street up a steep hill from the waterfront. All along the market, stairs and elevators go down to the water level.

Seattle's waterfront development is a model for coastal cities everywhere. This is yet another place you could spend an entire day.

You might want to start by riding the Giant Wheel, shown at left. The cars are enclosed and the ride is very smooth. It gives you an overview of the entire waterfront, downtown, bay, industrial zone and, on clear days, the mounrtains in the distance. The photos below were taken from the Wheel.

You can also see onto the decks and patios of the waterfront apartments and condos, so you'll feel like a voyeur peeping on cookouts, parties and sun bathing.

Unlike many amusement parks and carnivals, you get a very long 12 minute three revolution ride on this Wheel, so you can trade places halfway through and see both views. The cars are clear glass so you can take good photos through them.

Each car seats four so a typical family can go together.

The cars are air conditioned. The local joke is that the most powerful air conditioning in Seattle is in the cars of this Wheel. You may wish to bring a sweater.

The Wheel opened in 2012 as the largest in the U.S. (There are larger ones in London and Paris). Since 2012, similar wheels have opened at Niagara Falls and Myrtle Beach.

There's a very nice three row indoor carousel near the base of the Wheel, if you have kids along.

This long black and gray building is the Seattle Aquarium, one of the nation's best. Again, it's worth a whole afternoon, which you don't have. It focuses on aquatic life in the Pacific Northwest, which is different from most public aquariums, which focus on the Atlantic, Gulf, Mid Pacific or freshwater rivers, streams and lakes. The Seattle Aquarium opened in 1977 and includs a gift shop and snack bar.

A 40 foot wave tank replicates the wave action on shorelines and shows how the aquatic plants and animals survive in the constsntly moving water. No other aquarium has this kind of exhibit. The Giant Pacific Octopus display is the only one in the world focusing on this unique and highly intelligent creature. It can solve puzzles, open bottles, use tools and interact with visitors. Keeping them in captivity is a challenge because they can open doors and valves and squeese through the tinest openings. There's a complete Pacific Coral Reef enclosd in a 25,000 gallon tank. The Marine Mammal Exhibit includes the variou members of the Seal and Otter families.

You must eat dinner at The Fishermans. This is the best seafood restaurant in Seattle and one of the best in the nation. It's right on the water, so while you eat you can watch the ferries and big cargo vessels come and go. The favorite entrees, of course, are the Salmon, Halibut, Cod, the Crab Cake, Scallops, Mussels, Octopus and the Chowders.

Given that people from all over America come here to eat and it's been featured in every newspaper and magazine and covered on every TV show, The Fishermans is neither expensive nor pretentious. It is a very informal, down to earth place.

In good weather, you can sit out on the deck.

The Fishermans is at the base of the Big Wheel.


Seattle is THE port for bringing in all those consumer items from China and Asia. The big container ships pull into harbor here heavily loaded and are unloaded by the big cranes, which transfer them to either tractor trailer trucks or to railcars. This photo shows one container ship on the left and three on the right being unloaded.

Although some container ships do unload in California and some at East Coast ports, the vast majority come here to Seattle. The next time you see a long train of containers, the odds are very good they came from Seattle. The usual procedure is to send them across country by train, then transfer the containers to trucks for local delivery.

Some of the containers are returned to Seattle for sending back to China, but many are repurposed as low cost housing or storage facilities.

Coastal Starlight Offers Two Days Of Surprises

Travellers from back East tend to take the Empire Builder, Chief, Zephyr or Eagle west, spend several days or a week, then take the same train east again. They rarely ride the Coastal Starlight. It doesn't cross any major mountain ranges, doesn't touch any national parks, and is rarely promoted in tourist brochures or websites. So most nonlocals assume the Starlight runs down along the seashore, offering lots of nice beach views but little else.

West Coast residents know better. They ride the Starlight all the time, up to Portland or Seattle, down to San Francisco or Disneyland. They know it rivals any of the others in variety and in spectacular scenery.

The stations at the two ends, Seattle and Anaheim, are among the nation's most beautiful. Seattle's (photo, above) is a century old but was recently restored and is bright, modern and spacious. It serves Amtrak, the local mass transit, Greyhound buses, and the increasing fleet of Uber vehicles. There are no indoor concessions but food trucks park just outside and serve everything from breakfast tacos to fish sandwiches.

The southbound Coastal Starlight leaves Seattle at 10 am and arrives at Los Angeles at 9 pm the following night, giving you one overnight and five meals on board. The Surfliner takes you on to Anaheim, a 30 minute extension.

Meals on board use the same menu as the other long distance trains and the coaches, sleeping cars and diner are the same as those on other trains. The Starlight always had a Parlor Car, but it was discontinued in 2018.

The Starlight's first 18 hours are through extremely rugged country. It traverses the Cascade Mountains, which except for a few towns are all dense forest. No Cascade peak rivals any Rocky Mountain peaks in size, but the terrain is steep and relentless.

Deep snow and ice, high drifts, powerful winds, avalanches, rock slides, downed trees and forest fires all delay or stop the Starlight. Sometimes the route is entirely shut down for weeks at a time and Amtrak has to bus passengers around the problem area, or send rescue trains after them.

The Starlight is a long train, with four sleepers, four coaches, a baggage car, dining car, observation car and dorm car (for staff). It links 12 major colleges, sometimes cruising right along one edge of their campuses. It's hard to get reservations. Call several weeks ahead.

The Starlight doesn't have anything to match the seven mile tunnel of the Empire Builder, but it has the most tunnels of any Amtrak train.

The single track here occupies a very narrow right of way, and in many places tree branches brush the train windows. There are very long and steep uphills, and very tight turns, often several in a row. So the northern half of the trip takes a while.

Riders get a very good view of two huge issues in modern forest management. The first is clear cutting. You'll see huge patches of forest cut to the ground and left. They will regrow, but it takes 50 years. Environmentalists oppose this practice, arguing that it leads to erosion, destroys animal habitat, and destroys the diversity that makes these forests unique (trees will grow back, but with two or three kinds rather than the dozen different kinds that grew here naturally).

You'll notice a huge amount of dead wood laying on the forest floor. This has built up over two or three decades and is a major fire hazard. This dead wood is why a simple lightning strike, rather than simply burn out, builds into a major crown fire (a fire that reaches the tops of trees and destroys the trees) and may last for days or weeks. Environmentalists would rather timber companies bring in minidozers and remove that dead wood, rather than clear cutting whole mountainsides. However, timber companies are in the lumber business. They need live, tall, straight, healthy trees which produce perfect logs. And clear cutting is very efficient, whereas sending in two dozen small minidozers is very expensive.

The other issue is the insect infestation which is destroying thousands of trees. You'll notice large stands of dead or dying trees. Those are the result of insects. Professional foresters have slowed the spread of these insects, but have not been able to stop or eradicate them.

You'll go to sleep still in deep forest. You'll wake up in a different world, the Wyoming looking landscape of California's northern Central Valley. This is actually several valleys : the Napa (which the Starlight skirts but does not enter), the San Joaquin and the Salinas. In fact, Hollywood has shot dozens of Western movies and TV series out here, since it closely resembles the landscapes of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas. In this northern region of the Central Valley they receive less rain, so cannot raise fruits and vegetables. Instead, they raise cattle. You'll see herds of them, mostly Black Angus. You'll also see occasional loading docks that allow ranchers to load their cattle onto cattle cars to ship to market.

You may also see Sheep, Llamas and Horses grazing out here.

The lack of trees is due to lack of water. As you head south, watch for trees to begin, first occasionally, then in ribbons following streams, then in large rows of clusters. When trees begin appearing in groups, there is enough water for fruits.

You'll see grapevines appearing. But these are not for wine. Those would be over the hills in the Napa Valley. These are for raisins. 2,000 farmers on 200,000 acres produce the finest raisins in the world here. They used to pick the grapes, artificially aging them with gas ovens. Now they allow the grapes to shrivel and die on the vine, which preserves more of the taste and retains more of the iron.

The Joaquin Valley used to produce almost all of the world's raisins. Now China, India, Turkey and Iran have become serious competitors, and the Joaquin Valley is down to only 40% of the world supply. However, it is unanimously agreed that these are still the best raisins in the world. 90% of the grapes you'll see here are Thompson Seedless. Once the raisins have dried on the vine, they are picked and taken to processing barns, where the stems are removed and the raisins are washed, dried and boxed. Government inspectors than sample the middle of each box to see if the quality is acceptable.

Raisins are unique in that they retain 100% of their vitamins when dry.

As you continue southward, you'll come into Lettuce country. 71% of the Lettuce grown in the U.S. is grown here in the San Joaquin Valley, with the rest being grown in other California and Arizona locations. Last year in this one valley 4500 growers on 250,000 acres produced 400,000 tons of Lettuce, worth $1.5 billion, and representing 40% of the world total.

The Lettuce grown here is of two kinds : Head Lettuce and Leaf Lettuce. The Leaf Lettuce is almost all Romaine. The Romaine scares which occur periodically are due to irrigation. Cattle contaminate streams, which flow into the Lettuce farms and have their water drawn up by pumps and sprayed over the crops.

Lettuce harvesting is labor intensive and relies on migrant workers. Many if not most of them are from Mexico and Latin America. Traditionally they have come north for the planting and harvest seasons, stayed around to work other crops, then returned home during the off season. Problems at the border have tightened security, making this flow more difficult, and Lettuce farmers are having trouble getting their crops picked.

Between the mountains and the agriculture rich valleys, there is great beauty on this trip. Unfortunately, there's sadness, too. Out your window, you'll see one homeless camp after another. These rows of tents line the railroad tracks, often under highway bridges but sometimes out in the open. They are a result of open borders, which have allowed over a million illegal immigrants to flood into California. The state simply cannot build low income housing fast enough to house all these people. But the obscenely high cost of housing in California has displaced even U.S. citizens. And the idea of releasing thousands of mentally ill from institutions, and thousands more from prisons, has created a population of low income, unskilled and unattached people. The Salvation Army and other charities have raised the money to provide tents and sleeping bags to at least keep the homeless dry and warm, but no one has a solution for the problem.

Grapes and Lettuce aren't the only crops you'll see. The valleys produce a long list of fruits and vegetables, including Almonds. And there's a new crop : Cannabis, or Hemp. Whether intended for medicinal uses or fabric, this is the state's fastest growing crop. If you're sitting at an East facing window, you'll pass the James Dean Cannabis Farm, the East of Eden Cannabis Farm and the Clear Creek Cannabis Farm.

You'll also pass several parks, town squares and other sites named after Jack London and John Steinbeck, the Salinas Valley's two literary giants. While Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and The Call of the Wild are their three most famous novels, they wrote many more, most of which are set here.

All these fruits and vegetables require pollination. Since the valley cannot support enough bees year round to do that pollinating, beekeepers from around the nation actually rent their beehives to San Joaquin and Salinas Valley farmers for the flowering seasons. You'll pass huge clusters of bee hives, some on truck beds, some local, as seen here at left.

The climb out of the Salinas Valley is one of the trip's most scenic legs. Again the trackage becomes steep and winding. If both trains are on time, sometime during this crossing the Coastal Starlight heading north will pass going the other direction, requiring that our southbound train pull onto a siding and wait. We'll pass through seven tunnels here and you'll enjoy vast panoramic views.

Again cattle will be seen grazing on the steep mountain slopes.



Then we descend to the coastline. From here on until downtown Los Angeles, we follow the water. If you brought a good pair of bincoculars, this is the place to use them. Out in the water you can spot whales, seals, porpoises, sea turtles, sea otters and other ocean life. The beaches here are mostly empty, there being no paved roads nearby. Occasionally a few adventurers with good off road vehicles can be found swimming or surfing, but not often. However, the landscape is interesting, with rocky outcroppings, terraces, cliffs and wide beaches.

You'll see spectacular sunsets. A filter should allow you to get good photos.

Despite California's reputation as a surfing center, often the water along here will be quite calm, not even active enough to bob up and down in an inner tube. The famous surfing beaches are further south.

The climate has changed, You're now seeing palm trees and desert plants. The architecture has changed, too. Railroad stations like the one at right display a Spanish/Mexican influence, with wide porches, thick walls, smaller windows and tile roofs. The goal is to keep cool. In Spring and Fall temperatures along here will be in the 70s, but in Summer they'll be 100 or close.

The Los Angeles Union Station is another huge transportation center, with other trains, local transit and buses constantly coming and going. Your train unloads underground and much of the station is also under ground. The station is probably the nation's most poorly signed. There is a Metropolitan Lounge with free snacks, comfortable chairs and a private entrance to the loading platforms.

The Surfliner, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle and other Amtrak trains depart from here. If you're visiting somewhere in L.A., calling an Uber is probably your best strategy.

Disneyland Is The Perfect Amtrak Layover

It's worth going to Disneyland by Amtrak just to see the Anaheim station. This $68 million state of the art terminal is not only the most beautiful Amtrak station in the country, but was named America's Most Beautiful Building Of Any Kind in 2015. Last year the 120 feet high structure hosted 287,415 Amtrak passengers, plus thousands more riding Metro rail, Greyhound Bus and Uber.

The station fits right in with Disney's monorail and Anaheim's cutting edge 21st Century vibe. The city will host a Summer Olympics and this building will be the western terminus of the L.A.-Las Vegas maglev high speed train.

You have to lay over in Los Angeles if you're making the Grand Circle. The Coastal Starlight gets in too late to catch the Texas Eagle so you have a 24 hour wait. By far your best option is to take Amtrak's Surfliner 30 minutes to Anaheim and spend a day at Disneyland. One phone call and an Uber driver will be there to whisk you to a hotel. Next day, take the 5 pm Surfliner back to L.A. Union Station and board the Texas Eagle.

Unlike the Disney Resort hotels at Disney World in Florida, the ones in California are too expensive and it's difficult to get a reservation. So unless you just won the lottery, the only prudent choice is the row of hotels just across and down the street from the Disneyland entrance. We've checked them all out, and our recommendation is the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on South Manchester Avenue. It's new. If your room faces west, you'll be looking directly at the park's monorail, castle, tower of terror and skyline. You're on a quiet sidestreet, so you walk to the corner, turn left, and walk one block to the Disneyland main entrance.

There's no restaurant, but you ate dinner on the train. There's a free continental breakfast and you'll be in the park for lunch.

The front office staff will gladly check your bags for the day while you explore Disneyland, California Adventure and Downtown Disney.

The rooms are very nice. One phone call and an Uber driver will be there in minutes to take you back to the Amtrak Station.

If you're a Disney World veteran, you'll be disoriented by Disneyland. It's the original, the park that Walt himself designed and the only one he ever saw. But compared to Disney World, it's tiny. Disney World had room to spread out, and they could isolate the different sections. Here, they're packed tightly together, so you have buildings from one theming rising up behind buildings from another one. From Cars Land, for instance, you can clearly see the Tower of Terror, the Monorail, the Big Wheel and Mt. Grizzly.

The park is divided. As you approach the entrance, the newer California Adventure is to your left, while the 1955 Disneyland (often updated) is to your right. We recommend exploring California Adventure first, since it's where later in the day the rides have the longest lines. You want to ride those first and beat those lines.

California Adventure claims to be a sort of celebration of what the state was when Walt first arrived here from Missouri. Route 66, the Pier, the National Park, Buena Vista Street, Paradise Gardens, Hollywood Blvd., and Pacific Wharf were all landmarks of his first decade in California. But the park attracted disappointing crowds until Disney redid the Route 66 section into Cars Land, which has proven wildly popular. Since then, California Adventure has attracted turnaway crowds ever weekend.

As you enter California Adventure Park, Cars Land is to your immediate left. It is based 50% on Route 66, and 50% on the movie Cars, which is itself based on Route 66. Desert scenery from the Arizona section of Route 66 dominates, but selected buildings or scenes from New Mexico, Kansas and other Route 66 states are included. The town of Radiator Springs is based on the now abandoned town of Radiator Springs, which is in Petrified Forest National Park. The old Route 66 is closed off in the national park, although it's on maps and while driving the national park road you see it cross under you. To reach the remains of the town, you would have to park your car and hike about eight miles in. This is a hike best undertaken in the Spring or Fall, as Summer temperatures rise to over 100 degrees. Most of the buildings along the main street of Disney's Radiator Springs are based on buildings found in the abandoned town, except for the motel, the spire, and Mater's Place. Those are based on buildings in Holcomb, Az., Shamrock, Tx., and Galena, Ks. The original truck on which Mater is based is still parked at the gas station in Galena and is a tourist attraction of its own.

The most famous ride in Cars Land is the Cars ride itself. Extravagantly landscaped and themed, this is a simulated ride on Route 66. You board a 3/4 sized car of various makes, go through a "dark ride" section where you meet several characters from the movie, spend several minutes going through the maintenance garages where they check your engine, water and oil and put on a new set of tires or give you a new paint job, emerge into the bright desert sun, pass under Ornamental Falls, then set out to race another car on the open road. This is not for the fainthearted. The cars get up to 40 mph speeds, the Gs on turns are intense, the banking nearly vertical, and there's airtime coming over the rises. This may be the best ride in all of Disney, here, Florida or the world.

Everything is just a blur while you're on the ride, but the landscaping is magnificent. Rock formations, wildflowers, cacti, and other features are impeccably done. You have to look back, appreciate it, and photograph it after you get off the ride.

You would also benefit from racing to get in line as soon as the park opens. Otherwise, it's about a 90 minute wait.

The Cozy Cone Motel is a parody of the Wigwam Motels. There's one in Holbrook, Az., one in Cave City, Ky., and one in San Bernardino, Calif. Originally there were 12, 11 on The Route and one in Kentucky. Today, only three remain. Those were concrete models of actual Plains Indians wigwams. These are modeled after highway construction cones, and the theming is carried over to birdhouses, flowers and a water wheel. Here, the "motel units" serve as refreshment outlets selling ice cream, tacos, milkshakes, burgers, soft drinks, etc.

Lightning McQueen usually sits in the shade here, available for taking photos. In the movie Cars, you'll recall, he rented a Cone for his time in Radiator Springs so was often found there.

Luigi's Dancing Cars don't have the blazing speed of the Route 66 racers, but they're a fascinating ride, a triumph of computer programming. These cars don't just go around in a circle. They dance. To Italian music. The Mambo, the Samba, etc. Really. They step forward, backward, spin around, sidestep, spin their partner, all of it. And each cycle is different. You ride it this time, the cars dance one step. Ride it the very next, they dance another step. In all, there are five different dance steps the cars know. There's also a slight optical illusion happening here. The cars aren't really dancing on their wheels. There's a base under the car loaded with eletronics which is doing the dancing. It's fun to watch people getting off the ride, kneeling down, or even laying down, trying to see under the car to understand how it works.

The line here is usually 30 minutes, but the time goes fast, because you're watching the cars dance., trying to figure out how the programming works, since the cars don't stop in the same place every time, yet they're all ready to start the next dance.

Another clever piece of computer programming is Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. Tractors pull hay wagons, in which people ride. There are five very large rotating discs. Each tractor in turn navigates each disc. Behind the tractor the hay wagons whip and swing back and forth with each turn. It's a Tilt A Whirl sort of action, but totally unique.

The tractors are also pretty photogenic. There's a baby tractor out by the entrance which gets a lot of photo attention all day.


The spired building posing as Ramone's Body Art is a direct copy of the U-Drop-Inn in Shamrock, Texas, one of Route 66's most iconic buildings. The original building contained a gas station, restaurant, auto service center and, across the street, lodging.

The Shamrock Spire building was famous for half a century because it sat at the intersection of east west Route 66 and north south Route 83. (Of course, it still sets there, but the interstates have relegated 66 and 83 to minor status). Route 83 runs 1885 miles from the Canadian line outside of Westhope, NC to Brownsville, Texas at the Mexican line.

Route 83 is one of America's five longest highways. Unlike Route 66, no part of it has ever been decommissioned or submerged under any part of any interstate highway. Heading north, 83 continues as Manitoba Route 83. Heading south, it continues as Mexico Federal Highway 101 and 180.

By the time Walt arrived in California, the big national parks, especially Yosemite, had already been estsblished and were a cherished part of local lore. Vacationing at Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley or one of the other big parks was an annual tradition.

This 1940s era National Park Service Jeep truck is a nod to that history and to the rangers who worked year round to maintain the parks and provide the publlic with a good experience. It doesn't have a specific park lettered on its doors. It could even represent the Grand Canyon, which millions of Californians drove out Route 66 to visit.

Route 66, of course, was a celebration of roadsters. The old coupes travelled the highway from Los Angeles to Chicago and back. In a time of 5 cent a gallon gasoline, mileage was not a problem. In Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, snow was rare and salt was not used on roads, so corrosion did not eat away the metal bodies. Many of the old coupes are still around. This late 1930s car represents that era of Route 66.

Cars Land also displays many of the old gas pumps, signs, tools, hubcaps and other artifacts from the golden era of the famous highway.

The rest of California Adventure is also worth seeing. The cars on this Giant Wheel move back and forth from the rim to the center as the wheel turns. The new Incredicoaster is the Calfornia Screamin' coaster rethemed to The Incredibles. This part of the park is an homage to the old piers which featured roller coasters, ferris wheels and merry go rounds out over the water. The Incredicoaster does have one upside down loop which will discourage many riders. It's not one of the nation's top 10 coasters but is an outstanding ride.

You should enter the park just after breakfast, which should allow you to finish California Adventure just after noon. With time for a lunch break at one of the restaurants, you'll have the afternoon left to explore Disney Land, the original park. That's not much time, so you have to plan wisely. We recommend riding the railroad and monorail first, as they circle the park and give you an overall picture of everything. The photo at right is the passenger station at the front entrance to Disneyland. Trains run every 10 minutes. With limited time, we'd recommend you try to ride Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Pinnochio's Daring Journey, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's Flight, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Submarine Voyage, and Space Mountain. That's 10 rides, or three an hour. Given the long lines and time to walk from one to the other, that's still pushing it. To gain additional advantages, we recommend signing up for MaxPass in advance and then using FastPass as soon as you enter the park (after the railroad and the monorail). These assign you specific times to ride each attraction and avoid the lines.

By 4:00 you should be leaving the park. Walk back to the Holiday Inn, pick up your bags, and call Uber. You should arrive at the Anaheim Station in plenty of time. Your original Amtrak ticket should have included Surfliner tickets to and from Anaheim so you should not have to go to the ticket counter, just wait for the announcement and head for the loading platform.

You'll arrive back at the Los Angeles Station with plenty of time. Take the elevator up to the Metropolitan Lounge, where there are free snacks and comfortable chairs. They'll announce the Texas Eagle loading. The door and ramp lead directly from the lounge to the loading platform.

Texas Eagle Is Amtrak's Longest Train
The Texas Eagle is a special train for several reasons, the first of which is it's Amtrak's longest. It takes three full days to travel from L.A. to Chicago. The second reason is it travels through the heart of America's classic Old West. The third reason is it runs along the border for 70 miles. You're literally within yards of the border. From a south facing window you're looking out across Mexico for over an hour. The fourth reason is you pass near six national parks. The train is often filled with backpackers. The fifth reason is you're travelling through the Sonoran Desert for more than 24 hours. This is one of the world's unique eco systems and you get to watch it drift by from the comfort of your Amtrak seat. And, finally, you stop at six of the most interesting cities in America. This would be a great train to use Amtrak's rail passes that allow you to leave the train, spend a few days, then get back on and travel to the next city.

Sadly, you begin your Texas Eagle journey in late evening darkness. You stop at Needles and Yuma at night. Needles is officially the hottest city in America, being close to Death Valley. Five months a year, Needles sees 120 degree days and 90 degree nights. Swimming pools in Needles are like hot tubs.

The next stop is Yuma, which is surrounded on three sides by Mexico. It was a historic outlaw hideout, being so far from anywhere across hostile desert no lawmen came here. Today Yuma is a departure point for Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. It is also a popular retirement and tourist city and crossing point into Mexico. The Rio Grande flows around the city, allowing paddling and tubing.

As you awaken the first morning on the Texas Eagle, you'll look out your window at hillsides of Saguaro Cactus Forest. This majestic plant, largest of the Cacti, grows 40 feet tall and averages 150 years in age. They grow only in the Sonoran Desert. Many species of birds and small mammals burrow holes and live inside Sagauro, just as they do in hard wood trees elsewhere.

If the Saguaro you see are relatively thick, the area has recently had rain. If the Saguaro are slender, the area has been without rain for a while. Saguaro soak up water during and after a rain, becoming two or three times as big. Then they will slowly use up that water and shrink day by day for months until they are slender stems.

The inside of a Saguaro is like a huge sponge. Cowboys, miners and desert travellers learned from the Apache, Comanche and Mestizo to cut a section out of a Saguaro and squeeze it for the water.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Park was created specifically to protect the Saguaro. Many other species of Cacti live there, and along the Texas Eagle route, but the Saguaro is the symbol of the Sonoran Desert, as it can live nowhere else. Damaging or destroying a Saguaro is a state and federal crime and brings jail time and heavy fines.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is north of the railroad tracks. The view you get here is of a dry, uninviting place, but beyond this outer rim is a high plateau of streams, rich grass and trees. It is a prime hiking and backpacking park, but is also home to many large mammals. There is no lodge and it's hours from the nearest town. To visit, you must camp.

The Guadalupe Mountains are one of the "sky islands" which dot the southwestern desert. They are surrounded on all sides by low elevation desert which animals cannot cross. So species are stranded, and have evolved in unique directions.

Most people who have never visited the Southwest envision the desert as a table top flat landscape. But as you ride the Texas Eagle you learn that the desert is rarely level. Small hills and rocky mountains continuously jut upward. The hills are usually bare, while those high enough to be called mountains have trees and grass.

With a good pair of binoculars, especially at dawn and dusk, you can often spot Javalina, Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, Ringtail Raccoon (which are much more slender and look more like cats than raccoons except for the head and face), Gray Wolves, Bobcats, Jaguars, Ocelots, and the ruler of the desert, the Sonoran Mountain Lion.

Living in or on the Saguaro Cactus are Elf Owls, Desert Wrens and the Sonoran Gila Woodpecker.

