Monday, November 3, 2008

A Woodchuck Roadtrip--PA or Bust!

Yeah, I changed the title. Author's prerogative.

We woke up at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday. By 6:40 we were rolling down the driveway in the dark, travel coffee mugs in hand, on our way to adventure and excitement in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I personally found nothing much adventurous and exciting until the sun came up. Because that's when we could actually see the countryside we were driving through.

I should explain at this point that A. hates freeways with a great and burning passion. Travel writers may purposely seek out the "back roads" when they want to experience "atmosphere" and "local flavor" to enhance their stories--A. wouldn't think of driving anywhere else. He doesn't want the scenic roads built for tourists, either. If a road is full of antiques and cute shoppes, it's not for him. He wants to see abandoned trailers and run-down diners. Luckily, both were in abundant supply on this trip.

We drove through the tail-end of the Appalachians in northern Pennsylvania. It looked pretty much like you would expect the Appalachians to look. Pretty fall colors, undulating hills, and trailers. The last bastion of true individuality is in real rural areas like this. You want to cover your house in hubcaps? Go right ahead! You want to store 10 junk cars in your front yard? Have at it! And of course, these people were not content with those slick, redwhiteandblue pre-printed campaign signs. They have opinions, dammit, and they want to voice them! In the form of spray painted plywood propped up in their driveways. We saw the right: "Proudly clinging to our guns and religion" and "Our Biggest American Mistake Awaits." And the left: "McCain Still Sucks" and the pithy "Obama--yes!!" We also saw many, many discarded truck tires being used as planters, but that's de rigueur for much of rural America.

And now, a break for a photographic interlude!

Ridin' low in Big Red

So. Southward we drove, leaving the Empire State (isn't it nice how humble New Yorkers are?) and entering the Keystone State (Dear PA: Perhaps it's time to re-think your state nickname?). The farm we sought was outside Mifflinburg, the self-proclaimed Buggy Town, USA. I guess they made a lot of horse carriages there. Or something. We skipped the Carriage Museum in Mifflinburg, so I can't tell you any specifics. Though we did eat lunch at the Carriage Corner Restaurant in Mifflinburg. Let it never be said we have no culture.


Before we could eat lunch, we had to dump this huge load of walnuts that was weighing Big Red down and causing him to overheat. So, into the farmland we drove, in search of Edwin Oberholtzer's farm (Dear Edwin: You have a truly kick-ass name, man. And yes, I am being serious.). The helpful bright yellow "Black Walnut Station" signs pointing the way were of great assistance in finding the farm, which was a tiny farm in a valley with one horse, two geese, chickens, and some goats. It did not look particularly prosperous. Of course, Edwin turned out to be not a crotchety geezer with hair growing out of his ears, as I had pictured him to be, but a wholesome Amish kid who looked about 15 years old but was probably more like 20. So I think he has some time to improve the place.*

When we drove into the farmyard, there were three pick-up trucks in line to dump walnuts, and five guys standing around watching Edwin smash at the walnut hulling machine with a sledgehammer. It was apparently being a bit recalcitrant and required some gentle persuasion. The sledgehammer seemed to subdue the machine, however, which was shortly chewing up walnuts again.

Photographic interlude number 2:

Pop quiz! Is Edwin the man in the suspenders or the cut-off t-shirt and ripped jeans?

Here's how this machine worked: The walnuts were dumped in a big hopper, from which they dropped onto a conveyor belt. The belt brought the nuts up into the machine, where a large truck tire spun around, forcing the nuts through grates that ripped the hulls off the nut inside. The hulls were spit out the top and the nuts came through chutes on the side into bags. The hulled nuts were then weighed to determine the price to be paid.

So, when it was our turn, A. backed the truck up so the tailgate hung over the hopper a bit. He dumped the feed bags full of walnuts into the hopper. I used my (gloved) hand to sweep the walnuts towards where they dropped onto the belt, being careful to not get my hand caught on the belt, thereby causing my hand to be ripped off and conveyed into the huller with the nuts. Ew.

We ended up with 430 pounds of nuts after hulling. At $10 per hundredweight, that paid for the gas for the trip, which was really all we were hoping for.

