Tag Archive | central pa

Nothing Like Growing up on a Farm… (The Original “Animal House”)

On the farm at age 9: An Angora rabbit in my arms and “Whitie” at my feet

By Ruth Topper

I am a farmer’s daughter – the youngest of three girls in my family.  As a child, I didn’t realize all the unique experiences that growing up on a farm provided.  My playground was 105 acres of farmland in North Central Pennsylvania.  My dad was born and raised on the farm.  By the time my sisters and I came along he worked a “day job” and farmed on the side.  One of the exciting things about growing up on a farm was the animals.  Over the years we had cows, pigs, chickens, geese, rabbits, etc.  These animals provided plenty of childhood memories along with instilling a work ethic very early in life.

My kids discovered a small taste of this work ethic when we added our dog, Fletcher, to our family a few years ago.  Pets do need some caretaking!  When I hear complaining that no one wants to take Fletcher out for a walk, get his food or fill up his water bowl I remind them that they were the ones who really wanted a dog and they agreed to help take care of him.   I get the “rolling of the eyes” if I even try to take them back to what it was like growing up on a farm and taking care of numerous animals and pets!  Perhaps you will get more enjoyment out of my farm animal stories!

The Cows:  Daisy Mae, Sally and “Store Milk” vs. “Our Milk”

By the age of 10 it wasn’t unusual to be out helping “round up” the cows who had broken through the electric fencing.  We only raised one steer per year.  We didn’t get too close to them because, unfortunately, they would then become dinner!  After my dad retired (when I was in early elementary school) he did get a “milk” cow for a few years.  Daisy Mae and Sally were the two “milk” cows that I remember.  By this time I was old enough to know that we had purchased “store milk” for many years but now had our own milk.  I vividly remember pouring milk from a pitcher onto my cereal in the morning and a big clump of cream landing in my bowl first… yuck!  On the other hand, we had several years of making the best homemade ice cream on summer Sunday afternoons!

My sister with “Frances” the peep

Which Came First:  The Chicken or the Egg?

One spring there was only one chick that hatched from all the eggs that the mother hen was sitting on.  So my dad decided to bring that chick to the house for us to take care of.  We named the chick Frances because we weren’t sure if we had a hen or rooster!  But Frances turned out to be a girl!  She was a “Banty” hen and laid eggs with light green shells.  FYI – “Banties” are a smaller breed of chicken and some breeds do lay light green or blue eggs.  We had several different kinds of chickens so the variety of egg sizes and colors made for a great 6th grade science fair project.   Also–did you know that sometimes a chicken will lay an egg that doesn’t have a shell?  It feels a little odd when you pick that up out of the nest!

Silly Goose

At one time we had a few geese running loose around the farm.  I remember my mom backing out of our carport and running over one of them.  Needless to say, guess what we had for dinner that night?!

My Dad rubs Liz’s belly

The Pigs:  Liz and her Namesake

They loved to lie on their sides and have you rub their bellies–just like dogs!  I remember at least one litter of piglets being born on the farm.  They were so cute!  Maybe the funniest “pig story” revolves around my Aunt Elizabeth, who lived in the big city of Germantown, MD. She would come to visit us for most major holidays.  And she was truly honored, thrilled even, when we named a pig “Liz” after her.

 “Lucky” the Lamb

One of our neighbors raised sheep, so when a mama sheep died after giving birth to her lamb, he brought the lamb to our house for us to take care of.  I named the lamb “Lucky” and enjoyed coming home from school to bottle feed her.  Unfortunately Lucky caught a cold (or some “bug”) and only lived about a week after we got her – not so “lucky” after all.  That was the reality of life on a farm sometimes.

Rabbits, Cats and a Collie to Herd them All

A neighbor once gave us an Angora rabbit mother with her babies.  They were so soft to hold!  Speaking of animals with fur, we always had plenty of cats on the farm.  It wasn’t unusual to have 10 or 20 cats lounging on the porch, in the yard or barn–but they were never allowed in the house!  But we all had a soft spot for one animal in particular, our wonderful dog.  Whitie was a border collie mix that was given to us by a neighboring farmer.  She wins the award by far for being our favorite farm animal.  As wonderful as it was to be surrounded by so many creatures, there was nothing like the love of “man’s best friend.”

