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The child star of 'PA guardrail TikTok'

Plus, chief ice cream officer reporting for duty.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

April 19, 2024
Inside this edition: Philly's next pro sports team?, Pittsburgh festival lineup, ice cream officer, and 'Mason the Guardrail Kid.' Thanks for checking in.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Wawa celebrated its 60th anniversary this week. In which Pennsylvania county did Wawa open its first store in 1964?
A. Bucks County
B. Dauphin County 
C. Delaware County
D. Berks County 

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.
» One story worth following: Philadelphia is on a list of possible WNBA expansion cities. But what about the feasibility and possible team names? WHYY discusses at the 13:30-minute mark here.

» One lineup worth seeing: Pittsburgh’s newest music festival, Sudden Little Thrills, announced its lineup this week. SZA and The Killers are headlining. Wiz Khalifa and other hometown acts are on the bill.

» One job worth taking: The American Dairy Association is hiring an honorary chief ice cream officer to travel around Pennsylvania, taste ice cream, and post about it on social media, CBS3 reports.

» One show worth catching: Virtually explore Fallingwater architect Frank Lloyd Wright's "unrealized" Pennsylvania projects, spanning the 1930s through the 1950s, at this museum exhibit in Washington D.C.

» One place worth knowing: Sam Nana-Sinkam left a job at Google to buy a chestnut farm near Reading. Fast Company calls his plan for it a "radical" experiment that envisions farms as a new kind of "third place."
🗞️ THINK YOU'RE PRETTY SMART? Prove it with this week's PA News Quiz: 2024 primary questions, January 6 charges, and Biden tariffs.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Who has fundraising edge in state AG race?

» The milk company snub shaping Shapiro's budget

» The truth about mail ballots in Pennsylvania
» Primary voters will decide most legislative races

» What Penn State's misconduct data reveal

🗳️ Election Essentials

» CANDIDATE QUIZ: Find the best AG candidate for you
» Find key dates and answers to voter FAQs here
» Guides to state attorney generalauditor generaltreasurer
» Guias de fiscal general del estadoauditor general y tesorero
» Races to watch: state Housestate Senate
» Elections 101: poll watcherspollbooksvoting machinesmail ballots
Child is high-visibility jacket pointing a phone at a guardrail.
Mason the Guardrail Kid making a TikTok. (Photo submitted)

You’re scrolling through TikTok when you come across a video showing a guardrail you drive past on your way home. A tiny-voiced narrator is astutely pointing out several flaws you likely never spotted before. Curiosity piqued, you click the profile. You find more dissections of Pennsylvania guardrails, lots of them. Then you notice the follower count. 

The person behind the clips is an 11-year-old from Lancaster County named Mason Jones, aka “Mason the Guardrail Kid” to his 16,000-plus followers. He posts a video every day raising awareness about damaged guardrails — sometimes called guiderails — around the area and country, and his impromptu infrastructure inspections have led to real action by transportation officials.

“It does feel pretty nice and good,” Mason told PA Local about the impact. 

Fans adore him and his videos, which spotlight loose cables and bolts, incorrectly installed rails, or missing struts. There is sometimes pointed criticism of PennDOT alongside warnings like: “This rail will NOT Keep you from going into the creek.”

In other videos, he’s sharing photos of the solar eclipse, dog-sitting, or discussing the collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. 

Mason, who says drivers risk being hurt by faulty guardrails, reports any violations he finds to the appropriate officials. He conducts his inspections “pretty often.”

PennDOT says reports from Mason, submitted through the agency's Customer Care Center, have led to the replacement of a crash-damaged guardrail on Route 272 in Lancaster, the replacement of guardrail bolts on Kirks Mill Road in Chester County, and more.

PennDOT says with "nearly 40,000 miles of roadway and over 25,400 bridges" in its purview, the public is encouraged to report issues.

“Just about every day he is doing something guardrail related,” Mason's mother, Christine Miller, said. “We drive around our house and he will have me stop at certain guardrails. He also uses Google Maps and searches all over the United States.”

Mason’s niche interest stemmed from watching another creator who has been a longtime advocate for roadside safety. He found Steve “the Guardrail Guy” Eimers on YouTube last May and was instantly hooked. He took the time to learn more about guardrails, how they function, and how to crash test them. 

Eimers, who resides in Knoxville, Tennessee, began campaigning for guardrail safety after his daughter, Hannah, was killed in a 2016 crash when a guardrail speared her car. 

“Since Hannah’s crash, I have done a lot more stories. I just go out and find problems, and I highlight them. I tie them to a death or catastrophic injury and pressure the state to inventory their guardrails and fix all the problems,” Eimers told PA Local.

His work has connected with viewers, racking up over 100 million views across TikTok and YouTube, including from Mason who views Eimers as a mentor. 

Miller said she asked Eimers to send her son a video shoutout for his 11th birthday, and the two have been friends ever since. They were able to meet eight months later at a Transportation Research Board event in Washington, D.C. Mason was the youngest member of the press on hand.

“It was pretty nice being there,” he recalled. 

Eimers is thrilled to see his work inspiring others.

“I just started posting some videos on YouTube and all of a sudden people watched them and found a purpose,” he explained. “During my early advocacy, I was a lone ranger. It feels good that I taught people who are teaching other people how to get engaged and find their voice.”

Mason aspires to turn his interest into a career as a guardrail inspector and installer. His mother "couldn't be more proud of him."

“Nobody even thinks about guardrails," she said. "I myself have learned so much from Mason. You just see it on the side of the road and don't think much of it. You listen to Mason and see how important they are.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.

"What is this??? A statue for ants?"

@nba_paint on X using a 'Zoolander' reference to mock a statue of Sixers legend Allen Iverson in Camden; the internet agreed: It’s kind of small.

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Looking toward Blue Mountain from the Appalachian Trail in Cumberland County, via Robert S. Have a photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
mountains behind an open field
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The answer is "C. Delaware County." Wawa opened its first store in Folsom, Delaware County on April 16, 1964.

Wawa celebrated its birthday in Harrisburg this week, announcing 40 new midstate stores. President Joe Biden made a Wawa visit in Philly on Thursday, a day after he was seen eating Fryz with the enemy

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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