The 'I am not leaving US on my own accord' Road Trip: Day 1

Windsor, ON to Newark, NJ (Rough Map)

Summer 2008

At this age we all enjoy April. For most of us, it represents a time where the government gives us back some money since they take too much. I was still in Nova Scotia during April, but I couldn't be happier - this big sum of money came and I was going to be leaving Canada's 'Ocean Playground' in approximately one month.

I spent some of the money during the last month I had in Nova Scotia, but I exited the Maritimes with a still considerable sum. Nova Scotia took one last shot on my exit though, as the drive from there to BR made me realize my car needed some mechanic work. $1400 later, I stood questioning this docket of road trips I had planned for when I finally returned to the rust belt.

I did get to Cincinnati/Cleveland, to Montreal/Toronto/Rochester and then stood this opportunity in front of me. Chad & UJ are a couple of friends whom I knew through going into buildings and they had stated that they were going on a road trip for 9 days through the east coast and that anyone was welcome to join them.

If I decided to go on this road trip, I knew it would be my last for quite some time. My shallow pockets were growing empty by the day and I would barely be able to fund this trip. I left Chad & UJ wondering until almost the last minute until I said screw it, I'm in!

We left on a Thursday because of Chad's work schedule. I crossed the border smoothly ("oh yeah Mr. Border Guard, I'm going on a road trip with friends that I met while at a frat party...") and was quickly in Garden City, Michigan. Neither Chad or UJ seemed in any particular hurry and my first visit to their house started with me sitting on the couch while Chad gathered pillows, lens caps and other various essential items and UJ was on the other couch still trying to find coordinates for the various places we were going to visit.

She passed the book over to me. I stared at the page and had the barest idea of what these places were because I don't normally pay attention to national buildings since I have enough to worry about locally. The most humorous part of this was UJ asking if there was anything I wanted to see because I had only very recently committed to this journey. I spoke up about one particular thing in New Jersey and I think she expected more, but I was happy with their itinerary.

It took us about an hour to get the car packed, the dog caged, the house artifacts explained and the buildings into the GPS. We were onto the damp Michigan highway sometime around eleven and into beautiful Toledo near midnight. My trip excitement and the fact that Toledo ranks in my top 5 favourite cities had kept me from slumber until the continuous Ohio farmland wore me down and rendered me dormant.

I awoke a few hours later pleasantly surprised as we were into middle Pennsylvania and its picturesque foothills. The first time I had been in Pennsylvania in my life was just the previous autumn; today was a day where I would definitely see more of the Keystone State.

We spent what seemed like hours distancing ourselves from the interstate in an effort to reach our first destination - Centralia, Pennsylvania.

(Skip to the next picture if you don't care about the history of Centralia. The locations after Centralia will have a shorter history provided.)

Centralia was a town driven by the coal industry that peaked and began its demise on Memorial Day Weekend, 1962. As was custom, the excess trash of Centralia was to be handled through burning.

Problems arose as this wasn't the same burn location that local firefighters had used in years past. This abandoned surface mine near Odd Fellows Cemetery was being used for the first time as firefighters set the trash ablaze. Unbeknownst to the fire fighters, an extremely flammable vein of anthracitic coal was exposed at this site. The exposed vein quickly caught fire and was promptly battled and the surface.

Underneath the ground, the fire was spreading between the abandoned mines below Centralia. Over the next 20 years, workers tried to squelch the fire first through clay seals and trenches, secondly with water and finally by excavating the coal. All of these attempts were costly and brutally failed.

During this time, residents became concerned as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources installed gas monitoring devices while they (the residents) complained of carbon monoxide related symptoms. They also became concerned when a Centralia gas station owner checked the temperature of his gas tanks and found the gasoline to be a balmy 84 degrees Celsius.

The concern grew somewhat at the heated gasoline, but it wasn't until 1981, when a local boy named Todd Domboski narrowly avoided certain death as the ground began to sink below him as his cousin helped him escape a 4 foot wide, 150 feet deep sinkhole which opened up in his backyard (he may not have fallen all the way down, but the heat and carbon monoxide would have likely killed little Todd instantly).

This incident garnered national attention and experts were brought in to access the situation. Their solution was massive trenching which was likely to succeed at a cost of $660 million. Instead, the state decided in 1983 to spend $42 million on financial settlements for citizens to move to nearby Ashland or Mount Carmel.

A few of the citizens refused this settlement and remained, thinking the State of Pennsylvania was simply trying to acquire the rights to the valuable anthracitic coal that the citizens believed was below the ground. The State of Pennsylvania took further measures by condemning the entire town of Centralia and trying to seize it by eminent domain in 1992. Somehow the residents to this day have refused all monetary offers and survived the forced emigration.