Look down on the ground close to the train for Scorpions, Roadrunners, Sonoran Squirrels, Gila Monsters, and Gopher Tortoises.

As the Texas Eagle crosses into Texas, the tracks drop right alongside the Mexican border. From a south facing window you'll be looking at the border fence which has become such a political issue lately. You'll be coming through here just after noon, so there will be little activity. If you were to come through between midnight and dawn, if the Moon were out, you could actually see illegal immigrants climbing the fence. It's a very sensitive issue. Most of the illegals are coming from Central American countries such as Venezuela, Guatamala, Honduras and Nicaragua. They are, individually, good hardworking people who just want to escape the crime, violence and extreme poverty of their home villages and make a better life for themselves. The problem is not with the individual. The problem lies with the sheer numbers : over a million are already in the U.S. and they keep coming. Towns and cities in the Southwest do not have the housing and cannot build it fast enough. So these migrants end up living in tents and cardboard boxes. Very few of them have any skills or formal education, so except for picking crops, washing dishes, mowing lawns or cleaning rooms, their job prospects are slim. The problem keeps increasing and no one has a solution.

You may have slept through the Yuma stop, but you should be wide awake at El Paso, and you'll notice increased security around the train and the station, including dogs. Conductors and car attendants are checking everyone's tickets extra carefully. This is because illegal immigrants try to board trains and buses to get to the interior of the country. Drug smuggling across the border is also a problem here, and getting the drugs on board trains and buses is one way to move them to northern states. Yuma's mayor has declared a State Of Emergency as his city tries to deal with the problems. El Paso has not gone that far, but struggles with the same issues. As the Texas Eagle passes through El Paso, you'll notice the fence, which sometimes becomes a wall, continues through the city, dividing it in half. The half on the other side is actually not El Paso, but Cuidad Juarez. With your binoculars or telephoto lens, you can find the border gate (photo right), where guards use x rays, laser beams, dogs and personal inspection to carefully check people and vehicles crossing the border. Those are U.S. Border Patrol officers on this side of the fence, and Mexican Federales on the other side.

As you pull out of El Paso, the tracks turn away from the border and the Rio Grande and begin to climb. For the next 14 hours you'll be crossing the Texas High Country. This is the Texas of myth and legend, where Commanches, Apaches, cowboys, outlaws, the Texas Rangers, cattle barons, and oil prospectors gave Hollywood a rich mix of characters to feature. It's a dramatic landscape, with few towns or roads even today.

One such town is Alpine, where backpackers and tourists disembark, rent cars and drive south to Big Bend National Park and northwest to Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountain National Parks.

You've left the Sonoran Desert behind and entered the northern reaches of the Chihuaha Desert.

Here the Saguaro is replaced by the Agave Havard, a spindly plant with beautiful yellow flowers. They live for 50 years. They provide fiber for ropes and sandals, and are the source of Tequila. The flowers are the key source of nectar for Desert Bats. There are several species of Agave growing up here but Havard is the most iconic. This is the northernmost extreme of its range, so they're not plentiful. 100 miles south, in Mexico, they grow in dense stands. You'll also see lots of Ocatillo Cactus, with a dozen leaves growing out from a single base, all producing a bright red flower.


The Texas Eagle doesn't treat San Antonio fairly. This historic town has one of the most beautiful stations in America, as seen at right. Inside the station is America's #1 Mexican restaurant, Aldaco's. Only two blocks away is the Alamo and the Crockett Hotel, and a block beyond that is the Riverwalk. The Eagle stops here for two hours, plenty of time to see all these attractions. But it does so from 5 - 7 a.m. Most through passengers don't even wake up until the train is pulling out.

That's a shame for another reason. The Eagle spends those two hours changing crews, being serviced and rearranging itself. Half of the cars and the dining car are uncoupled, given another engine, and sent on to Houston and New Orleans as the Sunset Limited. The Eagle then gets its own dining car and proceeds to Austin, Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago. This shuffling of cars and engines is fascinating to watch and photograph, but only the most diehard railroad fan gets out of bed at 5 a.m. to see it.

From San Antonio, the Texas Eagle heads up through East Texas, stopping at Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth. Most of Arkansas and part of Missouri are crossed in darkness, and the third morning you get a great view of St. Louis and the Gateway Arch.

Then it's off across Illinois. Barring unexpected delays, the Eagle pulls into Chicago in early afternoon. Lunch will be your last meal on the train.

The Cardinal, Capitol Limited, Lakeshore Limited, and the western long distance trains all load after the Eagle pulls in, so you'll have no trouble making connections.

Running A Restaurant On The Rails

Even on her "breaks," Wilma Maxwell Snow is busy. A restaurant on the rails is a difficult operation to run, and she's the one responsible. Her official title is Lead Service Attendant. Somehow that's Amtrakspeak for Dining Car Supervisor.

Her Amtrak dining car serves breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., lunch from noon to 2:00 p.m., and dinner from 5:00 - 9:00. That means Snow and her staff of two (a chef and a waitress) begin at 6:00, 11:30 and 4:30. And that's just when they're on their feet. Before and after, sitting at a table, there's paperwork. Pages and pages of paperwork.

An Amtrak dining car serves meals free to sleeping car passengers. Each time they eat, they sign in on a special ticket. It serves meals for cash or credit card to coach passengers. All those charges and all that cash have to be accounted for after every meal.

Then, Amtrak tracks every single item : each salad, each burger, each order of salmon, steak, chicken, pancakes or bowl of oatmeal. It even tracks pats of butter, servings of guacamole or ranch dressing. Tickets indicate which passenger ordered which items. After each meal, all that should balance. If it doesn't, Snow has to find out why not.

She's been at this 13 years, the first few on the Chicago-Detroit and Kansas City-St. Louis runs. She boards in Chicago. Snow has a roomette in the dorm car for breaks and overnights.

The Eagle takes two days to get to San Antonio. Snow spends one night in a hotel, then boards the train for the return trip. So she's on the rails four days. Between trips she gets a few days off.

Amtrak offers a limited menu. There are six entrees for each meal, plus desserts, beverages, sides, dressings and breads. Wine is available. The food is very good, but Amtrak is assuming very few riders will stay on board for six days so won't exhaust the menu. It rotates every six months.

"Right now the Catfish and Ribs have rotated off the menu," Snow says. "The Ribs are our all time favorite entree. When it's on the menu, people come in the dining room and don't even look at the menu, they just order the Ribs. The last time we had it, we couldn't keep it in stock."

The most popular entrees right now are the Salmon and the Steak & Crab Cakes ("Surf & Turf"). The Angus Burger, Ribeye Steak and Mussells are also popular. Among desserts, the Cheesecake is currently the hot item. They're trying a new Mexican entree this season, the Chilliquilles, and will see how it does before deciding whether to keep it or not.

The decisions about how much to stock are made at the Commissary. "They figure out how much we need. I get some input but then they make the decision."

The menu used to vary with each train and feature regional specialties. The Empire Builder offered Walleye, the Chief and Sunset Limited offered Mexican entrees, etc. But that was all discontinued in an effort to standardize the menu to save money.

They stock the dining car in Chicago. If needed, they could restock minor items in Fort Worth. They stock for four days, then add extra in case something goes wrong that delays the train and they have to feed another meal.

An Amtrak dining car has two floors. Customers sit at tables on the top floor. Orders are placed in a slot and drop down to the kitchen on the first floor. They're prepared and sent up on a small elevator. The photo below is of one Amtrak dining car kitchen. There are slight differences from car to car, and staff never know exactloy which car may be on a train they show up to work. The bottom photo shows the mini kitchen on the second floor, directly adjacent to where they serve diners.

Snow was born and raised in Chicago, attending private schools until the 10th grade, when she transferred to a public bigh school. She went to Chicago City College and Robert Morris, graduating with a degree in Business Administration. Then she worked for Sears, Montgomery Ward and Kentucky Fried Chicken before coming to Amtrak.

Some employees try the dining car but find it too intense and transfer to other jobs, such as car attendant. "We've had some who came from the cars, worked here for a while,, then requested to transfer back."

As for Snow, she's quite happy where she is. "I love my job," she grins. When she came through Amtrak training, she attended six weeks of classes, then interned on trips in the cafe, the lounge car and diner. Today, training is more demanding. Students get more experience in their areas of specialty.

Snow is hoping to make it to 20 years, at which time she can retire with a pretty decent pension.

"We have our share of problems," she admits. "We used to have people come to the diner in coats and ties and dresses. Now we have people show up without shoes, or in pajamas. We have to send them back to their rooms."

"Maybe our biggest problem is the constant flow of people. We have to greet everyone at the door, remain cheerful even when we're exhausted, and keep all those orders straight." Snow and one of her waitresses point out that many people travelling are stressed, either on the way to care for someone, on the way to a funeral, to a job interview, to a new job, or moving. A good meal well served is a way to ease that stress.

On the northbound train, they serve breakfast and lunch earlier than usual so everyone gets two last meals before the train pulls into Chicago Union Station at 1:52 pm. This means the staff really has to hustle to get the car cleaned up and paperwork done before they go off duty.

Railroad dining cars with full service kitchens have been a cherished tradition for 170 years. They're almost become a symbol of rail travel. People collect the old railroad china and tablecloths. Eating in the dining car is the favorite memory of rail travellers, slightly edging sitting in the Observation Car.

But Amtrak fans wonder how much longer the tradition will continue. In 2018 Amtrak lost $38 million on food service. To reduce this, a program was begun on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited involving pre-boxed meals of a hot entree, cold salad and dessert. This reduced the staff down to one Lead Service Attendant per car. Amtrak fans fear this plan may soon be extended to the Western long distance runs.

We rode the Capitol Limited immediately after the Texas Eagle and ate one of these dinners. We had a choice of Beef Provencal, Asian Noodle Bowl, Chicken Penne Alfredo and a cold Antipasto Plate. Each of us chose one and we passed them around. The salads and entrees weren't bad. They were far better than airline food, cafeteria food, fast food and food at many small restaurants. The desserts were terrible, the same brownie for sale in gas stations, a far cry from the Cheesecake and other delicacies served on the Western runs. Breakfasts included cold cereal, yogurt, fruit, muffins and a "breakfast sandwich" of ham, egg and cheese on a ciabatta bun. No pancakes, western omelettes or scrambled eggs. Both passengers and Amtrak employees have protested. Passengers have repeatedly told Snow and her waitress how they appreciate the dining car. Pete Chimenti, a dues paying member of the National Rail Passengers Association and frequent Amtrak rider, is skeptical of these numbers. "There's no way Amtrak loses $38 million," he insists. "People pay for these meals. Amtrak should be making a profit."

Meanwhile, all Snow can do is run her car as well as possible. "We're on a train. Things beyond our control happen. We'll just keep on doing the best job we possibly can. Every single trip is an adventure."

Presbyterians Conclude Annual Pysanky Lessons

The Coraopolis Presbyterian Church wrapped up its annual Pysanky lessons Friday night. An annual tradition during Lent, the lessons are $3 each and are held each Friday 7-9 pm during Lent. Most people attend all six classes and many become quite good at the ancient Ukrainian art. All materials and tools are provided.

Pysanky is the art of egg decorating. Classic Pysanky uses traditional Ukrainian folk designs. Modern Pysanky uses any design the artist wishes.

Pysanky was developed in the years 100 A.D. through 900 AD., before Catholicism arrived. Early designs celebrated the sun god Dazhboh and his disciples, the Birds. Bird eggs were considered sacred, and decorating them was a form of worship. Ukrainians celebrated a Spring Festival, commemorating the return of warm weather, and Pysanky was part of that holiday. They gave each other gifts of handwoven baskets filled with grass and the decorated eggs.

Once the Catholic Church arrived, the basket giving and egg decorating were absorbed into the Easter celebration. The egg designs began to represent various Christian images. Archeaological excavations in the Ukraine have unearthed egg fragments with rhe designs and bright colors still intact. The very few complete eggs which have been found are shown by museums.

Many longtime Coraopolis residents may recall being taught about "lost wax" egg decorating in school art classes, Scouts, or in Vacation Bible School classes. It was on a much cruder level and the Ukrainian history wasn't mentioned. Students used clear wax crayons to write on the eggs. The eggs were then dipped into bowls of egg coloring. The dyes did not adhere to the wax, so the crayon lines appeared in white. Students wrote their names, or drew smiley faces, or tried to draw basic designs like stars, diamonds, squares, triangles or flowers.

The skills taught in Pysanky classes are much more sophisticated.

A warm instrument can be used to apply the wax. Beginners use a needle heated in a candle flame. Those who develop a strong interest buy their own electric needle, as shown in the photo at left. The needles have a sharp point and can work in much more detail than the crayons of long ago. But a steadiness of hand, a sharp eye and an artistic sense are required to achieve the results shown in the photos here.

Instead of the clear crayon, Psyanky artists use colored wax so they can more clearly see what they're doing. The reddish brown color at left is common. The color is irrelevant because it won't show up on the finished egg.

Once the egg is dipped in the dye pot, and allowed to dry, the egg can be heated over a candle flame and the wax, whether clear or colored, will melt and run off or it can be wiped off.

So, on a very basic level, a student can produce a one color egg with a white design on it.

But by the second class they're moving beyond that. The class instructor arranges a whole line of dye pots in order from lightest to darkest. Yellow is the lightest.

A student has to plan their design carefully. Whatever they want white, they wax first. Then they dip the egg in the yellow pot. It is now yellow with some lines of white. Whatever the student wants yellow, they wax, as is being done on the egg above. Then the egg is dipped in red. In the photo at right, the egg in front is red with some yellow parts and some white parts. Now, whatever the student wants red, they wax. Then they dip the egg in green. In the photo at right, the upper right egg has been dipped in green with some details in red, some in yellow and some in white. The darkest dye is blue.

Advanced artists can add pots of orange, purple, light green, dark green, etc., always keeping the pots in the right order along the color spectrum.

Students can make up their own designs or pick one from design books.

When they're done, they apply a dime sized wax circle at the top and bottom of rhe egg. Then, using a special instrument, they drill two holes in the egg. The wax circle helps strengthen the eggshell so drilling the hole doesn't crack it, and protects the colors from the acidic contents of the egg.

Now it's time to remove the interior contents of the egg. It might seem better to remove the contents before doing the design and dye work, but that's not possible. First, the egg would be so light it would not sink when dipped in the dye pots. Second, with holes top and bottom, the egg would fill up with dye. So the removal is done after the design is applied.

The egg can be left overnight and gravity will draw the watery yolk and white out the bottom. This used to be done in Scouts, schools and Vacation Bible Schools. But it takes too long. During classes, a student can blow gently into the top hole and contents will flow out the bottom hole. Or a suction device can be used. Charlotte Orient, below, is using a suction device to drain an egg. But the company making the devices has gone out of business, so the devices are hard to find.

Finally, the holes can be sealed.

Now the egg can be heated and the wax allowed to either run off or be wiped off by a towel. The student at left is heating an egg to remove the wax.

The dye is very strong and is not affected by running hot wax.

Pysanky is a very serious art form in the Ukraine and nearby countries. There are many books on the subject and associations students can join. There's a World Pysanky Museum in Kolomyya, Ukraine. The second greatest collection of Pysanky in the world is at the National Ukrainian Museum in Chicago.

In this area, during the 20th Century, the Ukrainian community through its two churches in McKees Rocks held annual classes in Pysanky. In the last two decades, a church in Ambridge held classes for 15 years but the instructor retired. The Presbyterian Church is the only location in the Western Hills outside McKees Rocks holding Pysanky classes. This is their third year and they plan to continue next year, again during Lent.

32 students enrolled this year. Many are repeaters.


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Sacred Heart Musical Opens This Weekend

Sacred Heart's 2019 musical, Once Upon A Mattress, opens this weekend (March 1-2-3) in the OLSH Auditorium with performances at 7:30 Friday and Saturday and 2 pm Sunday afternoon. Admission is $12. The run will continue next Friday, Saturday and Sunday (March 8-9-10) at the same times.

Sacred Heart may be a small private academy but this is no small time program. In 20 years Director Dolores Manuel has built one of the strongest drama companies in all of western Pennsylvania. This is no idle claim. The facts back it up. 10 times during those 20 years OLSH has won awards in the prestigious Gene Kelly Musical Theater Festival. OLSH has already been invited back to the exclusive Edinboro University Fringe Drama Competition. Two years ago, at the Fringe competition, OLSH qualified five students to spend two weeks in Scotlsnd, where they performed a Thornton Wilder play.

Wednesday night, at a full scale dress rehearsal, Manuel watched critically as her 60 student cast put the play on before an empty auditorium

Once Upon A Mattress is a 1950s musical comedy set in medieval times. It features the efforts of a king and queen to find a suitable princess for their son, Dauntless. A long list of hopeful candidates have failed the tests dreamed up by the Wizard. Finally, the other son, Sir Studley, volunteers to go Beyond The Wall into the swamp kingdom of Woebegone to see if he can find an acceptable princess who could pass the test. Much to the horror of Queen Aggravain, he returns with Princess Winnifred, a free spirit who swims, drinks, lifts weights, and has no use for the Queen's stuffy protocol. Dauntless and Winnifred take an immediate liking to each other but the Queen and the Wizard try to devise a test the Princess cannot possibly pass.

Two subplots wind through the play. Sir Studley and Lady Larken have dallied and she is pregnant, but so far only they know. King Sextimus is mute so has to explain everything by pantomime. The claim is that he is mute because of a spell cast by an angry witch and the spell can only be broken when a mouse rises up and overcomes a hawk. But the suspicion grows that he is really mute because he has been cowed into submission by the domineering Queen.

While all this develops on stage, Manuel (photo below right, speaking to cast) takes notes. The lighting is not yet quite right. In a few scenes, actors forget their lines or cues. They ad lib and improvise smoothly so an audience not familiar with the play might not notice, but that needs correcting. A few scenes lag, the pacing slow. That will need tightening up.

By Friday everything will need to be perfect because in the audience will be four judges. As usual, OLSH is entered in the Gene Kelly Musical Theater Competition. This year 33 schools are entered. Across the region, the judges will be viewing plays. The ones they select will be invited to the Benedum Center the last week of May for the Finals.

The Gene Kelly awards were created in 1998 to honor Gene Kelly, the famous actor, dancer, singer, director and producer who was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Kelly graduated from Peabody HS and the University of Pittsburgh and began his stage career here before heading for Hollywood. Kelly is considerd the most important person in the history of American musical theater, and did everything he could to encourage Pittsburgh colleges and high schools to become involved in that field and develop their local talent.

In past years, OLSH has won Gene Kelly awards for Scenic Design, Costuming, Actress, Supporting Actress and Lighting. Manuel's company has been a finalist in Crew, Technical Support, Ensemble, Actor, Direction. Choreography and Best Overall Production.

This is no one woman production. Manuel has plenty of help. Daughter Kate is a Bucknell University graduate in Vocal Performance and handles the vocal coaching plus the artwork. Heather Taylor is in charge of the Choreography and Lighting. Michelle Nowakowski is responsible for Costuming and Music. Manuel designs the sets, but a committee of Dads builds them. Nowakowski, Allen Pontiere and Tracey Whorton anchor the orchestra, but all other members are students. "Every adult handles two or even three tasks," Manuel explains. "We don't have enough to let people specialize."

The orchestra is unique in several ways. In the tight OLSH Auditorium, there's no room out front. So the orchestra sits behind the stage and is heard but never seen. Because it is right behind the sets, it sits in total darkness, except for tiny lights right over each member's pages of music. No member of the orchestra can see on stage. So they listen for lines. When an actor or actress says a particular line, the orchestra begins a particular song.

The orchestra isn't the only group in the darkness. Further backstage, Rebecca Voss of the Stage Crew tracks scene changes and set movements in a flow book under a single desk light, as seen in the photo bottom center. Like all stage crews, Sacred Heart's is a tight team, headed by Ryan Parker and including Jacob Kanoza, Tiffany Ponticel and Matthew Shick. An old drama cliche says the Director conducts rehearsals and organizes everything, but once a performance begins, the stage crew runs it while the Director sits in the back of the audience and watches.

One advantage a stable, long term program like OLSH has is that students begin as freshmen and develop their skills over three years so as seniors they're ready to fill key roles, whether acting or singing or backstage. Alyssa Brinza (photo, left) is wonderful as the quirky, boisterous Princess Winnifred, who thinks Winnie sounds like a horse so prefers to be called Fred. Xavier Moskala plays a great King Sextimus, unable to talk so communicating with bizarre gestures. His birds and bees talk with son Dauntless, in which the King has to explain sex through pantomime using flower and bee imagery, is a classic, even though the two actors are still perfecting the pace. Sextimus flirting with all the handmaidens and chasing them around the sets adds a continual undertone to each scene. Sophia Blake is charming, sweet and gracious as Lady Larken (in pink in photo three frames up on the left), alternately romantic, frightened and angry. Margaret Matous makes a fine domineering Queen Aggravain (above right, cradling son Dauntless), overprotective of her clueless son, ferocious with her King, conniving against the Princess, and plotting with the Wizard. A strong supporting cast helps, especially Chapel Fauser as The Nightingale. She only appears once, brought in to serenade Winnifred to sleep. Fauser's screeching and yowling are one of the play's funniest scenes, but it takes real talent to sing as loudly as badly as she does while occasionally lapsing into legitimate music.

Even the army of handmaidens (photo, right) serving rhe court does a good job. While none of them are speaking roles, their constant knitting, floor scrubbing, errand running, and general bustling around help create the atmosphere of an operating castle, lending a rich background and filling the stage with color and motion. Presumably, from their ranks will come the lead actresses of two and three years in the future. The beautiful costumes were all designed and made by Michelle Nowakowski.

This is not a low budget production. There's a lot of high tech equipment backing up what happens on stage, as seen in the photos below. That's Manuel checking the twin screens at right and David Sykut manning the sound system at left.

Putting on a production of this level is not easy. Of 300 high schools in western Pennsylvania, only 33 even attempt it and about 20 consistently do it well. The OLSH performance looks like a typical college play. The lines are well inflected, the pacing usually snappy, the supporting tech flawless, and the voices impressive. It is definitely worth an evening.

Coraopolis Celebrates Christmas

Another Christmas comes to Coraopolis, this one two thousand eighteen years since the birth in the village of Bethlehem of a baby who would attract a huge following and have a religion named for him.

Weather forecasts do not predict a White Christmas this year, although flurries are possible.

In some respects, Christmas in Coraopolis looks a lot different than it did in the 20th Century. Locals who now live across the country might not recognize the old home. The mills are long gone so Fifth Avenue and Mill Street are no longer crowded with last minute holiday shoppers. Residents now either shop out at Robinson Center or online.

Local church membership is far below what it was, so Christmas Eve services are no longer crowded.

But residents still decorate their homes for the season, and the best of them are more elaborately lighted than ever. The four photos below are just a sampling of Coraopolis homes all dressed up for Christmas.

Although our photos don't show them because they don't photograph well after dark, the modern fad is large inflatables. Lawns and rooftops hold Santa Claus, Snowmen, Vehicles, Reindeer, Elves, Snow Globes, Manger Scenes and other icons. Most of them are on timers so that when the sun comes up the pump turns off and they deflate, then when darkness returns they inflate again for another night.

Modern computers and electronics also allow for intricately programmed light shows, some of which have speakers playing music.

Many homes still have model train layouts under the Christmas Trees, but kids today also dream of receiving Drones, IPads, Laptops, IPhones, Video Games or Robotics Kits.

Artificial trees with built in lights are popular now, but some families still prefer live trees.

Holiday basketball tournaments are less common now. Instead, teams travel to exotic locations for major eight and 16 team tournaments featuring opponents from across the country.

Moon Hosts Christmas Crafts Show Saturday

Moon High School is hosting a Christmas Arts & Crafts show Saturday, December 15th, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the school cafeteria.

The show is sponsored by Destination Celebrations and proceeds will benefit the Kids Of Love Foundation, a charity supporting kids with Cancer and other debilitating diseases.

Tables will be set up by various vendors from across the Pittsburgh area.

These craft shows are increasingly popular in the Western Hills. They allow shoppers to buy items handmade in America for reasonable prices without fighting traffic at the malls and, in the process, benefit a local cause. But it is advisable to go early because vendors often run out of items by noon.

Presbyterians Stage Annual Living Nativity

The Coraopolis Presbyterian Church again presented its Living Nativity Friday night.

Church members portrayed Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and Shepherds. Live animals were trucked in from a nearby farm.

People gathered along Fifth Avenue, many taking photos. The display was on the south lawn facing Suburban Landscaping.

Long time Coraopolis residents remember the display lasting three nights. But as renting the animals became more expensive it was reduced to two nights and now only one.

The scene used to be busier. More church members participated and more animals were rented. For several decades camels and cattle were brought in. But they've become too expensive.

Church membership has shrunk in recent decades and many members are now older and less able to tolerate the cold, reducing the participants.

Craft Shopping Offered At VFW Sunday

The annual Craft Fair will be held at the Coraopolis VFW Sunday (November 25) from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Sponsored by Eat n Park, the Craft Fair allows area residents to shop for Christmas while raising money for Children's Hospital.

34 vendors will be selling various items. Food, a Chinese auction of craft baskets, an area where kids can decorate their own cookies, and a visit from Santa Claus will also be part of the day.

All money raised goes directly to the Free Care Fund at Children's Hospital.

Last year vendors began selling out of items by 1:00 so shoppers are urged to arrive early to guarantee a full range of choices.

The Craft Fair draws a large crowd. It allows shoppers to choose quality hand made in America items without fighting traffic at the malls. Many churchgoers simply left their cars parked and walked a block or two down from their Sunday services. Many shoppers either bought lunch at the Fair or stepped across the street to one of the two restaurants.


Cory Celebrates Trick Or Treat

Coraopolis celebrated Trick or Treat 2018 on a warm Thursday night with a thousand or so costumed kids and several hundred houses decorated with lights, inflatables, coffins, headstones, giant webs, pumpkins, smoke machines, cauldrons, fires, spiders, skeletons, ghosts, zombies, minions, superheroes and black cats. Several dogs were dressed for the occasion, one scurrying around the neighborhood disguised as a giant spider.