Speaking of dogs, I think my kids “have it easy,” just taking care of one dog, compared to my childhood responsibilities!

Do you have similar memories of growing up on a farm?  Or does your family live on a farm today?  Feel free to share your experiences below.

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Up for Family Adventure? Try Biking on a Rail Trail

By Karen Hendricks

The idea of converting unused railroad lines into recreational trails has sparked a huge network of “rails-to-trails” across the country. Given today’s hot topics such as re-use and recycling, it’s easy to see why the rails-to-trails movement is right “on track” with being green and environmentally-friendly.  And best of all, rail trails provide lots of fun and exercise for families!

My family discovered the Heritage Rail Trail in York County, PA several summers ago.  We’ve returned several times to explore this beautiful 21 mile-long trail by bike.  There are numerous points of access from which to choose; on our latest trek we started at the historic Hanover Junction.  This station has been restored to its 1863 character and is where President Abraham Lincoln disembarked and changed trains on his way to Gettysburg to deliver the Gettysburg Address.  (Yes there is even history along the trail!)

The gently-graded Heritage Rail Trail traverses a corridor stretching from the city of York southward to the Maryland line.  The vistas along the way are varied:  lush, green cornfields and farmland; picturesque York County towns and villages; rugged, rock-lined pathways; flowing streams; and the always-present, graceful bend of rail line aside you.

My gang!

After a number of fun outings on the Heritage Rail Trail, we also tried the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail, also in central PA.  This trail borders tranquil stretches of rolling farmland, corn fields and dairy farms set against the blue-green Appalachian Mountains in the distance.  Recently, interpretive wayside signs were added to the trail, so we enjoyed taking a few breaks to read about what we were seeing along the trail:  Pennsylvania’s rich tradition of agriculture, Pennsylvania’s role in the Civil War and the history of railroads.

Cumberland Valley Rail Trail

Owning a bike rack and/or large vehicle is the key to enjoying rail trails, unless you’re lucky enough to live close by one.  Bike racks are great investments!

My family of five is always up for adventure, and our trips have ranged between a quick 8-mile ride to a day-long 22-mile excursion.  We always pack plenty of water and granola bars for quick snacks along the trail.  Another family rule:  always wear helmets.  And one of the best safety features of a rail trail:  no vehicle traffic.  Unlike neighborhood streets, there are few worries about traffic, although there are certainly other bikers, walkers and runners on rail trails, and it’s best to stay right.  Also, there are numerous places where trails cross active roadways so it’s best to disembark, look both ways, and walk your bike safely across to the other side.  Although there can be slight grades, rail trails are fairly flat due to their previous usage as railroad lines, which makes them extremely user-friendly for families.

Our family is excited to keep exploring rail trails.  The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national non-profit, is a wonderful resource.  You can search their website and pinpoint trails in your own “backyard.”  They are also working on a mobile app. PA actually leads the nation in the number of rail trails—162 total.  However in terms of mileage, PA currently ranks 4th in the nation with 1,521 miles of developed trails.  (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are the top three.)

Here are a few trails on my family’s “wish list:”

The Capital Crescent Trail, connecting Silver Spring, MD with Washington, D.C. and historic Georgetown – along the Potomac River.

The Greenbrier River Trail, spanning 77 miles through wild West Virginia, and including numerous bridges and tunnels along the way.  This trail is considered one of the premier trails in the country.

The D & L Trail – Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail, located in the Pocono Mountains of PA, this trail features a series of waterfalls and rock features, yet still maintains a fairly even grade.

The Great Allegheny Passage, the longest rail trail east of the Mississippi!  Boasting 150 miles of trails through western PA and MD, this trail features gorgeous mountain vistas, numerous tunnels and crosses the Eastern Continental Divide.

Fun Sculptures along the Heritage Rail Trail

Have you discovered a fun way for your family to stay fit?  Can you recommend a great rail trail in your area?  Let us know by leaving a comment below – thanks!

(Portions of this blog were originally published by the PA State Tourism blog, August 2010.)

There’s even an ice cream shop trackside, Heritage Rail Trail