New Holland - Canon Elph-107We are on our way south–part of the snowbird migration to Florida—with stops in North Carolina and Georgia.  Unlike most snowbirds, our Florida stay will be brief because we are eager to be out West again.

We left Massachusetts with the leaves just starting to turn and morning temperatures dropping into the 30s.  Time to go.

Good bye Boston

Good bye Boston

Our first stop was Connecticut, where we again visited with family and prepared for the trip.  Fall is the loveliest time of year in New England and, although we did not stay for the whole season, we got a good taste.


Covered bridge at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, an 1830 outdoor museum. We took my Mom there for the day.

Zoe found her calling as a farm dog.  She’s never been happier.

CT Farm-113 - Copy

CT Farm-125 - Copy

CT Farm-130 - Copy

Surprisingly, with all of the rolling around that Zoe has done on this trip, she has not had any ticks.  And despite all of our hiking and time outside in fields and woods, we have not had any, either.  Ticks were one of our big concerns for this trip because we knew we would be in the heart of Lyme Disease country.  Plus, we hate them.  In my anti-tick zeal, I even bought light-colored, non-patterned sheets and blankets for our trailer so that any stray ticks would easily show up on the bed.  But, not a tick in sight.  I heard it was a mild tick year in New England.  Whatever the reason, we’re happy.  Let’s hope that our luck continues.

CT Farm-120 - Copy

After leaving Connecticut, we revisited Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, an area we loved when we came through in June.  Here is our previous post.

The two visits made interesting bookends on the farming season, with fields just planted in June now ready for harvest.  In the spring it was a frenzy of activity.  School was out and the Amish children were busy on the farms in the day and outside playing in the evenings.  The farmers and horse teams were working until late at night, haying, plowing, tilling, and fertilizing.New Holland -Phone Pics-100

It was much quieter on this trip, with school in session and the corn, alfalfa, soy, and tobacco still in the fields.  The big Belgian work horses were grazing in paddocks, getting a rest before their harvesting work begins.

New Holland -Phone Pics-104

The manure smell was more pungent after the summer’s heat, battling one evening with the smell of skunk and woodsmoke. Not a place for the odor-sensitive.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields--it smelled like liquid manure.  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Horses returning to the barn after spreading some liquid on the fields–it smelled like manure “tea.”  The glassy water on the left is a homemade swimming hole.

Stink bugs were everywhere, trying to get in the trailer, buzzing around like little armored drones when they succeeded.

The Amish women were harvesting pumpkins, gourds, tomatoes, beans, eggplants, potatoes, peaches, pears, and apples, and selling them at farm stands, along with a variety of fall products such as home pressed cider, home canned goods, apple butter, and pumpkin whoopie pies.

A dangerous bounty?

Hickory nuts

Hickory nuts


Every morning we looked down on a thick fog below our hillside campground, which slowly dissipated as the sun rose.


The sky was always changing, with impressionist cloud swirls.


IMG_3036Landscapes out West tend to be in-your-face beautiful, undeniably stunning to even the most crusty old beauty-hardened individuals.  Lancaster’s beauty is more subtle and nuanced, sneaking up on you and catching you by surprise.  Turn a corner and there’s a line of corn against a streaky sky or silos poking up from the mist.

New Holland-116

New Holland-108

On the weekend, the campground was full of retirees on end-of-the season trips or snowbirds heading to warmer weather.  It was mostly a big-rig Class A crew, staking out their spaces with happy hour flags and pots of chrysanthemums.  Many were rushing around to flea markets and the enormous local smorgasbord buffets.  We preferred a slower pace, walking the roads, and taking in the beauty and glimpses of Amish farm life going on around us.  It’s a special place.

Good roads for riding--motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

Good roads for riding–motorcyclists are everywhere in Lancaster on the weekends

New Holland - Canon Elph-118

Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the right, buggies on the left.

Parking for Sunday service, bicycles on the left, buggies on the right.

New Holland - Canon Elph-109


CT Farm-117 - Copy

Visiting my greats–history on a personal level

We came through Pennsylvania so that I could explore family history.  All the branches of my father’s family originally settled in Eastern Pennsylvania, yet I visited here only once when I was a child.  Thanks to extensive research by my cousin (of some degree) Arlene, I knew exactly where I wanted to go this time.

We first drove the back roads of Berks County to see the house and mill that my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Johann (John) Conrad Bobb, bought in 1744, which his son and grandson, both named Daniel, (also my great grandfathers, however many times) continued to run after his death.  Here’s more: http://berks.pa-roots.com/familyfolder/Bobb-JohannConrad.html.

We found them easily, in a rural, wooded, hilly area—house and barn right on the road, which seems to be common in Pennsylvania—with the mill set back on a creek.

The mill

The mill

The property was heavily posted with “No Trespassing” signs—too many curious Bobbs?  Even though I couldn’t explore as I would have liked, it was extraordinary to stand there and try to absorb the fact that, for over a hundred years, generations of my family had carried on all the good and bad of their lives in this particular place.

