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Have ducky time on amphibious vehicles

I'm a quacker.

My wife, Pat, isn't.

But we enjoyed the 60-minute land-water excursion aboard the duckies that tour Pittsburgh, where passengers are encouraged to quack as loudly as possible.

We were a noisy crew quacking our way through the heart of the one-time Steel City. Yes, it was a little kitschy, but the kids aboard loved it.

Our guides, Captain Al and narrator Garrett, took great delight in having us quack as loudly as possible when passers-by were talking on cellphones along city streets. The natives really loved us.

Just Ducky Tours ( owns and operates six of the DUKW vehicles that date back to World War II. Reservations are needed because the narrated tours from Pittsburgh's historic Station Square are very popular, with five trips a day on weekdays and six on weekends.

The duckies cruise downtown streets, cross the Allegheny River on one of Pittsburgh's 446 bridges (more than any other city in the world) and then enter the water near the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio River.

The duckies drove down the paved bank at Allegheny Riverfront Park on Pittsburgh's North Shore not far from Heinz Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and into the water.

We cruised past parks, the Carnegie Science Center and the Rivers Casino before doubling back.

We floated past the World War II submarine USS Requin (SS-481), anchored at the science center. We also passed a bronze statue on the shore dedicated to the late children's television host Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh native.

Two duckies exited the water, but the third had mechanical problems and got stuck on the steel-lined ramp. A replacement was called to retrieve the passengers and crew.

With the ramp blocked, our ducky crossed the Allegheny River near Point State Park, where the three rivers meet and cruised up the Monongahela to another ramp to exit the water. We made our way back to Station Square on the south shore of the Monongahela across from downtown Pittsburgh.

The amphibious trucks have a colorful past.

The six-wheel-drive vehicle was designed and built starting in 1942 by General Motors and Sparkman & Stephens. It is a modification of the two-ton Army "deuce" truck.

A DUKW is 31 feet long, 8 feet, 3 inches wide and 7 feet, 1 inch high. It weighs 6.5 tons empty. It can travel up to 50 mph on land and 5.5 knots on water. It is estimated that 21,137 DUKWs were built during World War II.

In the designation, D stands for being designed in 1942; U, for being a utility vehicle; K, for being an all-wheel-drive vehicle; and W, for two powered rear axles.

Ducks were first used in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and were used in the D-Day invasion of France and in March 1945 to cross the Rhine River into Germany.

The first American ducky tours were offered in 1946 in Milwaukee, and they have become famous in Boston, Baltimore, Seattle and other cities.

Pittsburgh is a city of 311,000 with a compact and very walkable downtown, world-class museums, distinctive architecture, a strong cultural scene, excellent shopping, cutting-edge galleries, 89 distinct neighborhoods, high-quality restaurants and a strong industrial history that is being celebrated.

The downtown is marked by glass-and-steel skyscrapers like PPG Place. There is even a public art walk. You can download a guide at

Pittsburgh has a surprisingly pretty and green urban setting, with more trees per capita than any other American city. And, yes, Pittsburgh has three more bridges within its city limits than Venice, Italy.

You can rent kayaks and paddle Pittsburgh's rivers. You can rent bicycles and pedal on spectacular riverside trails. It is a city with a museum to honor native son Andy Warhol and an aviary filled with colorful birds from around the world.

Industrial magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie loved dinosaurs. So the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, built in 1907, houses one of the largest dinosaur collections in the world.

It sits next to the Carnegie Museum of Art, which features French impressionist, postimpressionist and 19th century American art.

Nearby you will find the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, built more than a century ago by Henry Phipps, a friend and partner of Carnegie. The elegant 13-room Victorian glasshouse features tropical plants, butterfly gardens, orchids and seasonal flowers.

It is fun to explore the food shops and restaurants along the Strip, Pittsburgh's historic market district that lies north of downtown along Penn Avenue and nearby streets on the banks of the Allegheny River. It is the center of Pittsburgh's nightlife.

It is filled with places to enjoy cheese, meat, pasta, fish, chocolate and more. A milelong stretch of old warehouses has been converted into restaurants, food shops and nightclubs. Street vendors prepare international dishes. It has a European feeling but retains a gritty working-class atmosphere.

You can sample biscottis at Enrico Biscotti Co., fresh-baked breads at Mancini's, hummus at Labad's and an almond or apple mele at Colangelo's.

The Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., an old-school Italian market, exudes a feeling of Boston's North End with its 60 olive oils and hundreds of cheeses. It features Carol Pascuzzi, the store's legendary cheese queen, who calls everyone "dear heart." She really knows her cheeses and she shares that knowledge with visitors.

In the heart of the Strip, you will find Primanti's with its iconic sandwiches that contain coleslaw and fries. It is open 24 hours and draws big crowds.

You can even sign up for food tours of the Strip. They cost $35 with Burgh Bits & Bites. For information, call 412-901-7150 or check out

The Strip -- once home to steel mills and glass factories -- has a large farmers' market on Saturday mornings in season.

Station Square is a good place to begin a one-day outing in Pittsburgh. The onetime railroad depot covers 52 acres with restaurants, bars, boutiques and specialty stores and sits at the base of Mount Washington with two historic inclines. It also connects to the Southside Trail and the Eliza Furnace Trail that run along the Monongahela River to the south.

Station Square's Grand Concourse, built in 1901, was the glitzy terminal of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad. It is now an upscale restaurant.

The Monongahela Incline, built in 1870, is 635 feet long and it climbs 367 feet up Mount Washington. The passenger cars move at 6 mph up the 35-degree slope. It is a National Historic Landmark.

The Duquesne Incline, built in 1877, is 800 feet long and rises 400 feet to Duquesne Heights. The 17-passenger car moves 6 mph up the 30-degree slope. It is at 1197 W. Carson St., Pittsburgh 15219 (412-381-1665 or

The inclines, among the oldest of the few remaining in the United States, offer stellar views of Pittsburgh. The city once boasted 17 inclines that were used to get workers from home to work and back again.

Pittsburgh celebrates its smokestack past in the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area that covers Pittsburgh and eight surrounding counties. For information, call 412-464-4020 or check out

You can also enjoy great vistas of the Pittsburgh skyline from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a series of local trails that stretch 25 miles along the banks of the three rivers. For information, call 412-488-0212 or check out

You can also pedal or hike 141 miles from Homestead, Pa., to Cumberland, Md., on the Great Allegheny Passage, a rail-trail. The last mile from Homestead to Pittsburgh is in the works. When complete, that will create a 321-mile trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. For information, write to P.O. Box 501, Latrobe, PA 15650, (888-282-BIKE or

For Pittsburgh information, contact Visit Pittsburgh at 120 Fifth Ave. Place, Suite 2800, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, 412-281-7711 or