Grandkids! Water!


Just before the time we’re writing about here (we’re a bit behind the times) Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina and affected so many people in the southeast.  We’re very thankful that those we know who were in the area are safe, and are keeping those more seriously affected in our prayers.


We’ve had our first “house guests!” (RV guests?)

We traveled to Watkins Glen, NY, to spend some time with our son Mike, our daughter-in-law Laurelyn, and four of our grandkids in Corning, about 20 minutes away.

Friday night dinner — delicious Mexican food.

The two boys, Dean, 10, and Graham, almost 13, spent Friday night with us.  They were the first to use the convertible couch in the RV as a bed.  They reported it to be comfortable (phew!).

We had an early birthday  for Graham, and then played one of his new games.  Graham will soon be a teenager! How did that happen so quickly?

Early birthday!

Also Grandpa got a lesson in GoPro from Dean!

Saturday morning, Graham and Dean’s sisters, Mira, 7, and Brynn, 5, joined us—Saturday night was the girls’ night to sleep in the camper and boy, were they excited!

No, they didn’t ride over in the back of the truck!

The plan for the day was to enjoy the features at the campground. But before we headed out, everyone had to try (again and again!) the magic recliners in the camper — they’re powered to recline, heat, and massage and were a BIG hit!

We lost count of how many turns each of the kids had trying out the recliners.

Time to play! Grandma and all four kids took advantage of the campground’s mini-golf course.

Ready for the U.S. Open! Look out, Tiger…

Then we all made use of the on-site water park.  The big hit was the water slide.  Grandpa L. also gave the slide a try! Graham just about wore the slide out…

Grandpa was happier about the ride than he looked!
Oh, my goodness!
Some serious concentration. Go, Dean!

What’s happening here?

We also made use of bumper boats and the jumping pillow. Grandpa L. tried the jumping pillow, much to the amusement of those watching.  By getting back off the pillow very quickly, he avoided permanent injury! (Note to GL: you’re not 14 any more!)

Mira, Brynn, Dean, and Graham on the jumping pillow
Grandpa L, just before he failed miserably!

In Corning Sunday night, we saw what we all agreed was the most intense rainbow we had ever seen!

The picture does not do it justice!

More water: Watkins Glen State Park

May we introduce Lolly Lobster, our traveling mascot.

The remnants of Hurricane Florence came through our area on Monday.  We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday, but the weather between there and our next destination, French Creek State Park in PA was predicted to be lousy for driving.  We delayed our departure by a day and took advantage of the extra day to visit Watkins Glen State Park which we had never been to before.


One fall, near the start of the walk.

The heavy rain of the day and night before gave us some spectacular scenery as we walked up the gorge path along Glen Creek.

A torrent

They claim that there are 19 waterfalls along this mile and a half path. We have no idea how they count.  It looked like one continuous cascade to us!

What number is this, honey?

Yes, the trail goes behind several of the waterfalls!

Awe-full to have all that water cascading over your head!
Fun playing with shutter speeds…
Another waterfall to go behind!
We’re embarrassed that this was our FIRST visit to the park — what an amazing spot!

We rounded out our visit to Corning and Watkins Glen with a lovely dinner out overlooking Seneca Lake. It was a sensational visit, albeit all too quick. We’ll be back!

Sunset over Seneca Lake


Al: I never served in the military; I know that I don’t have a soldier’s “headset,” for lack of a better word. I have high respect and admiration for those who have.

I considered not writing about Gettysburg.  The scope is too large.  Being on the battleground is completely overwhelming; I don’t know really where to begin.

One way could be to look at the sobering statistics. In three days of fighting, July 1 – 3, 1863, approximately 7000 soldiers were killed. There were approximately 51,000 casualties (soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing). There are many estimates of the casualty count; we have seen higher and lower estimates. Some units lost two thirds or more of the men who were present at the start of the battle. 158,000 were engaged in the battle across the three days.

Casualty figures for a unit

Amazingly for a battle that surrounded a city, there was only one civilian casualty; a twenty-year-old  woman named Jenny Wade was killed by a stray shot.  How times have changed.

The civilian structures were damaged, though, and some still bear the scars.

Bullet scarred wall
Through-and-through cannon ball

Occasionally we’ll include a reference, “(NPS)”. This indicates that a particular statistic or comment came from the National Park Service’s Gettysburg FAQ web page.

Kathe: I’ve been to Gettysburg in recent years but Al had never been; I couldn’t wait to share it with him.

