Great Road: SR 655 Big Valley and beyond

Part 1: A Quiz on SR 655

Route 66 (there are nearly 800 books with Route 66 as its central subject with more giving this road some attention), Lincoln Highway (Route 30) (290 books), The Great Silk Road of Asia (over 1400 —in English) all have their travelers, photographers and chroniclers. SR 655 may not be ready for full book treatment, but, SR 655 deserves some attention.  Recently I have accomplished what few (if any others) have accomplished:  driven the entire length of SR 655 in one day.  Even my spouse, Julia, born and raised several hundred feet from that thoroughfare had not completed this journey.   Her family has an 1814 deed positioning a corner of the family farm at a “large rock” at the edge of “The Great Road”.  (The farm at the upper side of Allensville is now the Peachey farm.)  Julia is one of the natives of Big Valley that knew that 655 has its northern end at Reedsville at North Main Street or Old 322, but had never seen the southern end.  To stimulate your interest in a more in-depth look at SR 655, here are some question to challenge your knowledge of the “Great Road”.

Which of the following towns is nearest the southern end of 655?

(1)       a. Cumberland, Md.                c. Hancock, Md

            b. Warfordsburg, Pa.               d. Maugansville, Md

And, (2) how far is it from that beginning to Reedsville?

  1. 101
  2. 83.5
  3. 79.8
  4. 62.1

 (3). Before 1964 only the section through Big Valley (Mill Creek to Reedsville) was called 655.  How long is that section?

  1. 33.5
  2. 24.7
  3. 21
  4. 36.2

Maybe you are as surprised as I am about how much of 655 is not in Big Valley.  So, most of the following towns may be unfamiliar to you.   

(4) Which of the following towns are not on 655-the southern section?

  1. Calvin                    b. Needmore
  2. Three Springs       d. Hustontown

SR 655 may be thread that knits the Valley together, the “tie that binds”; it’s a common bond. 

 (5). But which of the following is NOT a name of SR 655?

  1. Kish Road
  2. Pleasant Ridge Road
  3. Waterfall Road
  4. Big Valley Pike
  5. Hares Valley Road

(6) “The Great Road” has also been felt the means of escape from the Valley.   Between Rt 322 and Rt 22 several roads permit “escape” from the Valley.  But which of the following does NOT lead out of Big Valley?

  1. Wills Road
  2. Allensville Road
  3. Greenwood Road
  4. Coopers Gap Road
  5. Barrville Mountain Road

(7) Times have bypassed some settlements in the Valley and little evidence of them remains.  Some roads are named for these settlements.  655 does NOT pass through/by one of the following roads or former settlement.  Which is it?

  1. Sharpsburg
  2. Peacheyville
  3. Waynesburg
  4. Metztown
  5. Airydale

(8) The mountain ridges above 655 in Big Valley are named Jacks and Stone.  Which has the highest elevation above sea level?

  1. Jacks 2321 feet
  2. Jacks 1456 feet
  3. Stone 2640 feet
  4. Stone 2092 feet

 (9)What is the average height above the SR655 (in feet) of these ridges?

  1. 1000
  2. 850
  3. 560
  4. 400
  5. 250

10. Everyone knows that Kishacoquillas drains the lower end of the Big Valley, which stream drains the “tight” end?  

  1. Mill Creek
  2. Saddlers Creek
  3. Fousetown Creek
  4. Flush Run

11. What bodies of water does SR 655 NOT cross?

  1. Kishacoquillas Creek
  2. Juniata River
  3. Coffee Run
  4. Tea Creek

It is noteworthy is that there is only one public restroom on SR655 between the Sheetz on Pennsylvania Ave in Hancock, Md and Mapleton, Pa on Route 22*.  The Post Office/Store combination on the Lincoln Highway has a prominent sign “No Public Restrooms”.  We did not patronize the store.  Some may remember other features of this route like how many passing lanes there are between Reedsville and Mill Creek, how many buggies there are to pass on Wednesdays (Belleville Sale Day), why the Huntingdon County part of the Valley is called the “tight end” or how many churches one can see between the Primitive Baptist near the start of 655 and Mt. View near the end. Productive farms, big and little businesses, picturesque barns and houses populate the way from Hancock to Reedsville.  Describing all these might produce a tedious book.  Best to leave that kind of travelogue to someone else. But, I will attempt a more detailed account of my journey on SR 655 to be published later in another blog.


  1. c. Hancock;  2. B: 83.5  3. B: 24.7;  4. b:  Three Springs;  5. A:  Kish Rd.;  6. D: Coopers Gap; 7. B: Peacheyville;  8.  A: Jacks 2321;  9.  C: 560;  10.  B:  Saddlers;  11. D:  Tea Creek.

