September 28th, 2008: It rained all day Saturday, from a gentle mist to a downpour. Who cares? We’re having fun. It rained today, too, but off and on and not heavily.
We caught our McConaghy Tours bus last Sunday morning, at McDonald’s on 8th Street, and set out right on time for Minot. On our bus were some friends who we had known for many years from Porcupine Plain. Also on our bus were some good friends and members of our Sunseekers chapter.
We very soon made friends with many others, so feel surrounded by friends.
Our driver is Randy Vellacott. We travelled with him to Mesa in 2007, and he was driver of the other bus when we went to West Coast USA. Randy is the best. He handles the complications of heavy traffic and construction with aplomb, never loses his cool, always cheerful and friendly. He never uses a GPS; must memorize his maps before we leave because we never see him refer to a map. At Chicago as well as at Pittsburgh we pulled in at rush hour and hit construction just before finding our hotel. Randy was able to find his way through back streets and take us right up to the door. What a guy!
We expected to see many people we had travelled with on other bus tours. There was one couple on the other bus who had travelled with us to West Coast USA but they were the only ones we knew. Nobody at all from Tisdale.
We had a high spot in Wisconsin when we visited the Wisconsin Dells and took a two hour boat ride on the Wisconsin River. The Dells is a name from a French word for “flat rocks”. Aeons ago the river carved a path through the layers of slate and shale and left a visual treat behind. We got off the boat at one point and took a walk through channels eroded through the rock; it was almost like walking through a cave, eerie yet beautiful.
We had another little walk on that boat ride, up a gentle slope to where there were two chimney rocks, about sixty feet high, with flat tops about six feet apart. On top of one rock was a girl with four German Shepherds. Once we were all assembled, and at a command from the girl, one of the dogs leapt from one side to the other, turned around and leapt back. The show was over. I should mention that there was a safety net slung between the two chimney rocks just in case the dog slipped or something.
We skirted Chicago; didn’t see a sign of any skyscrapers, and headed east into Indiana. At Nappanee, we visited Amish Acres, a one-time Amish farm which had been taken over and was run as a profit-making venture. It employed both Amish and English (their term for non-Amish). We had a tour of the farmhouse, of the farm in a tractor-drawn wagon, and of the area in our bus with an Amish guide. The Amish don’t form colonies; farms are privately owned and are interspersed with farms owned by both English and Mennonites. Farm sizes are about eighty acres, hardly enough to support a family, especially when divided up between family members. As a result, many Amish work off their farms for wages. Baptised Amish are subject to a lot of restrictions that to us are incomprehensible. They can’t have electricity in their homes unless it is generated by themselves with a generator. Propane is okay. They can’t drive cars or tractors; have to do their farm work with horses, but at the same time they can hire others to harvest their crops with mechanized equipment.
We also visited an Amish display at Bird In Hand, PA and went through much of the same information. At Nappanee, Amish could ride bikes. At Bird In Hand, they could not, but the kids could use scooters with bike-sized tires. At Nappanee, Amish could not have shutters or other none-utile decorations on their houses; at Bird in Hand they could. Whether they can or can’t do this or that is determined by their bishop, a man of little (grade 8) education and no special training, elected for life by the men of a parish.
Married men must grow a full beard, but must not have a mustache; they also may not do up their coats with buttons, as mustaches and buttons were common to soldiers five hundred years ago. They have no church buildings; church services are held in members’ houses or barns, rotating from one to the next member. Schooling ends at grade 8. They go to school knowing Pennsylvania Dutch, then learn both English and High German. Sermons are in High German.
I gathered most of the restrictions are to a degree flexible; for instance, a man may not be permitted to drive a vehicle on the farm, but might if working for another requires it. They have had to recognize that their way of life has to have outside support, and that means jobs outside the enclave.
On Saturday, after spending the night at York, PA, we visited the Hershey Chocolate Factory at Hershey, PA. It was an interesting tour; I estimated 10% chocolate factory and 90% tourism. Then we went to a small winery, Naylor’s, at Lancaster. I asked the owner if he was related to Shirley Miller’s Dad but he said his name originated in Germany, not in its present form. Shirley’s Dad came from England. Then we went to an outlet mall at Rockvale and wasted three hours.
Today, we drove to New York and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I think people were too tired to appreciate it. We couldn’t get over the traffic congestion on a Sunday, especially on Broadway Avenue in the Theatre District. Tomorrow we make a tour of New York with a step-on guide. That should be interesting.