Swiss Festival Rally - 2009
Sugarcreek, Ohio

Friday, September 18, 2009 - We drove in the rain most of the way from home to Fort Chiswell, Virginia.  It was still a nice drive through the mountains to Franklin and Asheville, North Carolina, then up I-26 to Bristol, Tennessee and I-81 to Fort Chiswell. 

We arrived at the Fort Chiswell campground before 3:00pm and relaxed for the rest of the day. 

Saturday, September 19, 2009 - We left Fort Chiswell before good daylight, driving through fog for the first hour.  Up I-77 into West Virginia is a mountainous road, but a good one.  To pay for creating the highway through those mountains, they have four toll booths, exacting $3.25 each for a total of $13.00 for the trip.  We arrived in Sugarcreek about 2:00pm, before anyone else.

The grass at the rally site at Winklepleck Grove had been freshly mowed and was green.  It had a deserted look though with the open band stand and shelter area.  We drove on to a campground in town for the night. 

The clear sky and bright sun was inviting.  We drove around the area admiring again the rolling countryside and open farmland, most of which is owned and run by the Amish.  It being the weekend, there were not too many Amish buggies on the road, but there were lots of tourists.  Highway 39 through Walnut Creek and Berlin was heavy with traffic.

We found that the big flea market in Walnut Creek had gone out of business.  Two new flea markets - one near Walnut Creek and one near Berlin - have taken its place.   Neither seemed to be as impressive as the one big one used to be. 

Back in Sugarcreek, the Dutch Valley Restaurant was crowded with people.  They were lined up all around the porch.  We opted for a meal at Beachy's Restaurant near the campground. 

That evening the temperature fell into the low 50s. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009 -  It was after lunch before the first Airstreamers arrived at the rally site.  As soon as we saw the activity, we moved our rig over, parking next to the soybean field to the west.  With a clear view of the southwestern sky, we had no trouble getting our satellite dish locked into TV signal.

My asignment this year is to record the highlights of the rally on video tape that can be edited into a promotional DVD for the Land-o-Laker Unit of WBCCI.  They are the ones who have put this rally on for the last forty years.  The most interesting sights around here are around the Amish community, and they don't like to have their pictures taken - at least not their faces.  So, that adds to the challenge.

Monday, September 21, 2009 -  Work immedately began moving about 100 benches and tables from the shelter area to a spot on the grounds.  The water crew went right at it also, laying out the pipelines to get water to the some 200 trailers and motorhomes expected for the rally.  Electric power lines were already buried with terminals on posts distributed around.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 -  Today I rode with the tour director around the community as he previewed the tours and stopped at a number of the Amish cottage industries.  One stop was at a woodworking shop where a young man was cutting out parts for jewelry boxes.  As long as he was facing away from the camera, he didn't mind pictures, so I have some footage of him working at his table saw.   His father showed me his harmonica that he planned on entertaining the tour with and played a couple of numbers.  I recorded the sound, but had to have the camera pointed away.  Before it was over, I had bought a new harmonica and a package of "cashew brittle."   They are enterprising folks.

We also stopped at a wheel shop.  This Amishman had a large shop full of equipment that he had purchased over the years to make wagon wheels.  One would think that his business was primarily there to serve the Amish with their buggy wheels, but this shop was more into making wheels for other places that were reconstructing antique wagons - museums and such.  He showed us a wooden wheel under construction that would replace an old metal bicycle wheel.  The wheel was perfectly round, having been bent in a steam compartment a full 360 degrees, the joined with a finger joint.  They had a box of old steering wheels with the rims missing that they were making new wheels for.  He had machines to turn spokes in an oval shape, machines that applied metal rims to perfect round wheels, routers, shapers, lathes, and many other tools without names.  Again, I was free to take pictures as long as their faces didn't show.  A picture of a face is a forbidden "graven image."

