By Bruce Stambaugh
I can’t say for sure if the idling engines woke me or if I just happened to notice the noise after a full night’s sleep. No matter. Their steady, pre-dawn purring was merry music to my ears.
Both neighbors across the road own a construction-related business. One pours walls for a living, the other trenches fields and lays pipe.
Their tidy steel buildings sit cattycorner from my home, one to the southeast, and the other to the northeast. On mornings when they work, they often pull out their always-clean vehicles and let them idle before heading out to the job site.
It doesn’t take a financial wizard to guess that their work, like most building related work, has slowed considerably in this extended recession. Though neither has ever complained to me, my neighbors’ patience for work has had to replace actual labor.
This lack of employment has been hard on them, not just financially, but emotionally, too. These men are used to working hard for their daily living. But in this economy, with construction moving at a snail’s pace, regular, substantial work has waned.
Last year was especially uncertain. Too many days their trucks were silent. It may sound funny to say this, but I missed that motorized humming and the occasional sharp clanking of metal against metal as they prepared to head out. I felt their pain.
The expressions on my neighbors’ faces couldn’t hide their concerns. They were frustrated at the lack of work. These are talented men, men who know how to put in a decent day’s work for honest pay.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t just my good neighbors whose jobs had slowed or stopped altogether. It seemed every business took a hit, regardless of occupational focus. In a community where work ethic is king, doing nothing or next to it was absolutely agonizing.
The economic downturn was particularly hard on this community that hosts the world’s largest concentration of Amish and Mennonites. Consequentially, the tourist industry, a major revenue producer for private and governmental institutions alike, tapered off.
It was difficult to see people’s work hours curtailed. A few businesses simply closed for lack of customers. For the first time in a long time, our rural area felt what the rest of the global economy was feeling. And it hurt.
Farmers weren’t immune either. While milk and commodity prices sputtered, operating expenses kept rising. It was a losing proposition.
For these thrifty people with whom I have communed daily for four decades, it wasn’t just about the money. Cash flows were low, and so were their spirits.
These were people who knew how to work, had excellent skills, many self-taught, and labored for a fair wage. They had done so all of their lives, as had their fathers and mothers before them. Work was as much tradition as it was means.
But true to their congenial nature, their heritage and their commitment to faith, family and community, my neighbors in Big Prairie, Nashville, Glenmont, Killbuck, Clark, Farmerstown, Walnut Creek, Winesburg, Mt. Hope, Benton, Holmesville, Millersburg, Berlin and yes, even charming Charm preserved. They skimped along as best they could, and hoped and prayed for the best.
Perhaps we are not completely out of the economic woods yet. But it sure is nice to wake up to the sound of diesel engines running once again. Here’s hoping they keep on purring.