When we entered the visitors’ center, we headed right for the ticket booth and decided to purchase the three-way pass that comprises the Cyclorama, the museum, and a two-hour bus tour of the battlefields. As we always do with every National Park we visit, we started with the orientation film. It gave an overview of the three days in July 1863 — narrated by Morgan Freeman — and I was already in tears.

From the overview film, we were shepherded upstairs to the Cyclorama. It’s breathtaking – a 360-degree painting of the Gettysburg Battlefield that was painted in 1883 (it’s one of four that have been created – this one was acquired and restored a few decades ago). It is 42 feet tall and 377 feet around. We all stood on a raised platform in the middle of the room and were surrounded by images, lights, sounds, and narration that made it all come to life. We were in the midst of the battle. It was sobering. More tears.

Detail from the cyclorama

Us: Later while on the battlefield, one of the things that surprised us was the terrain. This is open, mostly flat, land.  In 1863 it was even more open; many of the trees now present were not there.  Then it was agricultural fields. The National Park Service has an ongoing program to restore the area to the conditions at the time of the battle, removing trees, planting orchards, and restoring walls and fencing. Local farmers have access to the land to plant crops.

According to our tour guide, the tactics had not changed much from the days of the Revolutionary War, with the soldiers often marching in a line across an open field toward the opposing side.  A rise of only 100 feet (sometimes less) could give a dominant position.

The key high point was Little Round Top, at 150 feet above the fields.  The higher rise next to it, Big Round Top, was not useful militarily because it was (and remains) completely wooded.

View from the top of Little Round Top; only 150′ gives a strategic “high ground” advantage

Shortly after the war, various groups began placing bronze and stone (mostly granite and marble) monuments on the battlefield honoring regiments, divisions, corps, and armies.  Now there are approximately 1328 (NPS) monuments within the park. They range in size from gargantuan (Pennsylvania and New York) to diminutive and hidden in the woods (Maine 20th). The brigade monuments had either round (Confederate) or square bases (Union).

The Pennsylvania monument
One of many New York monuments, this one in the cemetery

Detail of the New York monument

There were also many markers across the battlefield that indicated the midpoint of each regiment and their right and left flanks (ends). You can see how closely the units were deployed.

Markers indicating the right flank of one unit and the left flank of the next

We walked the range that the Maine 20th Regiment had spread across on Little Round Top; it was amazingly short. Due to where they were deployed, their monument is a short walk into the woods. The inscriptions on the sides of the monument list the soldiers who were killed or died of their wounds inflicted during the defense of Little Round Top.

We took advantage of a free Ranger Program in the park on our last morning there: a tour of the National Soldiers’ Cemetery on Cemetery Hill. This area was known as Cemetery Hill at the time of the battle and was one of the contested regions.  The Soldiers’ Cemetery is adjacent to a pre-existing public cemetery which gave the hill its name.

Soldiers were originally buried in shallow graves on the battlefield. They were then re-interred with great effort at the Soldiers’ Cemetery.

Originally set aside by the state of Pennsylvania, it was for the Union dead only.  Most of the Confederate dead were interred in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA, in a special section set aside for Gettysburg casualties (NPS).  Now it is a national cemetery and is still in active use.

Initially the plan was to bury soldiers without regard to rank or unit.  However it was decided to bury them in sections, according to the state they were from—still without regard to rank. Remarkably, most of the graves have names.  Each state section has some graves marked “Unknown.”

Most graves are identified
Sometimes the state and even the regiment were known, but the soldier’s identity was not

Each state had a marker indicating the number of soldiers buried here.

The marker for the Maine section

Additionally, there are many simple numbered marble markers for soldiers for whom their state was unable to be determined.

One section of graves of unknown soldiers

All of the soldiers are arranged in a semicircle around the Soldiers Monument that is the focus of the cemetery.  The way they are buried seemed unusual; they are buried behind their headstone with their heads toward the center.  In this way should they rise they will be facing outward, ready to defend Cemetery Hill again.

The cemetery is still in use; here are some graves from the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II.  Still newer graves are in an adjacent annex.

Graves of soldiers from the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II
Marking newer graves of unknown soldiers

Being on the battlefields of Gettysburg gave us a deeper understanding and reverence for the words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is an awe-inspiring and humbling place that we hope each of you will have an opportunity to experience.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln.
November 19, 1863.

Delivered at the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


They say things happen in threes.  Or fours.  Fives?

We’ve had very smooth sailing until now.  This stop has made up for that, but we’re still laughing and smiling.

We stayed at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania.  The campground is about 50 years old according to the campground host.  Back then the trailers were not as big as they are now, and some of the corners are very tight.

