I spent the bulk of this past spring at home, like most of you. And like a lot of you, my day-to-day life in “stay-at-home” mode was not very different from what it would have been under normal circumstances. I have always been something of a homebody. I like running my own business, making my own schedule and governing my own workspace. As much as someone can be, I’m my own boss. And away from work, my hobbies tend to keep me at home, too, or at least effectively socially distanced.
I like to work in my garden, volunteer at my church, hike in the nearby woods, go for runs in the morning and ride my bicycle into town to retrieve the mail. I like to read, listen to podcasts and books, and watch bad and good movies with my wife, Susan. None of these activities have been affected by the lockdown.
I know a lot of you are like me. You have a farm or other small business. You are not getting rich, but you wouldn't exchange your independence for higher wages. In fact, a lot of you worked hard at an outside job, saved your money, then struck out on your own. And some of you are working that outside job now, looking forward to when you can leave.
At this stage of the “new normal” in which we find ourselves, most of us living in the rural countryside or small towns have been more insulated than our city cousins from the risks of the pandemic and requirements imposed in the response.
The biggest change I experienced was a dramatic reduction in time spent on the road to shoot video for our television program, making me even more of a homebody than usual. In late June and early July, however, I took a couple of trips to visit some of the Amish communities in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in an attempt to bring readers some of the kind of coverage we would ordinarily be getting at Horse Progress Days, which was canceled this year.
I spent time at some of the bigger manufacturers of horsedrawn farming equipment like Pioneer, I&J, and White Horse and many of the smaller shops nearby.
I also spent a morning in Leola, Penn., with Dale Stoltzfus, longtime HPD national board member, to talk about horse farming and Horse Progress Days. I spent another morning at B&W Macknair & Son in Lewiston, Penn., to visit with Norm Macknair talking about trends in the horsedrawn farm equipment restoration and repair business.
Finally, I spent a day at the farm of Ralph and Connie Rice of Jefferson, Ohio, where I saw Ralph's new Suffolk horses and those of his son, Josh, across the lane. I met a lot of friends I've known for years and made a lot of new ones. I will bring coverage of the equipment I was shown on these visits in the Oct./Nov. issue of the magazine.
While a few of the businesses I visited were large operations, employing a dozen or more workers, most were much smaller family-run shops. Regardless of their size, most of them had one thing in common, something I was a little surprised to find. Most of them were producing products that had little to do with horsedrawn farming per se. Because I had never visited most of these businesses before, my only exposure to their wares was what they brought to Horse Progress Days, what my horse farming friends were using in the fields and barnyards and what was being advertised in my magazine.
D.A. Hochstetler & Sons of Topeka, Ind., make wagon running gear, cultimulchers and other tillage equipment as well as a wide range of eveners, singletrees, neckyokes and other accessories. I had seen these every yearv at Horse Progress Days. But in addition, they make a line of driveway graders designed to attach to the front of a skid loader, outdoor log-burning furnaces, campfire rings with attachments for barbecue cooking, and they had some of these at past HPD events, but I don't remember seeing them.
Down the road, Dave Lambright of Dalam Welding showed us the wide variety of products they make from aluminum and stainless steel, including portable aluminum chicken coops and aluminum hay bale elevators that we've seen at HPD. But they also are kept very busy manufacturing racks to carry kayaks at the rear of an RV or camper trailer called the VertiYak which is marketed and sold by a company based in Elkhart, Ind.
Steve Bontrager of Stori Enterprises and Farm Boy Power Units in Goshen, Ind., explained to me that shops like his are very good at manufacturing, but not as strong when it comes to marketing. He recently built and installed a rotational molding machine that occupies a large portion of a new building he just built. The mold allows him to build a wide variety of hollow products made out of pliable plastic such as bunk feeders, water buckets, feed scoops and much more. The process involves taking a mold, adding a quantity of material such as polyethylene to the inside and rotating it inside a large oven. The material melts and sticks to the inside of the mold, forming a hollow shell in the desired shape. I had never seen anything like it before.
In Millersburg, Ohio, dairy farmer and equipment inventor Jonas Schlabach (of the 25-foot sickle bar mower fame) has built what he is calling the Multiflora Dentist. It is a simple tool that attaches to a skid-steer fork to disturb the roots of a multiflora rose that has been established on a fence line.
Weaver Wagons in Dalton, Ohio, builds and restores hitch wagons, carts, buggies and just about anything you might wish that is on wheels. While I was there I saw a huge platform built on a set of wheels that looked like a ridiculously ambitious hay wagon, but turned out to be a portable platform for taking pictures of an entire wedding party. They were in the middle of building a gypsy or sheepherder's wagon camper and about to begin restoration on a very old passenger mud wagon. In addition to almost all things with wheels, Weaver also produces a line of director's chairs.
These are just a few examples of the ingenuity and creative thinking going on at many of the businesses I visited. I will include more examples in the next issue.
As a small business owners ourselves, my wife, Susan, and I are always trying to think of new products to develop to improve our profitability. Some of the ones we come up with work out, others seem to end up being a waste of money and time. I am encouraged to see that enterprise and resourcefulness still flourishes in many of the companies with which we do business.
As always, if you know of a person, farm, company or event you think we should be covering, either in the magazine or on the television program, let us know. If it is something you, a reader, is interested in, it would probably interest others as well. Shoot me an email at
or give me a ring. 319-362-3027