What possesses a man to wake up one day and say “I think I’ll buy a camel”? Matilda’s owner was just a regular joe farmer who drove to Ohio 20 years ago and brought back a camel. Did he look out over his fields and think, “I’ve got cows and horses and ponies and sheep – I need something new”? Why a camel and not a goat? There seems to be something in the American character that makes us dream big dreams – and follow them through. This farmer wanted something different and enjoyed sharing his dream with random passers-by like us.
Another Pennsylvania native, Laurence Gieringer, also had a dream. When he was 10-years old, he and his brother Paul hiked up a mountain and looked back down on the town of Reading. They were impressed with how small the buildings and vehicles and people looked, and it changed their lives. Paul was called to God and became a Catholic priest. Laurence started building miniatures and over three decades put together an exhibit called Roadside America. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Not just a miniature railroad, but a glimpse at our country’s past, with touching bits of mechanized humor (such as the hunter trying to aim at a rabbit who keeps disappearing down a hole). Mr. Gieringer raised the money and put up an entire building to house his miniature world, plonked on the side of Route 78 to attract as many visitors to Shartlesville as possible. Unfortunately for them, the highway was upgraded, widened, and bypassed the attraction. Instead of simply driving in off the road, you now have to go to the next exit and backtrack. Still, there were several other couples besides us there to see the “Night Pageant” (which I can’t adequately describe, but involved sitting in the dark listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America as the vast diorama’s many buildings and trains turned on their evening lights and the stars shone down from the ceiling, and an ancient slide show of patriotic drawings was projected on the far wall). Mr. Gieringer has long since passed away, but his dream lives on, however dog-eared at the corners.
To get just a tad sentimental and creaky here, let me say that these two Pennsylvania men epitomize for me the true American spirit. It isn’t just New England (biased as I am toward that region). This whole country is full of dreamers and builders and folks who just DO so much to satisfy their right to the pursuit of happiness. We will always be a country of bright prospects so long as anyone wakes up and says, “Today I think I’ll…”