This adventure began on September 18th as our friends Rob and Jan Kelly from Woodstock, GA came to our home in Young Harris to spend the night and travel with us to Sugarcreek Ohio for the 50th anniversary of the Swiss Festival Airstream rally. So, about 8:00 am the next day we were off and running. We traveled through Franklin and Asheville, NC, then up I-26 through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery to Johnson City, TN, then along I-81 to Fort Chiswell, VA - about 300 miles. Rob had an unfortunate blowout on a trailer wheel which did some major damage to the wheel housing. That took about 2 hours to get back in shape to drive. Luckily, we were within a mile of a Walmart where he bought a new tire. On Wednesday, we traveled the rest of the way, meeting a 17 unit caravan at the New Philadelphia Walmart. We moved over to the rally site bright and early on Friday morning. Then there was a small snafu. We were separated from the caravan by a red light and failed to get the message that there was a new bullpen location. So, we arrived at the old brickyard site, and no one was there. Wondering where everyone was, we drove on into the campground. That caused consternation as the caravan leader was supposed to be the first to arrive. Instead, it was just us. They got it worked out without too much fuss, and we got a good parking spot near the activities building. After setting up, we made our first trip to Charm and Keim Lumber - also Grandma's kitchen for lunch. Bought a few exotic boards. The Amish were out in numbers walking, driving their buggies, washing clothes, mowing lawns, but saw none working the fields. We saw fields of corn partially cut. Lots of children.
Saturday - September 22 - Spent the day with Rob and Jan Kelly - also Dale and Beverly Bryan - Another trip too Charm, then lunch at the Amish Door in Wilmot, the Leyman's store in Kidron. The park seems to be full to capacity, which I recall being about 225 units.
Rally activities started in the evening with Jim Moss explaining the tours. Then came ventriloquist Ken Groves with his two dummies. Great show lasted over an hour.
Sunday - September 23 - After some rainy whether, the sun rose on this day to a cloudless sky. The air was cool. Church service in the pavillion began at 10:00am. Afterward several of us went for lunch at the Chalet in the Valley near Charm. The Chalet was a Swiss restaurant. None of the Amish restaurants were open on Sunday. The Chalet was crowded with Airstreamers. After an hour of waiting, we had a good meal.
Entertainment for the evening was Bob Belden, CEO of Belden Brick Co., Sugarcreek's largest industry. Belden is the 6th largest brickmaker in the country - the largest family owned - with the capacity of making over 200 billion bricks a year. With the current economy though, they are producing only half that many, That excess capacity is evident when driving around the area. There are stacks of bricks everywhere.
Monday- September 24 - Cool, but no rain. This was the first of three days of tours. There were eight tours going out each day with 4 to 5 stops on each. So we had to choose one of the eight each day, This day we chose tour #3 which included visits to four manufacturing plants in the area. The first plant was ProVia, a window and door manufacturer - very impressive, and clean. They were producing some 200 fiberglas and steel doors per day. Everything was pre-sold. The automation was amazing. With literally hundreds of different design options, it was equally amazing how they kept track of the orders.
The second stop was a modular and manufactured home plant - also impressive, but not so clean. They had about eight homes under construction - excellent quality. All walls were framed with 2x6s on 16" center and finished with dry wall just like traditional homes. The difference between modular and manufactured is that a modular home is made to sit on a standard, permanent foundation, while a manufactured home is on a steel frame that can be moved. They were producing five homes per day - all pre-sold. That was down from the 14 per day the same plant produced before the economic downturn. After lunch at the Dutch Valley Restaurant our third stop was at Superb Industries Inc. - makers of precision parts, both plastic and metal. They make any kind of part needed - as long as the order is for a million or more. The most impressive function was their tool and die department where they designed the machines to make those parts. The last stop was at a new plant that makes "teardrop" camping trailers. These small trailers were coming off the assembly line at the rate of four a day. The trailers were excellent quality, but so small. They made everybody appreciate their Airstreams more. The evening entertainment was a photo show and commentary by renowned photographer Doyle Yoder. His Amish roots have allowed him to take pictures of Amish activities in beautiful settings. Most pictures of people are distant or with backs turned to respect their opposition to closeups of the face - a graven image. There were numerous pictures of buggies in the winter or fall. His pictures appear in many magazines and on many postcards, calendars, and jigsaw puzzles.
Tuesday, September 25 - Four tour stops today - Stoney Point Amish school, Abe Yoder's casket & graveside service, Warther's Museum, and a funeral home. The high point was the Warther Museum, and that's always awesome. Mark Warther - grandson of the carver - conducted the tour with finesse. The locomotives that his grandfather carved are beyond incredible.
There were 33 kids in the one-room schoolhouse - 15 girls and 18 boys - grades 1 through 8. Sixty-five of us Airstreamers circled the walls to watch the kids at work on their studies. Each child introduced themselves and told their grade. They sang us a song, but otherwise were quietly going about their work. The two teachers were young girls - probably 17 or 18 years old. Abe Yoder runs a farm, raises sheep and Belgian horses, builds caskets and provides hearse service for his fellow Amish. He is an outgoing individual, willing to talk about anything as long as anyone would stand around and listen. The last stop was at the Herzog Funeral Home in Dover. The owner's hobby is collecting funeral programs and memorabilia from notable people. He told funny stories about how he has gone about collecting his stuff. Displayed all around the inside of the funeral home, he has an amazing collection. Name a famous person and he probably has something of that person there. Bryan Roman - an extraordinary singer - was the night's entertainment. We heard him once before. Good then too. He spent 24 years selling insurance, then went professional with his singing. Could understand every word.
Wednesday, September 26 - Raining again. Chose to pass on the tours today and explore around on our own - in the rain. We started by watching the eight tour convoys lineup and leave the park. Couldn't get out until they all left.
Did a little shopping in Walnut Creek, then visited our favorite bakery - Herschbergers. We were too close to Keim Lumber to pass up one last visit. They had filled their scrap bin, so confiscated a little wood. Then it was the bulk food store in Sugarcreek and lunch at Beachy's Country Restaurant. After lunch we made a quick stop at the IGA grocery store, then back to camp. Easy day through off/on rain. The evening's activities included a special program celebrating this being the 50th anniversary of the Sugarcreek rally. The Land-o-Lakes unit leased the gymnasium of the highschool for the event and chartered buses to get everyone there and back. Local government officials were there along with other notables to participate. Jim Moss did his usual good job as emcee. Mark Warther was given a plaque commemorating the fact that the Warther Museum has been a tour stop every year since the beginning. He promised to place the plaque in a prominent place in the museum. After all the presentations The Four Preps entertained for over an hour. This was a men's quartet of older gentlemen belting out some of the old songs.
Thursday, September 27 - This was the "Day in the Park" that we were all looking forward to. Despite rain, a lot was going on. The golf tournament had to be cancelled, but there was a hobby show, flea market, Amish buggy rides, putt-putt icecream, popcorn, horse shoeing demos, cooking apple butter, and of course the ham and bean supper followed by The Joey Tomsick Orchestra program.
My bowls won "Best of Show" in the popular hobby show,
Friday, September 28 - The Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek was the big event for Friday and Saturday. Since we'd seen all that several times in the past, and we needed to get home for some appointments, we left the rally early on this day for the two day trip home. It looked like the weather was going to improve - no rain, but a lot of fog as we left. But, as we approached West Virginia the bottom fell out. For 100 miles we drove through rain. Then it cleared as we got to Virginia. Met some friends en route and camped with them at Fort Chiswell. This concludes the journal.