Tornado hits Ohio’s Amish country

damaged buggy
This buggy, which was used for display at a bed and breakfast, received heavy damage from the high winds.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 5, 2010, the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for Holmes County, the heart of the world’s largest Amish population.

Sirens sounded as the storm rapidly approached. As a Skywarn spotter, I scanned the sky from the safety of my home. As the rain intensified, the sky looked ominous, and the sirens sounded again. However, it appeared that the worst of the storm had gone south of me. A friend alerted me to possible damage in the Berlin area.

I grabbed my camera, put on my waterproof shoes and headed south. I didn’t get very far. Fallen trees only two miles south of my home blocked the road. The fierce winds had ravaged old-growth woods behind a friend of mine’s home west of Berlin. A few homes were slightly damaged, a shed was completely destroyed and many trees were toppled.

I followed the damage into the west side of Berlin, where again trees were down, some laying in opposite directions. A home had the upper half of a large tree on its roof and the wind sent a limb through the roof of a nearby motel.

The next damage was east of Berlin near Hiland High School. Much of the damage there was from straight-line winds. Roofs were damaged; metal storage buildings buckled and signs were blown onto cars, damaging eight vehicles. Fortunately on one was injured.

Firefighters spotted a funnel cloud west of Walnut Creek, where the first official touchdown was recorded. A large garage at a bed and breakfast was destroyed. The storm continued east-southeast through Walnut Creek Township. A combination of straight-line winds and tornado winds downed trees, and damaged sheds and two houses near Walnut Creek, and then hit metal storage buildings south of Walnut Creek. The tornado touched down again at Gerber Valley Farms on CR 144 southeast of Walnut Creek where it damaged two barns. The tornado did minor damage to a few homes on a township road near the county line.

Once the tornado passed into Tuscarawas County at Sugarcreek, it intensified into an EF-1 tornado, according the Pittsburgh office of the National Weather Service, which has jurisdiction for Tuscarawas County and points east. They estimated the tornado winds at 95 m.p.h.

The tornado did major damage to Skyline Mobile Home Company on SR 93 north and to a home across the road. Several large trees were toppled. From there, the storm hit Uhrden Corporation and Zinck’s Fabric warehouse on the northeast side of Sugarcreek. It crossed the flooded Sugar Creek, causing heavy damage to both the old and new sewer treatment plant buildings of the village. Just east of there it hit a home and caused major damage to Sugarcreek Pallet.

The tornado continued east, striking four homes along SR 39 on the eastern edge of Sugarcreek. All four had roof damage. The tornado crossed SR 39, hit another industrial building and destroyed a large barn on the Lorenz farm south of Dutch Valley Restaurant. At that point, the tornado lifted.

In all, I spent five hours taking pictures. The shots below are representative of the damage that occurred in the path of this storm.

Damaged trees
Old-growth trees were splintered and tossed like sticks west of Berlin, OH.
damaged car
This was one of several cars damaged by a large sign that was blown onto them east of Berlin.
damaged garage
High winds destroyed this garage halfway between Berlin and Walnut Creek, OH.
damaged home at Robert J. Yoder farm.
The tornado hit at the Robert J. Yoder farm near Walnut Creek, OH.
Gerber Valley Farm
Neighbors and workers began replacing the roof of this broiler house near Walnut Creek shortly after the tornado hit.
Skyline Mobile Homes
The tornado buckled the south wall at Skyline Mobile Homes, Sugarcreek, OH.
Inside Skyline
The tornado peeled much of the roof off Skyline Mobile Homes, Sugarcreek, OH.
Uhrden Company
The tornado blew out every wall of the north section of Uhrden Company, Sugarcreek, OH.
flooding at Sugarcreek, OH
Flooding in Sugarcreek, OH was a problem both before and after the tornado hit the buildings in the background and the tree in the water.
Lorenz barn
The tornado destroyed the main barn on the Lorenz farm east of Sugarcreek, OH.

A dairy farmer at a turning point

Hershberger farm
Bobby Hershberger's farm in Paint Valley west of Millersburg, OH.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A brief glance at Bobby Hershberger’s hands, and you know his profession. Crinkled, calloused, chapped, all the marks of a born-again dairy farmer.

Not yet 50, his thick fingers belie the rest of his body. His steely eyes still sparkle, even on a gray day in Ohio’s Amish country. His rutty smile foretells his honesty, integrity, and dedication to farm, family and faith.

