This is my third summer doing tour guide work (both bus and private tours). It’s been an interesting summer!
I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way, as has my husband, who also does tours—but I’ll stick to my stories today.
It all started out when the local tourism board—the Lagrange County Convention & Visitor’s Board in Shipshewana—came across my website and gave me a call… Apparently there is what’s called a “gap in services” in this area of tourism. Nearly no one with my knowledge of the Amish culture is giving private tours! I had done a few every summer in recent years, so I had a “rack card” made up for the Visitor’s Center in Shipshewana.
Soon the tourism board for Elkhart County was carrying my rack cards and recommending me also. Between that and also having cards at Farmstead Inn, Essenhaus Inn, and a few other places, that got the ball rolling.
My husband has a strong knowledge of the local culture also (most of our friends are Amish), and he’d done a few bus tours also, and done them very well—so before long, we were partners in this project. Next year his name will be on the rack card, too!
But back to my adventures:
I’ll leave out the names to protect the guilty and/or clueless here, but there really were some amusing moments this summer!
I remember the three folks visiting from Indonesia whose daughter had been a tour client the previous year. She wanted her family to have a buggy ride, since she had enjoyed it so much the previous year, and I can occasionally arrange one of those… But her elderly mother was having none of it! That buggy horse might as well have been a T Rex, as far as she was concerned. The others had to take the ride without her!
Another delightful lady who grew up in the Philippines and had spent her adult life in a couple of American cities had a different experience with the local horses. We went to a farm where she and her family could get “up close and personal” with Belgian work horses, the typical Standardbred buggy horses, and also the smaller ponies popular with the Amish children. After we left, she said to me, “Well, this is embarrassing to admit. I didn’t know there were different breeds of horses. I though all horses were the same!” Then I knew why she’d seen a pony there and asked, “Is that a baby one?”
I bet you never thought of going to a junkyard on a tour!… But I’ve had more than one client who wanted that very thing—and they loved it! See if you can pick out my client in this photo of the wonderful antique stuff at my favorite place.
One of my newer stops is at an Amish farm where rag rugs are made (below). As the two wives in our party walked over to the rug workshop with me, the weaver’s wife was out in in the gravel drive. The two husbands, who were trailing behind us, met up with her and then one of them called out to us, “You guys go ahead! We’re gonna go milk a GOAT!” That was the last we saw of them until we were ready to leave.
Not all the memories are ones I’d want to repeat, though... I remember the time we had an Emotional Support Animal with us at an Amish workshop, and I used up half a roll of paper towels cleaning up a big puddle of Golden Retriever pee from the floor of the workshop! The shop owner was very nice about it, though. (I’ll spare you a photo of that one!)
I had a wonderful extended family of one man and seven women from Chicago this summer, on a very hot day. It was my first and only tour with more than one vehicle involved. Between our stops, I gave my running commentary from the front seat of one car, while the second car had me on speaker phone. One of our stops was E&S Bulk Foods, the giant Amish grocery store in Shipshewana, where one of the ladies wanted to buy some chicken to take home. As we entered, our man said to the women, “Ten minutes! Ten to twelve minutes!” At that point, the seven women all grabbed carts and scattered in all directions like a covey of quail!... Twenty minutes later there was still no sign of any of them at the checkout counter. Let’s just say they didn’t buy out the store, but they went home with a lot more than chicken.
All in all, it’s been a great year as a tour guide, and my husband has enjoyed it, too. (He gets better tips than I do!) The tourist season isn’t over yet, and as the weather gets cooler, touring will be even more pleasant. We plan to advertise more widely for 2024, so maybe one of us will see you then!