(Information comes from Wikipedia, Google Maps and my poor memory as corrected by several natives of the Valley.  Additional corrections appreciated.)












../../../../Pictures/Photos%20Library%20current%20(original).photoslibrary/resources/derivatives/5/5F7EDFE5-80CC-4144-B5D7-24C212EC00F7_1_105_c.jpegMile 55.5:  U. S Silica, according to its web site: “The Premier Silica Sand Provider for Today and Tomorrow”



The Mill Creek Post Office is south of SR655 near the Juniata.

Mile 57.7:  SR 655 turns north toward Big Valley and is called Valley Pike.  The original 655 ended/began here until 1964.  Mill Creek to Maryland was added at that time.

Just beyond this intersection are two churches:

Mill Creek United Methodist

Mill Creek Baptist

At the edge of Mill Creek, Flush Run Creek crosses 655 and enters Mill Creek.

Mile 58.2: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the Valley

59.3: Next is Fousetown, (Fousetown Bible Church is shown on the map, but I could not locate it.)


A little further is Sand Plant Road.  At Sand Plant Road one can pull off and sometimes see the huge trucks taking sand to the Mapleton plant for processing.





Mile 60.1:  Now, the traveler goes up Cramer Hill and enters

Kishacoquillas Valley.  From Cramer Hill to 322 at  Reedsville is about 22 miles.


This is the “tight end” of the valley.  The Kish valley is narrow here in contrast with the wideness of Kish Valley at Reedsville.


Mile 60.2:  Airydale.  Here is a house which was formerly a school and a sign for Brown Farms.  That’s all there is to Airydale!  But, Airydale warrants a road sign with mileage sign further down the valley along the Back-Mountain Rd. at Waynesburg Rd. The road past Brown Farm was closed sometime in the past 30 years.  [Sign just visible near center of photo.]



../../../../Pictures/Photos%20Library%20current%20(original).photoslibrary/resources/derivatives/B/BBAEEC62-8E6A-470A-A3BE-325ADE786EFC_1_105_c.jpegMile 66.6:  Most of Kish Valley is in Mifflin County, but the first mile 6.5 miles (to mile 66.6 near Sharpsburg Road) is in Huntingdon County.  Sadler Creek drains the Valley from just northeast of Sharpsburg Road and southwest to Mill Creek.

Mile 67.4: Allensville Lutheran.  The church is on next to the corner of the former Hartzler, now Joseph Peachey farm where my spouse, Julia Hartzler Alleman grew up.


Mile 67.5: Allensville, Pa, Post Office 173 W. Main.

A bit further down the road is Mary Lee’s Fabric Store (formerly Rehoboth Christian Fellowship, before that Kennedy’s Store and Allensville General Store), then comes Allensville Community Church (formerly Presbyterian) 126 E. Main Street on the other side of the street.


Allensville Restaurant, officially Country Village Restaurant, is known for its buffet and Sunday chicken and waffles.

Mile 68.8:  Allensville Mennonite Church. 

There are many Amish, Mennonite and other farms along this route to Belleville.


Mile 73.2: Locust Grove Mennonite is located just before one gets to the town. A sign at the edge of the parking lot directs one to the Belleville Mennonite School several miles to the east.

The next town is Belleville, Pa considered the center of the Mennonite Amish community.  Someone has claimed that there are twelve varieties of Amish and Mennonites in the Valley.  Yellow top carriages, white top carriages, black carriages and black buggies (no tops) can be seen on SR 655.


Mile 76.6 is St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Mile 79.4:  West Kishacoquillas Presbyterian Church.

At the bottom of the hill at the corner of Walnut Street is the Mennonite Heritage Center.

At Mile 74.8 is Abe’s Café and opposite it is S. Penn Street which provides access to the Belleville Livestock Market, Flea Market, Produce Market and Auction Barn on Wednesdays. 

../../../../Pictures/Photos%20Library%20current%20(original).photoslibrary/resources/derivatives/E/E2C88D0E-5254-4F48-BD94-6988959074C0_1_105_c.jpegBaked goods are available with excellent moonpies and whoopee pies.  My favorites are the Purple Martin apple moon pies (half-moon pies).


Mile 75.6:  Ye Olde Dog House has shakes, cones and sandwiches.  Since my spouse’s birth name is Hartzler, I must note that they also have “Hartzler Shakes” at $5.75 (the “Big Dog).

Mile 75.7: Ritchies’ Original Italian Pizza Restaurant has good Stromboli and other meals.  I would give it a higher rating if it was not closed the week our family is usually in the Valley.

Mile 81.7 Just about visible on the right is Mountain View Mennonite Chapel, Reedsville

../../../../Pictures/Photos%20Library%20current%20(original).photoslibrary/resources/derivatives/0/095688A7-3EF6-4FD5-9687-D4FE08448C8D_1_105_c.jpegMile 87.1:  SR 655 passes under US Route 322.

