Sugarcreek, Ohio  2002

For the last forty years, the Land-o-Lakes Unit of the Wally Byam Caravan Club has sponsored a rally in Sugarcreek, Ohio for Airstream RV owners.  The rally corresponds with the Swiss Festival which is held in Sugarcreek each year in September.  Not only is Sugarcreek the home of many descendants of Swiss immigrants, but it is on the edge of the largest Amish community in the United States.  The highlights of the rally are tours, arranged for by the rally sponsors, that take in many interesting things in the area - some of which would not be commonly known to the routine tourist. 

This trip was our sixth time to the rally, and we never fail to find it enjoyable and educational.  It was also a time to renew friendships with other Airstreamers whom we've traveled with on caravans over the years.  This year we traveled to the rally with Fred and Sara Creighton who were relatively new to Airstreaming.  Fred is Ann's nephew and the son of Airstreamers.  This was their first time to Sugarcreek.

The following is a day-to-day log of our activities:  

Wednesday, September 18, 2002 - It was drizzling rain as we left home about 11:00am to begin the trip northward to Sugarcreek, Ohio.  We were delayed a half hour or so trying to get all the electrical connections functioning.  It turned out the contacts in the main plug were corroded.  All was well after cleaning the contacts with a little sand paper.  It was slow going through the mountains.  We stopped for the first evening in Swannanoa, just east of Asheville, North Carolina.  It was Mama Gertie's RV park, a campground carved out of a mountain setting with steep roads, but nice level sites  one of the nicer campgrounds of our experience.

Thursday, September 19, 2002 - Our goal for the day was Fort Chiswell RV Park near Wytheville, Virginia where we met Fred and Sara Creighton.  It was a relatively short run, and we arrived just before noon.  The Creightons had pulled in just a few minutes earlier.  After setting up, we drove into Wytheville for a late lunch at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Found a Shell station to load up with gasoline at $1.27 per gallon.  The pull through the mountains cut our gas mileage to about 8 mpg.  Temperatures were on the warm side, though it cooled off pretty well during the night.

Friday, September 20, 2002 - This was a 300 mile day as we drove northward on I-77 through southwest Virginia, West Virginia, and southern Ohio.  The rolling countryside of this part of Virginia is quite beautiful.  There were three toll stations in West Virginia - $1.50 each.  The cost of road building through these rugged mountains must have been enormous.  There were two long, well lit tunnels along the way.  After a brief stop at the Tamerack, West Virginia's exhibition hall, we continued on I-77 to SR36, then west to Coshocton and the Lake Park RV Park, a spot where we had camped several times before.  The park has been improved considerably with paved roads and walking paths.  It was very warm  90 plus degrees.  Our campsite was beneath large shade trees.  Played some Joker with the Creightons.

Saturday, September 21, 2002 -  We left Coshocton about 7:30, driving through some rolling farming country on CR 643.  We came upon the first of many Amish buggies just before entering Holmes County.  Before long we reached Sugarcreek and the holding yard on the approach road to Winklepleck Grove.  After a short wait we joined a long line of trailers entering the park.  The Land O' Lakes folks were dressed as usual in their Swiss costumes and ready for us.  The public announcement of our arrival and the ringing of the old bell welcomed us to the rally.  It wasn't long before we found some old friends  Don and Inabelle Sides, Jerry and Ellen Honaker, Sid and Sara Watters, Rudy and Mildred Richter for a few. 

After settling in, the Creightons joined us for a drive around the area.  We set out to find an advertised Amish auction.  Something went amiss with the directions and we ended up in Charm, missing the auction, but arriving at the Keim Lumber Company in time for a little hardware shopping before the store closed at 11:30am.  Across the street from the hardware store was a little restaurant called The Homestead.  It was time for lunch.  A line was already forming outside the door, indicating its popularity.  The line seemed to be moving pretty well, so we joined in and had a very nice lunch.  Sara ordered a meat loaf sandwich, and was startled when it came.  The slab of meat loaf was at least two inches thick.  The other meals were excellent too.  Adequately stuffed, we continued exploring, stopping first at the Guggisberg Cheese factory, also in Charm.  Then we proceeded through Berlin and Walnut Creek, stopping in the latter at the huge flea market on the hill.  The clouds of the last few days had moved out, and the air was clear.  The rolling Amish farmland was a beautiful sight to behold.  This was the day of the fall equinox - not much sign of fall yet.  All the trees were still a lush green. 

We arrived back at the rally site in plenty of time to relax before the evening entertainment  Jack Bartle, the magician.  Jack was a fellow Airstreamer who performed his magic tricks for more than an hour.  Coffee and a plate of cheese and baloney were served afterward.