The population demographics tell the story the best, as Centralia was a city which peaked at 2500 people and still had 1200 before that fateful day in 1962. In the year 2000, Centralia had 21 people in 10 houses. 2004 eliminated one more of those houses and 3 of the people. The median age is 62.

One of the most interesting things I've found is that Centralia is so documented that there are websites you can visit where you see the few remaining structures and houses slowly vanish as the years and residents pass.

One such website is The 4th picture down on that page is amazing as it shows what kind of town Centralia was before this bizarre twist in its history. You can also browse through various pictures of the vanishing buildings of Centralia.

The GPS brought us right into the old town of Centralia. Quickly, we found the building from the first picture, which wasn't good for very much more than stretching our legs. Centralia isn't famous for any actual structure but because of a closed portion of highway with a large crack through the centre with smoke emanating from below.

So we wandered the empty streets of Centralia. It would have been more eerie if it wasn't a comfortable morning with a gentle breeze. It also would have been more eerie if I hadn't just awoken from a lengthy sleep in an upright position - I was just happy to stretch and see something in the light of day.

Searching for this highway got tiring really quick. While it was nice to explore the town, the State of Pennsylvania has torn down anything that has become abandoned - so there isn't that much to see. We grew frustrated at how we couldn't find this supposedly major highway, since the three of us assumed that a major highway wouldn't be very hard to find and soon we were exploring dirt atv trails and dead end roads.

I took a second to think about it logically and got the group to try a route which proved the highway was right under our noses the whole time.

(photo by UJ)

It was all simply a matter of gripping the stick too tight. If we would have just relaxed and thought about it logically, the closed highway was right in front of us the whole time.

I had a vague idea of what remained at Centralia and had set my expectations accordingly. Although I knew what was there, I remained silent about the matter and listened to many people steadfastly warn UJ & Chad about how boring it is. I also listened to Chad tell me his high expectations that day (restated what he had thought in his write up):

"Centralia, PA. A place I had previously visualized as an out of control catastrophic town destroyed by mans own negligence; abandoned buildings everywhere, fires!, sink holes, few to no people around, etc... Maybe a mini 'mine fire' version of Chernobyl if you will... Not sure what made me think these thoughts, but I did and was grossly disappointed as a result."

I felt slightly irked about the situation, but I had no idea Chad expected so much.

One of the things I wondered about while I was there, was if the underground mine fire was a unique occurrence.

It apparently is not, as the nearby community of Carbondale, 50 miles to the north, had a fire burn for 33 years beneath it until it killed 6 people and the government stepped in to extinguish it through excavation, water and slurry.

^Pittsburgh Pirates Graffiti :)

The closed highway spans approximately 1.5km or 0.9 miles. The major crack is about halfway and UJ sat on its edge while Chad & I continued on, focused to find anything. We walked the remaining portion of the highway, Chad bushwhacked a bit at the sight of some foundations, and then we grabbed UJ on the way back as it was time to get the hell out of Centralia.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania didn't renew the relocation contract in 2005. The last citizens stand without a relocation offer as they remain in Centralia. The United States Postal Service has since revoked the zip code 17927.

The fire is currently consuming an underground 8 mile vein of coal and is estimated to have enough 'fuel' to continue for the next 100 to 250 years.

After traveling 10 hours to the first location, it was nice to spend a mere 30 minutes traveling to the second.

I was craving food like a crooked mayor craves Lincoln Navigators and bought a huge Philly Steak and Cheese in Mahanoy City. After inhaling the sandwich, I was shocked at how UJ & Chad bought crackers or some other small snack.

My belly full of hearty American steak, cheese and green peppers, I was now ready for some real exploring.

..and the second destination was the St.Nicholas Coal Breaker.

Construction on St.Nicks began in 1930 and coal breaking operations began in 1932. At this time it was the largest coal breaker in the world; so large that 1/2 of the village of Suffolk had to be relocated in order to construct St. Nicks. 20 miles of railroad track, 1.5 miles of conveyer lines, 118 miles of cable, 20 miles of pipe and a 6 foot deep, football field volume of concrete (10 000 cubic yards) went into St.Nicks.

(Since I had no idea: A coal breaker takes in raw, mined coal and breaks it down into various sizes for different processes. St.Nicks converted raw coal to the desired size in an astounding 12 minutes.)

If you really focus, you can see a small portion of the tracks poking out from the ground to the left of the pipe at centre.

The area to the right of the train tracks contained pipes and to be honest, wasn't that interesting.

