Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Little Breather

Usually my wife and me take an early fall extended weekend trip (Pittsburgh last year) but this year that looked like a no-go due to work  - until - a hole opened up in my schedule that would leave me free this past weekend.  Since it was only to be a two night, two day deal we couldn't go too far.  Luckily, living in New Jersey, there are a lot of options close by.  New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore/DC are all within an short drive, as are the Pocono Mountains, the Jersey Shore, and the Eastern Shore of MD/DE.   We ended up picking the mountains - the fall colors would be out earlier,  my wife wanted to go to the Jim Thorpe fall festival, and I of course, would find the usual steel, railroad, and hobby store sites along the way.    A recent post on the Yahoo Steel Group had me thinking about Bethlehem and seeing how the Sands Casino on the former steel mill site had just opened up a hotel, we could use that as our base of operations.

We left Friday night and after a short hour plus ride to Bethlehem we arrived at Bethlehem just at dusk.  It looked like some stores were still open so we did a little shopping, trying to beat the 7pm closing times of most of the shops.   The Moravian Book Store has a nice Bethlehem Steel Section and also a neat local history section.  The ghost tours were just starting up and with the shops closing, we headed to the casino.

Hotel is to far left, followed by casino and taller parking garage 

We had been to the Casino, well the Casino parking garage to take some photos a year or so ago, so it was no problem finding.    The casino is basically built in the former ore yard of the plant and the hotel, while connected to the casino is on the other side of the Minsi Trails Bridge, approximately on the former site of the dual gauge yard and engine facility.  The driveway and lobby are just across from the eastern end of Machine shop #2, which is still standing.  The hotel parking lot is the former site of the forging plant and later Weldment.   The only thing that remains of the forging operation is Heat Treatment #3, the first high house heat treatment facility at the plant.  A larger more modern one also remains as part of Lehigh Heavy Forge - just to the east of the casino.

View from our room on the sixth floor.  High House and Minsi Trails Bridge

We checked in and brought our bags to the room.  I'd requested a river view.  Our room was on the sixth floor with an excellent view of the #3 High House and of the former Lehigh Valley mainline.   This section of track is very busy - lots of mainline train movements east and west,  and the small, but very long,  yard along the edge of the parking lot is used by the Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England to interchange traffic.  The PB&NE's SWs were busy with a lot of intermodal traffic from a facility elsewhere in the former steel plant.   I spent a decent amount of time just sitting by the window watching trains.  If you go, request the sixth floor or higher - probably the higher the better - hotel is I think 15 floors.   By the way, the hotel is clean and has modern stylish decor.  The rooms are large and set up for all your modern electronics.  The hallways of the hotel have numerous photos of Bethlehem Steel - only complaint is that it is slightly pricey for what you get and where - Bethlehem, PA.

It was late and we were hungry so we decided to check out the Casino.  We don't really gamble, a fact I proved by loosing $20 to slot machines in about 5 minutes and not even really understanding what I was doing in the mean time.  We watched a craps table and tried to figure out what was going on and couldn't so just never bothered the rest of the time we were there.  For those of you that do gamble however, the place was large and to me seemed cleaner than most Atlantic City casinos I've been in.  It was crowded all weekend (except for 7am this morning) but there still looked to be room to play if you wanted.  We figured the restaurants would be pricey but didn't feel like going back out so we settled on "Burgers and More" one of three of Emeril Lagasse's places in this casino.  I'm a bit of a food snob so I didn't have high expectations for this joint - just looking for a quick burger, however - BAMM.  I don't know how this guy makes a hamburger , cole slaw, chili, and cheese sticks taste so good, but he did.  Probably the best hamburger I have ever had.   The key seems to be all the sauces that go on everything and they were perfect.  

Now the casino is connected to the hotel by a long walkway - on one side I guess is meeting rooms and on the other is a shopping mall under construction.  The cool thing about this long hallway, besides the exercise is that every 20 feet there is a framed Bethlehem Steel Shop Drawing.  I spent more time in this hallway than in the casino.  My favorite was a plan of the Bethlehem Steel Sintering Plant - I photographed this drawing and have already printed it out for modeling purposes.

Breakfast with my lovely wife - note high line just over her head and blast furnace row

We got some deserts in the casino and brought them back to our room and called it a night.  We got up early saturday and had breakfast in the Foundry Room at the hotel (free continental breakfast)    The view is was pretty sweet from our table - looking straight down the former High Line with Machine Shop #2 on the left and the end of E-Furnace on the right.

