A glimpse of the horse-and buggy : AMISH COUNTRY : " One can hear the birds, the insects, the wind in the grass, the breathing of the horse. " Merle Good, "Who Are theAmish"?

Times Travel Editor

When a tough Philadelphia cop falls in love with a beautiful Amish woman, the spotlight beams on this bucolic county in southeastern Pennsylvania.

It was here that Hollywood came to film "Witness," a picture about the cop and the woman that kicked off a stampede among moviegoers curious to learn about the land and the people in this fictional tale.

It wasn't that Lancaster needed the extra crowds. Long before "Witness" took to the screens, tourism was already a $275 million-a-year industry in this verdant corner of Pennsylvania. For years visitors have been sneaking glimpses of the horse-and-buggy world of a religious sect that reaps contentment from the rich black earth of the Susquehanna Valley.

These are the Plain People who shun the automobile, the telephone, TV and other material possessions worshiped by a world which, in their eyes, spins ever onward toward oblivion.

This isn't to say that certain Amish don't bend the rules. A minority belonging to the New Order sport fancy cars and enjoy the benefits of electricity. It's the Old Order, though, that draws the curious--those with the buggies and austere black clothing. What's more, it's serious stuff in a community where marriage is for keeps and divorce isn't considered.

Horse-drawn buggies belonging to the Old Order Amish race along country lanes and link with cars at traffic lights in villages strung out from Strasburg to Ephrata.

The Amish are especially visible on market day when they load carts with garden-fresh corn, strawberries, smoked meats, turkey sausage, fruits, eggs, apple butter and other farm produce. Still, it is while they plow farms with whitewashed barns and silos and endless rows of corn and alfalfa that they are in real harmony.

This is true Amish country and has nothing to do with the mockery tourism has made of this deeply religious group. One has only to drive down U.S. 30 with its lineup of cheap souvenir shops and two-bit amusement parks to learn how their lives have been burlesqued.

Other overpriced junk is displayed in Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand, although less offensively. Particularly in Intercourse and its charming Country Store with its display of homemade quilts, afghans, sunbonnets and patchwork pillows.

The Country Store is operated by Mennonite Merle Good who is also the curator of The People's Place across the street, a museum that provides a graphic glimpse into the lives of the Amish through a series of artful displays. A writer, Good stocks dozens of books about the Amish, a sect that broke with the Mennonites in 1693.

When Tinseltown arrived to film "Witness," the film company sought out Good to recruit 150 Amish extras. Good shuddered, telling the film makers "how foolish their request was." He adds, however, that director Peter Weir succeeded in providing his audience with an insight into the fabric and spirit of the world of the Amish.

Good tells you frankly that "4 million people come to Lancaster each year to eat the good food, breathe the fresh air and marvel at our backwardness."

So much for Hollywood.

Although the Amish frown on visitors, a number of Mennonites welcome strangers into their homes. John and Elaine Nissley take in guests on their 90-acre farm at Manheim where they grow corn and alfalfa and raise dairy cows, pigs and chickens.

In their fourth season as innkeepers, the Nissleys welcome guests with children who frolic with theirs in the hayloft and an old swimming hole near this 126-year-old farmhouse.

There's a porch with a swing and pets to play with. There are also rules: no smoking, no booze. And this being a Mennonite home, guests must get along without Dan Rather and the "Dukes of Hazzard," simply because there is no TV. It's an amuse-yourself atmosphere of wholesome pleasures.

"We love our farm," says Elaine Nissley.

What's more, the price is right--$12.50 a night for adults, $8 for teen-agers and $5 for children 12 and under. Breakfast is an extra $2.50 for adults, $2 for teen-agers, $1 for youngsters 6 to 12 and free for toddlers. And you might as well forget the diet, what with a choice of pancakes, french toast made with homemade bread, scrapple, eggs, ham, bacon and sausage, farm-fresh milk and fruits.

While there's a Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau in Lancaster, the Mennonites operate their own visitors center on Millstream Road three miles east of Lancaster. This parent body of Old Amish Order combines tours of Lancaster County with visits to Amish homes, a cheese factory, carriage shops and a store that stocks homemade rockers.

Elsewhere, quilts made by the Amish sell at auction for $300 to $1,000 and there are tours conducted by the Mennonites ($5 an hour) that take in Bird-in-Hand on market days as well as roadside stands operated by the Amish on country back roads.

John Beiler, who operates the Candle Barn at Intercourse, was asked by one visitor, "What do the Amish do in the evening?"

Beiler shrugged. "They sleep, I guess."

Dining is what the Pennsylvania Dutch country is all about, with country restaurants featuring all-you-can-eat family-style meals. At Chris Lapp's Good 'n' Plenty on Pennsylvania 896, waitresses in Pennsylvania Dutch garb load the table with ham, baked sausage, pork and sauerkraut, homemade bread, chow-chow, rhubarb sauce, pepper cabbage, crispy chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes, noodles, shoofly pie and a couple of other desserts for a grand total of 25 items. The price, $9.95, includes coffee, tea or lemonade.

Besides the restaurant, Good 'n' Plenty sells bakery/dairy goodies ranging from whoopie pies and pecan sticky buns to blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies and a dozen flavors of homemade ice cream.

