Thursday, May 21, 2015

Amish Horse Trivia

Did you know that many Amish buggy horses began their careers as racehorses? Yep!

       Standard-bred horses have been carefully developed over the past several hundred years for sulky racing. At one time this was a huge attraction at local fairs. Almost everyone in the old-days drove a buggy and admired a good horse that could move really fast at the trot. When you see a jockey sitting on a horses back during a race, those horses are galloping. That galloping motion is not desirable when a horse pulls a cart, it is way too jerky. Therefore, the trotting horse was developed; a horse with a fast, long stride in the trot. Standardbred horses are the king of that motion and have great endurance. The same traits that make a great racehorse, translate into the makings of a wonderful buggy-horse.

Actually, this blog post is not about Amish horse trivia, but trivia about the Amish Horses Series.

       Did you know that the horses pictured on the covers of Under the Heavens and Catbird Singing actually were born and raised on an Amish farm? The horses on the covers belong to me, Thomas Nye, the author of the Amish Horses Series. I purchased Karma and Coke from an Amish family that lives a few miles from my home. Karm and Coke have never been in a horse trailer. A son of the guy I bought the horses from helped me drive them home to my place. I describe that experience in a short story you can read on this blog. On the "tool bar" above click on "Back in Time". The young man protraying Lenny on the cover of Under the Heavens is my son, Dallas. We purchased his hat at the local Amish "Country Store" as well as a pair of suspenders. The young girl, who is on both Under the Heavens and Catbird Singinghappens to be my daughter, Natalie. We borrowed an Amish dress from a local Amish girl (who will not be named here) for the first book. The dress she is wearing on Book II was also made in a local Amish home and given as a gift to our family friend. (Thanks for loaning us your dress, Meredith)

Another interesting bit of trivia: The character "Aaron Burr" in Catbird Singing, was named after my wife's great-grandpa, Aaron Burr Gingerich, who happened to be Amish. My wife's great-grandpa also had a brother with the name George Washington Gingerich. I know these are odd names for Amish men to have, but it's true. The historical Aaron Burr was infamous, as he killed a man during a duel. My wife's great-grandpa lived a few miles from where we now live. One of his great-grandsons  is still Amish and farms his home-place

Thomas Nye &
Karma and Coke wearing the bridles made by Jess Peachy
       I patterned the character "Grandpa Jesse" after one of my favorite Amishmen, a man named Jess Peachy, who is now deceased. This Jess Peachy was a harness-maker who lived not far from my home. He was very kind and willing to talk about his faith openly, and also shared excellent horse advice with me. Whenever I had an incident with my horses and needed harness repair, I would go to him to get my harness fixed, and more importantly, to get horse wisdom. We had many wonderful conversations while he worked on my harness. In fact, he made the bridles that my horses are wearing on the cover of Under the Heavens. I also patterned Aaron Burr (the harness maker in the Amish Horses Series) after this real life Amishman. It just so happens, the story of Fanny Ella's pony, Dusty, is based on a true story Jess Peachy told me. He had a pony that would climb steps into their home, jump onto a hay-rack and go for a ride behind a team of draft horses. He was offered a great deal of money for that pony and turned it down. (just like in Catbird Singing) and the true-life story (of his pony) ended just the same way it ends in the Amish Horses Series.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nylon Harness Shop

This past February, I brought my draft horses into the barn to harness them up. I was planning to hitch them to this little sled that my harness is hanging on.
Coke (one of my horses) reached to the ground to get a mouthful of hay that she had dropped and broke a snap off her harness.
When you weigh almost a ton, it's easy to break things without meaning to.
The next thing I knew her harness was draped over her head. Being the good horse she is, she stood still and waited for me to unsnap everything.
I knew that I was going to be making a trip to my friendly harness man.

While he looked at what needed repaired, we had a chance to visit about other things. He told me about a new team of Percheron horses they had recently purchased. This is a picture (above) of one of those mares and her new colt. You can see her teammate in the background with some other horses. He told me that they seem to be good horses... if you can catch them. They were purchased at the Sale-barn in Kalona and he didn't know anything about their history. He said, "We normally catch our horses when they come into the barn for grain, but they don't come in with the others." That is unusual, most horses love to come in for grain. I'm sure they will get used to their new routine soon enough.

While I was getting my harness repaired, I remembered that my steel bits were getting rusty. So, I bought this new set of stainless steal bits. Not that I wanted to spend the money, but these are like the brakes on a car, if they go out your done! You can see a copy of my repair bill below. The Amish church-bench wagon was parked at the harness man's house, and he told me that they would be having Church in their home in a few weeks. I got a call about a week later, asking me to please pick up my harness as soon as possible. I knew what that was about. When an Amish family hosts Church in their home they want everything on the farm immaculate, even in the harness shop.