Bobb homestead

Bobb homestead

It wasn’t just a lovely old stone house and historical mill building—it was our family’s house and mill.  Hard to digest, really.


The barns

View of the mill at the back of the property

View of the mill at the back of the property

As a fortuitous follow-up, we visited the Hopewell Furnace Historical Site the next day and were able to see the inner workings of a preserved building with a functioning water wheel.  The wheel powered a mill furnace, not grist wheels, but it gave a sense of what the Bobb mill must have been like.  I hope so, because it was efficient, rhythmic, and visually beautiful at the same time.

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

Hopewell furnace waterwheel

The Hopewell Furnace site is an open-air museum of a 1700’s iron forge.  It has farm, home, and furnace buildings, and you are free to wander around at your leisure.  As an added bonus, it was dog-friendly and Zoe was able to accompany us.

Hopewell furnace workers' houses

Hopewell furnace workers’ houses

Hopewell furnace

Hopewell furnace

As a counterpoint to the iron forge–an early pre-industrial energy source—the plumes from the nearby Limerick nuclear power plant rise over the fields where the sheep are grazing at Hopewell Furnace.

Limerick plumes

Limerick plumes

I tried to come up with a power plant limerick, but couldn’t get any farther than, “There was an old lady from Hopewell, Whose furnace was hopelessly unwell …”

One of the most intriguing branches of my Dad’s family tree is the Schwenkfelder contingent.  They are the descendants of followers of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig, a German Reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther.  After severe persecution in Silesia (now in Poland), eventually they were given refuge in Saxony and then emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in the 1730s.  They valued education highly, and—unlike other Anabaptist sects such as the Amish—the Schwenkfelder communities did not remain insular, but became integrated into mainstream society during the 1800s.

I believe that my great grandmother, Emma Kriebel, was in the first generation to marry outside of the sect.  She married Abraham Bobb, great-grandson of Daniel Bobb, Sr., the mill owner mentioned above.

The Schwenkfelders have a beautiful museum and library in Pennsburg.  When I entered, the first thing I saw was a full-wall photo of a 1912 family reunion.  I looked at it with mild interest and then … whoa … I recognized a face, then another.

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Kriebel family reunion 1912

Amazingly, it was a Kriebel family reunion, our branch of the Schwenkfelders, and I found my grandparents, great grandparents, grand uncles and aunts, and, most amazingly, my father, at the age of one—a blur in his father’s arms.  My grandmother, who died well before I was born, was there, looking beautiful.  What an unexpected treat.

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

Grandmother in center, Dad is the blur

The museum display had a whole section on how the Schwenkfelders were well-known as spinners and weavers, in Silesia and in Pennsylvania.  The Bobbs also were weavers.  Creeped me out a little.  I don’t know if weaving has a genetic component, but I bought a loom and started weaving and spinning when I was high school.  Maybe we don’t have as much free will as we think.

We visited two cemeteries, full of family names and family members.  History made very personal.

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old hill cemetery, lots of ancestors here, many headstones in German

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetary

Old Towamencin Schwenkfelder cemetery

Visiting with the greats

Time travel


Morning farmland

We are in a time warp in the Lancaster farmlands of Pennsylvania. Every day, except Sunday, we have watched the local Amish and Mennonite farmers working the fields (spreading manure, haying, and tilling) with teams of anywhere from two to six draft horses.  At our campsite in the evening, we hear the clop, clop, clop of hoof beats as the local buggies pass by.  It is eerily as if we have been transported to the 1800s.

Evening walk with buggy traffic

Evening walk with buggy traffic

Of course, we drove to the 1800s by interstate, how else?  With continued unsettled weather licking at our heels, we decided to take the fastest route across the Midwest, which meant the interstate.  Ugh.  The highways were in terrible shape and totally inadequate for the amount of traffic—especially truck traffic—that clogged every highway, even at midday.

Construction and trucks--not fun

Construction and trucks–not fun

The drive across Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania presented a never-ending and varied assortment of rough roads, potholes, narrow lanes, construction zones without actual visible work, and trucks, trucks, and more trucks.  Pennsylvania added to the pain by charging over $36.00 to use its turnpike, which was an absolute mess.

Pennsylvania, it turns out, it not the most RV-friendly place around.  We spent one night at a KOA in the western part of the state, tucked in an Appalachian-style hollow, inhabited primarily by oil and gas workers living in their RVs—presumably working on the Marcellus Shale development.  When we arrived, we were given two free jugs of drinking water, because their well had “just been chlorinated.”  We later found that it had been chlorinated because it was contaminated with E. coli. Fortunately, we hadn’t hooked up to their water.  We woke early to the sound of large pickups (plates mostly from Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma) starting up as the RV park residents headed out to work.  Good riddance to that campground.

