Facebook Page


By Jack M. Turner
Text and photos by the author

In October 2021 my wife Christine and I rode Amtrak’s northbound AutoTrain from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA en route to a visit to Pennsylvania Dutch Country to be followed by a ride on a Reading & Northern train excursion to Jim Thorpe, PA.  Unfortunately, the southbound AutoTrain arrived seven hours late which thus delayed our trip.  Our super late arrival in Virginia made it undesirable to drive to Reading, PA and get sufficient sleep to make the next day’s excursion.  We reworked our trip and made the best of things, vowing to try again in 2022.

October 3, 2022: We arrived at the Sanford AutoTrain terminal as servicing of our train was completed.  Train # 53 had arrived close to schedule and would welcome a large crowd which soon filled its large waiting room almost to capacity. We were entertained by the passage of two or three SunRail commuter trains and a CSX freight on the mainline in view beyond the parked auto carrier cars. We felt fortunate that our train would operate as Category 4 Hurricane Ian had battered Florida just 5 days earlier then briefly cut across the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and came ashore again in the Carolinas.  Luckily, the CSX tracks were not flooded out and Amtrak service resumed October 2.  Hence our AutoTrain was just the second departure in about one week.

The northbound AutoTrain prepares to leave Sanford, FL on October 3, 2022. P40 #831 will lead the train on its 3 minute early departure.

The AutoTrain checkin booth for passenger vehicles at the Sanford terminal.

Boarding began about an hour before departure and we moved into Roomettes 3 and 4 in car 32114 “Virginia”, a car I had never ridden previously.  In recent years we have booked roomettes across the hall from one another to avoid the cramped upper berth. AutoTrain passengers are encouraged to leave luggage in their automobiles and only bring a small overnight bag onboard.  This made boarding simple and kept our rooms from becoming overcrowded.

Departure at 4:57pm was 3 minutes early as the schedule had recently been moved back by one hour.  Soon we crossed the St. Johns River where it flows into Lake Monroe and 30 minutes into our journey rolled by the DeLand Amtrak station.  Standing water in the woods reminded us that the hurricane had impacted the area but not as badly as expected.  Our 6:00pm dinner seating was announced and we happily made our way through the deluxe sleeper and into the dining car.  It was a welcome change from the prior year to be able to eat in the dining car rather than have meals delivered to our rooms.  The flat iron steak accompanied by mashed potatoes and peas was delicious as train # 52 navigated the former Seaboard Coast Line rails.

The lights of Jacksonville illuminated the scene as we made our way northward then the AutoTrain pulled to a stop on the mainline adjacent to Amtrak’s Clifford Lane station.  The  Silver Star waited patiently between runs on one of the station tracks as it was temporarily truncated to run Jacksonville to New York due to hurricane-damaged track south of Orlando. Continuing north, the AutoTrain made a fine sight on curves with 14 passenger cars and approximately 30 auto carriers pulled by one P40 and one P42 engine.

At Savannah the Palmetto had just arrived from New York and would lay over until its return trip north in the morning.  Charleston looked none the worse from being the point of Hurricane Ian’s second southeastern landfall a few days earlier.  During the crew change stop in Florence at 1:21am I fell asleep as we continued through the Carolinas.  Waking up, I peered out my window to find us stopped at 5:05am adjacent to a freight train.  Highway sounds could be heard close by and all kinds of scenarios ran through my mind as the train sat and sat.  Finally, 45minutes later the freight train began to move and about 20 minutes later our AutoTrain also eased forward.  The source of the highway sounds soon became apparent as we passed beneath an Interstate highway overpass.  I grabbed a couple more hours of sleep and headed to the dining car for continental breakfast.  Christine and I were soon joined at our table by a pastor and his son from south of Tampa who were great company.  It occurred to us that the Lord had brought us together with the two of them to share our faith and learn more about their ministry. 

Familiar Virginia sights flashed by as we passed the Petersburg station, crossed the James River, and spotted the Richmond train station.  Moments later train # 52 rolled through Ashland, another familiar sight from my semester at Randolph-Macon College back in the early 1970s.  North of Fredericksburg we joined the Potomac River which flowed past on the right side of the railway then charted a course through Quantico Marine Base.  Arrival in Lorton came at 10:38am, just over one half- hour late, a vast improvement over the prior year’s trip.

Vehicles are unloaded from the auto carriers at Lorton.

Our minivan was unloaded within an hour and we felt fortunate as many passengers would have a much longer wait as the train had carried 143 vehicles and 244 passengers.  The drive northward took us briefly through Maryland into southern Pennsylvania.  Our first destination was Pennsylvania Dutch country, home of a large Amish population.  The lodging at Amish View Inn and Suites was the perfect place to stay as it opened in 2003 with our adults-only wing constructed in 2014.  The feel of the hotel is first class and our spacious room held up to that standard with large windows presenting a panoramic view of an Amish farm located behind the inn.  Looking straight down from the windows, we gazed into a corn field and could at times watch an Amish farmer working in his field behind a team of mules.  The spacious room had a recliner and a sofa perfectly suited for watching television.  The oversized bathroom contained a claw footed bathtub and a separate shower in addition to the other usual features.  Breakfast is included at Amish View Inn and Suites and offers fresh cooked products from Lancaster County including eggs, pecan sticky buns, waffles, and a delicious concoction called “ferhoodle” that combines sausage, eggs, onions, green peppers, potatoes, and other delicious ingredients.

