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Ride the 1920's The Henry Clay steam train and ride deep into the earth on open mine cars pulled by a battery-operated mine motor at Pioneer Coal Mine & Steam Train in Ashland, Pa. Paul Kuehnel

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Ashland, Pa

About one-and-a-half hours northeast of York, is a unique combination of a classic struggling Pennsylvania coal town that has tried over the years to add tourism interest and offers a great back road ride by motorcycle from York.

Towering over Ashland is the Mothers' Memorial, honoring all mothers. The monument, erected during the Great Depression and dedicated during a Labor Day Weekend in 1938, highlights the struggle and victories of this town.

The Mothers' Memorial is a bronze reproduction of the James Abbott McNeill Whistler painting 'Whistler's Mother.'

There are three memorials in town that use the steep terrain surrounding downtown to create a system of steps and showcase old-school stone masonry.

Open since 1962, the Pioneer tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train attraction is educational as well as a good experience of the environment inside a coal mine.

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The temperature was 49 degrees 1800 feet into the side of the mountain when I visited on a warm day in July, so bring a sweatshirt if 40 minutes of fall is too refreshing.

The tour is well done, partially in an open rail car and partially by foot, explaining exactly how the mining process works in a horizontal drift mine with many visual aids and actual mining equipment along the way.

The Henry Clay offers a ride on a narrow gauge steam locomotive built in the 1920’s that actually worked the surrounding area for strip mining. The bumpy, although relatively short three-quarter mile ride offers a nice view of the valley and ironically, a row of wind turbines in the distance.

I had the best, saucy lasagna I can recall in recent history at the Mineshaft Cafe on Centre Street.

For motorcycle riders, I would suggest talking Route 325 from Route 22 north of Harrisburg to Tower City. This smooth 27 miles of winding Pennsylvania wooded bliss takes you off Interstate 81 for most of the trip.

With construction on Interstate 81 this summer, it might be well worth checking traffic patterns in general. On the day I went, overall time on the road was the same for back roads due to the construction on I-81.

Check out: Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train information and schedule


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