View of the gourd farm from the campground

View of the neighboring gourd (and dairy) farm from the campground

Our current campground could not be more different.  It is perched on a hill overlooking Amish and Mennonite farms, in a relatively non-touristy area of the county.  The farms are worked with traditional methods from the 1700 and 1800s, with horse (or mule) power for farm work and transportation, off-the-grid electrical power (if any), and families in traditional Amish dress.

Six horsepower.  Some pictures are taken from the car, so the quality is not great

Six horsepower. Some pictures are taken from the car, so the quality is not great

There are some interesting and illogical concessions to modern times, but the opportunity we have here to live among these farms is the closest we will ever come to time travel.  It is one thing to see old farm machinery and implements in museums—it is quite another to see farmers and horses actually maneuvering corn fields with harrows for weeding between the rows, spreading manure, and haying with horsepower rather than modern tractors.

Closed in buggy, many have headlights and turn signals

Closed in buggy, many have headlights and turn signals

Actually, the Amish do make some concessions for haying—an important part of dairy farming—which we found as we heard the rhythmic chuck and clatter of a hay baler with an internal combustion engine being pulled by three horses and periodically spitting out newly-baled hay.  Fascinating to watch.

We are getting to see, touch, smell, and hear what this country’s rural land was like in pre-industrial times, except I would be willing to bet that the Amish farms are far more immaculate than most were then.  I have never seen such well-cared for and prosperous looking farms, with immaculate barns, gorgeous, weed-free flower and vegetable gardens, and long ever-present lines of wash—mostly somber colors, but punctuated by some blue, teal, and purple.

Laundry line seen on every farm

Laundry line seen on every farm

Penn Plus-41

No weeds, and they don’t use herbicides.

The buggies and carriages come out in full force in the evenings, with high-stepping buggy horses at full trot, and a wave from the driver as they pass by.  The local stores, including Costco, have buggy sheds for parking.  The nearest grocery store, Yoder’s, has Amish romance novels.  I would love to know the target audience.

Hitching post at the feed store

Hitching post at the feed store

We have been eating like royalty.  We visit a nearby farm stand every day for fresh vegetables—peas, green onions, beans, tomatoes, new potatoes, zucchini, and beets—fresh eggs, and homemade root beer.  We caught the end of strawberry season, and I ate them with yeasty fresh donuts baked on the farm across the street.

The experience we have enjoyed the most, however, was our quest for some local meat.  We asked the young woman at the farm stand if she knew of any place we could get local chickens.  She appraised us—checking for undercover health inspectors or just general obnoxiousness, perhaps.  Apparently we passed the test, because she said, “I have a friend.”  We followed her directions and drove into the farm yard a little hesitantly, not sure what kind of reception we would receive from what was obviously a traditional Amish family.

We needn’t have worried.  As is often the case, our Alaskan license plates made us a source of curiosity, especially to the two children who came running outside.  We discussed grizzly bears, black bears, moose in the garden, farm animals, and bought several frozen chickens.  The farmer urged us to return on Tuesday if we wanted fresh chickens and the kids ran behind us as we drove out, calling: “See you on Tuesday!”

Team of horses are in the lower right

How could we resist a Tuesday visit?  We couldn’t.  When we returned, the farmer said his wife wanted to meet us, because the kids had been excited to meet Alaskans.  We also met their brother-in-law (related to the woman at the farm stand) who was there to get his buggy repaired and we bought some more chickens and eggs.  I wondered what the kids thought of us—the five-year old girl with a sweet face alight with curiousity, hair pulled tightly back into a coiled braid bound by net, running to meet us in delight at our reappearance, so eager to please—me with my Mexican embroidered blouse, leather flip-flops, Hawaiian shell earrings, and our stories of Alaska and trailer traveling? I don’t know, but we were clearly a diversion and one that the parents did not discourage.

We really liked this family.  They were welcoming and kind.  It was refreshing to talk to people who were curious about Alaska for reasons other than the recent spate of increasingly bizarre reality shows (or Sarah Palin).  I do not have a romantic view of the Amish—I wouldn’t last five minutes in their culture—but there is a certain calm way and deliberateness about those we met that is noticeable and appealing.  And, it is wonderful to see viable family farms.

Wheat field

Wheat field

It feels as though our time here has been punctuated by glimpses of other times, including our childhood: young teenage girls riding on bike handlebars, shrieking on the downhill; a group of small children totally absorbed in ring-around-the rosy (or something similar); whole families sitting out on the front steps in the evening; and talking over the fence.  I experienced the fence talk on an evening walk over a back road when I was lovingly assaulted by five chocolate labs.  Their owner—an Amish farmer—came down to the fence for a leisurely conversation about the dogs.  It was hot and he bemoaned the fact that they had no place to swim but a jury-rigged water trough that he had provided.  No car transport to a sweet swimming lake for Amish labs.  They seemed pretty happy, though, and delighted with my attentions.  My hands smelled of manure afterwards, the ever-present perfume of dairy farms.

Evening sky over campground hill

Evening sky over campground hill