Ingenuity at work

. Judy & I went to Vancouver, BC one time. We were on the west coast for a logging conference and went out a week early so we could see the country. We rented a car at the airport and made sure the agreement specified unlimited mileage. Vancouver is kind of quaint and quirky, and we were in the northern part of Washington, so it really wasn’t a big thing to hop across the border. We stopped at the crossing into Canada and played 20 questions with the fellow in the booth there. Where ya from, he wanted to know. “Dead Center, PA,” I told him with a straight face. To a guy from a country with names like Moose jaw and Dead Horse, it didn’t even sound suspect.” Whereabouts is that?”, he asked. I confessed that it was really near State College.

The story told by my father in law is that when they changed the name from the Pennsylvania State College (for which the town it’s located in is named), to the Pennsylvania State University, a sort of angst overtook the town’s leadership. They were in a quandary. Should the town’s name change, now that it no longer reflected the more cosmopolitan character of being a university town instead of a college one? A contest was announced. Its stated goal was to discover whether the name should change, and if so, what to. There was (and still is) a certain Puckish component to the population, and the town not being far from the geographic center of this rectangular state, combined with the known fact that “you can’t get there from here,” which rendered it a cultural wasteland at the time, someone suggested that the place should be named Dead Center. The city fathers were not amused. Being relegated to the approximate middle of nowhere suits some of us, though.

To ascribe mischievousness to God might be an infraction worthy of a lightning strike, but He may enjoy a good joke as much as the kids. The effort to answer the question “how shall we live” ends up with some odd interpretations. Not too far east of Dead Center, towards the edge of the middle of nowhere, there are many remnants of the Anabaptist migrations, mostly Amish and Mennonite. I suppose if you don’t live here, they all look the same, the way a sheer rock cliff lacks any features when seen from a distance. They tend to wear clothes made by the womenfolk, commonly broadcloth or homespun fabric. The garb is known as “plain dress,” and it sets them apart from those modern folks known locally as “the English.”

There is a spectrum of practices within both the Amish and Mennonite communities, and a blurring of who is who where their practices meet. Some bathe twice a year whether they need to or not. There are the white, yellow, and black-toppers, referring to the color of their buggy roofs. The white-toppers are the most primitive: they still use kerosene lamps to drive at night. Some of the black-toppers have LED lights and fancy aluminum diamondplate accents on their buggies. That seems like it pushed the limits on plainness. There are the ones who ride bicycles, including the women with their long calico skirts. There are the ones who drive cars with black bumpers (no chrome, please. Too flashy), and the ones who drive any old car, but still observe plain dress. There are the ones who still put their hay up loose (unbaled), and shock their corn & wheat. Then there are the ones who plow with horses, and the ones who pull a diesel powered baler with a team. The next most modern step is a tractor with steel wheels. Sometimes they’ll take the tread part of a tractor tire and bolt it to the steel wheel. It’s not a rubber tire, and certainly not a pneumatic one. They are consistent, though. Steel wheels on a riding lawnmower. The idea, I’ve been told, is to live their lives as the Bible and the teachings of Christ tell us we should. Some of the interpretations they come up with really make me scratch my head. In many cases, it’s up to the local bishop (elder) to do the interpretation.


So it was that down east, a certain sect was allowed to run 2-cylinder diesel engines to power their sawmills, but not 4-cylinder ones. I asked the Amishman who runs the saw shop I deal with. I said this is supposed to be based on Scripture, isn’t it? He smiled and chuckled and looked at the floor. “yeah. Yeah it is.” He has a cell phone. But with that indefatigable ingenuity for which humans are known, those sawmill folks hooked two of those two cylinder diesels together. They were in compliance with the bishop’s decree, but they knew what the bishop perhaps didn’t: a 2-cylinder engine doesn’t put out enough horsepower to run a sawmill. Necessity being the mother of invention…voila! The answer to the question “when is a 4-cylinder engine not a four cylinder engine?”

One thought on “Ingenuity at work

  1. Pingback: Ingenuity at work | martinstrees

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