- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: August 2003

All Aboard! The train is now leaving the station

redtrainfaceThe Cape May Seashore Lines’ train is totally cute… and you should ride it.

You should take the train in the rain.
You should take train if you have kids.
You should take the train if you live here.
You should take the train if you live over there somewhere.

Oh? You want to know more? Who am I, you say? Why should you take my word? All right, if you insist, I’ll tell you more.

For one thing, the train ride is a nice way to go back in time. On the Saturday I took the train, I rode Number 304 – The Mermaid – departing from Cape May City Rail Terminal, located at Lafayette and Elmira Street – one block west from the Washington Street Mall. The rail terminal shares space with New Jersey Transit, Cape May’s Welcome Center and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May.

advertismentThe Mermaid was manufactured by the Budd Co. back in the 1950s.  Most of the cars currently available do date back to the 50s, although restoration work has just begun on the the “Blue Comet” observation car built in 1927 to make runs from Jersey City to Atlantic City for the Central Railroad of New Jersey. For those not in the know, an observation car has a platform on the back with leather straps for passengers to hold on to when the train is in motion. Politicians used these cars for “whistle stop tours” passing through towns throughout the United States stumping for votes.

But back to The Mermaid.  I caught the train on a Saturday in July as a way to get to the annual 4-H Fair being held at the Cape May County Park fairgrounds (the Cape May County Zoo is also located here).

redtrainI fell in love the second I saw the engine. It’s so cute and red with neat character lines distinguishing it from other train cars. As an aside, I should tell you that I’m an old-hand at train riding – as a means of transportation that is. I grew up riding Amtrak’s “The Pennsylvanian” from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to New York to Washington D.C. so, I’m used to Amtrak’s sleek silvery “not-so-cute” engine and cramped, often “not-so-clean,” train cars.

While waiting on the platform of the Cape May City Rail Terminal, I peeked inside the passenger car. The seats are blue leather and spacious. There is leg room – lots of leg room – and wide aisles. The train car itself is much smaller than the Amtrak cars. Seats face each other, so a maximum of four people (or six if they’re little) share seating arrangements.

chairsI notice people are beginning to line up, so I join them.

The door opens and the ticket taker and conductor come out. They’re even cuter than the engine. The conductor has a little hat (which the company pays for) and uniform (which the company does not pay for). The ticket taker has a neat vest and both men are all smiles.

I take my seat and immediately start snapping pictures. The train pulls out at precisely 2 p.m. The conductor, who turns out to be one David Diano, welcomes us aboard The Mermaid.  Diano is the senior conductor for Seashore Lines. He is in charge of training other conductors. What’s involved in the training?

conductor2“Well,” he says, “there’s the paperwork. Then the I let the conductor work with me to see what I do. And there’s the paperwork.”

Our ticket taker is Bill Heller. A round-trip ticket to Historic Cold Spring Village he says is $5 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under.  For an $8 adult fare, $5 for children, the train goes all the way to the 4-H Fairgrounds Rail Station, 1 mile north of Cape May Court House, adjacent to the west entrance of the County Park and Zoo and the last stop.

Once the train pulls out of the station, I am struck by how pretty the scenery is. Even Home Depot looks good on this train. Again, I can’t help comparing it to the train rides I’ve taken before and I can assure you the urban blight that I’m accustomed to is for the most part absent on this journey. There are a few sore spots around Rio Grande, but otherwise, the rider is treated to vineyards,
trees, and the backyards of people’s homes.

tickettakerThe best view is crossing the Cape May Canal Moveable Bridge. The info tape, which plays sporadically throughout the trip informs the rider that the bridge was built in 1943 to protect the canal from Japanese submarines prowling the east coast during WWII. The train comes to a stop just short of the canal so that the bridge can be moved into place and then we’re off again.

To make an afternoon of it, you can catch the train in Cape May, get off at Historic Cold Spring Village, tour the village, have lunch at the Grange Restaurant and catch the train back. Or, you can catch it and ride further to the Cape May County Park and Zoo. Just one word of caution, mind your timing because on this particular Saturday, as it turns out, the afternoon train departing Cape May and arriving at the 4-H Fairgrounds at 3 p.m., ended up being the last train leaving the fairgrounds that was Cape May bound. So, I never did get to the 4-H Fair, but truth be told, I knew that before I started.

canaltrianbridgeThe one thing that disappointed me was the dining car had gone AWOL. I really wanted to have tea on the train. Just my luck, the Cafe was down for repairs. Conductor Diano said it needed a new compressor. Still, spending the afternoon with the “little red engine that could” is time well-spent.

