A few months ago I was traveling through McKean County in Pennsylvania on my way back from a job. Years ago in McKean county there was an old railroad bridge that stretched across a great divide.

Here is a quick description from Wikipedia: ”

The Kinzua Bridge before its collapse. www.alleghenyratraid.com

The Kinzua Bridge before its collapse. http://www.alleghenyratraid.com

The Kinzua Bridge or the Kinzua Viaduct (/ˈkɪnz/[4] or /ˈkɪnz.ə/) was a railroad trestle that spanned Kinzua Creek in McKean Countyin the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Prior to its collapse in 2003, the bridge was 301 feet (92 m) tall and 2,052 feet (625 m) long.

The bridge was originally built from iron in 1882 and was billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World“, holding the record as the tallest railroad bridge in the world for two years. In 1900, the bridge was dismantled and simultaneously rebuilt out of steel to allow it to accommodate heavier trains. It stayed in commercial service until 1959 and was sold to the Government of Pennsylvania in 1963, becoming the centerpiece of a state park. Restoration of the bridge began in 2002, but before it was finished, a tornado struck the bridge in 2003, causing a large portion of the bridge to collapse. Corroded anchor bolts holding the bridge to its foundations failed, contributing to the collapse.

Shortly after the tornado. www.bradfordera.com

Shortly after the tornado.

Before its collapse, the Kinzua Bridge was ranked as the fourth-tallest railway bridge in the United States.[5] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1982. The ruins of the Kinzua Bridge are inKinzua Bridge State Park off U.S. Route 6 near the borough of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania.

Now, what’s left of the remaining bridge has been turned into a vista where you can walk out over the edge of the hill and have a scenic look at the remains and the surrounding hills. It really is a sight to see. I would encourage you all to make a trip to it whenever you can. It would be a great trip for the fall when the leaves on the trees are most beautiful.



The walk out to the edge.

The walk out to the edge.


DSCF2563I have been thinking a while about some of the local businesses around here and how they really deserve a little recognition for their services to the community. Some are not well known and often do not advertise. Their reputation goes before them through their satisfied customers, and frankly, that’s really the best kind of advertising.

Today I would like to talk about A & A Metal Shop. This small business is run out of  the owners shop at 464 Collins Hill Rd, Ulysses, Pa. The owners name is Aaron and his son Amon, hence the A & A in the name. I happened upon them through a friend of mine and through Mapletrader.com,  as I was looking to purchase a maple syrup evaporator. I had found one in New Hampshire and my friend told me to check out A & A before I made a long trip. So after looking him up, I found a few threads mentioning his business on Mapletrader.com and they were all praising his work.

I decided to take a road trip one day after work since it was only about 40 minutes away.

Typical  Amish house. Picture credit: amishtrail.com

Typical Amish house. Picture credit: amishtrail.com

As I crossed into Potter County and on to Collins Hill Road I was entering an Amish community where Aaron lives. The homes are large, white , well kept, simple, and efficiently serve a purpose as they are spacious to large families. Out in front of Aarons home is his red metal shop with a small sign hanging on to the mailbox with the words “A & A Metal shop”.

I entered through the door and stepped into his little office. I could look through a doorway into the main shop and see all the men diligently working with metal in some way or another. You would think of a metal shop as loud and industrial like, but this was quiet other than the occasional sound of metal on metal and conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch. The shop was warmed by a wood stove. No electric lights, though the windows all around gave ample light by which to to work.

Inside the shop.

Inside the shop.

Aaron eventually came over and inquired as to what I needed. He was dressed in simple work clothes, and a caring face, kind of like a real nice Grampa. We talked about the different kinds of evaporators he made and their pricing. I had settled on their smallest model, the Hobby Model, which is actually a bit larger than the large manufacturers version. I didn’t measure it but it looked to be almost a 2X4. I was really impressed with all the options that came standard: a pre-heater pan, 8′ chimney stack, fire brick for the arch, and fire cloth. That set up came in UNDER $1000. I had ordered a tin tester cup ($12) so my total order was $987. I may order a steam hood which would be around $140.

