Long Journeys

My grandpa, Joseph L. Lehman, was born January 7, 1890 to David S. and Annie Burkholder Lehman at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  Little is known of his growing up years, but apparently at age 27, he must have had a question that needed an answer.  This, along with a spirit of adventure, took Joseph west on a long journey with a friend around 1917, to follow the wheat harvest. This is Anne, Jane, and Joe discovering the beauty of North Dakota when we went there a couple of years ago.


Stella Elmira Sharp was born Oct. 27, 1893 at East Lynne, Missouri.  When she was 6 1/2 years old, she moved with her parents, Gideon and Salina Yoder Sharp, to a homestead near Kenmare, North Dakota, where they lived in a sod house.  She later lived in Fairview, Michigan, Belleville, Pennsylvania, and Garden City, Missouri.  When Joseph came through Colorado, he met Stella where she was taking nurses training in La Junta.

The attraction of some common past, and perhaps the same wanderlust, along with  the call of God, led them to be married, at ages 30 and 27 on October 31, 1921 in Garden City.

Maybe some of the same factors came into play December of 1976, as I hitched a ride with Erie Bontrager on his mobile home transport to Louisville, Kentucky.  The snow ran out somewhere around Columbus, but it was still cold when he dropped me off at the truck stop.  These were the days before insurance ran the world, and after asking a few drivers for a ride, one guy agreed to take me on south.


Then I had a series of rides with a trucker, a family in a camper, and and a few miscellaneous rides that left no enduring impression, besides needing to keep your wits about you on the road.  This got me into northern Alabama.  At that point, I was riding in a GMC truck with a large flat bed with a big construction man driving.  It was dusk, and all of a sudden, the lights went out and the ignition went off, and the truck was coasting to a stop.  The driver got on his CB radio for help and soon another truck came along.  Being a little nervous, I asked the other guy if I could go on with him and he said that he could drop me off at the Birmingham bus station.

It was late evening when I arrived at the station with my back pack and the winter clothes I started with.  The keyed up feeling from the day would have been replaced by fatigue, if the place hadn’t been so sketchy.  There were a few loners, some twos or more, with a least one in each group keeping watch.  The occasional roving eyes suggested it would be best not to sleep there.

This was a near impossible place to hitchhike from, so I bought a ticket to ride a few hours to Talahassee, leaving at 4 o’clock in the morning.  The bus took a circuitous route, with many stops before arriving mid-morning, and I got out on the road again.  The next ride there was the worst of the trip, as the driver was a true crazy and would not let me out without me getting a little animated.

Then there was a family going on vacation to the beach, a business man, a VW bus with an offer to share the previously illegal plant (I declined), and a few more forgettable rides.  Finally around dusk, an elderly black man stopped in a 20 year old, boat-sized Oldsmobile.  He was headed to Tampa, so I threw my pack in the backseat and off we went.

Somewhere near Ocala on I-75, after sunset, the same thing happened as the night before.  The lights went out, and the ignition cut off, and we were coasting to a stop.  He was pretty upset, but I told him I would help him get to his family.  We were near a road cross bridge, so I went down the hill and flagged a car down for help.  After they slowed, and I moved to the side, they sped up again and left.  This repeated in some form for half a dozen vehicles, so I went back to the broken-down car.

A sign said that a Rest Stop was one mile ahead, so we left the car and started walking.  The old man said he would never get home, but I said we could go together.  Finally at the rest stop, I freshened up in the bathroom, and we went out to find a ride the rest of the way.  I would ask people coming, and they would look at the pair of us with suspicion, and say no or nothing.  This repeated itself over 50 times in an hour, and the old man was getting more discouraged.

Finally, since people obviously did not trust the two of us, I began making requests for a ride for him only, and I would go separately.  This took another half hour and then some kind soul allowed him to go with them.  After he was gone, the third person I asked agreed to take me along.  I got dropped off in Tampa in the middle of the night, with no hope of a ride, so I found a city park and went to sleep under a bush.

After about four hours, I got up and continued hitch hiking along the highway.  After a few more rides and some interesting conversations, I was finally walking into the Red Coconut RV Park in Fort Myers, Florida, where Ed and Marge Neufeld were quite surprised to see my grungy winter costume, and my scruffy unshaved face before scruffy was popular.  Ed took it in stride, and Patty and Martha seemed amused.  Jan had been forewarned but still showed the lack of confidence that I would deliver on that possibility. You’ll notice the NAIA Decathlon shirt, which I was proud of, but also the subtle question of who I came to Florida to visit: my friend and college roommate, Ron, or was it his sister?


Those few days included the hello and novelty of a dramatic pursuit, the attraction from some common past and family friendship, a reignited heart throb going back to junior high orchestra, and a brave goodbye as Jan pursued her Study Service Trimester adventure to Haiti.  Perhaps the same desire for adventure, along with the call of God, led us also to be married, at ages 23 and 22 on August 19, in Elkhart, Indiana.


Joseph had worked in North Dakota when following the harvest, and was apparently captivated by this land of stark beauty and opportunity.  Maybe he saw what I saw on an August evening, a gentle breeze at around 75 degrees, with the low angled sun brilliantly lighting the houses and barns.  The flat land of waving wheat was turning white with a promise of a fine harvest.


 After Joseph and Stella got married, they worked on a farm, and in addition, Joseph was ordained as a minister to serve the Spring Valley Mennonite congregation.  They soon began having children and Reuel, Ruth, Mary, Genevieve came along first.  My father, David Gideon Lehman, was born the fifth child on January 25, 1926 in Kenmare.



Then came Ethel, and finally Josephine was born, on the day after her father’s funeral.  He had been loading some potatoes into the cellar at night and was found dead by the windmill with a bruised head.  That was October 10, 1928, and he was only 38 years old.  Grandma said he must have fallen from the windmill, but many other people thought there were reasons to suspect foul play.

Grandpa Joseph fulfilled his calling, and finished his race well. Two generations later, the way he left his mark is still evident in our family, in faith, fortitude and fatherhood.


I sure would have been pleased to meet my Grandpa, and talk about the farm, his life of Christian service, and about the life lessons in building my boat.  Maybe we would have seen common ground in the courage to take risks and the commitment to follow them through.

Finally the boat has all of the essential ingredients to float and swim.  Andy Peterson at Starboard Choice Marina, connected the 135 HP Evinrude HO to the gauges and the navigation lights, and it was time for a test drive.  Below is a photo of the motor mounted on the transom.


It is time to back it down into the water.


What an amazing feeling to see it sit just right, at attention and looking fast sitting still.


But it also could run, around fifty, with a beautiful small wake.


To repeat my neighbor Mike’s comment from a couple of years ago when I was complaining about not being done, “If you want a boat this summer, go out and buy one.  Where is the journey in that?”  No question about that.

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