November 2011
Featured Articles

Amish Craftsmanship, Pennsylvania Dreams Find Roots in Alabama

 

Bob Stanley drives Bo pulling the cart he built.

I’m going to take a lonnnnnnnng bath," Norma Stanley explained of what she plans to do first when she and husband Bob move into their new home shortly before Thanksgiving.

That may sound like an unusual first-step-after-moving — unless you consider Norma and Bob have been living in a 28-feet-long travel trailer for the past seven years and showering in a tiny tub just barely big enough to fit your feet!

Sitting on the 40 x 8-foot porch across the front of their new house, the couple share good-humored jabs about their former tiny living space.

"There’s plenty of room," Bob answered, as any good husband would who spends most of his time outdoors.

The attractive entrance to Bent Arrow Farm.

 

"Well, it’s livable," Norma laughed.

Last winter’s cold temperatures proved especially troublesome in the small trailer.

"They’re just not designed for winter-living full time," Bob explained, although a secondary heat source helped them make it until spring.

The new 30 x 40-foot house features a fully covered back porch of the same size as the front and has been built primarily by Bob utilizing lumber cut and milled by Amish craftsmen in and around Lawrenceburg, TN.

The floors are ¾-inch x 4-inch maple. Walls are primarily cedar, with one bedroom being poplar. The ceilings are pine. The bathroom and kitchen cabinets are all Amish made.

Several of the interior doors were crafted by Isaac Miller, with Mose Zuck milling cedar from downed giant trunks, crown molding being hand-fashioned by Daniel A. Miller, and other precise woodwork by the Yoder family.

 

One of the cedar closets being built by Bob Stanley.

"They just take such pride in their work," Bob explained.

"Everything is perfectly finished. And the lumber is less expensive than the same rough lumber you buy at your local construction supply store or big box store. Even when you figure in transportation costs."

Lumber is also its "true" size instead of being smaller as is most milled lumber bought from commercial lumber yards. (A commercially-bought 2 x 4 is seldom actually 2 inches by 4 inches!)

The Amish have always been family, farm and home-oriented as they strive to live as close to nature and their Creator as possible. Just as other small farms have faced changes and had to reinvent themselves as the face of small farms have changed, many of the Amish, many years ago, saw sawmills, millwork and building furniture were good extension of their family farm, allowing their children to learn trades at home and still make a good living. Some in Amish communities estimate as many as 80 percent of the families make at least a part of their living by doing woodwork and milling.

Amish-made cedar bedroom door.

 

Bob himself hand-crafted their home’s other doors.

The Stanleys’ exterior walls are poured concrete (with a brick design) featuring 10 inches of concrete and four inches of insulation and then the real wood paneling.

"Our house might lose its roof in a tornado, but I think the walls would still stand," Bob explained, as he and Norma recall hearing the tornado overhead that later swept down taking lives and property in the next county at Shoal Creek on April 27th of this year.

A solar tube will furnish light and warmth. At the time of this interview, Bob and Norma were investigating different wood-burning heaters and stoves, mulling over photos and descriptions in catalogs like Lehman’s Non-Electric Store in Ohio, which is where many living a simpler life outfit their homes. Propane will likely be the home’s other primary heating source.

The Stanleys moved to Alabama from Pennsylvania about 16 years ago, with Bob working for Alabama Millwright. When the company decided to close its doors and return to another state, the Stanleys stayed on, having fallen in love with the north central Alabama area.

They bought their eight-and-a-half acres atop Straight Mountain eight years ago and moved into the travel trailer and started building the next year.

Building was interrupted for a time when son Bobby was diagnosed with cancer and began a grueling regime of treatment. Bobby had also come to the area with the millwright company. Now 35 and cancer-free, Bobby has remained in north Alabama living near Birmingham in Hueytown.

Norma is a Registered Nurse, working with Henderson and Walton OB/GYN at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham.

Bob continues working as a millwright. He installed all the robots at the many new car manufacturing plants in Alabama. Norma laughed and said his "claim to fame" though may be he designed and constructed the ropes designating the areas around the vehicles in the Mercedes Museum.

Bob and Norma feel they’ll live out their lives at Bent Arrow Farm (named thus because the family, including Bobby, owned an archery shop and competed in archery matches in Pennsylvania).

The rolling hills and scenery remind them so much of their Pennsylvania home they felt right at home as soon as they saw their property. But it’s the friendliness of their neighbors that really make the difference.

Bob built a cart which is pulled by 32-inch pony "Bo" at neighborhood "barn" parties and children’s birthday parties, with the most recent event being a Family Fun Event and Youth Rodeo at the Cross Halo Cowboy Church Arena at Cleveland.

There’s also five other Quarter Horses enjoying the farm and pond, as well as two very spoiled laying hens, Lucy and Pepper, who hop onto Bob’s lap to be hand fed peanuts, and giant German Shepherds Babe and Bear, who guard the other animals and the farm.

A giant cedar rocker on the front porch was Amish made and provides the perfect perch for looking out on their gently sloping pasture, barn and pond.

Bar stools for the kitchen were also crafted by the Amish, with metal tractor seats supported by horse and mule hames used as legs!

If all goes as planned, Norma and Bob will have much to be thankful for this holiday season. Son Bobby is cancer-free. The Stanleys will be able to move into their long-awaited home. And Norma will finally be able to take that lonnnnnnng bath!

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.