Swiss Festival – Sugarcreek Sept. 24th – Oct. 2nd

170 RV’s attended from six Regions. Northern Illinois had 10 memberships there. Five Northern Illinois members caravaned over from the Region 5 Rally Dixon, Aarup, Jamison, Morrison, DeHahn, and Koch. Meeting us at the Airstream factory were: McFarland/Pankow, and Lantvits. Whitesells and Kraners came directly from Chicago to the rally on Saturday. It took them about 8.5 hours via the expressways.

We arrive early Friday. The weather was in the 90’s as we explored the surrounding rolling countryside to familiarize ourselves with the towns and facilities in the area. The city park and the Land-O-Lakes Unit have hosted this rally for 48 years, so they were well experienced and had all bases covered. They had a wide variety of activities and experiences planned. On Saturday, we toured by ourselves some attractions that we would not have time to see on the tours. Saturday afternoon Northern Illinois had a gathering amongst the trailers. Sunday, after church services, a number of us went for an Amish Dinner in Charm and returned for the afternoon band concert. Opening ceremonies were Sunday evening.

The all day tours started on Monday as the temperature dropped from in the 90’s to the 60’s and with some rain. The convoy tours were lead by experienced Land-O-Lakes members. Most tours included Amish based or owned businesses in the surrounding towns. The presence of slow moving Amish buggies on the narrow country roads had to be considered when calculating commute times.

The Amish and Mennonites are not one uniform religious body, but a wide variety of conservative religious groups with varying traditions and rules of what constitutes a “proper” life style. The various groups within the Amish communities have dress, buggy construction and other social customs which are different and distinguishable to the educated observer. The Amish usually avoid AC, grid based, electricity, but in some groups tolerate AC electricity, if it is self generated. They usually do not allow telephones in their houses but many keep the family phone in a small outhouse like phone booth in the front yard. Some of their kids use cell phones but have no electricity at home to charge them. Television is also to be avoided. Computers are operated by battery rather than by AC. They do not like to have their picture taken. Large families on small farms are a tradition. Some families raise large commercially quantities of chickens under contract to large processors. Many use horse drawn equipment to farm the small fields that can be squeezed into the valleys. Some horse drawn equipment has diesel or gas engines mounted on them to perform functions requiring high speed or high RPM. A number of Amish sects refuse to use electrically driven appliances, so air driven or motor drive is an acceptable substitute. Amish tradition will not allow them to drive a car but some sects allow them to ride in a car. Black buggies with battery powered lights are the common mode of transportation but some use bicycles to get around. Women receive a 8th grade education and are then qualified to be school teachers. Most men also receive only an 8th grade education, but some are allowed to go on to college and even become doctors. Men must have beards, but mustaches are not allowed. Clothing must be made from solid color fabrics. No printed fabric is allowed. Women must have their hair pulled back under a bonnet. Different bonnet style are required for: children, young girls, and married women. To me, the traditions do not seem to be logically consistent, but to them, they are closely held traditions. They claim these are not religious mandates, but rather social traditions that reinforce their family unity.

The tours continued Tuesday and Wednesday. The rain had cleared up by that time but the night time temperatures reached the high 40’s and the day time temperatures reached the high 60’s. In three days we took three of the seven tours offered and learned a lot about the people and their varying traditions and life styles. Other Northern members took other tours. Many of our members had been here more than once and still find it interesting.

The nightly entertainment started Sunday with a couple singing and playing their stringed instruments in a traditional religious and Bluegrass style. Monday, a different couple showed and demonstrated a wide variety of stringed instruments that they had acquired in their business of buying and selling them during the last fifteen years. It included: guitars, banjos, violins, mandolins, zithers, and many more instruments dating back to the 18th century. They hope to open a museum some time in the future. Tuesday evening, “The Maidens Four”, a younger four singing sister act, played and danced in the Celtic tradition. They were very high energy and demonstrated a variety of instruments. Their clog style tap dancing rang throughout the hall from the portable hardwood floor they brought in. On Wednesday evening, Crystal Gage, a young female singer, put on a one woman country and western show she had perfected by playing to senior audiences for ten years. The music was based on an Ipod recorded karaoke music. She got the audience activity involved in the show. Thursday evening’s entertainment was provided by a school band director, who demonstrated the use of the Alphore horn followed by a four piece Cleveland style Polka band. We also saw them again the next day, Friday, at the in-town Swiss Festival. The saxophone player used a new instrument, I had never seen, called a electronic windjammer. It had a saxophone type reed and was played with nine fingers, but electronically modified the sound to make it sound like a variety of instruments. He played it as a: tuba, clarinet, trombone, flute, and harpsichord. He also had a new sax which he had just bought and played it most of the night.

Larry Huttle, chairman of the Airstream Div. of Thor, came over from Jackson Center to give us a presentation. He said the company is doing quite well in its recovery from the downturn in 2008 and 2009. The big news was that the company had changed its stance on building Class A motorhomes. If WBCCI and others in the market can provide enough commitment to buy new motorhomes, the company will consider building some based on using the exterior purchased from other Thor Divisions and finishing the interior at Jackson Center. Larry likened it to what they do with Mercedes, Ford and Chevy vans when they turn them into B-vans. Larry was not specific as to how many models might be made available or how many units needed to be committed to before the company would be willing to build them. Even if these units never see the inside of the Jackson Facility, the fact that they carry the Airstream brand name on their exterior and are sold and serviced by authorized Airstream dealers, would allow them to be classified as Airstreams under the current WBCCI Constitution and be qualified for membership. If the club can prove that enough units can be sold for the project to be economically viable, this would completely defuse the motorhome controversy. The ball is clearly in our court. Airstream said they would not build 34 footers anymore, but changed their tune when they got commitments for 17 trailers and built 25 of them. I have heard they have all been sold. Airstream said they would not build anymore slides on trailers but the machine fixtures to build them were still seen on our plant tour two weeks ago. The bridges have not been burned.

The hobby show and garage sale was held on Thursday. We sold some more reflector tape, as we had done at Region 5. There was some nice wood crafting shown. Apple butter was being made by an Amish man in a 50 gallon copper kettle over an open fire for 14 hours. The resultant 175 pints were sold for $3.75 each. We took a drive over to the Walnut Creek shopping area and bought a belt from an Amish shop as well as groceries. We got back just in time to see a horse shoeing demonstration and have our Amish buggy ride. We got free freshly made Put-Put Ice cream. Put-Put ice cream is made by a double barreled old fashion hand crank type machine but powered by a slow RPM single cylinder gasoline motor which fires very irregularly. The ham and beans had been cooking in four 50 gallon cast iron kettles since morning and were passed out at 5:00 PM for people to bring back to their groups, between the trailers, to share a meal.

On Friday and Saturday, a school bus provided free rides to the in town festival events. We watched the kids’ parade, with marching bands and floats, as well as kids and animals dressed up in Swiss costumes. Bands were playing in two locations and there was a carnival midway with rides and lots of eats. The firehouse had cheese and wine tasting booths. While we were in town enjoying ourselves, the Land-O-Lakes members took down all the decorations and walls that had surrounded the open pavilion to make it into our entertainment venue. They own the walls as well as all the kitchen appliances and have to take them all down and store them each year. As the average age of the members in the unit has continued to rise and the membership numbers have dropped. They are uncertain how long they will be able to continue to offer this national special event rally. We left for home early Sunday morning as did many others.

September Northern Illinois Newsletter
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