This adventure began at Sugarcreek, Ohio, in the heart of the largest Amish settlement in the United States. The occasion was the Swiss Festival Airstream Rally - a nine day event. 280 Airstream trailers and motorhomes gathered on Saturday, September 23rd at Sugarcreek's Winklepeck Grove Campground to begin the event.
Our trip actually started two days earlier when we left home for the trip to Sugarcreek. After a well needed night of rain, we started out on Thursday morning. By the time we reached Murphy, NC, the sun was out for a beautiful day. We drove about 350 miles that first day, the first few miles through the backwoods towns of Ducktown, Turtletown, Ironburg, Corey Creek, Tellico Plains and Sweetwater. Then we hit the Interstates, I-75, I-40, I-81, and I-77, spending the first night at Camp Creek State Park near Princeton, West Virginia.
It was another beautifully clear day on Friday, September 22nd as we continued northward on I-77 through Beckley, Charleston, and Parkersburg, West Virginia. That stretch of interstate highway passes through some of the most rugged mountainland in the east. It must have required a tremendous effort to build the highway through there. There were three toll booths, collecting $1.50 at each.
Crossing the Ohio River, we passed through Marietta, Ohio, then found a mediocre campsite at the Hillside Acres Campground near Cambridge. There we met the Schumakers - Dave and Mary Love, Frank and Ruby - and three other Airstreamers headed for Sugarcreek. We were now about 600 miles from home.
Saturday - September 23, 2000 - We broke camp early - about 8:00am - to drive the last 50 miles to Sugarcreek. The rally site is a couple of miles beyond Sugarcreek on a narrow road used often by the Amish with their horsedrawn buggies. With so many trailers arriving at about the same time, two staging areas were set up in parking lots along the way to avoid tying the road up for a lengthy time. Ten trailers at a time were then sent to the park. We were warmly welcomed by folks from the local WBCCI Land 0' Lakes Unit dressed in Swiss costumes. As each unit entered the park a bell was rung and the names of the new arrivals were announced on the PA system. Everybody got a Swiss bear and a goody bag with a rally program, brochures, and tickets.
We hadn't been parked more than an hour when it started to rain, making the roads in the park a quagmire. Out came the tractors as folks were getting stuck right and left. That mess convinced us to just stay put and relax for the rest of the day. Despite the rain, all the trailers and motorhomes got parked, water was run, and we all had limited electric hookups. The rain slacked off in the early evening, allowing everyone to gather for the evening program in the meeting room. This building is usually an open air shelter with a tin roof, but plastic had been added to the sides to shut out the wind.
A\fter a round of announcements to get the rally going, the program was presented by a lady named Joan Herschberger, who spent about a half hour explaining the Amish way of life. She had an Amish background, but her family had left the Amish church when she was a child. Her insight into the culture made her talk very interesting. About 8:00pm the rains came again, this time in torrents. Lightning and thunder made almost every one of the nearly 600 people jittery. The noise on the tin roof was deafening. Joan had to compete with all that noise for most of her talk. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to enjoy her presentation. When the rain slacked off, we made our way back to the trailer through the mud.
This is the 38th year of the rally - the longest running of all WBCCI national rallies. In th early years they used to have as many as 500 trailers attending, but with the size of units getting larger all the time, 280 is now the limit. There are more motorhomes in the group this year than previously, reflecting the current trend in RVing. One must wonder though what the effect of high fuel costs will be. We saw regular gasoline at $1.63 per gallon in places.
Sunday, September 24, 2000 - After 10:00am church services, we went with the Schumakers to Dover for lunch at Shoney's. Back at the rally site, more units were arriving to be parked in the mud. Trailers could be parked by the tractors, but motorhomes were really having trouble. The skies were heavily overcast, but no more rain. The afternoon was spent signing up for tours and Amish dinners to begin on Monday.
Entertainment for the evening was a singing duo called "Ina T. and The Arvees." Ina was an RVer from California whose songs all told the stories of her experiences on the road. Her finale was a song especially written for Airstreamers - called the Airstream Song, sung to the tune of It's a Grand Old Flag.
