If at first you don’t succeed…

During the past three-and-a-half years, this blog has taken me on adventures to states across the nation, to mountains, historic sites, beaches, museums, warships, lighthouses, and many other attractions. Some trips are thoroughly researched. Others are pure improvisation, passing by something cool along the road, and deciding on a moment’s notice to stop and explore. And then sometimes, despite research and extensive mapping, the trip does not go quite according to plan. So what happens? Do we, the humble staff of The Open Road Ahead, stomp our feet, throw a temper tantrum, and go home? Of course not! Instead, we make the best of it, and keep trying until it works out. To quote the character Vincent in the movie Collateral: “Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, stuff happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.”

On a beautiful Saturday in mid-September, my wife and I had planned to spend a morning getting breakfast at the beach and then touring historic railroad sites in and around central New Jersey. Breakfast was the only part of the morning that went according to plan, however, as sites we visited were either not open yet or closed for the season. So we improvised. We adapted. We rolled with it… and we ended up with an adventure that took us on a drive through almost all of central New Jersey. I hope you enjoy this adventure, chuckle at our mishaps, and find some new places to explore with us.

Map of central New Jersey with route from New Brunswick to Asbury Park to Allaire State Park to the New Jersey State Museum to the Black River Western Railroad to Schaefer Farms.
This ended up being our route for the day’s adventure – over 157 miles of driving through Central New Jersey.

Stop One: Breakfast in Asbury Park

Gray Honda Accord coupe in front of The Stone Pony in Asbury Park.
“‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run!” We began our day beside the Atlantic Ocean, stopping for breakfast in Asbury Park.
Exterior of Toast restaurant.
One of our favorite places in Asbury Park: Toast City Diner. This small restaurant is a great place for breakfast or brunch.
Pancakes on plate, with orange juice in jelly jar and a cup of coffee.
Yummm… breakfast! My wife ordered the California Scramble (scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes, avocado, and salsa) while I had the Firebird (gluten-free) pancakes. One of my favorite quirks of Toast is that orange juice is served in old Smuckers jelly jars.
Asbury Park beach, with ocean and rough waves.
After breakfast, we strolled down to the boardwalk, and the onto the beach – no trip to the shore is complete without some sand in your shoes!
Rough waves against jetty.
We were struck by how rough the surf was, with waves crashing against the beach and jetties. Nearby, we watched a large group of people make great use of the waves: Operation Beachhead is a group that promotes sports activities for veterans, active duty military personnel, and individuals with disabilities. Today they were providing adaptive surfing lessons for individuals with disabilities and veterans. Very, very cool.
Men carrying large jellyfish parade decorations along Asbury Park boardwalk.
Why are three men carrying these large jellyfish decorations along the Boardwalk? Because this weekend is Sea.Hear.Now., a festival featuring musicians such as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Bad Religion, The B-52s, and the Dave Matthews Band.
Mural of jellyfish swimming past mermaid.
Of course, no trip to Asbury Park is complete without checking out the murals…
Colorful abstract art mural.
…including this, one of the newest, and oddest, art installations we’ve seen on the boardwalk. Far out, man!

Stop Two: Allaire State Park

Entrance sign that says THE HISTORIC VILLAGE AT ALLAIRE WELCOME VISITOR CENTER, surrounded by straw bales and fall decorations.
Driving back from the shore this summer, my wife and I heard a radio ad for the New Jersey Museum of Transportation. A little research uncovered that the museum is located in Allaire State Park, so we left Asbury and set off for our next destination in Wall Township.
Exterior of row of buildings in Allaire Village.
Once a factory town that produced iron, the Historic Village at Allaire is now a living history museum, as most of the buildings from the early 19th century stand on their original foundations. This row house was home to many of the factory’s skilled workers, and the $1 a month rent was quite a deal – the salary of these workers would be $1000-$2000 per year. Where can I find rent like that?
Chapel of Allaire Village, clad in white siding.
The village’s chapel, built in 1832, is still used for weddings and other events. Truthfully, we spent very little time in the Village. The Village does not do a great job of explaining its purpose as you meander through the buildings. It was only once I got home that I began to better understand why this museum exists.
Trainyard, trains, and buildings at The New Jersey Museum of Transportation.
Also on the land of Allaire State Park, but wholly separate, is the New Jersey Museum of Transportation. The museum centers around Pine Creek Railroad, the nation’s oldest operating narrow-gauge railroad.
Caboose and train car of railroad.
For a small fee, you can ride the Pine Creek railroad. While the standard gauge (width) of railroad tracks in the U.S. is 4’8 1/2″, narrow gauge railroads such as this one are about 3’6″. Checking the museum’s website, we encountered another issue: we arrived around 10:30 am, and the first train ride was not scheduled until noon. Whoops.
Small locomotive (black) on a short track.
While billing itself as a “transportation museum,” aside from the main train, there were not that many other exhibits. This steam engine from 1924 was cool, although it seemed like it had seen better days.
Steam engine pistons and crankshaft.
One interesting exhibit – the steam engine from City of Keansburg, a ferry that was launched in 1926 and sailed between New Jersey and New York.
Train yard of museum with two freight cars and a service building.
If you have a family with small children, the short train ride would make an excellent way to pass several hours. If you are looking for a more in-depth exploration of the history of trains and railroads, however, this might not be the most satisfying stop.

