Saturday July 22, 2023 - Today, we drove from the Traverse City area on the reverse course back to the Shipshewana, Indiana South RV park. The weather was excellent and the drive took about 4.5 hours. On the drive, we stopped at a rest area and we actually had a couple people take photos of our rig. Made us feel pretty good. 

After setting up the RV, we decided to go take a bike ride on the Pumpkinvine Rail Trail. We thought we would ride for about an hour or so and then head back to the RV. The day was so nice and the temperature was so pleasant that we decided to ride 15 miles out and then 15 miles back on the trail. We talked to a large group of Amish people (about 10 people) at the turn-around point. They were so friendly and nice. We then turned around and began the ride back. Along the way we met a man who lives in Goshen. We talked to him for quite a while and he, too, was a very nice person. We then continued on our ride. When we got to Middlebury, we stopped at the Dairy Queen for ice cream. This is one of our favorite things to do. After soft serve cones, we continued on our way back to Shipshewana. Just as we arrived in Shipshewana, we came across another group of Amish people. It was two families on an afternoon ride. One family had four of their six young boys on the ride aged from about three to about 12. The other family was the Bontrager Family with three boys and one young girl. We continued to talk to them for a while and they could tell that we were genuinely interested in their culture. John and Elaine invited us to come by their home on Sunday for a visit. Wow! What an opportunity for us. We agreed to stop by their home the next day.

Sunday, July 23, 2023 - Today, I woke up excited and slightly nervous about our visit with the Amish Bontrager Family. I was excited to get to meet them personally and learn about their culture, but I was also nervous because I did not want to offend them in any way or do anything disrespectful of the Amish way of life. It turns out that it was good to be excited, and unnecessary to be nervous. They made us feel at home in every way possible. They are super friendly, courteous, and, basically, great down-to-Earth people. I think that they wanted to learn a little about our way of life too, and they made extra efforts to make us feel comfortable. Our first impression was their home. We drove down a perfectly manicured, concrete driveway with trees lining the way to the houses and barns. I cannot explain how perfect it was. The lawns were all mowed, and the houses were perfectly set amongst the trees. There were beautiful flower and shrub gardens around the houses and the flowers were in delightful bloom. The fences were perfect white plastic and stood out against the green grass. There was a home on the left as we entered that belongs to Wayne and Katie Bontrager, John's parents. Grandma and Grandma Bontrager started this eleven acre home, and John and Elaine Bontrager live in a home in the back that is beautiful too. Behind the homes is a lake of about two acres that is a wonderful place for the children to fish and play. I must reiterate how perfect the setting was with everything in its place and nothing sitting around that should not be there. With the flowers, green grass, beautiful homes, and the lake behind, one could not imagine a more Idyllic place. My comment was that they had created their own "Shangri-La" here and that it was a wonderful place to live. We were invited to sit on John and Elaine's back porch. It was a perfect temperature and the porch shielded us from the drizzle of rain that was falling. We had a wonderful conversation. They served us popcorn to snack on and lemonade. The lemonade was excellent and the popcorn was very sweet. It turns out that they add sugar to the popcorn during the popcorn popping process. The result is a very tasty, sweet popcorn. I am going to try this. They wanted to know about us, and we wanted to learn about their way of life. Inside the house, we were impressed with the wood-working on all the cabinets. The family had built all the buildings on the eleven acres (with the help of neighbors) and the building are kept perfectly neat. John and Elaine's home was open and spacious. A large kitchen and a large dining room with bedrooms on the side.

Clearly, the Bontrager Family takes great pride in what they have built on these eleven acres. When Wayne and Katie arrived here, the place did not look like it does now, and all the work done to build the houses, shape the grounds, plant the trees was done by Wayne, Katie, and their family, often with the help of neighbors. The Amish are a close-knit community and if a family is taking on a rather large project, they just put out the word and other families come to help. For example, the long concrete driveway (about 300 feet long) leading to the house was poured in one day with the help of neighbors. The bottom-line is that the Amish are people who have a powerful dedication to their families and their children. They believe in community and care for their neighbors too. All members of an Amish family have roles that direct certain tasks around the farm. John works on the assembly line at the Grand Design factory in Middlebury. He comes home between noon and 3:00pm (they start at 5:00am) and then begins his work around the home. He is a master craftsman who makes fantastically ornate wooden canoes. They are for sale and they sell them occasionally. If they could advertise to a larger consumer base over the internet, they could sell many more, but they do not use computers so their advertising is local.