We stopped at a country store and a shop created just for making motorized (putt-putt) ice cream machines.  None of these places had electric power or telephones.  They don't object to 12V battery power or cell phones.  Most of the heavy machinery is run by hydraulics or compressed air.  There's usually a phone booth somewhere nearby shared by several families, and it seems that cell phones are okay.  The idea is not to be connected to the rest of the world by hard wire - mainly no television which is considered a bad influence.                                                     

Driving around all day through the Amish communities brought scenes of clothes hanging out to dry, beautiful flower gardens, lots of horsedrawn buggies, bicycles, neat looking farms, school children playing baseball in the school yards, bearded men, and ladies with their white caps. 

Wednesday, September 23rd - I rode with Jim Moss and a couple of tour escorts on a dry run.  We visited Krestview Woodcraft, Coblenz Chocolates, the Amish-Menonite Culture Center, Yoder's Amish Farm, Berlin Furniture, and a couple of other Amish enterprises. 

At Krestview, they make outdoor furniture and gazebos.  Using a new composite material, they have almost abandoned the use of pressure treated pine.  The composite comes in six bright colors, and the furniture holds up in outdoor weather without changing color.  This Amishman's business has grown to such an extent that the Amish bishop has given permission for him to have electric power and telephones.  It's no longer a "cottage" industry worked from home.

Coblenz Chocolates is in the same category.  The owner - Jason Coblenz - has been in this business for over 25 years, shipping his delicious chocolates all over the world. 

The Amish-Menonite Culture Center is built around a 360 degree mural which depicts the history of the Amish and Mennonite faiths.  The mural is huge - I'm guessing that the canvas is about 12 feet tall and maybe 100 feet in length mounted around the circumference of the room.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete after living in the area for four years absorbing the culture. 

Yoder's Amish Farm is an authentic group of buildings, including the main house, the "dawdi haus," and barns, that is now simply a tourist attraction telling the story of life on the Amish farm fifty or sixty years ago.  The flowers, the animals, and all else is well maintained to accurately reflect the way the former owners lived.

The weather is warm.  It was raining when we awoke this morning, but for most of the day was just overcast and gray.  Even so, this rolling countryside is beautiful.  Work at the rally site is about done, and the Land-o-Lakers are ready for the rally guests to arrive.  They feed us lunch every day.  The first guest Airstreamers will begin to arrive on Friday with the main group to come in on Saturday.  They're expecting between 180 and 190 units total.

Thursday - September 24th - Today we drove up to Kidron, Ohio where an Amish auction was being held.  This area is known for the Schwarzentrubel Amish, the most conservative of the many Amish church groups.  The women wear dark dresses and black hair coverings.  The men wear black hats.  They refuse even to put reflectors on their buggies (most Amish buggies have at least a large triangular reflector on the back).  There was also a flea market going on in the parking area.  A dozen or more buggies were tied up at the rail. 

Across the street was the famous Lehmans Hardware.  No bargains there, but they carry a huge inventory of stuff that's hard to find other places.  Tour buses had come in with scores of people. 

We ate lunch at the Amish Door - typical Amish meal of mashed potatoes, green beans, and fried chicken.

Visited two leather shops in the afternoon with Jim Moss.  The first was in New Bedford, a place called the New Bedford Harness and Boot Shop.  The same family has owned this business for 50 years, specializing in all sorts of tack - harnesses and such - for the horses that pull all these buggies.  

The second leathershop was RW Leather and specializes in small consumer type stuff like belts, wallets, purses, straps of various kinds, etc.  He was proud of his collection of brands.   When he buys leather, it comes in irregular sheets - each sheet from a single animal.  Occasionally when the cow (or bull) had been branded, the brand still shows on the leather.  Thus, this collection of brands.  He was getting ready to display these brands on one of his walls. 

Friday, September 25th - Today was wash day, so our first stop was to the launderette.  After that we made our third visit to Charm and Keim Lumber.  I just had to see what else had been placed in their scrap bin.  Found some uniformly cut maple boards about 10" x 12" and loaded up.  This store is humongous.  My main interest is in the exotic woods department, but the rest of the store would be of interest to anybody.  They simply have just about everything there - tools, hardware, building supplies, paint, housewares, furniture, even a restaurant upstairs which we tried for lunch.  And it was good.  I keep saying that the store is large enough to contain a couple of Walmarts.  Maybe that's a little exagerated, but it's huge.  And, behind they have a millworks and lumber yard that takes up as much space as the store. 

