May 3 - Lancaster Co., PA - Visiting the Amish

I'm not sure how to explain the time I spent at the home of Benjamin and Katie King, at their farm at 167 W. Cat Tail Rd. Let me just say that it was a wonderful experience, in some ways every bit as foreign as a trip to Europe or South America, in other ways as familiar as visiting a neighbor. Photographs do not do any justice here. The Amish prefer not to be photographed so you will see no pictures of people. It was as cultural an experience as any foreign country.

My parents first met Katie and Benjamin King, an Amish couple about their age, on a ferry from Bar Harbor, Maine to Nova Scotia. My parents were on vacation, the King's were going to visit a foundry I believe. I think the crossing took quite a while, 5 or 6 hours maybe. My mother who has always been interested in The Amish way of life (we visited Lancaster Co., PA when I was about 9) just began talking with Katie. So after hours of talking the King's invited my parents to their home in Pennsylvania for a visit. They visited some time later and ever since have kept in touch, via letter writing and the U.S. Mail of course, as the Amish do not use telephones. I was going to be in the area and a letter was written letting the King's know I might stop by, sometime in May is all they knew.

Benjamin, has been a foundry man for a long time. He and his son operate Cat Tail Foundry. It's a foundry housed in a large building next to their barn, not far from the house. They pour molten metal into hand made sand molds and manufacture all sorts of things. They use all sorts of metals too, steel, iron, bronze. They cast anything from door stops and frying pans to locomotive engine parts for old steam engines, the kind that pretty much are just set aside to carry tourists around scenic parts of the country. He is "retired" so to speak. He sold the foundry to his oldest son Emanuel, he's 35. He sold the farm to his other son, Ruben, he's 33. Ruben and his family, wife Ruth, Daughter Sadie Mae (9), son Lester (about 4), son Emanuel (about 3), and his infant daughter who's name I'm not sure of, live in the big old farmhouse. Katie and Benjamin live in a house which was constructed much later, but it's attached to the old house, if that makes any sense. Two houses, one old, one new, connected together...that's it. Emanuel lives in the next house down the road.

Ruben does the farming. He runs the dairy, works the fields of corn and wheat, all of it. The other son, Emanuel runs the foundry. Benjamin works in the foundry "for" Ruben. He said he's "Not retired, not fired, just rehired". They do not have a lack of business. There were UPS packages from all over the country stacked up in the foundry, orders waiting to be filled. A guy from Washington sent in a few old pieces of an old steam engine and needed new ones cast, another person sent in an old anchor he needed a copy of. Emanuel and Benjamin will go about making a sand mold from the old piece if possible, all by hand. Then they'll cast the new piece, clean it up and finish it. They make some parts for other foundries that cannot make some particular pieces themselves. The other foundry then sells them to a customer who never knows who really manufactured their parts. They had a batch of commemorative door stops for an anniversary of some college somewhere, everything you can imagine. Most of what they do is custom work for people who are restoring old machinery of some sort...a train, tractor, or an old mill. They can hardly keep up and would actually like to limit the amount of work they do, cut back a little.

Ruben alternates between a team of 4 big Belgian horses to drive the farm machinery and a set of four mules...that's what you get when you "Cross a Belgian mare and a Donkey jack", according to Ruben. I rode with Ruben up and down the fields planting corn for a while, we just switched teams, from the Belgians to the mules when I was given the reins. Believe me, Ruben made it look easy...."Giddy up! Giddy up Jack! Keep your head up Jack, you can do better than that! hee ya! GIddeyup." is what he said to the lead mule. He gave me the reins, yelled giddy up and the mules went to make a 90 degree turn. He had been going straight as an arrow the whole time, I went 5 feet and they doubled over. We straightened hem out and tried again, same thing happened.

Benjamin hitched up Betsy (the horse) and we went out in the carriage. He took me around the roads near their farm and pointed to each one. Almost every mailbox on Cat Tail Road has the name King on it, cousins, uncles, nephews, a very tight knit community. When we went to make the turn to go home Betsy winged around very quickly, "Whoa Betsy!" yelled Benjamin, "Whoa! See, she's excited to get back home, she's a good horse for the turns, she likes turnin' fast. Some horses like turnin' fast."

We went out for a drive in the Westy in the evening after dinner. Benjamin sat up front with me, Katie sat in the back with Sadie Mae, Lester, and little Emmanuel, in descending height order. If I could have just one picture of the whole trip so far it would have been a shot into the rear view mirror on that drive. Katie with her black dress and purple apron with bonnet, Sadie Mae in the same thing, the boys in black woolen overalls with blue shirts and straw hats, all looking at me in the rear view mirror. I couldn't believe the sight in that mirror.

I watched Ruben milk the 33 cows while Sadie Mae roller bladed between the cows in the dairy. I helped Benjamin prune the blackberries. I met a young boy at a different farm, about 12, who raised Guinea pigs and small little fowl of some sort....like small chickens, they called them Silkys. he had about 90 Guinea pigs and hundreds of the Silkys. I asked what he did with all of the birds.
"I sell 'em"
The Amish children I spoke to were children of very few words. In fact this boy, Amos, was the only child who said a word to me during my stay. They learn English only when they go to school, so any child under 7 or so doesn't understand English. At home they speak their language, a variation of German, kind of like Swiss German, a language that has evolved in isolation, among a small group of people.
I went on to ask Amos who he sold the silkys to.
"The Chinese" was his reply.
"The Chinese buy them from you?" I asked.
"A man comes every week or so to buy some" he answered.
"And that man's Chinese?" I pried.
"Yep."
"And what does he do with them?"
He just shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know."

I guess Amos doesn't really care what they do with them. Next time you go to a Chinese restaurant and order sweet and sour chicken you might really be eating Amish raised "Silky".

I took a picture of their "lambmower". They tie a lamb up near the parts of the barn yard lawn that are difficult to reach with the push mower, after a day or so the lamb will have trimmed the grass, then they move it to a different spot.

The pictures below only show where these people live, not how they live. My life for the past two years was incomprehensible to them. They have done a lot of traveling. They've been to Chicago, to Navy Pier, Benjamin asked me if I had seen the U-Boat at the Museum of Science and Industry, he thought that was great. Katie asked me if I had ever seen the movie "Witness" (early 80's, Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis). I said yes and then she pointed to the farm where they did the filming, the long driveway and house shown in that movie. She had never seen "Witness" or any other movie for that matter, ever.

It was like time never touched this place. Quite an experience.


The King farm, Lancaster, PA.


Me, attempting to plant corn with the team, harder than it looks!

Looking down the driveway from the barn.

"The lambmower"

Dairy cows waiting for the evening milking.

Milk maidens posing for the camera.

A postcard Benjamin gave me. This is him and one of his sons, taken some time ago. He didn't realize their picture was being taken...he was just at a store one day and recognized his steam engine on the postcard. He used to take it from farm to farm thrashing the wheat at harvest time, just like his father and grandfather did.
 
 
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