Monthly Archives: August 2015
Amish food, handmade furniture thriving in Berlin, Ohio
One of the advantages of RV travel is self-inflicted length of stay. Some warrant only an overnight. Places like Berlin, Ohio, are worthy of longer stays. In fact, Berlin is one of those places when visiting you would like to live here.
Five days are reserved at a hilltop campground just outside Berlin because the driver wants to load up on Amish fried chicken and passenger wants to investigate handmade Amish furniture. There went the new Buick.
Sharing the road with horse drawn Amish buggies on a highway near Mount Hope, Ohio.
The mountains, steep grades and “slow down” curves ahead continued on I-77 until we left the mountains of West Virginia and entered Ohio, where it is somewhat hilly, but certainly not flat. The trip covered 275 miles which is our normal daily driving distance.
We checked in mid-afternoon at a campground just south of Berlin, which is one of the larger communities in Ohio’s Amish country. Along with eating good Amish food and visiting hand-crafted furniture stores, we will spend hours just driving the countryside and appreciating the immaculately manicured farm complexes.
It was mostly between seasons and crops for the farmers but some were still harvesting field corn and wheat. Stacks of straw were drying in many fields during our visits. There are also plenty of Amish roadside produce stands, offering seasonal fresh vegetables along with eggs, butter and flowers.
Horse-drawn Amish buggies use the same highways as autos but were most prevalent in the small community of Mount Hope on Saturday morning. There are no tractors and combines working the fields—only big draft horses providing the horsepower for harvesting. Frequently there were young boys and girls driving teams of horses.
AMISH COUNTRY FURNITURE
The industry has been around for years where it started in a few shops and barns. But during the recent recession when many furniture companies around the country started shutting down and sending production overseas, the Amish furniture reputation for quality and custom built furniture never faltered.
Instead, it flourished. According to local sources, today there are over 80 locations throughout the area building and selling hand crafted Amish furniture. Most shops specialize in one piece of furniture, such as tables, chairs, china cabinets, etc. There are independent furniture makers who sell retail direct to consumers from their shops and others who sell only wholesale.
Hitching posts are frequent sites in Berlin, Ohio’s Amish country. Wal-Mart built a 13 stall covered shed to accommodate Amish rigs. Water is also available for the horses.
WHERE WE STAYED: Scenic Hills RV Campground. Very nice campground. Ask for sites in back away from highway noise.
FRIED CHICKEN ON THE MENU—Berlin Farmstead. Typical Amish buffet fare but it’s the fried chicken brings’em in. Many local Amish residents were also eating here which speaks well when locals frequent an eatery. Also had a buffet lunch at Mrs. Yoder’s Restaurant in Mount Hope. There are mega restaurants here that seat hundreds of people and accommodate bus loads of tourists. Somehow, the restaurants maintain excellent quality.
BAKERY AND COFFEE: der Bake Oven in downtown Berlin serves specialty coffees but has an unbelievable full-service bakery with many Amish favorites.
WORLD CLASS CHEESE: Guggisberg Cheese Factory in nearby Charm has won the national championship three years in a row for its Swiss premium cheese. Watch cheese being made while you shop the many homemade cheese varieties. Our favorite was the buttery cheese.
IRRITATIONS ALONG THE WAY: The Florida RV vehicle tag expires in two weeks and we can’t locate the 2016 sticker. Suspect it was mistakenly left at home. Thanks to a very helpful and courteous person at the St. Johns County Tax Collectors office, a replacement was mailed. Did not want to enter Canada with expired Florida license plates. Not a good thing.
Well-groomed yards and huge floral gardens are customary in Ohio’s Amish country.
A snowball tree dominates the front yard of this Amish farm.
Small Ohio town has a story to tell
ABOVE: Driving into the side of a mountain on Interstate 77 in West Virginia.
MILES FROM HOME: 1,649
NIGHTS IN CAMPGROUNDS: 24
GASOLINE USAGE: 206 Gallons
HOW WE GOT HERE: From Berlin, Ohio, Highway 39 to I-77 north to Highway 62 east of Canton, Ohio. At Canton take Highway 44 to I-90 which runs into 190 east of Buffalo. Continue on 190 to Grand Island, New York.