For more information and schedules, contact Cape May Seashore Lines at 609-884-CMSL or visit their website (which has very cool pictures of the various engines) at

One Lifeguard’s Challenge

Harry "Buzz" Mogck

Harry "Buzz" Mogck

Maybe you’re wondering who’s responsible for bringing the United States Lifeguard Association Championships (USLA) to Cape May for a fourth time. Or, maybe you’re wondering who’s behind the Cape May Beach Patrol bringing wheelchairs to the beach so the handicapped can enjoy the sun, sand and water. Or maybe you’re wondering just who it is that organizes all those lifeguards and makes sure the ocean you’re bathing in is safe.

Well, that man is Harry “Buzz” Mogck (pronounced Moke). He’s a local boy whose family came to Cape May in the early 20s. His father and grandfather were boat builders who owned and operated Cape May Boat Works. Mogck became a lifeguard in 1967 after a stint in the Army. He couldn’t figure out what to do with his life so he decided to try life guarding for a summer. He has been at the helm of the Cape May Beach Patrol (CMBP) for 25 years moving up the ranks from part-timer to Lieutenant and finally Captain.

guardsNot that anyone would have to tell you he’s the Captain. Just walk into CMBP headquarters on Beach Avenue and Grant Street. As soon as Mogck walks into the room, respect for the man bounces off the walls from the other lifeguards. He is referred to, of course, as simply “Captain.”

It was toward the end of the day the first time we chatted and it had been a particularly rough one with several rescues.

“The ambulance just took a guy a way a couple of minutes ago,” said Captain Mogck. “The way the beaches are this summer the currents are rough and guys get out there and act crazy and end up hurting their backs.”

As I look about the Captain’s office, which is up a winding wooden stairway above CMBP’s headquarters, there are plaques of achievement everywhere, but the one that most fascinates me is for the “East Coast Challenge” in 1989. In the middle of the interview about the USLA Championships, I can’t help blurting out; “You rowed from Cape May to Florida?” He acknowledges this feat quietly and without bravado.

buzzndemersbw2smI, on the other hand, can’t let it go. “I row ten minutes in the gym and I think I’m all that. You rowed the ocean, the eastern seaboard, during hurricane season?”

He cracks a little smile and nods. I leave his office, but I can’t get this feat out of my head. I have to know more, because to know how a man (two men actually, lifeguard Richard Demers, 21 at the time, was his partner in the venture) rows 1,400 miles overcoming obstacles of nature, of the body, and of the spirit, is, I think, to know the mettle of a man. Mogck was kind enough to lend me clippings of “The East Coast Challenge.”

gearingupThey took on the challenge for two reasons. One, to see if they could do it. Rowers had tried the feat before but they were traveling from Florida northbound in the spring when the waters and the weather are milder. Also, while one of the rowers was 21, Mogck was then 46.  Secondly, the duo wanted to use the event to raise money for The United Way Foundation.

Mogck and Demers shoved off at 8 a.m. on October 4 in a 16-foot surf boat, or lifeboat – the kind used during beach rescues. Rowing 8 to 10 hours a day, the two men camped out most nights, occasionally staying with friends along the way.

headingoutThey had their share of “challenges.” They crossed the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay in the fog without their ship-to-shore radio. In Kilkenny, N.C., their boat came up missing for about three hours until police found it off in a nearby marsh. Bad weather, high tides and dangerous currents greeted them in the Outer Banks forcing the two men to land at Kill Devil Hills, N.C. for several days until conditions became more tolerable.

Money problems plagued them. Donations were few and slow in coming. What if one of them wouldn’t have been able to finish? They had that covered with a 2-man back-up crew following them, as best they could, along the highway. But finish they did. Mogck and Demers rowed into Jupiter, Florida November 29th at 3:15 p.m.

anticipationIt takes great determination to see a thing through to its end. The same kind of determination it took to bring CMBP to the modern age. Mogck said when he took over as captain 25 years ago, the average lifeguard knew only the bare fundamentals of CPR. Now every lifeguard is certified. All the lieutenants are EMTs. Under Mogck’s leadership, CMBP has a Junior Lifesaving Program to “teach kids about water and safety skills.”

Are rumors true that he’s thinking about retiring?

rowing“Who told you that?” he asked indignantly. “I’m not retiring. I’m fit and I’m healthy. As long as I can do something each year to improve the beach patrol, I want to stay on.”

It would appear, then, that Captain Buzz Mogck will be around for a long, long time.

Car-free in Cape May

bikers“Car free / Care free” is the motto of a recent map published by the “West Cape May Citizens for Good Government.”