The temperature dropped during the night to the low fifties.

Sunday, September 22, 2002 -  After church services at 10:00am, we returned to the trailer where Ann and Sara prepared lunch.  Then, after a couple games of Joker (won by the men) we walked down to the northeast bandstand to be entertained by the Cambridge band.  This group of twenty plus members was led by a tall, thin, energetic leader that we later learned was a dentist by profession.  There was a flutist, a clarinetist, several saxophones, and a number of different kinds of horns.  A male and a female singer rounded out the group.  Their music was from the 1940s and 1950s, all well received by the Airstreamers. 

At 4:00pm we were at the gazebo signing up for tours and Amish dinners.  Most of the tours this year did not require sign up  only the Amish dinners and one of the schools.  Apparently, a decision was made that numbers didn't matter on the rest.  We saw several old friends from caravans past  Bob and Carolyn Mann, Gil and Helen Truax, Tom and Anabelle Weekly, Al and Vivian Scheibe, and a few more whose names escape.

At 7:00pm we again gathered in the large meeting room to be entertained by the John Glenn High School Strings from New Concord, Ohio.  Most of these eighteen kids played violins, but there was also a base viola, a cello, and an electronic keyboard.  There were calls for encores.  Following that was the traditional opening ceremonies, introduction of dignitaries, and a short address from the mayor of Sugarcreek.

Monday, September 22, 2002 -  The next three days were filled with tours.  We first went to the Broad Run Cheese Factory just east of Sugarcreek on Old SR39.  It was a small cheese making plant, not too impressive.  They crowded us into a storage room where the guide gave out with a memorized speech about the cheese making process.  They made two varieties of Swiss cheese  mild and sharp.  Ann had a fainting spell, standing for so long in the smelly, warm, crowded room. 

Then came the Warther museum  still the most impressive of all the tours.  They have added to the building  almost doubling the space.  The carving exhibits have been rearranged to better tell the story of Ernest "Mooney" Warther and his extraordinary talent.  We never tire of seeing these works of art.  The steam engines are exact replicas of operating locomotives made to scale  ½ inch to 1 foot.  Some of the engines have over 9,000 parts.  Always impressive, the 511 plier tree is now in a new, theater seat room where a new video better explains how it came to be.  Mark Warther, Mooney's grandson, conducted the tour and demonstrated the 10 cut creation of a pair of pliers.  He said his grandfather could duplicate the procedure in less than 10 seconds. 

One of the new displays was a replica of the exhibit train that Mooney spent five months on for a railroad promotion in 1923.  This exhibit contained the same locomotives that he took with him on that tour.  Following the rolling tour, the exhibit remained in New York City for another two years where some 3 million people viewed it.  The compensation he received from the railroad for this exhibition allowed him to leave his job at the steel mill and carve full time.

Of almost secondary interest, but still unique, were Mooney's arrowhead collection and his wife, Freida's, button collection.  Also, there's the Lincoln canes with their cages and balls, the Bixby plaque, and the Lindbergh cane.  The display of elephant tusks, hippo teeth, walnut and ebony wood, mother of pearl, and bones used in the carvings was much more impressive in its new setting.  Mooney Warther carved duplicates of many of his favorite locomotives and gave them away to friends.  Sometimes he carved the same locomotive three or four times, and in one case six times.  None of these duplicates are in the museum.  His grandson told us that there are five other locomotives that they would like to recover for the museum  carvings that he gave away to friends now reluctant to return them.

After lunch at the Dutch Valley Restaurant, the Creightons took in the Yoder Amish Farm tour  a real treat by their report.

Entertainment for the evening was a ventriloquist who was very good.  The International officers plugged the 2003 International rally in Vermont, and there were many door prizes.

A cold front passed through dropping the temperature considerably.  The air now was clear.  The temperature was in the low forties at sunup, though it warmed up nicely during the day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002 -  Ann was feeling better this morning and ready to go.  Our first tour was to the Krestview Outdoor Furniture plant.  This first class facility is Amish through and through  no power lines, no telephones  yet they've built a large business manufacturing and selling outdoor furniture - from lawn chairs to gazebos.  The plant is as modern as one can be without those utilities, not a speck of dust anywhere.  All the products are made from pressure treated lumber, handpicked to avoid knots.  Their lumber comes in bundles that they first stack on an open slab of concrete that must occupy an acre or more.  These new stacks are all "sticked" to allow for air drying.  The lumber is left in these stacks for five to six months so that all the shrinking and twisting is essentially completed before it's taken to the plant for processing.  It was most impressive.  It never ceases to amaze how many ways people can find to earn a living with just a little initiative and some good sense.

