Part 1– “Just Down the Road” U.S. Route 30 starts in Atlantic City, NJ


Millions of people travel U.S. Route 30 every day. Millions.

Along the 3,000 miles of U.S. Route 30, travelers wake up to see a half dozen huge ocean-going tankers anchored in the river, ski snow-covered Mt. Hood in July, photograph a Pony Express stop, watch a herd of bison wander over a Pennsylvania hillside, or check out the largest railroad yard in the world, where 160 trains rumble through every day.

This is a series about U.S. Route 30 as it crosses the country. The road twists through the U.S. as an alternative to interstates and turnpikes. We’ll spend time in towns with a population of two, but will buzz right through the big cities. We’ll not see national parks, but plenty of state and city parks .

It’s a beautiful drive, although not the road to take in a hurry. U.S. Route 30 is sometimes an interstate (mostly in the western states) and sometimes a simple two-lane road that slowly passes through dozens of tiny country towns or twists through Pennsylvania mountains. And every type of highway in between.

Part 1– U.S. Route 30 begins.

A ‘local’ named Dominic thought for a minute, looked around and admitted, “I don’t really know where U.S. Route 30 starts. Here?” he points toward the curb at his feet.

Like many of his Atlantic City, NJ, friends, Dominic didn’t know that U.S. Route 30 began exactly where he was standing.

AC sunset - CopyU.S. Route 30 is the third longest highway in the country, or fourth longest if you include Interstate 90.  It crosses 11 states– New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and finally ends 3,000 miles later in Oregon.

From where Dominic stood, he couldn’t see the Atlantic Ocean because of the massive casinos and hotels on the beaches. If he had stood at the western end of U.S. Route 30 in Astoria, Oregon, he would be five miles from the Pacific Ocean.

In New Jersey, the Atlantic City Expressway was completed in 1964 and paralleled U.S. Route 30. Unlike other towns that were forgotten by multi-laned highways, towns like Egg Harbor City, Hammonton and Berlin hung on.

Hammonton is known as the Blueberry Capital of the World, boasting 7500 acres of blueberries, or 49 million pounds a year. On one field, Buffalo Valley Farms covers 150 acres in blueberry bushes.

Some towns like Berlin have survived as bedroom communities with quaint eateries, including the New Berlin Diner, serving meals to commuters heading to Philadelphia or Camden. Motels that thrived before the interstates were built were passed over and are now are surviving on basement level rates.

In Philly, U.S. Route 30 becomes part of I-676 and I-76, whisking travelers through the heart of the city. It emerges in the suburbs west of town, like Paoli, Exton, Malvern, and Lancaster.

Lancaster is the beginning of the Tourist Triangle– Lancaster, York and Gettysburg, where tourists can stay on U.S. Route 30 and never be lost for things to do. Lancaster is known for its Amish population, Dutch Wonderland, live theatre, shopping outlets and the general tourist-friendly atmosphere.

amish plowAlthough Ohio’s Holmes County has a slightly higher Amish population, Lancaster’s is far more popular and the tourist trade loves it. Amish tours, restaurants, live theaters, factory outlets, and buggy rides are everywhere along U.S. Route 30.

Continuing on the highway, the mile-wide Susquehanna River divides Lancaster County from York County. The U.S. Route 30 bridge is north of the old Lincoln Highway bridge which was built in 1930.

Just before reaching York, the Haines Shoe House stands on the south side of U.S. Route 30. Built in 1948, the five-story house was the idea of Mahlon Haines, owner of the Haines Shoe Company. Tours are available.

York’s version of U.S. Route 30 is similar to Lancaster’s, with retail stores, restaurants, shopping malls all along the four-lane divided road just north of downtown, except on a bit smaller scale. The highway bypasses York’s historic area, but the traffic jams during rush hour are legendary.

York markets itself as the Factory Tour Capital of the World, which includes visits to Martin’s Chips (75 tons of potatoes a day!), Harley Davidson motorcycle manufacturing plant, handmade soap store and a handmade violin factory.

Major General John F Reynolds began gettysburgGettysburg might have been just another small town along the highway, had it not been for the bloodiest battle ever fought in the U.S.  About 950,000 visitors drove the auto tour, biked, or hired a tour guide last year and spent about $65 million, according to the National Park Service.

Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium site claims it is the Gettysburg area’s ‘most unique attraction’, displaying 12,000 elephants. No doubt.  A few miles further, hikers along the Appalachian Trail cross the highway on their way to Maine.

Chambersburg has the distinction of being the only northern city destroyed by the Confederates in the Civil War. More than 500 buildings were leveled in the 1864 burning.

Breezewood boasts one of only two stretches of primary U.S. interstate with traffic lights. One travel internet site has christened any confusing or questionable traffic pattern a ‘breezewood’. Because of the inevitable traffic snarls and backups, Breezewood is a ‘Town of Hotels’.

Just east of Breezewood,  bikers or hikers can explore the old abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike pavement and tunnels before the road was rerouted to make tunnels unnecessary. Says one biker– “Most of the abandoned turnpike looks like an episode from the walking dead. It is a really cool place to visit.”

Old Bedford Village is a living history museum, and while not right on U.S. Route 30, parts of it traveled the road to get here. Nearly 40 shops, homes, and log cabins make up the old village, populated by folks in period costumes to explain how the town came to be. Some of the buildings– church, tavern, jail, blacksmith shop, gun shop, general store, post office, bakery– were moved here from other locations.

Vincent Van Gas SchellsburgSchellsburg is five miles west of Bedford, and offers a look back at a quaint town that still lives in a time before the Pennsylvania Turnpike bypassed it. An old gas pump has become an art piece and flamingos decorate the station, once a Lincoln Highway garage. Nearby Shawnee State Park boasts a 450-acre reservoir for boaters and fishers.

Just two miles past Schellsburg, a large herd of bison wanders through the grass and over small hills on Cedarrow’s Bison Farm on the north side of  U.S. Route 30. Males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and run 35 miles an hour–  stay outside the double fence. The family also runs a gift shop on the opposite side of the road.

Five miles west is the Flight 93 National Memorial,  commemorating the passengers and crew of “Flight 93 who, on Sept. 11, 2001, courageously gave their lives thereby thwarting a planned attack on our Nation’s capital”, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

“The total cost of the memorial is estimated at $58.3 million. Since 2005, more than 44,000 donors – both large and small from across the nation and the world – have raised over $11 million for the memorial,” says the NPS.

U.S. Route 30 then slides over western Pennsylvania, through Pittsburgh’s center by way of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and Interstate 376.

On July 16, a 50-foot sinkhole nearly swallowed U.S. Route 30 near Greensburg. One lane of the highway was closed until repairs could be made.

Near Clinton, DJ’s Quick Stop is a convenience store that sells everything, or so it seems. Just a short drive from Raccoon Creek State Park, the store uses a famously silly “Got Far Wood” sign as an enticement.near WV line DJ's Quick Stop

On this night, a fisherman made a U-turn to take a photo of the “Got Far Wood” sign. While stopped, he picked up a few fish hooks for an early-morning fishing contest with his son. And a sandwich, some soda, and chips.

It’s a silly sign. A stroke of advertising brilliance.

Next– West Virginia and into Ohio.

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