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gwells

Journey to Hershey 2019

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My plans to leave Norcross early Friday morning were sabotaged by what was predicted to be the last two days of the insanely hot weather large swaths of the US have experienced this summer. It's been bad in a lot of places, but Atlanta has been particularly hard hit.

The previous annual record of days 90 degrees or hotter in Atlanta was 37 days. In 2019, through Friday, Atlanta has seen 91 days of 90 or hotter, with no significant rain for more than two months. Friday ended six straight days where new all-time daily high temp records were set, with Thursday's 98 being the hottest October temp in Atlanta's history.

After working at the Southeastern Railway Museum's gatehouse Thursday, I had intended to come home, finish cleaning the oven I'd sprayed before heading to the museum, and then to pack. The heat during the day was so debilitating that I didn't do anything after I got home but eat some dinner, watch the Braves fall short in the first game of the NLDS, and crash. So I had to do everything Friday morning, which got me out the door headed north about 12:15 PM.

 

I was hoping the heat would ease off as I headed north, but it took its sweet time doing so. Here's a pic taken about 15 miles into North Carolina. For the first five or six hours, I only saw 99 or 100 on the dash read-out and long experience tells me it tracks two or maybe three degrees above ambient...

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Ran into this contraption at a rest area in Virginia, I think. I just had to collar one of the drivers to ask what that rusty thing was and the answer is a base to a very large crane. There was one tractor pulling and one pushing, with the base suspended between  eighteen-wheel bogeys on either end. I was told the weight of the 'package' was 874,000 pounds and it was going take eight or nine days to transport it from North Carolina to North Dakota.

 

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The distance between Norcross and Strasburg, PA, is right at 750 miles and I originally planned to get to within an hour or two of my endpoint and grab a cheap hotel; I related that to West's dad Don when I spoke to him in late afternoon. "That's what an old guy like you should do," he quipped. (Don is 90-1/2!). My eyes surprisingly held up and along with regular caffeination, and wanting to brag to Don later, I just kept going, arriving in Strasburg about 2:50 AM. Too late to waste the money on a room, so I grabbed a few hours sleep in a Walmart parking lot and headed to check out the location of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and the Strasburg Rail Road (conveniently across the road from each other.)

As I approached the location just before dawn, I noticed a big cloud of what looked like coal smoke above the horizon and sure enough it was. Norfolk & Western 611, a streamlined 4-8-4 built in 1941, and Strasburg Rail Road's Norfolk & Western 475, a 4-8-0 built in 1906, were planned for a sold-out photo session ($200!) today and tomorrow and I stumbled onto it at just the right time and place for free.

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As I headed to the nearest Micky D's wi-fi to start posting this thread, the rising sun revealed another treat: a couple of hot air balloons also rising. Couldn't get both in one shot, but here's the best pic I snagged.

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But the most pleasing news of my arduous inbound journey was having Don Peterson inform me that he was coming to Hershey on Tuesday. He's been having painful back trouble for the last year or so and as recently as a week ago he wasn't sure he was going to make it. Hershey wouldn't be the same for me without him.

It's been a tiring first day but with lots of fun and interest sprinkled in. Today and tomorrow are 'training' days at the two Strasburg museums, with some local sightseeing interspersed.

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it has indeed been as hot as a steam locomotive here in Georgia right up until last night, but since your leaving,  look what we woke to this morning,

 

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You should have left a month ago. 

 

Keep the great pictures and narratives coming. Look forward to meeting you in Hershey

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It was 39 degrees here this morning. I’ve not ditched my shorts... yet! People are giving me funny looks... funnier than usual, I mean. LOL.

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I was just about to post it was 37F this morning at my home here in Lititz, not far from where you are at now.  

 

Really glad to see your posts and follow along in your adventures!

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Awww yeah, every time I hear or see ole 611 she gives me goose bumps, such a distinct sound from the engine and that whistle!!

 

To be short, when i was a kid, living near the rail yard in Norfolk, VA, we used to get to ride that train from behind the school. Yes, they stopped, it loaded us up and moved on. We were close to a 16 track yard and an eight-track rail crossing :). We rode it up to the mainline then they would bus us back. I did it every year, have pictures of me in the train with the cab, etc... plus I used to live four blocks from that mainline eight-track crossing, and in the summer they used to do excursion from Roanoke to Norfolk and beyond. And we would be outside playing and you could hear it coming from miles away. We would run down the street to the tracks to see her scream by and blaring the whistle... goose bumps !! That was back in the early '80s.

