Monday, September 12, 2016

Down the Home Stretch...

Once again, I got up early and put on my purple paisley long skirt outfit over my bra and inserts (it's definitely become my go-to, because it's comfortable, easy to care for and because of its small pockets…perfect for a room or car key.)  But being the end of the trip, I wanted an easy change when I got home, so I wore my shorts underneath.  With a good shave, my makeup, earrings, bracelets went on.  I even heard “Ma’am” once at the breakfast room (this hotel graciously provided breakfast.)

Destination while enroute home: Centralia, PA.  It’s a long-abandoned town in in the anthracite coal mining region of eastern PA, where a coal seam caught fire back in the early 1960's and lead to an underground mine fire, which still burns today and reportedly still has enough fuel for the next 250+ years.

There are various theories as to how it happened. But the end results were:  combustion gases seeping into homes (think dead canaries in the coal mine), gas in the local station's tank reaching 180 degrees, and sinkholes developing, one of which swallowed a small boy in his own yard (fortunately his cousin was there and saved him from certain death by fire).  Together, the issues caused the State to buy out the whole town of about 1,600 people.  As people left, vacant houses and buildings were demolished.  Under a dozen holdouts have stayed in their homes, and allegedly in 2013 an agreement was reached to let them remain for their natural lives, at the end of which the houses will be taken and demolished.

Centralia's post office is gone, and the zip code has been revoked.  What's left?   Not much.   The municipal building, containing an ambulance to service a nearby town which remains, streets, sidewalks, a couple of churches and cemeteries, several still-occupied homes, and a lot of vacant land, which nature is slowly reclaiming.  Below are the front steps to a long-gone home or business, which will never again feel the joy of relatives coming home at the holidays, or the happy chatter of shoppers with their treasures...

Following is a picture of the main intersection in town.   This was the hub of the town's activity.  Old pictures on line show buildings on both sides of the street, up and down the hills.  Now, just silence. The sound of the wind through the trees and wires, and a few occasional ATV's or cars, are all you hear. There's not much going on in these parts...

Below is the most visible remaining piece of Centralia...former PA Route 61.   This nice, wide road was totally destroyed at the far end, with huge displacements, many wide, deep cracks, and with heat from the fire venting up through it.  They say that in the wintertime, snow does not stick to the ground in the area of the underground fire - the surface is just too warm.  Though I didn't see it, they say at times you can see steam and fumes coming up through cracks in the nearby earth and the road, as well as from vent pipes put in to ventilate the fire.  This is allegedly most pronounced in the winter...

The State closed this section of road and re-routed it on to a permanent shoo-fly, to get traffic around the fire.  Seems that the taggers subsequently adopted it as their white board!

I got out of the car, climbed two dirt barriers (a long skirt was helpful to protect my modesty) and walked a short distance on the road.  But not having unlimited time, I opted to bypass walking to the destroyed portion.   That was probably a good I got back into my car and slammed the door,  4 scruffy, burly guys got out of a car that had just pulled in behind mine.   They didn't appear to be at all inquisitive or aggressive, but I felt better being inside the car, with doors locked, rather than outside.

As soon as the guys disappeared over the barriers, off came my earrings (yes, I noted some swelling from so much wear, and redness - where a scab would ultimately form on each ear.  Long hair works well to hide them.)  This trip I was able to enjoy them for much longer than last time - many days instead of just a few hours for a couple of days, so this is major progress.  Perhaps next time, they won't bother me as much.  I know Mom used to wear them all day, every day, without issues.  The rest of the jewelry soon came off, as did the paisley skirt (my top was one I wear regularly.)  I was now back in androgynous (shorts and a top) mode for the rest of my ride home.

Thus concluded my wonderful weekend.

And even before I got back on the Interstate, I was missing my girl time already - a whole lot.



  1. I think that there are several long burning underground fires throughout coal country but you description of the former burgh of Centralia is well written and a good history lesson. As kids we would often visit an old army buddy of my dad's time in Okinawa in WWII and there was a coal area near Scranton/Dunmore that was always smoking. It is sad that the current administration had put so many good American coal miners and businesses out of work. It will really be the death knell for them if Clinton is elected. Fortunately, parts of Pa are doing OK with fracking. This has been denied to upstate NY and many businesses and people up there are just hanging on hoping that our government sees the benefit of fracking for this energy.
    I think that you may have taken off the girl clothes too soon. I have gone on many business trips where I drove the long road home fully dressed and did not stop to change until I was within a few miles of home.

    1. Thanks, Pat,

      visiting Centralia was a sobering reminder of days past. I recall hearing about it back in the 60's when the fire broke out, but never visited back then. I should have, but didn't.

      When we were doing a car tour in the Corning, NY area a few years back, one of the places we thought we might want to stay was in Wellsboro, PA (out in the middle of nowhere.) Lovely, well-kept town. Found out that the room prices were so high, because of all of the workers for the companies doing fracking in PA...

      So we stayed elsewhere.

      All I'll say about coal and fracking is that we should be using all American natural resources available for making power, instead of intentionally doing things which pollute the air and water, and may be causing earthquakes (many insurance companies exclude earthquake damage in homeowner policies).

      Our excellent scientists should be figuring out a way to clean up the effects of using coal and fracking, so that they don't pollute or cause other ill effects, which offset the benefits of using them.

      And if we did conscientiously did that, we wouldn't have to send so much money overseas to buy foreign oil and oil products...

      You're right, I probably did switch back to "normal" too soon. But at that moment, with my ears pinching a bit, and the boys in the car behind me gone for a while, I just did it. Another couple of girlie hours was rather insignificant, compared to the rest of the wonderful weekend I already had!