06 December 2010

To KC and back and along the way

It appears winter has settled in here in my part of the country. It's going to be down around 0 Fahrenheit (in Celsius, that's, let's see...9/5...carry the 3....damn cold!) tonight. Ah well, tis December, after all. I just put on some good wool socks and made a nice hot cuppa of YogiTea India Spice herbal tea. Good stuff!

We made the quick trip to Kansas City so TBH could start her class down in Overland Park. Unfortunately, we got snow here on Saturday and weren't able to get on the road until Sunday. We weren't able to meet clan Murphy for BBQ since we didn't get in late and I didn't want them waiting until late for me to fumble around downtown KC. Maybe next spring or summer when the weather gets warmer, I can get back down there. Sometimes plans fall together; other times they don't. Such is life.

I did drive through North Kansas City, though, and saw the Ameristar casino and the big coal-fired power plant as described in Birmo's After America. It's always fun to see places that get mentioned in books like this. When I lived in Dixon, IL, I enjoyed reading the mention in the beginning of Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series. HT got the area right as he described the long retreat into Chicago and Patton's drive through Central Illinois. Mind you, this was back in the old days, when Turtledove used to care about his writing...

I drove back this morning, since I don't have a lot of vacation time left for the year. It's about exactly six hours from KC to here, and there isn't a whole lot to see. Slate-gray skies, shorn cornfields, vegetation in various shades of dry khaki instead of summer's verdant green.

A couple of areas that are interesting along the way are the Amish enclave in southern Iowa and the Amana Colonies closer to home. I was filling the tank at a gas station off I-35 at a junction with a state highway. All of a sudden, here comes one of their little one-horse wagons clop-clopping down the highway like it was 1920 or something! A lot of people poke fun at the Amish avoidance of electricity and modern technology-but you can't help but admire them. They're keeping alive skills and knowledge that we've lost or long since discarded. Might be if something caused our tech-heavy society to falter or collapse, they might be teaching those of us (that are left) how to use all those neat 19th-century farm implements and household gear lying around in the museums.

The Amana Colonies were founded by a German religious sect 'round about 1840 or so. In the 19th Century, a lot of communities in the young United States were created as social experiments. In religious communities, this usually meant they were trying a communist society ('communist' in it's true, pre-Marxian context) where all would work and all would share equally in the fruits of the labor. In addition, these communities attempted to be as economically self-sufficient as possible. The Amana Society formed a cluster of seven small villages and for the next ninety years managed to live their ideal. They raised their own food, started their own wineries, and created woolen and calico mills which turned out goods to be sold to the outside world. In addition, they generally lived a communal existence, eating together in large halls like a giant family, and attended worship and prayer services-up to 11 times per week!

But the Amana Colonies suffered from the same problem that nearly every communist/socialist society hits-there becomes a (real or perceived) notion that there is an inequity in the labor being done and the rewards being reaped by the members. In addition, the world was changing and becoming smaller and members wanted to live like people in the rest of the country and be able to eat in their own homes.

To make a long story short (Too late!!): in 1932 the Amana Colonies voted to change from a communist/socialist system to what is essentially a joint-stock corporation. It seems to be working well for them. Today the Amanas are largely a tourist area of small shops, famous around these parts for fine woolen goods, wineries (I can recommend the dandelion and rhubarb wines-flavorful with a decent kick) and family-style dining on good German-style cuisine.

Oh, yes-and they came out with the first mass-produced microwave oven (the Amana Radarange of the late 1960's and 1970's), and they built a mountain of good quality refrigerators until Maytag bought the Amana Manufaucturing Company and then sent a lot of the appliance manufacturing south of the US border-thanks, Maytag management. Hope your bonus checks cleared. Bastidges.

So that's your lesson on Iowa culture. Hope you paid attention. There may be a test.

Stay warm, Middle America.

yankeedog out.


  1. It's a bit sad really that the weakness inherent in the system is the human component. Oh well at least they made the change successfully.
    A shame you didn't get to catch up, next time.

  2. All I know about the Amish is the shower scene in that Harrison Ford flick.