“They want us to fit into THAT space?”

The road to our site was very narrow, making maneuvering difficult. The site was very short. But with a fair amount of backing and forwarding we were able to get the trailer into position and the truck off the road.

“Ummm, Honey?  I can’t find the water spigot.”

Look at the reservation slip… oops!  This is an electric-only site.  Good thing we have large tanks for “ins” and “outs.”  But we don’t travel with the fresh water tank full because of the weight it would add, so… Ask another camper where the water access is.  Hitch the trailer back up to the truck, and drive to the water.  Fill up.  Now get into our spot again. (Did a better job positioning the trailer this time!)

Since we plan to “boondock” (camp with no hookups at all) for a good portion of the winter, we look at this “opportunity” to use only the water we’re carrying as good practice.

Still smiling.

We start to open the slides that turn our narrow trailer into a much more spacious (400 sq. ft.) living area.


What the…?  Haven’t heard THAT before.

A small rug that we use at the sink hadn’t been put away, and is now under the slide, between a roller and success.  It is about 18 inches inside a ½” slot.  Our fingers aren’t that small, nor long.  Cannibalize the metal handle of a fly swatter to form a dual-hooked gadget with which to snag the rug and pull it out.

We spent three days and 4 nights here visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park.  We’ll write that up in a post soon.

Time to leave, and it rained overnight. We squeegee the rain off the slides, so it doesn’t end up inside the trailer.  Wait.  Why is that slide topper (like an awning over the slide, to keep leaves, etc. off the top of the slide) about 10 inches too far back?  Why is that end cap missing?  Why is that other end cap broken?

We have the first damage to the trailer.  Did we mention that the campground was too small for our rig?  We apparently clipped a tree at some point without feeling it. Two inches closer and we would have met the tree with the body of the trailer resulting in much worse damage.  So… disappointed that we have damage to fix, but we’re glad it wasn’t worse.

Finally (we hope!) as we return to the truck from a rest stop we notice…

The tailgate is DOWN!  Oh shoot!

We lost a few small items from the bed.  Apparently one of us had accidentally pressed the tailgate release on our fob at some point.


We’re ready for a few problem-free weeks of travel now.  We deserve it!

The Ohio and Erie Canal

In my post about our recent biking, I promised a separate post about the Ohio and Erie Canal per se.   True to my word…

I’m not going to try to regurgitate all that has been written about the canal and its history. Use the link above for a Google search page of sites about the canal.  Instead, I want to offer what I saw of it and my impressions.  I learned any history that I include here from Interpretative Rangers or the various informational signs posted throughout the park.

The name Ohio and Erie Canal stems from the two ends of the canal: Lake Erie and the Ohio River. By connecting the two, commerce was enabled between Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.  It turned Ohio into the third wealthiest state.

The canal was a huge undertaking!  It was dug entirely by hand in the 1820s and completed in 1832.  It was specified to be a minimum of 40 feet wide at the top and 26 feet wide at the bottom, with a minimum depth of 4 feet.  The canal was used for cargo until 1861 when rail transport took over.  From the 1870s it gradually degraded until 1913 when massive storms damaged much of what was left, and lock #1 had to be dynamited to allow flood waters drain.

We rode along 25 miles of the tow path, from the southern end of Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the northern end. In the southern end it is hard (for me, impossible) at times to discern the path of the canal. Gradually, the outline of the canal becomes visible as a large dry trench.  Much of the tow path is between the canal and the Cuyahoga River. Toward the northern end, the canal still holds water, although probably no longer four feet. I was told that some industrial sites still draw water from the canal.

I don’t know how many locks were originally in the region we biked, but we saw many—again, mostly in the northern half.  Canal barges were specified to be a maximum beam (width) of 14 feet and length of 85 feet. Although the canal trench was specified to be 40 feet wide to allow boats to pass each other, the locks were much narrower averaging only 15 feet wide and 90 feet long, thus fitting only one boat at a time.

Looking south (upstream) through a lock.
Another lock, also looking upstream.

The lock gates were massive wooden structures, some operated by hand, others by horses or mules.  The average lift capability of the locks was 9 feet, with the largest (called the “Deep Lock”) being 17 feet.

I wasn’t able to find any sign of the pumping equipment they would have needed to manage the water levels in the locks.

Near the north end of the park is the Canal Exploration Center, a CVNP visitor center. The exhibits are very well done!  Stop in, if you’re in the area.

At the CEC is a restored lock with the gates in place.

In this era of GPS location accurate to a few feet and laser transits, it was sobering to think back about the tools available when the canal was built.