Mile 87.3:  North Main Street, Reedsville, the end of State Route 655.

After nearly eighty-eight miles the weary traveler has finally reached the climax of the journey.  Other travelers would note wonders I have neglected or missed.  Another trip will possibly bring some these to my attention.  No rainbow gold, wise seer or striking vista as a reward for persisting to the end of the road.  But the variety of churches, fields, gardens, houses and flowers, makes the journey the benefit.

Names of SR 655

  1. Thompson Road
  2. Great Cove Road + US 522
  3. Pleasant Ridge Road
  4. Pitt Street
  5. Waterfall Road
  6. Main Street (Saltilo)
  7. Hares Valley Road
  8. Campbell Street
  9. Bridge Street
  10. Oriskany Street
  11. William Penn Highway + US 22
  12. Valley Pike
  13. Main Street (Allensville)
  14. Main Street (Belleville

County line jogs and getting square with the world

Going straight

How do you respond when someone giving driving directions says, “go straight down this road? During the years I have lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia, I have learned not to laugh at these words coming from a native of either state. I guess there are a few roads that have more than several hundred yards of straightaway.   In rural Northern Illinois where I grew up, most of the roads were straight north and south, east and west.  Some were graveled roads.  In dry weather these wide, straight, gravel roads sometimes saw drivers do speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour.  There were a few exceptions to this straight road rule.  A friend of my father lived along a stream.  The builder of the house built it to square to the road that angled along the not-so-straight stream.  My father’s friend decided that he wanted his house to have the sides of the house to face the directions of the compass.  So, the house was jacked up and a new foundation was made under it and the house was now “square with the world”.  I wondered afterward if the owner needed the adjustment, too.

County Line Jogs

However, an exception to this beautiful arrangement existed due to conflict between instructions to surveyors and the way county road builders worked.  The explanation is below.* A slight adjustment at county lines needed to be made. These came to be called county line jogs (CLJ). The jogs might not have been a concern in the horse and buggy days when the roads were built.  When I learned to drive in the 1950s, the CLJs on gravel roads were right angle turns with one-hundred-yards to three-hundred-yards between them. As cars got faster, jogs got more dangerous. Forgetting about the CLJ, especially at night, in the fog or when inebriated led to many panic stops, run-over corn plants and serious accidents. (The photo, sent to me by my brother, Joel, shows a modern CLJ with a smoothed-out curve suitable for modern travel.) When I was a teen driver, this road, just west of our farm, was gravel and the CLJ much sharper.  This is Covell Road about fourteen miles north of Morrison, Illinois.)

One evening I took my siblings to a youth group event.  I had just arrived home from college, perhaps that day and was quite tired.  Somehow my sibs must have gotten to youth group meetings in my absence, but I felt it necessary to be the driver.  After the fun was over, we headed home.  And, yes, I forgot about the county line jog.  Fortunately, at the corner was an entrance to a field with little variation in elevation.  No damage done to the car.  One college guy, though, had damage to his ego.

My sense of direction has always been fairly good.  (My view, of course.)  Once I heard that Daniel Boone claimed that he had never been lost in his life.  But once, he said, “I was pretty confused for a week.”  Never for a week, but confusion over directions/where I was has happened.  Confusion a bit different happened when we moved from Michigan to Virginia.  I slept during part of the trip and when I woke up in Virginia after dark I was not aware/thinking of directions or my orientation.  Now, even after living thirty years in Virginia, I need sometimes need to reorient myself that the world is a quarter turn off.  West seems to be north!  Sometime after arriving in Virginia I read a Natural History Magazine article about someone who had the same disorienting experience.  He had someone drive him to Michigan after dark.  Then he drove himself back to Washington, DC and that reoriented him so that his innate sense of direction was reestablished.  Maybe I should do that.

What’s up and down

The first time I taught history to eighth graders map study was included.  One of the indisputable facts I mentioned was that up was north and down was south.  The snotty eighth graders started snickering.  This community, Kishacoquillas Valley, was less than a mile wide at its widest and probably fifteen miles long.  The students assured me that north was “down” and south was “up” the Valley. Some forty years later (after twenty years in the Midwest where roads were straight and north was north and south was south), we moved to Virginia.  We found out that due to the course of the Potomac and its tributaries “down” was north and “up” was south.  In the Shenandoah Valley one must drive forty-five miles “up” the valley until one can drive “down[south]” toward the James River.  In the Kish Valley where I first taught, the students would need to drive a little over eight miles “up” the Valley toward the Tight End of the valley.  Just past the welding shop on the west side of the road is a small hill with a sign marking the beginning of Huntingdon County.  There the water drains south into Sadler Creek, then to Mill Creek and into the Juniata River.  But, my job in the classroom was to help the students get a bigger perspective beyond the Valley.  “Up north” and “down south” may not be the whole truth.  But it was a language the students needed to understand, at least, if they wanted to understand directions in other places. That was not too different from my father’s friend.  Getting square with the world for him would require a broader perspective.

