A Getaway Vacation Down on the Farm

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | April 21, 1996

As reported by Dave Zuchowski, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Mon Valley Edition) April 21, 1996:

” If you’re driving up the road to Weatherbury Farm, don’t be surprised if you find a goat lying on top of a doghouse roof. Or a baby calf named Agatha, as cute as a button, nudging up to you in search of a feeding bottle. Or a long neck goose charging across the yard, hissing and defending its domain from trespassers.
Animals are one of the star attractions at the 104-acre farm-vacation bed and breakfast near Avella.
The various animals’ names are evidence of the reading habits of the farm’s owners, Dale and Marcy Tudor.
The sheep — Oliver Twist, Jacob Marley and Little Nell — are named after characters from Dickens’ novels. A herd of Hereford cattle – Weatherbury’s main cash crop — get their names from characters in Shakespeare’s plays. And Happy, Sleepy, Bashful and Dopey, the farm’s phalanx of felines, can trace their monikers back to the dwarfs that befriended Snow White. Even the name Weatherbury is borrowed from a work of literary renown, Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’
The aptly named Tudors got the inspiration for their award-winning B&B while living in Europe. Like a lot of other German workers, Dale, a chemical marketer for Bayer Corp., was entitled to six weeks of vacation a year.
While in Germany, the Tudors opted to spend their holidays’ checking into a series of different ‘pensions,’ the European version of a bed and breakfast.
By the time their vacation was over, they had fallen in love with so much they had seen, they decided to open a similar hostelry of their own when they returned to the states.
After Dale transferred back to Pittsburgh, the couple began looking around for ‘the perfect farmhouse on about 10 acres of land.’
Several years of searching and ‘many Sunday drives’ later, they came across one about 20 miles from Pittsburgh, close enough to Dale’s job near the airport, yet remote enough to let them get away from it all. They bought it in 1986.
Both Dale and Marcy had agrarian backgrounds, so the idea of operating a working-farm vacation B&B seemed a natural. Ten years later, Marcy Tudor is a master gardener as well.
The title was conferred on her after she complete a 30-week, work study program through Penn State and passed the qualifying exam. She uses what she knows to seed, root, and nurture an herb, wildflower, hummingbird and butterfly, antique rose and fragrance garden at Weatherbury.
‘I do a lot of reading on the subject,’ she said, adding that the horticultural books in her library seem to multiply like rabbits.
Dale continues with his job at Bayer but now spends a lot of his leisure time doing farm work and renovating the summer kitchen, a separate building in back of the house that will eventually double the number of guest rooms at Weatherbury from two to four.
He and his 15-year-old son, Nigel, try to squeeze in whatever time is left to restore old cars, some of which are lined up on the lawn in front of the farm garage.
Marcy, whose hobbies include desktop publishing, puts out a newsletter titled Weatherbury Moos, sends out livestock birth announcements to past guests, creates customized gift certificates on her word processor, and publishes a monthly calendar of Weatherbury events.
The Tudors recently heard they have won the Most Innovative Business Marketing Award, presented jointly by Microsoft Publisher and Home Office Computing Magazine.
Newly arrived visitors to Weatherbury are given a list of 25 things to do on the farm as well as a compendium of attractions the surrounding area.
‘Most of our guests like to get up in the morning and join Nigel on his round of chores,’ said Dale. ‘That includes feeding apples and carrots to our herd of Scottish Highland cows. And everyone seems to want to feed baby Agatha her bottle.’
Duck egg hunting in another favorite daily event, while gardening is not quite as popular. Other chores are complete busts. Although Marcy says a few people have asked to plant and weed the gardens, no one, as yet, has wanted to clean out the barn.
And because of problems with insurance liability, guests are not permitted to do physical work or operate the farm machinery, even if they wanted to.
The Tudors say that most of their first-time guests like to venture out and explore area attractions like Meadowcroft Village, Cross Creek Park and the David Bradford House. Bur repeat visitors tend to stay put on the farm.
‘Simple pleasures like hiking or bird-watching let people get back to their roots,’ said Marcy. ‘Birders, for instance, will often be up in the meadows for hours. We start thinking they might have fallen in a hole or something, but they’re really caught up in the experience of communing with nature. Even though they may live an hour’s drive or so away, they’re often impressed with the birds they find here. They’re so different from what they usually see in the city.’
Reading is another favorite pastime, and Marcy has furnished each gust room with a copy of ‘Far From the Madding Crows’ as well as books with a local flavor such as ‘I Went to Pit College,’ a fictional account of coal mining life set in Avella.
‘There are plenty of places here to curl up and get lost in reading,’ said Marcy, pointing out the Adirondack chairs around the pool, the wicker living room set in the gazebo, the swing on the porch and two hammocks in the yard. She didn’t even mention the cozy indoor nooks and crannies like the settee in the music room or couch in the parlor.
Last year, Marcy was appointed president of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, a network of 25 member farms scattered across the state.
‘The concept gives farmers a chance to supplement their income without leaving their farms and lets visitors see a part of Americana that is rapidly vanishing,’ she said. ‘Places like ours give people a chance to do things like make cider, plant vegetables and can garden produce. it lets them get at last a glimpse of the more simple life their ancestors enjoyed.’
Children get a lot out of the farm as well. They seem to enjoy making the rounds with Nigel, feeding the Guinea hens, doves and long-eared rabbits, and petting the farm cats and Billy Goat Gruff, the farm’s shaggy, perhaps overly affectionate goat.
The farm, bucolic in a Norman Rockwellian sort of way, is typical in one respect. What it lacks in the way of early morning rooster crowing, it makes up with cows calling for their calves.
‘We like to tell our guests,’ said Dale, ‘that they can go to bed at night to the chirping of crickets and wake up in the morning to the sounds of bird song.’ ”