A surveyor’s compass.
Surveyor’s chains, for distance.

At the Canal Exploration Center I found this modern flood control device; it had valves that would send canal water into a side arm of the Cuyahoga River.

Flood control valve.


One of the things that Kathe and I were—and still are—looking forward to on our trip is riding our bicycles.  We even got new ones before leaving (our then-current ones were about 16+ years old).

I don’t think that I’ve biked 50 miles total since I was a teenager, back in the paleolithic era.

We’ve done about that in the past 6 days.

Back in Indiana (we’re now in Ohio), we pedaled either 22 or 25 miles, depending on whose odometer/GPS you believe, on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail from Goshen to Shipshewanna and back.

Today, we rode 25 miles on the Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I’ll write about the canal in another post.  Today is about biking!

One of the nice things about biking is that it slows us down, allowing us to observe what’s around us.

Flowers along the Pumpkinvine trail

Pumpkinvine Nature Trail

The Pumpkinvine trail is 25 miles long, joining the towns of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, and Shipshewana.  We only took the middle section, about 11 or 12 miles.  Some of the trail is through miles of agricultural land with fields on both sides as far as you can see.

One of many fields we passed.

Some of the trail is wooded.

Al, facing heavy traffic on the trail!

Other parts are on sidewalks along the street.  I was always told as a kid not to ride on the sidewalk, but on the street.  At least where the trail runs along a street, they want us on the sidewalk, not the street!

There is a 1.7 mile section of the trail for which the property was only recently obtained; there the trail is under construction.  For this section we had to ride on the side of three county roads, but there were very few cars.  It probably isn’t true, but it seemed like we saw more buggies than we did cars. Being a Sunday, we passed several homes where worship was being held, with many buggies parked outside.

Parking for worship
An Amish farm along the Pumpkinvine trail.

In MIddlebury, we wanted to see the Krider Gardens which we had heard about from other rally attendees. As we approached Middlebury we were waiting at a street crossing.  We asked another cyclist if he knew the trail here.  “Pretty well.” We asked how to get to the gardens and he offered to show us (it was right on the trail). As we parted, he told us he was the chair of the Middlebury Parks Commission, which oversees / maintains both the Middlebury section of the trail and the garden!  “Pretty well,” indeed!

Kreider Gardens

We had planned to turn around in Middlebury since this was our first ride of any significant length, but certain protocols must be observed.  First we needed to find ice cream.  Unfortunately this was Sunday so the only place in range was a Dairy Queen.  But it sufficed.

Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of the Dairy Queen to insert here…

On our way back while we were riding on the county road section of the trail we noticed that we were about to be overtaken by a buggy. (Yes, there is something slower than a horse-drawn buggy: tired-people powered bicycles!) But they disappeared!  Then we realized that these were people returning home from worship and they were turning into their driveways.

Funny how the miles on the way back seemed longer than those when we were fresh and just starting out!

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Cuyahoga Valley National Park entrance sign

Much like Acadia National Park, Cuyahoga National Park was built from many individual land acquisitions. As a result its borders are irregular where it sits in Cuyahoga Valley between Cleveland and Akron in the Ohio & Erie Canalway. Because it is situated among existing communities there are many entrances (again like Acadia); because of this, CVNP is a no-fee park.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs the length of the the park through the Canalway, with both it and the canal taking advantage of the valley’s terrain alongside the Cuyahoga River.  If you don’t know the recent history of the Cuyahoga River, it is really interesting.  Once one of the country’s most polluted rivers (quiz: what happened in 1969?), it was effectively “dead,” with no animal life in the river.  It now supports fish, beaver, otters, turtles, eagles, and many more species.

Turtles soaking up the sun

This area had been a car dump before the park.  It was cleaned up with the intention of making it a parking lot, but the beavers had a different idea.  It is now a marsh supporting many types of wildlife.

Courtesy of the beavers. Don’t park here!

We rode the Scenic Railroad on a round trip through the entire length of the park.  We rode in a dome car, offering 360° views.

Cuyahoga River from the dome car
Have to have a pic of a train going ’round the bend!
Looking north on the Cuyahoga, heading toward Lake Erie.

While the ownership and maintenance of the rolling stock and the daily operation of the railroad is the responsibility of the non-profit Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad organization, the right-of-way and railbed is maintained by the National Park.

Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath

So what is a towpath? Before motorized vessels, barges were pulled through the canal by mules. The path they took is the towpath. Mule teams were available to rent, but many barges carried their own (two) teams of mules because they found it more economical.  We were told that the passenger barges, also called “packet boats,” were often pulled by horses; I guess they were deemed to be more appropriate for the cultured (wealthy) passengers.