Dozens of parents joined the fun and dressed up so they could escort their children in style. Several parents and children wore matching costumes, such as a Haystack and Farmer John, the Tin Man and Dorothy, Merlin the Wizard and his Owl, and a Mother Dinosaur and her Infant Dinosaur.

One 21st Century custom continued to gain popularity : adults with long driveways or flights of steps set up a table at the foot of the driveway or steps and handed out candy from there.

Numerous adults also handed out candy in costume. There were witches at their cauldrons, mad scientists in their front porch labs, and morticians surrounded by coffins with skeletons or zombies climbing out.

Police and firemen manned major corners to keep traffic moving slow.

These photos can easily be enlarged on computers, phones or tablets.

Cory Bringing Back Halloween Festival --- Sort Of

It won't look exactly like it did back in the 20th Century, but something closely resembling the old Coraopolis Halloween Festival is coming back.

This one is called the Fall Festival and will occur Saturday, October 20th between 10 - 2 pm on Mill Street and in the area of 5th Avenue in front of Emma Jean's Relics.

There will be a fire truck, a K-9 unit, free apple cider slushies and hot dogs, a parade and prizes for the best costumes.

Ambridge Radio Station WMBA will broadcast the festivities from 10 to 12:30.

There will be food trucks. Tours of the restored train station will be offered.

Lucinda Wade cautions that they are starting over after a 30 year lapse, and this year they are just hoping for 20-30 kids. The hope is that the Fall Festival might evolve over several years into an actual Halloween Festival like the town used to have.

The original Halloween Parade was held at night and included area bands, floats, civic groups and three divisions of costume competition. Children, teenagers and adults competed for trophies and $100, $75 and $50 prizes at each age level. In the 1950s, a mechanic or millwright would earn $5000 a year in one of the local factories or on the railroad. A small businessman would clear about $4500 a year. A teacher earned about $4000 a year. $75 would buy a top of the line Schwinn bicycle, a Lionel train set, a Flexible Flyer sled or a Chemistry or Microscope set. So those prizes were highly desired. Competition was intense.

As the two black and white photos from old Record archives show, costumes required quite a bit of work. The trophies won were proudly displayed on mantels and on top of TV sets for the next year. Some local families still have a few on their shelves.

A judging platform was erected in front of the Borough Building. The Mayor and Council members did the judging. Each contestant wore a number pinned to their back. The parade began at the YMCA and went up State Avenue to Montour Street, then back Fifth Avenue to the judging platform. The bands, floats and vehicles continued on to Mill Street and dispersed. The constumed entries got in line and, one by one, climbed the stairs and walked across in front of the judges. They had to wait around, because often the top 3-5 entries would be asked to climb back up and walk in front of the judges again.

The homemade costumes included robots, spaceships, trees, rocket ships, cars, trucks, dragons, horses, cigarette packs, television sets, lipstick cartridges, centipedes, telephones, thermos bottles, sherman tanks, boats, airplanes and anything else anyone could make out of cardboard, duct tape, coat hangers, and whatever they could find laying around the house or garage.

The population of Coraopolis was much larger back then. But the Halloween Parade also drew entries from Neville, Moon, Robinson, Kennedy, North Fayette and Findlay, and all the high school bands in the area marched in it.

A committee composed of Kiwanis and Chamber of Commerce members worked year round on the parade. They sent out reminders in July. People began working on costumes when they got the notices.

Art students from Coraopolis High School decorated the downtown store windows as well as doors and windows at the schools. Trick or Treating lasted two nights back then. Kids would spend one night in their own area, then hit the other neighborhoods on the second night.

Consolidated Glass Company 1889-1963
Coraopolis Was Famous For Glass, Not Steel

The stereotype is that Coraopolis was long famous for steel, machining and railroads. But that's not the whole story.

From the 1890s until the 1950s Coraopolis was famous for the best glass tableware and lamp globes made anywhere.

And that reputation was created by one company : Consolidated Glass. It was located below the tracks, accessed by 2nd and 3rd Avenues, right across the rails from the new Municipal Building.

The company was originally the Fostoria Lamp & Glass Company out in Ohio, but a fire destroyed its factory. It was bought out by Wallace and McAfee Company of Pittsburgh, relocated to Coraopolis, and renamed Consolidated Glass. The grand opening of the new factory is seen in the old Coraopolis Record photo at right.

The company was always on the cutting edge. In 1894 Nicholas Kopp introduced iredescent glass. The company displayed its iredescent lamp globes at the Chicago World's Fair and it became a nationwide rage. By 1910, Consolidated employed 400 workers and was the largest lamp glass company in the U.S.

In 1919, J.A. Jacobson introduced a new concept, the solid white glass lamp globe. He named it "Cora" after the town. It becaame a national fad throughout the 1920s.

But then the company redirected its efforts into tableware. In 1926 Reuben Haley introduced a line called Martele, inspired by Rene Lalique. It featured glassware in various colors and designs and launched another national fad.

In the 1940s the company introduced what is now called "milk glass." It called the line Regent ('48-'56) and then Con Cora (Consolidated at Coraopolis) and it was another nationwide hit. After a few years of producing pure white milk glass, the company decided to begin decorating the pieces with 20 different patterns. Because World War II had taken all the men, the company advertised for women artists. They chose the best and assigned them to paint leaves, flowers and grape clusters on the various items. Again, the women's work became wildly popular and the company could not produce enough pieces to keep up with demand.

It became evident that although all the women were very good, a handful were especially talented. They became an elite team and were encouraged to sign their works. These women were Helen Mixter (head decorator), Faith Forsythe, Mary DeMao and Waltrude ("Wally") Hendle. Hendle had been trained as an artist in Germany. These elite women painted the largest and most impressive pieces the company produced.

Of those women, only Wally Hendle is still alive. She has lived to see her works and those of her colleagues prized both nationally and worldwide.

The women were paid well by the standards of the day, but no one ever dreamed how valuable the glass pieces would become.

The women had a particular gift. They worked on an assembly line. They had to work very fast, make no mistakes, and produce art in multiple colors. In the piece at right, if you look in the center below the two red petals, you can see the green initials "MD." That was Mary DeMao.

Originally, the pieces were priced modestly. But resellers realized their value and the demand and quickly jacked up those prices. The company soon followed and by 1960 the milk glass was expensive.

But Consolidated continued to make its other lines. Many collectors like the earlier red and pink clear pieces (below). There were also blues and greens. The company experimented with shapes. Collectors look for the various shapes and some people specialize in them.

Eventually, the Consolidated Glass Collectors Club formed and held its first convention in Coraopolis in 1993. An annual membership costs $30. There's a newsletter and an annual convention. This year's convention will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport Thursday, Friday and Saturday, July 26-27-28.

From 7-9 pm Thursday and Friday evening, there will be displays open to the public. Over 100 pieces will be for sale.

Consolidated Glass pieces can be found on EBay, Etsy and Amazon. But more valuable pieces are only available through dealers and collectors.

Many Coraopolis and Western Hills residents own several pieces, often left to them by parents or grandparents. But there are also large local collections. Lance Scalise of Capri Glass owns a big collection and has it on display in his showroom. He would like to see a Coraopolis Museum where several locals could bring their collections and display them for the general public to enjoy.

That can be risky, however. The Coraopolis Historical Society had such a collection and put it on display at the Memorial Library. The pieces were stolen.

Jack Wilson has written a book, which includes hundreds of photos, titled A History Of Consolidated Glass. There is also a book specifically on the collection and care of Consolidated glass pieces.

During the Great Depression the company suspended operation in Cory and rented its molds to Phoenix Glass Company. They produced glass for four years until Consolidated reopened. For this reason, the phrase "Phoenix & Consolidated Glass" is often seen or heard.

There's a lingering mystery involving the glass company. Researchers are trying to identify all the women painters. They have initials for three women they cannot identify : T.M., L.H., and J.G. Anyone with a relative with these initials that they know worked at the glass company should contact CGCC President Tom Jiamachello at www.facebook.com/groups /pcgcc.

Fortunately, the CGCC invited the 20 remaining Consolidated employees to dinner a decade ago. Since, all but Hendle have died.

The Consolidated Glass era in Coraopolis came to a sad and spectacular end in a huge fire in 1963.

Glassmaking and glass decorating requires a large store of chemicals and paints. The fire they fed was visible up and down the valley. The intense heat, smoke and dangerous fumes kept firemen at a distance. It totally destroyed the complex.

Consolidated did not have enough insurance to rebuild. The site was difficult to reclaim so it stood empty for a long time. Finally, in 1999 Montour Industrial Supplies reclaimed it and moved in and is still there.

No company today, anywhere in the world, is making glass lamp globes or tableware of the same quality or artistry as Consolidated Glass did.

Before Autos, Trolleys Linked Cory To Pittsburgh

Back when automobiles were still a novelty and only the wealthy owned them, back before the old Shafer Bus Line was launched, back when the passenger trains headed for Pittsburgh only stopped in Coraopolis four times a day, there were trolleys.

Trolleys ran cheaply on overhead electric wires and had their own tracks. A trolley came by every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. until midnight. They made the run from Cory's Mill Street to downtown Pittsburgh in 30 minutes, faster than even the passenger trains.

The trolley shown in the photo at right was a pre World War I model. Notice the "Sewickley" sign over the window and the "Coraopolis Sewickley #23" sign below the window. Also notice the "cowcatcher" mounted below the front. Its purpose was to deflect animals caught on the tracks by the fast moving trolley. The cowcatcher was curved and would sweep the animals to one side or the other and prevent their being trapped under the trolley, which might have derailed it.

The trolleys serving Coraopolis continued on past town through the woods and climbed a steep hill to cross the old Sewickley Bridge, which had a track built along one side for them. The trolleys came down off the bridge and turned right where the present Audi Dealership is. They turned right again and dropped down to a station almost under the bridge. The station is still there. Just the corner of it can be seen in the photo at left. The track made a tight circle around the station and rejoined itself for the trip back up the hill for one block, a left turn, another left turn, and the run across the bridge, through Coraopolis and back to Pittsburgh. From Sewickley Station to downtown Pittsburgh took 45 minutes.

The red and white model at left was a 1950s PCC trolley which is the one most long time Cory residents recall. It was very fast, efficient and comfortable. Notice the sign over the window reading "23 Sewickley Coraopolis." It is about to be changed to "Pittsburgh" for the run back up the river. The driver inside had a small crank handle by the left window he would turn to change the sign.

The Pittsburgh-Coraopolis-Sewickley line was privately owned and not part of the larger Pittsburgh network.

June 1 : Day Of Infamy On Neville Island

99 years ago today, Neville Island changed forever. And while none of those involved are still with us, almost all of them went to their graves bitter about what happened.

Up until 1914, Neville Island was quite a different place. It was a farming paradise. A few large farms and 16 smaller ones raised vegetables for the city of Pittsburgh. The Ohio River back then was not yet polluted. Every Spring it would flood, depositing rich soil on the island. The rest of the year, water from the river flowing by would seep into the soil. The water on both sides affected temperatures, keeping them from getting too hot or too cold. The combination of rich soil, plenty of water and mild temperatures produced the best vegetables anyone had ever seen.

During rhe Summer, farmers would be up before dawn, picking vegetables to load onto trucks to haul into Pittsburgh's Strip District, which was basically the farmer's market for the entire city. 90% of the produce sold in the market came from Neville Island and Troy Hill, the plateau north of Pittsburgh. Neville farmers also sold their produce in McKees Rocks, Coraopolis, Sewickley, Carnegie and Crafton, and ran stands on the island where people from outlying areas would come once or twice a week. Neville Island produce was also loaded into boxcars lined with huge blocks of ice and shipped by railroad into Philadelphia and New York City. The elite Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York served Asparagus A La Neville Island. Food critics considered it rhe best asparagus anywhere.

Island farmers were cutting edge.

They were the first in western Pennsylvania to commercially raise Strawberries. They introduced tiny tomatoes, which area merchants and restaurants called "Neville Island Tomatoes," to Pittsburgh. Today we call them Cherry Tomatoes. Neville Island farmers introduced Cayenne and Poblano Peppers to Pittsburgh.

The Island was called "The Gem Of The Ohio" because in an area rapidly developing and industrializing, Neville remained a kind of Eden. It had beaches, white frame farmhouses with wrap around porches, and clean, open expanses of land. The smoke from Pittsburgh factories drifted East, away from the island, so it still had clear air.

Then, in 1914, World War I began. By 1916, the U.S. Government saw the island, especially its eastern half, as an ideal place to build a gigantic munitions complex, where they could manufacture guns and ammunition and easily guard it against saboteurs.

But the farmers refused to sell.

So the Government used its Right Of Eminent Domain to take the land and simply deposit checks in the bank accounts of the owners for what the government thought it was worth. This process, including several lawsuits, took 24 months. It was October of 1918 by the time the Government took final control of the land.

On November 11, 1918, Germany surrendered. The war was over. And the government lost all interest in the munitions plant. The farmers, who had refused to spend the money deposited in their accounts, expected their land would be returned to them. But it wasn't. Instead, the Government held an auction. Suddenly, U.S. Steel and several other corporations decided they wanted the land. The farmers did not have the money to outbid the large corporations. On June 1, 1919, the auction was held.

Mary Ann Cole saw that there was no way the farmers could regain their land but convinced them to let her bid on their behalf. Parcel by parcel, she bid against the corporations. driving up the price. Andrew Mellon, President of the Union Savings Bank of Pittsburgh, fumed that "this one woman has forced these companies to pay three times what they would otherwise have done."

But it was small vengeance. People lost their homes, incomes, and a way of life they could not replace anywhere else close to Pittsburgh.

The major truck farmers losing their land and the amounts they lost are : Harry Eckert 71 acres, John, H.T., R.H. and Amelia Hamilton 65, Tom Pittock 43,W. D. ONeal 22, Charles Travelli 18, H. T. Morris 18, G. R. Bubb 14, G. W. Park 13, Mary Hunt 12, W. C. and Lesa Shanks 12, K. M. Kerr 11, and Catherine Crow nine. Others losing less than 10 acres but who still raised vegetables for sale were John Helm, Ann Burton, G. W. Boyles, F. W. Krugh, A. G. Smits, John Dickman, A. T. Phillips, Mary Ann Cole, Wilson Dickson and John Von Stein.

During the 1920s the industrialization of the island proceeded steadily, but it was during World War II that it exploded until it looked like the photo at left, which is how most current residents of Coraopolis and the Western Hills remember the the island. The mills have closed now, of course, but it is too late to ever return the land to agricultural use.

From beyond the grave, Mary Ann Cole had her final vengeance. Her daughter, Jean Boggio, used her mother's notes and diary to write Stolen Fields, which retells the taking of the farmers' property and the handing it to major corporations who turned a paradise into a toxic waste dump.

Graff's Gas Station One Of A Vanishing Breed

When Bill Graff looks out the window of his gas station at the corner of 5th Avenue and Ferree Street (see photo three frames down), he feels a little lonely.

The Sunoco Station across 5th is now a convenient store. The CitiService (Citgo) station diagonally across the intersection is now a Wings outlet. The owner of the Gulf station across Ferree Street says he's closing at the end of the month. The gas station across the bridge on Neville Island recently closed. In a town that once had 12 full service stations, Graff's is the only one left.

And it's not easy being a dinosaur. "People like the pumps where you can insert your credit card. We don't have that. Here, you have to come inside and pay. People want to buy lottery tickets, beer, snacks, milk and bread at the same place they buy gas. We don't have that. But a lot of people like the personal touch. They're our clientele."

Graff certainly knows the gasoline business. He's the third generation of his family to make a living at it. Grandfather Joe Graff came from Austria and worked at the Canfield Refinery at 4th Avenue and Thorn Street. That ended when the plant was destroyed by fire in 1939. Joe then ran the Canfield Service Station (photo left) at the corner of 5th and Chess with his son Bill (photo below at the Firestone tire rack). They sold that and Bill opened the current station under the Atlantic brand. In 1971 Atlantic changed to Arco. Bill, Jr., was working at the station and in 1983 he and his father switched to Texaco. Bill, Jr., took over as manager in 1984. In 2002 Texaco announced it was pulling out of Pennsylvania, so Bill decided to be an Independent provider. He now buys his gasoline through a fuel broker.

Bill, Jr., grew up in the final days of the uniformed attendants who came out to your car, pumped your gas, cleaned the windshield, checked the tires, raised the hood and checked the battery, oil and coolant.

"Atlantic offered Redball Service. If an attendant forgot to check your oil you got your gas free. Back then, gas stations really pampered customers."

Attendants were paid 75 cents an hour. "We never had to advertise for help. The kids knew if someone quit or was fired and they raced each other here to apply for the job. Every May we'd have a dozen boys asking us if we had any openings for Summer." The jobs everyone wanted were the mechanic positions in the service bay. "They paid more and kids back then just loved working on cars. It was a big status thing to be able to tell your friends you were a mechanic at a gas station."

Except very few high school kids got those jobs. "We had millworkers who were really good mechanics and would come straight from the mills every day to work in our service bay, or work in our bays all day, then go straight to the mills for the 4 to 12 shift. We would also have some retired millworkers who would work for us."

Bill sadly shakes his head. "That situation has totally reversed. Now, there's a critical shortage of qualified mechanics. Kids don't grow up working on cars in their garages, driveways or backyards any more. Their Dads aren't teaching them the old skills. Kids don't take the vocational courses in high school. So they come to us and don't know the basics of working with tools, or working on engines. They don't even know how to change oil, or spark plugs, or a battery. It's also hard to find reliable kids, who will show up at work on time every day and put in a full shift of work."

That situation is worsened by new cars, with their computers, electronics and high tech modules.

"Once you have basic skills, then you need advanced training. And the cars keep getting more advanced. We need to update our credentials every year or so."

NAPA Auto Parts helps. Since Graff uses their parts, they provide classes for Graff and his two mechanics on various aspects of auto servicing.

Graff's son, Bill III (photo below, with jack) , is one of his mechanics. Bill III is an ASE Master Tech. But he has to renew his certificate every two years. "Working as a full time auto mechanic is tough," Graff explains. "It's hard on the knees, back, wrists and knuckles. By the time you're in your 60s, it really takes a toll on you."

Graff tried apprenticing but gave it up. "The kids needed too much basic instruction.

"We're running three, four or five cars a day, 15-25 cars a week, through here and we need to work pretty fast. We don't have the time to stop and go over basic skills with a beginner."

But the service bay is an essential part of the gas station business.

"No one makes money selling gas," Graff says. "The profit margin's too thin. The gas punps are only a way to bring customers in. Then, you have to have either a convenient store or a service bay."

The gasoline business has evolved. Canfield, Atlantic and Arco owned the stations and only rented them to local managers. A manager would pay rent on the station, plus paying for the gas. If they sold 100,000 gallons in a month, they didn't owe rent for that month. But they only made about 3 cents a gallon profit.

Texaco did not own stations. When Graffs went with Texaco, they were able to buy the station.

But that didn't solve the problem. The business struggles with taxes and fees. There are taxes on tanks and pumps. There are registration fees for tanks and pumps. They have to be tested annually, which costs station ownees about $1200. And the gas itself is taxed. As of May 2018, one gallon of gas costs $2.27. But there are 78 cents per gallon in taxes, so the consumer ends up paying close to $3.00 a gallon.

Graff is making plans now to get out of the gas business and operate as an auto service center. "We'll have to hire at least one more mechanic, and maybe two," he says.

The fact that the long time car dealerships are gone and none of the other gas atations have service bays will provide him enough business. "People can't work on their own cars anymore. They're too specialized. You have to have special tools and instruments. If nothing else, people have to have somewhere to go for their annual inspections."

The bigger question is if he closes the gas pumps, where will Coraopolis residents go for gas?

He shrugs. "There's a Unimart at 5th and Main, and one at the top of Maple Street. There's a Citgo on 4th and Main. There's a convenient store and station on Neville Island at I-79. And of course stores like Giant Eagle have gas pumps. They give discounts for their regular customers."

From 100,000 gallons a month back in the 1970s down to 8,000 gallons a month in 2018, Graff's and other stations have seen a huge volume drop. If he goes through with his plans, they'll take out the tanks and pumps completely "to avoid the potential liability."

And a 100 year old era will have come to an end in Coraopolis

8 Churches Combine In 15th Cross Walk

Despite the cold, rainy weather, 60 members from eight Coraopolis and Moon Township churches combined Friday for the 15th annual Good Friday Cross Walk.

The walk is sponsored by the West Hills Ministerium Association and was hosted by the Coraopolis Presbyterian Church.

Attendees met at the Presbyterian Church for a sermon led by the Reverend Mark Heiner of the First Baptist Church. After the service, three large wooden crosses were carried through Coraopolis by volunteers portraying Christ and the others who were forced by Roman soldiiers to haul their own crosses through the streets before being crucified on them 2018 years ago.

When they returned to the Presbyterian Church, a second service was conducted by the Reverend Herb Tillman of Coraopolis Church of God & Christ. The three crosses were then erected on the lawn facing Fifth Avenue.

A black cloth was mounted on one, signifying Christ. It will be changed to a white cloth to symbolize the resurrection. The crosses will remain standing for 50 days until Pentacost Sunday.

The original crosses were much heavier and those carrying them often collapsed under the heavy weight. They were whipped by Roman soldiers to force them to lift them and continue carrying them, but if they still proved unable volunteers from the audience were allowed to help. Using this as a precedent, volunteers in Coraopolis took turns carrying the crosses through town. But these are much lighter models.

Several local churches will conduct their usual Easter Sunday Runrise Services, and various other services and events will be held all day.

Local Organization Building Trails Network

Sean Brady of Hollow Oak Land Trust spoke to the Coraopolis Borough Council Wednesday evening, hoping to bring Cory into an alliance the Trust is assembling among Airport area towns, townships, corporations and individuals.

Brady and the Trust are developing a network of hiking trails. On a larger level, they are assembling tracts of land and negotiating with private landowners for easement rights so as much of the remaining green space in Western Allegheny County can be preserved.

"This is not an exercise in nostalgia," he told the Council. "Companies and individuals want to locate in communities with green space, hiking trails, clean streams, birds, animals, forests, wildflowers and a sense of Nature. By some miracle, we still have these places here, winding through our residential and business districts. But we need to make sure we keep them."

Hollow Oak is not new. It's been here since 1991, gradually assembling donated land and acquiring easements (both are tax deductible). But it now has enough critical mass to allow the development of a network. Their crown jewel is the Montour Woods tract extending from the Montour Trail up Meeks Run connecting with Moon Park. Moon Park is just behind the Montour Country Club. Across the road from the country club is a farm that sits at the beginning of Thorn Run. Moon Township owns 150 acres at the top of the valley. Another large tract on that plateau is owned by Robin Hill Park. Then the land drops down into a deep ravine carved out by Thorn Run. That ravine curves around and parallels Thorn Hollow Drive into far western Coraopolis.

Imagine, for just one example, a trail beginning at Fifth Avenue in Coraopolis, or perhaps at the far end of Thorn Hollow Drive, following Thorn Run up the hollow, zigzagging up the hillside to Robin Hill Park, crossing the farm along a fenceline, crossing Coraopolis Heights Road, following a fenceline across the Montour Heights Country Club golf course, crossing Moon Park, zigzagging down the hill to Meeks Run, and following the creek down to the Montour Trail. They could then follow the Montour Trail three miles back to the Route 51 Soccer Complex. Hikers could have someone pick them up or drop them off at Montour Heights Road, Moon Park or Hassam Road where it crosses the Montour Trail. That would allow them to hike segments of the trail.

They could have someone drop them off at Thorn Hollow Drive and pick them up at the Soccer Complex.

Or they could just park their car at the Soccer Complex, walk along Fifth Avenue through town, hike the entire trail, and return to their car.

What Brady needs from Coraopolis is a small amount of funding to develop the Coraopolis Greenways Plan. Once planning maps and the parcel analysis have been completed, then Hollow Oak can help the Borough to develop trails and other amenities, such as trailheads and signage. At that point, community residents will be able to volunteer and learn how to build and maintain sustainable, woodland trails

"We use volunteer labor to build our trails and then maintain them," he told Council.

A good hiker could easily hike the previously described loop in one day. Moon Park is almost exactly halfway. Hikers could stop at one of the picnic tables in the park, have lunch, use the restrooms, refill their canteens, and then hike on back into Coraopolis. And except for crossing a few roads, the entire trail system would be in either deep woods or open meadow

It's not a boring walk, either. The two valleys, Thorn Run and Meeks Run, are still pristine. A trail would follow streams gurgling over rock ledges, sometimes forming long pools. Especially in Spring, the forested hillsides and open fields would be ablaze with wildflowers. Along the creeks are Ferns and Mosses. October would find the trees in Fall colors (see below). Crayfish, Frogs, Toads and small brightly colored fish called Darters live in or along the streams. Deer, Fox, Groundhogs and Raccoons are plentiful. Red Tailed Hawks and various species of Owls live high in the trees, and many kinds of birds nest lower.

Scout troops, church youth groups and school classes are likely users, but Brady said on Hollow Oak's already existing trails he sees every kind of user, including many adults, families and 20 somethings.

The Thorn Run trail isn't the only possibility. Brady gave Council members a map showing a complete loop much closer to town (see map below). In this one, hikers would follow the same Thorn Run Hollow trail to the top, but then walk along the bottom of the cemetery along Maple Street, cross to Cornell School property, and either zig zag down Wildcat Rock or circle the base by the football field and descend into the valley between Cornell and Montour Street, usually called either McCabe's Woods or Omlors Woods.

That trail would follow McCabes Run, then Cormon Run, up to the top of the valley, cross Montour Street, skirt the back of the Sacred Heart property, then zig zag down the hillside to the Montour Trail. Hikers could then walk back into town along the Montour Trail, coming out at the Soccer Complex. Hikers on the Moon Park - Montour Woods longer loop could also could use this alternate route returning to town, coming out on Montour Street instead of the Soccer Complex.