Up to 3,000 guests shuffle through Good 'n' Plenty during a busy summer day when the bake shop turns out a couple of thousand loaves of bread and a carload of apple dumplings.

Others praise Abe and Betty Groff's farm restaurant at Mount Joy which features home-grown fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry, and there's Plain & Fancy with its Pennsylvania Dutch breakfasts, lunches and dinners at Bird-in-Hand.

For a bit more sophistication, the Log Cabin in Lehoy Forest is one of those hideaways created especially for romantics. Outside a breeze stirs, carrying with it the fragrance of the forest. Couples smooch at the Kissing Bridge, and the restaurant's windows frame a pond and a marvelous old farm. Inside there's a fire and tantalizing odors that waft from the kitchen to six small dining rooms.

Getting on with the tour, it takes in Rayba Acres Farm ("enjoy the animals and milk a cow") and Mill Bridge Village with its craftsmen, nickelodeons, the world's largest collection of Conestoga wagons and an operating mill dating from 1738.

"Ain't no place like it nowhere," says the operator.

Rail buffs get their kicks riding the Strasburg Rail Road that does a 45-minute spin to Paradise, passing more than a dozen farms set among groves of elm, sycamore, oak and birch. This is no amusement ride but rather a working railroad that's carried generations of passengers and freight since 1832.

Gas Lamps, Steam Whistle

Cars are equipped with gas lamps, wood paneling and velvet-covered seats, and the engineer toots a steam whistle whose melody thunders across clover-covered hills.

If somebody's looking for the road to yesterday, hop aboard.

After doing the excursion to Paradise, passengers buzz off to downtown Strasburg and an old-fashioned turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor serving such flavors as peanut butter and jelly, fudge and fresh raspberry. Besides cones, the Strasburg Country Store & Creamery produces homemade soups and a variety of sandwiches smothered in spicy mustard.

Scattered throughout the building are old-fashioned Coke signs, a popcorn machine, stick candy, gum drops, a vintage coffee grinder, and a U.S. postal cage that makes do as an office. Norman Rockwell would swoon.

Use for Cabooses

Besides its steam trains, Strasburg makes big noises about its Red Caboose Motel. In 1970 Don Denlinger, a 47-year-old rail buff, saved 19 cabooses that were headed for the scrap heap by creating the world's first caboose motel. The cabooses are strung alongside the railroad where Denlinger, all dolled up in a conductor's uniform, waves to passengers passing on the choo choos.

Denlinger's cabooses feature air conditioning, kitchens and TV sets framed in pot-belled stoves. To get an idea of the motel's popularity, reservations during summer are backed up for as much as six weeks, the rates fixed at $42 per couple plus an extra $3 for each child.

Denlinger quips, "This is the only motel in the world where guests wake up on the right track."

An inveterate punster, Denlinger says he was "railroaded" into buying the cars. "I never thought the seller was serious."

A Record Collection

What he ended up with was the largest collection of privately owned cabooses on earth. Denlinger also operates a diner that sways on hydraulic jacks and a freight car containing steam whistles, locomotive lamps, marker lights and other railroad memorabilia.

Other vacationers in the land of Pennsylvania Dutch seek shelter at a couple of cozy inns in Ephrata. Historic Smithton, a B&B;, dates from 1763 when it opened its doors as a stagecoach inn. Candles glow in the windows and guests are given flannel nightshirts before slipping off to bedrooms with working fireplaces, fresh flowers, bedtime snacks and goose-down pillows. Rates range from $45 to $140 per night.

Few Pennsylvania shelters, though, offer the charm of Betty Lee Maxcey's Covered Bridge Inn, an 1814 limestone farmhouse with a hand-carved staircase, white pine floors and brass and four-poster beds covered with thick Amish quilts. Built by a miller from Switzerland, the Covered Bridge Inn is as warm as the fireplace glowing in the parlor.

Comforts Abound

Scattered throughout the rooms are cider jars, rockers, an ancient steamer trunk, gobs of pillows and baskets filled with yarn and flowers. A magnificent elm arches over the house and a hammock that's for snoozing. And just down the road, guests cast for catfish near an ancient covered bridge.

Betty Lee Maxcey serves cookies and pitchers of lemonade and implores her guests to "return often."

And why not, what with bed and breakfast bid at a reasonable $45 a night, this for two.

Betty Lee says wistfully, "I'd as soon sit on the porch here as go on a vacation." Which should tell you something about the charm of the Covered Bridge Inn.

Helpful references:

--Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau, 1799 Hempstead Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17601. Telephone (717) 299-8901. (Ask for the map of Lancaster County and the free information kit.)

--Mennonite Information Center, 2201 Millstream Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17602--1494. Telephone (717) 299-0954.

--John and Elaine Nissley's Jonde Lane Farm, RD 7, Box 363, Manheim, Pa. 17545. Telephone (717) 665-4231.

--Historic Smithton Inn, 900 W. Main St., Ephrata, Pa. 17522. Telephone (717) 733-6094.

--The Covered Bridge Inn, 990 Rettew Mill Road, Ephrata Pa. 17522. Telephone (717) 733-1592.

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