Because the tolerances are so tight in the locks, some canals including the Panama Canal still use “mules” in a tow system. The ship uses its own propulsion system for forward motion; the mules are now powerful electric tractors on geared tracks which use cables to maintain the ship in the center of the lock.

Overall, the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath runs 87 miles, approximately 25 miles of which is inside the park. The section in the park has been rehabilitated into a multi-use trail (walking, bicycling, and horse riding—but horses are not allowed on some sections).  It is well surfaced with much being paved and the rest being hard packed; it is all suitable for road bikes and was very easy riding on our hybrids.

At times we were riding through woods, some times along the Cuyahoga River, and still others right along the canal.

Along the towpath

The canal brought prosperity  to the area with many businesses set up along its path.  Here are the remains of a mill, the raceway which powered the wheel.

A mill race on the Cuyahoga River.

We were told by one of the Scenic Railroad staff that at the time it was constructed, this was the largest concrete bridge in the world, but I’ve been unable to confirm that.  Either way, it is quite an impressive structure

Concrete bridge over the Cuyahoga River and Ohio & Erie Canal.

We don’t think that this will replace Interpretative Rangers, but it was an interesting method for providing information about the surrounding area to the hikers and bikers.  It had a small hand-operated generator powering the player.  My arm tired out before the ending of the first recording we listened to!

Hand-operated “Audo Station.”

Being “lapsed” (out of shape) riders, we chose to ride toward the north, following the flow of the river; it is nominally downhill, although a drop of approximately 400′ in about 25 miles is not an overwhelming grade!

Then came the ride back to our starting point…but this time not on our bikes (they actually rode with us!).  The Scenic Railway offers a program called Bike Aboard, where bikers can ride the train. This allows many people (including us) to ride the towpath for longer distances, and see more of the valley, than they would be able to if they had to make the return by pedal. The railway has three scheduled stops in its run: at each end and in the town of Peninsula which is about the midpoint. However there are six other “stations” (sometimes simply a widened spot on the right of way with a bench) at which bikers can flag down the train to board, or request the staff to stop the train so they can debark.

We’re certainly looking forward to our coming bike adventures!

Meeting the Amish

Last week, while at the Grand Design Owners’ Rally in Goshen, Indiana, I took an Amish Brown Bag Tour.  We would visit a number of different Amish businesses in Elkhart County, mostly in the Middlebury/Shipshewana area. It included a “Thresher’s Dinner”
so I was a bit confused as to why I’d need a brown bag lunch, too. Hmmm. . .

The large group traveled on two large, luxury buses with VERY efficient air-conditioning. Our tour guide, Carlene, is the founder and owner of the tour company and she REALLY knows her stuff! She narrated along the way as we motored through stunning farmland and past home after home with meticulously maintained grass and gardens (they’d never let us live here!).

We passed miles and miles of farmland.

We passed several “quilt gardens” (too quickly to get a picture but you can see some samples here) and learned that they are a special tradition here. Each garden replicates a different quilt block that is made with annuals — it takes lots of planning and long-lived dedication. To be included on the Quilt Garden Tour, you need to submit your plan for approval in October and then the annuals are ordered. Your garden must be maintained throughout the entire season to remain on the tour.

Our first stop was the Rise ‘n Roll Bakery.  Carlene had prepared us well, telling us that their donuts are considered “Amish crack.”  She was SO right! As we entered the store, we were greeted by a young woman who handed each of us a piece of freshly baked donut. OH. MY. GOODNESS. It was amazing. We had about 25 minutes or so to shop — all kinds of pastries, cookies, breads, jellies and jams, and crunchy candy (think brittle) made with a variety of nuts, some with a chocolate dip. I chose a package of 6 chocolate chip cookies (my favorite), a double-chocolate muffin (do you sense a theme here?), a package of 3 monster cookies, and a box of donut holes — the same flavor as the sample we got at the door. Yeah, we like sugar.

The Rise ‘n Roll Bakery – it was busy!
An amazing Rise ‘n Roll muffin (it’s still in our RV freezer).

Well, I soon learned that the “brown bag” was a huge brown shopping bag that Carlene handed us as we approached the bus. AND SHE GAVE EACH OF US A HUGE PIECE OF CAKE from a large rack that had been rolled out to the bus. Uh oh. I wish I’d known what we were getting — I wouldn’t have bought so much inside. Yeah, riiiiight.