Coming back we like to stop at Hershberger's Outdoor Bakery and Market - fried apple pies, cinnamon raisin bread, and doughnuts made up our purchases. 

Also took some video of an Amishman with four large horses pulling a rake through a freshly cut hayfield.  That almost completes my list of Amish scenes that I wanted for the rally video I'm working on.  I have a segment of children playing outside an Amish school while a buggy passes by.  I have picture of a church wagon, an Amish home and barn, clothes hanging out on wash day, lots of flowers, many buggies tied to a hitching rail, two little Amish girls walking home from school, a leather belt being made by an Amish craftsman, nearby restaurants and shopping areas, and several other cottage industries.  I have a segment of a motorhome entering the rally site while an Amish buggy passes by The one thing left to take besides rally activities is a picture of an Amish telephone booth.

Today was the first day for guest Airstreamers to come in and register.  The Land-o-Lakers were out in their Swiss costumes to greet the newcomers.  Each time a new unit arrives, they announce on the loudspeakers, "Welcome to the Sugarcreek Rally, you're in for a great time."  Then the bell rings.  So far, there are six units from our Georgia Unit.  Tomorrow the rest will come until the total reaches 180+.  I'll have video segments of all that. 

All the early workers - us included - gathered for dinner tonight at the Carlisle Inn in Walnut Creek.  It was served Amish style with bowls of mashed potatoes, baked chicken, pot roast, green beens, dressing, gravy, and hot bread passed around.  This was after a course of salad and followed by a variety of pies for dessert.  Whew!!

Saturday, September 26th - We awoke to rain, and it continued for most of the day.  Not sure how many units arrived today, but the parkers were busy - in their raincoats.  We got out once to check email and publish this journal.  We do that at the Carlisle Inn in Sugarcreek.  While out we visited the bulk food store in Sugarcreek, redeeming our ditty bag coupons for free cheese.

Ann and I joined the choir for practice this afternoon.  We're singing a difficult rendition of "Shall We Gather At The River"  at tomorrow's church service.

At the evening program, Jim Moss explained the upcoming tours for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week, then an Amish couple kept us spellbound with his stories about their life style. 

Sunday, September 27th - Rain and more rain.  Looks like this kind of weather will last a few more days.  The showers were intermittent though and the sun came out in mid-afternoon raising hopes that it would soon be over.  We run where we have to go between showers.

The choir assignment worked out pretty well.  At least it was over with quick.  Our friend Don Sides was the preacher for the day.  After the church service we led a convoy of Georgia folks to Berlin to eat at the Farmstead restaurant.  Good meal.

Back at the rally site the Cambridge City Band performed for an hour playing state songs and a medley of others.  Inside because of the weather, it was still great music.  The song for state of Georgia was "The Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech."

Then at 4:00pm they started selling tickets for the Amish home dinners.  We're going Tuesday evening along with several of the other Georgia folks - Carol and Bob Cone, Chris and Steve Rosenthal, Al and Mary Holcomb, Ed and Runette Bledsoe, Brenda Sue and Greg Holcombe, and maybe a couple others.

The evening entertainment was a talk by Dr. Elton Lehman, a doctor in Mt. Eaton, OH who cared for Amish families for over thirty years.  He was named U.S. Country Doctor of the Year in 1998, and was written up in many newspapers for establishing the first birthing center in the country.  He has delivered over 6,300 babies.  The book, House Calls and Hitchin' Posts, tells the story.  Now retired, he now delivers these talks to groups like us, and of course he had books for sale.  We read the book a few years ago and wished we had our copy with us for him to autograph.

Monday, September 27th - Again, we awoke to heavy rain.  Weather forecasts showed an 80% chance of rain, so the tours began in a dampened atmosphere.  The rain itself is not as much a problem as the mud it creates along the drive paths in the park. 

The tours left "The Grove" like clockwork, the first leaving at 8:35am, then every 10 minutes, until the 7th left at 9:35.  We were with the 7th, riding with the escorts, Guy and Carmel Porter.

