First Time at Menno-Hof

Although we were very busy while we were in Shipshewana, Lee and I found the time to visit the Menno-Hoff Cultural Center. It tells the Menonite and Amish story from both a religious and historical perspective and regardless of your religious feelings the historical piece was fascinating. It was also very well done with numerous sections and pre-recorded historical information. The only part I didn’t like was the movie at the very beginning. It is severely outdated and a little preachy, but the rest of the tour was pretty cool

Every group had its own tour guide who guides you from area to area until the end. I always prefer self guided tours, but this building is a bit of a maze so I understood the need for a guide. The most interesting thing he added was telling us that the Shipshewana Amish are called the “Hollywood Amish” by the other communities. Between the RV industry and booming tourism they are much more affluent than many of their peers in other areas. This affluence brings its own issues though because a core tenet of their religion is being humble and as many say it is hard to do that with a ton of money in your pocket.

My favorite part though was the history lesson in particular the importance Martin Luther played in their movement. As a Lutheran I am particularly interested in the role Martin Luther has played in religion, but didn’t pay that much attention to the other groups that sprung up around him. The tour did an excellent job of laying out the timeline of the break from the catholic church.

I didn’t really understand that the crux of the break was over infant baptism. According to the tour, the bible does not mention infant baptism and the Roman Church started it to help the Roman Government with their census. Get baptized and go in the records all at the same time. The Anabaptists were a large group that later splintered into multiple sects and they believe that baptism should only be done after the child was old enough to consent. These beliefs were important enough to these groups to break from the Catholic church which led to significant persecution.

In order to flee that persecution many fled to the Netherlands and eventually to the American colonies. William Penn, a famous Quaker, invited the Mennonites to settle on a piece of property he owned in Pennsylvania. That is why the most concentrated groups of Amish and Mennonites are in the Pennsylvania/Ohio area, although they are all over the world.

This is probably a good time to talk about the groups under the Anabaptist, but keep in mind I found this a little confusing so I may get some of it wrong. Initially there were two main groups, the Mennonites and the Hutterites. The Hutterites live a communal lifestyle and all property is jointly owned. These groups settled mainly in the Wisconsin and Canada areas. The Amish actually came later and broke from the Mennonites in 1693. The split came from religious innovations by the Mennonites and has existed to this day. There was a great display that showed the differences between these two groups. I have included a couple of the panels below.

The one display that helped me the most was showing modern day religions and their relationship to the original Anabaptists. They are more ties than I would have originally thought.

Despite these differences in lifestyle and religion the two groups often work together, with the Mennonites providing services that the Amish cannot provide for themselves (ie: transportation of goods). Speaking of goods, they had wonderful displays of craftsmanship and an example of an Amish eating area. The gift shop was also really great.

Overall we really enjoyed it and I certainly learned a lot. I highly recommend a stop if you are in the area so you can learn more about the Amish and Mennonite culture.

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First Time Buying RV Furniture

We had a whirlwind two days in Elkhart and Shipshewana, and since it was so packed with what I consider “quintessential RVer experiences”, I decided to break up the weekend into three different posts.  The three posts will focus on the search for custom furniture, our Mor-Ryde upgrade, and finally visiting the RVMH Hall of Fame museum.  This post is all abut buying the furniture.

I should take a step back and say if there is a Mecca for RVers it is the Elkhart/Shipshewana area.  Many of the RV manufacturers are located in the area and it is full of shops and stores that support that industry.  It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that business is booming.  Almost every business had Now Hiring signs and most of the manufacturers were hiring with starting wages of $15 an hour.  I know lots of folks in the country are having trouble finding manufacturing jobs, but if you know someone who is looking to learn a trade, this area of the country seems like it would be a good choice.

Almost everyone seems to wander through here at some point or another and whether it’s to see where your RV was “born” or just take advantage of one of the supporting business it’s a pretty nice place to see the midwest.  It doesn’t hurt that Shipshewana has an active Mennonite community and there are tons of arts and crafts stores, Mennonite restaurants, and furniture makers.  We grew up in Columbus, OH and are very familiar with Amish craftsmanship, but we were surprised to learn that some families specialized in RV furniture. Really smart considering the proximity to Elkhart and Lambright was by all accounts the best of the best.

Oh and I should probably explain why we were looking in the first place.  You may remember that before we hit the road, we replaced the extremely uncomfortable “couch” that came with our front living room model with a standard sticks and bricks style love seat.  Because it didn’t fit in the slide (the loveseat was deeper than the slide) Lee had to build a box for the front of the loveseat base to rest on and although the loveseat is very comfortable when you sit on it reclined, your feet dangle.  Basically everyone feels like they are a little kid sitting on a big people couch, which I could probably live with but the greater problem is it blocks the window behind it.  I get very little air flow in that corner and over the last three years I have liked the situation less and less. So since we were in the “mecca” of RV furniture I wanted to at least explore what my options were and although I wasn’t sure the timing or price would be right at least I would know what was available for the future.