Such a trail system would first serve Coraopolis and Moon Township hikers. As word spread, others would come from further away. They might want to spend a night. Or eat a meal or two. Stop at the Cash Market for ingredients for lunch or snacks out on the trail. Buy a tank of gas. The trails could thus become an economic driver.

Councilmen had many questions. What would the initil phase cost the town? Brady estimated $5,000. Would ATVs and motorbikes be able to use the trail? Brady said No. What about Mountain Bikes, the kind with no motor but built rugged for trail use? Brady thinks they would, but this could be controversial. How would emergency crews quickly reach those hikers that might suffer injuries or become ill? Brady admitted the trails would not be usable by emergency vehicles and this matter would need much discussion.

This is a long term process. Council invited Brady and Hollow Oak to submit a formal proporal, which will include a map, parcel analysis and construction costs. Some of these woods are privately owned. Hollow Oak would work with owners to acquire easements. Owners granting such easements may acquire certain property tax benefits.

Mayor Shawn Reed in particular is an advocate of promoting green spaces and Council seemed receptive to the general idea, if still a bit uncertain about the details. And the woods are there for anyone wanting to take a hike right now. They needn't wait for a new trail to be built.

Lenten Friday Meals Resume At St. Joe's

The women of St. Joseph's Church will once again offer Lenten Friday meals from now until Easter.

Lunch will be served from 11:30 until 1:30. Dinner will be served from 3:45 until 6:45. Takeout is available by calling ahead to 412-329-7911.

Credit cards are accepted.

The menu includes Baked / Fried Fish, Pierogies, Halushkis, Homemade Mac n Cheese and Assorted Baked Goods.

The Lenten Friday meals have long been a Coraopolis tradition but this could be the final year. The Bishop will announce his plans for Allegheny County soon and St. Joe's is in danger of being merged with St. Margaret & Mary of Moon Township.

Pysanky Lessons Offered Friday Evenings

The Coraopolis Presbyterian Church will offer a series of Pysanky lessons each Friday evening from 7-9 pm. Anyone interested in this ancient Ukrainian folk art can attend one class, several or all of them. Each lesson will cost $3.

All materials will be provided.

The first lesson will be Friday, February 16. They will continue each Friday through March 16.

Traditional Pysanky uses Ukrainian folk designs. They are not painted on but applied using wax. The art of Pysanka was developed in what is now The Ukraine in the years 100 A.D. through 900 A.D., before Catholicism arrived. Those early designs celebrated the Sun God Dazhboh and his disciples, the Birds. Bird eggs were considered sacred. Decorating them was considered a form of worship. Once the Catholic Church arrived, the decorations shifted to represent various aspects of Christianity. Archeaological excavations in The Ukraine have unearthed egg fragments with the designs and colors still intact.

In Ukrainian villages, giving decorated eggs as gifts is an Easter tradition. People will usually receive a dozen or so and display them in handmade baskets.

Lexi Norris Auditioning In Barcelona

Lexi Norris, the gifted Coraopolis dancer who earned a student slot with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, is in Barcelona (Spain) this week to take part in the prestigious European Auditions.

The European Auditions are held once a year, at rotating locations. This year they are at the famous Liceau Theater in Barcelona, one of the continent's most cherished ballet centers. Promising upcoming dancers must be either sent by their sponsoring schools, which each have a cetain number of slots, or specifically invited by the committee. Only 200 total dancers perform in the preliminary rounds. 50 are then selected by the judges to advance to the finals.

The preliminaries were held Monday and Tuesday. Norris was selected as one of the 50 finalists. She performs today (Wednesday).

There is no "winner," no ranking of finalists, no awards, for the finalists.

Instead, the "audience" is composed of talent scouts from the various American and European ballet companies. They have positions to fill and are looking for upcoming young dancers to fill them. If Norris impressed one of them, she could be offered a full time position as a dancer. If that happened, she would become an actual professional.

That probably isn't going to happen.

Damien Martinez, one of her coaches at West Point Ballet in Coraopolis, explains that the current mood among ballet companies is not to hire anyone below age 21. "For a while the trend was to hire younger dancers, but that's changed. Now they want the older girls." Norris is only 18.

But that doesn't mean she's wasting her time in Barcelona. "What she's doing is making her debut," Martinez explains. "She's establishing her name, her presence. After this, they'll all be aware of her. When they're discussing an opening, they might say, 'Well, there's that Norris girl from America, the one who went on to the Bolshoi and auditioned at Barcelona.' So next year, and the year after next, as she shows up at those auditions, she'll be able to show them how she's expanding her reportoire. This is all part of a process. Lexi is building her resume."

Cynthia Castillo, West Point's other coach, is in Barcelona. Martinez stayed here to keep their daily classes running on schedule.

Norris also recently competed in the Youth American Grand Prix, simply referred to by ballet insiders as the "YAGP." She placed second.

"That's spectacular," Martinez emphasized. "That's second in the nation. All the very best young dancers are in the YAGP."

Meals On Wheels Completes "Share The Love" Campaign

West Hills Meals On Wheels has completed its month long "Share The Love" celebration with a dinner and several projects.

Subaru sponsors the annual campaign to bring attention to Meals On Wheels, which with volunteer labor delivers hot meals to ill, handicapped or elderly residents of Coraopolis, Neville Island, Moon and Crescent Townships.

At the Share The Love dinner the retirement of longtime volunteers Naomi Mazzetti (right above) and Norma Otto (right below), both of Coraopolis, was celebrated. Mazzetti was a 26 year volunteer. Otto, now in her 90s, worked even longer.

During the past month, two other major projects were added to the regular hot meal deliveries.

First, Girl Scouts enrolled in the Healthy Eating course packaged chocolate frosted rice crispy treats which they presented to Meals On Wheels to deliver to subscribers.

Second, under the sponsorship of Eaton Corporation, Blizzard Boxes were packaged and delivered to subscribers. These are boxes filled with nonperishables, such as Soup, Mac n Cheese, Cereal and Bottled Water. Rolls of toilet paper are also packed. Then, if ice, snow or extreme cold prevent volunteers from delivering the day's hot meals, subscribers can rely on the contents of the Blizzard Boxes (see photos below) to get by until the weather eases.

Anyone interested in signing up, signing someone else up, or volunteering can call Barb Hess at 412-262-5973. The service costs $5 a day, which is usually paid by children or grandchildren.

Year Was Eventful For Cory, Western Hills

It was a busy year for Coraopolis and the Western Hills. While exactly how residents might rank the events, everyone's list of top 10 events will almost certainly include the following.....

l. The development of the CSX Intermodal Rail Terminal and the Shell Ethylene Refinery. The Rail Terminal opened in September and the Shell plant is still under construction. Both bring much needed jobs, tax base, and peripheral activities to the valley.

2. Coraopolis Moves Into New Municipal Building. Seen below, the 4th Avenue building replaces the old building on 5th Avenue in the heart of downtown. Like the former building, the new one contains the Fire Department, Police Department and Borough government offices, but the new one houses everything on one floor.

3. Coraopolis Elects Shawn Reed Mayor. Reed, seen below, brings a younger, more dynamic voice to the borough. Educated as a marketing major, he sees the borough as a treasure in need of marketing to businesses and potential residents who will appreciate its location, reasonable real estate value, history and classic buildings.

4. Many New Businesses Open. These include a coffee shop, antique store, aerial silks studio, microbrewery and lemoncello brewery.

5. Army Corps Of Engineers announces plans to rebuild Emsworth and Dashields dams and locks. The two structures have served a busy Ohio River for a century but have become outdated and parts have begun to fail.

6. Aiport Announces Major Change Of Use Plans. The airport opened the "airside terminal" to the general public for the first time, and will develop the "landside terminal" as an upscale destination shopping mall.

7. Cornell Girls Basketball Team Completes Winningest Season In School And Town History. Coached by Shawn Urbano, Cornell won its section championship, and not only reached the WPIAL title game for the first time but advanced beyond it to the second round of the State Tourna- ment. Daeja Quick was named WPIAL Player of the Year and Urbano was named Coach of the Year.

8. Coraopolis Completes Million Dollars Of Road and Street Repairs With No Tax Increase. Among other work, lower Main Street received a total reconstruction down to the underlying water, sewage and utilities. It was the first total redo of Main Street in over a century.

9. Allegheny County Sports Complex Opens On Former Montour RR Yard. The complex will include 10 playing fields and host weekend tournaments.

10. New Propel Charter High School Opens In Robinson Township. The school is expected to draw students from several area high schools, which will also be required to provide daily transportation.

Cory Churches Celebrate Christmas Eve
Coraopolis churches celebrated another Christmas Eve Sunday night with multiple services. Some held services at 7 and 9, some at 8 and 10. Shown here are the Methodist Church at right, St. Joe's below left, and the Presbyterian Church below right. The Methodist Church appears fuller only because we photographed them in mid service while we visited St. Joseph's and the Presbyterian Church about 20 minutes before their services. The Presbyterian Church choir performed from 7:30 to 8:00 while worshippers filed in. All local churches report declining membership as their congregations age and many older members have a difficult time getting to services. The inclement weather further discouraged many from braving what they feared would be icy roads.
House Takes Ride Down Front River Road

It's not everyday you see a perfectly fine house cruising down a street.

But that's what Neville Island residents saw this week as a house went for a ride down Front River Road.

The photo at right shows the house at its original location. The photo at bottom shows the house in its new location.

But very skilled, technical work by a specialty company named D. B. Movers occurred in between.

The back story here is that John Goldie learned the owner, who asked that her name not be used, was about to tear the house down so she could use the vacant lot for a yard. She didn't like the houses so close together.

Goldie owns an apartment house and a vacant lot two blocks further down Front River Road. He lives in one of the apartments. His daughter lives in another one. His mother lives out in the suburbs but is 83 and finding it difficult to keep up with the large house and yard. Goldie saw the doomed house as an opportunity.

He could move his mother into his apartment. Then, right next door, he could live in the newly moved house.

So he talked to the owner. She agreed to give him the house if he would pay all the costs of moving it. He estimates the house is worth about $350,000 - $400,000. Moving it would cost about $100,000. So he saw this as a great deal.

Goldie contacted D. B. Movers, who specialize in moving houses, an odd task with few competitors.

The process has taken two weeks. First, the plumbing and utilities had to be carefully disconnected. The house had to be separated from its block and cement foundation. The house had to be verrrry slowly jacked up off that foundation.

DB Movers is responsible for any damage to the house or its contents. If a crack appears in one of the walls or ceilings, if any window frames or door frames are shifted out of alignment, if anything at all goes wrong, it must be repaired by DB Movers. So they had motivation to cross every T and dot every i.

Once the house was jacked up and steel girders slid under it and fastened securely into place, specially designed carriers were slid under the girders (see photo, above). All of this took several days.

Finally, the house was ready to travel. Special sensors were installed all over it which would indicate the slightest tilt forward, backward, right or left. At the first fraction of an inch tilt, an operator sitting on a computer could compensate,, increasing the suspension one place or lowering it in another, and return the house to perfectly level.

Goldie had to pay $9500 to hire a utility crew to remove the overhead lines, wait til the house passed, then reconnect the lines.

He has also filled out pages and pages of forms, secured permits for every step, and had to satisfy the local Building Inspector in various ways. He even had to do coring samples on the house's new lot.

Moving a house is an inch by inch process. A large crowd gathered to watch, but it was like cheering a snail onward. Finally the house reached its new location (photo, left).

But it's a long way from over. A basement has to be dug and a foundation built to set the house on. Once in place, utility lines have to be run to the house and hooked up. Goldie plans to build a concrete rear deck and a boathouse.

But he's thrilled. "I'm going to have a beautiful small house on the river, on a great street. And this is the second highest point on the island, so a flood isn't a threat. All for only $100,000. This was too great a bargain to pass up."

High School Art's Not What It Used To Be.....

Anyone wandering into a high school Art room these days expecting to see canvas, paintbrushes, colored pencils and a photo darkroom is in for a shock.

Like everything else, Art has gone high tech.

At Cornell High School, among other tools, they have a laser printer. This device, which looks like a photocopy machine on steroids, can take any digital image and engrave it on anything: plastic, wood, metal or glass. And it can engrave that image in microscopic detail, detail so fine it can only be appreciated with a magnifying glass.

In the photo at right, Dr. Aaron Thomas shows off the printer and the computer that runs it. The machine comes with various attachments and inserts allowing it work with various surfaces and materials. Below left is the insert which allows it to engrave an image on a curved surface, in this case a drinking glass.

When Cornell first purchased the laser engraver, Dr. Thomas hired a sub and instructed the teacher to just spend two days experimenting with the machine figuring out everything it could do.

The photo at left below shows a very detailed photo of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle engraved on wood. Second is a book cover. And the final photo is of a Christmas card.

Two bulletin boards are filled with photos of present and former Cornell students with their final projects on the laser engraver.

"We had to figure out where to put it," Thomas recalls. "So I started looking around back here. We had this darkroom for our photography students. I thought, Well, wait a minute, with digital cameras, why do we need a darkroom? So I asked, when was the last time this darkroom was used? The teacher said, Oh, maybe five or six years ago. So we tore out the darkroom, refitted the room, and it's now the laser engraving room."

Cornell offers courses in manufacturing and other vo-tech subjects. Students in all those courses find uses for the laser engraver.

Kevin Edwards

Licensed Physical Therapist

19 Years of Experience

Back, Knee, Ankle, Neck, Hip, Foot, Elbow, Wrist, Shoulder


1541 State Avenue

Living Nativity A Success Despite Cold

The Coraopolis Preabyterian Church's annual Living Nativity scene was a success Friday night despite bitter cold and an icy breeze.

As usual, church members played the roles of Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and Shepherds. Living animals were trucked in from a nearby farm.

A fence was erected around the stable area to keep the animals from wandering out onto 5th Avenue.

Members took turns in costume. Between turns, they would retreat to the church for coffee, cider and food.

People gathered on the sidewalk, sometimes staying for as long as 30 minutes to gaze at the scene. Photographers, most using cell phones but some with digital cameras, walked around seeking the best angles.

A doll represented the Christ child. Despite pleas from the church, last year's Christ doll has never been returned and no leads have turned up. The doll was stolen from the manger.

Presbyterians To Stage "Living Nativity" Friday

Friday evening, December 8, from 7:00 - 9:00 pm, the Coraopolis Presbyterian Church will present its annual Living Nativity diorama.

The display will be on the church lawn facing 5th Avenue across from Suburban Landscaping.

Church members will portray Mary, Joseph, Wise Men, Shepherds, and others. Live animals will be brought in.

The Living Nativity is a Coraopolis tradition which began in 1953. It was first presented on the lawn facing State Avenue by the front entrance of the old Greystone Presbyterian Church. That church closed and its members transferred to the current Coraopolis Presbyterian Church. They brought their Living Nativity tradition with them.

Long ago, the display was presented for three consecutive nights. But the animals have to be rented, and as their rental became more expensive, the display was reduced to two nights and finally just one.

Fund raisers are held throughout the year to cover the costs of renting the animals. Still, that cost had risen to $800 for one night. The Church has found a less expensive provider, but this year the display will not include Llamas, always a favorite.

The actors take turns and retreat to the church between turns to warm up. Some years, the weather is mild, but some have seen bitter cold, ice rain, snow and high wind.

The display is maintained throughout the Christmas season, but when the live actors are not there their places are taken by statues.

Those statues have their own story. The Reverend Tom Giles Petroskey (photo, right) explains that after 60 years the originals had deteriorated and were in need of replacing.

By coincidence, the Mellon family was selling their country estate north of Pittsburgh. At an estate sale, a broker bought a huge collection of various items. When he got the moving van home and went through it, he found a set of Nativity statues which the Mellons had used in their family Christmas display.

He contacted the Presbyterian Church and asked if they would be interested in his donating the set to them. They quickly accepted, and the new statues were used for the first time last year (2016).

But one night between Christmas and New Year someone stole the Baby Jesus statue. Police have uncovered no leads, and the statue has never been recovered.

"There's a great value to having this complete set," Giles Petroskey says. "We would still dearly love to have that Baby Jesus statue back." Many church members have offered baby dolls for the church to use in the display, so observors won't notice antything missing. But none of the baby dolls perfectly match the scale of rhe Mellon statues.

Anybody with any information about the stolen statue should contact the Presbyterian Church. "We're not interested in pressing charges or doing anything to anyone," Giles Petroskey makes clear. "We just want our statue back. There's not much anybody could do with it. It would be too big to use inside a house, and if it were put outside somebody would see it and report it."

Mooncrest Got Its Miracle : Sister Rene
Mooncrest was created during World War II. American strategists feared Hitler would send a fleet of bombers up the Ohio River to strike our manufacturing facilities. For protection a radar installation was built on the hills above Thorn Run and a MORDOR command was born : Moon Offbase Radar Defense Officers Residences. The village of Mooncrest was built to house them plus the workers at several key defense plants on Neville Island. For 10 years after the war, military families from the airport and the NIKE base lived at Mooncrest. Finally, in 1955, military families were moved out and the long, connected housing units sold to private real estate managers.

The village went downhill as absentee landlords ignored maintenance needs. By the 1960s Mooncrest had become a low income enclave, off to itself, isolated from Cory and Moon Township. The village filled with dysfunctional families and children adrift. Those children were bused to Moon schools but were frequently absent and chronically underachieved academically. As the housing units aged problems developed. The downward spiral steepened. The village had an idyllic setting, high on a forested plateau, with stunning views of the Ohio River Valley, Sewickley and Coraopolis. But it was in deep distress.

Mooncrest needed more than help. There were too many crises afflicting it simultaneously. No simple solution was enough.

Mooncrest needed a miracle.

Incredibly, it got one.

Her name was Sister Rene. She came from a hilltop on the other side of Coraopolis. By some coincidence, Duquesne Light Company runs a high voltage transmission line westward to Aliquippa. That line passes right behind the Felician Sisters Convent, dips down into McCabe's Hollow, up across Charlton Heghts, down into Thorn Run Hollow and up alongside Mooncrest. For maintenance, DL keeps a trail mowed along that line. The kids of Mooncrest have long used that trail to walk to Coraopolis and on to the swimming holes in Montour Creek below the Convent.

When Sister Rene Procopio left her Mt. Carmel home at age 13 to enter school at Our Lady of Sacred Heart High School (OLSH), she vaguely noticed the groups of kids walking the trail but paid no attention. Sister Rene continued her schooling, became a Felician Sister, and devoted her life to education. She taught and became an administrator. After a full career, she was sidelined by a hip injury and transplant in 2001. While recuperating, she watched the urchins on the trail outside her window.

"Who are these kids?" she asked, "And where do they come from?" She was told they came from a distressed community two hills away. With the closing of St. Joseph's Elementary School in Coraopolis, Sister Rene had been looking for a new educational ministry. She talked several Felician Sister into coming with her to investigate Mooncrest.

What they found disturbed them, but also revealed the need for a ministry, a presence of caring adults within the Catholic Faith. So Sister Rene and her colleagues set up the Mooncrest After School Program in an abandoned church basement. They provided games; instruction in sewing, cooking, art and other crafts; nutritious snacks; tutoring in school subjects; counseling in personal issues; and gentle guidance in religious matters. One rule Sister Rene enforced adamantly: Only a student who had been in school that day could come to the After School Program.

At the beginning only a few kids showed up. But word spread, and numbers increased. Soon they had outgrown the church basement. In 2004 they moved to a new Community Center. Each year they added programs: GED Prep classes, field trips to go hiking, horseback riding and swimming, Big Brothers & Big Sisters, family outreach, adult meetings on issues affecting the community.

Finally Sister Rene and two other Felician Sisters actually bought a housing unit and moved to Mooncrest themselves.

Others heard about their efforts and began supporting their programs.

The Moon Board of Supervisors presented her with a check for $15,145 and a matching fund donation from the Pittsburgh Diocese brought it to $20,000. Bishop David Zubick has visited, walking the Mooncrest streets and meeting with the children. "This is a wonderful expression of Faith used to serve a community in need," he told reporters.

Robert Morris University students and athletes have begun helping with tutoring and sports instruction.

Currently, the Center counts 57 children as daily regulars. Others show up off and on. There's a Montessori flavor to the Sisters' approach. They ask the children about their interests, then show them how to develop those interests. But they also continually check up on homework and make sure the students are doing their math, reading, science or other assignments.

Disaster seemed to strike in 2015 when Sister Rene developed Bulbar Pulsy, a disorder that took her ability to speak. She now communicates via email and a text-to-speech app on an IPad. But it hasn't slowed her down any. In fact, she now sees it as a blessing.

"God works in mysterious ways," she types on her IPad. "No matter how hard I worked, there was always a distance between me and the children. They felt they suffered from various handicaps : no money, dysfunctional families, various things. And the Sisters and I seemed to them to have no problems. But suddenly they could see that I, too, suffered from a serious handicap. The only way I could continue was with their help. It also helped them see that no matter what handicaps they thought they had, at least they could speak. In a way, I suddenly seemed worse off than they were. So it has brought us much closer and enabled me to do so much more."

Sister Rene, now 75, has reached an age at which most Sisters have retired to a quiet life of reading and contemplation. Instead, she's working harder than ever. And not without paying a price. She's recently been hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion. But she keeps going.

"Each of us has only so much time," she shrugs. "There is God's work to be done. I feel Mary Angela Truszkowska walking beside me here on the streets of Mooncrest. She suffered from tuberculosis and deafness and kept on serving the children of Warsaw well into her 70s. Age is only a number."

Sophia Truszkowska, who took the name Mary Angela, founded the Order of Felician Sisters in 1855 to focus on the education and welfare of poor children. When the Pope beatified her in 1993 he compared her to Mother Theresa of India. There are already locals referring to Sister Rene as "The Mother Theresa of Mooncrest."

She waves off such talk. "Mother Theresa served millions," she types. "Mary Angela Truszowska served thousands. I serve hundreds. There is no comparison."

Still, she insists on the hard core philosophy of the Felician Sisters. "No one of us can change the world. But each of us can change our corner of the world. Mooncrest is my little corner of the world. God saw fit to send me here to change it. There is nothing wrong with these kids. Each of them is a wonderful person, full of unlimited potential. If I can in some small way help unlock that potential, I will have been blessed."

Sister Rene has been released from the hospital and is at the Felician Sisters Convent while she recovers from dehydration and exhaustion. She was able to attend the Open House at the Community Center last week. She hopes to return to her Mooncrest townhouse soon.

Cory, Neville Kids Enjoy Trick Or Treating

Continuing a 100 year tradition, kids in Coraopolis and Neville Island took to the streets Thursday night wearing colorful costumes and hauling buckets, bowls or pillow cases for adults to drop candy and treats into.

And the adults did their part. Not just waiting inside their homes for a knock on the door, many residents set up tables out front or sat on their front steps to greet the wandering waifs.

Police set flares at the curbs to warn motorists to slow down. The police cars with their flashing lights also warned drivers kids were on the prowl. Firemen had their fire engines parked at key intersections and stationed themselves where they could point to drivers to slow down.

As always, costumes were bright and creative. Some were storebought but many were homemade. There were ladybugs, turtles, pirates, police, firemen, super heroes, rabbits, billiard balls, racecars and magicians. A few Hillary Clintons, Barack Obamas and Donald Trumps joined in. For whatever reason, there were fewer zombies, aliens and witches than in years past. Dracula and Frankenstein seem to be out of style in 2017.

All of the little people wandering around were not from Coraopolis and Neville Island. They were also from Moon, Robinson, Kennedy and even a few from McKees Rocks and Stowe. They were here because this was the first trick or treat night in the area. Others will be Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday nights. As long as a kid's parents were willing to drive him, he could trick or treat five straight nights, collecting enough candy and treats to supply a whole sixth grade classroom.

But as one miniature Harry Potter explained, "Cory is the best place to trick or treat because the houses are closer together. In two hours you can cover a hundred houses. Out in Moon, the houses are further apart. You can only to get to 20 or 30."

Parents have always accompanied their young trick or treaters, but now the trend is for parents to dress up, too. So there were adults standing around dressed as Darth Vader, the Headless Horseman, a Transformer Robot and an Oil Derrick. Two kids came as Thing I and Thing 2 and their parents followed along dressed as Thing Parent I and Thing Parent II.

When the parade of trick and treaters began at 6 pm, it was still daylight and the focus was on them and their costumes. By 7 pm, the sun had set and the kids disappeared into the darkness, using flashlights or cell phone lights to navigate dark sidewalks.

That was when the yards and houses became the stars. There had been a lot of time, effort and money put into decorating homes, especially along Ridge, Vance and Hiland Avenues.


There was an angry mother dinosaur jealously guarding her hatching eggs (left). Motion detectors set the three into action when a kid came up the sidewalk.

There were caskets with skeletons, vampires and spiders crawling out of them.

There were a dozen bats, seven witches and a pterodactyl flying back and forth overhead.

To get to front porches, kids had to walk through spider webs, rows of pumpkins, ghosts and aliens.

"But, Mommy, I don't want to go up there," eight year olds protested. "It's not real, honey. It's make believe. It won't hurt you," Moms assured them.

Some of the adults handing out candy were also in costume. There were witches stirring huge pots over flickering flames, wizards offering to cast spells on candy seekers, and Yoda speaking in convoluted grammar.

Some homes were decorated in dignified, tasteful Christmas style lights which just happened to be orange (see below). Some used projectors to cast dancing ghosts and witches on the outside walls. And some were themed after Star Wars, Harry Potter, or some other popular movie.

Coraopolis and Neville have lost many of their 20th Century traditions, but they can take great pride in having kept Halloween alive. Hundreds of adults, including policemen, firemen, parents and homeowners, have invested time, effort and money so today's kids will look back on their childhood Halloweens with fond memories.

Trick Or Treating Set For Thursday, Oct. 26

Halloween comes early this year in Coraopolis. The Borough Council and Police Chief Ron Denbow have set Trick or Treating for Thursday, October 26, from 6 to 8 pm.

Adults are asked to drive carefully during those two hours since children wearing costumes, especially those with masks, cannot see or hear as well.