Our first stop was at Erbs Coleman Museum.  This Amishman has a collection of hundreds of lanterns and stoves dating back to 1903.  Some of them were ornate to the extreme, made for lavish homes before the age of electricity.  Mr. Erb owns a Coleman store near Berlin and obviously has done very well.  We bought two folding lawn chairs and a grill from him last year, but had not seen his museum. 

Our second stop was at Hershbergers Country Store.  This store out in the middle of nowhere has just about anything anyone would want - an Amish Walmart.  Melvin Hershberger was not there, but two daughters were managing quite well.  They were all smiles with the business the tour brought them. 

The third stop was at Noah Stutzman's Wheel Shop.  This is a family business run by Noah and his father Melvin.  They make buggy and wagon wheels for the Amish, and also specialty wheels for antique restorers.  He had an order for several antique cannon wheels used for Civil War type cannons.  He had another order for antique bicycle wheels.  Didn't know that the early bicycle wheel rims were made out of wood.  These rims were made by bending a piece of white oak into a 360 degree circle and joining the two ends with a finger joint, then shaping the inside and outside with just the right convex and concave shape.

The next stop was for lunch at Millers Dutch Kitchen in the little town of Baltic.  The special was three pieces of broasted chicken - a leg, a breast, and a wing - cream peas, and mashed potatoes for $6.95.  Another tour was there at the same time, so there were about 100 of us Airstreamers being served.  I think we overwhelmed them.  It took quite a long time for everyone to get their meal, but it was good. 

The next stop was at Scenic View Ice Cream Freezers.  This young Amishman - Ervin Miller - restores old John Deere engines and installs them on wagons with large ice cream freezers.  The average price on the finished freezers we saw was $5,000.  He has a large investment in his machine shop equipment - lathes, milling machine, drill presses, etc. He's been in business for three years and seems to be doing well.  Expecting us, he had made a churn of ice cream for us that was really good.  It's amazing that there would be a market for the number of these units sufficient to make him a living.  It's even more amazing that he can tap that market out in the boonies, without a telephone or salesman aside from himself.

Our last stop of the day was at a leather shop - R. W. Leather.  This is another family business - primarily making leather belts.  His market is exclusively the English (anyone that's not Amish is English) because the Amish don't wear belts (Amish men hold their pants up with suspenders).  Don't know how much our group spent there, but it was a good day for Mr. Roy Wengard, the R.W. of the business name. 

The evening's entertainment was the Ron Warren Band, seven menbers playing the keyboard, trumpet, two saxophones, trombone, bass guitar, and drums.  After a few numbers they recessed while door prizes were awarded.  We won dinner for two at the Der Dutchman restaurant in Walnut Creek.  The band came back and played for dancers.

Tuesday, September 28th - Joining Tour #1 the first stop was at the Pleasant Valley Amish School.  It's always refreshing to see these Amish children studying.  There were 24 students - eight grades - in the one room schoolhouse.  Three of the grades had just one student each.  The older children - grades five through eight were on one side of the room with the younger ones on the other.  There were about 20 of us standing around the outside,  First came introductions as the children walked to the front - the names Yoder, Miller, Hershberger, Erb, predominant.  Then we introduced ourselves to them. 

In unison, the children sang a song - "I Meet Jesus Through the Channel of Prayer."  They begin each day with scripture reading and prayer.  The teacher, Marian Yoder, explained their schedule, then they pulled a curtain down the center of the room.  The assistant teacher stayed with the younger children, her name also Marian Yoder.  They were studying arithmetic, using coins and flash cards, as the children kept stealing glances at us.  I always come away thinking that they learn more in their eight years of formal schooling than many of ours learn in twelve. 

After a few minutes we went down to the basement where an older couple who were on the school board answered questions.  They spoke of how discipline was seldom a problem.  The children were anxious to learn.  Since German (or Pennsylvania Dutch) is the everyday language of the Amish, the children know nothing else until they go to school.  Amazingly, after only a few months in the first grade, they can speak English fluently,  Of course they look forward to recess when they can go outside and play softball,   We saw this at other schools we passed while driving around. 