My large brown paper bag was already quite full and that was only stop #1. Uh oh.

Here’s the evidence that Al and I have been enjoying these treats!

Along the way to stop #2, we passed several Amish schools. Carlene shared some interesting facts with us, some of them surprising:

  • Amish children don’t start school until they’re 7 years old.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch is a language derived from German and is spoken by the Amish in their homes. Children begin to learn to read Pennsylvania Dutch in the third grade; the focus is on reading, NOT writing.
  • Children finish school at the end of their 8th grade year (age 15).
  • Sometimes a youngster might want to go on to HS at which point they’d attend an “English” school but it’s not common.  If an Amish student is particularly athletic, they might be recruited to attend a local English high school.
  • Each school has two baseball diamonds; softball is played at every recess including during their hour-long lunch break. One field is used by the younger children, the other for the older kids. ALL the kids play and they love it!
  • The teacher is also Amish; the only requirement to teach is that they finished the 8th grade in good standing. There is no teacher training.
  • Some children use their pony carts to get to school. Others come by bicycle. We didn’t see any pony carts; I would assume they have a shed for the ponies and carts just like we saw at Walmart.
School’s in session.

Stop #2 was Teaberry Wood Products and it was probably my favorite stop on the whole tour. We were greeted by Lavern; he hopped onto the bus, a beautiful family portrait in hand, and gave us some background about the family business. The long and short of it is that he works for his wife! Rachel is the primary designer of their baskets and puzzles.

They are best known for their beautifully-crafted, wooden, woven baskets—each one is made from a single piece of wood! The pattern is such that a scroll saw cuts the base of the basket and all the  ‘weavers.’ The stakes are the upright sticks that are woven in and out of the weavers to hold it all together.

Rachel showed us how a basket is cut from one piece of wood. Beautiful!
The weavers are stacked (offset) and then held together by the staves.

They also make many others items including beautiful cutting boards, handsome pens, amazing puzzles (that can be stood up and will stay altogether), stunning nativities, and wooden seam rippers.

Lavern told us the story of how the seam rippers came to be a part of their business —– they found that men were interested in the pens  but when they wanted to come up with something for the “women”  in an area where quilting is common, the idea for the seam ripper emerged. They can’t keep them in stock.  Lavern told us that since men don’t make mistakes, they don’t NEED seam rippers! No stains are used on any of their products, but each item is dipped into a large vat of oil which brings out all the grain of the wood. They use exotic woods to create the color dimension.

My gorgeous seam ripper (because I DO make mistakes!).
I’ll always remember Rachel when I use this basket — a perfect size for our RV.

Back on the bus and after a quick stop at a small quilt shop that was going out of business — we were on our way to lunch. My “brown bag” (not my lunch!) now had a bag of “Horse and Buggy” pretzels and a jar of Amish jam — I’m going to need more storage in my kitchen!

We were treated to a hearty Thresher’s Dinner at a large dining hall built and run by a lovely young Amish family. (A Thresher’s Dinner is a family style Amish dinner; it’s similar to a harvest meal.) Seth (in his early 30’s) welcomed us and shepherded us to the pie table before we entered the dining room. FINALLY! Someone ELSE who agrees that you have to know what’s for dessert before you have dinner. I chose a piece of fresh peach pie and took it to my table.

The hall is also used for quilting bees — we were surrounded by colorful quilts.

We got to our tables and were served a scrumptious feast of baked chicken, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, amazing “slaw,” and bread — lots and lots of bread. The bread is served with two spreads — a “peanut butter spread” and apple butter. We tried to figure out what made the peanut butter spread so airy — it was almost like it’d been whipped with a little marshmallow fluff. The slaw was actually a cauliflower/broccoli salad, very finely chopped, crunchy, and delicious.

What a meal!

A second wave of serving plates and bowls came around the table — most all of us were too full for seconds! And we still had dessert. Just as we were finishing our pie, Seth announced that homemade vanilla ice cream was coming out in a moment with caramel sauce. Wow!

More handmade quilts to admire.
Such fine stitches – wow!

After lunch, Seth answered lots and lots of questions from our group (both buses – about 120 people in all) — interestingly enough, most of the questions were from the men and nearly all of them were about marriage and church traditions. Seth told us all about how once they’ve completed 8th grade, young people travel quite frequently to other Amish communities (even in other states) and that’s sometimes how they meet their future spouse. He also told us about his young family (a wife and two young children) and how he hadn’t had any schooling beyond 8th grade. Several people on the tour asked questions about whether an Amish person is shunned by their family and/or community if they marry outside of the Amish faith. Seth explained that they could still visit (and would be welcomed by) their family and community but that they just couldn’t attend worship. He doesn’t like the word shunned and thinks that it makes it sound too harsh.

