It doesn't sound all that serious, but the problem of horse manure has been all anybody's been talking about in one Logan County town for months. It's dividing long-time friendships and threatening the very way of life for a group of people who just want to be left alone.
The manure problem got so bad, the Auburn city council passed a revised city ordinance over the winter requiring what they called "collection devices" be placed on all horses or other large animals to collect their waste before it landed on the street. They say it's for all animals but it's directed at the Amish and their traditional way of travel, horse and buggy.
Just before 8:00 on a recent Saturday morning, Amish elder Amos Mast and his wife pull into Auburn's Minit Mart. The 150 or so Amish in the county don't need much from town, their religion and life-style demand self-sufficiency, but on this morning Amos Mast needs some gas for his table saw at his woodworking and furniture making shop.
He pulls his buggy to the far side of the store reserved for the Amish and while his wife loads the buggy with used cardboard boxes for their vegetable stands, Amos pulls a shovel out from behind his seat and gets to work scraping old horse manure off the parking lot, left there by other visits to town, and throws it into some nearby weeds. He also keeps a shovel in a nearby tree.
And while he cleans up from others, he talks about the events of the last few months. "We should've had a lawyer, I didn't talk to nobody," he says. "I have a friend but we're not allowed to hire a lawyer, we'd be enforcing the law then if we did. Our law is the Bible."
The lawyer he was talking about was for a trial he and his son Dan went through back in April. Dan was found guilty of violating the animal ordinance once in January, Amos was found guilty of two violations. He was also cited once again in June, well after the trial, for not having any kind of collection device on his horses. It's something, they say, they just can't bring themselves to do.
Speaking in court during a break in the April trial, Amos asks rhetorically "Can you multiply by thousands? "They're asking me to be the first one to put it on, it'll spread, if I do it it'll spread throughout the whole Amish community."
Dan jumps in, "It hurts the horse and it's a safety issue. If you do put it on, it makes the horse, you could say nervous, to put a bag on their tail and they will run and go through fences and tear everything up. It makes the horse like a wild animal, it's uncontrollable so we couldn't really control it on the highways or anything. If you put it on there, the horse could hurt everybody in a car. It could cause us big fines."
Amos says horse manure is not even the problem anymore, "I kept that town so clean, I'm out there scraping the streets, I'm just trying to see what is the problem. It's no harm and we try to keep it super clean."
Nobody in Auburn is really happy about the guilty verdicts; not city council members and especially not Mayor Mike Hughes.
On his first official day in office, January 1st, 2013, he met with Amos, Dan, their families and other Amish in a cabbage shop over grape juice and popcorn and tried to come up with a compromise. "No, I'm not surprised (things have come to this point) I'm just disappointed we had to come here," he said in the courthouse after the trial. "They're our neighbors, I buy my produce from Amos and his wife. They've been in my home to discuss this issue, I've been in their home to discuss this issue. Their son-in-laws have worked for me privately on buildings that I own, it's a tough thing for me. We've been trying to handle it locally inside of Auburn for years and not come to writing citations that were enforceable here in the county court system. Unfortunately, it's come to this and we had to move to this point, something we tried to avoid for many, many years. It's a shame, these are my friends and my neighbors."
The Mast's have until June 25th to pay their fines, $386 for Amos' two offenses, $193 for Dan's one or face contempt of court charges and for now, at least, it doesn't look like they're going to pay. "No, no, he (Mayor Hughes) has to change the ordinance first," Amos says. Dan adds, "We're not supposed to pay fines like that. If it would apply to something where we actually did something wrong, hurt somebody, that would be a totally different story, but this is not harmful to nobody."
Amos sums up their feelings about this case and about most things in their lives, "It's in God's hands," he says, "It's all in God's hands so we'll just turn it over to God."