EVERY TOWN HAS A STORY
The drive north to Niagara Falls begins on Highway 44 and cuts through rural farm land filled with large tracts of soybeans, and possibly alfalfa and field corn. All appear close to harvest. About lunch time we drove through downtown Chardon, Ohio, population about 5,000. Chardon has an historical downtown that appears thriving despite big box stores on the edge of town, a rarity in small town America. There are few vacant buildings. The town set aside two square blocks downtown that forms a city square, the center of which is a historic and impressive courthouse. We are ten miles from Lake Erie, the first of five Great Lakes we will see on this trip.
Chardon gets an average snowfall of 107 inches annually and can claim to be the “snowiest” city in Ohio. The heavy snowfall is because the town sits on a 730 foot high ridge just 10 miles inland from Lake Erie, creating the perfect condition for orographic lift. This happens when strong winds blow across the lake and is forced from a low to high elevation as it moves over rising terrain. As the air mass gains altitude, it cools, then releases moisture. In winter, that happens to be snow and lots of it.
In 1996 a record 70 inches of snow fell on Chardon during a six day period between Nov 9-13.
It’s difficult to imagine the town buried under snow. During our drive through town, the weather was a balmy 70 degrees, lawns were dark green and flowers were growing everywhere. Surprisingly, leaves on a couple of trees were starting to get fall colors and it’s mid-August.
Chardon also has a dark side. In February, 2010, a student opened fire in a high school cafeteria killing three students and injuring two more. The shooter attended a school about 15 miles from Chardon. He was found guilty and sentenced to three life sentences in prison.
BACK ON THE ROAD
When we drove onto I-90 East, we past miles and miles of grape vineyards—more than we had seen anywhere along the road north. The vineyards continued through Pennsylvania and into New York to Buffalo, which is near tonight’s destination.
The KOA at Thousand Island will be our campground for the next four days. It is only seven miles from Niagara Falls, the reason we are here.
NOTE FROM MARTHA’S JOURNAL
“The turnpike to Buffalo is in terrible shape. What are they using the toll money for? It’s surely not to improve the turnpike!
“Almost heaven:” West Virginia’s mountains are sight to see
Anglers try their luck below the Sandstone River Falls near Hinton, W. VA.
Before leaving South Carolina we filled the Winnebago with $1.94 gasoline, by far the least expensive fuel to date, and headed north on Interstate 77 into West Virginia to the sounds of the late John Denver singing “Almost Heaven” on the radio. It was an eerie coincidence, albeit fitting.
I-77 is well traveled and smooth with lots of big hills and curves that test an RV driver’s ability as well as nerves. The downhill curves require constant attention although the six lane highway provides a slow lane for struggling trucks and RVs. Truck runaway lanes are available on some of the steeper downgrades. No reason why the truck escapes wouldn’t work for RV’s, a scary thought.
The boardwalk at Sandstone Falls.
The West Virginia mountains are like John Denver’s heaven; heavily forested with few side roads and inhabitants. The scenery changes only when passing through towns. What a thrill for flatland Floridians whose only opportunity for high visual spectacles is from a bridge. The driver, unfortunately, doesn’t dare sneak a peek.
Trading in the Monaco for the much smaller Winnebago has few benefits but camping in state parks is among the best. Driving the backroads is another.
Little Beaver State Park, our destination for tonight, is located south of Beckley, W.Va., in the New River Gorge area. It’s quiet here, campsites are mostly level and offer full-hookups (water, electric, sewer), and hilly. There is a walk path around a fishing lake for campers and canines. One woman was walking a cat on a leash which turned a few heads, including our dog Heidi. She made a lot of new friends, mostly humans. She greets other canines properly, a sniff here and a sniff there, but acknowledgement from passersby really makes her day. Thank goodness she doesn’t drool but she always passes on a few blonde hairs souvenirs. Giving serious thought to saving the hair and sending it to Talkeetna, AK. There are women there who make sweaters out of husky dog hair.
While the main attraction is the New River Gorge bridge, the New River, which is one of the few in the country with national river status, flows through this area. We drove the tow car east on I-64 to Exit 139 and the Sandstone Falls Visitors Center, picked up some local information about the Sandstone Falls, and then took Highway 20 about nine miles through the small coal mining town of Hinton. The celebrated traffic light here is the only one in the county. We are in West Virginia.
Inside one of the I-77 tunnels soon after entering West Virginia.
This road is not suitable for RV’s. There are lots of downhill switchbacks, some in the 8% grade category. Drivers will navigate a curve and see their RV rear-end in the side mirror.