Stop Three: The New Jersey State Museum

Exterior of NJ capitol building, including gold rotunda.
We left Allaire State Park disappointed that our first plan did not work out. As we were heading to our next stop, my wife came across an attraction that we would be passing along the way: the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, NJ. Located in the Capital District, the centerpiece is the New Jersey State House and its gold rotunda. Note the boarded-up windows – the State House is currently undergoing a major renovation.
Foundations of ruined iron-working factory.
A short walk from the State House, we discovered this ruin of Harrow’s Mill, a steel factory that dates to when New Jersey was still a British colony. Trenton has a long history as a manufacturing center in the state.
Exterior of New Jersey State Museum.
A few doors down from the State House is the New Jersey State Museum. Established in 1895, the museum chronicles the history, culture, art, and natural science of the Garden State. The museum moved into its current location in 1964.
Civil War-era flag of 25 Reg New Jersey Volunteers
One hall within the museum has a collection of Civil War flags from New Jersey regiments that fought against the Confederacy.
Two glass bottles of George Washington.
The southern half of New Jersey has a long history of glass-making, such as these two commemorative bottles which were made in Bridgeton.
Two skeletons of Dryptosaurus aquilunguis, posed that one is attacking the other.
An early resident of New Jersey was Dryptosaurus aquilunguis, one of the first known carnivorous dinosaurs. This is one of more creative fossil poses I have ever seen.
Skeleton of Hadrosaurus Foulkii.
And New Jersey’s most famous dinosaur: Hadrosaurs foulkii. First discovered in a clay pit in Haddonfield, “Haddy” is practically our state mascot. This is a cast of the skeleton that resides in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, which I visited a few years ago.
Small art gallery with paintings.
The second floor also has a small art gallery featuring New Jersey artists.
Fluorescent rocks on display.
There was also a small display of mining in New Jersey, including these fluorescent rocks, similar to the ones we saw at Sterling Hill Mine.
Native American spear points.
Much of the museum’s lower level is devoted to telling the story of the Native peoples of the state. These spear points, found throughout New Jersey, date from 8,000 – 4,000 BC.
Skull of deinosuchus crocodile.
As we left, we passed this skull of deinosuchus, a giant crocodile that lived 73-82 million years ago. This monster could grow up to 35 feet long! Nearby, a small sign told this joke: “What do you call a crocodile with GPS? A navi-gator!” You’re welcome!

Stop Four: Black River and Western Railroad

2012 Honda Accord parked in front of railroad cars.
Our next stop was to the town of Ringoes and the Black River and Western Railroad, a historic railroad station that now acts as a museum.
Locomotive on left and crane on right, both on railroad tracks.
This little locomotive (on the left) was made by Mack, now far more famous for their trucks. On the right is a small crane for maintenance-of-way (MoW) work. MoW is all the repairs necessary to keep train tracks in good order.
Train signal and stand in front of station.
As we were looking at this train signal from the 1930s, we were approached by a staff member from the museum… and we found out that the museum was closed! While we were welcome to walk around the grounds, there were no attractions to see, and the steam locomotives were either being maintained or were off-site. Sigh.
Red caboose at the end of a train.
This caboose made an interesting subject. While it was cool to see some of the equipment, it would have been nice to have been able to explore the museum if it was open.
Train locomotives in train yard, being repaired.
The museum is open during the summer months, and then later in the fall for special train events. On this weekend, the museum was closed so the locomotives could be maintained. We’ll definitely come back to visit, but next time we’ll call before we drive across the state!
Diner counter, with seven open seats.
After leaving the Black River and Western Railroad museum, we stopped for a quick, late lunch at the nearby Amwell Valley Diner. One of the hallmarks of a Jersey Diner: a counter where guests can grab a meal, chat with the wait staff, and return to the road. Refreshed after lunch, we got back in the car and headed to our next destination.

