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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Dutch Harness Horse Auction

Recently an Amish friend (we’ll call him Emmon) made a proposal to my husband…  He and some other horse-loving friends wanted to make their annual trip to Cloverdale, Indiana (a bit south of Indianapolis and two or three hours away) for their annual Dutch Harness Horse auction.  Their regular driver couldn’t make the trip.  Would we rent a 14-passenger van and take them, if they paid for the van, the fuel, and our motel room, etc.?  I’m always up for an auction of any kind, and my husband had nothing else planned—so off we went. 

The video at the top shows a bit of the action.  This particular auction draws buyers (nearly all Amish) from all over the Midwest for those who like the Dutch Harness breed. According to Wikipedia, “The Dutch Harness Horse is a warmblood breed of fine driving horse that has been developed in the Netherlands since the end of World War II.” It goes on to say this: “While with 40 sires and fewer than 2,000 broodmares the population is not large, Dutch Harness Horses are highly recognizable.  The Wikipedia article also explained why they have a distinctive, high-stepping trot:  “The forelegs are typically longer than the hind legs - by design - and as such the horse will ‘sink’ in the back and rise in the front. This quality is responsible for the powerful, active hind end and the great freedom in the forehand.”

The Dutch Harness breed has its fans, but also its detractors, I was told that many people think that they aren’t as good for the miles as the more common Standardbreds used by the locals for their buggies. One woman in our party said that Dutch Harness horses are “all show and no go.”  Others think that they are stubborn and distractible, a bit hard to control, with “poor brakes” unless trained very carefully.  Many of the horses in this sale were half Dutch and half Standardbred or some other type.

But I don’t go to auctions just for the auction!  I like to indulge in plenty of people-watching, and this event was no exception.  As a non-Amish “Englisher” I was in the minority at this event; probably 98% of those around me were Amish.  I took this shot with my phone (from farther away—I crop the photos later).  There was only a half-inch of sand on the floor of the arena, but these boys managed to make a sandbox out of it!

But this event was unusual—besides the northern Indiana Amish I see nearly every day, there were Amish from Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, and my favorite—Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  I took this shot of some of the Lancaster boys, with their straw hats unlike what the “local boys” wear here in Indiana.

But there was an auction going on, too!  I can listen to auctioneers for hours, especially at horse auctions.  Their descriptions of each horse, and their comments about them, amuse me endlessly.  This time I heard phrases like “a kitten in the barn but a tiger on the road!” and “boys’ horse deluxe with a lot of power” and “he will look just as good pulling your buggy to church as he will in the show ring.”

The names of the horses amuse me, too.  They range from the plain, like “Class Act” and “Firecracker,” to the more creative, like “Susquehanna County,” “I’m a Good Girl,” and “Mass Psychology.”

One of the stud horses in the Dutch Harness world is named “Winston.”  He is the superstar of the Dutch stud world; below is his two-page color spread in the auction catalog.  I heard his name at least a hundred times in two days!  A few dozen of his offspring were for sale, and they brought the best prices.  Three breeding shares were auctioned off (the chance to breed one mare a year to Winston) and they sold for around $8,000 to $10,000 apiece!

Emmon, who is a diehard horse guy, told me on the way home that one of his mares is a Winston offspring.  He also told me why Winston isn't pictured in his two-page spread, but rather a couple of his offspring.  Although Winston's offspring are gorgeous animals, Winston himself is "homely as a mud fence," as my dad used to say!

The horses really were amazing.  Many were “bay” (dark brown) or black, which is not the medium-brown color of the Standardbreds usually seen in my part of Indiana.  And with their heads held high and their high-stepping motion, they were a pleasure to watch.  Thanks for including us, Emmon!  I might want to make this horse sale an annual event.

P.S.  This group of Amish horse fans travel together regularly, and they have developed a funny tradition.  Whoever gets dropped off first (and it took an hour to drop everyone off, once we got back home)—they get everybody’s trash to throw away!  And people didn’t make it easy for them—some of the DQ bags were tossed into a puddle in the driveway!  Seems like a fair trade, though, for getting to bed an hour earlier.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An Amish Love Story

I was out singing for Mrs. R. a few weeks ago (I’ve talked about her before), and I heard the most wonderful love story!  I thought it was worth sharing, especially since my beloved Mrs. R. is one of the main characters.

