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US-6 The Longest Highway - Day 9


Yesterday was our longest day of the trip so far, 115 miles, ending in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. We saw the hometown of an old-fashioned toy manufacturer in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. Hello again, I’m Don Milne, your virtual tourguide, and today we’ll discover a couple more toy companies. The hardwood forests along US-6 are natural locations for wooden toy manufacturers, but Roadtrip-'62 ™ will also discover something different today, as we continue to find places we could have seen in 1962. This is our ninth day of travel along historic US-6, and we’ll be in Pennsylvania all day. On the way, if you see anything you like, get yourself out on the road and enjoy it in person. This virtual roadtrip may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. Let’s get back on the road again!

Wellsboro Diner, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania
Wellsboro Diner, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

If you didn’t get a chance to wander around downtown Wellsboro last night when it was all lit up, try a stroll now. It’s still a beautiful town in the light, with several boulevard streets in this active downtown. No wonder another travel author has called Wellsboro one of the 100 best small towns in America. We could have breakfast back at the Wellsboro Diner, but instead I’m up for a picnic in some spectacular scenery just a few miles down the road. So let’s do some shopping. Let’s try the West End Market Café. It was first opened in 1902 as a grocery; today it’s a café. But the front doors still have the old Sunbeam Bread screen door handles! I don’t know when it quit operating as a grocery, but chances are good that a small corner market, in the heart of a small town downtown, would still have been open in 1962. They’re open early in the morning so we can buy some breakfast sandwiches and desserts for our picnic. If we came 50 years ago, we might have bought our milk, Sunbeam Bread, lunch meat, and dessert. Or, we may have stocked up at the local A&P supermarket. According a local newspaper ad from 1962, we could get liverwurst for our sandwiches for 39 cents a pound, tomatoes for 23 cents a pound, and a half-pound bag of Bachman Pretzel Sticks for 29 cents. And for dessert, a Jane Parker lemon pie for just 39 cents! I really should pick up a Wellsboro Gazette newspaper to read with breakfast, too, which I could either in 1962 or today.

Wellsboro is home to the Tioga Central Railroad, a passenger excursion line operated since 1994. While that’s obviously too new for us, the rail line it uses was in service in 1962 and may even have still had passenger service back then. Might be a pleasant diversion on a rainy day, but I’m staying outdoors today. The Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (formally known as Pine Creek Gorge) is where we’re heading next. Besides hiking along either the rim of the bottom of the gorge, there are whitewater rapids ranging from Class III to Class I on Pine Creek. Rapids are classified according to danger and difficulty, with Class I being the easiest to navigate. As it happens, the Class I section is closest to US-6, at Ansonia, Pennsylvania. Two companies provide guided whitewater rafting tours here, both operating out of Wellsboro with shuttle service and rentals of rafts or kayaks. Water levels are best in spring and autumn. As usual, I’m not into that much adventure, so I’m going to spend my time hiking instead.

Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (Pine Creek Gorge), Pennsylvania
Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania (Pine Creek Gorge), near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

But unlike the usual, there was a whitewater outfitter here back in 1962! Though this generally seems to be a more recent sport for the general public, the oldest tour guide I can discover here started offering tours in 1948. Another more recent way to see the canyon is biking, and there is a rail trail along an old railroad bed on the canyon floor. At least one of the local outfitters rents bicycles, in case you didn’t bring your own. You can also hike the rail trail, but I’m going up to the rim for a more traditional hike in the woods. Interestingly, the rock formations of the canyon are also best seen in either the spring or fall, when they are not hidden by the forested slopes. There are two state parks at the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Leonard Harrison State Park is on the east rim, has a visitor’s center, and is the busier of the two. It’s something of a dead end to get there, so I’m heading to Colton Point State Park on the west rim.

After that hearty breakfast picnic, let’s walk off some of those calories. I walked along the rim and my wife took dozens of photos down into the canyon. The views in every direction are spectacular all the way out to the tip of Colton Point. The entire west rim trail is 30 miles long, but we only walked about a mile. You can also see a lot from the scenic stops along the road in the park. There is an old style coin-operated viewing scope made by Tower Optical Co. at one or more of the stops. I remember these used to be at tourist spots all over the country, to grab tourist coins. Still works! And, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers, in this case mountain laurel instead of roses. If you come in late June, the blooms fill the woods. For more ambitious hikers, you can go down trails to several waterfalls all the way to the gorge floor. At the bottom, the rail trail is 62 miles long.