Following the furniture tour, we drove up to the little town of Kidron and the "old timey" hardware store called Lehmans.  It was much more than a hardware store with all sorts of appliances, old stoves, old bath tubs, and a myriad of things not normally found in modern stores.  We stayed about an hour, then came back to the rally site in time to catch the carpool to the train station.

The next tour was a ride on the Ohio Central Railroad from Sugarcreek to Baltic.  The ride took us through the back country for a different view of some Amish farms.  Corn was being harvested behind three and four horse teams of draft animals.  While waiting for the train, we managed time enough to sample the ice cream and the Goshen Dairy in Sugarcreek.

In the evening we carpooled to the Raber home for an Amish meal of mashed potatoes, gravy, noodles, dressing, baked chicken, ham, fresh homemade bread, jellies, and pies.  Maudi Raber entertained with her terrific sense of humor.  She is an editor for Country and Taste of Home magazines.  We left there pleasantly stuffed.  The Rabers have a beautiful home, just four years old, on property they've owned for a long time.  They have a natural gas well on the property and a spring, so their water and heat is free.  They don't have an electric bill or a phone bill.  They don't believe in insurance.  They raise all their own vegetables, beef, pork, and chickens.  So, their living expenses are minimal.  Mr. Raber owns and operates a saw mill.  Mrs. Raber does all sorts of things  like these dinners where she serves 50 people at a time at $11 apiece.  She said there was a dinner every night this week, plus several meals at noon.  During the winter they travel, and have been to all 48 contiguous states.  They're doing well.

The evening entertainment was a band brought in to accompany a dance that was held after the door prize drawing.  They were okay, but nothing special.

The weather continued to be exceptional  clear and mild.

Wednesday, September 24, 2002 - We started early on the downtown Sugarcreek tour which included a bulk food store, Skinner's magic salve plant, and the Swiss Museum.  Bulk foods means that the store buys it in bulk and repackages it into retail size containers for sale in the store.  They had some 1500 items  at pretty good prices.  Skinner Salve and the bulk food store now have a common owner.

Skinner Salve is an all purpose salve, claimed to have great healing powers  good for colds and a stuffy nose, arthritis, burns, sore muscles, stiff joints, insect bites, etc.  The plant was not running while we were there, but we got a pretty good explanation of all the equipment they use for mixing the ingredients, cooking, and packaging the stuff. 

We had to cut short our visit to the museum in order to make it back to camp in time for a visit to one of the Amish schools  Barrs Mill School.  At the school, there were 46 children in all eight grades.  First through fourth grades were in one room; fifth through eighth grades in another.  The teachers were two young sisters, ages 21 and 16.  The students were all well behaved and appeared to be working hard at their studies.  We stood around the room with the 5th through 8th graders and observed.  The teacher would call each grade  maybe five or six boys and girls  to a table at the front of the classroom.  There she would explain the assignment for the next day, then send the children back to their desks to work on it before calling up the next grade.  The 5th grader next to where we were standing was doing long division.  His assignment was to solve about 50 long division problems, expressing the remainder in a fraction.  He was moving right along with it, showing a rapid understanding.  He showed us his literature book, an old reader the cover of which was on backward.  Many of the books were held together by duct tape.  No slide rules, no calculators, no computers.  Yet the kids were learning.  I'd wager that every one of them could make change accurately. 

Just before their lunch period the children each introduced themselves to us, and we to them, and they sang a song to us in German.  I caught enough words to understand that it was a song about God and his Son Jesus.  When the bell rang for their lunch hour, it was a mad rush to their lunch boxes and outside to where they tore into their lunches, the boys on one side of the yard and the girls on the other.  They were hurrying to get through eating so they could play baseball in the yard behind the school.

It was time for our lunch too, so we stopped at Der Dutchman in Walnut Creek before our afternoon tour of David Warther's Carvings.  Specializing in the history of ships, David  now 45  has completed of 55 of what he estimates will be a 100 ship collection.  He averages two per year, so he'll be 67 and ready to retire when he finishes the set.  All of David's carvings are in ivory, and to say they are exquisite is an understatement.  Unlike his grandfather's locomotives, these ships have no moving parts, but the intricate riggings, tiny scrimshaw etching on the ivory sides and deck planking, and minute cabin details show his determination to get each detail exactly right.  He works from original blueprints and carves the vessel to scale.  Some are 1/8" to the foot; others are 1/16" to the foot. We were guided through the museum by a lady who was well versed in the history of each of the models.  After watching the carver at work for awhile, David Warther came out and answered questions.  He also demonstrated how he forms the tiny rope lines for the ship riggings.  He files these ivory filaments down to .007 inch in diameter.  Mounting the lines requires drilling a .007 inch hole in the mast arm or deck and inserting the line. 