*The Continental Congress passed the Ordinance of 1785 which initiated the requirement that lands be first divided into grids so that lands could be divided and described uniformly, now known as the United Stated Public Land System. There were several ordinances passed following the original of 1785, but in general those ordinances instructed the early surveyors on how to divide the country into those grids. Generally, the surveyors began at a base point and ran meridian lines north and south and a base line which ran east and west. The next phase involved dividing the land into six-mile squares known as townships (these are not governmental townships found within counties). The lines run north and south from the base line were called range lines and the lines east and west from the meridian were known as township lines. The procedure involved placing a wood post on the township and range lines at one-half mile intervals (standard corners). The surveyors later divided the six-mile squares into 36 one-mile squares (sections). The method generally used to create the one-mile squares was to start near the southeast corner of the township and run lines (section lines) north and west once again setting posts at one-half mile intervals. When they would intersect the north and west lines of the previously established six-mile divisions a new post was set (closing corner) which probably would not have matched the older post (standard corner). They did not correct the section line to match the standard corner previously set. This distance between the closing corner and standard corner, or falling, was merely noted and could be within a foot or hundreds of feet different.
When counties began constructing roads, the preference was to follow the range, township and section lines. When a road ran north, let’s say, along a section line and came to the township line, it was necessary to jog the road to be able to run along the section line in the next township north, because of the falling between closing corner and standard corner. Don’t blame the surveyors, they were simply following the instructions given them on how to divide up the land.

Stories of my Dad

Dad’s Frugality

The big three bay, bank barn held several thousand bales.   The hay wagon pushed into the center bay. Getting the bales into the side bays from the center bay required use of ropes and pulleys.  Dad was usually the one who pushed the four prongs, called “forks”, into eight bales.  A rope ran from the forks to a combination pulley on a track running the length of the barn at its peak. The other end of the rope from the forks was attached to a tractor supplying the power to pull the bales up to the track and then to one bay or the other.

I was stacking the bales in a nearly full bay. So, while waiting for the next load of bales, I sat on the ten-inch beam that was about 15 feet or so above the hay mow floor.  As the load of bales neared the top of the barn there was a crack and I felt something hit my head.  God was with me in several ways at that moment.  First, when I was hit, I did not fall forward fifteen feet onto the mow floor where there were a number of things dangerous to fall on.  Second, the place where the bolt from the fork assembly hit me—the middle of the top of my head—was less threatening than, say, my eye.  At least the bolt didn’t ruin my good looks.

The fall back onto the bales I remember, but I do not remember climbing down the ladder or walking the hundred or so yards up the hill to the house.  I do remember that as Dad and Mom cut away the hair as the blood flowed from the cut, they discussed whether to take me the fourteen miles to the doctor.  (I don’t know if there were ERs in those days or not–this would have been about 1957.)  As I remember the discussion Dad thought that since I had only a small cut (as you can see from the scar depending on how I part my hair), a trip to the doctor wasn’t necessary.  Then, too, there was hay to be made.  Neighbors or maybe a hired man were helping with the haying.  Mom was worried about my head.  At least since Dad had his way I had an excuse for whatever trouble I got into later—it was due to the hit to my head.

Funny thing is, I do not remember the accident’s aftermath:  Was I embarrassed about having a strange haircut?  Did I have a lot of pain?  How long did I get to read instead of needing to go back to helping with hay making and doing chores?  The outcome apparently was good:  no infection or other problems.

Dad was frugal.  No doctor’s bills and haymaking continued.


Dad’s Kindness

Dad was kind to his children.  Once he sent me with our old Case tractor (maybe a DC4) and chain saw to clear out a fence row a mile or so by road from the buildings.  As I remember this tractor, the tires were nearly as high as the driver’s shoulders and seemed higher than the hood of the tractor.  Some of you know that when a tree grows up in a fencerow, the tree often grows around the fence wire.  The wise thing to do is to start the cut above the wire so that you don’t cut into the wire.  Chain saws around 1955 were heavy and I wasn’t full grown.  So I used the manure scoop on the tractor to lift me high enough to notch the approximately twenty-inch-diameter tree.

After notching the tree, I went around to the other side of the tree where the ground was higher to drop the tree.  Just as the cut was finished, I realized the tree was falling toward the tractor.  I hadn’t moved it!

