Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Centralia (Ghost town)

I had heard about Centralia, a ghost town in Pennsylvania and when the Central Jersey Motorcycle Riders Group decided to make it a ride destination I was ready to go.  Centralia is about 155 miles north west of my house.  The group had set the meetup point north east of my location by about 30 miles.  I had invited my brother to come along who lives 40 miles south of me, this was going to be a problem for him, he would have to get up really early to make the group meetup.   After checking with Google map I decided to make a new route for the two of us.  I would meet him up just after the bridge toll in Pennsylvania and we would slab west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike until King of Prussia and then get off the highway and make our first stop in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  The park preserves the site and interprets the history of the Valley Forge encampment.  I have mentioned before that I love anything historical about the USA and this was the opportunity to see the site where the Continental Army spent the winter of 1777–1778 during the American Revolutionary War.   Wikipedia:

I left my house at 7am, earlier than needed and then waited for my brother at the toll before the bridge thinking he would have to pass there first.  He found another way and was waiting for me after the bridge tolls as we had planned.  Thanks to cell phones and SMS I found out where he was and 3 minutes later I was at his location.   We continued west arriving in Valley Forge around 9:30am.  We enter the park and make our first stop when we see canons.

We park our bikes and head towards the encampment structures.  We see people dressed as the Continental Army soldiers and civilians in period clothes.  These people are all volunteers who re-enact the time the Continental Army spent encamped at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777–1778.

We start chatting with one of the officers and he informs us there will be live fire re-enactment in the next half hour.  We decide to stay to see the live firing, no real rounds were fired though, just the powder.  I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to see the shiny bronze canons thundering in the valley.  We watch the preparations which were lengthy with anticipation for the live firing.

The little one

Loading the big canon
The weapons are all in pristine condition.   The guys really take pride in their work and polish the barrels to a luster, the polished bronze reflecting the sun like a mirror.

The big one
The smaller one
The little mortar
Next I spot a big rifle mounted on a pedestal, too heavy to hold it up I guess.  The rate of fire must have been low on such a big gun and because of the way it's mounted but the damage must have been enormous, I wouldn't want to be in front of that barrel.

We meander through the encampment observing various utensil used by the doctors and the medicine boxes, I can hardly imagine the pain the poor injured soldiers must have endured after being shot in the field, the medicine not being what it is today, and where the rate of survival was pretty slim.


We wait for the drill before the live firing and then cover our ears as instructed by the officer just before the firing order is given.  It was a loud bang, so loud that your ears were left ringing.  I was filming with my camera, the following photos were taken by my brother Paul.

My brother was kind enough to let me use some of his photos.

We left the encampment and toured the park on the bikes, the winding road meandering through the 3,500 acres of the park.  We made our next stop at the top of the hill by the National Memorial Arch, dedicated "to the officers and private soldiers of the Continental Army December 19, 1777 - June 19, 1778"

It was getting late and we had a long way to go.  We leave the park and head north on route 422, aka Benjamin Franklin Highway. 25 miles later we take the exit for route 662, aka Old Swede Road.  I had read on a magazine the road was one of various scenic roads in this part of Pennsylvania.  We continue north until we come upon Hermy's Tire and Cycle, a BMW and Triumph dealer in Port Clinton.  They are having an open house, we pull in knowing there was free food and by now our stomachs were rumbling.

After a "pulled chicken sandwich", if you can call it that, they had ran out of "pulled pork", and some beans we were ready to hit the road again. We continued north for another 30 miles, now on PA-61, and as we round a turn I see a few motorcycles to my left in front of a restaurant.  I quickly recognize a few heads, specially with my friend Roger waving at me as we pass since he had also recognized my "Goldie".  We quickly turn around and meet the group from CJMRG.  What are the odds that we are near Centralia at the same time on the same road after traveling over 160 miles to get there.  After a little chat we all leave and head to Centralia down the road.  The current route 61 bypasses the destroyed "Pennsylvania 54" which is now closed. We park our bikes at the beginning of the bypass and walk the rest of the way to the destroyed part of the road, except for my friend Mike which decides to go over the sand barrier with his Honda Valkyrie and ride all the way.  Only Mike would attempt such a crazy thing and with such an heavy bike.  You can see him riding down the old road while the rest of us are walking.

Centralia is a ghost town as a result of a mine fire burning beneath the borough since 1962.  All properties in the borough were claimed under eminent domain by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1992 and all buildings therein were condemned.  There is not much to see.

Steam or smoke coming out of the ground

I climb a hill to investigate the surroundings but there are no houses in the area, they have all been removed.  I wait for everyone to go back to the bikes and then take a few more pictures.  I had to get a shot of myself inside one of the cracks just for scale.

The kids have had fun with the road over the years covering it in graffiti, most of it not safe for my blog but here's one I thought was cute.