The original couch. Fit the spot, looked decent, but crazy uncomfortable. You can’t really see it from this angle, but the front “drops” down seven inches from the level of the slide box to the floor.

New couch. Very comfortable, but obviously oversized.  Lee had to build the box underneath because the front hung over the edge and it would tip over on occasion lol. If you’re interested you can read about the specifics on his DIY Inside Modifications page.

Here’s our friends Jim and Diana the first time they came to visit. I always havepeople put the foot rests out so their feet won’t dangle and people would always laugh but as you can see it looks and feels a little “tight”.

So I was looking for a couch like the original couch above, but more comfortable and with the reclining features of the second couch and decent upholstery.  Tall order I knew but definitely worth a look.  I am a bargain hunter at heart so instead  of starting at Lambright’s I decided to check out the surplus stores so off we went to White Pigeon, Michigan.  It was about 25 minutes from Elkhart and there are three surplus/salvage stores in close proximity there.  Our first stop was Bontrager’s Surplus and I was really surprised by what we found.  The sheer volume of stuff available really defies verbal description so let me just show you in pictures instead.

Racks of flooring, paneling etc. Check out the smile on Lee’s face. I didn’t think I would ever get him to leave.

Floor to ceiling trim pieces

Cabinet fronts

The upstairs was full of couches and although they were older models, the prices were great

I really liked this one which was only $650 and we even went back and looked at it a second time, but it wasn’t much smaller than what we had already

Lee ended up walking away with a replacement lift rod for our front door which was only $7. Not only do they cost $25 retail but Lee has had a hard time finding them online

Next up was Johnson’s Surplus and although at first glance the stores seemed the same they did seem to specialize in different items and had some variety.  Again, amazing amount of stuff packed in a relatively small space.  This store seems to specialize in the frame more and had tons of axles and a huge stack of windows.

So many axles.  We saw a pickup truck come and pick one up while we were there.

I thought it was interesting they sold decals

Less furniture than Bontragers and not nearly as nice in my opinion

All the places we went to had stacks of doors

They also had more light fixtures.  Once again, tough to get Lee out of here

Finally we went to Graber Industries which was a real hodge podge of stuff.  Seriously this place made the others look super organized.   Even less furniture there, although Lee did find, and buy for $20, a fireplace surround. We’ve never been huge fans of our fireplace surround, and for $20 if it doesn’t work out, we aren’t out a ton of money.  At this point I was feeling dejected.  I’m not a snob and I felt very comforted by the fact that these places existed at all, but it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to find anything to fit that slide in one of these places.  We were also vaguely on the lookout for padded kitchen chairs (ours are not and since I use that space as a computer area sometimes, and Lee sits there for several hours to make cigarettes, we hoped we could easily get a couple of RV chairs but we hardly saw any of those and they were always in sets.  Nothing to do at that point but get some lunch, and I found a Chinese buffet in the area that was only $7.99 for lunch!

The fake stone fireplace piece Lee bought

The buffet was mediocre

But it also included a Mongolian grill and that was really good

After lunch we decide to head straight for Lambright’s.  We had seen what was available in the bargain section, time to check out “top of the line.”  We drove down from Michigan and back into Shipshewana and since Lambright’s is outside of town into farmland.  Once we got close, we slowed down because there was a ton of buggy traffic on the road.  Coming from Ohio, we have some experience driving in this traffic but if you have never done it there are a few things you should know.  The roads in this area are standard country roads and bicycles and buggies use the breakdown lane.  Unfortunately those lanes don’t always exist or are too narrow and essentially you are sharing the road with folks going much slower than you are.  Poor driving conditions such as rain or snow always make it much worse, and all I can say is have patience, be hyper vigilant, and please be aware that every year Amish people die from collisions with cars and trucks.

 

Be especially careful at dawn and dusk because the black buggies are really hard to see, especially in the fog.  If you look to the right you can barely see a carriage on the cross street

The buggies all have the caution triangles which is good and all bike riders wear safety vests

As you can see to the left, they often get very close to your car and although the horses are well trained, they are animals so one of them spooking is always a concern.

I always worry more about the younger people. This was a group of teenagers and just like teenagers driving our cars they seem to be less cautious. The kid sitting on top made for a cute picture but as a mom made me cringe.

Shipshewana has somewhat narrow streets and lots of buggy traffic

It also has lots of cute stores

And Yoders which is well known for meats and cheeses. I showed some self restraint and we didn’t even stop

We finally arrived at Lambright’s which is a large facility but was only manned by the owner, Vernon, and one of his sons.  It is a low key place, but with a wonderful selection and the furniture was incredibly comfortable.  We started to explain what we were looking for and Mr. Lambright was familiar with the problem.  He flat out said that a comfortable custom couch could not be made to fit the slide and went on to explain that the problem was the height of the back,  He further said that if anyone said they could make a comfortable one they weren’t telling the truth but that he had taken his couches in the past and built a rolling platform for folks to put their feet on for other people.