Tower Optical Co. scope, Colton Point State Park, Pennsylvania
Tower Optical Co. scope in Colton Point State Park, near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania

Colton Point State Park is adjacent to Tioga State Forest, which is composed of land mostly lumbered off in the 1800s by large lumber companies and land holding companies. The forest was acquired to protect the headwaters of Pine Creek, with the first purchase 1900. The last large tract of over 13,000 acres was transferred from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1955, so the forest was all public in our favorite year. As with many state forests in many states, major development occurred in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Since then, the forests have become hunting, fishing, and tourist country. Besides plunking your quarters in a viewing scope, you could buy souvenirs! One old style souvenir shop that’s still around is the Black Forest Trading Post, Inc. and Deer Park, just before we reach Galeton, Pennsylvania. It has everything you could expect in 1962: wooden souvenirs, T-shirts, moccasins, knives, cards, candy, and toys. And a few newer wrinkles include jewelry and a large selection of Irish goods. If that’s not enough to spend money on, they have a little gem mining operation and you can feed the deer!

Black Forest Trading Post, Galeton, Pennsylvania
Black Forest Trading Post, Galeton, Pennsylvania (used by permission of owner James Verbuar)

Another thing that rural tourist country has is small motels. From here to Ohio, at most cities no one destination attracts enough tourists to also attract the large chain motels, so many of the old motels are still open and in good condition. We’re not staying near Galeton, but if we were we might choose from the Nob Hill Hotel or the Ox Yoke Inn. The Nob Hill Motel was established in the early 1950s and has both motel units and cabins that preserve the charm of that era. The Ox Yoke Inn has been around even longer, since the 1920s, and has always been frequented by hunting and fishing enthusiasts. Motorcycling on the mountainous two-lane roads in the area has become popular in recent years and helps to keep the inn open.

Back in Scranton we visited two sites on Pennsylvania’s Industrial Heritage Trail, which follows US-6 from Scranton west to Warren, Pennsylvania. We saw the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnace. Just west of Galeton is a third site on this Trail, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. It was not open in 1962, but presents a good history of the forests we see around us. In the late 1800s, this area was mostly stripped of forests by mechanized logging. By 1920, what had seemed to be endless forests had become history and the loggers had moved to West Virginia and beyond the Great Lakes states, leaving behind thousands of treeless acres. The same pattern occurred across the Great Lakes, though the loggers were known as lumberjacks there instead of the term woodhicks which was applied in Pennsylvania. At the museum, a tour of the grounds finds a 1912 Shay-geared logging locomotive, a Barnhart Log Loader, a Brookville locomotive, restored Civilian Conservation Corps cabin, and a re-created logging camp. Today, after decades of regeneration, Pennsylvania's forests are healthy, of great economic value, and as we’ve seen while driving, beautiful. This regrowth began in the 1930s, so today we see 50 years more growth than we would have in 1962. There is a difference from the original forests however: today the trees are primarily hardwoods, instead of pine and hemlock.

1962 advertisement for Potato City Inn, Sweden Valley, Pennsylvania
1962 advertisement for Potato City Inn, Sweden Valley, Pennsylvania (from the Wellsboro Agitator newspaper)

Despite the forests we see along US-6, only a few miles north, one can see some of the most beautiful potato fields in Pennsylvania. I didn’t know Pennsylvania was a big potato growing area, but the counties we are driving through show a strong agricultural history as several have county fairs over 100 years old. McKean County, up the road at Smethport, Penbnsylvania celebrated its 107th fair in 2012. As we drive through Sweden Valley, Pennsylvania, we spot another reminder of agriculture, the Potato City Country Inn. Before it became a private business, Potato City was the scene of many meetings, field days, banquets and other functions related to the potato industry. The Inn was built in 1949 by the Pennsylvania Potato Growers, potato packers, and related industries. Dr. E. L. Nixon, an uncle of former President Richard Nixon, is often given much of the credit. Dr. Nixon worked at cross-breeding and developing new potato varieties, and helped to create a cooperative effort between equipment manufactures, farmers, packers and consumers. In the early 1950s about 100,000 acres of Pennsylvania were planted with potatoes, but today less than 12,000 acres remain. Potter County is still fifth in the state, but I imagine we would have seen many more fields in this area in 1962.

