By Judy Hazel
trasburg - Covered bridges, donkeys, sheep, cornfields, tobacco plants, buggies, immaculate flowerbeds - these are some of the sights during a guided covered bridge scooter tour in Amish country, Lancaster County.
Strasburg Scooters in Strasburg offers three-hour, 40-plus-mile, covered bridge tours daily from April through October. The covered bridge tour encompasses traversing the back roads outside of Strasburg to observe and learn the history of four covered bridges.
But first you need to learn to ride a scooter. Donning a helmet, your guide explains the operational functions of your Honda 50cc scooter speed up, slow down and stop. Easy, right?
You practice riding your scooter in the restaurant parking lot next door. Have no fear. In no time you'll get the confidence to take your three-hour ride at 30 mph to 35 mph.
The first part of your tour might go 14 miles on country roads. Riding single-file on the right side of your lane, just stay focused and you'll do fine. But maybe you should not wave back to those passersby waving at you - at least not yet.
At the first bridge, Amish farms dot the landscape. Donkeys, horses, sheep, cattle and calves in little white calving sheds litter the barnyards and fields. Amish men work in the fields and Amish women tend the gardens. Horse and buggies and farm equipment meander down the roads.
Once at the bridge, you park your scooter nearby to stretch, explore the bridge and take photographs. The guide will tell you its history and the history of the surrounding area.
On to the second bridge, where you might pass the site of the tragic Amish schoolhouse shooting in 2006. The school was torn down and all that remains is a nice grassy area.
As you travel to the third and fourth bridges, you will move through open spaces and under tree canopies.
Depending on the season, you might see fields of pumpkins, soybeans, corn shocks and tobacco plants. In the fall, pay attention to sheds with window openings where tobacco leaves hang to dry. Don't forget to be aware of the smells permeating the air: grass cuttings, tobacco drying and, of course, cow manure.
Pay attention to mailbox names - Walton, Esh, King and Stoltzfus - and street names such as White Oak, Peach Lane and Pond Road.
The guides who lead you in these tours are very friendly, knowledgeable and safety oriented. (Except when the Amish buggy driver challenges the guide to a "drag race" on an empty road. But that is for the guide only!)
Remember those passersby who waved at you earlier? I think you will find that after an hour or two on your scooter, you will be comfortable enough to lift your hand and give a little wave to them.
Requirements: valid driver's license; sunglasses, eyeglasses or safety glasses (which can be provided); over 18 years of age; reservations required; arrive early. Prepare for the weather, sunscreen or ear muffs, and have fun!
Specialty Scooter Tours
Several specialty scooter tours are operated during the season. The Bridges, Barrels and Bands tour ends with a wine tasting, dinner and live band entertainment. The Lancaster Brewing Co. is the end stop of the Bridges and Beer Tour. Enjoy a beer and five-course dinner.
The search is on in the Jellies, Jams and More Tour to find tasty, local jellies, jams and more. Time for tasting and shopping is included.
Finally, the five-hour Amish Country Mystery Tour might lead you to more food tastings, local historical places, photo opportunities and surprise adventures.
These specialty tours are limited and space is limited. Reserve now.
Jackson's Sawmill Covered Bridge
One of the bridges on the tour is the Jackson's Sawmill Bridge near Quarryville. Built in 1878 for $2,410, the bridge was destroyed by a flood in 1985. Later, it was rebuilt at a higher level to prevent further flooding concerns.
The bridge, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980, spans the West Branch of the Octoraro Creek. It may be the only covered bridge built perpendicular to a creek. This is because of the location of a sawmill on one side and rocks on the other side.
The single span, wooden bridge has double-burr arch trusses that are a combination of a kingpost truss design with an arch. The truss bears the majority of the load while the arch provides stability.
Red is the traditional color of Lancaster County bridges.
Mystery of St. Michael's Day
If you visit this area on Oct. 11, English (non-Amish) people might be surprised at the absence of Amish people on the roads or in their fields or at their businesses. It is St. Michael's Day, an Amish religious "holiday" and a day of rest and fasting prior to a communion service.
Who is St. Michael? One of seven archangels named in the Old Testament, mentioned in the book of Daniel, as a protector of God's people.
Why do the Amish celebrate the day of this Catholic saint? In old Europe, the Amish were tenant farmers for the lands of aristocrats and the church. These farmers paid a percentage of their profits every year on Oct. 11, St. Michael's Day. Thus, the custom became a tradition.
Strasburg Country Store
Before or after your ride, have breakfast or homemade ice cream at this charming, old-fashioned store at the corner of Main Street and Hartman Bridge Road in the center of town. Look for the old porcelain water fountain inside.
They make their own waffle ice cream cones and serve more than 140 flavors of ice cream throughout the year, changing according to the season's harvest. Apple dumplings and peach or strawberry sundaes are favorites.
All kinds of deli sandwiches are available at lunchtime. Seating is available at the old-fashioned, wrought iron, ice cream parlor tables indoors or outside on the porch. Enjoy a restful reprise.
The business also features a bakery, candy kitchen and winery, plus the Village Inn Bed and Breakfast.