a summer in altoona 


Tucked into the Allegheny Mtns, almost in the centre of Pennsylvania, sprawls the city of Altoona.

Why here ? Cause the early settlers needed to get through the mtns (left of pic) to access the western lands. In order to get over/through the Alleghenys, Pennylsvania Railroad built an amazingly engineered "Horseshoe Curve" to do just that. Back at the end of the 19th Century, Altoona was a railroad town - and it was booming. Not only did they build the massive steam locomotives here, but maintenance was carried out in ever more massive workshops.Boom times indeed.

Segue through to the 1930's, and almost overnight (it must have seemed) diesel power arrived. So, steam trains were no longer needed, and the contract to replace all the steam trains - went somewhere else, as did the maintenance as well. What's the opposite of a boom time? - pick Altoona. Again, almost overnight, 15,000 jobs were lost from a population of 82,000. Disaster. The town we visited has never recovered, and carries an aura of sadness right through its quiet, slightly ramshackle, streets.

Horseshoe Curve however, has remained. So rail fans such as Malkie still take the trek to admire the engineering feat that gets the modern massive diesel up and over the Alleghenys. Norfolk - Southern now, very noisy, and constant - something like one every five minutes.


We drove through the valley of the Alleghany's on a cold crisp autumn days, just as the fall colours were beginning to glow on the hillsides. Altoona was sprawled in front of us, and we had left the mystical forests of Harper's Ferry many hours before. It was 1st October, 2015

       altoona getting there

 We came through the valleys, south to north, but the railroad - steam first, then diesel, needs to access the west, and it does this via the Horseshoe Curve.


       horseshoe curve

If Malkie was writing this - he would concentrate on the Curve - it is a marvellous piece of engineering whereby it lifts the massive trains in a quite sharp curve as it rises up and up and up over the Alleghany's.

      train 1

I did ride the cable car up the mountain to get pics of the train as it bursts through the forest - was all so amazing and interesting. Huge huge trains that went on forever with their loads of cargo headed into the west of the country, with the next almost on the heels of the last one. (Malkie heaven)

      flowers old fashioned

But my emphasis tended to be on how a once thriving town tries to recover when it loses most its industry, and the answer is - slowly and painfully. The streets are shabby, old broken brickwork and paint peeling off - but masses of bright cheerful flowers were planted everywhere along these streets. They looked great !!

     apples use this one 1   apples and this one 2

Found a market right in the city centre - but only a handful of brave souls had stands there. However the apple stand, presided over by a young girl, was quite excellent. You could buy a small punnet of apples,  all labelled and described - she got top marks for enterprise.

     old street 1

Just as we had decided to give up on Altoona as being too dilapidated and run down - we found the murals. And they glowed amongst the relics of a busy city centre. My pictures don't do them justice - they were massive, and in a sequence that told the whole story of Altoona when it was a thriving thronging frontier town. 

    old street 3

In the foreground of this pic, the small shrubs are real, so the massive mural is behind that.They must be covering old buildings, no longer in use - and now somewhat protectd.

By any standard, these murals are magnificent. It surely means the local council is alive and well and focussed on bringing life back into the city. 

         old bridge

And so we left Altoona when Malkie had had his fill of engineering and railroad marvels. We left it to its looming forests, massive trains, and with an overwhelming sense of hope that the people of this city still have an enormous pride in their home.


Comments - yes please - on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/jeanette.blake2

or by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.








Seems like a dream sequence now.

We came to this tiny town on a massively wet, wet day. The rain seemed to be pouring out of the sky as we climbed the very steep hill that makes up the main part of Harper's Ferry,  peering cautiously out looking for "Stonehouse Cottage" where we were booked to stay the night.

It was October last year, 2015.

We'd been train spotting (as you do) in Pennsylvania, had a spare night - so ducked down through the narrow bit of Maryland to the panhandle in West Virginia.

        map 6

Harper's Ferry must get its name from the ferries used there in the past. In the time just before the civil war,it was the site of an uprising led by John Brown. While the uprising was speedily quashed, the ditty "John Brown's Body" remains as a familiar memory of the American Civil War.

        lower town 6   

They certainly would have needed ferries, as right there at the confluence of 2 mighty rivers, and 1 mighty train line, lies the historical town of Harper's Ferry.

At the bottom of the pic - the Shenandoah.

On the right side - the Potomac.

Straight up, and very steeply up, is High St. Part way up this High St, and almost central within the amazingly historical houses, is the most historical of them all - Stonehouse Cottage. And bonus, the mighty train line runs beside High St straight up the hill - and I say mighty as trains came thundering through at mighty small intervals !!

       buildings 6

But it did all seem unreal. The looming verdant forests we had driven through for hours, the beauty of the historical buildings as we burst into the town, and the sheer nostalgic history of this place still redolent of Civil War times, was totally exhilirating.

store with aussie 1 I might have been dripping wet, but I could still recognize the wide welcoming smile and aussie accent of the girl behind the counter of the only shop open - "Hello, I'm from Brisbane, Australia, and yes we do have large umbrellas" Bonus. She grew up in Indooroopilly, and right next door was our Stone Cottage. Double bonus. Hurricane Joaquin, pour your heart out, we've arrived in heaven.


 cottage 6 

Stonehouse Cottage was just as purposeful as the name suggests - see those 2 dormer windows in the attic ? - that was our floor for the night. As the website www.hfstonehouse.com tells you - "The Top Floor suite is just plain cool" It surely was.

  bathroom       So cool that when you get tired of the super comfortable bed, you can lounge in the magnificent old brown leather chair, or take a dip in the dreamy bathroom beside. Or you can look out the window and see the expanse of the Potomac River as it moves majesticly past. Or even, if you forget to wear the ear plugs provided, you can be a true rail fan and listen to the trains rumbling past all night. True bonus for Malkie !!

      chair better

Possibly the best bit though was meeting the young couple running the joint. With the help of their baby son and ferocious tail wagging dog, they are both hosting visitors and still renovating their cottage to add a third bedroom. This would have to be a labour of love, to renovate the old old cottage for customers to visit, and all set in a clearing in the forest beside 2 huge rivers. Hard work, but would be so worth doing.