Hobby Evaporator

Hobby Evaporator

The construction of their stainless pans is done without welding. He uses all 304, 24ga, B2 finish stainless steel. They still use soldering which some people frown upon due to the old kind of soldering which uses lead solder but all joints are crimped and are lead free soldered. He also does not use the shiny anealed stainless steel as it is hard to solder.

I am very glad I stopped in to visit his shop. If you want to order from him, you’ll have to either write a letter or stop by as he does not use a telephone. Its actually quite refreshing to see a business run the old fashioned way with a smile and a handshake instead of an impersonal email or long distance phone call.

Large evaporator ready to be shippped.

Large evaporator ready to be shipped.

Sugar Shack mailbox

Sugar Shack mailbox

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

Large drop flue with pre-heater piping.

Hillside Pasture

I was flipping through a “Hobby Farmer” magazine the other night and realized that the whole idea of hobby framing is really aimed at those who have an expendible income. The advertisements are full of expensive “farm toys”. The articles talk about high bloodlines and innovative ideas…if you have the money to implement them. You hear stories about “When we moved from our city house to our cute farmette in the country” or “we moved from our suburban 3,000 sq ft home to our country estate/cottage to enjoy country life”. I don’t know what part of farming was done for just enjoyment. Yes, an agricultural lifestyle can be enjoyable and fulfilling…due to the hard work. But it was mostly born from necessity.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a very interesting magazine and you can get many ideas from it.

I thought it was ironic though that hobby farming is basically for the “rich” these days, when in times past, that’s how the poor lived.  Making the most out of small rural acreage.  In these economically hard times, hobby farming should be aimed at doing more with less….less money that is. I can not say that I live on a farm, nor that I am a farmer. We only own less than 1.5 acres. I have a regular job that pays the bills…barely, and a side business to make extra money to fill in the gaps. We do live in a rural area but that is only because I made the choice to go to college in a rural area. It’s the first place I settled before I even had a family of my own. So we had that going for us from the beginning I guess. I don’t think we could have afforded to “move to a country lifestyle”.

That’s the whole reason that my wife and I decided to pursue raising our own food. At least as much as we could handle doing ourselves. Each year we have expanded to do a little more. We increase the garden every year, we are increasing the diversity of animals we raise as well. Each one has its own function in the process of raising healthy food. We have a garden, so compost and insect control are a must. We have chickens that take care of the bugs (and the tomatoes too unfortunately). We have goats that provide us meat, and milk will be flowing next year hopefully. The chickens also take care of mixing in the goat droppings with the grass and dirt. We take out the goat shed bedding to the compost pile since its basically hay, wood shavings, and goat droppings. The chickens provide us with eggs and an occasional chicken dinner. Hopefully in the spring we will also have two piglets to raise. They will be placed where our current garden is. Pigs do a great job mixing in compost while providing their own manure into the garden. We can fence in the current section of garden space for the pigs, then rotate the next year.

Pig/Garden Rotation (www.cricketbread.com)

All of this is done with minimal expense.  I use old second hand items when possible. For instance, our current goat shed is the old metal shed that came with the house. I asked a farmer about a broken calf hutch one day and he said I could have it for free…in fact I got two and let my friend have one. Two lengths of our electric net fencing were basically given to us as long as I went and ripped them out from being buried under tall over grown field grass…It was literally a treasure hunt! Our neighbor graciously lets us use the steep hillside along our house to pasture the goats. I think he is just glad to have the hillside mowed and rid of multiflora rose.

If anything needs to be bought, I ask around first to see if anyone nearby has the item and aren’t using it. If I cant find it, I search for used items on the internet. My last resort is to buy  something brand new. We cant afford tractors and other large motorized farm tools, nor do we have the room to store them. Once you can afford to buy the equipment, you have to afford to build outbuildings to store them in. So our work takes longer and gives us more exercise. It also will hopefully instill in our children a good work ethic. That is the second reason why we chose to start raising as much food for ourselves as we can on a low budget.

So, I think there needs to be a magazine focused on low budget hobby farming. I am sure there is one somewhere already.

