My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Going to a Horse Auction

So, one day in early January I had nothing pressing to do, and I wandered over to Shipshewana to the Michiana Events Center, or as the locals, call it, “The Mec.”  It is a big new building south of downtown, with two wings.  The first is a big, open, well-lit all-purpose area, and the second is an arena with rows of seats. Two events were taking place there that day.

I intended to go to the consignment auction in the all-purpose area—five auction rings featuring all kinds of stuff—because one of the rings had an estate sale with some Amish genealogy books I wanted.  I enjoyed sitting in the front row for an hour, waiting for my Amish best friend to join me. 

I didn’t get the books—too expensive!—so the two of us wandered over to the other wing, where the Standardbred horse auction was being held.

Wow, what a nice arena!  We watched from the area above the seats for a while, and then my friend went back to the consignment auction to bid on a piece of furniture (which she got).  I got some French fries and a bottle of water and found a seat.

As you can see, the crowd was nearly all Amish, but I’m getting used to that since I moved here and started getting deeper into the local culture.  (I said to my friend before she left, “Now I know how you guys feel when you’re in downtown Chicago!”) 

This auction was for Standardbred horses, which are the type commonly used to pull Amish buggies.  Many of them are former racehorses from Canada which weren’t quite perfect enough for a career on the racetrack.  Others are brought in from horse breeders in the Amish areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Anyway,  the whole thing was fascinating.  For instance, I loved the names of the horses.  American Anthem,  Majestic Stone, Sapphire Sue, Fear the Major, FiFi LaFleur, Hashtag Fast, Vicki Jo Buffalo, Linda’s Lucky Chucky, Decisive Moment, Gold Dust Darling, Magic in Motion—so creative!  The program listed each horse by name, consigner (seller), Sire (father), and Dam (mother). 

I also loved the comments section on some of the listings.  These stallions, geldings, and mares were being sold as Amish buggy horses, so the comments reflected that.  A few examples:  “If you’re one of those particular guys looking for that nice driving mare with looks and drive, check her out.”  “Fresh mare right off the track.  Very classy—all trot!”  “Sharp driver, stands to hitch and at corners.  Very well mannered.”  “Nice headset and front end motion...  A horse that when you walk out of your barn, he makes your bad days turn into the best days.”

Most of the horses sold for $5,000 to $8,000—but one went for $13,000!  The price depends on age, size, looks, pedigree, and level of training.  The price of buggy horses is going up in recent times, due to the explosive growth of the Amish population—from 217,000 to 317,000 in the last ten years!

There is a Clydesdale auction coming up at MEC this spring, and I think I’ll be in attendance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Four: A Few More Things

So, this is fourth and last in my series of posts about Amish schools.  I have a booklet which I borrowed from an Amish school board member that gives lots of information, so I’ll borrow from that for this post.

This school year (2017-2018) there are exactly 100 Amish schools in the tri-county area (Elkhart, Lagrange, and Noble counties, in northeastern Indiana).  Five were new this year—Anderson Trail, Scenic Hills, Power Line, Orchard View, and Pigeon River.  The newer schools are generally built with metal or vinyl siding (white) and a shingled or metal roof.  Hot water heat is usually built into the floor, and the water well is powered by a battery pack.  Often there is a second building used for storage, power sources, and as a horse barn.

Each school is run by a three-man school board consisting of local parents.  The schools are grouped into districts of 12-15 schools, and above that, there is a state Amish school board.  The tri-county area also has special committees for special education, testing, teacher workshops, and buildings.  There is a special new “Schools for Schools” board which endeavors to help with the financing of new schools; counting land costs, a new school can cost $140,000 to build!

Who are the teachers in these schools?  They are chosen from within the Amish community itself.  The teachers (most are female but some are male) will have had only an eighth grade education themselves, but they need to have scored at the 10th grade level on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  They get further training through periodic teachers’ meetings (every six weeks) and by reading the Amish teachers’ magazine called The Blackboard Bulletin.  Some teachers live in special teacher’s quarters which are often built into the newer schoolhouses.  Their pay comes from tuition fees paid by the students.  Most of the schools have two or three teachers, but a few have four.

The 102 schools which serve the 180 church districts in the tri-county area are mostly recent, as the Amish population has exploded (and more Amish parents withdrew their children from public school).  One was built in the 1940s; one in the 1950s; eighteen in the 1960s; six in the 1970s; nine in the 1980s; seventeen in the 1990s; twenty-one from 2000-2010; and twenty-seven since 2010.  (These figures are from 2017.)

I love the names of the schools!  Most are chosen for some geographical attribute of the area.  My favorites are Cottonwood Grove, Triple Bend, Singing Hills, Peaceful Meadow, Tollway View, Sunny Ridge, Birdsong Echoes, Blue Heron, and Little Acorn.

If you drive through Amish Indiana, you’ll see one of these buildings, with their yard full of bicycles, baseball diamonds, and bells on top, every few miles.  It’s okay to slow down and get a better look, or even take photos—as long the children aren’t outside playing.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A New Little Colt

This baby colt belongs to our friend James... 4 days old!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

An Amish Retirement Estate Auction

I was writing an email to a friend this morning, explaining the Amish retirement/estate auction I attended recently, and I thought, “I have enough here to write a post!”  So, here it is.

Whenever I saw a poster in our community (Middlebury/Shipshewana) for an Amish estate auction, I thought, “How sad!  They must not have had a single son or daughter who was interested in taking over the family farm!”  But I was mistaken.

Now that I have seen the process up close, I understand it better.  The bottom line is this:  If a family has eight children, it wouldn’t be fair to just leave the house and farm and livestock and equipment to the youngest son!  (Or, whichever child ends up with the farm—I talked more about that in this post on dawdi houses.)  So, the child who takes over the farm actually purchases the farm from the parents… and if he wants the livestock or equipment, he bids on it at the auction, fair and square. 

I was told that if the other bidders recognize that son as being a bidder on something, often they will back off and let him have it without running up the price.  What a nice custom!

Anyway, we found ourselves at the retirement auction of our best Amish friends Glenn and Ruth.  It was a huge affair, many months in the planning.  For the larger outside items—which included three sets of work horses, three buggies, and lots of farm equipment—the auctioneer worked from a booth built into the back of a pickup truck.  It was very well designed, with a cabin for the auctioneer and the record-keeper, and built-in speakers on every side.  The truck could be moved down the rows as the items came up for sale.

There was also a sale going on all day in one of the larger outbuildings, with all kinds of household stuff and smaller items; these also were being auctioned off.  Ruth told me that she took perhaps three-quarters of her household things with her to their new place next door, so the other 25% were here.  I have noticed on many occasions how much more money can be made from an auction (vs. a traditional ‘English’ estate or yard sale).  It’s a great way to build a nest egg for the newly retired couple!

The son who is taking over the farm bought plenty, as you can imagine.  He bid on all three teams of horses, and got two of them—the other team, which he had worked with since his youth, went to a higher bidder from Michigan.  One of the daughters of the family bought one of the Amish buggies—it’s also going to Michigan, where they live.  Another daughter bought quite a bit of the old living room furniture.

All the family and friends were there, and there was good food served all day at reasonable prices in the large room at the back of the house where church is held.  Next time you’re in Amish Indiana with a few hours to spare, look for a sign like this one.  These retirement auctions are fun!