The view from our room at the Amish View Inn and Suites in Bird-in-Hand, PA.  An Amish farmer is often visible working in the corn fields and tending to other crops.


The front of the Amish View Inn and Suites is most welcoming.

Located in Bird-in-Hand, PA, the Amish View Inn is centrally located for seeing all of the local sights.  The Amish way of life is rooted in tradition dating back many years.  As one drives along area highways and local roads, they will pass numerous horse-drawn buggies taking Amish residents about their daily activities as they do not own cars.  Most live on lovely farms which can be identified by the absence of power lines to their houses and the presence of clotheslines often bearing clothes drying in the breeze.  We enjoyed visiting The Amish Village which replicates a local community with a home, one room schoolhouse, general store, and farm complete with live farm animals.  After touring the village, a great way to see the area was on a minibus tour offered by The Amish Village.  Our tour guide provided interesting insight into the Amish lifestyle and took us in a couple of businesses located on Amish farms.  These had a great variety of handmade items and provided a chance to interact with local residents.  Another major benefit of the tour was that it allowed us to learn the back roads which made self-touring easy during the remainder of our visit to the area.

The primary means of local travel for the Amish is the horse and buggy.

The Amish Village offers a great glimpse of a recreated Amish community.  Tours of the area provide views of farms, fields, schools and other highlights of the Amish way of life.

Another good introduction to Pennsylvania Dutch life can be found at The Amish Experience which is located on the grounds of The Amish View Inn and Suites.  This facility contains a replica Amish home and school as well as a short movie about an Amish family.  A bus tour of the surrounding farmlands is another feature of this attraction.

Good food is synonymous with Pennsylvania Dutch country and there are a multitude of all you can eat smorgasboard restaurants dotting the area.  Our favorite is Miller’s Smorgasboard located just a short drive from the hotel.  Authentic Amish meals can be found at Katie’s Kitchen, a small restaurant a stone’s throw from The Amish Village.  A number of other fine eateries exist in the area and it is fun to discover these gems.  A great between meals stop is Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels in nearby Intercourse, PA.  Here one will find Amish women making tasty pretzels right in view of customers and it is hard to turn them down.

Heading south from The Amish Village, we came upon the village of Strasburg, PA.  There we found the Choo Choo Barn, a well-stocked store selling all types of model and wooden trains and other railroad accessories.  Another similar store shares the same parking lot.  Immediately east is the Strasburg Railroad which offers a 45 minute steam powered train trip through scenic Amish farmlands.  Our ten car train named “The Susquehanna” was pulled by former Norfolk & Western 4-8-0 # 475 and it was a treat to hear the melodious whistle echo through the farmlands that dot the valley.  The rail line dates back to 1862 and connects Strasburg to Paradise, PA where the locomotive uncouples and runs around the train to pull it back to Strasburg.  The runaround track is adjacent to the former Pennsylvania mainline and fortunate passengers may catch a glimpse of a passing Amtrak train.  During our visit we looked at N&W J-class steam engine 611 which has called Strasburg RR “home” during our past two visits.  On select dates the J has led trips over the line to Paradise.  In 2021 we also watched “Thomas” and “Percy” from the “Thomas and Friends” television series as they pulled excursion trains over the Strasburg RR line.  Information about upcoming trips and special events can be found on the railroad’s web site.  On one visit we also took a shop tour which visited the steam and car repair facilities.  These tours can be purchased through the railroad’s web site.

A Strasburg Railroad excursion train between runs during a November 2021 visit.

Inside Strasburg RR parlor car “Marian” built in 1910 for Boston & Maine.

Reading observation car #1 used on “The Crusader” is displayed at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.

N&W 475, a 4-8-0 steam engine built in 1906, couples to the excursion train passenger cars at Strasburg.

Across the street from the Strasburg Railroad is another “must see” attraction, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.  This impressive facility displays numerous steam, diesel, and electric locomotives (including an Amtrak GG1, an E60, and an AEM7) plus a fine passenger car collection.  Among the notable passenger cars displayed are ex-PRR sleeper observation car “Tower View” that was a feature car on that railway’s Broadway Limited; PRR sleeper “Scioto Rapids”, Reading coach observation car # 1 from the Crusader; Lehigh Valley rail diesel car # 40; and a Metroliner cab control car.  There are also several kid-friendly areas designed to interest and educate children about the operation and the importance of trains.

N&W J class 4-8-4 is housed at Strasburg Railroad in this October 2022 scene.

The Lancaster County area is a great place to visit and there are numerous craft shops, food markets, and toy stores worth visiting.  Several Amtrak trains stop in Lancaster and the AutoTrain terminal near Washington, DC is less than three hours away. 

In my next story, we ride the Reading & Northern steam excursion then continue northward into New England where we ride the newest Amtrak route thus bringing me back to having ridden 100% of the current Amtrak system.

The author wishes to thank the following proprietors of Lancaster County businesses for their kind assistance with this story: Katie Gensemer, David Fickes, and Hope Graby.


    Amish View Inn and Suites     
    Strasburg Railroad                  
    Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
    The Amish Village                 
    Miller’s Smorgasboard                  
    Katie’s Kitchen                      
    The Amish Experience