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North America » United States » Indiana » Elkhart
August 10th 2006
Published: August 11th 2006
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New windshieldNew windshieldNew windshield

To us it looked like an impossible job, but it took just about 40 minutes & 3 men to replace this huge windscreen.
Well, we have served our sentence in “Camp Monaco”, and it feels like a
life- time. Having never spent more than 2 week in any one (beautiful) place, we are now on week 4 in a car park in Elkhart Indiana. Not that Indiana is an awful place, it isn’t. It a lush green agricultural state, famous for being home to one of the largest Amish and Mennonite communities, home of the RV industry, the manufacture of vitamin pills and musical instruments. What more could you want?

Now, we didn’t expect too much as Indiana does have one of the thinnest guide books on the shelf. However, there is a limited amount of time you can spend experiencing the Amish stuff, looking at endless fields of sweetcorn and soya bean, or touring RV factories and outlets.
Life is not made easier as it is too hot & humid to cycle much and Monaco reception, in order to control the masses, fed us endless free Bagels, doughnuts, cakes, popcorn, ice cream, and anything else that contains vast amounts of carbohydrates and sugar
Nevertheless, it has been another learning experience, and, not without humour at times.
So, just so you realise its
Waiting for paint.Waiting for paint.Waiting for paint.

At least they remembered to paint the locker door! Thats the one we managed to crush on Graemes birthday... New steps also on view.
not all fun out here, as well as the usual stuff I thought I would share a bit of our daily life here with you.

We arrived anticipating a 2 week stay. Although the 6.00 am start came as a bit of a shock, things commenced well, we were allocated George from Hawaii to work on our rig, & he did an excellent job. Our new windscreen (shield) and side window went in, other things began to happen, and the rig began to look as it should have done a year ago.
Things just took longer than expected. Then the rig had to go into the paint shop for a week, and one thing just led to another. Before you know it 4 weeks had passed by.


Now we are not the average aged RVer. It is a predominantly retired community of people. At the factory it was just like living in a suburban mobile retirement home, and the people could drive you crazy.
The main focus of conversation was always “The Rig” and “what are your problems?” and how good / bad Monaco are.
It was really funny at the end of the day when the
Old Grist MillOld Grist MillOld Grist Mill

Looks idyllic doesn't it. We were going to hike to the higest point in Indiana from here( not very high) but we got eaten alive by insects before we had got very far.
vehicles were returned, to watch everyone checking them over ( fair enough) then looking to see what everyone else had had done. Then it begins, I haven’t got that, or this or the other, before you know it you find yourself doing the same……. HELP.

We idled some time away, watching the residents drive to the laundry room!, all of 50 yards max. or carrying their weenie dogs to the pet run, all of 40 feet long..
We also spent time eyeing up some very expensive rigs of people who could hardly walk let alone drive a 40,000 lb. 45 foot vehicle. Could there be a quick sale coming up soon, we wondered? During our time here several people have been carted off to the hospital. In fact when you are given a “local tips” sheet with info on, how, what and where things are there is a page on its own with directions to the local hospitals.
Some nights we had to hide inside if we couldn’t bear one more “rig” conversation.
Due to our accents (what accent), and once they had established we were not Australian or Canadian, we also got drawn into conversation about the UK.
Amish carriageAmish carriageAmish carriage

The Amish do not really like you to take photos of them going about their private lives so we just got a few snaps of them in passing. This is a tourist carriage.


Now, I bet you didn’t realise you live in a place which is always foggy, if not raining all the time, only has roads large enough for a horse and cart and other strange but common misconceptions, such as;
Do you have beaches? Do you have ice / refrigeration? And can you fish there? to name a few.
In fact I am thinking of writing a book entitled “You can’t drive that over there” which is the almost 100% common response, accompanied by a pitying look, when we say we are taking the rig home...