Yes, he did misspell my name, but I was honored that he remembered my name without asking.

Another footnote: When I arrived to pick up my harness, the shop had an open sign in the window, but nobody was anywhere in sight. I could hear what sounded like a large group of children. Just then, Monroe came out of the big barn. He told me, "Our goats are kidding!" I asked him,"How many kids?" He told me around 40. I don't know if that was a total or if more were on the way.

In my novel Catbird Singing, Lenny visits a harness shop multiple times. His good friend, an aging Amishman, gives him good advice about more than horses and harness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Making Hay (the old way)

In this old photo you can see small square bales being hoisted up in to a hay mow. The man on the ground has the trip rope. When the hay bales are inside and close to where he wants them, he will pull his rope and drop the bales. This type of hay system was designed for loose hay and used that way from around 1890 until about 1950. In the 1950's everyone started using small square bales and found that they could continue using their "hay trolleys" to hoist those into the mow, six at a time.

(These pictures were loaned to me by a good friend named Jeff, he is one of the boys sitting on the tractor)
For years, horses pulled the hay hoist rope. In this picture a small tractor is being used. My wife remembers her grandmother driving an old pickup to pull the rope. She said that she used to ride on the tailgate much like these boys are riding along on the tractor. I had an opportunity to help a Mennonite farmer put up hay this way in the early 1980's. I know that many Amish farmers still use hay hoists to this day. Some Amish farmers still put up loose hay, including one of the families I bought draft horses from. I enjoyed watching them do things the way it was done around the turn of the last century.

We have a local resident that collects hay trolleys from all over the country. The Kalona Mennonite Historical Society held a meeting in this display barn a few weeks ago. I asked for permission to take some pictures and blog about it.
In the picture below you can see a few sets of "Iron Claw" hay forks. I still have an old set that were used on our home-place even though the big barn is gone.

There were many companies that made hay trolleys, and over the years each company made numerous models. Our local collector told us that he has over 300 distinct trolleys, and some duplicates.

I thought I would throw in this picture of me standing below a few of the old hay forks. This style was used for loose hay.

I've included a short excerpt from my novel, Under the Heavens. This is a short story that was told to me, by a good Amish friend, almost exactly as I put in in the book.

If you have a few minutes, check out this wonderful video by simply clicking on the words below.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Local Newspaper Article

The Wellman Advance ran this article on the front page, February 19, 2015. I really thought that Bill Gatchel did an exceptional job writing, and I wanted to share it with all of you. (I asked for permission to photograph the article and post it online.) Yes, I know that I didn't take perfectly straight pics... but I think that adds to the effect that you are reading out of a newspaper from a rocking chair. You also may notice that the words get larger with each section. The article was done right, it's my photography that is lacking. I hope you enjoy it anyway!

I would like to explain a little more about the local farmers "non-comment." The Kalona / Wellman community is a very close-knit group with a large Mennonite and Amish population. They all know me and I knew that I would have to face them if they didn't like my book. Almost everyone here grew up on a farm or spent time on grandpa and grandma's farm. I was nervous about what the local's would think of my farming story, because they know the facts. Scores of local farmers have read Under the Heavens and their response has been, "When does the next book come out?" With big smiles on their faces.  I did have one older farmer catch a mistake about what I called a two-bottom plow. I called it a sulky-plow and it should be a gang-plow. A one-bottom plow, with a seat, is a sulky plow.  I fixed that issue in Book II, Catbird Singing.  

Here is a link for the article: Wellman Advance

Friday, April 24, 2015

Daddy Daughter Day

My daughter, Bethany, spent the day with me at the Kalona Draft Horse Sale. She was there on the day of the equipment sale. I took this picture of her in front of a couple of buggy horses. After I took this shot, I realized that an Amishman was eating his lunch in his buggy, hitched to the horse on the right. He didn't seem to notice us, until we walked past, and then gave us a friendly greeting. Bethany was the first person to read my novel, Under the Heavens. She read it while living in Italy, where her husband was stationed. (Funny that my book made its debut in Italy)
There are usually dozens of buggies all lined up. A lot of Amish come in from the Hazelton Amish community in northern Iowa and from Bloomfield in southern Iowa. They ride with English drivers, in semi-trucks that are hauling trailers with horses to sell, or ready to take home newly purchased stock and equipment.

I bought this Bobsled (pictured below) for a very reasonable price, maybe because it's springtime and it won't be much use for a long time. I will be really happy that I have it the next time it snows. I had a similar sled but it was really old and falling apart. This one is good and solid.