We enjoyed meeting the children too. They do not speak English very well, so they do not understand us completely, but they will learn English when they begin school. Amish schooling only goes through the eighth grade, but the students usually get the equivalent of a twelfth grade education. They do not go to college. They learn trades and then work on the farm and in the community. Some of the things that we learned were:

  1. The entire Amish community is built around their faith in God. They have church services every other Sunday, and they can take a Sunday off, if desired. The countryside is "sectioned off" into smaller subsets and the people within those subsets will meet for services at a family home on a rotating basis. They have cargo trailers with benches and items inside to move the services from home to home. Today was Sunday and they were able to see us at 11:00 am.
  2. The Amish speak "High German" during religious services and at home. English is a second language. They will all be bilingual. Also, Amish groups in different parts of the country have different dialects. Sometimes, one group cannot understand the other.
  3. Everybody in the family has a specific role to perform. The husband will work outside the home or have a specific business that they run from the house. The wife takes care of the children and maintains the home; including mowing the lawns and doing the cooking and laundry. The children have specific chores like feeding the animals and cleaning stalls and the areas around buildings. The kids are also free to roam about the farm and play. They are very responsible and most of the play is unsupervised.
  4. They are talented craftsmen. Wayne works with iron at the metal shop right next door to the house. I got to see some of his workmanship and it was fantastic. The trailer that they use to haul their canoes and the metal fence along the retaining wall at the lake are works of art. If it is made with metal, Wayne can make it. He is also a wood craftsman who makes beautiful canoes for sale. He has also taught this skill to John. They are a piece of art and I would be afraid to put one in the water for fear of scratching them, but they told me that they can easily be re-sanded and finished to new condition. The family periodically takes the canoes to the local rivers. Also, John works at the Grand Design RV assembly line in Middlebury. He is kind of a line foreman and he has to know the jobs of each of the workers on the line. If someone does not show up for work, John can fill in and keep the line moving. They do "piece work" meaning that they get paid for the number of coaches the line builds in one day. They can do up to 32 coaches in one day.
  5. The role of the wife is amazing. She manages the family while the husband is away and everything seems to run like "clockwork." Also, the children are role models for good manners. The wife's role around the farm is challenging, but Elaine pulls it off with ease.
  6. They do not own or drive cars. They use horse-drawn carriages to get about. They can make trips of up to twenty miles with relative ease. They have several horses and two carriages.
  7. You can only take photos if you ask for permission and it may not be given. Their religion cautions them about the impact that photos may have on a person's vanity. Photos are okay, but generally not of the people themselves. This was hard for me since I am a "photo zealot," but I wanted to be respectful. No pictures of people on the Internet.
  8. The Amish do not vote in elections, but they are very concerned about what is happening in the country and world and how it may impact their families. I would say that most Amish are slightly on the conservative side in their beliefs, and cherish the values of hard work, family, faith, and community. They enjoy tremendous freedom in their way of life and can make do with what they have around them. They seem to be at peace with the world and have found a great place to fit into the world.
  9. There is so much more to say, but it will take some time, so I will stop here.

John and Elaine offered to harness the horse to the buggy and take Lisa and me for a ride. Wow! This was a great opportunity for us. John and Elaine took us for a ride of about two miles on roads and through dirt roads through wooded areas. It was a ton of fun for us and we learned so much about why they choose to keep their lives simple and free of outside negative influences. Both, John and Elaine, told us about the neighbors and what they do for a living. They also told us about how they purchase horses (trotters that can go for between $5,000 and $10,000 each) and how the horses have differing temperaments when pulling the carriages. We often see these carriages sailing by, but to be in one was super fun for us.

I also told them about the drone and they were receptive to me getting the drone and flying it above the farm. They are super-inquisitive. I also plan to take some photos of the farm and send them the family. I flew the drone and also had the individuals look at the flight through the First Person View goggles that see what the drone sees. It is like you are flying the drone. The Bontragers have about five or six large bird houses built on poles beside the house. This has attracted lots of birds that have taken up residence in the bird houses. Now, when they hear and see the "weird bird," the drone, flying in the area, they want to chase it away. We had lots of birds coming up and attacking the drone. Luckily, they did not get so close that they hit the drone. I was a little concern for a while. I did not want to hurt a bird. But, as I flew farther away from the house, the birds left me alone. This was a lot of fun and I got some great photos of the farm. They were amazed at the ease of flying the drone and how it did most things all by itself. Even the kids were intrigued.