Graeme now refuses to be drawn into the conversation but I have to push it. Have you been to Europe? I ask nicely…… answer No; Oh so you know about the roads then?
Or, Yes…. so I ask “what were you doing there?” The best reply is when they say “oh we were on a coach tour” uhm, so what were they driving on? …

If really bored a conversation about the Health Service always passes time. You can understand how it likes a red rag to a bull. The following conversation makes the point. (It’s real, honest)

In conversation one
Menno - Hof  CentreMenno - Hof  CentreMenno - Hof Centre

Typical Amish barn shaped structure. It will take about 7 days for a team of Amish builders to erect the frame of a huge barn structure like this.
woman said “The USA has the best health service in the world” Fair enough I thought, prove it. Now having a genuine interest in the health situation here, and still being unable to clarify the situation, I asked her “ oh really, so how does it compare with, and what are the advantages over the UK, France, or Australia for instance”? She looked at me blankly and said “I have no idea but ours is definitely better”!
Later in conversation she told me how her son had been made bankrupt as he could not afford his medical bills, and their long term retirement insurance was about to be withdrawn……. No irony there then.

We know the UK isn’t perfect, can see its fault and will defend its plusses, but are more than happy to discuss them. However so many people we meet, however nice otherwise, refuse to believe anything American, is anything but “The best in the world” without questioning it at all.
Travelling through the US has been an education in more ways then one. One thing is that the political views are so black and white. Another, how strong religion is here, and thirdly, how poor the
Amish TransportAmish TransportAmish Transport

The carriages have number plates on the back and have the same rights as cars on the highway The children drive smaller simpler versions
media information is. Thank goodness for the BBC world news.
Now having said that, there are always two sides, and we have met people who have a more rounded view of the world in general, but they don’t appear to live in this community.

So as well as generally annoying the population here, what else have we done?

We drove the heritage trail which encompasses the beautiful countryside and all the small ”Towns” in the area. They have wonderful names like Shipshewana, Mishawaka, Wakarusa and Nappanee. These are home to the Amish & Mennonite communities, who happily live alongside the other local people.

The Amish and Mennonites are direct descendents of the Anabaptists of
16th century Europe, which began in Zurich. The Anabaptists were the first group in over a thousand years to call for the separation of Church from State and rejected infant baptism for believer’s baptism.

This left them in a bit of a no-win situation, as they were persecuted by both the Catholic and the Protestant authorities.

Later they became known as Mennonites after a Dutch Anabaptist named Menno Simons. The group then divided into Mennonites and Amish, when the Amish
Amish RestaurantAmish RestaurantAmish Restaurant

The largest Amish restaurant here can seat 1100 people at one time. You can have a "family style" meal which means if you all choose the same 2 veggies and main dish you get 3 courses and as much as you can eat for about for $12
group felt that the Mennonites were drifting away from their original beliefs.

Meanwhile, across the ocean William Penn, (an English Quaker & founder of Pennsylvania) was in 1730, conducting a “holy experiment” in religious tolerance.
Penn was a bit ahead of his time: he was a “Greenie”, supported education for all children, limited the death penalty, changed the States penal system to “reform not punishment”, respected Native American property rights and supported religious freedom He invited people to form communities with a freedom to worship as they wished
William Penn supported this with his “Declaration of rights “

“All men have a natural and indefensible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatsoever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.”

Now, what current American politician could learn a thing or two from that?

Penn’s guarantee of “religious freedom and the rights of conscience” appeared very attractive to the persecuted Amish & Mennonites of Europe who, in 1730 arrived and settled down to enjoy a simple lifestyle and became known as Pennsylvanian Dutch.

As you drive through the flat fertile countryside you pass many beautifully maintained Amish farmsteads. They are usually white, wooden houses or Dutch style barns. As the family grows so does the house, each creating an individual footprint as they spread across their land,

Although there are several orders of Amish and there are variations in each orders beliefs, the Amish, generally reject modern day inventions and live a simple lifestyle. The strictest orders still travel by horse and buggy, wear simple unadorned clothes and use no electrical appliances. Their skills in farming and furniture making are renowned.