It warmed up considerably on Wednesday afternoon, but clouds were gathering.  Reports of a hurricane coming filled the news.  The weather maps showed much rain over Georgia.

Evening entertainment was a barbershop quartet that really did a great job of singing and harmonizing for an hour and a half.  The Creightons won a large wheel of cheese in the door prize presentations. 

Thursday, September 25, 2002 - With the tours all a thing of the past, this was a day in the park  putt-putt ice cream, an Amish buggy ride, a golf tournament, horseshoes, crafts, a maintenance seminar, a talk by Larry Huttle, and a ham and bean dinner cooked in large open kettles over wood fires.  It was also a day to do things on our own that we hadn't had time to do earlier.

We began the day by walking to the golf clubhouse for breakfast.  While the bacon and eggs (Ann had pancakes) were good, this was definitely not a fast food place.  There was a great view of Winklepleck Grove and all the RVs from the window opposite our table.  We watched the Airstream golfers head out to the course in their golf carts, then took off for another visit to the Keim Lumber Company in Charm. Fred and I shopped the hardware store while the girls wandered off down the street to shop in some of the local stores.

Then it was back to the park for the hobby show and some putt-putt ice cream.  The Amish women had a new putt-putt engine connected to two large ice cream churns.  We'd seen a similar rig for sale at Lehmans for over $5,000.  For that kind of investment, they must turn out a lot of ice cream for more folks than just us Airstreamers.  The ice cream serving was large and delicious.  The popcorn machine was also working full time.

The weather maps now showed the storm Isador coming across the country on a path predicted to be just to the south of Ohio.  The temperature dropped considerably during the day.  By mid-afternoon, it was 62 degrees and overcast.  By 5:00pm, as the beans were being served, there was a light drizzle of rain, but not enough to discourage anyone from standing in line for the beans. 

The rally crew had cooked 240 pounds of dried, great northern beans in eight large kettles on racks over wood fires.  Each kettle had a whole, cut up ham added to the mix.  There were still two kettles full when everyone had been served, so it was announced that seconds were available, and the swarm of folks lined up again.  What a feast!

The evening's entertainment was three older men playing jazz music.  One had a bass guitar; another a banjo; and the third played an electronic piano.  Each was expert on their instrument, and they sounded good together. 

Our number finally came up in the door prize drawing.  We won a free night at Florida's Port-O-Call Airstream RV Park and some little gadget from a cheese factory. 

A steady rain through the night made for good sleeping.

Friday, September 27, 2002 - The rain continued, not hard, but steady, and the ground was now well saturated - a sloppy day for the parades at the festival downtown.  We hadn't planned on attending the parades anyway, but other activities were now dampened too. 

Our refrigerator quit working on gas, so had to plug in to the park's limited electricity to keep from spoiling its contents.  The refrigerator uses too much power for the solar system.  With no sunshine, we'd probably have had to plug in to the limited electric source anyway  limited because there were at least ten trailers plugged into one outlet.

It was mid-afternoon before the rain slacked off.  We drove over to the big flea market in Walnut Creek.  It seems a few thousand others had the same idea.  There were a lot of booths and people selling, but I saw few bargains.  After an hour or so, we headed west to Berlin and Millersburg.  Lots of shops were open, and lots of people were milling about.  Tourists have definitely found this place  and the Amish people are capitalizing on it. 

The driveways at the campground were deep mud on our return.  Only our four wheel drive made it possible for us to return to our trailer in the Suburban.  Others were parking out near the entrance and walking in.  Many of the events downtown at the Swiss Festival have been cancelled or postponed until tomorrow.

We played one more series of Joker games with the Creightons, the girls winning the series by one game.

Saturday, September 27, 2002 - With the weather as it was, we decided to skip the activities downtown and pull out.  A tractor was in service helping pull trailers out of the mud, so elected to use its services instead of chancing it myself.  We told the Creightons goodbye about 8:15am and headed south.  Made it to Wytheville, VA for the night, then on home on Sunday.  Looks like there was a pretty good wind storm at the house.  Lots of limbs down.  Not much sign of Fall though.  The temperature was in the 80s and everything looked green. 

- End of Travelog -

Our Airstream
Winklepleck Grove - Sugarcreek, Ohio
Entrance to rally site
The Warther Museum
One of many locomotives carved by
Mr. Warther
A 63 Plier Tree
Lincoln Funeral Train
Amish Wagon
Buggies In Background
Beans Cooking
The Mud