That was interesting and very similar to what Lee had done, and it was good to hear from a credible industry expert that it was a tricky problem.  As Lee and he were getting into specifics I wandered around and randomly sat down in one theater seat setup.  Wow, was that couch comfortable and as I sunk into it, I understood immediately what all the fuss was about.  Mr. Lambright just smiled when I asked about the model and stated “The Lux” model was brand new and he didn’t even had information sheets on it yet.  The price in ultra leather (which is the material most RVers want) with mechanical levers (versus electric) was $2055 though and I sadly stood up since that was well beyond what I was willing to spend.

Approaching Lambright’s which is in the middle of several farms

The Lux model. We both liked the extra storage at the bottom which was a nice bonus

While we were there this beautiful clock started chiming and I wandered over to take a look. It was presented to Vernon by the city and the numbers moved when it chimed on the hour. Beautiful piece of work

We thanked him for the information and left, feeling a little dejected by the overall lack of “middle-range” choices.  On the way back to Elkhart we stopped at Mastercraft but there was a handwritten sign that they were closed for a couple of days and then at  Brad and Hall which carried multiple vendors in one location.  The best part of Brad and Hall was the wonderful salesperson Suzanne who talked to me about different fabrics.  I always knew I wanted cloth instead of leather and was surprised to find out from her that there was a significant difference in price.  She didn’t carry the Lux model yet because it was so new but said that a similar brand was actually $650 cheaper if you purchased it in cloth.  Well, that was interesting, and something we didn’t discuss with Mr. Lambright, probably because almost everyone goes with the ultra leather.  She couldn’t give me a price on the Lux but was happy to get a quote but said it would probably take until the next day because Lambright’s generally only answered their phone once a day.  I really liked her so asked her to get a quote, and Lee and I headed back to Elkhart.

Large showroom and the salespeople were very nice

It had been a long day, and we weren’t done yet as we were going to see our friends Pat and Bridget.  It had been over a year since we stayed with them in Louisiana.  We were delighted to discover they were in Shipshewana getting some work done on their new fifth wheel and met up for dinner at the Chubby Trout. We stopped first to see their pretty new rig and I really enjoyed the tour.  Once again we picked up right where we left off with an RVer relationship and the time just flew by.  We left them with hugs and promises to get together next year and went back to our rig for a good nights sleep.  I was really tired at this point and pretty quickly was fast asleep. 

The next morning we were once again up and moving very early and I decided I wanted to go back to Lambright’s.  I was very curious what his price would be in the cloth and more importantly wanted to discuss how that would impact the comfort.  We arrived at 7:30am and waited until they opened, and it was a beautiful, foggy morning.  Once inside I tentatively asked about the cloth, but he did confirm that it made the couch “stiffer.”  Unfortunately he didn’t have a version in cloth but there was a similar chair I could try.  Although I didn’t sink in, it still felt pretty great and the lumbar support is amazing.  Truly I think that is their secret. 

He did confirm that the price was $650 cheaper and we talked a bit about how we would take delivery.  At this point it was still informational and we were bummed to find out that there was a 5 week lead time and they were closed for the two weeks after Christmas.  Our thought was we could swing by after Amazon and pick it up but the two week closure made this impossible.  He was extremely helpful talking through options and at one point stated he could make himself available for us to just come and pick up the couch.  Our other issue is how we would dispose of the old couch, but he did say we could leave it for a small additional charge and he would donate it.  I liked that idea since it is a perfectly good couch, but Lee wasn’t crazy about the idea of switching couches in a parking lot in late December.  Understandable!   Armed with new information we once again thanked him and then left to discuss our options.  

Money aside, both of us were concerned about navigating these roads in late December and since he doesn’t carry a cell phone I was extra concerned about how to communicate with him if something went wrong. Since Suzanne at Brad and Hall had mentioned something about shipping I called her back and she did verify they could ship the couch to Kentucky where we would be working.  The shipping cost was a very reasonable $195, but this was further offset by the fact we would save $110 in taxes by shipping out of state.  Now that was interesting, and something we thought we could work with.  She also had the final quote from Lambright’s and although their price was $300 higher than his, they accepted American Express (versus him only accepting cash or check) and they of course had email and phones, which was a big deal to me since this whole thing was somewhat complicated.

OK so now the price was only $1855 total, and that included everything I wanted, along with shipping. Since we have been running so tight on budget and our Mor-Ryde was more than expected (teaser for next post) it really wasn’t a great idea. On the other hand I had no idea when I would be back in this area and the price was more than fair for what I would be receiving, and I had no doubt that the Lambright furniture was of the highest available quality and would hold up over time.  Ultimately I made the decision to go ahead and buy it, and hopefully I won’t regret that decision when I receive the couch.

Even if you aren’t looking for RV furnishings, I do recommend that you do some looking while you are in the area.  It will be good to know what is out there and there is nothing like sitting on an actual couch which is something you can do when you are here.  Plus it allows you to see the Elkhart/Shipshewana area, which I really enjoyed.


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