I took this pic to show an example of the work involved, and the sheer thickness of the stone walls. Also indicates the amount of insulation within any space in these same walls. Incredible.

Liesl 6 breakfast 3

The rain did stop eventually. The morning was misty and cool as we sat out on a high balcony, and were served, by Liesel, the best breakfast EVER. And I mean BEST.Thick yummy pancakes made to an ancient recipe,with lashings of berries all over, granola on top and crunchy, tasty bacon on the side. Plus a few more secret ingredients, to make me devour it all the faster. I could show a pic of the empty plate (yes, of course I took one), but I don't need a reminder of how yummy it was.


     hf mix 6     

One last look around this delightful cottage, one last wish that we see Liesel again - when she comes to Oz with her family for a vist, I reckon, and it was back into the car and off to Pennsylvania where Malkie has a date with several trains. Of all the places we have stayed on all our travels - this one stands out as being the most special.  



Comments- yes, please -

on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/jeanette.blake2

or by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.










 It was definitely only yesterday this wee munchkin was born, and proceeded to smile at us as he took over our world and made it his own.

 zachie born 2   z 35

Still has the bright bright eyes, a tad more hair - and still challenging his world head on.

  p 35

Imagination? Limitless I'd say. Creativity ? the same. Adventurosity ? In spades.

  box 2

Cartoon above reminded me so much of a Zachy escapade. He loves hide and seek - and is so hard to find, he has the ability to be perfectly still and quiet no matter how much calling goes on. SO, hiding under the bed - he found a flat plastic storage box with wheels, which was of course a perfect sled. Liberated it, rode it down the hill, (Nonna wittering in the background)eventually broke one wheel, so quietly put the box back under the bed and went on to something else. Nonna only took a day to recover.



        crayon 5 

And that night, just to emphasize his position in this family (on top) he organised us all to "colour in" the playhouse. Malkie may have built it, but Zachie knew how to make it pretty. So we did - coloured in i.e.

  crayon 1    crayon 2

  Some of us worked very hard, colouring and colouring.

     crayon 4

BUT some of us downed crayons very early. Just sayin'

     z bruvva

"Bruvva" (Lachlan) has had a very faithful shadow over the years. But this year, Zachie became a star in his own right - specially at soccer.

   z soccer 22

When you and your team-mates are only 4, soccer can be a bit overwhelming. Some cry, some run away, some hang onto Mom - not Zachie, he simply showed everyone how to play soccer.

   z chase

You get that little old ball and you kick it straight to the goal. 

  z soccer chas 2

Then you do it again, in case they haven't learnt yet.

       z soccer 4

Hardest part is the long walk back after each goal, but it does give you time to check your Mom is watching, and maybe taking a photo or two.

      z ride bike

Enough frivolity - Zachie knows that life has a serious side - he has a lot to learn at kindergarten. And to get there, he rides his bike up a very big hill. Mum and Trooper go with him - welllll, maybe this is fun too, eh Zachie ??

    at school 1

       at school 2

But when a young man like Zachie is at school, he has to sit up and listen carefully, and do everything his teacher tells him to do.

BUT, but, but - this looks like fun too. 

And why shouldn't it be, this is the best possible way to learn.

at naoonna 1 

I acknowledge I am biased, but this Nonna is very proud of the way young Zachie is growing up. He still has the cheeky grin he was born with, he still has the wildest imagination, and he still finds fun in every situation. He also has rather special parents who are endeavouring to give him the best possible childhood any young boy could wish for. Malkie and I love you, Zachie.


Comments - yes, please. 

On facebook - https://www.facebook.com/jeanette.blake2

or by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




















Poetry ?? Why poetry ?? Who reads it anyway. Which is exactly my point.

In the hustle and bustle of our lives,we sometimes need to pause. Read a poem. Chill out. Be calm. 

Let the words simply flow over you.

           zen 5a

              The moon floats above the pines,

              And the night veranda is cold.

              As the ancient, clear sound comes from your fingertips.

              The old melody usually makes the listeners weep,

              But Zen music is beyond sentiment.    

                    (from my Zen daily readings)

            zen 7a

            Poem of the One World.

            This morning

            the beautiful white heron

            was floating along above the water.


            and then into the sky of this 

            the one world

            we all belong to


            where everything

            sooner or later

            is a part of everything else


            which thought made me feel

            for a little while

            quite beautiful myself.

 zen mary 12

The last poem was by Mary Oliver.

I found her small anthology somewhere in a bookstore - and fell in love with her work. The blurb about her is totally true -

"Oliver opens our eyes to the nature within, to its wild and its quiet. With startling clarity, humour and kindness."






I don't, of course, expect anyone to rush out and buy poetry. I would however, ask that you keep an open mind as to the beauty of words, and how they can be magical to read and dream over. Try it. You will be surprised.


Comments ? And maybe you have a poem you can tell me about (would love to hear from you)

on Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/jeanette.blake2

or by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Login Form  


Links I Love