Community Rallies Around Neighbor in Need

Amish neighbors help John Helmstetter rebuild his barn.
Amish neighbors help John Helmstetter rebuild his barn.
There's a timeless quality in the Cumberland mountains of western Maryland, where steam engines puff through the valley on picturesque stretches of track.

The trains unload railroad buffs, who pay good money to get great shots. CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, no place was better than Helmstetter's curve, where John Helmsetter's barn made for the perfect picture.

John Helmstetter Farm Fund

So imagine the shock, when one day, the barn was simply gone - burned to the ground in a fire. John Helmstetter lost one third of his cattle. His border collie Teddy perished as well.

"My whole life was going up, ya know? It was gone," Helmstetter said.

The cost to rebuild was nearly $100,000. Money that John just didn't have.

"There was days where I just wanted to give up and forget it," Helmstetter said. "There was so much involved in getting it back."

Railroad buffs like Carl Franz were devastated too. "We have to do something to bring back what we once had," Franz said. "And try to recreate what was lost."

So, Carl raised some money to raise a new barn. His goal was $10,000. But by the time he was done, he'd collected $41,000 - covering what Helmstetter's insurance did not.

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John Helmstetter couldn't have imagined rebuilding the barn without Carl's hellp. That's what friends do for friends. But, Helmstetter also got some unexpected help from some neighbors who he had never met.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad

Hundreds of local Amish showed up, providing three full days of strong backs and experienced hands.

"There's no way I could get everything accomplished without all the help and everybody pitching in," Helmstetter said.

So, the train buffs get back their view. The Amish get paid a small fee from Helmstetter, which they will put toward their community health center. And Helmstetter gets his barn back.

His sister, Anne, said he's beginning to put his life back together. "Now, he's going to have his job back, which was his life.

A community's been reminded of an old lesson that can't be taught enough.

"You should do for your neighbor as you would like them to do for you," Anne said. "If everybody were more helping, it would be a better place to live."

A thought older than that steam engine running through John Helmstetter's farm. And more powerful too.


  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.