SUGARCREEK CARAVAN AND RALLY
September - 1997
The caravan formed up at Traveler's Rest in Dade City, Florida on Saturday, the 13th of September, 1997. Two days later they were in Hiawassee, Georgia at the Georgia Mountain Fair campground where we joined them. Our first day of travel consisted of the seven mile trip from our house on the mountain to the campground in Hiawassee. We knew most of the folks who arrived during the afternoon - the Swensens, the McGees, the Frantzes, the Honakers, the Geigers, and the Mergelkamps - but there were some new ones to meet too. Gene and Muriel DeLoach from Plant City; the Floyds from Charleston, SC; the Chattins; and the three ladies traveling together: Marilyn, Virginia, and Dorothy (daughter, mother and aunt). The weather was beautiful. We gathered for dinner at the new Daniels Steak House in Hiawassee, then sat out under the trees at the campground until way after dark with Jerry telling stories and outhouse jokes.
On Tuesday morning we set out for Sweetwater, Tennessee - 112 miles away - for a visit to the Lost Sea. This is an underground lake 300 feet beneath the surface in the lower end of a system of caves and caverns. To reach the lake it is required to walk down a winding pathway in the semidarkness about 3/4 miles. Our guide pointed out some of the stalactites and stalagmites and other rock formations common to most caverns and told stories of how the Cherokee Indians once used the caverns for ceremonial dances. During the Civil War the Confederacy gathered bat guana(?) for refining into gunpowder in the caverns. There was graffiti on the walls dating back to 1863. There were also several moonshine stills that operated at various times in the caves. We finally reached the boat docks and boarded a glass bottom boat for a tour of the lake. The lake is 4.5 acres in area, 70 feet deep. It has been stocked with trout that know they will be fed when the boat leaves the dock. The water churned when the guide threw them their ration of chopped liver. Then came the long walk back up. By the time we arrived back at the entrance, there was some huffing and puffing, but all seemed to have enjoyed the unique phenomenum. This is the largest known underground lake in North America. We stopped at the Dinner Bell restaurant for a buffet dinner on the way back to our campsites at the Sweetwater KOA.
On Wednesday morning we travelled north on I-75 to Renfro Valley, Kentucky. Here the campground is adjacent to the restored town, theatres, shops, and restaurant. We had a package deal which included the campsite, a boarding house meal, and a show. The show - called "The Spotlight" was very good, featuring several country singers and musicians in the "Old Barn" theater. Renfro Valley has the second longest running radio show in the country, having made its start in 1939. It was a full day.
On Thursday we had a long 336 mile trip to Coshoctin, Ohio. We left the campground in Renfro Valley at 7:00am while it was still dark, and we were enveloped in fog as soon as we got up on the Interstate. But the sun soon came up and before long the fog all burned off.
We arrived at the Lake Park campground near Coshoctin a little after four o'clock. Several other Airstreamers were already there waiting to join us. In fact the Hales and the Schumakers arrived precisely at the same time we did. Dave and Mary Love Schumakers (Ann's sister) were pulling their "new" vintage Airstream Caravelle, the unit that was immediately dubbed "The Peanut." We had thirty-eight folks join us for a fine meal at the Roscoe Village Inn. Roscoe Village is an historic canal town that has been restored to the condition it was in during the 1820s when traffic on the canal made the town prosperous.
On Friday morning we carpooled 25 miles back to Dresden and the Longaberger Basket Company. What that company is doing is phenomenal. They are producing 35,000 baskets a day - all woven by hand to exacting quality standards. Last year they produced over seven million baskets, and this year there will be even more. It's hard to understand how there can be a market for so many baskets of this type. The baskets are made to last, so it's not a consumable product - and the price is not cheap! At some point the market has to become saturated. But there surely is no sign of it at the plant. Everything is first class - indicating prosperity. The workers are treated with uncommon consideration - free medical care, good quality day care center, excellent pay, a voice in their supervision, good communication with videos mounted everywhere. It was really an impressive tour.