 

I was ecstatic when they brought her out of hibernation. It is such a beautiful piece of mechanical machinery!! The power and stories of that train!! Whenever we were out in Roanoke, VA, at the N&W rail museum, I would stop in as it was parked in the backyard and you could go look at it, and man o man!! At one point she was up front under the awning, and you could get in the cab look around, etc... then she got shifted to the back of the yard, and you could only walk around her. A few pics of my trip there in 2002. Yhose are my two kids, they are all grown up now!! But they loved the trains as well.

 

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Thanks for sharing, and that is a sight. I love to see and a sound I will never forget!!

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Well, when you get to Pennsylvania, you'll probably see highs in the 60s. It was 63 at my house in mid-afternoon – and that's in southern Pennsylvania.

 

It definitely feels like autumn – a good seasonfor leaf raking, then coming into a warm house and curling up in a comfortable chair to read and doze!

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I meant to say something in yesterday's post about the gas prices I encountered on my marathon drive from Norcross to Strasburg on Friday. When I left Atlanta, most stations were at $2.59 a gallon; I don't think I saw anything lower unless it was a cash-only price. I had enough in the tank to get to a station I know in Anderson, SC, about a mile off I-85, which historically has the best price the area. That was the case this time: $2.15 a gallon for unleaded, versus $2.22 for the next lowest prices. (SC imposes less tax on gas than GA plus most of the state isn't required to use the more expensive 'low-emission' fuel we have to burn in the greater Atlanta area.) That was the cheapest price I saw until I needed to gas up again near Roanoke, where one station at an exit with lots of choices again had regular for $2.15. The next exit up, the cheapest regular was $2.69 a gallon, at the very exit on it was $2.79 a gallon! I can't recalling in my lifetime seeing the variability in fuel prices that is common these days.

 

The agenda Saturday was to visit the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and it blew me away. If there's a better railroad museum anywhere in the US, please point me to it.

 

As one would expect, most of the locomotives and rolling stock are from the iconic Pennsylvania Railroad (whose somewhat pompous but eminently supportable slogan for many years was "Standard Railroad of the World") and other Pennsylvania lines, although a few pieces from other northeast roads are present. Everything is restored or at least finished to a high cosmetic standard, actually over-restored compared to what they would have looked like when they were in use (and that's not a complaint). More steam locos that I have ever seen in any one museum or place and a great number of odd and interesting pieces of rolling stock.

 

Another special aspect of this museum is the high quality of the signage and interpretive exhibits. There's nary a part of railroading that isn't explained or demonstrated, from journal boxes to turbochargers to ash pans to how refrigerator cars were iced. One terrific exhibit is a steam loco mounted above a partial pit so various features of the loco's bottom-side mechanisms are visible (and explained).

There are multiple model railroad layouts in different scales, alongside hands-on interactive layouts that younger kids can handle and play with.

In short, just about every relevant aspect of the world of full-size railroading is exhibited and explained at an extremely high standard of curation, the result of the state of Pennsylvania's central involvement in this museum and its funding and the Pennsylvania Railroad's respect for its own history that led them to save significant parts of it. The museum today is managed and staffed by two state components plus an active volunteer "Friends of the Museum' organization.

 

Anyone absorbing the history and information presented at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania would come away with a balanced overview of the railroad industry that would be hard to match from visiting to any other similar museum.

 

Many thanks to ticket taker Chris, who cheerfully responded to all my questions and gave me a great overview of the museum's operational details. When asked for his favorite local restaurant, he directed me to the tiny, three-table Smokestack BBQ just a couple of miles up the road in the historic old part of Strasburg. Their pulled pork and brisket platter with mac and cheese and cole slaw as good as he said it would be.

 

One note about my pics. I had noticed a smudge on some of them and went to clean the lens to eliminate it. Unfortunately, what I found was a small chip in the glass that results in a light flare at times. How that could happen on a camera with an automatic lens cover is beyond me, but there's nothing I can do about it either now or later, so my faithful Nikon Coolpix S8200 is going to be replaced after my trip.

 

Today, I am headed to the Strasburg Rail Road, right across the street from the museum. Don't know exactly what I'll do there, but I've been told their repair shop is the most interesting part of the property.

 

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Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown, not far from Hershey, has a model railroad layout that is incredible. An entire building is dedicated to the train layout. I don’t know if they are open to the public at this time of the year, they are open closer to the holidays, but if they are open it is well worth investigating.

 

Great write-up on the museum at Strasburg.

 

Almost forgot, don’t miss the toy train museum near Strasburg. It’s just behind the Caboose Motel. It’s run by the Toy Train Collectors association. I think their official address is Ronks. PA.