Monday, September 25, 2000 - Today the tours began. Our first was the "Back Country Tour with Ray Troyer." We lined up at 9:45am, departing the rally site shortly thereafter. Mary Love and Dave were riding with us - and Inabelle and Don Sides. Ray Troyer took the 40 vehicle convoy through about 40 miles of back country, pointing out things of interest as we passed. The rolling hills of green farm land were beautiful. Many of the farms were Amish - identifiable by the lack of power lines. Many of the farmers were harvesting corn, using well-bred Percheron draft horses for the task. It was Monday, so most of the homes had clotheslines filled with the week's wash.
As we passed an Amish school, all the kids were outside waving and smiling. They just go to school for eight years, and all ages are in the same building. So, the ages were six to fourteen. After that, they go to work on the family farm or find a job somewhere. They all looked well scrubbed and happy.
One herd of Holstein milk cows all had all their tails cut off. Ray Troyer explained that they were still milked by hand, and that kept the milker from getting slapped in the face by the cow's tail. Most of the cows were Holstein - for volume - but there were a few Jerseys and Guernseys. The latter give richer milk.
We stopped for lunch at the Amish Door, an elegant restaurant run by a formerly Amish couple who had "jumped the fence" in their youth. Mennonites now, they served a good meal in the restaurant and provided many gifts shops for the ladies to shop in. After lunch we drove some more back country roads, stopping at a tarp shop where all kinds of canvas coverings were being sewn - with sewing machines powered by compressed air.
On Monday afternoon despite returning rain, we joined the tour to the David Warther Museum. David himself was there to conduct the tour. His work in carving the history of sailing ships in ivory is outstanding. He has completed 42 sailing ships, each taking an average of 6 months to complete. His latest, the USS Constitution, was completed this past February. He uses elephant tusk ivory for the ships, trimming them with black ebony, and mounting the scale model ship on a pedestal of black ebony. The rigging lines are all meticulously carved from ivory too in an amazingly intricate process. Following the presentation, we walked over to the Dutch Valley Restaurant for some ice cream and apple pie.
More rain, more mud. It let up in time for us to make our way over to the meeting room for the evening entertainment. This night it was the Warren Brothers Combo - a six man band that played a variety of music - Dixieland, Jazz, Golden Oldies, some Latin tunes, etc.
Tuesday, September 26, 2000 - Beautiful sunshine! Amazing how much better everything looks in the sunshine. We joined an 8:35am tour into the village of Sugarcreek to go through a bulk foods store, a small manufacturing plant making Skinners Salve, and the Alpine Museum. All were interesting. The bulk foods store is called such because they buy in bulk and repackage for sale in their retail store. The salve plant was a two person operation with a license to produce Skinners Salve from an old recipe. It was a two person automated operation that seemed to be thriving. The museum traced the history of Sugarcreek, emphasizing the contrasts between the 19th century Amish and the more modern Swiss than coexist in the area - the plain and the fancy. Afterward we drove through the rolling countryside past Walnut Creek, Berlin, Charm, and Farmersville, stopping at the Keim Lumber Co. in Charm. That is an outstanding hardware store with all sorts of tools and woodworking supplies.
On Tuesday afternoon we joined a group to visit Stoney Point School, another of the many Amish schools. Twenty-nine children, ages 6 through 14 in grades 1 through 7, were in this one-room schoolhouse. Two teachers, both young girls, were teaching math, reading, writing, history geography, phonics, and other subjects. The children were all attentive. They shylyintroduced themselves to us with their names and what they liked to do - very cute. The eighth grade is as far as any of them ever go.
At 4:30pm we gathered to carpool to the home of Mary and Eli Raber for dinner. There were about 60 of us eating at long tables in their living room. Three of their granddaughters were helping serve the mashed potatoes, noodles, dressing, string beans, baked chicken, roast beef, and two rich desserts. After the meal the three young girls sang us a couple of songs. All very nice.
Entertainment for the evening was a terrific ventriloquist who ran through a comedy routine with several dummies for an hour and a half. He was truly amazing - even having the dummies play a harmonica. How he did that, I don't know.