Maybe make your own hot spring!

There is a small town on our way to my brothers house called Centralia, Pa. This town has a unique feature in that it is almost a ghost town. You see around the late 70’s and early 80’s it was found that an underground coal mine had caught on fire. While growing up, I had heard a few theories about how it got started. One theory was that it started by a lightening strike. I don’t know the details as to how this would have caused it but alas it is a theory. Another possible way was how the borough used to burn trash in the nearby dump. Apparently the fire wasn’t extinguished correctly, or at all. The other rumor, or theory, was that the state set it on fire so it could relocate the residents and, use eminent domain, then extinguish the fire and start mining the riches of the coal underneath. You pick.

More smoke...

In any case, Centralia is a neat place to drive through. It is basically a field gridded with old streets and sidewalks. A few homes still exist, maybe 5. There are parts where you can see smoke rising from the ground and other parts that are just gray and everything is dead. They have had issues with sink holes and subsistence along the main route 61. It’s an interesting piece of local history and I encourage you to stop by if traveling through that area.

For more pictures go here.

Marcellus Gas Flare

The quest for energy here in the U.S. is very apparent here in rural Pennsylvania. From my house I have views of natural gas well rigs, gas well flares, and about 60 monstrous windmills gracing a hilltop.

To have all this in view from one spot says something about the urgencey for native energy resources. I have mixed feelings about it all really. I think that tapping natural resources locally is a good thing when its done carefully and responsibly. Keep reading

The time has come. The Maples are flowing! It actually has come a bit early this year. I have been wanting to start collecting sap for Maple syrup for some time now. And now that my oldest boy is old enough to really appreciate it and help somewhat (2 1/5 yrs old), I will start with him this year..

I am planning on tapping only a few trees and am going to use hosing to a 5 gallon plastic bucket that will sat at the base of the tree. I will try to find one near our house and maybe a few on the way to work. I will than take all the sap to one of my coworkers and put it in his pickup. He will then take it to his sugar shack and boil it down with the rest of his sap. He has quite the system in place already. The deal is, for every 40 gallons of sap I collect, I get a half gallon of syrup back. You see it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So I get half the product because I am counting on them to boil it down and put it in containers.

The above photo is a photo I borrowed of a sugar shack that my friend has. This one looks just like it. Its kinda set out in the woods. It has quite a nifty boiler in it and just enough room for some folks to sit around and have a good time keeping watch over the forming syrup.

I am very excited about it. Now that the days are a bit above freezing and the nights are below freezing, and its only early February….this might make for a good long season! I cant think of many better things than walking through the big woods with your boy, tappin’ trees for sap!

I’ll post pics of our progress!

Ledger Books and reciepts.

I was happily invited to be one of few people to access the vault in an old building in downtown Wellsboro. It was in a building which was/is William Binghams Land Office. William Bingham was a wealthy merchant from Philadelphia who lived in the latter part of the 1700’s to the early 1800’s. He owned much of the land here in Northcentral Pa and also into New York (hence Binghampton) and about 2 million acres in Maine.

He was a wealthy states man and merchant, of which he made his fortune. At one point he was known to be the richest man in the U.S. and held many different offices. He also funded the Louisiana Purchase. You can read more about him here and here.

In Wellsboro, facing the serenity of The Green, sits a pale yellow building housing a small walk-in vault containing millions of handwritten notes of transaction, deed descriptions, maps and personal letters of the Bingham estate.

Land reciepts and deed descriptions (1800\'s)

All of these are originals and are extremely well preserved. I was honored to be in this room looking through these items. Someone had enough forethought to label most everything so anyone researching would have an idea what a certain packet of papers or a drawers contents were. I was so surprised as to the quality of many of these documents. It felt almost as if he didn’t live so long ago as I read and handled hand written letters which he composed by candle light at some desk.

We came upon this vaults existence through a boundary research project our county is doing. We are finding the real county boundary lines and all the Township boundary lines within. There are quite a few that are still a mystery even after weeks of research and field work, finding and surveying old stone markers and what not.

That is where, somewhere in this vault, lies the answers.