Bethany and I never seem to run out of things to talk about.  We enjoyed looking at all of the really old items and discussing what we thought they were, and how they were used. We noticed that some things we considered antiques were being purchased by local Amish folk, not as antiques.
My daughter pointed out how the light was making a nice shadow of this Percheron.
This dad and son are heading home from the Horse Sale with their newly purchased items... just like my daughter and her daddy. Yes, that is the Maple Avenue Greenhouse on the left. I blogged about the greenhouse a few weeks ago.
I sold books on the second day of the Horse Sale, and bought an amazing pecan sticky-bun from an Amish family that was selling baked goods. I took one bite and it was warm and delicious. So, I called over to the teenage girl that took my money, "Did you make these this morning?" She smiled and nodded.
I took this photo from where I was set up, selling books. I had a great view of the sale ring and was quite impressed with the quality of horses that sold that day. Good horses were bringing a handsome price.

There were a couple of young Amish families that came to the sale together... I passed them on the way home.
This young Amish fellow impressed us all with his skill and courage

Thank you Bethany, for being a sweet daughter and a great friend...
I loved spending the day with you!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An Old Swing

My wife's Uncle Duane lives in the heart of Amish country. He always has great stories to share with me every time I talk to him. He and his sons baled and/or sold hay to every Amish family for miles around. I stopped over to visit him the other day and three of his grandsons were there putting up a swing. They had a very interesting story about this swing and I thought I should share it with all of you. Duane explained that this frame was designed to be a hoist. They would drive a team of horses through this frame and a pulley at the top would be used with a rope to hoist up the front end of a grain wagon, to unload it. After they quit using the frame as a hoist (a very long time ago) they decided to use it for a swing.
The old frame accidentally got bent a short time ago by a tractor. Duane's grandson's didn't want to see the old swing gone... so one of them welded an exact replica of the old hoist.(The guy you can see kneeling down near the frame.) His son is the little guy taking the first ride in the new swing. If you look really close, you can see the old hoist laying on the ground behind Uncle Duane. This is where the story gets really interesting, to me. When the three grandsons dug down to the old cement footing, to attach the new frame they made an fun discovery. There were names written in the cement.

These young men found their grandmother Marilyn's name written in the concrete along with three of her other siblings names. The baby of their family didn't write her name... so we have an idea of how long ago this footing was set. Aunt Marilyn passed away a few years ago, and this was the farm she grew up on. I think it is cute to see her child-like signature (which she happened to misspell, there is an extra i in there.) Someone drew lines between the names, Rodney, Howard, Marilyn, and Linda.
Uncle Duane's great-grandson will be the Fourth generation to play on this swing, that is set on an old grain-wagon hoist. You can see the footing with the names in this picture. Uncle Duane has a great family. I'm very impressed that his grandson went to all the effort to make an exact replica of the old hoist. And, that his grandsons took the time to come set it in place and keep the family traditions going. They were rewarded for their efforts, with a connection to their grandma. A set of autographs that lay hidden under the soil for around 75 years!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Amish Greenhouse

Maple Avenue Greenhouse is owned and operated by an Amish family. Open to the public, just north of Kalona, Iowa. Every spring my wife and I go pick up plants for the garden here. Things like tomato plants, pepper plants, annual or perennial flowers, rhubarb, or even garden tea; whatever you want to grow in your garden or flowerbeds.

There really is nothing quite like the smell of a greenhouse! My wife is more of a gardener than I am but I always enjoy going along to Maple Ave. and walk around looking at all the growing things and taking in the awesome aroma. Not to mention, there are usually little Amish children playing in the house-yard nearby, which ads to the ambiance.

The place looks empty here but there are usually Amish girls working to keep everything tidy.
 Make sure to see their private Covered Bridge! Ask them about it at the greenhouse. It is over a creek leading to their tree nursery. Go look at baby trees, even if you don't want any... just to take the drive over the covered bridge! I talked to the Amishman that owns this place last summer, I think he said that it was an existing building that he converted into a covered bridge, but I'm not sure I remember that right. Ask him about it, he would be glad to tell you. I told him that people will get a big kick out of his bridge and he got a huge grin and asked, "Really?" Be sure to compliment him on it, he is hoping you will like it! You can also see the covered bridge in the photo below, and the tree nursery.
 If you're in Kalona, find the "Casey's General Store" and go straight north from there, past Kalona Mennonite Church. You will also pass by the Kalona Harness Shop (another great place to stop.) It's on a gravel road but only about 1/2 mile off pavement.  If you are up for more adventure, keep going north from here about another mile, you will come to a T intersection. Turn right and head another 1/2 mile and you will find the Golden Delight Amish Bakery and the best doughnuts in the world! Golden Delight also has a nice gift shop.
I took this photo right next to the greenhouse (it's their pony)