As we arrive in the Coudersport, Pennsylvania area, let’s try something different, trout fishing! The Rainbow Paradise Trout Farm has been here for over 50 years and has over nine acres of fishing waters. One reason for the longevity and success of the farm is that it has it’s own water source. We can try for rainbow, brook, brown, tiger or golden trout, as all are stocked here. One pond is even stocked with trout from 14"-30" in length, so if you want a big one, it’s the place. You can either practice fly fishing on the catch and release plan or take home a trophy using bait, if you’re willing to pay a little extra. I’ve never been much of a fisherman, but a stocked pond gives such great odds that it’s hard to pass up. Also, if you would rather hunt than fish, there are many private hunting preserves in northern Pennsylvania, with some along US-6. I imagine at least a few have been here since 1962. You can hunt large game year-round at some of these, including trophy-class whitetail deer, turkey, elk, Silka Deer, various types of rams, and feral hogs.

mountain laurel
mountain laurel, seen everywhere along the roadside and when hiking in Pennsylvania

Coudersport is another picturesque small town, with many old brick buildings downtown. The Potter County Historical Society maintains the Mann Memorial fountain, which is over 100 years old. It was originally at the Mann House, which stood where the US Post Office is now located on Main Street. The Society is refurbishing the fountain and will relocate it to their grounds across the street. Their museum is open two days a week if you want to see more local history. And more history is nearly everywhere you look here, such as the Coudersport Theatre. I’m truly amazed at how many of these small towns still have active movie theaters. That’s much rarer in my home state of Michigan. The theater dates from at least 1928 and it’s original curtain, depicting legendary Spanish knight Amadis de Gaula on the left, and Spanish dancers on the right, is still in place. New technology was installed in 1952, with new projection lenses, sound equipment, movie screen, and theatre seats. To better accomodate Cinemascope movies, a wider screen was installed in 1962. Another new screen was installed in 2002, permitting long-time owner John Rigas to keep the theater open today.

Before we leave, it’s time for lunch. As with many of these small towns, it’s sometimes difficult to decide which places are as old as 1962 and which just reside in old buildings. One that covers both is the Crittendon Hotel. The Crittenden Hotel restaurant is inside a small historic hotel, and the decor reflects that history, including a tin ceiling. You might also wait another 26 miles for lunch, and try the Route 6 Diner in Smethport, Pennsylvania. The original part of their building dates to 1937, though it has been incorporated into a later, larger building. I hear their specialty is something called the Hubber Burger, but I’m too hungry to wait.

Hair Do Harriet toy
Hair Do Harriet toy, from the makers of Wooly Willy, made in Smethport, Pennsylvania

Our Impala can wait for gas until we get to Smethport, however. Here, we find one of the smallest and cutest gas stations I’ve ever seen, the Herzog Oil Pump House Fuels station. It has obviously been a gas station since sometime in the 1920s and despite the small size, they manage to sell some convenience items too. After we fill up and use the restroom, let’s take the Smethport Mansion District Walking Tour. This self-guided tour is primarily along Main Street, US-6, and features lumber and oil barons’ mansions. The stylish Victorian architecture is a reflection of the wealth that built Smethport during the oil and lumber boom days prior to World War II. Another remnant of this time is the McKean County Old Jail Museum. This was constructed in 1872, and is Smethport’s oldest public building. The McKean County Historical Society was founded in 1902 and has been in the old jail since 2003. I’m not sure where their museum would have been located in 1962. The jail has a legend of being haunted by the spirit of a convicted murderer, but offers plenty of more down-to-earth local history. You can find details of the “Oil Boom Days”, old photos, artifacts, lectures, and even historical demonstrations that bring the area’s history alive. While the boom wealth is largely gone today, Smethport still manufactures something that is sold worldwide. This town is the home of the famous Wooly Willy toy, putting magnetic whiskers and hair into kids hands everywhere!

The toy was invented by brothers James Reese and Donald Herzog in 1955, so we were playing with it in 1962. (I wonder if they’re related to the oil company folks?) Company history tells that James was playing with iron fillings from machining operations at the Smethport Specialty Company, and came up with the basic idea, which he and his brother refined. When they tried to sell it to toy buyers, like many great ideas, it initially failed. Finally, a buyer for the G. C. Murphy dime store chain purchased six dozen, saying he expected he would not to sell them for a year. The buyer called Herzog just two days later and ordered a thousand dozen for nationwide distribution! The cost of the original Wooly Willy was just 29 cents. The toy is still made here today and there are of course many knock-offs and variations. It has even been modernized for the digital age, with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Wooly Willy apps that users can download and use their own pictures as backdrops. The company is also responsible for the first refrigerator magnets, which came in an alphabet set. Buyers were initially confused with this idea too, wondering who would want to cover up their refrigerator door?