Seth told us that his mother had been a teacher (she was standing right behind him at that moment and chuckled!) and that he was always careful to speak as correctly as possible. Sure enough, she had finished 8th grade in good standing and decided she wanted to teach when it was time for her own kids to attend school.

We were quite struck when Seth explained that in the Amish community, no one has insurance — neither health nor homeowners. They consider buying insurance a form of gambling (and I guess it is). The community IS the insurance — if a family loses their home or barn in a fire, by that evening, community members have plans in place and the new structure is completed within a week! Seth also told us that families in the church communities (usually about 1 mile wide by 2 miles long) each contribute to help each other out. For instance, if a family has a huge medical expense, the community will provide money to cover the expenses.  What incredible generosity and commitment!

As we boarded the bus to leave, we saw a large trailer packed tightly with benches (and songbooks were in there, too). Seth’s family was due to host this week’s worship service. The trailer of benches is moved from home to home. They only have church every other Sunday and always meet in homes.

Note: At our next stop, one of our group realized that she’d dropped $20 at the dining hall when she pulled her cellphone from her back pocket. She let our tour guide know. At about the same time, the tour guide received a phone call from Seth that someone had dropped $20 on the floor at lunchtime.  Seth told us that he’d ride his bicycle out to the road and meet us as we came by on the bus— and surely he did.

We visited a buggy shop in the afternoon — here’s the show lot. 🙂

We visited a buggy shop in the afternoon — it was impressive! The owner, Maynard, runs a one-man shop; he builds and repairs Amish buggies. His craftsmanship is in such demand that he has an 18-month waiting list for new buggies. It takes him about two weeks to complete one.

One of several tool benches in the buggy shop.

All kinds of special options can be ordered– everything from LED headlights to blinkers, from hand-operated windshield wipers to extra spacious carrying room for groceries, etc. The interiors are stitched on his heavy-duty sewing machine (one of his favorite parts of the process).  They were amazing!

A buggy being built in Maynard’s workshop.
Wheels and more wheels.

Maynard explained that well-built and well-maintained buggies can last forty years or more and are often passed on from one generation to the next. They can sell for about $12,000 new.

And, of course, we were each given a bag of Horse and Buggy Pretzels as we reboarded the bus. My brown bag was heavy!

Can you see the horse and buggy shape of each pretzel?

This incredible journey into the world of the Amish community was my favorite part of our trip to Indiana.  It’s a treat to learn so much about an area we’re traveling through. I’m so glad that I am able to share some part of the experience with you.

We’ve Rallied!

For the past several months we’ve been saying, “We’re going to a Rally!” Many people who have heard that have returned blank stares, as if to say, “What’s that?”  Or, “So what?”

Truth be told, we didn’t really know ourselves.  All we knew is that lots of people with Grand Design RVs would be getting together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen Indiana.  It ran from Tuesday morning through Friday dinner, so now we have some answers.

Top 10 things about an (this) RV Rally

10. This fairgrounds has a really big power capacity.  There were approximately 375 RVs at the rally, and all of them had either 30 or “50” (really 100) ampere power connections.  Even if all of them had 30 amp feeds, that still requires 11,250 amps (@ 120V).  Glad we don’t have to pay that power bill (OK, we did–through our nightly camping fee).

9. RV owners are very friendly.  We hadn’t even set up our rig before we were invited over to a neighbor’s to sit, have adult refreshments, and just chat.   It is fun to meet face to face people with whom you have been corresponding on the Internet for months!

8. You don’t come to a rally to be alone, or have large “campsites”. A rally is all about community, and the rigs are packed in tightly.  Even so, there had to be three separate areas in which the rigs were parked.

One of three sections of RV sites.

7. It is possible to feed 800+ people at a pot luck dinner in 18 minutes! They set out 12 serving tables, and assigned every unit (RV, usually a couple) an item: main, starch, salad, dessert, etc., and a table to put it on. Then  the roughly 100 tables at which we ate were each assigned a serving table. It worked wonderfully. For the first helpings you had to use the assigned serving table.  For seconds (thirds, anyone?) you could go to any table–so many of us grazed and sampled a huge variety of foods.

Sorry, no pics of the potluck.  We were too busy eating!

