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Everything Goes But The Mud

by David Sturm

You could put in bids on some Amish quilts, eat chicken corn soup served up by women in big aprons and buy a jar of fresh Leacock Manor horseradish (slogan: "Pep like a horse"). Flavorsome Americana is the draw at the spring "mud sales" of Lancaster County, Pa.

These are the annual fundraising auctions held by the county's volunteer fire companies. Most are small affairs limited to things like lumber and livestock, but March will see the staging of the two biggest, which together draw about 20,000 visitors.

The Bart Fire Company and Gordonville Fire Company auctions transform what are normally rural crossroads into all-day, open-air bazaars covering up to 20 acres. The quilts are auctioned inside the fire halls, but the rest -- mules, furniture, guns, antiques, buggies, crafts, produce, even kitchen sinks -- is sold outdoors under tents, off the back of trucks, from portable tables or just lying on a tarp. The nickname "mud sales" is apt and rubber boots are de riqeur for the squishy footing. It takes an out-and-out blizzard to force cancellation.

This is the heart of Amish country and the sales are social events for the plain people. It's a family outing where the boys play a homegrown brand of dodge ball called cornerball, men in the distance stroke their beards over the bidding on some mules and children get underfoot. The sales are, to be sure, the only significant events where Amish and "English" (as Amish call the non-Amish) hobnob by the hundreds.

The Bart Fire Company will hold its sale on March 7 featuring about 400 handmade quilts that, depending on size and quality, can go for $200 to $600 each under the auctioneer's hammer. MasterCard and Visa are accepted this year, although a 3 percent credit card charge is levied. No out-of-state checks are accepted. The Bart sale is located in the village of Georgetown on Route 896 about six miles southeast of Strasburg,

The Gordonville Fire Company sale, the county's biggest, is March 14 and will offer about 600 quilts. This sale accepts MasterCard and Visa without an extra charge and will take an out-of-state check if accompanied by an approved letter of credit. Items for sale will be previewed from 6 to 9 p.m. the evening prior to the sale and visitors can register for the auction at that time. The site is the village of Gordonville on Old Leacock Road, which stretches north-to-south from Paradise on Route 30 to Intercourse on Route 340.

Both sales start at 8:30 a.m., although early birds get the best parking spaces and a shot at a seat in the always-crowded quilt auction. This year there will be free shuttle buses from marked parking lots on Route 896 for the Bart sale and Routes 30 and 340 for the Gordonville sale.

There is no shortage of motel rooms in eastern Lancaster County where the sales are. Questions about accommodations can be put to the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (717) 299-8901.

(Originally appeared in The Washington Post.)

(c) 1994-2001 David and Chris Sturm
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