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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sometimes, the old ways are best

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Photos by Steven Looney Many things are done by hand, but a pulley system, run by a small diesel engine, powers the sewing machines and other equipment in Moses Borntreger's shop.
"Back to the earth, closer to God," is not just a saying, it's a goal that Moses and Mary Ellen Borntreger try to live by every day.

Moses and Mary Ellen are the parents of eight children, four boys and four girls. They are also grandparents to 27, the youngest one, a girl, born in the new home built by her father, uncle and grandfather, just across the Southfork River from where Moses, Mary Ellen and two of their daughters live. Moses and Mary Ellen will be married 40 years in October. "We love living here, but I really miss my grandchildren," Moses said. "It's hard having the family spread out."

Moses is the father of this close-knit Old Order Amish family who moved to Fulton County in December and January.

"My son Vernon and his family moved here in December because his place was the first to sell in McKenzie, Tenn., where we lived," Moses said. Moses and Mary Ellen, along with son Amos and wife Mary and their children followed in January. Moses and Mary Ellen live in an older house that was already on the property they bought. "We got here right before the ice storm hit," he said. "Now, that was something. At that time, we were still using electricity to pump our water because we hadn't converted it over yet. So, we had a pole out here and it broke over. I told them (NAEC) not to even worry about me. I've got a different way to get my water. Just go ahead and fix people up that really need it."

"We have an air compressor and there's an air line that runs down into the bottom of the well and there's a pump down there that pumps the water," Moses said. "Some people have hand pumps but this is the way we do it."

Moses said they will continue to live in the current house, minus the electricity, for a while yet. "We've still got a lot of work to do," he said. "The shop isn't quite finished and I have some log siding to put on it. Later, we will probably build a small log home that sits back from the road a ways."

Deciding to make Salem their new home wasn't a hard decision after the family traveled through Arkansas and saw the clear streams and creeks. "My boys grew up with that and they really loved it," he said. "Western Tennessee doesn't have that. So, we came through Arkansas and we saw this picture." The picture which hangs on the wall of Moses' shop is an advertisement from United Country Reality for land for sale in the Sturkie area. "We met up with Don Benedict and he showed us this land that runs along the river (Southfork) here and we bought it. I like the small hometown feeling of Salem. I thought it felt like it could be kinda like a horse and buggy community. People around here are, well, there's a lot of people that realize our lifestyle. The new generation doesn't know this lifestyle, but the older generation around here still remembers the time when they lived like us."

"We've got a lot of good neighbors," Moses said. "Don and Laurie Benedict have been a lot of help and so have the other neighbors. They've been really good."

Moses repairs saddles, makes halters and even repairs boots or shoes. His shop is neat and clean and with the large doors in the front, lots of windows and clear panels placed in the roof, the shop is filled with light even without electricity.

For most of his life, Moses was a carpenter, but an accident in 1990 forced him to change his occupation. "In 1990, I had an accident that messed up my knees. The doctor said not to go back to carpentry because it would put too much stress on my knees and I'd have to have a knee replacement. I could tell I couldn't do it. It just messed up my knees so bad I couldn't. So, I got to thinking what I could do and I finally decided this here (harness making and saddle repair). I sit a lot at this kind of work and I get along with this real good. It doesn't put much stress on my knees ya know, it really worked out good for me and I really love to do it."

Moses didn't have any training in this craft, but he says it was something he wanted to do and, "I just worked at it until I found my way through it. I took one step at a time, one day at a time until I finally got to where I am today. Of course, every saddle I took apart, I'd really be careful, look through it real close to make sure I put it back together the way it came apart, you know. It's pretty simple, you know, you can usually tell where it all goes," he said.

Harness making he says is a little more difficult. "Harness is a little more complicated putting it all together. There's a lot of pieces in a harness. You got to make each piece separate and buckle them all together. It's a lot of work putting a harness together, but I enjoy it. The hardware is all stainless steel. I buy the material in rolls and I use leather also. There are a lot of different colors for the harness. When I use leather, I cut it all by hand although I do have a device that I can adjust to different widths and it smooths out the cut edges. It took me three times as long to do it without this device," he said.

Moses' shop is filled with special tools he needs to do his job. "Although these are newer tools," he said, "they are the same tools used in the 1800s to make them."

The shop also has sewing machines and other equipment he powers by a unique pulley and belt system he designed to be run by a small diesel engine.

Moses also takes on the challenge of restoring old saddles. "I have a saddle here that was brought in by a man from Sturkie. It was his grandfather's saddle and he wanted to try to preserve it as a keepsake. It was rotted out in places, but I did the best I could to fix it back and put a lot of oil on it. It's not rideable but it will be good to set back and look at and keep," he said.

"Right now, I'm also putting a floor on a trailer for a man," he said. "It's not something I usually do, but he needed it done so I've worked on it a little each day as I have time and it's almost done."

"I've been pretty busy since I've only had the shop ready to work in for about three weeks," he said. "I think as more people learn about it I'm going to stay busy."

Mary Ellen, Moses' wife, is an excellent seamstress and makes quilts by order along with Quillows, a handy little item that can be used as a pillow or unfolded to use as a small quilt. She puts her quilt pieces together by machine but does all the quilting by hand. A few weeks ago Mary Ellen fell and fractured her hip which will confine her to bed for another week or so. She's already talking about the projects she wants to start when she's up and around again. Mary Ellen is also a talented harmonica player and she can fill a room with the beautiful sounds of hundreds of old songs.

Daughters, Katie Ann and Naomi, have both been around to help their mother while she recuperates from her fall. Soon, Naomi will return to McKenzie, Tenn., to teach school. She is one of two teachers for about 14 children and has been teaching for over 15 years. Katie Ann will begin classes for the Borntreger children here around Labor Day.

As seems to be the case with all Amish women, the Borntreger women are excellent cooks and the chance to sample one of their fried pies, bread or cinnamon rolls could have a person almost begging for just one more sample.

The Borntreger family speak English, German and a special language called Pennsylvania/Dutch which has a lot of English words mixed in with it and even some slang-type words. Their church services are conducted in German and they speak Pennsylvania/Dutch in their home. They use the Martin Luther Bible which is in German. "I can understand the Bible better in German than in English because I have read it in German all my life," Moses said.

"I know there are people who don't understand how we can live like this and enjoy life," Moses said. "But for me, I grew up this way. It's a peaceful life, a quiet life. Sometimes we get real busy and it doesn't seem so quiet, but we aim to keep it that way -- a moral life. Back to the earth, closer to God."

You can contact Moses and Mary Ellen about their products and services at their home. Turn off Highway 395 South right before the bridge onto the Old Ridge Road. Moses' harness and saddle repair shop is the second residence on the right.

Next week we will introduce you to Vernon and Ina Borntreger whose produce has filled many plates in the area this summer.