Then they said that they were getting ready to serve lunch and asked it we would like to dine with them. Of course, yes! They had a "cheesy-burrito" like meal cooked as a casserole, and we could garnish the food with fresh, organic, home-grown vegetables. Amish people are very healthy people. They eat well and seem to have less stress then the rest of us. There don't seem to be many problems with weight at all amongst the Amish. We said a silent prayer and then visited while eating. The children were very well-mannered and we all ate together. This reminded me of when Mandy and Billy were young and growing up in South Dakota and Nebraska. We ate meals together and it was a great family time.

In retrospect, we feel that the Amish are wonderful people who live a life of faith, family, and devotion to community. They are healthy, super friendly, and open to meeting people who are nice too. Like we are curious about their lives, they are curious about ours. I cannot overstate the fact that these people are so friendly. We have been traveling for over four years now, and I chock this day up as one of the best that we have had so far. I would love to spend more time with Wayne and Katie and John and Elaine. When we return to Shipshewana, we will visit with them and surely try to set up a family ride to the ice cream shop in Middlebury.

Monday, July 24, 2023 - Today, we took it easy around the RV until after lunch when we had to think about driving to Fort Wayne, Indiana for an appointment with the cardiologist who inserted the stint on my heart back in September of 2020. The appointment was not about the stint. We were there to get a referral for an echocardiogram since the doctors in California have been keeping an eye on the size of my aorta. My daughter, Mandy, has a slightly larger aorta, and since this can be hereditary, they are checking me too. My mom died from a aortic aneurism. It turns out that after looking at the records, the doctor said that my aorta is not large enough to be a concern and is actually just the size it should be for an old codger of my age. He also said that there is no need to have an "echo" every six months. He recommended one every two years, so that is excellent news! Now we do not have to wait around the Shipshewana area for an appointment for an "echo" and we can move on to Muncie on Wednesday and then to parts farther north and to the east. All good news.

Periodically, we have a rear turn signal light go out. We can tell by the rapid blinking cycle when a light is out. I stopped at Advance Auto Parts and got a tool to change the light; a super easy job. We then went to Culvers for hamburgers before heading back to Shipshewana; a trip of about 50 miles.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023 - We got up early and I put on my bicycle riding gear. I had to take the truck into a local garage to have the shock absorbers replaced. I had purchased the shocks about a week ago at the NAPA dealer in Middlebury. I put the bike in the back of the truck and then drove about a mile to the garage. After turning the truck over to the garage, I rode the bike back to the RV. Lisa and I plan to take another bicycle ride on the Pumpkinvine Trail this morning to stay in shape.

After picking up the truck, we drove it to Middlebury to check out the ride and to make and appointment at the Monteith's Auto Service Center to grease the wet bolts on the RV tomorrow. The plan is to hook up the RV and take it to Monteith's where they will grease the zerks before we head to Muncie, Indiana. That way, we do not have to move the RV twice.

After making the appointment, we drove back home and got our bikes and riding gear and headed out for our third trip down the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in Shipshewana. We ended up riding for 37 miles to the town of Goshen and then back. As we were riding the bikes through the town of Middlebury, we heard someone shouting, "Hey! Wayne and Lisa!" This was confusing since no one knows us here. We stopped and turned around and it was an entire Amish family that we had met on the bike path two days earlier. The man who yelled was Wayne J. Bontrager. We did not get the wife's name (we are so bad at remembering names), but we did ask each of the children to give their names and ages and what they liked about school. They were so nice and seemed very interested in what we do when we travel. Wayne works for Jayco Manufacturing, an RV company in Middlebury. It was so great to meet then again and I know that if we lived in the area, we would see them more often.

Two days earlier we had visited John J. Bontrager and his family. Johns dad has the same name as the Wayne J. Bontrager we met on the trail. Wayne J. Bontrager, Senior, who we met in Shipshewana two days before, are not related. Wayne Senior has either six or eight children and 32 grand children; all the families live within 20 miles of their home. It is very interesting that the Amish community is pretty small and all the families are "somewhat" related.

After visiting with the Bontrager family for about 30-minutes, we continued on our way home to the RV with a short stop at the Dairy Queen in Middlebury for a "Dilly Bar." It was good and refreshing. We split it since Lisa is working hard to keep her calorie count under control.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023 - We drove to Middlebury to get the wet bolts on the RV greased and then we drove to Muncie, Indiana where the AMA National Model Aircraft Championships are being held.