On Saturday morning we lined up to travel the last 40 miles into Sugarcreek as one convoy. There were 18 units with us now. We were going in on back roads so we weren't holding up traffic, except for a few Amish buggies encountered on the route. At the rally each trailer was welcomed with the ringing of a bell and an announcement of each couple by name over the PA system. The Land-of-Lakes unit of WBCCI (our travel club) which sponsors the rally all wore Swiss costumes. We were parked in Winklepeck Grove, a local park adjacent to a nice golf course. A comedian was the program for the evening. We got parked and registered and began lining up tours for the next few days.
Church services on Sunday morning were led by the President of the Land-o-Lakes Unit who also is a Methodist minister. Over $500 was collected for local charities. Afterward we drove over to Winesburg to the Alpine Alpa restaurant for lunch. Several of the tours were limited as to the number of people who could go. Sunday afternoon was devoted to rationing out those tours. After that it was a lineup for scheduling dinners in Amish homes. We filled our schedule and relaxed for the rest of the day. Over 60 tours had been scheduled.
We started our tours with the best of the lot - the Warther museum on Monday morning. This was the third time we've been there, and it only gets better. Each time we see things we missed on the time before. The work of Ernest Warther - the world's best carver - is beyond adequate description. He carved replicas of steam locomotives with an exactness that is unbelievable. One was disassembled and mounted on a display wall. There were over 5,000 parts - all carved out of black walnut and ivory. After the museum we ate lunch at the only MacDonald's restaurant with a hitching post outside. It was otherwise a typical MacDonalds. The afternoon tour was to the Wendell August forge. Not much there beyond an elaborate and expensive gift shop featuring bronze and aluminum plates with Amish scenes etched into them by the forging process. We ate at Eli and Mary Raber's Amish home for our evening meal. It was excellent and filling - homemade bread, mashed potatoes, chicken, ham, string beans, dressing, noodles, then four kinds of pies for dessert - all we could eat with lots of food left over.
On Tuesday morning we toured the Reeves Victorian mansion in Dover. Jeremiah Reeves owned a steel mill nearby in the early part of the century. The mansion now houses the Tascawaras County Historical Society. This is one of the few mansions of that era that has been preserved along with most of the original family's furnishings. With an enthusiastic guide the tour was very interesting.
On Tuesday afternoon we had the unusual experience of visiting an Amish school. It was the Barrs Mill School near Sugarcreek, a two room school for all eight grades. There were 26 children in the school. Grades 1, 2, 7, and 8 were in one room; grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 in the other. The children all appeared bright and happy. They were playing at recess when we arrived, but quickly went to their desks and began the work they were assigned. We were allowed to circulate among them and talk with them. They were all friendly and smiling. After a half hour of watching them study, they were each asked to introduce themselves and tell what grade they were in. Then each of the Airstreamers did the same. After the introductions, there were questions and explanations. The children were studying English, German, arithmetic, geography, history, reading, penmanship, and Bible verses. Some had mischief in their eyes, but were all well behaved. The girls wore black cloth caps and long, one color dresses. It is easy to criticize the Amish for limiting the education of their children to eight years in school, but I suspect that they learn more in those eight years than our children do in their first eight - maybe for some in twelve. At three o'clock school was over and most of the children began a long walk home. Two sets of parents met their children with their Amish buggies, and a few of the older boys had bicycles.
On Wednesday morning we went to the David Warther Carving exhibit. He was there himself to conduct us through the displays of his handiwork. He is continuing his family's carving legacy by specializing in carving ships, and it's obvious that he has inherited his grandfather's genius. He was a walking encyclopedia on the history of ships from their beginnings in ancient Egypt to the more modern sailing vessels of the 19th century. His carvings are made entirely of elephant tusk ivory, mounted on stands of ebony wood and displayed in beautiful cases lighted by small spotlights on the ceiling. Even the rigging on the ships is made of ivory - strings that David has made in a process of his own invention. He can create a string as small as .007 inches in diameter. The ends of the strings which represent the ropes are mounted to the crossarms by pushing them into tiny holes that he drills. The effect is fantastic. It takes an average of six months to carve a single ship. His life's goal is to create a display of over 100 ships which will demonstrate the evolution of ship design. He has completed fifteen, so he has about 40 years of work remaining.
Between the simple Amish people and the genius on display at the two Warther exhibits there is a interesting contrast in achievement. That, mixed with the wealth of beauty in these rolling hills and farmland, makes this part of Ohio a remarkable and unique place to visit.
