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Fastnacht Day at Boyertown Museum of Historical Vehicles
Written by Sergei Blair, Correspondent

            After a brief hiatus due to a major reconstruction project inside the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles, the Fastnacht Day at the Reading Diner returned for its third year - and bigger than ever.

            In a matter of one hour once the doors opened on Tuesday, about a hundred visitors had already stopped into the restored 1938 Reading Diner where they enjoyed a Faschtnacht Kuche (fast night cake), the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch pastry, with a cup of hot coffee - all for as little as .30 cents. While some enjoyed their delicacy with powdered sugar sprinkled on top, others preferred syrup.

            "We were worried that taking a year off for the renovation would sort of calm down the crowd today but it doesn't seem to have done that," the museum's curator Kendra Cook said. In fact, she said the staff ran out of the first batch after the first twenty minutes and had to act quickly to keep more fastnachts coming. The staff had to do an emergency run to the local Dice's Creative Cakes bakery to get more.

            "It's gotten more popular every year," Cook said. "This one really grew by leaps and bounds that I don't think we've expected but that's a good problem to have and we're happy about it."

            The Fastnacht Day is an annual Pennsylvania Dutch celebration that takes place the day before Ash Wednesday. The word "fastnacht" meaning "the night before the fast," was observed with much fanfare, allowing others to make and consume fastnachts that were made with potatoes, butter and lard. After the night of indulgence, people are encouraged to humble themselves in the fast until Easter Sunday. Foods made with lavish ingredients are prohibited, particularly in the religious community, from being consumed during the sacred Lenten season.

            Cook said that the Fastnacht Day celebration at the Boyertown's famed auto museum was introduced in order to pay honor to the strong local Pennsylvania Dutch history and deep cultural ties that can still be seen today. "Of course we're in Pennsylvania German territory with our roots here," Cook said. "We have a transportation museum here but we're also a Pennsylvania history museum too and we feel that this does tie in German culture a lot with our vehicles."

            Vehicles of all types are proudly displayed at the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles. From horse-drawn carriages and wagons to motorcycles, bicycles, cars and trucks - all built in Pennsylvania. But, Cook said it's the historic Reading Diner inside the museum that's getting the most attention.

            The diner was built in 1938 by the Jerry O'Mahony Co. in Elizabeth, New Jersey. For nearly seven decades it served as a freestanding popular eatery along Rt. 422 in Exeter Township until it closed in 2003. In 2008, the diner was saved and moved inside the museum where it stays open on display. However, each year visitors are invited for Diner Day special events to enjoy classic Pennsylvania Dutch pies with coffee. "It really is the food that's kind of unique to our region and we get to use the diner to incorporate it in this way. It seemed like a natural fit for us to do," Cook said.

            As she sat inside the Reading Diner and nibbled on her fastnacht, Theresa Gamler of Gabelsville, Pa. remembered the time as a little girl when she was tasked bringing her dad his lunch every day at noon on the dot. Many years later, her father, Ernest Syler, 87, sitting across from his daughter, pointed at the corner of the building where he assembled auto body parts for vehicles nearly 60 years ago in this facility that housed a former factory of the Boyertown Auto Body Works, maker of commercial truck bodies.

            "We used to work and live at the grill shop, and so we would walk up with our food to eat it with him," Gamler said. "And now all these years later, we're having coffee and fastnacht donuts together."   







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