Day 11: April 30, 2012
Giant Guitar to Miniature Village
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The Martin Guitar Company offers free factory tours. Prearranged group tours start at 8:00 and walk-in tours at 11:00. I got there early to make sure I was registered for the first tour. The museum opens at 8:00 so I knew I wouldn't be bored during the wait. The museum starts with displays on Christian Frederick Martin's moves from Germany to New York then Pennsylvania. Along with the displays of instruments are displays of some of the tools used to make them.

Some Martin guitars are notable for what they are. Only 91 D45s were made before the Second World War began. Placards describe these pre-war instruments as the "Holy Grail" of acoustic guitars. Both guitars at the lower center of the first picture are pre-war D45s. The one on the right is the third one made; the one on the left is the eightieth. The red GT-75 was part of a line of electric guitars introduced in 1965. You don't see many because they didn't sell many. Many of the guitars made today include electronics but the pickups are inside and the controls on top. Red Martins with knobs & pickups on the front are just weird. There are several highly decorated guitars on display but about the only one I actually liked was the 1,000,000th Martin in the last picture. Tastefully gaudy.

Other Martin guitars are notable for what they did. The two D-28s in the middle of the first picture were photographed by Paul Saltzman in India in 1968 while being played by John Lennon & Paul McCartney. The guitar to the right is the 1930 00-40H on which Stephen Stills composed Suite Judy Blue Eyes. Steve gave it to Judy (Collins) and Judy loaned it to the museum. The guitar on the left sort of crowded into the picture without doing all that much but it is the prototype for the John Mayer Signature Edition OM-28. In 1994, Astronaut, Pierre Thuot took the Backpacker model in the second picture along with him on the Columbia making it the first guitar in space.

But the impact of Martin guitars might register a little more when looking at wall of guitars rather than concentrating on any single instrument. The second picture is of the Pickin' Parlor. Its entrance is at the back of the 1833 Shop (the museum's gift shop) with a window in the museum.

After taking that picture, I looked over the gift shop and entered the Pickin' Parlor. I can't play a lick but there was no one there. The room is soundproof. I pulled down that cutaway on the far wall and strummed it once. Is a chord still sour if nobody hears it?

There were high school groups taking tours in the morning and I watched a couple get started. The guide asked who played guitar and about half the hands in each group went up. When the question was asked of my group, I expected to be the only non-player in the group. Much to my surprise, only one of the twelve hands was raised. That first picture is not a trick of perspective. There really is a huge guitar at the start of the tour where the guide (Terry) explained the parts of an acoustic guitar. I knew all the parts. I just don't know how to make music with them.

The factory is more mechanized than ever but it's largely a hands-on sort of mechanization. There are many quite high-tech CNC machines in use but even they tend to be hand loaded; Often with hand selected pieces to minimize waste. Some power tools are jig mounted and some hand held. Virtually every job in the plant requires considerable skill but it's 21st century skill. On the other hand, Martin isn't afraid to use what works. What do you use to hold the pieces of a $50,000 guitar in place while the glue sets? A bunch of dollar a dozen clothespins. Some of the woods used in the guitar is extremely expensive and none of it is cheap. Almost none of it is wasted. The biggest piece of "scrap" comes from cutting the round sound hole but that's not wasted. They make dandy souvenirs complete with a reminder to take the online tour survey.

I've just one more Martin panel before moving on. The current plant came into being about 1974. The old factory, less than a mile away, is now The Guitarmaker's Connection selling pieces and kits. Note the resemblance between the old and new buildings. There's a lot of tradition at Martin.

I'd come into the Allentown area on the current four-lane US-22 with plans to pick up the old route at the west edge of town. With Dave's help, I was able to get on the older alignment, Tilghman Street, inside the city. That was unquestionably a good thing but I was still awful happy to when I saw open road for the first time in several days.

About fifteen miles west of Allentown I saw a couple of Hudsons with for sale signs on them and pulled over to take a look. Behind those two was a building filled with them and a list of more for sale. There was no one around to let me inside or answer questions but I emailed buddy Alex "Hudsonly Yours" Burr at the end of the day and wasn't at all surprised to hear he knew exactly what I was talking about. It's owned by a doctor who lives in New York and there's a website but no regular access. This year's national HET Club (Hudson-Essex-Terraplane) meet is in Gettysburg and will include a bus tour to this collection.

I took that first picture with the idea of saying something funny about "nothing for the next mile" but soon fund out that nothing could be farther from the truth. The sign is at the edge of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, where first the American Hotel then the Strand Theater caught my eye. The Hotel isn't open full time but hosts monthly dinners. The theater is obviously keeping up with the latest releases.

But the drug store is the thing. The building and pharmacy date from 1906; The soda fountain from 1929. The fountain was out of commission for a few years but the lady who bought the store in 2010 had it repaired and reopened it last August. There's a story about that here. Look at those old signs lined up near the ceiling and check out some of the not-for-sale inventory. The gal who made me my second root beer float in as many days told me that downtown Hamburg has really taken a hit since the Wal-Mart opened last summer. Cabela's opened a huge store a couple of years ago and then came Wal-Mart. It's a familiar story. I was disappointed that no one joined me at the counter while I was there but it is a little chilly for ice cream -- for some. However, I was really pleased to see a steady stream of customers at the pharmacy counter. It was busy enough that, at one point, the girl at the fountain went back to help. Perhaps, when summer comes, more of those customers will stop by the fountain for an egg cream or a malted or maybe a root beer float. You can't get this at Wal-Mart.

Roadside America (the attraction) gets dinged for being corny and old fashioned but it is exactly what roadside attraction should be. Calling the 8000 square foot display "The Worlds Greatest Indoor Miniature Village" is not wrong. You can watch the scene from behind a water fall, press lots of buttons to make all sorts of things move, and watch all the lights come on at night. Then watch daylight return as the flag waves, the plane flies, and America the Beautiful plays. Corny, old fashioned, and cool!

The Dutch Motel is right across the expressway on a dead end road that took some looking for me to find. It's an oldie but clean and serviceable. Roadside America (the website) mentions the stranded riverboat near Roadside America (the attraction). That riverboat is part of my view. The rest of my room is here.

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