I worked on her family’s genealogy a few months ago, and I noticed that her late husband was from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Although Lancaster is one of the largest Amish settlements in existence, nevertheless, it is rare for someone from Lancaster County to come out to Amish Indiana and settle here—so I was curious and asked the family how that came to be.  Mrs. R. has a hard time talking due to her stroke, but her daughter-in-law filled me in while Mrs. R. listened and smiled.  Out of that conversation came the most amazing story…

The year was 1958.  Three young Amishmen from Lancaster County were traveling west on a vacation to California to see the redwoods—Hank, Frank, and Eli (not his real name).  Eli’s mother had made him promise to stop in Indiana on their way out west, to visit an uncle who lived in Nappanee.

While in Shipshewana, Eli decided to go to the Sunday night singing being held nearby for the local young people.  (These singings are one of the main social mixers for young unmarried Amish.)  While there, he met a young lady who instantly captured his heart.  (That would be my beloved Mrs. R.!)

Eli knew at once that he had found what he was looking for.  So did she, apparently, because when Eli asked her if he could see her home that evening, she let her boyfriend Sam know that she wouldn’t be needing his help getting home that night.  She managed to tell me that she still remembers the look on Sam’s face!

Eli told his young traveling companions to go on out west without him—but they ended up heading back to Pennsylvania instead. Eli returned with them, but not before starting up a friendship with the young lady that was carried on with letters and visits back and forth for the next two years.

As things got serious, she wondered what it would be like to leave family and friends and start life with Eli in Pennsylvania—an area where the Amish dress a bit differently and live by slightly different rules.  She says now that she was ready to do so—but it turned out not to be a decision she had to make.  Eli was perfectly willing to settle down in northern Indiana.  He soon moved out to Indiana and lived with an Amish bishop named Yoder and his family.

The young couple got married in 1960, and before long they bought a farm near Shipshewana, where Eli made his living as a carpenter.  God blessed them with six daughters and six sons and a good life together. 

Tragically, Eli died of a heart attack at age 52, leaving behind his wife and twelve children—nine still at home...  So Mrs. R. has been a widow for a very long time!  I’ll bet she could tell me a lot of stories, if it was easier for her to speak.  I hope someday she will.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A Visit to Grabill

My husband and I recently drove to Fort Wayne, about 90 minutes south of where we live in Middlebury, and on the way, he stopped to show me the “Swiss Amish” town of Grabill, Indiana.  

I have written about the Swiss Amish previously. They are a different group than the northeastern Indiana Amish; they came to America in the 1800s, not the 1700s, and are a more conservative group.  They also speak a different dialect—Swiss Amish as compared to the Pennsylvania Dutch spoken where we live.

Anyway—the little town of Grabill was quite picturesque, so I took some photos.

Seeing downtown Grabill is like stepping back to the 1800s.  I took the above photo at the main intersection.  Yes, that’s a windmill!  And the covered wooden sidewalks are not a ‘tourist thing’—they’re the real thing.

This general store see above is also the real thing. A person could spend hours wandering around in here.  The left side is d├ęcor; the right side is mostly sweets and treats.

One thing that distinguishes the conservative Swiss Amish is their use of open buggies only.  (Northeastern Indiana has both closed and open buggies, as I wrote about recently.)  The photo above shows a typical Swiss Amish one in Grabill.

Another thing that distinguishes the Swiss Amish is the simplicity of their graveyards.  Here, the markers were small and identical. Some Swish Amish cemeteries have only wooden stakes for markers, the idea being that they are temporary markers and not meant to be a focal point for those left behind.  Visiting loved ones’ graves or leaving flowers are most definitely not Amish traditions, anywhere I’ve been.

Here’s a handy map of Grabill that I saw in the flea market building at the main intersection downtown.  (A website is also under construction at  Stop by if you’re traveling to Fort Wayne from the north and want to step back in time.