Kinzua Bridge (Kinzua Viaduct), Kinzua Bridge State Park, Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania
Kinzua Bridge (Kinzua Viaduct), Kinzua Bridge State Park, Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania

Just north of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania, a few miles off US-6, lie the remains of what was once the highest railroad bridge in world. This bridge is the highlight of Kinzua Bridge State Park and was reinvented in 2011 as a pedestrian walkway. You can stroll 600 feet out on the remaining support towers and peer off into the distance of the Kinzua Gorge, as well as looking 225 feet straight down through a glass platform at the end of the walkway. The structure feels almost too small to support you, not to mention the tons of trains that once crossed the old bridge daily. The original bridge was constructed in 1882 as an alternative to laying an additional eight miles of railroad track over rough terrain to reach McKean County’s coal, timber and oil lands. The railroad was successful and around 1900 the entire viaduct was rebuilt with steel to accommodate heavier trains. Freight traffic ended here in 1959, so the tracks were silent in 1962. But the public and the state recognized the historical importance of the structure when the next year, Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton signed the law that created Kinzua Bridge State Park, which officially opened in 1970. In 1987, excursion trains began running from Kane, Pennsylvania through nearby Allegheny National Forest, stopping on the bridge before returning.

As the bridge aged and the cost of maintenance was too high for such light use to support, it slowly deteriorated. It received its first full-scale inspection in 2002 and it was in poor enough condition that excursion trains were barred from the bridge. Some of the steel had rusted through and later that year the bridge was closed even to pedestrians. The final demise of the bridge occurred on Monday, July 21, 2003, at approximately 3:15 p.m., when a tornado with wind speeds of 73–112 mph struck the side of the Kinzua Viaduct. Eleven towers near the center of the bridge were ripped off of their concrete bases and toppled to the valley floor. Today, the new pedestrian walkway is built on six restored original towers. The eleven twisted bridge towers that were blown over by the tornado remain at the bottom of the gorge. There are also picnicking and trail hiking available in the state park.

Knox & Kane Railroad depot, Kane, Pennsylvania
Knox & Kane Railroad depot, Kane, Pennsylvania

From here to Warren, Pennsylvania, we travel through parts of Allegheny National Forest. If you’ve been looking for a chance to camp along US-6, this is a great place to find some campgrounds. Kane was the other end of the excursion train line that used to visit the Kinzua Bridge. The depot used by the Knox & Kane Railroad is still here, as are the tracks that run out to the bridge. The idea of retaining the tracks from Kane to the Kinzua Bridge State Park is still being considered, as part of park development, though the remainder of the railroad corridor is being considered for a rail trail.

What’s of note for we travelers from 1962, however, is that Kane was the former home of Holgate Toy Company. Holgate still produces wooden toys, but has since moved north to Bradford, Pennsylvania. The company dates to 1789, the same year America's Constitution was signed! In that year, Cornelius Holgate established his woodworking shop in Roxborough, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. It was shortly after the Civil War that Holgate moved to Kane, to be closer to the great hardwood forests of this area. Holgate's early toy designer was Jarvis Rockwell, brother of famous illustrator Norman Rockwell. Jarvis became known as America's premier toy designer during the first half of the 20th century because of his concern for safety, durability and educational play. Holgate is still recognized as the finest maker of children's wooden toys in America, which led Fred Rogers to choose Holgate to manufacture the Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley. Replicas of the trolley are among the company’s offerings today. You will find the Holgate factory store and museum in the Kane Depot.

Hamlin Bank drive-in, Kane, Pennsylvania
Hamlin Bank drive-in, Kane, Pennsylvania

It’s not near dinner time, or I might stop at the Texas Hot Lunch & 4 Sons Restaruant. They’ve been here since 1928, with a hot dog recipe that dates to 1914. The Bechakas family has been in the restaurant business for four generations. The original 1914 building, which had been rolled on logs from another location, was demolished and rebuilt in October, 1993. Kane might be a good place to do some quick modern banking though, at the Hamlin Bank drive-in branch at the south end of downtown. This looks like the smallest drive-thru in the country, barely larger than a couple of rooms in my house! The architecture looks like late 1950s or early 1960s, so we might have stopped here in 1962. Of course, we would not have used the ATM then…there was no such thing! How we use money has changed quite a bit since those days.