Modest as the day is long, Hershberger loves dairy farming. He must. He has spent his entire life milking cows, plowing ground, seeding fields, mowing hay, picking corn, feeding livestock, caring for family, serving church and community.

On good days he only works eight hours or so. On really good days, he works twice that amount. Such is the life of a dedicated dairyman.

With his equally dedicated wife, Beth, at his side, Hershberger has made it all these years, even milking just 30 Holsteins, not exactly a mega farm. The Hershberger’s also operate Pine Loft Bed and Breakfast out of their home high on a hill that overlooks Hershberger’s home farm in Monroe Township’s Paint Valley west of Millersburg, the county seat in Holmes County.

“Tilling 110 acres and milking just 30 cows, there are Amish who have bigger farms,” he said humbly. The combination of his demeanor and his gentleness tells even a visitor that there is no malice in this man.

There are 40 years of thought, vision and compassion, however. Hershberger began milking cows with his entire family. He then went 50/50 with his father, and for the last 22 years, he has been on his own. And that has worn him down.

In his lifetime of milking, Hershberger has seen a gradual but significant transition in the dairy industry. When Hershberger started helping on the family farm, farming was slower paced. Cooperation out-muscled competition, and income was much more stable, thanks in part to government milk subsidies.

But much of that has changed. In the last decade or so, the change has become more an economic stampede of sorts. To put it simply, it’s either get run over by the big guys, or step out of the way.

As hard of a decision as it was, the Hershberger’s have chosen the latter. This summer they will sell their herd, effectively ending an agricultural aspect that has kept the couple close to home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Holsteins, after all, don’t take vacations, so neither do their owners. As the couple looked ahead and weighed their options, the decision to stop milking became pretty clear. Day in and day out, milking cows is as grueling as it is satisfying.

“The decision really came down to this,” Bobby explained. “Either we had to expand or get out.” They loved their life on the farm. But they also knew that there was more to life than milking cows twice a day until you physically couldn’t do it any more.

“Farming is a challenge,” Bobby said. “The work is never the same from day to day because something always comes up.”

“I have enjoyed being able to work from home,” he reflected, “but when you milk, you are always at home.” Hershberger said after all these years he and his wife are simply tired.

Last year was an especially horrible year for farmers, according to Hershberger. In a way, that made their decision to stop milking much easier. Bobby saw staying in the dairy business as a sinking hole.

“With prices down, you work seven days a week and end up having nothing to show for it,” he said dejectedly.

Hershberger said that the only way to continue as a dairy farmer was to expand operations. To do that, he would have to purchase or rent more land, which would require him to buy bigger, better, and more expensive farm equipment and buildings, and hire farmhands. All of that meant borrowing more money, and that just wasn’t something he and Beth wanted to do at this stage in their lives.

Hershberger wanted to be clear that this was a personal decision. He doesn’t begrudge anyone. Dedicated farmer that he is, he wants the industry to succeed. But he sees the small farmer like himself being squeezed by the system more and more.

Hershberger is a practical man. “Being a dairy farmer has gone from a way of life to a way of making a living for big business,” he said.

With that, the strong, humble man’s voice tailed off, almost in a quiet relief of the decision he had made to stop milking cows. Hershberger said he would continue to farm the fields.

“But I will have to find a part-time job someplace to make up for the lost income,” he said realistically. “I feel at peace about my decision though.”

Bobby Hershberger
Bobby Hershberger on his way home from the barn.

This story originally appeared in the Farm and Dairy tab of the Holmes County Bargain Hunter.

A beautiful morning well spent

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was a gorgeous morning for what my son and my wife had conspired to do. The project itself was both practical and uncomplicated.

Of course, they needed me as the gopher, as in go for this and go for that. As it turned out, I will remember that beautiful morning for a long, long time.

Our son came to help build a pair of tomato trellises, since we will share the eventual bounty with him and his wife. My wife had found a magazine picture of just what was needed for our heirloom tomatoes.

Last year, the heirlooms flourished. But as the blossoms turned into baby tomatoes then plump fruit, the plants gave way to gravity even though they had been staked. If we didn’t get the tomatoes before they hit the ground, the dry rot did.