In many ways, Halloween is not as big in Cory as it once was. There's no longer a Halloween Parade, a Halloween Dance or a Halloween Costume Competition. Schools don't decorate like they used to or let grade school kids wear their costumes to school. Art students no longer paint business windows along 5th Avenue.

However, one aspect of Halloween is much bigger. Home decorations, on lawns, porches, steps, inside, even on the walls of the house. are more popular than ever, approaching Christmas decorations. Below are some of the houses we found driving around town. The one at right is on 5th Avenue across from St. Joseph's Catholic Church.

Walk On The Wild Side : A Kennywood Halloween

Back in the day, Halloween in Coraopolis was a bigger holiday. In addition to Trick or Treating in which high school age kids were allowed to knock on doors, there was a Halloween Parade, culminating in the Mayor and Borough Council judging a costume contest with adult, teenage and children's divisions. High school art classes decorated downtown store windows, and there were Halloweeen Dances at the YMCA.

All those elaborate events are gone. But if you want to recapture some of that atmosphere, you could drive out to Kennywood Park Friday or Saturday night on one of the next two weekends for Phantom Fright Nights.

This is not for the faint of heart. Children under 13 aren't even recommended. Adults over 30 will mostly find it annoying. But for teens and 20 somethings it's THE plaee to celebrate Halloween.

It's so surreal and unlike Summer Kennywood it's hard to describe. Thanks to a hundred smoke machines, the park is enshrouded in a spooky white haze. All the lights have been replaced with orange and green. Every kind of eerie character imaginable is wandering around in the fog,

One of the night's biggest challenges is getting into and out of the park. The famous Kennywood Entrance Tunnel is filled with dense green fog. A crazy clown with a chain saw (above right), a demented grandma with butcher knife and razor strop, and a lunatic mechanic with a giant wrench stand in the path of anyone trying to come in or out. It would be worth $10 to sit in a bleacher and watch the action in the tunnel. In reality, there is no chain on the chain saw, only a loud motor, and the tip is wired so it gives off sparks whenever the clown touches it to the concrete. Grandma wields a tin foil knife. But the middle and high school girls coming in don't know this, and their shrieks can be heard all over the parking lot and the park.

Once inside, ghosts, vampires, zombies, undertakers and other figures appearing out of the fog keep everyone on edge. Not all the rides are running, but the ones that are appear totally different with their orange and green lights and foggy background. That's the Jack Rabbit departing from an orange glowing station below center.

The Merry Go Round, with its calliope distorted and the animals rising and falling in and out of the fog, is particuarly disconcerting (see above left).

The park is themed by areas. The George Washington statue has been replaced (or disguised; it's hard to tell in the fog) and the surrounding area is an Evil Clown Circus. Lost Kennywood has become a Zombie Apocalypse, with rats having escaped The Exterminator and running amok and various undeads lurching toward unwary visitors. The area by Ghostwood Manor has become Death Valley, a sort of dysfunctional Old West.

The Arcade has been converted into the Villa Of The Vampire and the Parkside Cafe into the Mortem Manor, two walk through haunted houses. The rafting ride is now Dark Shadows. The pavilion near the Log Flume is now BioFear. Noah's Ark has had a few Halloween twists added.

All this mayhem begins at 6 pm and runs until midnight. You can go early and partake of the Pre Scare Dinner, which is catered at 5 pm in one of the picnic shelters. The ribs, wings, potato wedges, burgers and cole slaw are very good. Many of the characters haunt the dinner hour, sitting down next to unsuspecting diners or coming up behind them in line.

Phantom and Thunderbolt provide different experiences from their usual Summer rides. Rising above the fog and then descending into it adds a level of mystery. Jackrabbit does not have the intense fog but replaces it with the orange lights.

Some of the food stands offer Halloween themed items, and many of the stores offer Halloween themed t shirts.

Coraopolis and Western Hills visitors said they found the experience a great way to celebrate Halloween, but were disappointed the Train wasn't running with displays set up along the way, and that the Racers weren't running with a Headless Horseman & Ichabod Crane theme.

Guests are not allowed to come in costume, mask or theatrical makeup or bring anything in with them.

Parking, even priority parking, is free on a first come first served basis.

Kennywood runs a separate afternoon event for children younger than 13. It includes hayrides, bobbing for apples and dancing.

Spend A Week In The Nostalgic Past

Looking for a Fall road trip into the mountains to enjoy the leaves in full color but tired of Cook's Forest, the Laurel Highlands and New England?

We've got a destination for you that you may love so much you make it an annual return.

It's called Snug Hollow Farm. It's a "Bed & Breakfast & More." It's deep in the Kentucky hills but an easy day's drive. If there were anything like this in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland or Virginia we'd send you there. But there's not. Snug Hollow is special.

A trip to Snug Hollow is a trip back in time. This is the "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go" that the song is about. This is the old homeplace that Americans all wish their families had but few actually do.

Snug Hollow is a farm deep in the forested hills. And owner Barbara Napier has turned it into a bed & breakfast on steroids. The farmhouse itself is magnificent, a rambling structure with nooks and crannies you can sit in and read, look out the window, play board games or listen to good banjo pickin' music. There's a big living room, a library, two huge balconies, a screened in porch and a kitchen with delightful aromas as Barbara and her staff go about fixing cobblers, breads, soups and various dinner entrees.

There are three cabins with their own kitchenettes if you want a little privacy, or you can stay in a room in the main house. If you stay in one of the cabins, you could cook as much as you want and eat your other meals at the house. You pay per person, but the cabins could sleep six so would be fine for a family.

If you're going to drive seven hours to get somewhere, it better be pretty special. Snug Hollow is. The first reason you come here is to get away. If your idea of a vacation is an amusement park, rock concert or shopping mall, this is not your place. But if you want to step away from the hectic pace of life and just unwind for a week, Snug Hollow is it. There is no TV here. When you turn off paved Red Lick Road, you leave the internet behind. In case of emergency, Barbara can connect to it, but there's no one here on their cell phone or laptop. The pace of life slows wayyy down. It's a good place to read a novel. Or sit on the swing and watch the wild bees visiting the Goldenrod, Ironweed, Joe Pye Weed and other wildflowers. If you haven't played Chinese Checkers since childhood, this would be a fine time to refresh your skills. There's a piano by the fireplace, banjos on the shelves and a dulcimer leaning against a window. Books tempt you in every room. And all the artwork, some by Napier, is a hint you could try your hand at drawing or painting.

The second reason you come here is the hiking. If you like to get out for a good walk in the crisp Fall air but don't like carrying a 30 pound pack or sleeping on the ground, this is your place. You can hike every day but come back to the house or cabin at night. If you want easy walking you can hike up and down the cleared fields along the valley, following McSwain Creek (locally called a "branch"). If you're a veteran hiker you can climb into the forested hills. And if you want a real challenge, you can climb up to the surrounding ridges and drop into neighboring valleys. The woods here extend for miles in every direction.

This is not a state park. There's no spiderweb of maintained trails. There are a few official trails, but beyond that there's just woods. You're on your own. But you can't really get lost, because at any time you can just turn and head downhill to the cleared bottomland, then follow the creek back to the house.

The third reason you come here is for Nature Study. These woods have 20 different kinds of trees, plus dozens of ferns, wildflowers, mushrooms and mosses. Ginseng is plentiful. Owls, Hawks, Wild Turkeys, Deer, Coyote, Fox, Raccoon, Groundhog, Skunks, Rabbits, Possum, Squirrels, Voles, Field Mice, Skinks, Fence Lizards, Turtles, Toads, Frogs, Crayfish and small brightly colored fish called Darters are present. High on the ridges are caves with Wildcat dens. Black Bear come out of the woods to feast on the berries in season. A Mountain Lion raised her cub here a few Summers ago. The Deer, Bear and big cats are reclusive and retreat from hikers. You may see their tracks, droppings or tufts of hair but will have to work to catch a glimpse of the animals.

"We had to stop composting," Napier says. "We couldn't keep the Bears away from it. And I had two big Stags with huge racks up on the cabin porch a while back."

The fourth reason you come here is for the food. Napier and her staff are great cooks (this is one of Kentucky's top restaurants) and they're cooking from ingredients picked right there just before they fix them. Breakfast every day is included automatically, as at every bed and breakfast. You can choose to add lunch and dinner as you wish. Or they can pack a lunch for you to take with you. These are good old fashioned farm meals, and you'll struggle to clean your plate. There's very good wine, coffee, tea and cold spring water. Their salads, soups, breads and sides are excellent. As long as weather permits, dinner is served on the screened in porch, shown below left. You can listen to the owls or coyotes or watch the Moon rising over the ridge. Breakfast is often served inside. When the weather turns cold, so is dinner.

The house and cabins are full of antiques. Not all of them are valuable but they're all relics of a long gone era and guests often just wander from one to the next, admiring the craftsmanship and imagining their past.

The house and cabins themselves are works of art. You could spend an afternoon walking around inside and outside, inspecting the logs, doors, windows, floors and staircases. These were places build to endure.

A photographer could spend a week here taking pictures. Someone could publish a book just of photographs of the house. The property is scenic in a quiet, classic sense. The hollow runs east - west, so as the Sun moves across the sky, shadows and light keep changing. A camera set on a tripod could yield a photograph every 30 minutes and not one would be the same. The meadows and woods are extremely photogenic.

However, there are other attractions close to Snug Hollow. The major one is Berea College, about 20 minutes away. Berea serves the Appalachian Plateau. It has preserved and refined the folk arts and crafts of that culture for over 100 years. Students at Berea major in a traditional subject plus learn a usable craft. They pay their way through school by working at that craft. The school offers their products for sale in various shops. You can buy furniture, woven wares, pottery, blankets, toys, musical instruments, just about anything, in the shops at Berea, all of it made by students. You can also eat either lunch or dinner at the Boone Tavern, which serves traditional Appalachian foods like Shoo Fly Pie and Spoon Bread. You can spend a whole day at Berea.

Between Berea and Snug Hollow is the Tater Knob Pottery. Here, on a farm, Berea graduates have set up a professional operation. You can watch them at work and buy their products. You can easily spend half a day at Tater Knob.

A sixth reason you come to Snug Hollow is to meet Barbara Napier. She is one of Kentucky's great characters. Barbara began as a gifted artist. Along the way, she has run Kentucky's largest string instrument shop, outfitting many of Nashville's most famous performers. She ran a major farm supply store. She worked in various positions at Berea College. She lived on and ran Snug Hollow Farm. And then she turned it into a bed & breakfast. She has somehow squeezed five careers into a single lifetime.

Napier knows most of Kentucky's important figures on a first name basis. These include the late Historian Laureate Dr. Thomas Clark, various politicians, performers, artists, business executives, media representatives, restauranteurs and educators.

She's a warm and colorful character who sits down at the table and eats breakfast and dinner with her guests so she can join their conversation.

Napier has been named Kentucky Small Business Enterpreneuer of the Year. Snug Hollow has been reviewed in newspapers and magazines from Southern Living to the New York Times. TV shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show have featured her and the farm.

She may have another career budding. People considering starting a bed and breakfast have begun coming to her for advice. She's thinking of declaring herself a consultant and selling her services.

She never majored in business administration, but had to learn the hard way on the job how to run one after owning the string instrument and farm supply stores. She also had to learn how to promote a business through advertising and marketing. She plays every angle with Snug Hollow. She books artists retreats, weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats and girls weekends. And she has guests from every U.S. state plus Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.

Just because you're in a rambling farmhouse doesn't mean you'll be living primitive. There are full tubs and jacuzzis tucked away for your use (see photo above).

To reach Snug Hollow from Coraopolis, take I-79 down to Charleston, turn west on I-64, and then take I-75 south toward Richmond. Take exit 90A around the bypass to state route 52. Drive 18 miles to Irvine. Turn right onto Wisemantown Road and drive about a mile. Turn left onto Red Lick Road. Drive seven miles to McSwain Branch Road. Turn right. This is the Snug Hollow driveway. It will turn to gravel and climb the ridge and drop over the other side into the hollow. Barbara will greet you as you drive up.

For reservations phone (606) 723-4786. You'll need to phone well ahead because Snug Hollow stays full.

The Last Major Open Field Farmer

They used to be everywhere in Moon, Robinson, Findlay, North Fayette and Collier Townships. There were even big farms on Neville Island. Sheltons, Beitsingers, Everetts, McCormicks, everyone knew them by name. The Bell Farm was the biggest. Allegheny County bought it and built the Greater Pittsburgh Airport in its place. But long after the airport was here, the others still supplied Coraopolis and area residents with their milk, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and meat. They'd deliver, or you could go pick it up. The egg trucks, milk trucks, vegetable trucks and fruit trucks were a familiar sight in Coraopolis neighborhoods, making their once a week or daily deliveries.

Then they started disappearing, one by one, replaced by subdivisions.

And now there is one. In the whole Western Hills. One.

There are horse farms, dairy farms, even one alpaca farm. There are organic farms. Some small acreage farmers are using greenhouses or plastic tunnels for intensive growing. But there's only one totally devoted to raising fruits and vegetables in large open fields, where workers get up before dawn every morning, pick the tomatoes and peppers and lettuce and all the others, load them on pickup trucks, sort and wash and group them, haul them to the roadside stand, and sell them to customers.

That would be Beccari's, The Last Large Acreage Farm Standing. The guy who runs it, Pete Beccari (photo left), didn't even intend to be The Last Farmer. He was born and raised on the farm, but preferred to become a mechanic. He was a good one for a while. Then the mill closed. And so did the others. Suddenly, mechanics weren't much in demand.

His Dad, meanwhile, had developed heart trouble and was having a hard time running the farm. So Pete took over. His Dad died, and Pete's still farming.

Beccari's Farm is hard to find. It's in Steen Hollow, up and down a few steep hills from Oakdale. Subdivisions have gone in all around Steen Hollow, but the little valley looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago.

Beccari grew up in two houses. His mother's home was down on Thoms Run Road, the main route between Oakdale and Heidelberg. Since it was on the school bus route, young Pete lived there during the week. The farm is a few miles away. Pete's Dad took their produce to various farmers markets and delivered to area stores. Pete decided to build a market in the yard of his mother's house down on the main road. Today, that's where he makes his living.

It's a precarious living. Farming always has been, but it's gotten worse. Pete's wife is a computer technician. Her job provides them with health care and Social Security. Pete works 14 hour days seven days a week, but by the time he pays expenses and his staff there's not much profit.

"This is a labor of love," he explains. "There's that passage from the Bible which says, "Out of thee, Bethlehem, shall come one who shall feed my people. And he shall be blessed among all." I sort of see myself as trying to be that one who feeds the people. I don't know if I'm going to be very blessed, but at least I can say I tried."

Baccari farms 90 acres, which is about half the total farm. He has 500 peach trees and a thousand apple trees.

His produce is all outstanding, but his greatest achievement may be his apples. He raises several varieties and every one is good.

Then there's the Cider. Pete takes special pride in his Cider. "We take it to an old fashioned press in Zelionople. The new high tech presses produce a very smooth and pure Cider, but in the process they destroy all the enzymes and flavor. The old press leaves those in." He insists reporters try some. It is, in fact, the best Cider any of them have ever tasted.

Pete can't quite claim his produce is Organic. He uses a few sprays to control diseases and insects. But his is Very Minimal Chemical. And he insists his is vastly superior to anything bought at Ali, Giant Eagle or any of the other big box groceries.

"They're shipping that stuff in here from California, Mexico, Central and South America. They have to pick it while it's still green. While it's coming across the country in refrigerator cars, they pump nitrous oxide in to stimulate ripening. Then they have to add other chemicals to give it a pleasant color. Then they have to add preservatives so it won't rot on the shelves. The result is the fruits and vegetables lose all their taste. But even worse, there are lots of studies that show that this long distance, artificially ripened produce has less than half the vitamins and minerals it's supposed to. So you think you're feeding your family nutritious food when in fact you're not."

Pete insist there's no comparison between that and what he raises.

"Ours ripens slowly, on the vine, naturally, and in real sunlight."

The sunlight is what produces the vitamins. "Since ours is picked the day you buy it, you get that great fresh flavor. And the tomatoes, peppers, whatever, are tender. Even if you don't taste them, you an always tell a long distance, nitrous oxide ripened tomato or pepper by checking those interior cell walls. They're tough, stiff, thick. On a freshly picked, sun ripened version those are thin and tender walls."

Pete's problem is people shop by price, not by quality. "Everyone says they want fresh and healthy produce, but they're not willing to pay for it. Of course Aldi or Giant Eagle or any other big box store can offer lower prices. They bring in a tractor trailer truck full of tomatoes every day. Buying in such bulk, yes, you can bid your prices down. Plus you're paying a nickel an hour for Central American farm labor. Here, we have to nurture these plants, and we have to pay our employees a decent American wage. So, yes, we have to charge higher prices. But you're buying much tastier, much healthier food."

Pete is only getting back to full strength after a major bout of Diverticulitis. "I lost all last season. Thank God for my staff. They were incredible. Carried the load all year, from planting through harvesting. I'm finally gaining back my normal weight and energy level."

Pete chuckles when talking about his farm. "Every square inch under my farm is hollow. It was all mined. They pulled out all the coal, then went back and mined out the pillars that held up the tunnels. So the tunnels collapsed. If you kneel down and look across my farm real carefully, you can see the land waving up and down like a roller coaster where the tunnels collapsed."

Tomatoes and Sweet Corn are Pete's biggest sellers, but the Apples and Peaches are coming on strong. "People around here are really developing a liking for our Apples and Peaches."

His biggest problem isn't insects, or the plant diseases like Fusarium Wilt or Verticulum Wilt. His problem is animals. Deer, Raccoon, Groundhogs, Skunks, Possum, Squirrels, the whole Animal Army. "It's a never ending battle," he smiles, shaking his head. "They're clever and persistent and they just keep coming."

The stand closes in Winter. Pete seeks odd jobs all over the area to keep himself occupied and bring in some extra cash between Halloween and Easter.

He has the farm enrolled in the Pennsylvania Farm Preservation Program. This means he pays a lower tax rate, since it's being taxed as agricultural land and not for its potential subdivision value. But by law, the land can never --- ever --- be developed, not by Pete, any of his family, or anyone who buys it. It will forever be used for some sort of agricultural purpose.

"Someone could use it for dairy cattle, or chickens. They could stretch the definition a bit, and use it for a horse stable or riding trails. They could make a guest ranch out of it, or raise flowers, or even grow sod to cut and transplant to someone's yards. I guess they could raise Christmas trees on it. But one thing they're not going to do with it after I'm gone is pave it over and build houses on it. I've made sure of that."

In the meantime, however, Pete isn't going anywhere. He's still farming.

Beccari's Farm Market is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 - 5:30 and Saturday and Sunday 11-4. They're closed Mondays while Pete and the staff work in the fields. And they don't open til 11 to give Pete and the staff time to pick, sort, clean and package each day's produce and bring it down to the roadside stand.

In addition to the fresh fruits, vegetables and Cider, the Market also offers pies : Peach, Caramel Apple Nut, Blackberry, Blueberry and Apple (although every flavor isn't available every day). Right now (late September) the Sweet Corn, Cantaloupes, Pears, Peaches, Nectarines, Green Beans, Pumpkins and Zucchini are at their peak, but there are still plenty of Peppers, Tomatoes and Onions.

The address is 5095 Thoms Run Road, Oakdale, Pa. If you enter it into your GPS, it will probably route you out I-79 and off at Exit 55 (Collier). This is due to highway construction near Oakdale.

But The Band Plays On .....

Some days Bill Lamb scratches his head and wonders how he got into this situation.

Two years ago he was Band Director of a 63 piece band in a Virginia high school of 1500. His big problems were how to fit all the kids plus equipment into only two 60 passenger buses for road trips, where to best position all his brass and woodwinds and percussion to project the best sound up into the audience, and which kids to assign the lead instrument roles to with so many competing.

Today he's the Band Director of a 19 piece band in a 100 student high school and his big problem is how to find enough kids to put on a halftime show.

But then he remembers. He and his wife wanted to come home, and the Cornell job came open.

After high school, Lamb went on to Slippery Rock, then took the job in Virginia, where he stayed eight years.

"In a lot of ways, there are not a lot of differences," he insists. "You're still teaching music to individual students. The process of teaching music is the same everywhere. You still have to choose the music and put together a show. You still have to keep reminding everyone to keep their insruments pointed at the press box --- why do kids everywhere want to point their instruments down at the ground? And you still have to work hard at keeping everyone in step."

Lamb is a firm believer in Music Education and the value of Marching Bands and Orchestras. "Music is a wonderful experience. There's just nothing else like it. Not sports, not Art, not Drama, nothing. Music has a powerful effect on people, and especially students. Just listening to it is powerful, and the idea that they themselves can actually produce it is extremely empowering."

Plus, of course, there are all those studies done over the last 50 years that prove music education has an effect on young brains and can improve student performances in math and science.

It sounds great in theory. But translating it into reality in a tiny high school with a tiny band is different. Lamb admits he talked to a lot of people, read a lot, and thought a lot about his situation. He feels like a magician using tricks to cover up his lack of numbers.

"First," he tells reporters during a break in practice recently. "You'll notice we have more brass than woodwinds out here. The trumpets, sousaphones and trombones give us a louder, richer sound than we could get with clarinets, saxophones and flutes. So we have a few woodwinds to sort of frame our sound, to underlay it. But first we have to make sure the people up in the press box can hear us. The brass do that for us."

Then there's the problem of formatiions.

Gone are the days of a hundred kids out on the field lining up in complex formations to suggest a locomotive, or face, or the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty.

Instead, Lamb works with simple shapes : A box, triangle, circle, arrow, C (for Cornell), X, T and Z work fine when you only have 19 kids,

And the music selection itself has to be rethought. "There are songs I'd love to do, but we don't have enough kids to do them. You can't be out here balancing the harmony behind the melody when you've barely got enough pieces to properly communicate the harmony, So we pick basic music and try to do it really, really well."

If low numbers were his only problem it would be bad enough. But the problem gets worse. Lamb doesn't have 19 really good, experienced juniors and seniors who work hard at practice very day. Among his 19 members, there are volleyball players and kids involved in other pursuits that cause them to miss practices, arrive late or leave early. Watching a Cornell practice these days is like watching a revolving door. Someone is always coming or going.

And then are the ages. Of the 19 members, only eight are in high school. 11 are in 7th and 8th grade. Several of them are really, really good. But they're young and have much to learn.

"We have to push them," Lamb admits. "I apologize to them all the time for asking them to grow up too soon. But I tell them we have no choice. I need them to be high school level performers even though they're only 13 years old. I keep explaining to them they have nowhere to hide. They are the only one out here playing their particular instrument, everyone in the audience can hear every note they play, so if they mess up, it doesn't get covered by the other 11 clarinets or trombones or whatever. That bad note just blares out there. For an example, we have one base drum. If she's half a second off the beat everyone in the stadium, the concession stand and down in the locker room hears it."

Nevertheless, Lamb is determined his small group is going to have a full scale band experience. He held a two week band camp in August. "We had to hurry up and learn to march in step in line and play music at the same time. The motivation was at the end we went to Kennywood and marched in the parade."

They go to every away football game. He takes particular pride in the fact that at Summit this weekend, Cornell will be the only band on the field at halftime. The home team gave up fielding a marching band years ago. Cornell will go to all day Saturday band festivals at Carlynton and West Allegheny. And they'll march in every parade in the area.

"We may be small," he grants. "But we are a band. We're going to do those things bands do."

And while Cornell may be the smallest public high school in Pennsylvania still sponsoring a marching band, Lamb says bands are in trouble everywhere. "Those bands that used to have 100 now have 40. The old 200 member bands are down to 60. The big superbands of 400 or so are now struggling to break 100. No matter how big the school is, band numbers are down." Part of the problem is money. Part of it is the increasing number of other sports and other activities drawing students off. Part of it is this generation of students is less interested in participating in large group activities. Football, drama, speech are all down. And part of it is students are no longer willing to give up after school times, Friday nights and all day Saturdays.

Still, Lamb is optimistic. He's teaching music down to the 4th grade. "If we keep these 19 and next year add six, that would give us 25. Another year we could get to 30. We could do great things with 30."

West Point Ballet Opens Fall Season At Tull

For their first public performance of the 2017 Fall Season, Coraopolis' West Point Ballet Company staged a "sampler" at Sewickley's Tull Theater Tuesday evening.

Rather than a full scale production, the "sampler" included a dozen short segments by representatives of the various age and skill levels.

But there was some serious star power in the show. Lexi Norris danced twice. Norris leaves October 1 for Moscow where she will join the Bolshoi Ballet for a year.

Other segments included a unique tramboline dance (right), and several ensembles.

West Point Ballet Studio, on the corner of 4th Avenue and Main Street, has built a solid reputation and attracts students from four counties and three states, some driving in (or being driven by parents) daily from East Liverpool, Wheeling, Butler or Washington.

They come to Coraopolis to be coached by Damien Martinez and Cynthia Castillo, Cuban immigrants who starred in their own ballet careers and have now become two of ballet's most exciting young coaches.

Martinez and Castillo teach a tyle of ballet that is innovative, energetic, cutting edge and athletic. A far cry from the traditional, conservative, dignified, formal ballet most people think of, their version appeals to young people and has produced many award winning dancers.

So many they've already outgrown their building and are looking for a new one, or a lot on which they can build one.

They work with children as young as 3, and teenagers up to 18. Although at Sewickley one of the audience asked Martinez if he accepted adults, and he answered, "Sure. I'll take you. We'll see what we can do."

They have just over 100 students now, but could handle up to 150.

"Not too many," Castillo cautions. "Ballet requires individual attention. We do not allow more than 14 in a class, and we really prefer fewer."

Cynthia considers young children a separate category. "In Cuba they never start anyone in Ballet until nine. We're happy to work with them, but we don't push them like we do the older kids." Children pay $40 a month.

Once a dancer enters the fornal program, they begin at Level One and proceed through seven levels. A Level One dancer pays $100 a month for two 45 minute sessions a week. By Level Seven a dancer pays $300 a month and practices daily from 4 - 6:30.