I stood there imagining I could run around the tree, start the tractor and move it, when smack, the tree hit the tractor.  What damage do you think there was?  Surprising little to the tractor.  Only the muffler and the battery were damaged.  On that model, the battery sat just in front of the steering wheel.  What happened was the tree was wish-bone shaped with branches that curved around just right to rest on the high wheels of the tractor.  This protected the tractor’s vital parts.

The greater damage may have done to my sense of well-being. My fears expanded rapidly as I walked the three-quarters of a mile across the pasture and field to the barn to get Dad to help get the tree off the tractor.  I do not remember how we got the tree off the tractor, just that dad did not make a big fuss about the cost of the damage or get mad at me for my mistake.  He was merciful.


Working on Sunday


Dad was careful not to work on Sunday.  Of course, he took care of the animals on the farm.  That was different.  Some farmers thought haymaking was in the same category and would “make” hay on Sunday; but Dad wouldn’t.  But in the Spring, though, sometimes he would work on Sunday.

We lived off the main road on a gravel road that just past our house and barn became a dirt road that got bad just past our buildings.  With no trees and low ditches the road across the creek and up the hill stayed dry.  Once over the hill there were trees close on both sides of the road and several low spots that stayed wet.  So “Sunday drivers” would zip down the gravel road past our house, over the bridge and up the hill and out of sight on the mud road.  A little later our Sunday dinner or Dad’s nap would be interrupted by a knock at the door and a stranger would inquire about help getting a car out of the mud.

Dad would agree to have dinner interrupted or to give up the nap to help the “Sunday Driver.”  But, giving that help required getting out our tractor.  We had a John Deere A 1937 with a flywheel crank start. (If you have heard the “putt-putt” John Deere, you have heard one of these.) For those who do not know about late 1930s John Deere, the flywheel was a large thick wheel (3” x 14 or 16”) attached to the left side of the tractor.  To start the tractor, one grabbed the wheel with both hands and tried to spin the wheel counter clockwise to get the engine to fire.  On rare occasion in the summertime it might start on the first spin.  Most times it took many attempts and interspersed with adjustments of the choke.  Incidentally, being able to start the JD-A was a test of manhood for a young teen.  But, starting the “A” was not a favorite Sunday activity.  I was 11-14 when these rescues happened (before the road was graveled) and I don’t think I went with Dad on any of the half-mile trips.

Dad may have commented about the emotional and mental qualities of the Sunday Drivers when he returned, but I don’t recall that.  I do remember he refused pay for the rescues. And, I remember that Dad was compassionate enough to work on Sunday even to help foolish “Sunday Drivers”.


“Tell him I am faint with love” Seeking the Bible’s model male lover


With that declaration (Song of Songs 5:8 NET), the woman in the “Songs” comes close to a declaration of her feelings, even though indirect.  But, what about males.  How do we determine the ideal Biblical male lover?  What criteria identifies him?  Big, strong?  Handsome?  Ready to verbalize his feelings and commitment?  Where do we find an example to follow?

Hosea is often seen as a model of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Aren’t mercy and forgiveness qualities of an ideal lover?  But, wait, Gomer, Hosea’s lover was a prostitute.  She left him after bearing Hosea a child to go back to the street.  He showed his love by rescuing her again from that life.  Was that romantic?

One should, of course, go to the Song of Songs.  Most versions of the Bible these days prefer to use this name rather than “Songs of Solomon”.  Modern ideas of monogamy can’t comprehend the number of wives and concubines ascribed to Solomon by his biographers.  Building a separate palace for an Egyptian princess didn’t really seem romantic (Did she nag? Have bad breath? Just need a place to do strange-to-the-Hebrews religious things?).  The “Song” has some wonderful lines and should be read by lovers, but why doesn’t he/she come out and say the right words to the other.  And the guy, to say “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.”  What was he thinking?  But, then there is 7:12. . ..  —But, these days where can you find a grove of pomegranates?

Then, there is David.  Which of his loves do we begin with?  Abigail has a good publicist: “Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.”  (I Sam. 25:3)  Did her actions show her to be such?  Show David to be a model lover?

“Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. 40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”

I have read some Christian romantic fiction and none of them ended that way.

Then, there’s the next verse:David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. 44 But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel[d] son of Laish, who was from Gallim.”   (But remember seven chapters earlier?  “Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. -I Sam 18:20)

Let’s not move on to Bathsheba or wonder about who David’s mother or why David’s children had so many problems with their love lives.  Maybe we should look elsewhere for model Biblical lovers?

Maybe Jacob?