The main problem was that the tomato patch quickly became a vegetative jungle. It was difficult finding the ripe ones that hung hidden in the leafy overlap. That problem needed to be remedied if our two families were to fully enjoy the fruits of our labors.

readying the site
My son and my wife readied the site for the tomato trellises.

The proactive plan seemed simple enough. The growing tomato plants would be safely tied to the wooden trellises, which would better distribute the weight than the previous individual supports had. We had the perfect place to erect them, the south-facing plot next to our bricked garage wall, the scene of last year’s prolific patch.

The needed materials as shown in the picture were easy enough to come by. My wife had already obtained the sturdy oak stakes. I retreated to the neighbor’s farm for baling twine.

Using a measuring tape and a container of flour, the experts measured and marked where the supporting sets of three stakes each would go. Our energetic son climbed the stepladder with sledgehammer in hand, and the seven-foot posts were pounded into the fertile ground at an angle so they crossed near the top. Not wanting to look too professional, we just eyeballed the angles.

After each set of stakes was thumped into place, we attached the crossbars, again three on each side. We secured them to the stakes by crisscrossing lengths of twine around and around and tying them off. I think I can tie square knots in my sleep now.

tying twine around the stakes
Baling twine was used to secure the horizontal and vertical stakes.

Each bar was leveled in place. A top bar, which according to our son was purely for looks, was laid in the cradle of where the angled stakes intersected.

pounding in the trellis stakes
Our son pounded in the stakes that formed the trellises.

Once the first trellis was completed, one would think the second would go easier. Somehow that didn’t really happen. Still, it turned out all right, just a little off skew. The tomatoes won’t care.

In the process of all this measuring, climbing, pounding, angling, leveling and tying, we threw in a little kibitzing as well. You know how mother, father and son, and husband and wife can be. Personal, profound, picky, sarcastic, vulnerable, venerable, loved.

This constructing trio was all that and then some on this lovely morning. While we worked beneath a cerulean sky, robins, nuthatches, house wrens and blue birds called and fed and gathered nesting materials all around us.

Building anything isn’t exactly my strong suit, unless it’s memories. Indeed, this morning well spent fit that definition like a gardener’s glove. In truth, we had built more than tomato trellises.

Creating productive, valued, lasting recollections with family seemed a most appropriate way to prepare for Memorial Day. Come late summer, when the heirlooms are heavy laden but securely ripening, memories of a different flavor will be made.

the tomato trellises
The completed tomato trellises stand against the garage wall.

A talented but modest handyman

Zack and Rachel Miller showed off the Living Acts house they helped remodel in Millersburg, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Zack Miller, 26, never thought he would consider being called a handyman. He still doesn’t for that matter.

“If you asked anyone in my family, they would all say I would be the last person to be considered a handyman,” Zack shared modestly. Yet, when Zack described what he had done, it was pretty evident he fit the definition.

“I enjoy working with my hands,” Zack said. “I like to get things done.”

Over the past nine months, Zack got a lot done. Zack headed up the refurbishing of the house where he and his wife, Rachel, 25, live on East Jackson Street in Millersburg, Ohio. Their church, Millersburg Mennonite, purchased the house last summer. The house sits adjacent to the church’s parking lot east of the church.

The congregation bought the property last summer, and soon came up with a novel if not bold idea. The church decided to create a safe haven for young adults who wanted to deepen their own spiritual faith and find direction for their lives. The house was named Living Acts.

The Living Acts house was in need of some serious updating, according to Zack and Rachel. As the host couple for the house, leadership to remodel the home fell to them, with some able and needed assistance from their parents and the church.

“Most of my skills were in refinishing,” Zack said. He had some previous experience working on two different construction crews.

To get Living Acts house updated, Zack ventured into remodeling areas he had never done before, like electrical and plumbing. Zack had to do some plumbing in bathrooms and redo lighting fixtures.

“Zack removed and replaced a faucet and toilet,” Rachel said. “Mostly though we did a lot of stripping of wall-paper, sometimes seven layers.”

“Besides the wall-coverings, we did a lot of painting,” Zack said. “We also did dry walling, some plastering, and refinished the wood floors on the first floor, which included sanding, staining and varnishing.”

One of the first things Zack did though was to remove the extensive latticework that nearly enclosed the back porch.

“I wanted to make the house as open as possible,” he said. “That’s the idea of Living

Acts, to be open to people, inviting them in.”
Zack seemed most pleased with a cubbyhole closet he built in the finished attic of the home. He tore out part of a wall, cut off studs, and built storage shelves and installed rods for clothing.