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Terry,

 

I saw the sign for that layout and I'll be right there today. If they're open, I'll check it out. Thanks!

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Wonderful photographs and report of the trains, thank you so much for this!

 

Hope to see a lot of you at Hershey. I am at spaces RNG 10 & 11 in the Red Field north (northeast corner) and set up directly opposite my space numbers in my former bro-in-law's tent.

 

Old cars, old trains, old friends, and old whiskey - doesn't get any better than that!

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Walt,

 

I've got a piece of paper with the space numbers of folks I plan to look up and your numbers are already on it.

If you promise to have some of that old whiskey with you, I'll head for your space first! LOL...

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No updates? You must be busy and that’s good!

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I'm late on posting about my Sunday activities, mostly due to the large amount of driving I've done the last couple of days. Strasburg to Washington, and then a Priceline 'gotcha' put me in Cranberry Township north of Pittsburgh Sunday night, then back to Washington early Monday morning (leaving sufficiently early to avoid the worst of morning rush hour), then on to Harrisburg Monday afternoon. Haven't totaled up the mileage but it's a bunch. And Monday was all day rain, sometimes quite hard, which made my two long legs on the Pennsylvania Turnpike rather treacherous.

 

Speaking of the turnpike, toll roads are very uncommon in the south, almost non-existent. We had one connector toll road in the Atlanta area (Hwy 400) for a while, with the promised 50 cent toll to be eliminated once the construction costs had been recovered. As usual, that promise was not kept, until it became an election-year issue, whereupon the incumbent governor running for re-election killed the toll just before the election. IIRC it didn't help him...

 

I was very surprised at how expensive the tolls are on the turnpike, averaging something like 15 cents a mile. I can't recall ever seeing tolls at that level anywhere else in my life, except perhaps on one of the NYC bridges. And then there are the gas prices at the service plazas, which as locals will know are spaced about every 35 miles or so. Can't recall which direction it was, but regular started at $2.75 a gallon for a couple of plazas, then dropped to $2.71 for a few, then spiked to $2.95 for three or four, all from the same company which seemingly has a monopoly on gasoline at the service plazas. As soon as I exited the turnpike, regular was readily available for $2.69 a gallon or less. I now have a new appreciation for the term 'highway robbery.'

 

At TerryB's suggestion, I headed for the Train Collector Association's National Toy Train Museum a short distance from the Strasburg Rail Road and it was a delight. The TCA was founded in 1954 and attained 501(c)(3) status in 1957. Their museum, which features seven different highly-detailed layouts, is a stunning sight, especially combined with the numerous glass display cases filled with all manner of rare model trains from every era. The layouts are edged with pushbuttons that operate the trains and various types of lighting and animations. One particularly interesting display case contained numerous prototypes and test casts from the Lionel company's archives.

 

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Right in front of the National Toy Train Museum is the Red Caboose Motel, which opened in 1970 with 19 surplus Pennsylvania Railroad cabooses, and which now tallies 38 cabooses, a baggage car, and a mail car from numerous railroads, all painted in historic liveries. The motel can accommodate families of just about any size and there is a railroad-themed restaurant on site as well. It is situated alongside the Strasburg Rail Road's right-of-way.

 

As the pics show, the weather was pretty dreary Sunday morning.

 

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The on to the Strasburg Rail Road, just a couple of blocks away. The historic marker by the street gives the basics.

 

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But the actual operation is quite a bit more interesting than the bare facts. SRR offers an impressive slate of rides behind steam power: open-air cars, coaches, dining cars, first-class lounge and parlor cars, and even a president's car. The rides extend for nine miles, about 45 mins.

 

This weekend was special due to two visiting steam locomotives, N&W J-class 611 and N&W M-Class 475, pictured earlier in this thread. Saturday and Sunday both locos were off on extended photo shoots while I was on-site. SRR has lots of other railroad material, including a steam-powered 'park' engine that runs all day and numerous historic railroad buildings that have been moved to the site.

 

I had hoped to take the shop tour but alas it left at noon and I arrived after that time. Due to press of time, I didn't ride any of the trains, but will definitely do so next time I am in the area.

 

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4 minutes ago, TerryB said:

No updates? You must be busy and that’s good!

 

LOL. You were almost patient enough, Terry. I posted what I've been working on for about an hour and a half three minutes after you made your post...

Headed to the AACA HQ now and will post about my Monday experiences when I get back to the hotel later today.

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The gas prices on the turnpike used to be worse until the state government gave them price guidelines they have to follow. They can charge more than the local rate but it does have a limit.  