After driving to Hinton on one side of the river, the road crosses the celebrated New River and turns abruptly back up the other side to Sandstone Falls. The one lane road accommodates two lanes of traffic. Not much traffic. Yes, we are in West “By God” Virginia.
Water flows over the dam at Beaver Creek State Park in the New River Gorge region. There are several hiking trails at the campground. The one above circles the lake which allows fishing.
At Sandstone Falls short trails along an elevated boardwalk lead to the water’s edge and the observation decks. The river is wide and water is flowing rapidly below the falls. There will be plenty of spectacular waterfalls on this trip, including Niagara Falls at the U.S.-Canadian border in upper New York and six popular waterfalls in Grey County, Ontario, Canada. This one is very impressive.
HOW WE GOT HERE: From our last stop at Wateree State Park, near Winnsboro, South Carolina, drive north on I-77, through South Carolina, Virginia and into West Virginia.
WHERE WE STAYED: Little Beaver State Park, just south of Beckley, W. VA.
UNEXPECTED CATASTROPHES: Always something breaking. Tonight it was the television. Tried everything before discovering an unplugged power wire inside a storage compartment. It was covered by Martha’s recipe books. Got it working and managed to pick up one station. Playing at the time was a long ago rerun of Bachelorette.
EXCITEMENT ALONG THE WAY: Picked up a nail in a tire on the tow car and was slowly loosing air. Drove the car into Beckley and Adam Toney Tire Pros pulled the tire and inserted a plug that fixed the problem. Cost: $8.58. Will do business with this man in the future.
NEXT: Standing below the massive bridge at New River Gorge.
Rvers theme song: “One More River to Cross…leaving your troubles behind.”
Enjoying a bluegrass concert at the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax, VA.
For RV travelers, there’s always one more adventure waiting somewhere down the highway. It is fitting here that we all open the hymnal and turn to the song “One More River to Cross.”
“One more mountain to climb, one more valley that I got to go through leaving my troubles behind.” It may sound like a gypsy theme song, but in reality, it’s a church hymn.
Regardless, the song best describes the RV lifestyle, particularly the nomadic full-timers. They have no home, at least in the brick and mortar sense. They move from one campground or Wal-Mart parking lot to another looking for a mountain to climb, a valley to go through and hopefully, leaving their troubles behind.
Sounds inviting, except in the song, it doesn’t always work that way.
Having a pork chop sandwich at Snappy’s in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, NC. Customers are lined up on the street and looking through a window at a chef grilling pork chops. The small restaurant became famous when it was mentioned once on Griffith’s television show.
We are talking from experience. After five years of traveling, and working from a fine-tuned trip list, we loaded the spanking new Winnebago in a day and headed north. Seven hours later, we pulled into a waterfront site at one of our favorite campgrounds, Wateree State Park. Located just north of Columbia, SC., it’s our lodging of choice when traveling north on Interstate 77. The sites are large, paved and level–a campers dream. Heidi, our English cream golden “shoe” retriever knows this place well. She comes here to swim in big Lake Wateree.
Despite rumors that new RV’s leave the factories without a final inspection, the Winnebago performed well with exception of a clunking, grinding noise in one of the slide extensions. It seemed to grow louder with each mile.
Phone service at Wateree is hit and miss and the state park does not provide wifi. I miss my newspaper and the printed morning news but thankfully, we have XM radio and can listen to CNN and Fox.
Sunset on Lake Wateree State Park in South Carolina.
Awaking to a beautiful morning on the lake, makes one wish for a fishing pole.
To acquire a phone signal, we drove a few miles west to the small town of Winnsboro. This has more than its share of Revolutionary and Civil War history and blocks and blocks of well-maintained historical old homes.
After catching up with the family left behind, phone calls were made to a couple Winnebago dealers in North Carolina in an effort to fix the ailing slide extension. It’s summertime and they are all booked. One dealer gave us a flat “no” while another said they could fix it in three weeks. A dealer in Ohio where we would be in a week, told us they were not doing any warranty work unless we had bought the RV from them.
Wow. How can they do that? Does the buying public know that dealers are so busy in the summer they don’t have time to keep their RV’s on the road? It’s not just the Winnebago, it’s all makes and models. Five dealerships refused or didn’t have time to fix the slide.
Grilled Oak Hill shrimp and veggie kabobs on the grill and a couple of adult beverages and our problems were temporarily placed on the back burner.
Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Winnsboro, SC.
The following day we continued north on I-77 and sailed over the big Blue Ridge mountain at Fancy Gap and camped for a few nights at Cool Breeze Campground, Galax, Va. We have camped here for years going north or returning south en route home. Since this campground is only four miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nights are cool and our first opportunity to sleep with windows open under one of Martha’s homemade quilts.
Dinner in downtown Galax at the award winning (really) Galax Smokehouse got us off to a good start, followed by an evening of live bluegrass music at the Rex Theatre, listening to a local all girls band called Loose Strings. They are all college students home for the summer and play throughout the region before heading back to college in the fall.
The following morning we walked three miles along the river on the New River Trail and joined several hundred others for an outdoor bluegrass concert Saturday evening at the Blue Ridge Music Center Amphitheater. In the past we have watched such big time performers here including Ricky Skaggs and Roseanne Cash.
Back at the RV, I squeezed my way into the shower and was half finished when Martha hollered that water was running down the floor and into the kitchen-living area. Oh, my.
The next morning, the air-conditioner decided to quit. And for some reason, the RV seemed to be tilting to the left. These rigs have hydraulic leveling jacks and with the push of a button will automatically level the RV. A quick visual inspection found three jacks on the ground, and one retracted. Another Oh, my.
Within an hour, a phone call from home broke the news that a neighbor’s tree had fallen on our house. A great big Oh my.
After a fit-full night’s sleep, we gave up and drove 500 miles home, stopping only for gas and crossing the same mountains, the same rivers but we sure as heck didn’t leave our troubles behind. They followed us all the way home.
To be continued, we hope.
WHERE DID WE STAY: Wateree State Park, South Carolina and Cool Breeze Campground, Galax, Virginia
BEST BAR-B-QUE: Galax Smokehouse, Galax, Virginia. Ribs and brisket are excellent. Ask for the mustard based sauce because they don’t put it on the table.
HOW WE GOT HERE: From Florida to I-95 north to Highway 21 near Walterboro, South Carolina. At Exit 42 take SC 21 to I-26 at Orangeburg, SC and go north to I-77 at Columbia, SC. Continue north on I-77 to Wateree State Park at Exit 41. Continue on I-77 through North Carolina to Exit 14 in Virginia. Turn west on Highway 58/221 to downtown Galax. Take Hwy 89 through downtown Galax about eight miles to Edmonds Road, and turn right to Cool Breeze Campground.
Life on the road was easy in a big rig; challenging in a smaller one
The new Winnebago Aspect 30J, thoughtfully guarded by Heidi, our golden “shoe” retriever.
Biting off more than one ( two in this case) can chew best describes our latest road trip plans. Not that we aren’t capable of driving 7,000 miles in three months cooped-up in an RV without going to war–we actually did 10,000 in just over five months and lived to brag about it–but the situation this time is different.
After five years traveling 50,000 miles crisscrossing the country and four Canadian provinces, we traded in our old Monaco (Green) Knight for a new Winnebago. Specifically, our entry onto the RV road was a 41-foot behemoth with interior amenities galore and powered by a big rear end diesel that belched gray smoke and roared, often turning a few heads as we passed. It had air brakes, an air horn that rivaled the big trucks and a cushioned ride like a Greyhound bus. It was large enough to take home with us on the road. We even had his and her bathrooms and a washer-dryer. Plenty of room.
The Monaco and the driver, however, were growing old. Campgrounds seemed smaller and more difficult to navigate. The hills and curves were more challenging. We grew tired of traveling the interstates, which was a necessity because the Green Knight needed diesel truck stops to feed its fuel habit.
Returning from a near 10,000-mile last summer out west the cockpit conversation centered on trading the Class A Monaco for a much smaller and manageable Class C motorhome.
A month later, we were driving a new 33-foot Winnebago Aspect 30J and someone else was herding the Monaco.
The new rig is almost 10 feet smaller in length.It burns cheaper regular gas. We can fill-up at convenience stores and drive the back roads. Most of home has been left behind. There’s not enough room. The smaller kitchen, bedroom, shower and bathroom will take some adjusting.
Bumping into each other will happen daily. After 49-years of wedded bliss, the driver will adjust.
A few months on the road will determine if we have bitten off more than we can chew. It won’t be the first time.
NEXT: Heading for a 7,000 mile trip that will include following the Great Lakes circle route.