"Level Seven is serious Ballet," Cynthia explains. "It's for dedicated students who intend to make a career of Ballet."

Many Level Seven dancers are home schooled or cyber schooled and come to the studio during the day for extra practice.

Martine and Castillo insist they're not moving their prestigious studio out of Coraopolis.

"We love it here. It reminds us of home. The forested hills, the water, the old architecture, the beautiful homes. We think Coraopolis is poised to really boom and we're going to share in that boom. And we have been blessed with great students. This is a great place to run a Ballet company. We'll be here for a long time."

Cornell Band Still Marching Despite Declining Numbers
The Cornell High School Marching Band is working hard these days in preparation for halftime shows and other performances. A far cry from the days when the 200 piece Coraopolis High School Band included snare drums, xylophones, bells, triangles, cymbals, three kinds of saxophones, and rows of tubas and trombones, the Raider Band this year has 19 pieces plus a flag corps. But those larger bands long ago represented a 400 student high school in a town of 18,000. Today with 100 students in a town of 6000, Cornell is proud to be the smallest public high school in Pennsylvania still fielding a marching band. Other schools Cornell's size long ago downsized to a pep band in the stands or no band at all.
Wind River Opens at Sewickley Theater

The film Wind River opens today (Friday) at the Sewickley Theater (Tull Family Theater). It's a mix of spectacular scenery, Native American culture, a curious mystery and violent action.

It was written and directed by Taylor Sheridan and stars Jeremy Renner as a U.S. Fish & Wildlife tracker and Elizabeth Olsen as an FBI agent.

The film opens with Renner on a tracking assignment finding the body of a beautiful 18 year old Shoshone woman. She's clad only in a bathrobe and there are no other tracks around. How did she get six miles from the nearest trailhead in her bare feet? Why is she not dressed properly? What or who was she running from? Renner descends to the Wind River Reservation to find out and the action picks up from there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs sends in the FBI to help but Olsen has never been in a snowy wilderness before and knows nothing of Native American culture.

Before we're done, we learn a lot about the mountains, the Shoshone and the fine art of tracking.

It's a good movie which has already won several awards.

There are several loose ends which are introduced to advance the plot and only serve to confuse everyone.

From the beginning to end of the film a major storm is about to unleash, and it never does. If the storm isn't going to happen, they should quit talking about it. They make a big deal out of the fact the wife is heading out on the highway to drive to Jackson Hole and they keep forewarning some disaster befalling her as the storm hits. She never has a problem. There's enough suspense already going on that they don't need to create artificial suspense.

We keep hearing about Jenner and several other characters having been born and raised here and knowing the Rez like the back of their hands.

But repeatedly they are surprised by finding a draw or ridge or trail they had never known about.

And the movie is filmed in Utah. The Wind River Reservation is one of the most spectacular places on Earth, backing up to the Wind River Wilderness, the largest wilderness in the contiguous United States. Why they would not film on location is baffling. But the scenery is still great.

However, these are minor complaints. Wind River is very well scripted, well acted and well filmed. There is nothing conventional or predictable in it.

Sheridan is not as interested in the basic mystery plot as he is in showing the mood and atmosphere of the Reservation and the wilderness. He is fascinated by the isolation and loneliness of this sparsely populated land and uses every technique at his disposal to emphasize it.

He also understands the power of silence in a film. Sometimes a scene contains no dialogue. We are just asked to soak in the surroundings.

Sheridan grew up on a ranch in Texas, lived for a year on a reservation and recently moved to Wyoming. He based Wind River on strikingly similar events on two different reservations.

Some of the film is shot with handheld cameras, which many viewers find disorienting. The sound track is also muffled at times, but you can figure out what's going on without hearing the dialogue.

Nevertheless, Wind River is one of the year's best films and well worth seeing.


Small Jellyfish Invade Lake Erie

It's another August and just as they have for 70 years many Western Hills families are returning from vacations on Lake Erie. Not only do they go for the Presque Isle beaches, but for the fishing, for Waldameer Park, for the restaurants and the wildlife. And this year they were joined by a new animal : Jellyfish.

The scientific name is Craspedacusta Sowerbyi. These are the freshwater cousins of the much larger and more deadly ocean jellyfish, which sting swimmers and surfers with their poisonous tentacles. Somehow, as they evolved to live in freshwater, the Crasped tentacles lost their ability to sting larger animals and people. So they can be admired for their spooky appearance without being feared for their venom. Craspeds live on small invertebrates.

They appear as translucent, shiny blobs of jelly with glow a ghostly white when exposed to flourecent light. Delicate tentacles extend out in all directions from the "head," or "crown."

Jellyfish prefer warm water. From October to April, they exist as a small polyp, which nobody except biological reearchers even notice. As water warms in the Spring, the polyps morph into the larger form seen in these photos.

Technically, biologists at Ohio State and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources say the Jellyfish entered Lake Erie several years ago but there were so few of them no one noticed. Now, they've reproduced enough that there are thousands of them and people are beginning to notice.

"These freshwater Jellies pose no threat whatoever to humans," insists Sara Stalman of the Ontario Ministry. "Nor do they seem to be upsetting the ecosystem."

Biologists suspect the Jellyfish came to Lake Erie in shipments of ornamental plants from China. When the big cargo ships discharge their hulls after unloading, they release the animals into the environment

It's illegal on both the Canadian and American sides for cargo ships to discharge their hulls into any of the Great Lakes, but the laws are almost impossible to enforce.

The Jellyfish are a tasty new treat for Turtles, Crayfish, Fish and other animals.

In the natural environment, you have to look carefully to see one, since they're transluscent and light passes through right through them. These photos were taken by bringing the Jellyfish inside and placing them in a dish of water under a flourescent light.

They prefer calm water where they can hang motionless and wait for prey to swim by. They avoid shorelines where waves are breaking. They live further out, beyond the breakers. And they live in quiet bays and inlets. They also prefer bays and inlets because the shallower water is usually warmer.

The Jellyfish had already been reported in the other Great Lakes. They also appear to be spreading into smaller lakes, farm ponds and streams in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, and Minnesota.

In one sense, their presence can be considered a positive. Jellyfish are extremely sensitive to pollution and can only live in water at least 90% clean. They have long been considered pollution indicators.

Lake Erie and its surrounding streams, ponds and smaller lakes have a healthy population of many animals which are feeding on the Jellyfish, keeping their population from growing too large.

People with freshwater aquaria in their homes are already capturing the Jellyfish and adding them to their collections.

Jellyfish are extremely primitive animals, the oldest multicellular organisms in the world. They have a very basic nervous system and while they have light sensors, they cannot focus on an actual image. In the wild they live from three months to a year, although in zoos and aquaria, where temperatures, food and predators are controlled, they can live two or even three years.

Cory Resident Represents Airline In Nicaragua

Coraopolis resident Jeff Lemley recently returned from Nicaragua, where he represented American Airlines in a UNICEF charitable mission.

Lemley, a Cornell graduate and career flight attendant, was chosen from 4500 volunteers who help raise money for UNICEF on American international flights. He flies weekly to Madrid, Lisbon, Brussells and other European cities.

The program, "Champions for Children," raises about a million dollars a year for various UNICEF childrens' causes. Each year, the volunteers get to choose where $250,000 of that money is spent, and four of them are selected to visit that location to present the money. Lemley had to submit a video explaining why he should be chosen.

He and three others were flown into Managua, near Nicaragua's Pacific coast, then flew in a small propeller plane across to a fishing village on the Caribbean coast.

They were welcomed by the Governor and several representatives, who expressed appreciation for the funding.

That's Lemley above drinking coconut milk from a freshly picked and opened coconut.

Nicaragua is the second poorest Latin American country. In addition to its other problems, it has been battered by hurricanes and earthquakes, which have often destroyed economic advances.

For instance, a 2010 hurricane destroyed the canning plant and the long distance fishing fleet which were the keys to prosperity for the fishing village. The plant has never been rebuilt and half sunken fishing boats still litter the harbor. Without them, local fishermen still fish, but only for sale in the local markets. The village has fallen back into poverty after several decades of prosperity.

Health care, access to safe drinking water, and indoor plumbing are all in short supply in rural Nicaragua, which is where UNICEF concentrates its efforts and funding.

Lemley and the other three American Airlines representatives visited a local Women's Health Center which UNICEF sponsors.

It is the only place in the area offering routine health care for women and children.

They were taken by boat out to El Bluff, an island in the Caribbean. The school there had only one sink and bathroom stall for its 268 children and staff. The homes on the island did not have indoor plumbing or running water So as soon as the children arrived at school, they lined up to use the bathroom, and the line remained long all day, requiring many children to miss valuable instruction time.

UNICEF funded the building of three large bathrooms, one for boys, one for girls and one for staff, with six sinks and six stalls in each.

Lemley and the volunteers were also taken to a different area, where they visited a UNICEF sponsored Maternity Hospital with full neonatal care. Once again it is the only facility in its area offering medical services for women and children.

He quickly noticed that at both medical facilities the doctors and nurses spent as much time educating women as they did providing care.

"They don't know about nutrition. They'll take a baby home and try to feed it the wrong foods or beverages, items the baby's not able to digest yet. So the baby will get sick and they'll have to bring it back to the hospital for a few days."

Their final stop was to a vocational school specializing in plumbing and masonry, specifically for the purpose of installing running water and indoor bathrooms. The day the volunteers visited the plumbing students were receiving instruction in how to set up a commode. They practiced adjusting the float and valves and flushing mechanisms.

UNICEF had funded the bathrooms at that school, and the day the volunteers were there a UNICEF funded well was being dug. The students previously had carried buckets of fresh water from half a mile away.

At the fishing village, the group stayed at a hotel which, while clean and well run, was "pretty spartan," according to Lemley. But they ate their meals at the hotel restaurant, which he found unique in several respects.

"Watermelon juice was the major beverage," he recalls. "It was pretty good. The major breakfast entree was Rice & Beans. They offered lots of Shrimp and other seafood. If you ordered fish, it came whole, with the fish and tail included. For dinner, the local favorite was the Caribbean Spiced Pork. And they offered several other pork entrees."

While there, they filmed a video which will be shown on flights during the next year just before attendants ask for donations.

Lemley, an Edinboro University graduate, began flying for Allegheny Airlines. Allegheny became USAir, which two years ago merged into American.

The last night they were in Nicaragua, they were taken to a talent show. "It was sort of their 'Nicaragua Has Talent," he said. "But it was pretty good. It was amazing to see all the kids, coming out of poverty, with the talents they had for singing and dancing and playing instruments."

He was struck by the contrasts in Nicaragua. "The scenery is spectacular. There are mountains and beaches and tropical rainforest. Then there are these desperately poor villages without electricity or running water. The other contrast is the beautiful cathedrals rising up out of these areas of huts and shacks."

The heat and humidity were intense.

American Airlines issued special t shirts to the group to wear during the entire trip instead of their uniforms, which would have been way too hot for the climate.

It wasn't his first trip to Latin America. Several years ago, he participated in church mission trips to Brazil. They would stay a week in a remote village and help build small houses or replace roofs on existing houses.

One impression that struck him was how grateful everyone was. "Often the people you're doing things for kind of take it for granted," he says. "But on this trip, everyone from the Governor down to the young kids kept saying Thank You and telling us how much they appreciated every thing we were doing. In America, we just assume certain things like fresh water and indoor plumbing. We don't realize that there are so many areas of the world where they don't have those things."

He was also struck by the frustration everyone in those villages feels. "There are no jobs. None. Apparently, before the hurricane, that canning plant and those fishing boats employed pretty much the entire village. The people see that the fish are still there, waiting to be caught, and the world still has a huge appetite for seafood. So why doesn't some company come in and rebuild the canning plant and repair those boats? It would be a lot closer to import seafood from Nicaragua than from China. So why is no one interested? The village doesn't have the money and Nicaragua doesn't have the money. But they don't understand why no big company is interested."

Now back home, Lemley is hosting a Pie Special at the Presbyterian Church Saturday to further benefit the Champions for Children fund.

Despicable Me 3 Fun, But Not Up To First Two

Despicable Me 3 opened this week at the new Sewickley Theater, also known as the Tull Family Theater. Only 10 minutes from downtown Coraopolis, it's a lot closer and more convenient than driving out to the megaplexes at the malls.

This is the fourth film in the Despicable franchise, three featuring Gru and one featuring the Minions. The three daughters and the irrepressible Minions are as lovable as ever, and fans will find the film fun, creative and entertaining.

In this one, Gru's mother finally tells him the long held secret : That he has a twin brother. Gru tracks him down in the remote nation of Fredonia, which bears a striking resemblance to Italy. Dru runs a huge pig farming operation but longs to be a criminal, and begs Gru to teach him the skills.

Gru, the former criminal mastermind turned honest, is reluctant to return to the life. But the new criminal genius, Balthazar Bratt, has stolen the world's largest diamond and it needs recovered. So Gru lets Dru think they're trying to steal a diamond, when in fact they're actually the good guys trying to steal it back.

This proves more difficult than it would seem.

Bratt harbors a grudge against Hollywood because his career as a child TV star was cut short when they cancelled his show. So he has a scheme to use the diamond to destroy Hollywood. While in exile, Bratt has used his creativity to invent a myriad of bizarre weapons, including chewing gum with special powers, an army of Bratt dolls, various robots, and an electric guitar which doubles as a kind of musical ray gun. He stores the diamond in a giant Rubik's Cube.

While Gru and Dru pursue Bratt and the diamond, an array of zany subplots provide comic relief. Agnes tries to capture a unicorn, Margo is pursued by a village peasant boy who thinks she's destined to be his love, and the Minions find themselves on stage in a Europe Has Talent show, end up in jail, and piece together an aeroship out of spare parts.

All of this somehow holds together, but cracks are appearing.

The charm of the first two films was that the three girls and the Minions were deeply involved in the main plot. In this one, they each have their own subplots and are totally irrelevant to the main action.

There's also a danger here in that the films are getting better and better at satirizing past classics, ranging from James Bond to Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy, to the Pink Panther to Star Wars to old TV series. But with each passing year, fewer and fewer viewers remember those films and series, so the scenes fall flat.

However, the sheer creativity of the series keeps its fans coming back. There are details piled upon details, so you can see the films multiple times and laugh at something new in each scene you missed previously.

Coming Home Hits Home Run With Locals

Rod Hermansen's debut as a film director and producer was a success as far as local fans are concerned. His first full length feature, Coming Home, drew a full house to Sewickley Theater Saturday and most came away impressed.

Hermansen himself took the microphone before and after the film to explain to viewers that based on viewer feedback, he might go back and make some final editing changes before releasing the film to a wider audience. He also explained that this was not a block buster big budget Hollywood film, but an independent production with a $20,000 budget rather than $20 million. Hermansen also emphasized that it was his first film, that he had not majored in film in college and was learning as he went.

So the crowd, many of whom knew Hermansen either directly or indirectly, were hoping for the best. In conversations afterward, they were pleased with the film.

And it wasn't the only first Saturday. Very few in the audience had been to the brand new Sewickley Theatre, technically known as the Tull Family Theater because the Tulls financed it to bring back a theater to the town. And it's a beautiful theater, old time in the sense that it has only two screens, one concession stand and an activity room which can be rented for special occasions. But those two viewing rooms are ultramodern, very comfortable, with wide screens and state of the art sound systems (see photos below). Both were set up to show Coming Home Saturday.

Hermansen rented the room for Saturday. Before and after the showing, everyone joined Hermansen in the room for drinks and conversation. It became a spontaneous Coraopolis reunion, not for a school but for the whole community.

The theatre is complete on the inside, has officially opened, and has already drawn big crowds for Wonder Woman. But they're still finishing up the landscaping and entrances.

Coraopolis viewers praised the theater, saying it had everything the big cineplexes did and was much closer than the Summit or other malls. As long as it's showing the same films, they indicated they would just come to Sewickley. Many asked why Coraopolis could not do the same thing and bring back a local theater.

Hermansen revealed himself to be a very sentimental man. The movie is set in Flower Mound, Texas, but the name of the softball team is the Cory Tigers. Hermansen himself appears in the movie in several scenes wearing a Cory Blue Devils t shirt. So why the name Tigers? Turns out Hermansen played three seasons of Little League baseball in Coraopolis and the name of his team all three seasons was the Tigers. Cory Tigers shirts were available and sold out.

Even though the film is set in Texas, Hermansen slips in references to Cory, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The film begins with the wife dying, leaving Dad to raise his daughter alone. Some viewers thought the film might open with the father and daughter laying roses on her grave to make this clear. Instead it opens with a Pete Rose lookalike, who coached with Hermansen, coming to visit him after he's remarried, and the story is told in flashbacks.

Hermansen resolves the loss of his wife by immersing himself and his daughter in softball. "Life can be unpredictable," he tells her, "and it can be cruel and you can't control it. Sports are different. The workers always win. Talent and luck are great, but the ones that work the hardest always come out on top." The little girl takes this to heart and determines to become the world's best softball player by outworking everyone else.

Hermansen played baseball from Little League through college and then played semipro softball. His knowledge of softball is evident in the fine game action. He walks a thin line here. A risk of any sports novel or movie is to focus on too much game action. This risk looms especially large in baseball or softball novels and movies since they play such long seasons. Hermansen, or the cameramen under his direction, has captured some outstanding segments, but he could afford to cut some of the lesser footage.

One of the reasons this movie works is because Hermansen cast the little girl, and the 17 year old she becomes, perfectly. The little girl is adorable and the 17 year old is gorgeous. We want to root for them. And she does become the world's greatest softball player, lifting her team along with her to challenge for the national championship.

Then she and Hermansen are confronted with a problem that defies his philosophy, the one that has guided the two for 12 years, that in sports you can control everything, that over time the hardest workers always win. They find something they can't control and hard work can't beat.

The film starts off slow and viewers were beginning to get restless. But it picks up speed, and tightens the pace until the last half is intense. As the credits came across the screen, women were heading for the restroom to reapply their mascara.

"It got to me," admitted Suzie McCaskill, a Cory native now living in Moon. "I've seen all the sports movies and they never bother me but this one did. When she goes in in that final inning, I lost it."


Many felt that the scene where Hermansen meets his daughter's first boyfriend for the first time, and the sudden appearance of a previously unknown woman from down the street who invites Hermansen over for dinner, seemed awkward. The boyfriend eventually becomes a familiar character, but we never see the woman again. Hermansen defends the woman's scene because he says it includes "heartfelt truth," and allows him to explain some character motivation.

The film gets pretty emotional as it is.

"Actually," observed Kristine Konecki, "I thought the problems in the film were script issues, not filming issues. Given the low budget and lack of multiple cameras and all the fancy technology, he did a great job behind the camera. The slow start and extraneous scenes are in the script."

Still, if a student in a UCLA Film School turned this in as his first project, the teacher would be overjoyed. Hermansen shows a talent for directing dramatic moments, for managing a tight pace, and for pulling disparate elements together. There are $20 million blockbusters on the screen right now that commit worse flaws than Coming Home.

Hermansen (at right, talking to guests. That's Borough Manager Ray McCutcheon in the blue shirt and glasses). and his investors seemed pleased with the turnout and the reactions to the film. The struggle of an independent producer is an uphill battle, but 90% of all films begun are never finished. He has proven he can get one from script to the screen, which will make venture capitalists more likely to take a chance on his next one. Locals are hoping he films it in Coraopolis. Hermansen can next be seen acting in the upcoming sci fi thriller Geostorm.

Gateway Lodge Provides Ideal Getaway

Itching for an adventure but can't get away for a full week or two vacation? Most Coraopolis and Western Hills residents think of a weekend at Erie, but there's a magic alternative even closer. It's the "Pennsylvania Wilds," the north central region most famous for Cook's Forest.

This is ancient country, rich in history. The Iroqouis Federation, a loose alliance of The Seven Nations, ruled these woods and rivers for 10,000 years. They had a written language, constitution, court system, legislation and sports like Lacrosse. The Iroqouis mapped the sky, naming the constellations thousands of years before the Greeks did the same thing. There were major battles here, many against the Huron who periodically tried to invade from the Great Lakes. Important events during the French & Indian War, American Revolution and War of 1812 occurred here. James Fenimore Cooper immortalized this area in his Leatherstocking novels, especially The Deerslayer and Last of the Mohicans. Once you hike or canoe out of sight of the road, the feelng of going back in time is almost unavoidable.

It's also a wilderness wonderland for anyone who loves Biology. Cook's Forest is the crown jewel of Pemnsylvania's public lands. It's the largest remaining expanse of virgin timber east of the Rockies. But because of a milder climate and much more rain, the trees here grow bigger and closer together than out West. The Oak, Hickory and White Pine here are among the largest remaining in North America.

Thousands of fungi, moss, ferns and wildflowers thrive here and nowhere else in the world. You can't spend time here and not see Bear, and you have to drive carefully lest coming over a rise or around a bend you come face to face with an Elk. The largest free ranging Elk herd east of the Rockies inhabits these five million acres. Thousands of people spend a weekend or full week here in the Fall to hear the Elk bugling and watcn the stags battle each other, sometimes for an entire day.


The National Elk Research Center has a visitor center, small theater, educational facilities, library, viewing areas and gift shop, all existing to study and honor these magnificent creatures, native to Pennsylvania, who are now protected here. Unlike Deer, Elk do not move quietly through the forest. You'll hear them a mile away as they crash through underbrush.

Cook's Forest itself is surrounded by state parks, state forest, national forest, wildlife refuges, state game lands, and other protective tracts, guaranteeing that five million acres will remain in this pristine condition 1100 miles of trails wind through the deep shade, many of them used for thousands of years by the Iroqouis. 2067 miles of flowing water hold trout and other cold water fish. High above, birds of prey ride the air currents.

In the middle of all this natural splendor is Gateway Lodge. It's just as impressive as the surrounding forest. Built in the 1930s as a Summer Girls Camp, the lodge was converted to a tourist facility in the early 1950s.

Gateway is two hours from Coraopolis. You head north on I-79, then east on I-80. Take the Clarion exit, turn north, follow state road 66 through Clarion and on for 13 miles, turn right on route 36, and look for Gateway Lodge on your left 1/4 mile past Cooksville Bridge.

The lodge sits high on a hill with the Clarion River behind it (accessible via trail) and in front of it (down the driveway and across the road). It's a log structure reminiscent of the old western national park lodges.

Gateway offers you several choices. You can have a Luxury Suite with single king sized bed, balcony, fireplace and jacuzzi (see photo below). You can have a Gallery room with rainfall shower and two twin beds or one Queen bed.

You can also rent a cabin (photo, above). Each one sleeps 2-6 people, has a kitchen and fireplace, and a sofa.

You should come prepared to abandon your electronic addiction. Usually you won't get a cell phone signal, and if you do, it will come in and out. There is a wireless password the front desk provides, and logging on is simple enough, but the link is extremely slow. Most of the rooms don't have TVs, although if it's that important, you can reserve one of the few that do.

The Lodge is disappointing in two regards. Its customer base is people who come for a retreat, where they can relax, read a good book, and maybe work on some project on their computer. But there is not a good reading light in the entire lodge. Gateway also does not provide desks in rooms. There's a small circular bistro table in each room, but they're not big enough to do any work on. They're designed to hold a drink, that's all.

However, this just forces you to rethink your priorities. You come here to relax, fish, hike, ride horses, canoe, admire the scenery, take photographs, and soak up the atmosphere of a different place and time.

During the day, of course, you have ideal nooks for reading. You can sit on your own balcony, looking out on the leafy view, and read. There's a larger lodge balcony. There's one of the great front porches anywhere (see photo below), where you can either read or meet and talk with other guests.

If it rains, all is not lost. The lodge has a large two floor lounge with board games and plenty of overstuffed chairs and couches. Two story windows let you watch the storm from inside. Music plays softly from ceiling speakers. Mid afternoon, they put hot coffee, herbal iced tea and snacks out to keep you til dinner.

Then there's the pool room. This will surely be the most unique pool table (photo, below) you've ever played on. It's a beautiful rustic work of art. You can spend time wandering the hallways admiring the artistic photographs of the forest hanging everywhere, and if you find one you like you can buy it.

Locals say the best photographs are taken just after a long rain, when fog lays in the valleys, droplets of water hang on the trees and flowers, and everything seems to glisten. Fishermen also have their best luck on rainy days.

The lodge has its own Spa. You make reservations at the front desk at least one day ahead, or you can make them when you reserve your room or cabin.

Gateway Lodge sits on private land sandwiched between Cook's Forest State Park, two state game land tracts, and the Allegheny National Forest. There are enough trails here to require a Summer of backpacking and day hiking. Some of them are long distance trails, like the Baker Trail which heads South to Pittsburgh, and the North Country Trail, which runs East to the ocean and West to Wisconsin and eventually the Pacific. But there are dozens of trails you can hike out 4-5 miles, stop for lunch, and hike back.

Within 15 minutes of Gateway Lodge are six horseback riding stables. You can get lessons, or they can saddle you up and provide a guide for an hour, two hours, half a day, all day or overnight trips. If you know how to ride and have done enough of it recently to toughen up, this is the best way to explore the area, since horses can cover much more distance.

If you bring your own canoe or kayak, you can launch down at the bridge and either paddle down river or up river as far as you want. Paddlers tend to head upstream, paddling against the current. Then, after they stop for lunch, they can lazily float down with the current to the lodge. This is also a favorite way to go fishing as long as your canoe or kayak is rigged for it.