We really enjoyed the excellent Menno - Hof Visitors Centre and appreciated the family type restaurants, organic foods and excellent cheese making. Personally apart from the clothes (that hat didn’t suit me) and perhaps the religious bit I found their lifestyle very attractive. It is a genuine live and let live society that truly believes religion is part of the home, keeps it separate from politics and
Generally wasting timeGenerally wasting timeGenerally wasting time

Graeme practicing for his new job? Phone and beer in hand..... Not a lot has changed there then! After being hot, humid and homeless for 9 hours a day, we needed that beer.
has no need for fancy churches and riches.
It took a couple of days to complete the trail which took us to many hidden away buildings and places. It was wonderful to see the pristine buildings, beautiful gardens, and horses and carriages.

Meanwhile back at the camp……
We really had had enough. We needed to get out, when we discovered, to our delight, Alice Cooper was performing in Elkhart. (If you could see Elkhart you would understand the incongruity of that last sentence.) Just to give you an idea, if you visit town in the middle of the day, it is completely empty, and the girl in the coffee shop said that most people here only listened to church music.

Anyway we had to go. Well I made the big mistake, when asked by some “residents” what are you doing tonight? of telling them. You would have thought we were going to an execution (perhaps not, they would have liked that). I said “come on we are just reliving our youth”, they replied “it might be your type of youth, it’s not ours!” The question is……… what did they do when school was out?
Anyway it was a great evening, pure theatre. Alice was in excellent voice, performed all his old songs, along with his old tricks like getting guillotined, Frankenstein, and beating a young woman! (This turned out to be his daughter, making it a family show after all)…..

The next day the people in the lounge were reading the review on the front of “The Elkhart News” (a very good one) and tut tutting. It was hilarious when the 2 really nice guys staying here came to ask how was it? and how they wished they had come along with us. The silence was deafening.
Anyway if you went to school in the 70s and Alice is passing your way he is definitely worth the ticket money, pure theatre.

We have also toured several RV Factories to see how they are made. Unbelievably, these rigs are still almost totally hand-assembled, including the paint job and graphics. We now understand why there are the problems there are. For rigs up to our level each “task” is allocated a 45 minute slot, then, finished or not, off the rig goes to the next section. Upon enquiring if this was long enough, we were reassured that there is strict quality control at each section! We decided that Stevie Wonder probably did our rig.
Graeme asked if he could apply for the position of the “end of line, white glove” quality control inspector as he felt he could do a better job from home whilst sat on the sofa with a beer. Trouble is there is a queue as several other people on the tour also fancied it, and had applied before him.

Actually it was really interesting comparing the quality and methods of the different brands (how sad am I getting) as it adds to our ever growing collection of RV information and knowledge for? “Next time”.

Time went on, apathy set in. I never did do all those boring tasks I was going to catch up on. However I did read some excellent books and become hooked on Sudoku.
We knew we had been here too long when we went to the County fair, (where we experienced our first Tractor Pull event) and were greeted like old friends by the Mum of the girl in the coffee shop!

Despite moaning we did meet some really nice people and enjoy a very social time (for this read, too much beer too often).

We also met only our third English couple since we have been away, Karen & Malcolm from Preston. The have been travelling for 3 years to date.
The first thing you notice is the British sense of humour & refreshing lack of reverence. It really is quite different, we enjoyed several evenings comparing “strangers in a foreign land” stories. Gleefully they escaped before us & we hope to catch up with them in Canada

……… Release papers signed for Aug 5th. That evening we were so excited we cracked open a bottle of Californian fizz, sat back, gazed at our rig admiring how nice she looked………. and noted that they had omitted to re-spray the graphic design up to the roof line! Much hilarity from inmates (namely Ken) who said we would have to stay. No hope of that, resignedly we just started a “new faults” list and will sort it out when we get to the Monaco Service Centre in Florida.

Leaving here consisted of many good-byes, several times over, We almost felt a bit guilty leaving the others behind………not for long though as we fired up the rig, pointed North and excitedly set off towards Canada.

Hopefully more exciting things to report soon…….















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