 

As for the turnpike, the state uses the tolls to pay for all other state road repairs and now has that as part of its budget. It’s really unfair to the turnpike users to have to pay those outrageous amounts.

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My family visited the Strasburg area a number of years ago. We got a little off track (lost) and stopped at an Amish-run restaurant for dinner. On exiting the car, all was quiet, with the exception of the sound of horse's hooves on the road. Then through the rolling hills came the sound of a steam locomotive whistle. We knew then we were close to the Strasburg Rail Road. It was like we had entered a time warp. A wonderful area for sure.

 

Another place worth visiting in the area is Roadside America near Shartlesville, PA. One gentleman spent his lifetime building this model layout from scratch. The animation involved will keep young and old entertained for hours. Even the ceiling comes to life with a nighttime star-filled display, and as the light dims, all the miniature buildings and passenger trains light up. An amazing display. 

 

Jim

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I am still playing a bit a 'catch-up,' so here's Monday's very enjoyable activities.

 

Shortly after I started at the Southeastern Railway Museum, our part-time employee Kristen left to take a full-time position at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pennsylvania. I jokingly emailed the museum's executive director to let him know we now had a low opinion of his facility since he'd snagged one of our most beloved and hard-working employees. Understanding the backhanded compliment I was expressing, he replied warmly and invited me to pay a visit if I was ever in the area. Scott Baxter hadn't known I was coming to nearby Hershey within a matter of weeks... In October, the trolley museum is only open to the public on weekends, but the staff is there during the week anyway, so Scott said a Monday visit would be fine. In fact, they were hosting a school field trip of about two dozen kids that day, which is why I was able to grab a ride on a vintage trolley while they were doing their track check for the ride the kids would be taking.
 

Beginning as the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club in 1946, the group eventually acquired three cars and a museum location in 1954. For the next ten years volunteers worked to construct track, a car barn, and a diesel generator to provide the 600 volt DC power necessary to operate the cars. The museum opened to the public in 1963 and continued to add cars and infrastructure, changing its name several times and acquiring tax exempt status. Track and turning loops were added to give a two-mile run and their 12 acre site leaves plenty of room for future expansion. The museum's collection now includes 50 pieces of rolling stock, almost all of them historic trolleys including the original 'Streetcar Named Desire' from New Orleans! Many of the trolleys have been restored to better than new condition, too. Today, the museum is very active in education and outreach and is probably the nation's premier museum devoted to this rail transportation mode.

 

While exhibiting my ignorance about trolleys ("What the difference between a trolley and an interurban?"), I discovered I have a lot to learn about the streetcar era. Scott patiently answered all of my dumb questions. I would willingly have extended my visit for a lot longer, but I had a long drive back to Hershey along the dreaded turnpike and Scott had to go unload a truck of pumpkins (that were originally scheduled to arrive the previous Wednesday) to use in the museum's nearly month-long 'Pumpkin Patch Trolley' event.

 

If, like me, your knowledge of streetcars and trolleys is thin, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is definitely place you want to visit.

 

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I also paid a very quick visit to a long-time member of my Slotblog slot car forum who lives just eight minutes from the museum. It's always fun to meet up in person with someone you've known 'electronically' for better than a decade. Ron Culp owns an active private slot car raceway located in the basement of a local sportsman's club and I was tickled to learn his track was one I had raced on in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, in 2002. This track design is known as a 'UK Black' and is one of the more difficult designs to race on. It was a joy to see it in nearly-new condition; wish I had been able to take a few laps on it but that was not possible for several reasons.

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Didn't do much on Tuesday except head for the AACA National Headquarters to pick up my parking pass, and to buy the national 2019 Hershey T-shirt (which I wore Wednesday) and the 2019 program with the vendor's spaces listed. Then headed back to my hotel to rest up a little from the busy previous three days. Decided not to attend the library's literature sale late Tuesday afternoon simply to prevent myself from being tempted into buying anything. Also didn't visit any of the fields on Tuesday to watch folks getting up and to see the early birds serious on getting there first.

 

Headed out reasonably early on Wednesday, so I could stop at Bob Evan's for a decent breakfast and, of course, got into a long conversation with the two gentlemen in the booth across the aisle who were also in town for the meet. After they departed, the gentleman in the booth in front me me turned and wanted to know just what was this old car meet. He was in Hershey on business and knew nothing about it.

 

Since a lot of the long-tine vendors have spaces in the two Chocolate Fields, which are close the Giant center parking lot I have to use, that's where I started. After ambling around for 20 mins of so, down the aisle comes a car which pulls up to me and down rolls the right front window. It's my best man Don Peterson, with his son Wyatt driving, headed for their space in South Chocolate, so I snagged a ride. What are the odds that the first person I knew that I met at Hershey would be Don, who lives in Roswell, GA, just twelves miles from my home?