Thousands of people a year drive to Gateway Lodge not to stay but to eat dinner. This is a very good restaurant, serving fresh and locally sourced ingredients skillfully prepared. Most rooms include breakfast free and you pay for dinner. Breakfast runs from 8 - 11, dinner 5-9, and Sunday brunch from 8-2. Lodge guests make reservations at a precise time. There is a good wine list, which includes many excellent local varieties. The menu features creative and memorable items. Their Breakfast Souffle is worth getting up for, but they also make a good Pancake, French Toast or Omelette. At dinner, among Appetizers, we like their Hen of the Woods Crepes (two Crepes filled with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Chihuaha Cheese), Roast Red Peppers (topped with cheese and basil), and Crab Cake Sliders. The Salads with their local ingredients are excellent. Among the entrees, the Bison, Venison and Walleye are worth driving up for. But the Steak, Crab Cakes, Cedar Planked Salmon and Zucchini Stuffed Chicken are also outstanding. Desserts here are sinful. There are the Chocolate Pot (with Pennsylvania Wilbur's Dark Chocolate), Maple Bourbon Ice Cream, and Maple Syrup Pecan Pie. They have craft beers, Mexican Tequilas and Kentucky Bourbons.
For reservations at Gateway Lodge, call 814-744-8017. Or go to their website, at Gatewaylodge.com.
An Adventure Just Getting Here...
Cuban Couple Brings Ballet To Coraopolis

There's a saying in Journalism that everyone has a story, and it's certainly true in Coraopolis. But very few people have a story as adventurous and exciting as that of Damien Martinez and Cynthia Castillo.

Born and raised in Cuba, they were selected at age nine to enter the high pressure Provincial Schools of Art. They did study other subjects, but half of each day was devoted to either Music, Visual Arts, Dance or Ballet.

They did not know each other then. Damien was born and raised in Matanzas, 70 miles from Havana. Known as "The Athens of Cuba," Matanzas (photo below right)has always been the island's center for Music and the Arts. It's a beautiful coastal city which is also a tourist destination, with beautiful beaches. Cynthia was born and raised in Havana, a much larger city.

When they were 14, a national committee visited each provincial school and held auditions for the National School For The Arts, which is in Havana. He and Cynthia were chosen for the National School, which is in Havana. They met the first day of their sophomore year and fell in love immediately.

Both felt lucky. Resources were scarce in Cuba, almost everyone was poor by U.S. standards, and food and other items were rationed. But students at the Provincial and National Schools received advantages. They were issued ballet shoes and leotards. But they had to take good care of them so they would last a full year. Cynthia recalls carefully handwashing her leotard and tights every evening. She never knew what toe pads were. Homework was done by candlelight because electricity was cut off at the end of each work day.

Both maintained good grades in their academic subjects and kept advancing in their Ballet careers. Then, at age 19 the most amazing stroke of good luck befell Cynthia. She won a national lottery. But the prize was not money. It was something much more precious. It was a completely legal visa allowing the winner to leave the country and come to the U.S.

There was no choice. She had to do it. So Cynthia left her family, her home and everything she had ever known to come to Miami all alone and begin a new life and a new Ballet career.

But it meant leaving Damien behind,. They had now been together for five years and were deeply in love.

"Go," he told her. "You have to go. I'll follow you. I don't know how, but I'll get to Miami."

Damien and several friends began building a boat, hidden in a barn. They scrounged the island for an engine and found an old Mercedes model which they installed in the boat.

"None of us were boat builders," he explains. "It was all trial and error." Finally, shortly after midnight on December 29, they hitched up two oxen and dragged the boat down to the water. They had to push off quietly and not start the engine until away from shore. It was 4 a.m. when they started the engine and headed for rhe Florida Keys, 90 miles away. Two hours later, as dawn was breaking, the engine began sputtering. An hour later, it began leaking oil. Lots of oil.

"We held a quick discussion," Damien recalls. "We agreed we weren't going back. We would spend the rest of our lives in jail. It was not an option."

If worst came to worst, they wouldn't have to reach the Keys. They just had to get 30 miles off Cuba, into international waters. Then they could drift until a fishing boat or other passing vessel picked them up. They had brought drinking cups, so they used them to hold under the engine, gather the dripping oil, and pour it back into the top. Mile by mile, hour by hour, they inched along, the engine sputtering and leaking but never dying.

"One of these boats out on the Ohio River could make that trip in about three hours," Damien says. "It took us 21 hours."

Finally, at midnight, in the moonlight, they saw the Keys in the distance. "After we got close enough, we had another discussion. We were all good swimmers. If we had to, we could swim that little distance, only a few miles. So we voted to open the engine up to full speed. It made it. Once on the Keys, the Coast Guard picked us up."

Damien and the others were granted amnesty. He and Cynthia found jobs as a meat cutter and baker at a supermarket. They studied English and resumed their Ballet careers.

Then they met Misha Bart, an International Ballet Master for 20 years. He helped them land a contract with the Columbia Classical Ballet Company in South Carolina. Director Radenko Pavlovich developed their skills further. But an offer from the Pittsurgh Ballet Theatre drew them north. While performing with the Pittsburgh Ballet they both went back to school. Cynthia majored in Accounting and Business Management. Damien majored in Physical Therapy. They also became U.S. citizens.

While helping conduct ballet classes for young dancers, they found that they really enjoyed teaching it. So, having completed their college careers, and deciding they loved Pittsburgh and wanted to stay in this area, they decided to open their own school. They began looking around. There was already a school in the city and north, east and south of the city but none to the west. So they looked to the west, and found Coraopolis.

"We fell in love with Coraopolis at first sight. The beautiful old homes, the river, the hills, the woods all around, the classic downtown. Property here was affordable. And we feel the town is right on the edge of a renaissance. In the next decade, Coraopolis is really going to boom. And we're going to be part of it."

Their West Point Ballet Studio is certainly booming. It's already outgrown its current location. Damien is looking around for either a bigger building, or a lot on which they can build a bigger building.

They work with children as young as three, and teenagers up through 18. Their students come from as far away as Peters Township, South Fayette, Imperial, Sewickley, Wexford, Cranberry and even Ohio. But most come from the 15108 zip code. They have 104 students now, and could work with as many as 150. "Not too many," Cynthia cautions. "Ballet requires individual attention. We do not allow more than 14 in a class and prefer fewer."

Cynthia considers young children a separate category. "In Cuba they never start anyone in Ballet until nine. We're happy to work with them, but we don't push them like we do the older kids." Children pay $40 a month.

Once a dancer enters the formal program, they begin at Level One and proceed through seven levels. A Level One dancer pays $100 a month for two 45 minute sessions a week. By Level Seven a dancer pays $300 a month and practices daily from 4 - 6:30.

"Level Seven is serious Ballet," Cynthia explains. "It's for dedicated students who plan to go on and make a career of Ballet."

Many Level Seven dancers are home schooled or cyber schooled and come to the studio during the day.

Damien in the photo at left shows off their main floor, of which he's very proud. "We talked to a lot of people and designed it with give so it's easier on dancers' knees and other joints." They have two full size teaching floors in the Studio. It was all offices. They had to remove walls and install mirrors, rails and, of course, the special floors.

The kind of Ballet a dancer is taught in Coraopolis is not the same kind taught in the South Hills or in Pittsburgh.

"Of course the fundamentals are the same," Cynthia admits. "But Ballet has evolved through different paths, which we call Schools. Cuban Ballet is of course influenced by all those, but has become its own School."

Damien interrupts. "But," he says, gesturing with his hands, "The Cuban style has been influenced by the Sun, Sea, Birds and an African touch."

Damien warmed up talking about Cuba. "In 1948 Fernando Alonso returned to Cuba. He is the Father of Cuban Ballet. He took a decade and studied all the oher Schools of the world and then used his genius to meld them into his unique style. "

Before Alonso, Ballet was not particularly big in Cuba. But Alonso was one of those outsized characters who comes along every once in a while and changes history. While he was studying Ballet around the world, he also became a strong supporter of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, who during the 1950s was trying to assemble a ragtag band of revolutionaries and lead them to overthrow the government. Castro, whatever else his flaws, was well educated and had a firm belief that the Arts belonged to the masses. When he won his revolution and became Prime Minister and El Presidente of Cuba, he established Schools of Art in every Province and made Alonso and his wife Alicia the National Directors of Ballet, giving them a large annual budget. Alicia is still the Director, meaning the single vision of the Alonsos has guided Cuban Ballet for 57 years. She is elderly and nearly blind, but still directs scouts on their annual trips into the Cuban backcountry seeking children who might be developed into world class Ballerinas and Ballestrae.

Alicia and Alonso's brother Alberto have handled the administrative details of the Cuban National Ballet, while Fernando spent his time and energy imposing his vision on the Ballet itself.

By 1948, he had concluded that Ballet had become stale and was simply repeating itself, endlessly imitating the Ballet of the Italian and French courts of the 1600s and 1700s. He was determined to revolutionize Ballet and bring it into the 20th Century. He thought it had become much too stylized, formal, and static.

His vision was of a Ballet with bursting energy. Alonso dancers leap higher, move more quickly, pivot faster, and create the impression of a coiled spring waiting to explode.

Alonso thought Ballet had become much too artistic, too focused on going through the motions. He likened it to going to a Shakespearean play, where everyone knows not only the plot but even the dialogue, and they go only to see how this particular cast interprets the play.

Alonso wanted Ballet to be a celebration, an expression of energy and joy, to be exciting and new and full of surprises. To do this, of course, he needed dancers trained differently, and that has been what the Cuban National Ballet has provided. It now produces 40 new professional dancers a year to join the decades of dancers already performing. The Cuban National Ballet is now in great demand across Europe, Asia and the Americas, as people want to see this totally new approach.

Performances have been something Damien and Cynthia have worked hard on. Their Coraopolis dancers have already put on several major shows each year (see photo, top left). But they have to do it out of town. Their most recent show was staged at the Masonic Hall in the North Hills. "We need to be able to perform in Coraopolis so local people can see what we're doing," he says. "After all, we're using mostly local students."

Damien also senses he needs to convince local boys Ballet is not effeminate. "Boys in Russia, Italy, Cuba and other nations see Ballet as very masculine," he says. "Boys here need to understand Ballet is great preparation, great off season training, for Football, Basketball, Baseball, any sport. Ballet builds incredible legs, arms and core muscles. It develops footwork, body balance, body control, leverage and explosiveness. Lynn Swann and other NFL players have always used Ballet in their conditioning. Many coaches are hiring Ballet instructors to work with their players. We could be the best ally local sports coaches have."

Damien and Cynthia will be in Orlando all next week with five local dancers for the World Championships. Monday through Friday they'll be televised online at WorldBalletCompetition.com.
Cornell Grad Debuts Latest Film Here Saturday

Coraopolis native and Cornell HS graduate Rod Hermansen debuts his latest film Saturday at a special viewing and reception at Sewickley Theater.

The film is Coming Home, which focuses on a father growing closer to his daughter through softball. It's not specifically about Coraopolis but deals with universal themes which could occur here or anywhere. It was filmed mostly in Texas. Without giving away too much, the plot involves a girl who becomes America's greatest youth softball player but then faces a challenge which threatens to end her career. "It's about 60% true, 20% how I wish things had turned out, and 20% Hollywood filler," Hermansen says. "But it's a good story and a good movie. I'm proud of it."

Hermansen has led a long and winding path to reach this point. After graduating from Cornell in 1977, he went on to study Accounting at Robert Morris. He graduated as an accountant in 1982, but after only four months decided a career as an accountant wasn't for him. So he went to work as a flight attendant with American Airlines.

Hermansen had always been interested in film and began acting in commercials. He moved up to TV series and appeared in 11 episodes of Dallas. He finally landed minor parts in full length movies. He has now acted in 15 movies and has started directing and producing.

TV series he's acted in include Murder Made Me Famous, Wisp, Swindlers, Dallas and Queen of the South.

His films include Parkland, Jebadiah's Axe, Till Death, 8 Days, Clown, I Saw The Light, Alternate Realities, Carter High, The Red Room, Ellie, LBJ, The Cliff, The Lyme Lyte, Color Me You and the soon to be released Geostorm.

Geostorm promises to be the biggest hit Hermansen has been part of. It is a big budget science fiction film about a climate disaster. Until now, Carter High has been his biggest hit.

The Coming Home debut will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Tull Family Theatre at 424 Walnut Street in downtown Sewickley. Admission will be $10 and include cocktails afterwards in the reception room.

Longtime Western Hills residents will remember the old Sewickley Theater. It was the classiest theater in the area and showed first run films. Locals could go there to see new releases instead of going all the way into Pittsburgh to the Nixon, Fulton or Warner theaters.

Two years ago a group formed to bring a top line theater back to Sewickley. The Tull Family Foundation donated the money in exchange for naming rights.

The new theater has already been in full operation for six months. It has currently been showing Wonder Woman, but also shows classics, art films and specials. It has two screens.

Independent theaters like Sewickley are how independent producers like Hermansen break into big time exposure. "Distribution is a whole specialty. People think directors and producers spend their time on movie sets managing the scenes. No. They spend most of their time raising money and trying to convince distributors to carry their films. It's an exhausting life."

He actually prefers acting, and after launching Coming Home will return to simply acting in two upcoming hits : The Choir, and Out of Ashes.

"Actors have it easy. They try out, get a part, go home, memorize their lines, show up, go through their scenes, then leave. They may have to redo a scene several times, but when they're done, they don't have to go home, get on the phone, and raise money and fight for distribution."

It's not a profitable life, though. "There are 75,000 actors and actresses making less than $5,000 a year. It's a passion, not a career."

"Only a handful reach the point where they actually make big money. And that's mostly luck." So he still flies for American. "It's a great job because you fly so many days a month and then have the rest of the time to pursue other interests. Like acting or directing."

Hermansen is not just back in Pennsylvania to promote his new film. He'a also working on one. He spent Friday up in Titusville acting in a film. Otherwise, he only gets back to Coraopolis once or twice a year. He still has a sister and two brothers living here and his brother drove him to Titusville.

He played baseball for Robert Morris and played a few seasons of high level sofball in Pittsburgh, so directing a film about softball was a natural.

"Growing up, I always thought I wanted to get into acting, but I was playing sports and doing other things so I never got involved with the drama program at either Cornell or Robert Morris."

He never thought much about directing or producing until lately. "It's a tough job. 90% of all films which begin production never finish. This is why raising money is so tough. People are afraid you'll take their money, work on the film a few months, and then abandon it. You have to complete those first few films and get them into theaters so you can show people you're legitimate, that they can trust you to finish the film."

Even then, it's competitive. "You've only got so many potential investors, and you have thousands of would be independent producers plus the big Hollywood studios after that limited pool of money. Then you have these big blockbuster movies which cost a fortune and only last a week in the theaters so the investors lose their investment. As a result, investors are really hesitant. It's hard work raising money for a film."

Sharon Centennial Is Also A Carnot History

Members of the Sharon Presbyterian Church are celebrating their 200 year anniversary this year with a series of events. But the history of their church is also a history of the Carnot community.

The Sharon Church existed before there was a Carnot or a Moon Township. Moon, which was the first township created in Allegheny County, was seen as "so far out in the western provinces that it may as well be on the Moon," in the words of the then County Commissioner. But way out in those rural provinces in 1817 people organized a "church," meaning "community of believers gathered in the name of God," and met in the log cabins of its members. In 1820 they bought a large circus tent and used it for services. Finally they erected a building, which continually evolved over the years as tornados, rot and aging forced repair, rebuilding and replacement. Today, the modern day incarnation of The Old White Church is used as the Youth & Community Services Building (photos, right and below).

When they erected their tent and then built that first church, there was no town. But Stephenson's Mill, a grocery, general store, school and then a post office were built nearby, and soon homes began to appear. By then the township had been incorporated, and the town, which they named Sharon, was named its official seat.

The Post Office informed the people of Sharon that it had another town in Pennsylvania named Sharon and it had been there first so they had to find a new name. They chose Carnot. But the church kept its original name.

In 1829 Samuel Jennings arrived. Jennings was unique. He was both a doctor and a minister. Since almost everyone in the area belonged to the church ("or ought to," as Jennings put it), he was able to combine his medical practice and ministry. He spent the week making house calls with his Bible and his medical bag. Jennings remained the minister of Sharon Community Church for 50 years, until 1879. He preached through the Civil War ("The Lord's Terrible Swift Sword in action right before our very eyes," he told his congregation on Sunday mornings), and the early Industrial Revolution. Jennings is buried in the Sharon cemetery.

When the roads were finally paved, many residents of Carnot commuted to the railroads and factories in Coraopolis but continued to worship at Sharon Presbyterian Church. Since it was the only church in the township, many of the early residents of Moon are buried at Sharon Presbyterian's cemetery. Knowing this, the church has made a special effort to tend the grounds carefully.

The 1929 tornado destroyed the Old White Church, As it was rebuilt, the members of the Mount Calvary Presbyterian Church in Coraopolis raised the money and donated a bell for the new bell tower.

The end of Carnot's idyllic village era came in the 1940s when Allegheny County chose the old Bell Farm as the site for its new airport. And that move would impact Sharon Church as well. Mt. Gilead cemetery lay in the path of the new airport. Since the Sharon Presbyterian Church was still the only church in Moon Township it was asked to take the graves from Mt. Gilead into its own cemetery. They were moved with dignity and a small ceremony.

The 1950s were the last years of Carnot's existence as an actual village. When Robert Morris College in downtown Pittsburgh bought the Curry Estate just north of the town and began building a major college campus there, it increased traffic beyond what the old rural two lane roads could handle. The County widened the road from Coraopolis out to the airport, which meant removing most of Carnot's houses and stores.

The deep cut the highway construction made meant Sharon Presbyterian Church had to build a wall to keep its cemetery from sliding down.

By late in the 20th Century, it was obvious the congregation had become much too large for the existing building, so a new one was erected.

The original Old White Church experienced yet another reincarnation, this time as a Youth & Community Services center. Since it is no longer used as an actual church, the bell was not remounted on the building but is displayed just outside the front door (photo, above).

As part of their anniversary celebration, the church is holding a special service on June 11 at which all members will dress in 1817 clothing, A committee is preparing bonnets and other items from that time period, and the congregation will sing songs from an 1817 hymnal. They'll take down the modern decorations so the church will have the same stark appearance it had back then.

Several other events are also planned, including a July 2 historic Bell Choir concert.

Bill Payne, who founded the church's Bell Choir and became Director of Music of Bucknell University, is returning to conduct the English handbell performance. Commemorative t shirts, photos, paintings and quilts will be offered.

Committees are busy preparing special Christmas decorations to hand out in December. A meal made from 1817 recipes will be served in October. Quilts are being stitched to commemorate all the pastors in church history and all music directors in church history. An Old White Church worship service will be held in June. The official commemoration service will be conducted on August 20, since it was on August 20 1817 that the church was officially certified. Those who have been members of the church for 50 years or more will be honored this Sunday.

The church is currently between permanent pastors. The interim pastor is the Reverend Douglas Marshall. A new one will not be named until after the centennial celebrations are over. But Arlene Johnson, 90, is the wife of Dr. Reuel Johnson, who was Pastor at Sharon from 1964 through 1980, and she will be present at many of the events. Reverend Johnson is considered the greatest Pastor of the church's modern era since during his 16 years it grew to a membership of 1500, its all time high.

Car Owners Show Off At Cory Cruise

Vintage car owners from Coraopolis, Allegheny County and Pittsburgh showed off their masterpieces Sarturday at the Annual Coraopolis Car Cruise. The cars were parked along 5th Avenue from 11:00 to 3 while 1950s Rock n Roll music played in the background over a sound system rigged up in the Municipal Parking Lot. A steady crowd moved slowly along, peering into motor compartments, trunks and interiors. Owners set up camp in the shade, using lawn chairs and coolers.

Some of the vehicles were for sale, but most were just on display. The '32 Deuce Coupe, at right, and the Chuckwagon '32 Ford Pickup Truck, below, were the most popular. A lot of people had questions about the Ford Cobra Road Racing Car below right.

Len Besterman of West View brought his 1955 Chevy, below left. He's owned it for 15 years. For his whole life, Besterman has never owned any car except for a 1955 Chevy. This is his 10th one. He buys one, fixes it up, drives and shows it for a while, then sells it. This one is valued at $35,000. William and Georgianna Dell own the 1947 Kaiser, below center. He's only its second owner and bought it in 1999. He estimates its value at $15,000 but says he's not interested in selling.

The Chuck Wagon Of Cable Way

Chuck Smith of Cable Way in Coraopolis had his Chuck Wagon out for a cruise Tuesday and paused to show it off to a local police officer. Chuck's Wagon is a 1932 Ford Pickup Truck beautifully restored. He found it in a barn near Leetsdale in pretty bad shape and spent 10 years lovingly restoring it. But "restore" is not an adequate word. Smith has added air conditioning and numerous other modern amenities.

"We had to order the leather from Australia," he said, shaking his head. "Modern American leather is made from cows who rub up against barbed wire fences and scar their hides. When you stretch the leather tight to fit the seats, those scars expand and really mar the appearance."

He doesn't enter the car in shows or drive it in parades. "I didn't buy it to compete or show," he says. "I bought it for me to enjoy. I just like driving it."

The engine compartment and rear bed are meticulously detailed but he installed a lid cover for the bed to protect it. The truck was originally bought and used on a farm by Meadville, then stored in a Meadville barn for 10 years. It was bought and moved to Leetsdale by an owner who planned to restore it but never got around to it. Smith knew as soon as he saw it that he wanted it.

Meals On Wheels Rolls Into 60th Year

It's 8:30 a.m. and the Coraopolis United Methodist Church kitchen is a whirlwind of activity. Eight workers are scurrying around at various tasks in food preparation. This is West Hills Meals On Wheels, celebrating its 60th year in Coraopolis.

Five days a week, these workers devote their mornings to make sure the older or disabled people in Cory, Moon, Crescent and Neville eat well. And they're only the kitchen staff. At 10:30, the 12 road warriors show up, load the insulated containers (photo, below) and head out to deliver them to eager recipients.

Most of those recipients are older residents still trying to live on their own, either in their houses, or in apartments. There's a $5 a day charge, although often it's paid by children or relatives of rhe recipients.

But that $5 buys a lot. The customer receives a lunch, which usually includes a sandwich, salad, fruit, vegetable, and either soup or quart of milk. Then they receive a hot, sealed dinner, which that evening they can microwave for a few minutes. These are very good meals, prepared from scratch the same day they're delivered.

They're carefully planned for nutritional value and are delicious. These are way above the frozen dinners you might buy at a grocery.

Meals On Wheels has had various locations. For a while it operated out of the Lutheran Church, then the Presbyterian Church, but it's been at its current Coraopolis United Methodist location for 20 years. Originally, when Coraopolis had a population of 18,000, it was a strong M.O.W. operation. As the town gradually lost population and the number of recipients dropped, there came a time when Allegheny County demoted Cory to a "warming kitchen." Trucks delivered prepared meals from Pittsburgh, and the local workers merely reheated them

When it moved to the Coraopolis United Methodist Church, the local unit declared itself an independent operation, and once again became a "cooking kitchen." Director Barb Hess explains that she develops her own menu and can adapt quickly as food supplies become available.

"Local gardeners have surpluses and send them down to us. We can quickly adapt to use fresh ingredients as they become available." She showed reporters a shipment of Bagels and Breads which had just arrived from Panera. Giant Eagle is also a major supplier.

Rotary Club, Chevron, Subaru, EATON Corporation, Fed Ex Ground, Michael's Hair Loft, and other sources have supported West Hills Meals On Wheels for decades. The West Hills Meals On Wheels Steering Committee handles fundraising and grant writing. And the host, Coraopolis United Methodist Church is also very supportive.

The machine shown in the photo at right is a sealer. The kitchen staff places the ingredients of the hot dinners in styrofoam containers and this machine seals each one. A recipient can microwave the dinner, then remove the seal.

Hess isn't happy with her Meals On Wheels reach, however. "We serve up to 50 recipients a day," she laments. "But there are many more out there that I know would benefit from our services and are not signed up. For example, we only have four recipients on Neville Island. I know there are more than four older people on the island living alone. In the town of Cory, we only have one table full of recipients. But this town has a large older population. There are four or five times as many people out there living alone as we are now serving."

She suspects many people don't know about Meals on Wheels, many do not think they can afford it, and many have too much pride.

"We need to do a lot better job of making everyone aware of who we are and what we do," she says. The statistics certainly back her up. She shows official numbers from the last several years. In 2016, West Hills delivered 21,136 meals. Those meals were prepared from 34,226 pounds of fresh ingredients. 30% of it was fresh produce : vegetables, fruits, salad greens, etc.

As she talks, a shipment arrives from the Greater Pittsburgh Area Food Bank. "We stay and work in the afternoon working on tomorrow's raw ingredients. For instance, I had to find a volunteer to cut up 40 pounds of grapes one afternoon so the next morning we could use those grapes."

"We promote Meals On Wheels with billboards, ads and word of mouth. This year we're marching in the Memorial Day Parade. We've told the Police that whenever they find a local resident in need of help, we'll be happy to sign them up. If an officer walked in here, we could put a day's two meal packet in his hand in 20 minutes."

Technically, West Hills Meals On Wheels is a subsidiary of the North Boroughs M.O.W. Administrative Unit, along with locations in Sewickley, West View, Millvale, Gibsonia, Bellevue, Ben Avon, Leetsdale and McKnight Road.

As the road warriors arrive at 10 a.m., everyone helps load the big green insulated carriers into their vehicles. Meals On Wheels tries to deliver each day's meals by noon, and that is a narrow window. With a 10:30 departure time, they only have 90 minutes. On a pleasant Spring morning, and with drivers who have made the runs every day and know all the addresses, it's no problem. But on days of heavy rain, or, even worse, snow and ice, keeping that schedule can be a challenge. And new drivers require weeks to learn the routes.

Hess, shown at right uncovering a serving of ham after pulling it from the oven, likes to send out teams. one to drive, the other to deliver the meals. And it's not always easy. There are often many steps to climb, and sometimes no one immediately answers the door. Dogs can be a problem. Older, disabled recipients are usually not able to keep sidewalks and steps shovelled in Winter.

Sometimes it's also difficult to make a quick stop. Elderly or disabled recipients may spend their days in isolation, and the appearance of the Meals On Wheels delivery person may be their only social contact all day. In addition to the meals, they want to talk for a while. This may be more important than the food.

Meals On Wheels has a fascinating history. It was created in England in the 1940s in the aftermath of World War II as food and fuel were hard to get so many elderly people couldn't feed themselves. Thanks to the Marshall Plan, it rapidly spread across Europe, as so many homes and entire towns had been left in rubble that feeding millions of dazed survivors challenged leaders.