I was more enamored with the outside view from behind the building. Comparing the above and below picture, you can see quite the difference in land cover and just how much vegetation has grown at St.Nïcks since its closure in 1962.

(Image courtesy of Reading Anthracite Company)

We systematically moved from the inside, to the first floor machinery, to the offices and then through the floors upwards.

The main, 10-story structure was a labyrinth of metal grate floors. Raising levels, passing over machinery, under machinery, down levels, everything.

I wondered off what seemed like 15 feet and snapped some pictures in silence. This maze had me worried about losing UJ or Chad, so I took to heading back there way, but the maze confused me and when I suddenly found Chad, he was 3 floors up. He told me to check the room in front of me, there was some big saw blades in there.

I wondered how Chad had already been were I was, explored where I was and moved onto upper floors.

I decided to give up on keeping in touch with them and that I was going to wander around and see whatever I come across.

Unfortunately, it was a lot of coal breaking machinery that I hadn't the vaguest clue as to its purpose.

Regardless, to walk these catwalks and take in this impressive structure, housing equally impressive machinery, was enough.

I continued through, amazed at the being the only creator of sound. There have been solo missions where I've got this feeling before - but nothing of this scale. Silence in an elementary school is expected, an house old - expected, but when you're in a 10 story behemoth of a structure, surrounded by so much metal that you have to take heed not to hit your head constantly, you expect there to be noise. To have that odd, silent explore feeling at this location was contradictory to the senses like being inside a glass soundproof booth placed on a busy city street.

I eventually ran into UJ. She was texting someone and content to stay on the 4th floor. Chad came up and we decided to head towards the top.

Chad & I had explored together two or three times before this, but always in a group. Since this was the first time by ourselves, there was a fair bit of pussyfooting and walking on eggshells as we both tried not to rush or slow down each other.

Chad pointed out some machine with a grip of dials and conveyer belts in the background; proposing that I take the same picture he just took. I was skeptical of taking the same shot, but then he told me it's only chomping if you do it all the time and without the other person's approval.

We continued discussing the chomping concepts as we used the remaining stairs and handrails to pull ourselves up the last few flights which were a bit more run down then the other floors.

Eventually we reached the top floor and I took my shot down the coal conveyer belt. I then watched as Chad scaled some large wheel and onto the top of another machine to get a better view down the conveyer belt.

Once Chad got down, I climbed up and explained that, in Windsor, we call it biting.

After reading the 1980's tags on the stairwell and looking out the windows for a bit, we found UJ coming up the stairs. She scaled the wheel and machine, officially making it 3 people with the shot down the conveyer belt.

The 3 of us gazed out of the window at the remaining smaller structures dotting the nearby foothills. After considering their worth versus the time of day, we decided it was better to simply move on.

My last order of business came as I spotted a mean Vancouver Grizzlies sticker inside the red guard shack near the road. I again weighed the reward of climbing through a tiny window to have a picture of a Vancouver Grizzlies sticker.

To hell with this...on to Philadelphia!

When I got home from this trip I realized that I should have taken more 'atmosphere' shots. This is a prime example as I want to talk about the 2 hour drive from rural Pennsylvania into Philadelphia.

It couldn't have been more than 10 minutes in the car and I was already asleep. I slept for maybe an hour until the unbearable heat awoke my disgruntled self. Sweaty and disheveled, I found Chad racing in bumper to bumper traffic on some 2 lane highway with mountains on both sides. I was actually quite scared, but Chad was driving his car, so who was I to say anything?

I buckled up my seatbelt and hoped that we would survive these breakneck speeds until finally we were in Philadelphia. Having the address of our next location, the GPS had us get directly off into West Philadelphia. The major roads were a mixture of ugly stores such as you would find in the working class neighborhoods of Montreal or Toronto. Philadelphia does get extra points though, because as we would drive, quite a few buildings stood out because of their extraneous architectural details; these building built in a different time and propped up by the newer, modern crap.

The only other observation I had were the numerous fine black honeys. The run down areas of Detroit are so desolate that you barely ever see any beauty about, as compared to Philadelphia where my head was on a swivel.

I had never been to Philadelphia before so what was a 1/2 hour of city travel seemed like a 1/2 minute because I was so enamored and observant of my new surroundings. Before I knew it, we were parking to hit the Transfiguration of our Lord Church.

The Transfiguration of our Lord was built in 1905 under the Catholics and closed in 2000 because of the area demographics changing.

The only other history I have is that the current mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, attended the parish grade school (most old American Catholic parishes have a church, rectory and elementary school on the grounds).

We had waited outside for a couple of friends to show up. They had come down to the Philadelphia area from Massachusetts for the weekend and had already done the Transfiguration of our Lord Church the day before. Fortunately enough for us, they didn't mind revisiting the location.