Since Jacob had fallen in love with Rachel, he said, “I’ll serve you seven years in exchange for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban replied, “I’d rather give her to you than to another man. Stay with me.” 20 So Jacob worked for seven years to acquire Rachel. But they seemed like only a few days to him because his love for her was so great.  (Gen. 29:18-20)

Well, then he settled for Leah and waited for another seven for Rachel.  Fourteen years?  Well, that’s romantic!  At least we know he had fallen in love.  Wonder if he had told her that.  At the well?  At Leah’s wedding?  After 14 years?  Maybe after he was given Leah’s or Rachel’s servant for a concubine?  I guess Biblical loves were different.

What about Boaz?  There was something a bit romantic about the way they got together during the harvest festival (with coaching from Naomi), but without much clarity about Boaz’ style as a romantic hero.  At least that pile of newly-harvested grain was warm.

Then there is Isaac who had a servant to do his courting.  But, it turned out all right, apparently.

    Then Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took her as his wife and            loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. Gen. 24:67 (NET)


One needs to remember that the Hebrew Bible was written by men and has as its focus the relationship between humans and God.  From that we understand why many have seen the Song of Songs (or Solomon) as an allegory of the human-God relationship.  Modern romantic traditions have been shaped by medieval times when arranged marriages were the norm.  Women were a means to unite families, fortunes and property, usually without their consent.  Wandering singers/instrumentalists called troubadours wrote and sang about love.  Verbalizing about love was important because love was not often considered important in marriage.  During this time, often the songs and poetry were about, at least indirectly, illicit love relationships.

What does the New Testament show us about communication between lovers?  Zachariah may have written a love note or two to Elizabeth, but we are not told.  Joseph and Mary had a lot of time to talk on their four or so days on the road to Bethlehem.  Wish we knew about their conversations.  About Ananias and Sapphira, we won’t inquire.  Aquila and Priscilla should have left us some guidance on this topic.  They sound like good communicators.  Paul wasn’t interested in that sort of thing.  But he did give us a bit of help.  Husbands (and I suppose wives as well) are to love the other as Jesus loved the church.  What was Paul referring to?  What words?  Perhaps it was the actions of Jesus:  giving good news, dealing with sickness, bring release in bad times, providing food and so on.
But back to our original question.  Who, in modern romantic terms would be our model male lover?  That leaves us with the only Biblical lover, who we know to be big and strong and who is recorded to have fallen in love and to have told a woman, “I love you”.  Who is our model lover?  Samson, of course.















Mother’s was best: Mush, pon haas, scrapple, polenta


Mother was a city girl. She married a farmer. So, when they moved to the farm after their marriage in 1937, I imagine she had many skills to acquire. She was new to gardening, canning and caring for animals.   By the time I was aware of what cooking was, she had been developing those skills for ten or more years. She had gotten a head start on cooking. Her mother was a short order cook in Harrisburg, Pa., a job she continued into her late 70s. After graduation from high school, Mother took a job as a nanny in the country not far from where Dad grew up.   Somewhere, Mother learned to make pon haas.

Learning to like mush

The pon haas Mother made often included chicken broth plus small scraps of meat.  I wish I had asked her about the origin of her recipe.  Wife, Julia, grew up with regular (plain) cornmeal mush.  Her mother would start the pieces of mush in a big cast iron skillet at moderately high heat while getting ready to go to the barn for milking.  Then she turned the heat under the skillet to low when leaving for the barn.  An hour or so later,  after the cows were milked, the family walked up the hill to a breakfast which included mush, always with apple sauce on the mush. To improve flavor of the corn, the ears of corn would be laid on the kitchen range’s oven racks at low temperature to lightly roast the corn.  When I came on the scene, I made several trays to put in the oven to make moving the corn ears around easier. After shelling the corn, the kernels were placed in 5-gallon tin cans in an attic over an unheated section of the house.  When more cornmeal was needed,  the kernels were taken to the Belleville mill for grinding.

Our children learned to enjoy the mush.  They visited their grandparents during the summer, sometimes by themselves, and with us on holidays.  Now, Julia maintains the tradition by making mush for them on our return to Big Valley (Pennsylvania) for the summer vacation.  Applesauce is always a required accompaniment.

Sweet corn mush and cornbread

One summer in Michigan, our sweet corn was going to mature later than we expected.  Before we headed to visit family in Pennsylvania, we asked our non-gardening neighbors to harvest and eat the sweet corn.  When we returned home about 20 days later, most of the corn was still in the garden!  We asked our friends about it.  They said “You have worked so hard to grow the corn, we thought we should leave some for you.”  The corn was in the dent stage, so I did not pick it.  A bit later I wondered about making cornmeal with the corn.  After letting the corn mature, we dried and ground the corn.  After cooking some of it, we tried to slice it for frying.  What a disappointment.  It would not set up–just crumbled.  But, it made a tasty thick porridge.  Later we made corn bread with the sweet corn.  The best cornbread ever.