In 1954, the Philadelphia Health and Welfare Council decided Meals On Wheels would help keep its elderly population out of hospitals, retirement homes and nursing homes. By 1955, Pittsburgh had copied the idea, and in 1956 it began spreading across Allegheny County. Coraopolis launched its Meals On Wheels program in 1957. In 2017 there are more than 5000 M.O.W. units in America. On a national level, in 2016, American Meals On Wheels units delivered 218 million meals.

The Amerian Medical Association funded a study which showed that Meals On Wheels programs significantly improved the nutritional condition of the over 60 population, prolonged lives by an average of several years, and relieved stress among recipients who did not have to worry about whether or how they were going to eat each day.

Although Meals On Wheels deliverers are not health care professionals, rhey do provide a sort of early warning system. If a recipient does not answer the door, or is seen to be having serious problems, the volunteer can notify authorities.

Anyone interested in sjgning up, signing someone else up, or volunteering can call Barb Hess at 412-262-5973.

Girl Scouts & Alums Protest Camp Closings

Large numbers of Western Hills females have raised their voices to object to the closing of local Girl Scout camps, and they're not all 12 years old. Their ranks have been swelled by hundreds of former Girl Scouts now 40, 50, 60 and even 70 years old. Even more important, they've joined other girls and women across Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania and the nation. The internet has allowed everyone to connect and find common ground. They've discovered that the same story is being played out everywhere, they think it represents a "corporate takeover" of the Girl Scouts, and they're determined to stop it and roll it back.

Girls and women from Coraopolis, Moon, Robinson, McKees Rocks and other Western Hills communities joined their colleagues recently in a march through downtown Pittsburgh and a protest outside the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania offices on Isabella Street on the North Side. On a cold, grey day they expressed their outrage until finally some were invited inside to discuss their grievances with Girl Scout Administrators. But they emerged an hour later unsatisfied. Five of nine camps are slated to close, with the beloved Redwing kept open but only as a day camp.

"The Girl Scouts are not about selling cookies and doing arts and crafts," insisted Thelma Judson of Moon Township. "The whole concept of the Girl Scouts is to use outdoor adventure to develop self reliance, self confidence and leadership skills in young women. Yes, it's fun and different and exciting to spend a week or two every Summer sleeping in tents and learning to backpack, canoe, build fires, cook outdoors and if necessary perform first aid and emergency medicine. But those are just steps in the bigger process. Out there, away from adults and boys and towns, girls grow. They find themselves. They discover qualities within themselves they never dreamed were there. That is the critical value of Summer Camp, and that is why these camps cannot be allowed to close."

Lana Croyle of Findlay Township was equally irate. "Girl Scout Camp changed my whole life," she recalls. "I was a typical 11 year old : no focus, no goals, no major interest, just sort of playing my way through life. Then I went to Camp, up at Redwing. I liked to draw, so I signed up for a Painting class. The instructor made us get up before dawn and hike up to the top of the hill and watch the sun rise and then paint it."

Croyle's voice softened. "I'd never seen anything so beautiful. The way the hills turned from black to gray and then colors spread over everything as the sun came into view, and the higher the sun got the brighter the colors turned. And then I had the challenge of capturing all this with my brushes and paints on that piece of canvas. That --- right there --- was what started me on my career in Art. I kept going back to Camp every Summer, then I went off to Edinboro and majored in Art, then I became a Landscape Artist, snd I've made a living painting landscapes. All because of Camp Redwing. I know girls who went on to become PE teachers, National Park Rangers, Biologists, all sorts of careers because of our Camp experiences. And they want to close the camps down???"

Girl Scout officials are sympathetic but not persuaded. Pat Burkart, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania, explains. "We all have those wonderful memories," she says. "But that was 60 years ago. In 2017, girls are not going camping anymore. They're just not interested. Our numbers are way down. The camps are no longer self supporting."

The girls do indeed have other interests. One of them is computers. And they've been using their computers to research the issue. They've come up with some interesting facts.

"Look at this," Ruthie Isbell, 16, of McKees Rocks says, waving a computer printout. "They say money is a key issue. OK. Look at these salaries." Her IRS-990 printout, which she found on the U.S. Office of Management & Budget page of the Government Documents section, under the Open Records Law, which nonprofits are required to file annually, reveals that Burkart earns $204,000 a year and her five top lieutenants earn $175,000 each. "Our Moms are college graduates," Isbell continues. "Teachers, nurses, business women. All important jobs. None of them earn anywhere near this much. If we're so short of money, how come we're paying these high salaries?? Are these women doing this to serve the Girl Scouts or to get rich?"

Girl Scout Troops, like everyone else, create Facebook pages and websites. So Isbell and her fellow Scouts can spend an afternoon online and connect with other Scouts across the nation. It turns out they're all fighting the same battle. And as they research and exchange their findings with each other, they're all finding out the same things.

Turns out last year the Girl Scouts closed over 200 camps in 30 states, claiming interest was down. Debbie Nolan of Robinson Township doesn't want to hear it. "We have not lost interest," she argues. "The Girl Scouts make a huge effort to shut down that interest. They do not promote camps. They 'temporarily' close them, then claim no attendance."

The biggest camp controversy nationwide is Eagle Island, a fabulous island resort donated to the New Jersey Girl Scouts by a wealthy banker in 1937. 78 years of girls enjoyed camping at Eagle Island. It is now closed and for sale for $3.25 million. The last year it was open the island welcomed five thousand girls over a 12 week season, an average of over 400 girls a week. "Does that sound like girls are losing interest?" Nolan asks. Girls and women have formed "Friends of Eagle Island," hired an attorney, and are suing to block the sale and reopen the camp. Scouts and alums in Northwestern Ohio and Eastern Iowa have also hired attorneys to fight their camp closings.

Inevitably, Girl Scout Cookies get involved in this dispute. Last year, the famous cookie sales earned $75 million. Very little of it went to the camps.

Susan Browning, 17, of Findlay Township, has also been researching and emailing other Girl Scouts across the country. "Administrative Bloat," she says. "You should not go into Girl Scout or Boy Scout work to earn high salaries. It's like teaching or nursing. You do it because you love it. But we have these people now who want high salaries and big retirements. Here in Western Pennsylvania, we're spending millions of dollars on big salaries and pensions and a few thousand on the camps. They totally redo their offices and build fancy new headquarters and then don't have the money for a new roof on the lodge or to repair the plumbing that's 70 years old." As of January 1, 2017, the Girl Scout Pension Plan is $370 million underfunded. National Scout executives at their New York City office admit almost all the money from selling the camp properties will go into shoring up pensions and it still won't be enough.

Browning says everyone she corresponds with online thinks the problem started in 2007 when the Girl Scouts adopted a new management plan to "bring us into the 21st Century." She thinks it was a terrible mistake. "They decided to streamline everything by closing most of the Councils and merging them into huge megaCouncils covering a dozen or more counties or even two entire states. But what that did was distance the Council offices from our troops and leaders and girls. So then to run these giant Councils, they told all the older Girl Scout women, who had grown up in Girl Scouts and spent their whole lives in it, that they needed to retire to make room for these new big time executives with their MBAs and fancy ideas. Well, it hasn't worked. You can't run Girl Scouts like a business. We are not a corporation."

Isbell agrees, but says their other major mistake was to throw away the old Girl Scout emphasis on outdoor adventure and adopt a new program called "Journeys," aimed at urban girls. Journeys focuses on financial management, consumer science, computer programming, political activism, diversity and STEM activities. "We get all that in school,:" she points out. "Girls join Scouts to go hiking, canoeing, camping. I don't know a single girl who likes this new Journeys program."

Montour Trail Named "Trail Of Year"

The Montour Trail, which runs from Coraopolis to Clairton and connects to the Great Allegheny Passage all the way to the White House in Washington D.C., has been named Trail Of The Year by the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.

The 63 mile Montour Trail uses the roadbed of the old Montour Railroad. From 1900 - 1975, the Montour hauled coal from the mines in southern Allegheny County and northern Washington County to Coraopolis, where the cars were placed on sidings for pickup by the Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, and other major railroads. They would drop off empties, and the Montour would haul those back out to be refilled at the large tipples at places like Cliff Mine, Clinton, Champion and Muse. The Montour also picked up milk, grain and other farm products and brought them to markets, and delivered supplies and machinery to places like Scott Farms and Imperial, which had their own sidings. For 50 years, the Montour even ran passenger cars, until they were discontinued in the 1950s.

The Montour Trail is primarily used by bicyclers, but is perfectly suited to hiking and backpacking.

A cyclist in good condition could ride the trail from Cory to Clairton in a day. A backpacker could hike it in about five days. There are no official campgrounds along the way, but there are numerous patches of woods which cyclists and backpackers use to spend nights.

The Montour Trail winds along the Montour Creek, crosses bridges and trestles, goes through tunnels, penetrates deep cuts, and passes high cliff lines. It is unusual in that it is never far from the city and its suburbs but feels like a remote rural trail. Users encounter a wide variety of wildlife, everything from deer and raccoons to wildcats and black bears. There are patches of blackberries, cattails, wildflowers and odd rock strata.

The trailbed is made of crushed limestone. Since it follows the old rail line, the trail is mostly level, with only gradual rises and falls. Montour Council volunteers have placed portapotties, picnic tables and even drinking fountains every five miles or so. Since the trail intersects with roads every several miles, it is possible to bike or hike it in sections.

400,000 different users either pedalled or hiked the trail in 2016, and many of them travelled here from out of the area, even out of state, to do it. No motorized devices, including golf carts and scooters, are allowed. This makes the Montour Trail one of the longest nonmotorized trails in the nation.

In recognition, Pennsylvania is creating a large poster promoting the trail, which it will distribute statewide and nationwide.

The trail has its own website : www.montourtrail.org. For the closest access to the trail from Coraopolis, follow 5th Avenue east as it becomes Route 51 and curves along the old Montour Railroad Yard. A driveway drops steeply down to the left before the bridge to Groveton. The trail begins directly under the bridge. There's parking there. You can download and print out a map of the trail from the website, or pick one up from the bike shop on 5th Avenue in downtown Coraopolis. For a gentle introduction, have a friend meet you at the Gazebo at Robinson Town Center, where the trail crosses the road five miles out.

Give Your Birds A Drink This Winter
If you enjoy watching the birds in your backyard, this would be a good time to do them a huge favor and provide a Winter water supply. With the low temperatures of January and February, almost all the water in the area is frozen. Birds cannot access it. Those dead birds you see laying on the ground did not die because of cold. They died from dehydration. Birds have a high metabolism and a layer of downy feathers to help them stay warm but they have to have water for their metabolism to work. You could keep liquid water in your birdbath by running out every hour with a bucket of boiling water, but it makes a lot more sense to buy a heating brick. Available at a dozen online sites, these bricks, like the white one in the photo at left, have a built in thermostat. They turn on when the water temperature drops into the 30s and turn off when temperatures climb back into the 40s. All you need to do is refill the bird bath with clean water once a day. If you haven't done this before, you'll be amazed at how many birds may gather at your birdbath. As seen at left, sometimes it gets so crowded they have to wait in line. If you haven't done this before, you'll be amazed at how many birds will not only drink, but get down in the water and take a bath. This might seem suicidal, but for the downy feathers to insulate they have to be kept clean. Immediately after bathing, a bird will take to the air and hover for several minutes, as seen in the photo, to quickly dry its feathers.
LoBello's Restaurant For Sale

The oldest restaurant in Coraopolis has a For Sale sign in the window. LoBello's Spaghetti House on 5th Avenue, run since 1944 by the LoBello family, will close as soon as a buyer can be found. Whether it continues as a restaurant under the new owner, probably under a different name and possibly serving a different kind of food, is unknown. The building could even be repurposed. But the last of the LoBellos is retiring.

Rose LoBello was put to work as a waitress at age 14 by her father, who opened the place in the front yard of their home . He originally saw it as a gourmet hot dog stand but added a few Italian items. After high school, Rose took over the kitchen and had been there ever since until health problems slowed her down and then forced her to retire. She had brain surgery in 2005 and has never fully recovered.

Son Ben, who was retiring from a career in banking, took over operation of the restaurant. "But I'm no restauranteur," he admits. "My Dad loved it. Mom loved it. I never loved it." Nevertheless, he kept it going because his Mother insisted. But she's now confined to the house, and he's 65, so "It's time to retire. Running a restaurant is hard work, seven days a week, 18 hours a day, year round."

LoBello's used to be open all day seven days a week. First they cut their hours to dinner only. Then they cut back to five days a week. Ben says he'll try to continue the five day a week operation until he finds a buyer.

When Rose's Dad died in the 1970s, and she became the owner, the first thing she did was remove hot dogs from the menu. LoBello's had long since become a full scale Italian restaurant but Dad had kept the hot dogs out of nostalgia.

Under Rose, LoBello's became famous for its Red Sauce, Meatballs, Meat Ravioli, Gnocchi (which really isn't Gnocchi but Cavatini), Salads served in chilled bowls, and her freshly made Pies. The menu was never large. Rose preferred to do a few entrees very, very well. She made it all herself by hand in the original kitchen. Nothing frozen. No microwaves. She cranked out her own pastas, made her own meatballs, used her own ravioli molds.

Somehow she found time to also come out to the dining room and greet each customer. On slow days she would sit in the booth or table and talk to them while they ate. Rose became a true Coraopolis icon.

And LoBello's received its share of big time coverage. It was featured in the Post Gazette, Press, Sun Telegraph and Tribune, Beaver Times, on every Pittsburgh TV station, and several national magazines. Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," the Food Network TV show, stopped by for a visit. That's Fieri pictured at right.

Lots of local celebrities have eaten there, some frequently. It was the favorite restaurant of Coraopolis coaches Serafino Fazio and Frank Letteri.

The quality has slipped in recent years with Rose no longer in the kitchen. "I don't have her touch," Ben admits. Not many people do. As the Italian grandmothers and mothers in Coraopolis have passed on, it's become harder and harder to find authentic hand made Italian cooking based on original recipes brought over from the old country. LoBello's was one of the last strongholds. Now it, too, will be gone.

The asking price is $110,000 through Dawnelle Shrawder of Howard Hannah Real Estate Company (412-491-8050).

Behind The Red Door.....

There's a red door in downtown Coraopolis most people have never even noticed. It's between Anthony's restaurant and the Borough Building. The sign says "Popopolis." And it's a most amazing little store. It's a gourmet soft drink outlet. Popopolis sells over 200 kinds of elite soft drinks you've probably never heard of because you're not going to find them in a convenient store or grocery.

This is not the place to find Pepsi, Coke or Canada Dry. Soft drink connoisseurs look down their noses at those mass market flavors like craft beer lovers do Budweiser or Coors and wine conneisseurs do Three Buck Chuck. Instead, this is the place to find finely crafted soft drinks from small plants in Jackson Hole Wyo., Winchester, Ky., or even Jamaica, Nova Scotia or Belgium.

Kim Frazier owns Popopolis. It's run in conjunction with the Vapor Shop next door, where she sells supplies for electronic cigarette smoking. Frazier herself is not a soft drink lover, but she realized the market niche and loves the nostalgia of it all. She opened the Vape Shop 18 months ago and added Popopolis last Summer. .

She doesn't personally tour the country in search of exotic soft drinks. She has a friend who owns a soft drink warehouse and supplies Pennsylvania stores with them. He seeks out the soft drinks and lets his clients know what's available.

Frazier doesn't run the store during the day. It's a sideline with her. She comes in every evening 5-8. In the daytime, Ian Lee runs it. A longtime Devonshire Road resident, he's not a big soft drink consumer, either.

"I can't afford it," he laughs. "Ms. Frazier doesn't give me free drinks. I have to buy them. And they're expensive. You drink four or five of these a day, it adds up. So I resist the temptation. I drink a few so I know what they taste like and can advise customers."

Like fine wine, a craft batch soft drink is pricey. The top blends run $4.50 a bottle. Others run from $2-4 according to their ingredients and how big the batches are. Obviously, the more a blender makes and sells, the lower the price can be.

Ian explains that the root beers and true ginger sodas are the big sellers. The others are novelty flavors.

"A mass market ginger ale like Canada Dry has a very smooth taste" he says, "They use a small amount of ginger and a lot of carbonation, sugar and other ingredients. So the taste is very mild."

What he calls "real ginger ales" are not mild. They use far less sugar and carbonation and far more ginger. "That ginger has a real kick to it," he grins. "The same people who love spicey food like real ginger drinks."

Some of the labels are misleading. They use the word "beer." But there's no alcohol content to any drink Frazier sells.

The varieties of root beer sold at Popopolis are also stronger than the mass market root beers.

Plus, there are related drinks, like the Birch Beers, that non soft drink connoisseurs have never tasted. "They're really pretty good," Lee tells a reporter. "They're better than root beers."

Selling gourmet soft drinks is an interesting business. "We don't have a real high volume of customers. But each customer buys a lot of drinks. A typical customer will buy maybe 24 bottles at a time."

They actually keep cardboard carrying cases folded and flattened so customers can quickly set them up and haul lots of bottles home with them.

Browsing the shelves provides some interesting surprises. Who knew, for instance, that Dad's makes other drinks besides its famous root beer? Among its offerings is a Blue Cream Soda which is a favorite of soft drink afficionados. There are several dozen Cream Sodas. And some drinks are specifically intended for holidays.

You don't drink these flavors iced. It would water them down.

Cory's "Big Three" Still Hold Christmas Eve Services

For 100 years a dozen churches in Coraopolis conducted Christmas Eve Services, usually at 11 pm, often with a special candlelight ceremony.

This year, the number is down to three : St. Joseph's Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (shown in the photo at right), and the Methodist Church (shown in the photo below).

St. Joseph's held a service at 4 pm but its main service was at 8 pm. The Presbyterian Church held its usual 8 pm service. And the Methodist Church held three services, at 4 pm, 7 pm and 11 pm.

The Presbyterian Church featured its traditional Bell Choir, a seven member group that performs for 30 minutes before the regular service begins.

Several other churches did hold 4 pm services but did not offer any evening activities.

Attendance is down at all three churches, but in the case of the Methodist Church that is somewhat misleading since they spread their members over three services.

Since Christmas Eve this year falls on Saturday, many worshippers may have decided to wait and go to regular Sunday morning services.

But church attendance in general has been in slow decline for years, and even the Presbyterian Church with only one service had empty pews this year.

However, all of Cory's churches were built when the town had 18,000 population, and still drew standing room only crowds for Christmas and Easter when the population had dropped to 12,000. Now, however, it's down to 5,000.

A dozen new churches have been built in Moon and Robinson Townships and have drawn many members from Cory congregations.

Churches nevertheless still maintain a full slate of holiday activities. St.Joe's offers everything from a model train layout kids can run their own trains on to ceremonies to light its tree and luminaria. The Presbyterian Church has its Living Nativity Scene with costumed actors and live animals.

Some Still Set Up Model Trains Under Their Trees
Once upon a time in Coraopolis and the Western Hills, it was tradition to set up train layouts under the Christmas Tree. It became a huge annual project. Some moved the furniture out of the dining or living room to make room for the platform. They built towns and mountain ranges. Every year they bought a new accessory for the train as if it were a member of the family. There were crossing gates, log loaders, coal loaders, milk can loaders, gantry cranes, stations, switches, bridges, etc. Trains and accessories, even the town buildings and scenery, were sold at hardware stores, hobby stores and department stores. Ross Shiffler, Jim Picard, Ed Lemley, Pete Swartz, Wilbur Smith and others achieved local fame as having the best train layouts and everyone would visit them every year to see their newest additions. The really huge train layouts are a thing of the past, but many locals still unpack the Lionel trains every year and set them up under the tree, often with a miniature village. Included here are some photos of local layouts. Do you recognize any of them as your neighbors? If you have a neighbor with a Christmas train layout, or have one yourself, let us know and we'll take a photo and post it. We should preserve this tradition, which does not exist elsewhere.
House Lights Fewer But Still Impressive

Not as many homeowners decorate their houses for Christmas as once did. Driving around Coraopolis, there are houses with no outdoor lights and not even a Christmas Tree in the window. Talking to people, reasons for this lack of holiday spirit vary.

"I'm working too many hours to have time."" I get home too tired." "Our Duquesne Light bill is already too high. I can't afford the electricity." "I used to do it and every year kids would tear them down so I quit." "I did it when our kids were growing up but they're off on their own now."

Nevertheless, many locals still buy the lights and spend hours putting them up. And the results are still impressive. We spent Thursday night driving around Coraopolis looking for what we thought were the finest decorations. These are the three we chose. And after a lengthy debate we decided the Ridge Avenue home in the photo below left is our winner.

Over the next week, we'll drive through Moon and Robinson and see what their homes have to offer. Do YOU recogtnize the homes shown here?

Locals Set Up Christmas Trees Much Earlier

Once upon a time, Christmas trees were bought on the 23rd or 24th, kept on the back porch for a day or two, then brought in, set up and decorated Christmas Eve. Often, a kid would go to bed Chrisdtmas Eve and not a decoration would be seen anywhere in the house. When he awoke Christmas Morning, the tree was up and decorated, a train was running around underneath, and the whole house was adorned with Christmas trimmings.

No more. Gradually, people have been bringing in the trees and decorating them earlier and earlier. Now, some have a tradition of decorating for Christmas on Thanksgiving Day.

As proof of this, Perry Rossi, right, at Suburban Landscaping on 4th Avenue across from the Presbyterian Church, poses with The Last Christmas Tree. This six foot beauty was sold Tuesday morning, December 20, at 11 a.m. to a family on Montour Street. Other tree lots in Coraopolis had already closed up for the season. Anyone looking for a tree now will have a very difficult time.

The earlier sales aren't the only major change in the Christmas Tree business. People are using artificial trees now instead of buying a live one. And environmentally conscious families are buying balled trees, which they then replant when Christmas is over. Many families have forsaaken the old "home for the holidays" theme and celebrate Christmas at a ski resort, at Disney World, at the beach or on a cruise. So they set up no tree at all.

The result is this Last Christmas Tree is the 100th one Rossi has sold this year. He fondly recalls selling 900 a year.

Part of that reflects Cory's declining population. When the town had 12,000 residents, it had 4,000 households, and every household had a tree. Now it has 5,000 residents, with 2500 households, and many of those don't set up a tree.

Suburban has its bases covered. It also sells artificial trees. For anyone still looking for a tree, that's going to be the only choice.

Sledding Still Popular In Cory, Western Hills

With Winter weather already here and forecasts calling for a long, cold, snowy season, kids and some adults have quickly revived their interest in sledriding.

A good sled is expensive, but unlike skiing, once you make the purchase the activity is free. You don't have to drive to a resort, buy a lift ticket, take lessons, eat at overpriced snack bars and sleep at the lodge. You just find the nearest snowy hill. When you get cold you come home. Little kids can often sledride in their yards.

Kohl's has just announced a new shipment of the popular Hammerhead Sled, the 21st Century version of the Flexible Flyer. The Hammerhead has a frame made of aircraft grade aluminum tubing, a nylon mesh body and polycarbonate skiis instead of runners. It's lightning fast and can turn on a dime. Most sledriders these days wear helmets.

In addition to slopes all around Cory and the Western Hills, sledders often like to take day trips to one of Allegheny County's famous spots : Frick Park, Chapel Hill (Chatham College campus), Highland Park, Dormont Park, South Park, Blueberry Hill (off I-79 near Wexford), Flagstaff Hill (Oakland) and Raccoon Park. These all have 1000 ft. runs.

Those Lionel Trains Are Still Chugging

As we turn the corner from Thanksgiving and look toward this Christmas season, a lot of Coraopolis and Western Hills residents will once again set up their model trains under their trees, just as their families have since the 1940s.

But Charles Molnar of Ridge Avenue won't have to. His trains are already set up. Year round. As a matter of fact, he built a whole rear addition onto his house just to create a "train room," as wife Doris calls it.

Molnar, now retired after a long career as a draftsman, has loved model trains since he was a kid on Devonshire Road. He and brothers Dave and Tim each had their own trains. And not just any trains. Lionel trains. With lots of cars. And accessories.

As you can see from the photo at right, his "train room" features six levels of track, with plenty of bridges and tunnels. He can run five trains at once. Eventually, a train will make the complete circuit, chugging along every one of those six levels.

It's taken a while, but he's built all the scenery, buildings, bridges and tunnels. Most were built from scratch, although some came as kits.

Since he was growing up in the 1950s, the biggest change has been the cost. "These cars used to cost $7.00," he says, pointing to a few. "Now they're $70. A good engine used to cost $50 or if it was really powerful maybe $70. Now they're $400 or $500 and if really powerful maybe a thousand. It used to be a kid with a paper route or lawn mowing money could build an impressive layout. Now it's an adult hobby."

Fortunately, Lionel Trains are built to last. Many families today are still running trains their grandfathers bought before World War II. They keep them oiled and carefully pack them away in their original boxes, storing them in a cool dry place each off season. And most, like Molnar, have learned to work on their own engines and accessories.

"These electric motors are really pretty simple," he explains. "And the older accessories are basically solenoid units. Now the new engines and accessories, they're a different story. They're all computerized and high tech. They can do a lot more stuff, but they're also more difficult to work on."

He likes to model local railroading, so his cars and engines bear names like Montour, Moon Run, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, and Pennsylvania.

Not all of the engines running on his layout are Lionel. "There are other companies now making high quality items which are Lionel compatible but have a few features Lionel doesn't have. Lionel tends to model the major railroads, so if you want cars or engines with local logos, like the Montour or Moon Run, you have to buy the others."

Molnar actually has two layouts in the "train room." He has a second one in the corner for grandchildren to play with when they're in town. "The cheaper Lionel equipment is built for little kids and is really rugged. These more expensive engines and cars are intended for adults. So the kids can have fun with the corner layout, and when they want to I can run the big layout for them to watch."

His main interest is running trains. Others spend their time building spectacular scenery or entire towns, cities or steel mills. But Molnar has kept the scenery and buildings to a minimum so he can just run trains.

"Sometimes I just turn everything on and stand back and watch the trains run," he admits. "I love it. This is the greatest hobby in the world."