A Look Back in History: Salvage art creations and industrious Pennsylvania Dutch

Will Shade was a huckster who took the produce of his truck patch to his neighbors and local villagers.
Will Shade was a huckster who took the produce of his truck patch to his neighbors and local villagers.

Among the most logical waste items on a dairy or cattle farm were the many strands of bailer twine that were left over after opening up bales for bedding or feeding hay to livestock. Usually hung on a nail in the barn feedway, said cut bale twine could not be used again by the bailing machine. Thereby, someone must have recalled an early farm art of braiding dried corn stalks and weaving them into a simple oval braided rug for use at the farmer’s back door to remove mud from shoes. Very practical while being frugal, it seemed very logical to farmers in the Lobachsville area in that one could take multiple strands of useless bailer twine and braid them in a tail to be sewn into spiral oval mats as early cornstalk braided mats. However, forgotten, is who was the first farmer in Lobachsville and area that begin to salvage bailer twine by making doormats, but old Will Shade whose farm was on the Lobachsville Road to New Jerusalem was well-known for braiding a substantial amount of these bailer twine rugs.

An elderly Dutch gent, who prided himself for not wasting pocket money, he and his wife, Hettie once operated a popular food restaurant at the Reading Fair to supplement their meager farm income in the 1950s. With snow white hair and I’m told a gift to gab (with anyone), Will could talk one into buying something from him they had not intended to purchase. John Levengood also, who owned a dairy farm alongside the Lobachsville village store and creamery, was perhaps just as smart at making these practical bailer twine rug mats, although he and his wife Minnie, the village church organist, were very conservative with their country sales.

John and Minnie became comfortable with their life in the village of Lobachsville and each tended to their farming chores and hobbies which made them very content.

Not as simple as they appear, these braided bailer twine mats were sewn with the braid tail on edge providing a mat surface that was about 3/4” thick. And reasonably priced, these “salvaged art” creations stood the test of time to a lot of wear and tear at one’s back door, and providing a country look, instead of a rubber tire retread appearance of doormats in recent years. People did like the fact that they were braided as the old-time braided rag carpets, and perhaps the recycled appeal, coupled with pride in one’s ability to make something of worth out of less meaningful material also promoted an individual respect of our Mother Earth certainly appreciated in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. This simple craft provided healthy exercise for senior citizens in wintertime and maintained a movement to be better keepers of the environment limiting manmade wastes.

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As most enterprising Oley Valley farmers, Will Shade was a huckster who took the produce of his truck patch to his neighbors and local villagers, as Freddie Bieber did peddling baskets on his little scooter, and people trusted his judgment and the quality of his craft at raising fruits and berries, etc. In these 1960s, when the American economy was reasonably sound, industrious PA Dutch individuals could put extra cash in their household budgets by just being wise and thrifty. Farm women, additionally, could often bake homemade pies and bread to sell to neighbors and line their proverbial “cookie jar funds,” which subsequently bolstered their standard of living. However, those frugal male farmers who sought to turn meaningless waste into profitability were often thought of as misers and not viewed in the same light as delicious Dutch treats their wives created. Hence, the idea of the “female salvage arts” among Dutch women who often never threw anything away, did turn material cloth scraps into beautiful patchwork quilts much more appreciated and perhaps a predecessor adapted by their husbands in these practical door mats.