 After breakfast I left on foot from the hotel with plans to meet my wife in the parking lot on the side of A-Furnace.  You can wall all the way from the hotel, along the High Line, crossing under it, and then between the end of Machine Shop #2 and the Blowing Engine House, emerging in front of blast furnace row.  All this on a public sidewalk.   While all the structures are fenced in, you are literally only feet from them.    While I was out that early there were at least another half dozen photographers taking photos - probably not steel geeks,  but more arty type photos.   The new arts center there, Steel Stacks, has used two older craneways to sort of form a portal.  My only objection to anything  here was some jack hole "artist" painting some large Chinese characters on the exterior of one of the old buildings - like pissing on someones grave.
A, B, and C Furnaces - You can get as close as the Highline
By the time I got to the car I was totally photographed out and we headed north to Jim Thorpe.    I always like this drive, heading through cement country up into Anthracite Coal Country.  Passing the lonely bridge abutments of the former Lehigh and New England RR's bridge across the Lehigh always moves me for some reason.  The terrain seems different here, with more exposed rock than elsewhere.

Jim Thorpe was pretty crowded by the time we arrived.  The "fall festival" proved a bit of a sham with only a dozen or so vendors and half that many food people.  Still my wife managed to find trinkets here and there throughout the various shops in town.

Shopping on the streets of Jim Thorpe
We left Jim Thorpe and headed east toward the Delaware, spending much of the remaining afternoon on back roads working our way down through the country back toward Bethlehem.  Just outside town I stopped at a decent hobby shop I had been at once before, just off Rt 33? north of Easton.  Mixed hobbies but lots of trains, in all scales.  I picked up a few Walther's  Modular building panels and also some NCE Block Detectors for an upcoming signaling project.  From there I stopped at a weapons store in Easton, PA called SARCO - I needed a new flash suppressor for my AR-15 - just kidding, but they do sell parts for pretty much every machine gun ever made.  I wanted to look at the large collection of military collectable they have.  Quite a few very interesting things, but too pricey for me.  Arriving back in Bethlehem we stopped back at Steel Stacks to check out the interior now that it was open.  There is a nice gift store there that I bought a Bethlehem Steel Shirt and a book called "30 years under the beam."  The fourth floor open deck as nice views of the blast furnaces and you can see down into the open end of the blowing engine house.      We had mostly skipped lunch and were craving some more of those Emeril burgers so we headed back to the casino for dinner.
Purple Blast Furnaces for Halloween I Guess
Following dinner we drove back over to Bethlehem (the part on the north side of the river) for more shopping.  I found a figurine from one of my favorite childhood movies, Jason and the Argonauts.  There was some sort of fashion event going on so the streets were filled with well dressed models -  I had to really concentrate on where I turned my head in order to avoid a slap to the back of my head.   We got some ice cream and called it a night.

We slept in a bit on sunday, although, I made an early morning foray through the casino and then to the upper levels of the casino parking garage for some nice shots of Lehigh Heavy Forge.  Breakfast looking at the Highline, and then we checked out.  We drove past the furnaces one last time and headed south, taking back roads and hitting some prime shopping areas through northern Bucks County, PA.   In all, a very pleasant weekend.   I know there has been a lot on the internet unfavorable as to what is going on in Bethlehem, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised.  When I was 18 I took my life in my hands walking across a frozen canal just to get a photo of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces from across the river - and then a few years later going on a tour of the plant, but not being able to take any photos - this is for sure much more fun, just walking right up to them.

Lehigh Heavy Forge from Casino Parking Garage


DC Valentine said...

the blast furnaces at bethlehem are in pink for brest cancer awareness month (oct) excellent blog your a very talented modeler i really enjoy your postings keep up the outstanding work!!!

John Teichmoeller said...

Nice update on Bethlehem, Jim. I haven't been there since the casino and hotel opened. Next time you get there, you might want to make arrangements to visit the two (at least there used to be two) model railroad clubs in Bethlehem. One is right close to the river on the north side, the other is in a church basement a little farther north.

Also, check out the "National Museum of Industrial History in Exile" at the Allentown Airport. Lots of great stuff from the Bethlehem Steel collection donated to the Smithsonian--HO models of Sparrows Pt. Open Hearth No. 4, K (I think) blast furnace, etc. I think they have "pubic" hours on Thursday. They have a website or you can contact Jim Kerner for further details.

Jim Musser said...

DC, thanks, whoops on the breast cancer thing - my wife actually I think mentioned that.

John - Wish I knew about the clubs and wasn't aware at all about the Allentown Airport location. I did check out their website before going but nothing about anything being open.