A. was covered in black walnut juices, but had uncharacteristically remembered to bring an extra pair of pants. We stopped in the cemetery so he could change his pants. No disrespect intended to the occupants, of course, but it seemed like a better option than stripping down in Edwin's farmyard.

Thus, freshly attired and divested of our great load of nuts, we headed off to seek further adventures in the vast expanse of central Pennsylvania.

But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what those adventures are. Yes, it's a Going Country cliffhanger! Isn't this FUN?

Until tomorrow, duckies . . .

* Edwin appeared to be part of a less orthodox Amish sect. Different Amish communities make their own judgments about which modern conveniences might threaten the Amish way of life and are therefore verboten. Edwin had a big John Deere tractor, though with steel wheels so it couldn't be driven on the road. And the walnut machine seemed to use a bit of electricity. But the house didn't appear to have any electricity and there was no car.


SaraPMcC said...

I'm guessing Edwin was the guy in the suspenders. He looks young and Amish, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

You were in PA! Land of Jive Turkey! Sounds like you weren't anywhere near Pittsburgh, though...BOO. Will you visit if I round up some local Edwins?

Kristin said...

I don't need the draw of the Amish to visit you, J.T. Though we do love the Amish. We identify more strongly with them than with most people, weird as that may be.

Had we been anywhere near Pittsburgh, you can bet we'd have been rolling up to your door in Big Red, hollerin' and spittin' and generally embarassing you in front of your neighbors.

Not really on the spitting part.

rls said...

So I'm wondering... 430 lbs of walnuts WITHOUT the hulls is about how many lbs of walnuts with hulls? (I know you don't know the answer; it's more of a rhetorical question... I was just wondering how much weight Big Red was actually schlepping around all day.)

Kristin said...

A. estimated around 1,500 pounds unhulled, which means we lost over a third of the weight with the hulls. That's why it doesn't really pay to truck them in the hulls--too much extra weight to carry for no payout.

cndymkr / jean said...

So will you do this again next year?

Krysta said...

i'm lost... seriously. you went to go sell walnuts? and you didn't even get that much money? arg! i guess it's because in our neck of the woods walnuts and almonds are such a big buisness (blue diamond, anyone?)that it's for big time farmers... where am i going with this? i have no clue, 'cause i'm lost.

Kristin said...

Okay Krysta, lemme 'splain. No, that would take too long. Lemme summarize . . .

There is only one company in the entire country that has the machinery to shell black walnuts (which are very different from the English walnuts you typically buy at the store). This company contracts with farmers in different states. The company supplies the hulling machine to the farmers. The farmers act as middle-man, buying the walnuts from anyone in their area who will bring the nuts to them. The company, in turn, buys the walnuts from the farmers. Because there's only one company, they set the price. It's a monopoly, and we all know everyone gets screwed when there's a monopoly on anything. However, if you're a basically unemployed redneck who sells firewood and plows in the winter, and sells scrap metal in the summer (and there are a LOT of guys like that around here), then gathering and selling walnuts can be another way to supplement your income.

Of course, most people don't haul the fuckers 150 miles to the station. To make any money, you'd have to have a local station.

Got it?

rls said...

Triple points for working in the Princess Bride reference!

inadvertent farmer said...

Just watched that...fave movie of all time!

Love those cool Amish guys! I was wondering about the machine and such. Didn't know that there were different 'levels' of Amish technology acceptance.

Sounds like a fun trip...I do feel sorry for your poor old truck though!

Krysta said...

yes ma'am... i got it (standing straight up and paying attention)... actually thank you for explantion.

CountryMidwife said...

K, so I'm way late, and just discovering your hilarious blog, Kristin - thank you! But no way no how good Edwin was Amish. Sorry. But that's a Mennonite name.

My theory - two Mennonite is enough.

Come to Lancaster County for some Amish experience...

Kristin said...

I guess it never occurred to us he would be Mennonite, because we have a lot of Mennonites around here and they're all virtually indistinguishable from "the English." They drive cars, use electricity, etc. But I guess there's a different group of more conservative Mennonites in PA?