 

Didn't have much luck tracking down two or three friends at their spaces or the club tents where they will be on duty, so I'll try again today. The field looked a little thin early Wednesday, with a lot of spaces unoccupied, but I'm sure that will change today.

As is my habit, I spent a lot of time talking with strangers while resting my sore back sitting alongside them on benches and at tables. And since I had spent a lot of time asking questions of people at Hershey last year during preparation for the meet story that I penned for the club magazine, it was natural to continue doing so. I am pretty garrulous by nature and really like to talk to people, probably a bit too much...

The most amazing thing I discovered this year, and the most discouraging, is that an estimated 75-80% of the people I am interacting with at the meet are NOT AACA members! This stuns me. For me, it would be unconscionable to attend Hershey and not to be a card-carrying member of the underlying organization. I assume everyone knows that the flea market spaces can only be purchased by AACA members and one also must be a member to enter a car in the judging on Saturday.

 

As this fact dawned on me, I began asking more detailed questions on the subject: why haven't you joined the AACA?  There was no single response. "What does it get me to be a member?" "What does the acronym AACA stand for?? "I was surprised there was no admission charged to attend this flea market." "The club hasn't asked me to become a member in any of the info I have looked up online or received here." (When Steve Moskowiitz reads these comments, he'll tear all his hair out, I am sure.)

Perhaps it's a function of the internet age, where for so long so much was free. I know a lot of the folks I communicate with on these forums admit to not being AACA members. But I also know from other hobbies that a long-term lack of support from the participants for the people and the organization running the show and making things happen eventually comes home to roost. Every collector car club I know is struggling to maintain their membership numbers. It would be a crying shame to see the Hershey phenomenon disappear in the distant future due to a continued decline in membership, not that such a thing is imminent.

But I'll bet everyone reading this remembers a newspaper or two that had been published for a century or more that today no longer exists. Lack of support killed them, sure as all get-out. And the ones that survive online, think New York Times or Wall Street Journal, only give you a taste of their content before you have to subscribe. The AACA is the premier collector car organization in the world, the oldest and the largest I believe, and supports the old car hobby on an unbelievable number of levels.That three-quarters of Hershey attendees don't feel it is important to be members is rather depressing to me, that's for sure, and does not bode a rosy future.

Enough on that subject, time to head off to the fields to walk and walk and walk... and to hopefully hook up with some of my old friends and to make some new ones. And to see cars and parts and other things I've never seen before...

 

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Yes, a great read and commentary on what you’ve seen so far.

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Brings back great memories. So happy to see how bright and sunny it is!

 

Carl 

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Yeah, I'm running behind, guys, but I'll catch up.

 

Got a surprise invite to the Society of Automotive Historians 50th anniversary banquet Friday night from my old friend Tom Warth (founder of the late, lamented Classic Motorbooks), where I was honored and thrilled to meet Nicola Bulgari and Karl Ludvigsen (the keynote speaker). It lasted much later than expected, so the posting I planned to do that night went by the wayside. I took huge number of pics over the last few days and it's going to take a while to cull them, too.

 

I had foolishly reserved my Hershey hotel only through Friday night so had to proceed on to my next stop, Altoona, Pennsylvania, after the car show ended late Saturday afternoon. Seems there was a nationally-televised football game in State College, Pennsylvania, so I had a bit of trouble finding a hotel room at a reasonable price.

 

I spent Thursday again mostly in the Chocolate fields, with a brief foray into the Red field to track down a couple of friends. Ran into Tom Warth while taking the pic of the neon sign vendor shown below. I snuck behind him, grabbed him by the arm, and asked in a strong voice if he was one of them illegal aliens. (Tom is a Brit by birth, if you don't know.) He was kind enough not to slug me... or run!

 

Since the 1933 diner in downtown Altoona I am posting from (anyone else amused by the fact that a 1933 diner has fast and free wi-fi?) is getting busy and I really shouldn't hog a table after finishing my breakfast, I'll just post my pics from Thursday. The first pic is as much as I could get of one of the Chocolate fields from the pedestrian bridge near the Giant Center. It is just one of the six or seven flea market fields (some are split into separate parts, so how many there are depends on how you count them).

 

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I enjoyed sitting on the curb taking to you with my daughter. Nice to meet you and put a face to the name.

 

King32

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Same here.

Traveling home over the last day or so, but I still have more to post regarding my trip. Stay tuned...

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