Amish transportation


The most common sight in an Amish community is the horse and buggy. It marks distinctively the separation of the Amish community from the rest of the world who uses the automobile for every day transportation.

The buggy varies with the group and reflects how conservative the community is. The more conservative the community the more austere the buggy is, the more stocky the horse is. For instance, the Swartzentruber Amish, the most conservative of groups, will use a wooden wheeled buggy with steel bands that touch the road. The side curtains will be manually rolled up and tied. The front of the buggy will be open to the weather. No slow moving vehicle sign will be evident. At night they will use an oil lantern on the side of the buggy to be seen in the dark. Braking will be accomplished with a manual lever that binds on the steel part of the wheel to stop the buggy on a hill. The horse will resemble more of a work horse than thesleeker thoroughbred.

The less conservative the group (in general) the fancier the buggy and horse. Instead of rollup side curtains there will be sliding doors. The open part of the buggy like the windshield on a car will be closed with Plexiglas and may even have wipers. The buggy may be equipped with lights including blinking lights and turn signals for safety, powered by a car battery that is recharged regularly. LED lights have become popular because they pull less battery power. There may be chrome rearview mirrors for safety to see the overtaking traffic. They would display the triangular slow moving vehicle symbol or gray reflective tape at the least. The brakes might be hydraulic for better hold on a hill. The horse, more than likely, will be a sleeker breed that may well have come from the trotter tracks around the area. They make smart horses for a buggy. As added comfort, the steel band on the wheels may be replaced with rubber. It still doesn't soften the hard bumps of the road.

In the winter to keep warm the family will cover up their legs with buggy robes. They are a heavy comforter type item that is quilted, insulated lining covered with a fake fur cover. The more conservative groups may use something similar, covering it in a water repellant material since they don't have windshields to keep out the rain and snow.

The buggies of an area are usually made in several local shops by a craftsman. Several different shops might make the components of the buggy from wheels to springs to the pulling rails that fit around the horse. The local shop assembling the buggy will do the interior upholstery, paint the chassis and exposed wood and cover the top with the waterproof material. Often a new buggy will be presented as a wedding present. A young man may buy a new buggy when he is courting and ready to think of settling down. The increase of a family size may dictate a new "station wagon" buggy with more seats. The older buggies are often passed down to the children as they grow older to allow everyone a seat to get to church and other destinations. With proper maintenance including repainting a buggy can last over 50 years.

Buggies vary from community to community. The more extreme examples include differences in shape, colors used, in accessories allowed as mentioned before and whether the buggy is covered. By the way, that's called a top buggy since it has a top. The Lancaster Co Amish have a distinctive gray top with rounded corners. The Nebraska Amish, as they are called, have buggies with either white or yellow tops. Amish in the New Wilmington area of Pennsylvania have buggies with an orangish-tan top. The really square, crudely shaped buggies tend to belong to the more conservative groups. In the Berne, IN area, the Amish there are not allowed to have tops on their buggies. They make it through rain, windy weather and snow using heavy duty umbrellas (made in their community) to protect them.

Here in Holmes Co is a larger buggy shop called Winesburg Carriage. The owner, John Miller, has been in business for 22 years. At one time he coined himself as the General Motors of buggies. He has all the components to manufacturer a buggy at his shop. He also refurbishes buggies, sells used buggies and gives tours of his shop. The tour guide, John Hershberger, is quite a character. He'll show you around the whole shop including the buggy museum where you can see examples of buggies from many of the different Amish groups around the country. They're open Monday through Saturday, 8 to 5, closed on Sundays and Amish holidays.

Transportation isn't limited to the buggy. Some communities allow their members to use bicycles. Horse back riding is becoming a popular pastime after depending on the horse to pull their buggy for so long. Some young people will use inline skates. Of course, there are variations of the cart from what the children use with a pony to a seat between two wheels that the men and women use to zip around in good weather.

The most conservative groups, such as the Swartzentruber Amish, don't allow their members to hire drivers to go places. If they need to move between their settlements they have to rely on the bus companies. It is not uncommon to see a Greyhound or Trailways bus stopped by the side of a rural road letting off an Amish family. They are met by someone from their community who will transport them back to their home via buggy to complete their trip. When they move great distances they will hire a semi truck to haul their belongings and take the bus to meet it.

All groups are not that conservative. Their members are allowed to hire drivers with vans or cars to take them on their errands. That type of small business flourishes in Amish communities to provide the transportation to distant shops and communities not easily accessible by buggy. Often Amish businessmen will employ an English driver who owns a pickup truck and can transport them to their job sites. In taking long trips Amish families often share the expense of hiring a van to take them to visit other settlements. Some larger families will hire a driver to take them on extended vacations with their entire family. Many groups encourage their members to travel long distances by train or bus to save the expense of hiring an individual driver. Seldom, except in cases of extreme emergency, are Amish allowed to fly.

The more conservative groups can be seen taking their livestock to sale on their wagons that resemble what the settlers in America once used. More liberal groups will hire a stock truck to take their animals to sale.

During the stage of sowing their wild oats, young people (usually just the boys) are able to buy cars shortly after they turn 16. They usually own a car until they prepare to join church and settle into the Amish lifestyle for their adulthood. During this time they may be able to keep the car at home but in some cases they have to park it away from home or keep it hidden. The young men may also work for a construction crew during this time, driving the work truck for the crew. They will often keep that vehicle at home.

Locally, in Holmes County and surrounds, a number of Amishmen use tractors for transportation. Several have equipped a trailer with cover so that they can haul a group to go shopping. This is typically in the more liberal groups since owning a tractor with rubber tires is still prohibited in most groups.