Published in an effort to encourage visitors and residents to park their cars and leave them parked, the map is available at the Visitor and Transportation Center of Cape May at Lafayette Street (across from the Acme Grocery Store). Interested at how conceivable the idea is, I decide to give it a go.

8 a.m.  Walk over to Beach Avenue to the Macomber Hotel. At the bottom of the hotel is Louie’s By the Sea Bistro – home of the “Ooey-Gooey Louie” sticky bun. Been thinking about this all night knowing this was my first destination. No, it isn’t on the map, but remember the map is just a guide. I can stop along the way anywhere I want. Mmmmm.

I pick the gooey pecans off the bun one at a time, savoring each morsel. Then, knife and fork in hand, I attack the bun itself. Ahhhhh. I sit back and start to sip my coffee, feelings of fat dancing in my head. The urge to walk it off strikes a gong in my brain. Looking at the map, I see I can get to the Cape May Lighthouse by walking down to the end of the Promenade at Cove Beach and continuing on across the sand. But first I want to walk to the Washington Street Mall where the Information Center is to see what walking tours are available later in the afternoon.

abbeyteaOn my walk, I pass The Abbey Bed & Breakfast and see they offer a tea and tour at 4 p.m. I make a mental note to be there for it. I’m on Columbia Street now at the heart of Cape May’s historic district. I decide to walk toward The Mainstay Inn to take a look. It is still very quiet and no one seems to be up and about. The Mainstay’s famous porch is empty and serene. I turn the corner past The Mainstay and find myself on Hughes Street. What a pretty little street. It is much narrower than Columbia. Tree lined. Old like Columbia but feels more like a neighborhood, and for me it’s easier here to imagine what it must have been like to live here a hundred or so years ago. At the end of Hughes is Ocean Street and I’m standing in front of Captain Mey’s B&B and the Queen Victoria is to my left. Amazing. Before I even get to the mall, I’ve done my very own walking tour and have taken plenty of pictures already.

I hang around the mall because MAC’s Information Booth doesn’t open until 9:15. Take a peek at The Lemon Tree Restaurant’s menu and decide to have lunch there when I get back.

Loaded down with tons of brochures, I begin my walk down Decatur Street toward Beach Avenue. Lots of people out now, especially on the Promenade. walktopoint1Walkers, bicyclists, roller bladers — they own the boardwalk until 10 a.m. I walk down to the Cove on the west side of town, step onto the sand and head toward the lighthouse. This view, folks, is worth the price of tired feet. I’m lucky because I’ve picked a beautiful, glistening morning and the whole scene is like something out of a movie.
lighthouse2There is a nature trail leading from the beach to Cape May Point State Park. I walk just a little way and I’m in back of the Bird Observation Deck. The lighthouse is just across the parking lot. I am standing in front of the Cape May Lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park. Will I or won’t I? No, I don’t think I will climb the 199 steps to the top, at least not today, not on a Saturday, and definitely not in 90-degree weather. Another time, because, as I realize to my chargrin, I still have to walk back for pity’s sake.

It’s now 11:30 a.m. Yes, I make it back, but not without one or two dips in the ocean. Believe you me, it has to be really hot for me to go in the ocean without a certain bathing suit. Standing in front of the Lemon Tree Restaurant on the Washington Street Mall, I have no feelings of guilt when I, without hesitation, gazeboorder a Bagel Brunch and a freshly squeezed lemonade to go. I walk over to the Rotary Park and slobber over myself. Back to the Lemon Tree for another lemonade. Time for shopping. Then back to my friend’s house on Jefferson Street for a shower. Yes, it is another fifteen minute walk, but the promise of a nap encourages me.

I arrive showered and refreshed for tea and the tour. Abbey owner Jay Schatz is very friendly, just informative enough without being a bore. Afterwards, lemonade and iced tea on the porch. I restrain myself and only take one sweet cake instead of hogging the whole platter which, of course, is my inclination.
I wander around for a bit until it’s time for dinner.
6 p.m. Meet my friend for dinner at the Merion Inn on Decatur Street. Martinis and seafood. Does it get any better?
9 p.m. Walk over to Howard Street to see Jilline Ringle’s cabaret show in
the Henry Sawyer Room at the Chalfonte. The show’s very funny and a nice way to end the evening is by sitting on the porch at the Chalfonte walking, I mean rocking, the night away. Another short walk I’m home to a nice comfy bed.