Wednesday, September 27, 2000 - Another sunshiny day. The first tour of the day was to a fascinating place called Krestview Woodworking. This manufacturing facility was designed, built, and is run by an old order Amish family. One of the owners, Brian Mullet, showed us through the plant. They make all sorts of outdoor furniture and gazebos, using the finest quality lumber, materials, and procedures. The plant was large and very clean. A diesel engine provided the power for the pneumatic tools and the huge dust collectors. The lumber was all #1 grade southern pine from Alabama, pressure treated in a plant in Columbus, Ohio, then air dried on a concrete pad behind the plant here. The 20' long 2x6s were stacked 12 feet high, covering an area of a couple of acres for 6 months of air drying before being used in the plant.
On Wednesday afternoon we visited the Warther Museum in Dover, Ohio. In my opinion this is one of the most fascinating museums in the United States, if not the best. Mooney Warther is deceased now, but during his lifetime, he did some amazing carving. He never sold anything. It was just a hobby, and it's all right there in the museum. The first thing you see is a working model of the inside of the steel mill where Mooney worked - all carved from walnut and ivory with workers moving about and wheels turning. He did five of these - all identical. Two are on display. The next room contains the pliers tree. Mooney loved to be with children, and he always carved them a set of pliers while they watched. This required 10 cuts with a knife. Starting with a little larger block of wood he made a larger pair of pliers, the a set of pliers in each handle. Ultimately, he started with a block of wood about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide. Before starting he predicted that he would make 31,000 cuts and wind up with a pliers tree with 511 pairs of pliers. They can all be folded back to the original block of wood with no material lost.
The next exhibit is the steam engine history. A model of every steam engine developed is included. The models are exact in every detail with wheels, bells, and other working parts all movable. Some are carved from walnut, some from ebony, and all trimmed in ivory and abelone. Some of the locomotivs have over 9,000 parts. Not only did this require an artistic talent, but Mooney had to know mechanics and mathematics. Yet, he only had a second grade education. When the Great Depression came along, Mooney could no longer afford carvin materials, so there was a 12 year hiatus in his carving. Then, he got back to it, carving historically significant entire trains mostly from ivory. His crowning achievement was the Lincoln funeral train. The detail is so precise, you can peer into the windows of the Lincoln car and see the coffin and Lincoln's head.
Warther was intrigued by Abraham Lincoln. Many carvings feature Lincoln in some form or another. One walking cane has a cage with tiny slots between the bars. Inside is a perfectly shaped ball, then another perfect ball inside that.
Outside in another building is the button collection assembled by Mrs. Warther. She acquired over 50,000 buttons during her lifetime. Only a few of these - but still a large number - are displayed on the walls and ceilings in unique patterns. Mooney Warther collected arrowheads. Many of these are on display in his workshop.
Ernest "Mooney" Warther earned his living making and selling knives. The family still operates that business. The knife shop is open to visitors also, and the knives are sold through mail orders
and in the gift shop at the museum.
This is a truly incredible museum that should be a must stop for anyone coming close to Dover, Ohio.
Back at the rally site, entertainment for the evening was a 14 piece string band from John Glenn High School. The young folks did a good job for a half hour.
Thursday, September 28, 2000 - All the tours were over, and this was a day to stay in the park. An Amish family brought in an icecream churn driven by a putt-putt engine, serving homemade icecream for about five hours. A cooking crew cooked beans and ham all day in eight huge iron kettles over open fires to serve that evening. Two hundred seventy five pounds of beans and two hundred fifty pounds of ham went into the pots. And was it good!
Larry Huttle, President of Airstream, Inc. drove over from Jackson Center in a new 30 foot Class C motorhome. He spoke to the group in the afternoon, explaining all the new things going with the company.
The entertainment for the evening was brought by the Prengers, a married comedy team that sang and played an outstanding variety of songs.
Friday, September 29, 2000 - With no more activities in the park, we chose to do some necessary chores like laundry and vehicle maintenance. The Swiss Festival began in the Village of Sugarcreek with the children's parade this afternoon and a major parade on Saturday. It has turned quite chilly with temperatures in the 30s in the morning. But the sun is out and that makes everything look good. Even the mud is beginning to dry up. So, the weather will not hamper the festivities.
We'll be leaving Sugarcreek on Sunday after church services for our first caravan stop at Morgantown, West Virginia. So, that will do it for this page.