They also removed a lot of outdated carpet, and replaced a counter top. They even replaced some kitchen cupboards. They also bought furniture and area rugs.

Altogether, the cost of the remodeling was $2,000, with most of that cost covered from the proceeds of a garage sale and a bake sale. Zack said the only two rooms in the house that weren’t worked on were their bedroom and the upstairs kitchen.

The remodeling wasn’t confined to the inside of the home either. Besides the back porch, Zack improved the landscaping, built raised flowerbeds, removed some stumps and planted berry bushes.

“Zack kept a running list of things to do in his head,” Rachel said. She and her mother, Arlene Yoder, decorated the house together.

“I have gained a lot of experience working on this project,” Zack said. “No project was as easy as I had hoped it would be.”

Zack works on the maintenance crew at Walnut Hills Retirement Community in Walnut Creek. Rachel is a registered nurse at Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg. Both graduated from Hesston College in Kansas, and Hiland High School.

They wanted the remodeling project to be completed before others joined the Living Acts house. They reached that goal.

Rachel’s twin sisters, Carrie and Annie Yoder, and Kevin Roth all moved in the first week in April, when Living Acts officially began. Each of the group has committed to being a part of Living Acts through August. An advisory committee from the church oversees the residents of the house.

“We share the household duties,” Rachel said. “We are each responsible for our own living areas, but we share in the cleaning and cooking.”

The Living Acts house is designed for up to seven people.

“But five would be an ideal number,” Rachel said with a smile.

(This article first appeared in the Holmes County Bargain Hunter, Millersburg, OH)

The winter that wouldn’t end

By Bruce Stambaugh

The winter that seemingly would not end finally has. I hope.

Spring is now within sight. The vernal equinox officially arrives on Saturday, March 20 at exactly 1:32 p.m.

That milestone won’t guarantee that winter won’t quit. But it’s nice to know that if it does show its frosty face again, the odds are in our favor that a late winter sting won’t hurt us like the series of heavy snows we incurred in January and February.

For a while there, it seemed like everything had come to a freezing halt. It would snow. The road crews worked hard to free the highways of their slippery burden, and just when you thought it was safe to travel again, it snowed again.

During a normal winter in the western Appalachian foothills of Holmes County, Ohio, a couple of feet of snow are spread over several months. This winter we recorded more than three feet of snow in February alone.

With the weight of this winter still upon us, it seems spring has been a long time in coming. It was magnificent to get an early peek at what lies ahead with the recent string of sunny, warm weather here in Ohio’s Amish country.

It’s truly amazing what warmer weather does. I only had to step outside to fully appreciate the preview of spring.

The backyard birds filled the air with their choruses. Robins came out of hiding in the thick woods to begin scouting out their nesting territories. The resident Song Sparrow, which became reclusive in winter and played it low to the ground, perched high in a crimson maple, tilted its head back and cut loose.

Over the course of just a couple of days, the blanket of snow vanished altogether. Even the huge piles of plowed snow were greatly humbled by the bright sun and balmy temperatures.

If ever there were a perfect example of cause and effect, the melting snow would be it. The ground was so saturated from the abundant moisture that Mallards swam the temporary pond in my neighbor’s grain field.

Flower petals pushed through the mushy earth, as if reaching for the inviting sun. The daffodil heads swelled, readying for their brilliant birth. In our flower gardens, Johnny Jump Ups were the first to bloom.

Life stirred in my little garden pond, too. The mountain of snow that once surrounded the poor pool did a glacial retreat. The caretaker pair of bullfrogs ventured out in search of any wayward insects, and to bask in the sunshine’s warmth.

The school of goldfish revived. The largest broke water as I cleaned out the gunk from the pump. I don’t know if it was showing off or begging for food. The pump filters were so clogged with slime it was a wonder water still flowed over the little waterfalls.

I couldn’t help but notice doors and windows open in homes, shops and cars alike as I ran errands. Shoot, those with convertibles were driving around like it was July. After this cold, snowy winter, I couldn’t blame them. It felt like it.

People personally expressed their relief that an end to this nonstop winter seemingly had arrived. They appeared more congenial to the point of being jovial.

For those who longed for an old-fashioned winter, you got your wish. Let’s hope those that hunger for a perfect spring get theirs, too.