That was our only tour stop of the day.  Rainy weather continues. 
I still have a few video shots to take.  Need short segments of an Amish phone booth and an Amish cemetery.  Had hoped the skies would clear for that, but .,,,,,

Dinner in an Amish home is always a high point in this rally.  Fifty of us gathered on this evening to convoy to the home of Maudy Raber for a meal to remember.  Steaming bowls of fried chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans with ham, bread, jam, tea or coffee, and a variety of pies for dessert.  Everything was passed around twice, and everything was good.  She and her daughters prepared the meal, and her husband washed dishes.  For the first time I had permission to take video, 

Ken Groves, ventriloquist, was the evening entertainment.  He and his two dummies put on a great show with their comedy routine.

Wednesday, September 30th - I did some tour jumping today, starting out with Tour #2, then finishing with Tour #6, to video an Amish casket maker in the morning and "Behalt" in the afternoon.

The first stop was at another Amish school - this time Stoney Point School.  There were 31 kids waiting for us, sitting double at their desks.  They sang two songs, then introduced themselves one by one.  At least half of them shared the last name Miller - cute as could be. 

The we went to Abe Yoder's farm.  Mr. Yoder milks 30 head of cattle, plants 90 acres in corn, alfalfa, oats, and hay, raises Belgian horses and makes caskets on the side. 

The caskets are made of hard maple, simple but excellent workmanship.  He explained how the caskets were made and how they were used.  An English undertaker picks up the body and does the embalming and places it in the casket.  Then Abe closes the casket with brass screws.  Pall bearers take it to the hearse buggy.  Then the funeral procession goes to the cemetery where the pall bearers dig the hole, lower the casket into it, and cover the hole, while a family member throws in the last shovelful of dirt.  He pulled the hearse buggy out of his garage to show how it was designed especially for that purpose.

We redeemed our door prize at Der Dutchman at noon, enjoying a full meal with drinks and desserts for two - $32 worth.  We had window seats in their spacious dining room, overlooking the beautiful, rolling countryside of Amish Ohio. 

Following that, we drove over to the Amish Mennonite Heritage Center ("Behalt") to meet Tour Group #6.  A tour guide circled the room narrating the cyclorama painting that portrays the history of the church from the crucifixion of Christ through beginning of Anabaptist beliefs to the present day Amish and Mennonite faith - an incredible painting, impossible to fully describe.

Evening entertainment was a solo singer, Bryan Roman, a Canadian who belted out songs of the 50s and 60s for over two hours,  Hard to believe that a great talent like that could be attracted to this place, 

Whoooeeee - Did it ever get cold during the night....

Thusday, October 1st - Temperature dropped to 32 degrees or below during the night.  Frost on the windshield was too thick for the wipers to touch.  Scraped for awhile then applied a rag soaked in hot water.  It worked for awhile then refroze. 

We pulled out of the park about 8:00am heading toward home.  Once we faced east, the windshield cleared, but there was heavy fog for the first 50 miles or so.  Then the sun came out, and the sky was cloudless.  The further south we drove, the warmer it got.  Drove to within about 200 miles of home, just south of Johnson City, Tennessee.  Found a little campground in the woods called Woodsmoke CG.  Quiet .....

Friday, October 2nd - It was kinda tough leaving the rally before all the fun things that were to happen in the park on Thursday.  An Amishman came at 4:30am to start the big kettle of apple butter aboiling.  That was to take 12 hours to complete.  Then the six big black kettles of beans that cooked all day to be ready for the bean dinner at 5pm.  A blacksmith was coming to shoe some horses.  An Amish buggy was coming to give rides.  There was a golf tournament scheduled.  A craft show and flea market.  An more evening entertainment.   The beautiful quilt that the Land-o-Lake ladies had worked on all week was to be raffled off. 

And then we missed the Swiss Festival in Sugarcreek that was to begin today.  But, one can't do everything.  We are about four hours away from home, so should arrive there pretty early. 

This will close this chapter of our travels.