The Dude and Tom began walking and guided us right to the entrance and inside.

First was the smaller, basement church.

Looking over the seating from the pulpit.

I would later post these pictures on the internet and numerous people asked me if I played this organ. The funny part being that I didn't even attempt it since so many organs in Detroit haven't worked.

I was more surprised at how the pipes themselves weren't scrapped. I'll give you a free tip here that this wasn't the hardest place to get into, so why were they still here? Were Philly scrappers more religiously compassionate? There has to be scrappers in Philly, did only people that go in buildings know about this place?

I still don't have an answer. I wonder if the pipes are still there today.

The cross doors and the rough stone walls.

These led outside, the main floor was reached by staircases.

The basement church was nice, but once we made that short walk upstairs, we found the stunning main floor church.

The plaster detailing on this place was incredible. I was amused at how the most beautiful church I've ever been inside is vacant in the rough streets of West Philly.

While still amazed at what lay before us, we couldn't waste time and went to work documenting.

I was pleased with myself when my systematic documentation brought me to this Yuengling.

Yuengling is America's sixth largest brewery and is found in 10 states from New York to Ohio to South Carolina.

If you simply order a 'lager' in a Philadelphia area bar, you will get a Yuengling.

Numerous engravings complimented the elaborate plasterwork.

The engravings even had me looking up what a sepulchre was.
(It was that tomb with the giant rock entrance that they stuck Jesus in.)

Directly to the left of the main entranceway was a giant plaque commemorating the Transfiguration of Our Lord parishioners who lost their lives in WWII.

This place is supposedly undergoing renovation soon, so hopefully that occurs before some crackhead steals this for dope money. Things are funny sometimes though as I thought this was so unique, but little did I know, I'd see one at the location from day 2 and also in a new place back in Detroit.

They're still really amazing though. It's a shame that you're even allowed to abandon them, as I'm sure the local war museum would appreciate the sentimental value.

The Dude pointed out the staircase which led to the bell tower and I headed up alone as no one else really cared. Alone up there in a cramped space and a few argyle pattern windows to look out on the American Metropolis before me. Thinking for a moment about my life, with heading out the east coast with friends that I've hung out with only a couple times, and meeting a Dude whom I had only met twice. Inside this old tower while friends I've made through going in towers lingered below.


Chad was still taking pictures, while UJ relaxed and Tom/The Dude were running amok.

I took this time to meander off by myself again into the 3 story rectory building. As I walked across the skybridge which connected the main church and the rectory, I looked outside to see another great item for biking for which this place had many. I found it funny how I was more bent out of shape about abandoning these fine street spots than I was this church.

The sounds of the others quickly diminished and disappeared as I made my way into the rectory. The hallways were narrow and dark, with many pitch black rooms. I moved quickly and on high alert, reasoning that a place of this size MUST have some homeless folk. I hate coming off soft, but the rectory wasn't terribly exciting, so I didn't fully examine each room and moved through the priest's former home with a certain alacrity.

The one and only excited thing was a Philly chill room. A famous thing in Philadelphia, chill rooms started back in the day at Bybḙrry (a giant mental hospital they used to have) and have continued in various ab andȯned buildings. I combed over the empty brews for any one that I had never had, and found something called Schmidt's. I made a note of it and scurried back to the main church hall.

After a quick look out the window again on the walk back across the catwalk, I realized it was time to motivate the troops as the day was nearing sundown. I found them sitting around discussing something to which I wasn't interested. I asked if we had enough time for another place over in North Philly that had long been high atop my list.

The Dude had already been there this weekend, but was again all for showing us the place. He said it was about 10 minutes away and that we should have time if we hurry.

We left Transfiguration dehydrated and slightly hungry. I had forgotten about the heat on this day until this point in the writing, but we did stop at a nearby corner store for some liquids. It looked like a cramped liquor store, much like International Liquor on Fort (the one we stopped at on the way to Chicago with Russell). Of course, there was another fine black woman inside, but I assumed her large boyfriend wouldn't take kindly to some random honkey I moved my head around a lot like Stevie Wonder and caught glimpses when possible.

I eventually paid for my water, grabbed a pamphlet describing a wanted murderer and we were on our way.

We actually got to see downtown Philadelphia for the first time up close as Spring Garden isn't very far from downtown. I appreciated the Philly highway network which shot us quickly adjacent to downtown towards our destination and came in handy with our time restraints.

Why is an elementary school high atop my dream list?

Rooftop basketball court!