Puddin’ meat

When we moved to Virginia, we learned from a native Virginian, Glendon, that his family didn’t make fried mush.  After butchering the family would have puddin’ meat.  This meat is made from various scraps of the pig as it is trimmed out during butchering. The meat is cooked down with salt, pepper and sometimes other spices.  Glendon’s family ate the puddin’ meat with hominy purchased from the store.  In other areas, the scraps that are used for puddin’ meat are combined with oats, flour, cornmeal or a combination of them and cooked until thick.  The porridge is poured into bread pans to be later sliced and fried for breakfast.  The fried product is called pan haas or scrapple.  Some of the terms used above vary by locality—spelling changes, too.  Related products of butchering are head cheese and souse.  I know nothing about these but what I have read in Wikipedia.


This year I wanted to try different of version of cooked cornmeal.  A local organization, Our Community Place, had a fund-raising meal.  The chef for the meal worked at a local Italian restaurant.  One of the featured entrees was meat balls on polenta (porridge).  So, I tried making polenta. I used rich turkey broth made from several turkey carcasses after Thanksgiving. I sautéed the onion and garlic on top of the stove, then beat in the cornmeal.  Instead of using an oven proof saucepan for this first step, (see recipe below), I poured the polenta from the saucepan into a casserole dish, which went into the oven.  Worked good.  We enjoyed porridge for supper.  The next morning, I fried polenta for breakfast.  (I would have made the polenta while the family visited on Christmas vacation, but they would not hear of breaking the plain cornmeal mush tradition.) Recipe source:

Scrapple or pon haas?

The Thomas House Restaurant in Dayton Virginia may be one of the few eateries around to serve pon haas.  But, I would call it scrapple.  It is dark and strong flavored—mostly soft, but a bit crisp. The “pon haas” Mother made was light-colored.  She sliced it thin and fried it until crisp.  Thomas House’s dark, softer pon haas is tasty, but Mother’s light, crisp “pon haas” was something else.

Part 2: Nuts I have known and loved

Georgia pecans

After college, I hitchhiked from Pennsylvania to Atlanta, GA for a summer with Mennonite Voluntary Service.  While there our MVS group travelled south 3 hours to Americus, GA to visit Koinonia Farm where Clarence Jordan and several others were trying to find ways that blacks and whites could live together.  They were snubbed, shot at, and boycotted—mostly by professing Christians.  They developed a pecan grove to support themselves by a mail order business.  I bought pecans there a number of times in later years.  In 2016, we travelled that way on our return from visiting family in Texas. We bought pecans there fifty years after my first visit. This picture comes from that 

visit.  Can you guess what it is?  Answer at end of blog.

Texas pecans

When we visit son Nathan and family for several weeks in March, we usually travel several days west to the Hill Country of west central Texas.  On our return trip, heading east from Llano, TX, we discovered the “Pecan Capital of the World”! San Saba Pecan Capital San Sabo, TX  (A title also claimed by a town in Georgia).  Pecan groves, processing plants and specialty stores proclaimed the presence of pecans.  Of course, we sampled the pecan ice cream and bought some roasted pecan coffee with bits of pecans with the coffee beans.  One specialty was “cracked pecans”. Less expensive than shelled they saved a step over cracking whole pecans oneself.  Didn’t ask how they pronounced their specialty (“pe kahn” or “pee can”: (“But, some in Texas say, a “pee-can” is something one carries in their pickup truck for beer-induced emergencies.” —

Our granddaughter, Annabelle, and her father knew how much I liked pecans. They picked up nearly half a bushel of pecans near their Waco home and on the grounds of their church meeting house.  Pecans bore bountifully that year in Waco.  Many people were picking up pecans along the street and sidewalks.  Radio, TV, and newspaper warned that property rights extended to the street and nuts should be harvested along the sidewalks only with permission of property owners.  Apparently, people were going nuts over nuts.

I had been thinking about my history with nuts (all kinds) in late November as I crack nuts for Julia’s fruitcake.  She makes a double batch for family and friends.  She has been making the fruitcake for nearly all the fifty years we have been married. (Enhanced, of course, by the nuts I crack for them.) Hearing all the jokes about fruitcake makes me wonder what people have been eating.  Julia’s fruitcakes are almost good enough for me to marry her for them.


The picture shows Koinonia Farms pecan tree shaker.


Nuts I’ve known and loved (Not a family history)

Nutty as a fruitcake.  Just nuts.  Why the use of this nutritious, tasty tree product for deprecating people?  As far back as the 1820s variations of this word have been used to describe people in derogative ways. Walnuts are high in nutrition, so the negative connotation of these sayings doesn’t make sense.  My nutty experiences in five states over more than 60 years have been mostly positive.