Stop Five: Saucetoberfest

Entrance to Schaefer Farms, with autumn decorations and pumpkins in foreground.
Our final stop was to Schaefer Farms, in Flemington, for a special event…
Exterior of pavilion at Schaefer Farms, with a yellow tent in the foreground.
…Saucetoberfest, a hot sauce festival held at the end of September every year!
Row of hot sauce bottles to taste, with glass bottles of hot sauce in rows behind.
For a $10 fee per car for parking, visitors can sample hot sauces from local vendors.
Hot sauce bottles, with signs that say CONQUEST, CATACLYSM, END OF DAYS, and TOTAL DEVASTATION.
You’ve gotta love hot sauces with names like “Conquest,” “Cataclysm,” “End of Days,” and “Total Devastation.” I bought a bottle of “End of Days,” which was hot and had excellent flavor. I tried “Total Devastation” twice. My eyes watered, my nose ran, I lost feeling in my tongue, and my throat burned. It was glorious!!
Bottle of Ghost Pepper Maple Syrup for $18, on top of wooden log.
Ghost pepper, from Northeast India, is the world’s hottest chili pepper. How would you like some ghost pepper maple syrup for your pancakes in the morning? It’ll certainly wake you up!
Bottles of hot sauce, with leaves on table behind them.
Black Eyed Susan hot sauce was my wife’s favorite, and we took home a bottle of their medium-spice sauce to give an extra kick to our cooking.
Cow-themed air bounce castle, with Schaefer Farms pavilion in background.
There are lots of kid-friendly activities at Saucetoberfest, including this cow-themed air castle… and truthfully, I just really liked this photo!
Wing-eating competition under pavilion.
We also caught this hot wing eating competition. Each contestant was given six wings which were slathered with a sauce made from habanero, jalapeño, and ghost chili peppers. By the final round, only three contestants remained, so hot was the sauce!
Red and green peppers.
Schaefer Farms also has a market where they sell their produce. Pick up some peppers and make your own hot sauce!
Pumpkins in a box.
As this was the last weekend of summer, the colors of autumn are starting to appear.
Pumpkins and gourds in a box.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year, and Saucetoberfest was a great way to kick off the autumn season!
2012 Honda Accord
While not everything went according to plan today, it was still a lot of fun. By the end of the event, we were definitely ready to head home.
Car odometer that reads 138913
After spending the entire day on the road, it felt good to pull up to our front door. Now closing in on 140,000 miles, the Accord continues to roll along smoothly and without complaint.

Despite several of our planned stops not working out as we intended, my wife and I came to appreciate how central New Jersey has some great, low-cost activities, if you’re willing to get off the beaten track and explore. The New Jersey Museum of Transportation is free to visit, although tickets to ride the Pine Creek Railroad are $4 per person. The nearby Historic Village at Allaire is free to visit as well. The New Jersey State Museum is open from 9:00 am until 4:45 pm Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free. While open during the summer, the Black River & Western Railroad is open select weekends during the fall, winter, and spring months. Finally, Schaefer Farms farmstead is open seven days a week, but make sure to check their calendar, as fun events like Saucetoberfest are scheduled throughout the year!

Before I close, I wanted to share something else. Since I was in high school, one of my favorite things to listen to while driving was Car Talk on NPR. For decades, Tom and Ray Magliozzi hosted an informative, off-beat, and hilarious call-in radio show. The show went off the air in 2012, and Tom passed away in 2014, but the show continues on, available both on select NPR stations, and also as a weekly podcast. I still listen to the show, and it helps my long commute to work pass far more quickly! This article, on the car website Jalopnik, is a great read for anyone who enjoyed the show during its heyday.

Thanks, as always, for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.


5 thoughts on “If at first you don’t succeed…

  1. Amwell Valley Diner looks like the kind of place I would like to go this morning for a coffee and an omelet! Looks like you had a great adventure despite it not going exactly according to the plan. That’s exactly the joy of being a road-tripper. I want one of those fluorescent rocks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Despite our planning snafus, the trip was a lot of fun, and the State Museum was cool (and I’ve lived in NJ for most of my life and had no idea it existed). I think the ghost chili pepper maple syrup would be… intense.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to tysonhugie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s