I had seen Spring Garden on a website a couple of years ago. I quickly skimmed through the standard interiors until about picture 13 or 14 in the set when my jaw dropped!

What the? A rooftop basketball court at an elementary school?

I had never even heard of this before so I googled (school "rooftop basketball court") just now and got 167 returns. A refined search without the word school returns 545 results, not a significantly larger number by any means. I skimmed through a couple pages of results and found a few modern Asian schools with fancy rooftop courts, quite a few pages referring to this one and one instance of another rooftop basketball court in Cincinnati (the picture was from 1924).

One humorous result from searching for rooftop basketball courts was an article which proposed one at the University of Alabama. To quote the article, " One concept for the rooftop basketball court included a fence around the perimeter, but this was eliminated for aesthetic reasons. "That would look like the top of a Brooklyn tenement," a project engineer who requested anonymity said. "The next thing you know someone would be raising pigeons up there." "

They instead planned to plant rubber trees surrounding the 94 foot high building.

As far as I know, the plan never solidified.

The intensity of the rain grew but I was not to be deterred. I quickly snatched up a ball and began to shoot j's from downtown and threw down the angry dunks on the 6 foot nets. I had also recently seen the J.R. Smith behind the back dunk and decided to give that a shot.

I was quickly reminded that I'm an awkward white Canadian as I lost the ball and almost fell down.

J.R. makes it look just a little easier than it actually is.

With my hoop dreams deflated like a weathered balloon in the desert; we played musical instruments, posed for a group shot and UJ wrote 'Detroit does New England' on the rooftop of a Mid-Atlantic abandonment.

Chad still wasn't satisfied, so he inquired with The Dude on what the rest of the school was like (we had headed straight for the roof) and The Dude said we should check it out.

What's interesting is these metal cages on the windows. I wondered how rough the school must have been since I can't remember seeing them in any of the Detroit schools I've been in.

Philadelphia is also famous in the graffiti world for 'Philly tall hands', which are hand tags (simply writing your name) but with a unique style that consists of many tall lines.

I think that's an appropriate way to describe it anyway. It was neat to see some in real person as they aren't very popular in the Detroit scene.

Tom eventually found/rescued a cat as he had coaxed it from a corner and into a birdcage he found. From there, we walked around a bit more in the school and Tom almost lost the cat again. All of this ate up more time and soon we were under fire from a barrage of cell phone calls from one ChiprJones.

As Chip was wondering where we were and what was taking so long in getting to his house, we decided to say farewell to Spring Garden. Chad manned the wheel and followed The Dude through the wet, but still incredibly busy streets of Philadelphia.

We arrived at Chippers and his mom brought out some food for the Spring Garden Cat. We stayed in Chad's car and waited patiently before Chip led a 3 car cavalcade on a 45 minute journey.

Since we were rolling with Pennsylvanians, we had to stop at Wawa. To those of us that have never visited the Delaware Valley, Wawa is a convenience store chain which casts a totalitarian reign over the Pennsylvania people. For a corner store, Pennsylvanians sure love and talk up Wawa.

The only reason I knew what Wawa was, was because of the old Etnies Forward bmx video where Mike Griffin walks out of one. Wawa is also in CKY, Haggard and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Chad and I were confused with the pay first then get your food method and also with the lack of alcoholic beverages. We were told that liquor stores in Pennsylvania close at 10 and I looked around in wonder because it didn't seem like I was in Ontario anymore.

Water would have to substitute for 211 and we soon reached our parking location. Fifteen hours had already been spent exploring this day, so the walk proved to be both strenuous and enjoyable. A strenuous walk under bridges, besides rivers, through forests and atop train tracks may not sound enjoyable in pitch black darkness; but when you are being serenaded with a bull frog symphony and a firefly lightshow, it does make a spellbinding and memorable saunter.

^The one picture I got of Pennhurst. A blurry 15 second exposure that I took as a test.

We spent a few hours there before becoming satisfied that no one had seen the chicken man and that none of us were the persons who ordered the pizza. We asked a random citizen about places to spend the night and he suggested that we stay in King of Prussia, PA.

King of Prussia was a little out of our price range. We ended up staying in a place just outside Camden, NJ.

(I thank you if you read all of this)


Go Home

Day 2
Philly to Delaware

Day 3
Delaware to Northern NJ
Paterson, NJ
Cedar Grove, NJ

Day 4
Northern NJ to Long Island
Kïngs Park, NY
Day 5
Long Island to Norwich, CT
Day 6
Norwich, CT to Taunton, MA
Jerimoth Hill
Day 7
Taunton, MA to Northern NJ
Nearby, MA

Day 8/9
Northern, NJ to Detroit
Cedar Grove, NJ