Hickory nuts

Our farm in northwest Illinois had walnuts and hickory nuts.  I just picked up hickory nuts until I tasted the bitterness of what I learned were called “bitternuts.” Bitternuts and pignuts looked similar were much more abundant, so I picked them first.  The bitternuts (didn’t know their name then) were thinner shelled, too.  But, they were bitter.  Best left for pigs. I soon learned that shagbark hickory nuts were the best.  Also, the trees says that pignuts are not the same as bitternuts.  Now I know that pignuts and bitternuts are different.  I did collect some hickory nuts to crack.  The flavor is great, but they are small and all I had to crack them with was a hammer.

Since walnuts were bigger and abundant, I switched favorites.  I filled five or six gunny sacks (burlap bags) of walnuts.  My father used the tractor scoop move them to the farmhouse where we had a hand-turned corn sheller.  This doubled as a walnut huller.cornsheller

After running the walnuts through the sheller, my father helped me dump the walnuts on the roof of a small chicken house a short distance from the trees near the house.  Just far enough for the Illinois squirrels not to challenge our dog for a race from to the chicken house or back to the trees.  When the walnuts were dry, I brought some to the house to start cracking them for cookies and cakes.  They were duds! I had probably 3 or 4 bushels probably all were bad.  No more walnut collection for me—well, until adulthood.  (I was in my early to mid-teens at the time.)

Michigan walnuts

Rosalyn was 8 and Nathan was 5 when they joined the walnut collection activity.  We were excited by the announcement in the newspaper that a walnut processing company would hull and buy walnuts.  We had a small trailer to load the nuts into.  Previous years I had dumped nuts in the driveway and used the car to smash the hulls.  Then we had pulled the messy walnuts out of the hulls and rinsed off the remaining flesh.  Finding a place to dry the walnuts out of the reach of squirrels was always a challenge. Ros and Nathan each kept track of how many 5 gallon buckets of walnuts they gathered.  I preferred to pick up at the neighbors where there was a special tree that had thin internal walls that permitted cracking out large pieces, sometimes complete halves of the black walnuts.  We filled the little trailer and the children’s labor rewarded them.   Ros was pleased that she was able to buy a red J. C. sweater that she had been wishing for.

Native Americans had learned about walnut duds.  Their technique for separating out worthless nuts was to put a wide basket in the bottom of a shallow, but flowing stream.  Walnuts were poured into the basket.  Bad walnuts were lighter and would float away.  Good ones dropped into the basket for recovery and drying.  Not having a stream handy, I dumped walnuts into a half-barrel and lifted out the floating ones with a sieve to duplicate this process.  The walnut buying company would hull my walnuts and buy back what walnuts, including the duds that I didn’t want, sufficient to pay for the hulling of the walnuts for my use.

The second year the children looked forward to earning more money with the walnut harvest.  We picked walnuts, computed the shares, planned how the money was to be spent. Then, off we went to take the walnuts to the huller. After the seven-mile trip, we could not find the huller.  Unfortunately, Dad had failed to check the paper for ads for the huller. Disappointment!  My memory is not good, but I hope I gave the children something for their work.  We hulled the walnuts the old-fashion way.  When I asked Rosalyn (now past young adulthood) recently about her memory of the walnut disaster, I expected some comment about a ruined childhood.  But, she didn’t remember the disappointment of the disappeared huller.  She did remember how pleased she was to be able to buy the wonderful sweater to go with the skirt her mother made her.

The Pennsylvania nut cracker and Virginia nuts

Julia’s parents had two “English” walnut trees that they had planted when she was small.  The seedlings came from trees near Gettysburg where Julia’s uncle lived. By the time I knew Julia the trees were mature and produced many bushels of nuts most years. Some years we were given (or picked up ourselves) a half-bushel or more. family-farm.jpg (The walnut trees are between the barn and the house.  Okay, so I found an excuse to sneak in a picture of the children and granddaughter.)

Julia’s father, Fred, recommended seeing Israel Peachey about a nutcracker.  Israel, an Amish man, whose wife was a reflexologist, lived off Long Lane, at Back Mountain Road, Belleville, Pa (in Kishacoquillas Valley) and made unusual nut-crackers.  The nutcrackers handled black walnuts easily (relatively).  “English” walnuts shell out with unbroken halves.  Mine cost around $30, an exceptional price, even in the late ’80s.nutcracker

We had moved to Virginia some years earlier.  Neighbors had black walnuts to give us.  For several years there was a walnut huller in the area.  Recently, friend Laurence brought me some walnuts he picked up.  He knew that after two back surgeries bending over to pick up walnuts too much of a challenge for me.  I was not ready to hull the walnuts he gave me, so pulled the plastic garbage can to the backyard.  Several days later I walked into the yard and found a large hole in the can.  Squirrels had chewed the hole to get the walnuts!  And, it was Laurence’s can!

Next post:  Pecans