6. There is lots to do! There were seminars going all day, some purely educational, some educational about the advantages of a product (i.e., ads). But even the ads were helpful to people who are new to the hobby / lifestyle as we are. One that Al found especially useful was on general maintenance, given by an independent mobile service tech, and another one on holding tank maintenance (that stinky “black” tank, especially!), given by a person whose job is, yep, cleaning out people’s black tanks when they’ve not maintained them properly.

5. There is lots to do! Every day offered things off-site. Each day you could take a tour of the Grand Design factory, or you could take an excursion, such as a trip to a museum or shopping in a nearby town.  Kathe will tell you about her Amish brown-bag tour in an upcoming post.

Each evening there were several campfires around the site.  One night was storytelling, another night was s’mores.

S’mores around the campfire

Two young (5-ish?) girls had a great time going around to the crowd and asking if they could cook a marshmallow for them.  They’d even burn it on request!

4. There are a million ways to make your RV your own.  The only limit is your imagination!  It was fun to be able to go through other peoples’ rigs and see how they have modified them. Some were minor touches–others were major reworkings of the interior or the inner “workings,” e.g., the plumbing.

3. There is a wealth of knowledge in the community.  The air was filled with conversations about things to watch out for, ways to do things more simply, what is good to add, which tools do you really, really want to have with you (and which you can leave home–oops! too late!).

2. The service was phenomenal! To understand this, you need to know two things.  1. Driving an RV down the road has been likened to a Richter 6.0 earthquake.  Things are always breaking. 2. RV “manufacturers” are  to a large extent parts assemblers. They get a chassis from one company, axles and brakes from another, the refrigerator from another, water heater, furnace, microwave, etc., etc.

This rally was sponsored by our manufacturer, Grand Design, and not only did they have their service techs on site, but they also  arranged for all the other companies who supply major parts to have their techs on site as well! All this service was gratis; we have no idea of the total value of all the service performed in these four days, but those service teams were busy from 7:00 AM to well into the evening every day. Thank you Grand Design and partners! We had our refrigerator serviced (it was not closing properly), and see another bit of service we got, below the list!)

1. The people who organized this rally put in an INCREDIBLE amount of work. The planning for the rally started about a year ago, and their work allowed a large rally to come off seemingly without a hitch.  I’m sure that there was lots of work behind the scenes during the rally to make it seem that way. Pam and Red Beers were the main organizers (“wagonmasters”), and they were assisted by about 50 other volunteers. THANK YOU!

We got our hitch!

Small things can make us very happy.  Up until now, we had been keeping our bikes in the bed of the truck in a moving blanket, with the front wheels in the back seat of the truck.  Any time we wanted to take a ride (which we’re trying to do each day), we’d have to unwrap the frames and put the wheels back on.  Not difficult, just a bit time consuming and a hassle. Here at the rally, we had a hitch welded on by the chassis manufacturer. (No, this part was not free!) So now, we have our bikes on the back of the trailer–easy to use and no longer taking up space in the truck.

Our new hitch, with bike rack and bikes!

Why we’re traveling

As we said in an earlier post, one of the main reasons we’ve taken to the road is to see areas of the US and Canada other than New England.  We’re already seeing differences, at least different from the parts of NE in which we have lived.

We are in Amish country. One of the things we’ve noticed is that all the stores, restaurants, and public buildings have places to hitch up horses and buggies, in, or adjacent to, the parking lots.  Here’s a Walmart parking lot!

Shelter for horses in the Walmart parking lot.

Another difference we’ve noticed is the cloud formations are different from what we (usually) get in Maine. The cloud structures are quite dramatic, but don’t (or haven’t while we’ve been here) block out the sun for more than a few minutes! Some days we could have used the shade; we had several days that were quite hot. The afternoon clouds have been like this every day we’ve been here.  Quite different from our coastal Maine low cloud decks.

Indiana clouds


Having worked at Jackson Laboratory, I couldn’t pass up this piece of garden humor at the Fairgrounds!

Jean-etically modified plants

A certain co-worker of mine who shall remain nameless (I’m talking to YOU, Dave!) teased me for quite a while when he learned that we bought a Ford F350 “dually” to pull our rig with.  “You don’t need a dually to pull an RV!”  But at the rally we learned that we weren’t even trying when it came to tow vehicles.  Now HERE is a real tow vehicle!

A Volvo with sleeper as an RV tow vehicle!

There were THREE of these at the rally!

On to the next rally!

After wending our way through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, we’ll be attending another rally in Delaware.  It will be interesting to see how this one differs; it is entirely owner-based, without the sponsorship of Grand Design.

We have one more rally scheduled, but not until January. We’ll attend a rally in Quartzsite, AZ, near where we will be spending the winter.