The entertainment for the evening was the singing and storytelling of John Schmidt. John has devoted his life to a prison ministry. It was easy to see how he could be extremely effective there using his talent for music and comedy. His final song was The Touch of the Master's Hand - the song about the auctioning of an old violin which drew only $1 bids until an old man took up the bow and showed how beautiful it could be played. Then the bids started at $1,000 with a comparison with how people can also be changed dramatically by the touch of the Master's hand.
Thursday was a day to enjoy in the park. I played in a golf tournament at the course adjacent to the rally site. Later, an Amish family came and made homemade icecream, churning away for five hours to serve everyone. They also gave rides around the park in their buggy. Our hosts cooked ham and beans for supper in the park - in eight huge iron pots over open fires. There were enough beans for all who wanted it to take beans home for additional meals. We had professional entertainment every night, but on this night it was special. The yodeler who had been brought in especially for the Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek came to the rally and put on an amazing demonstration of his yodeling skills, giving a historical commentary on the art form as he sang.
While Ann and Mary Love shopped around the area, Dave and I visited an unusual hardware store in Charm, Ohio on the recommendation of David Warther. This was David's source of ebony wood. Ebony is the second hardest and densest wood in existence - second to lignum vitae. I bought a piece to have on hand for some unplanned future project. Every tool imaginable was on sale at the store, along with a good stock of all sorts of fasteners and other woodworking supplies - at reasonable prices.
We had good weather for most of the week. Some rain, but mostly sunny skies. The temperature on a couple of nights dropped into the thirties, motivating the use of several blankets. But it warmed up nicely during the daytime. There were a total of 290 trailers (or motorhomes) at the rally.
The Tampa folks who had caravanned to the rally with us and those who planned to return together gathered at the Dutch Valley Restaurant for dinner on Friday night. All seemed to agree that they had had a wonderful time in Sugarcreek. There were eighteen trailers making the return trip. Plans were made to rendezvous on Sunday at Wilmington, Ohio for the return home.
The Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek started on Friday. With the crowds in town and limited parking, buses was provided to take us into town for the festival. Friday's main attraction was the children's parade. The main parade began at 2:00pm on Saturday. This was an hour and a half long extravaganza that started with a long string of antique cars, then bands, floats, horsedrawn carriages, convertibles carrying queens of various festivals around Ohio, twirlers, dogs, including some St.Bernards, llamas, motorcyclists, and a lot of people dressed in Swiss costumes. There were five or six Airstreams in the parade, rolling along behind a contingent of the Land-o-Lakes Unit members marching ahead. Thousands of people lined the streets, then took to the midway. By the time we got back home there were a lot of sore feet.
After church services on Sunday we pulled out for the trip south. Our first stop was at the Cowan Lake State Park near Wilmington, Ohio where we met the seventeen other units for the rest of the caravan home. Weather remained good as we left Sugarcreek on SR93, then US22 at Zanesville, and US22 to Wilmington.
On Monday morning we left Ohio, moving south to the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington. We all ate together at the cafeteria in the park, then toured the various exhiabits. First was the Parade of Breeds where we saw a Peruvian Paso, a payouse Indian pony, a Russian don, a Tennesse walking horse, and a quarter horse. Then we watched the "Hall of Champions," where John Henry and four other race champions were shown. The announcer here made this exhibit especially good as she told stories about each horse's accomplishments and personalities. Then, after a ride through the park on a wagon pulled by two huge English Shire draft horses, we watched a movie, toured the museum, and finished the day back at the campground.
On Tuesday we moved on south to Indian Mountain State Park in Tennessee just south of the Kentucky state line. Jerry and Ellen Honaker went to the grocery store and loaded up with picnic supplies to serve at the pavillion for supper. We told everyone goodbye there as we planned to leave the caravan to return home the next morning, while the rest were to stay together a few more days on their trip down to Tampa. It had been an especially nice caravan and rally. We made it home (after a stop for lunch and another at a mall in Knoxville) on Wednesday afternoon (10/1/97) about 3:00pm. Everything looked okay around the house. The rain gage was full, indicating at least 5 inches of rain while we were gone, but things still looked a little dry. No colors in the trees yet, except for the dogwoods which are brown. We had seen very little color in the trees in Ohio either. Maybe that foretells a late fall this year.