As you can see by the photos, the weather had turned bad and by the time we got back to the bikes it was raining. My brother and I leave the group and head to the next town to find a place to have coffee and run away from the rain.  We wait for them but they don't show up, we figured they must have taken another way home.  After about 30 minutes we get back on the bikes and head home.  An hour later we see a Wawa gas station and pull in for another cup of coffee since it hadn't stopped raining.  We enter the station and come upon half the CJMRG group on the way home, they had split up with my friend Roger leading this group.  Again, what a coincidence, small world indeed. We all leave together with my brother leaving us about 30 minutes later and heading south towards Philadelphia while I continued east with the group into NJ.  We had rain for part of the way home but as I got near my town the rain had stopped.  I made one more stop when I saw what appeared moss on the side of the road but I don't think it is.  The area is weird with gigantic weeds spread all over, it looks like another world.

I covered over 330 miles, it was a long day riding to go see a non existent town but we got to see Revolution era canons firing in Valley Forge and had a free lunch courtesy of Hermy's BMW.


  1. The colors in your photos are wonderful. And enjoy seeing all of the black powder hardware (an old hobby). Centralia does look interesting. I first heard of it a long time ago and more recently in Jack's article in the BMW MOA magazine.

    Maybe I'll run into you at the rally in Bloomsburg.

  2. Richard:
    Thank you. I love military equipment regardless of age but this old stuff is intriguing. I didn't know Jack wrote for the MOA mag, I will ask my brother to borrow his mag. I'm planning on going with my brother, it would be nice to meet there.

  3. While Centralia is on my list of sites that I really want to see, you have put Valley Forge higher on that list. Had you planned to be there on a day when they actually fired? Or was that luck? Do they fire daily? Or every weekend or something? The pictures look wonderful with that brass. So cool. Just so cool!!!

    I'm sorry it rained, but you had so many wonderful successes on your adventure. It seemed to turn out all right.


  4. Lori:
    We didn't plan anything, it was on the route I planned to go up to Centralia. We were just lucky.
    There's lots to see in Valley Forge including a museum, you can spend the whole day there. I think they fire every Sunday, not sure about other days, you might want to consult this page:
    Let me know if you ever come this way, I will meet you guys there ;-)

  5. George, not sure I get the idea behind re-enactment of war, but I was raised by flower-power parents, so that might explain why. Lovely pictures anyway. I totally want to visit your area, and Centralia will be put on my list. What an intriguing story, and what a scary thought that the underground fire is still burning and burning... thanks for taking me there.

  6. Cool images of the reenactment. We've gone to a few, and it's interesting to see the old clothes, tools and guns.

    I've heard of Centralia. I can't remember if it was a tv show, or how I heard of it, but it sounded so strange, almost creepy. Fires that never die.

  7. Nice! Two things new to me that I must see; a brass cannon fire, and a ghost town with an underground fire!

  8. Sonja:
    Unfortunately war is with us all the time :-(
    I was born in the 60's too, but I have seen the results of war, that's why I no longer live in Africa, I was 13 when we had to run from Mozambique. Africa is a beautiful place to travel and I wish I could go back and travel through the continent :-(

  9. Kari:
    Yea, I think they had a much harder life than us today, can you imagine, no cell phones and no SMS? ha ha I love to see old stuff like this too.
    Yes, it's a creepy place, to know there's a fire underneath and there's nothing you can do about.

    These canons took a long time to fire and reload. To see the steps they have to go through before it's ready to fire again is amazing.

  10. Interesting stuff George, that polished brass cannon looked absolutely amazing - nothing like that is made these days, what incredible workmanship. I must say that battle re-enactments are very interesting and help to perpetuate the history of an area, good photos!

  11. Andrew:
    These guys take pride on the hardware :-) There were lots of canons spread throughout the park, we just didn't have time to stop everywhere.

  12. Dear George F:

    I am so sorry I didn't know you were running out through Valley Forge. You were 15 minutes away from the house here, and I'd have been delighted to offer you pie and coffee.

    If you zap my e-mail address, I'd be delighted to sent you my phone number.

    Your ride to Centralia made me smile. I conducted a tour of that desolate town in 2006 with 11 riders. Nine out of the 11 jumped the berm for the closed highway. My friend Chris tok my K75 over the barrier, then came back and did it again with another F650.

    My purpose in taking this ride was to prove that we could take advantage of this global warming and cook our lunches on the scalding pavement. We did. The details of the ride were covered in a five page article in the BMW MOA magazine — The Owners News. If you are interested in the story, you can find it at:

    I loved the pictures you took in both Centralia and Valley Forge. Despite the fact it is only 12 miles down US-202, I have yet to see an re-enactment there.

    I will be making a lot of trips to Toms River this summer, as my mother is again living in Holiday City. I sincerely hope to meet you by the ocean one afternoon.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack/ Reep
    Twisted Roads

  13. Jack:
    Thanks for the offer. Next time I'm in the area :-) e-mail has been sent. I am going to read your entry about Centralia. My parents live in Manchester so I am near Toms River a lot.
    I love taking pictures and my blog is about "so much to see, so little time", I like to show the country through pictures ;-)