Leaving Kane, we pass the Family Drive-In Theatre. It was opened in 1952 as the Ideal Drive-In and is still in business. The name was changed in 1969 and today it includes a 9-hole mini-golf course. Unfortunately, the course is only open in the evenings when the theater is open, so we can’t play today. Is anyone keeping a count on how many open drive-ins we see on this trip? Down the road at Ludlow, Pennsylvania, we drive through the heart of the Allegheny National Forest. The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through the national forest and the Tionesta Scenic Area. This trail crosses US-6 and while the Tionesta Scenic Area is too far off US-6, at over 7 miles away, we will make a last hike of the day on the North Country Trail, to an unusual bolder field to the south. We crossed this trail on our US-23 roadtrip in both mid-Ohio and at beginning of the trip at the Mackinaw Bridge. If you want to stray farther than my self-imposed limit of 5 miles off US-6, the Tionesta Scenic Area is a very worthwhile place to do so. This area encompasses over 2,000 acres of old-growth timber with significant stands of northern hemlock. This tract of land was purchased by the Allegheny National Forest in 1934, together with an additional area of over 2000 acres which was set aside for monitoring and research of a natural unmanaged old-growth forest. This is another area where you can see the power of tornadoes in this part of Pennsylvania. At least 3 tornadoes have created widespread "blowdown" or "windthrow" areas, due to storms in 1808, 1872, and 1985. These forests are the largest virgin forest in the hemlock-white pine/northern hardwoods region of North America.

Flatiron Building and downtown Warren, Pennsylvania
Flatiron Building and downtown Warren, Pennsylvania

Warren, Pennsylvania is the end of the day for us. We’ve traveled 111 miles and it’s getting late. If you make it here before closing, you might stop at Authors Books & Music. Though it was only established in 2009, it’s overflowing with unusual, old, and interesting books, sheet music, and records. You can certainly find something from 1962 or earlier to read tonight: I did. For dinner, I located one restaurant that’s been around since sometime in the 1950s, The Plaza. Besides pie for dessert, they have a very Greek menu, which I’ve read some very nice reviews of. There’s also the Peppermill Restaurant, which may not be as old. And, while I’m pretty sure Legends wasn’t around in 1962, a lot of its interior décor was. It features antiques everywhere, and serves dessert from the trunk of a 1949 Cadillac! One dining room is actually a 1953 Sante Fe Caboose; plenty old enough.

If you drive around town at all after dinner, you can’t help but notice the local industry, United Refining Company. This refinery complex was founded in 1902 by Harry Logan, Sr. While it’s small for a modern oil company, this single refinery has been expanded over the years. In 1960, United entered the retail gasoline market with the purchase of seven stations in Rochester, New York and nine stations in western Pennsylvania, so we could have bought their products in 1962. Strangely, United Refining has a relationship with another independent refining company we saw on our US-23 roadtrip, Ashland Refining of Ashland, Kentucky. In 1983, United acquired 83 Ashland Oil retail stations and in 1992, they bought a former refinery from Ashland Oil in Tonawanda, New York and converted it to a products terminal. United Refining operates gas station / convenience stores under the brands Kwik Fill, Red Apple Food Marts, and Country Fair, mostly in Pennsylvania and New York. They seem well-positioned for the current oil boom in Pennsylvania, as the new technique of fracking produces a bonanza of oil from these old fields.

Moon River & Other Great Movie Hits album cover, 1962
Moon River & Other Great Movie Hits album cover from 1962

Unfortunately, compared to the other small towns we’ve stayed in along US-6 in Pennsylvania, I think I’m going to be disappointed with the motels in Warren. There are several small, old motels that were likely around in 1962, but they don’t quite seem up to standards today. This may turn out to be a night for a more modern chain motel by the freeway. Wherever I end up, tonight’s a TV night, as the town doesn’t seem to have attractions open in the evening. If it were 1962, I could watch Andy Williams. One of the smoothest singers of the era, he had his own television show and was very successful with theme songs from movies. What I remember most from the shows was him sitting alone on stage on a high stool, singing and talking with the audience, and smoking a cigarette. You can’t get away with smoking on TV anymore! Andy Williams died earlier in 2012, so the only way you can watch him sing now is pre-recorded. How to choose which movie song, Moon River, Maria, Three Coins in the Fountain, A Summer Place, The Second Time Around? Ahhh, here’s a performance to enjoy from an album I own; sure the video quality is not so great, but in 1962 you were probably watching in black-and-white instead of color anyway. See you tomorrow when Roadtrip-'62 ™ finishes with Pennsylvania and enters Ohio.


All photos by the author and Copyright © 2016, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2016, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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