Rosanna Bauman, writer of the Plain Kansas column, is a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren, sometimes known as Dunkers (or even Dunkards, but that is another column). But there is a smaller, lesser known group known as the Old Order German Baptist Brethren. This group still travels by horse-drawn buggy and doen't use electricity. There aren't many of these groups. A couple of horse and buggy Dunker churches can be found northwest of Dayton, Ohio; another in Central Indiana. These churches are small and insular, but friendly. I tried to interview a few horse-and-buggy German Baptists last summer, but no one was home when I dropped in. This is a very poor quality photo I shot of a buggy in an outbuilding next to a tractor. The Old Order German Baptist Brethren will use tractors on occasion for local travel.
Old Order German Baptists were featured prominently in a New York Times article yesterday about train travel. SIGH, I would love to just board a train someday and go to nowhere in particular. There's a romance to the rails that is very appealing, but Amtrak squashes it by charging way too much for tickets, having inconvenient schedules, and destinations. But that's another topic. This photo was taken by Mark Peterson for the New York Times, showing an airy spacious passenger car hurtling down the tracks. In the front is Old Order German Baptist woman, Lynn Douglas, who gives some fascinating glimpses into her community. Below is an except from the article, if you would like to read the whole piece about train travel, click here.
“We’re German Baptist,” Sharon said, looking up from an old hardcover novel. “We have similar values but different beliefs.” Her community values self-sufficiency and eschews most conveniences of modern life, including electricity. Sharon, her sister Lynn and their grandmother lived outside of Dayton, in a small community of German Baptists. The women of the community all wore similar handmade dresses; the men wore broadfall pants, suspenders and straw hats. Sharon operated a rug loom and sewed caps and bonnets; during the summer she worked on a farm, harvesting sweet corn and melon. They use horses and buggies for transportation, though a dispensation has been made for tractors, buses and trains. They are permitted to ride in an automobile if necessary, provided that they do not themselves drive; the Douglases had paid a boy they knew in town to drive them to the train station in Indianapolis.
“German Baptist — that mean you’re of German descent?” I asked.
Sharon smiled uncertainly. “We feel,” she said at last, “that we’re descended from Jesus.”
In some sense, the German Baptists overlapped with each of the four dominant categories of long-distance train passengers. They didn’t fly for religious reasons; they were not quite obsessed with trains, but they were fascinated by sights of a country otherwise invisible to them; like the Thibodaux 8, they were escaping home while knowing that they would soon return to their looms and their sweet corn. Like everyone else on a long-distance train, they were in-betweeners — in transit, in other words.
The train left the El Paso station, skirting the chain-link fence that traced the Mexican border; to the right were glass office buildings and parking lots; to the left, sloping downward, were Juarez’s sandy roads and its orange, lime green and white shacks with laundry hanging from clotheslines over dirt yards. Lynn and her grandmother played the card game Set, which has its own set of cards — they forswore standard decks in order to avoid the temptation of gambling. At the end of the car, the Rodriguezes and Escamillas were betting on hands of poker — five-card stud, Follow the Queen, No Peek — in the same two booths where, 24 hours earlier, the Thibodaux Toups played Pedro.
The German Baptist sisters were visiting relatives in Benson, Ariz. Their grandmother would stay there, but they would return to Ohio, taking the long route in order to see more of the country: the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles, the Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Empire Builder to Chicago and the Cardinal back to Indianapolis. Lynn, six years Sharon’s junior, was engaged. Upon returning to Ohio, she would be married. Sharon was single.
“It must be difficult to find a suitable match in such a small community,” I said.
“Not really,” Sharon said. “There are 40 other young people in our community. More than half of those are male.”
She returned, blushing, to her book. It was a first-edition hardcover copy of a 1951 novel, Argye M. Briggs’s “Hem of His Garment.” Sharon’s mother gave it to her for the journey. Sharon didn’t find the novel particularly exciting. It was about a young woman whose religious devotion was tested by a difficult marriage and the tribulations of rural life. The heroine’s name was Sharon.
Sharon was soon distracted by the scenery outside the train. The Sunset Limited was approaching its second sunset; it had traversed the Continental Divide and the Arizona border. The desert was reddish and brown; the Dragoon Mountains scraped the underbelly of gray clouds. Sharon didn’t want to miss anything — train travel was her only opportunity to see the country, after all, and when the sun rose, the train would be in Union Station.
Sharon and Lynn had a four-hour layover in Los Angeles, and they already knew how they were going to use it. They would catch the Big Blue Bus’s Rapid 10 line, which ran express to Santa Monica. They would debark at the last stop and walk together to the end of the Santa Monica pier so that they could see the Pacific Ocean. And there they would remain, standing at the edge of the continent, staring at the sea, until it was time to get back on the Big Blue Bus, which would take them to the Coastal Starlight, which would take them to the Empire Builder, which would take them to the Cardinal, which would take them to Indianapolis, where a boy with a car would be waiting to take them home.