Biking your Way Through Cape May

9:30 a.m.  I’m ready for another car free day.  It’s cloudy today, not too hot.
Perfect for a bike ride. I walk over to Cape Island Bike Rentals at the back of the johnHotel Macomber on Howard Street. John fixes me up with a very nice yellow, single-speed (thank-you very much) bicycle with pedal brakes of course. I do not do the Promenade thing.
Reason #1 – I’m going to turn right onto Broadway. My destination is Sunset Beach so I would have to get off the Promenade anyway.
Reason #2 – Biking on the promenade in the morning in July or August is not my idea of a fun time. There are way too many people also biking, roller blading, walking, jogging, and riding whatever other weird two-wheeled method of transportation can be thought of. In other words – it’s too crowded.
So, I bike along Beach Avenue heading west toward Broadway. Yes, this is city biking. It’s you and the cars, so you must be careful and not assume that anybody cares that you’re on the road. Drivers will begin parallel parking without looking in the rear view mirror (as one man did as soon as I got near Carney’s). Drivers will also pull out in front of you or make a right turn not realizing a bicyclist is coming up along side them. Both of these things happened to me.
The responsibility is on YOU – ME – US. In other words Watch your back. I should also mention that I am riding with traffic not against it. The same rules of the road apply to two-wheeled vehicles as they do for the four-wheeled kind.
Enough for rules. When do we start having fun?
As soon as I turn onto Broadway. It’s certainly a busy street but not like Beach Ave. No one is parking, at least not on this morning and I’m able to make the left onto Sunset fairly easily.

One thing readers should note and hopefully be encouraged by — I am not the most graceful thing on a bike. I am not confident. I am not skillful. I so admire people who can mount and dismount on the same side of the bike while it’s still in motion. That is so cool. I am, in short, a shaky, nervous twitty bicyclist. This stems from not having learned to ride a bike until I moved to Cape May at 29 years of age.  You simply can’t live in Cape May and not bike.
It’s not practical. So learn I did. I crashed into Lifeguard boats innocently lying about on the Promenade. I crashed into bushes, telephone poles, parked cars. If  I saw anyone, anyone coming toward me either on foot or on a bike, my bicycle would start to teeter and I would crash into something. Still, I got back up because biking in Cape May is lovely but also essential to getting from one point to another without tearing your hair out.

OK so now back to adventure. It’s about two miles to Sunset Beach from the Broadway intersection. I see whole families of bikers heading out the same way.
I arrive at Sunset Beach shortly after 10 a.m. and have no qualms of guilt about walking up the Sunset Beach Grill and ordering an egg sandwich with cheese, onion and tomato for $3 and a bottle of water. Sitting on the deck which wraps around Beach Grill, I look at the ocean, the ferry coming in, the fisherman, and guysfishing2my map while they make my egg sandwich. I decide to head toward Higbees Beach after I done eating. I can turn off Sunset at Bayshore Road follow it to the end, make a left onto New England which dead ends at Higbees. This used to be a nude beach, but a city ordinance passed last year ended all that. The beach is still au naturel but not that way.

The sun has come out and I’m thinking, mmmm this might have been a little too adventurous. Just as I get ready to move into full whine, I realize that I’m on a country road. It is so pretty and quiet back here. After all, everyone who bikes ends up at Sunset Beach. This is quite different. Open land, farms, roosters, greenery, but I think the sweetest sight of my journey was that of an older woman in a flowing skirt biking toward me with a basket of flowers. I don’t want a posed picture, so I don’t stop her but she is still in my thoughts.
Meanwhile, I’m so busy taking other pictures that before I know it, I’ve come to reasfarmend of the road. New England Road is even nicer.
Shortly before I turn onto New England, I do pass land which has been torn up so that new “estate” homes can be built on it, which makes me sad because it looks as though it used to be farm land.
At any rate, in a short while I’m in the small parking lot people who are going to  Higbee Beach use. I walk down the winding path and find myself on soft sand looking out toward the canal where a fishing boatoffhigbees4boat is emerging. I sit down, gulp my water and as the song says, “And I say to myself – Oh what a wonderful world.”
It is, however, not such a wonderful world when I get back to Cape May and turn onto Lafayette Street to see that a kabillion people in cars who have decided that this is not a beach day but rather a shopping day and are now trying to find a place to park. Traffic is tied up everywhere and drivers are not very nice to bicycle riders –it stems from jealousy, you see. We’re moving. They’re not. backintownWe’ll find a parking space. They won’t. Huh! Huh! is what I say to them, all smug with myself.

NOON: A right onto Ocean. Left onto Columbia and I’m back in the land of relative peace and tranquility as I turn onto Howard Street and pull up to
Cape Island Bike Rentals, returning my most perfect bicycle to John for safe keeping, until we meet again.

Note: You can get that nifty (and free) Car-Free guide map at the Welcome/ Transportation Center off Lafayette Street.  Stop by after you ditch your gas guzzler.